Stories tagged autism

Jan
07
2011

Back in 1998, a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield did a study on twelve children, and wrote a paper claiming that a link existed between childhood vaccinations and autism.

Naturally, this freaked out a lot of parents, and lots of folks stopped having their kids vaccinated. Consequently, infection rates of diseases that are totally preventable with vaccines—like measles and whooping cough—went up.

Then, other scientists were unable to reproduce Wakefield's experiment, which kind of made it seem like it was wasn't accurate to begin with. Wakefield couldn't even reproduce his experiment. Nonetheless, lots of people stuck to the idea that autism is caused by vaccines, or by ingredients in vaccines. When these ingredients were removed because of the concern, people picked other ingredients to blame. Still scientists could find no link between any of the components of vaccines and autism.

Meanwhile, most of the other scientists involved with Wakefield's research removed their names from the published results. And then The Lancet, the respected medical journal that originally published Wakefield's research, actually retracted the study, because it was so inaccurate. And then Wakefield had his medical license, because his poor research was so irresponsible. Still Wakefield and his supporters insisted that the link existed, and that he was the target of a global conspiracy.

Now, there's another nail in a coffin that just won't stay shut: a journalist (who has signed a statement saying that he has no financial interest in the debate) has found that Wakefield's original research on the twelve children was fraudulent. Wakefield misrepresented the medical histories of his subjects to make it appear that they had developed autism after receiving the vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella, when, in fact, some of the subjects had shown signs of autism before receiving the vaccine, and some had not developed autism at all.

During all this, Wakefield accepted $674,000 from lawyers preparing a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Eh... whoops.

The new information suggests that not only was Wakefield's research inaccurate, he deliberately falsified it.

It's an interesting story, but as Dr. Max Wiznitzer points out in the article linked to above, the medical and scientific communities already knew Wakefield was a fraud, and Wakefield's followers aren't likely to change their positions now, so it's a little bit of a moot point.

Wakefield himself says that the truth is in his book, which he wants you to buy.

Jun
11
2010

Life with Asperger Syndrome: I just read this book, loaned to me by the mother of another Asperger syndrome boy I cared for.
Life with Asperger Syndrome: I just read this book, loaned to me by the mother of another Asperger syndrome boy I cared for.Courtesy Jesse Saperstein
When my nephew was an infant, he would not crawl, and he would flap his arms like a bird. I ended up doing daycare for him (and his brother) until they started school. I also noticed they would often say things twice, the second time softer to themselves. Years later I learned about Asperger Syndrome (AS). Asperger syndrome is a mild form of autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Diagnosing autism is not simple

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorders vary and require trained professionals to diagnose. You can listen to Dr. Susan Levy for an explanation.

New research may lead to a simple urine test for autism diagnosis

According to research published in Journal of Proteome Research, children with autism have a different chemical fingerprint in their urine than non-autistic children.

The researchers reached their conclusions by using H NMR Spectroscopy to analyse the urine of three groups of children aged between 3 and 9: 39 children who had previously been diagnosed with autism, 28 non-autistic siblings of children with autism, and 34 children who did not have autism who did not have an autistic sibling.
They found that each of the three groups had a distinct chemical fingerprint. Non-autistic children with autistic siblings had a different chemical fingerprint than those without any autistic siblings, and autistic children had a different chemical fingerprint than the other two groups. ScienceDigest

Early detection of autism can change lives

According to AutismSociety.org the advantages of early detection and intervention cannot be overemphasized. Children who receive intensive therapy can make tremendous strides in their overall functioning and go on to lead productive lives.

Jun
10
2010

What's better than learning something new? How about learning something new from a cartoon!

Cartoonist Darryl Cunningham writes online comics about science topics, amongst other things. He recently completed a sequence about MMR, autism, and employing a scientific world view. Even if you've read all facts inside, it's still interesting to see it all spelled out in a graphic format.

There are actually quite a few fantastic comic resources out there for understanding science. I think that for a lot of people the added visual stimulus really helps (myself included). I'm a big fan of Two-Fisted Science, which is an anthology of stories of great moments in modern physics. Subjects include Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, and Neils Bohr. I had a chance to meet illustrator Steve Lieber (one of the authors of Two-Fisted Science) this weekend at Charlotte's Heroes Con. During our conversation he recommended the works of Jay Hosler, himself an apiologist (bee scientist). Hosler's two books, Clan Apis and The Sandwalk Adventures both deal with topics in biology. Clan Apis is all about the lifecycle of a honey bee while The Sandwalk Adventures involves Charles Darwin's conversations with his own eyebrow mites in an effort to convince them that he is not God and that evolution is true.

Jan
17
2010

Finally, an objective test for autism

Magnetoencephalography (MEG): A scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG): A scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.Courtesy Tom Holroyd
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASD), up until now, has been subjective. No hard evidence, like a blood test or some other machine measurement could be used to verify ASD.

Researchers now hope that by scanning brainwaves, early recognition and treatment might be possible. Autism spectrum disorders, which includes Aspergers, is now being found in about one per cent of the (US) population.

In the current study, published in the journal Autism Research, Dr Roberts used a magnetoencephalography (MEG), a scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.
The children with ASDs had an average delay of 11 milliseconds (about 1/100 of a second) in their brain responses to sounds, compared to the control children. Telegraph.co.uk

Jan
14
2009

A new law in New Jersey and a new book brings vaccines into the news again. A New Jersey law now requires parents to get influenza vaccine for their preschool age children as well as other vaccines for their older school age children. For more detailed information read this article in the New York Times or review the requirements on the New Jersey Department of Health website.

I have to say that as a parent of small children, I want to know that the children they hang-out with all day have been vaccinated. Vaccines don't always produce the intended immunity and I don't want them getting sick with anything more serious than the usual infections. Actually I don't want them to get sick at all - but I can't control everything.

A new book written by Paul Offit, a pediatrician, called Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure defends vaccines. The book traces the history of autism theories and is widely supported by by pediatricians, autism researchers, vaccine companies and medical journalists. See this article for more information about the book. It sounds like it could be a great resource. We need to remember how bad some of these diseases are that we are trying to prevent. Many children have died from infectious diseases - I'm happy we can prevent many of them.

Oct
03
2008

Take your time and think it through, guy: But don't worry about the MMR vaccine.
Take your time and think it through, guy: But don't worry about the MMR vaccine.Courtesy paul+photos=moody
Let’s be careful how we put our words together, everybody.

I mean, when I get dressed in the morning, I know that I want to get underwear, socks, pants, and at least one shirt onto my body. However, if I were to forgo all rules of dressing order and arrangement, I might give off the wrong message: i.e., I’m crazy, and possibly dangerous to be around.

Why would I take any less care with my precious, precious words?

Because I’m pretty lazy, I don’t generally read most (any) of the articles on science that I come across every day. Instead, I read only the headlines. Or, better yet, I have them read to me—that way I can rest my head on my desk while I’m taking in the news. It’s very important, then, that all headlines are clearly worded. Otherwise I could dictate a Science Buzz post that is even more factually inaccurate than my posts normally are. That’s dangerous territory.

Survey confirms parents’ fears, confusion over autism.”

I looked at that headline, saw the word “vaccine” in the body, and thought, “Oh, snap! Vaccines do cause autism?” Because, that’s what parents’ are afraid of, after all.

Nope. The existence of parents’ fear and confusion over autism is what has been confirmed here. The actual connection between vaccinations and autism remains non-existent.

A recent study found that a significant percentage of parents still believe that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine can cause autism, or are at least uncertain and fearful that such a connection does exist. This is despite the fact that scientists can establish no connection between early childhood vaccines and the development of autism.

The fear that early childhood vaccinations lead to an increased risk for autism originated from a 1998 study that linked autism to a particular mercury-based preservative in the MMR vaccine. It was later revealed that the study was based on bad research, and it was retracted by most of its authors and disowned by its publisher. In 2001, manufacturers of the MMR vaccine began removing the preservative from their vaccines anyway—and that’s probably not a bad thing, but it hasn’t led to any decrease in the occurrence of autism. And people are still worried about the vaccine anyway.

This confusion wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the better-safe-than-sorry attitude towards not having children vaccinated has led to a resurgence in diseases that had essentially been eradicated in areas where the vaccine is available.

Science Buzz has had a lot of conversation on this subject already, and, if you’re interested, I’d recommend you check out some of the other posts on autism and vaccinations.

Sep
05
2008

We're back in business here at the Science Museum (although the building is still closed to the public until next Friday), just in time to report some good news.

Ouch: Taking one for the team?
Ouch: Taking one for the team?Courtesy Spamily

The CDC reported yesterday that 77.4% of US children between the ages of 19 months and three years received all their recommended vaccinations in 2007. That's a slight improvement over the 2006 statistic. There are big regional variations in coverage, and children living below the poverty line are slightly less likely to be fully vaccinated, but overall less than 1% of US kids received no immunizations at all.

What are the recommended shots?

  • Four or more doses of diphtheria, tetanus toxoid, and any acellular pertussis vaccine, or DTaP
  • Three or more doses of polio vaccine
  • At least one dose of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • At least three doses of Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine
  • At least three doses of hepatitis B vaccine
  • At least one dose of varicella vaccine

Some folks don't vaccinate their kids--particularly against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)--because they worry that the vaccine is linked to autism. That theory has been debunked many times, in many countries, but it persists. On Wednesday, researchers from Columbia University and the CDC offered up another study showing zero causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism (or gastrointestinal problems.) So kids, roll up your sleeves at those back-to-school physicals and get your shots. It sucks, but it beats getting measles.

On the other hand, evidence is mounting to show that flu shots don't work well to protect people over 70. Older people have a lesser immune response to the vaccine and don't develop as much immunity. But the very old and the very young also account for the highest number of flu deaths. So what to do? According to the NT Times article:

"Dr. Simonsen, the epidemiologist at George Washington, said the new research made common-sense infection-control measures — like avoiding other sick people and frequent hand washing — more important than ever. Still, she added, “The vaccine is still important. Thirty percent protection is better than zero percent.”

Another way to protect the elderly is to vaccinate preschoolers. Not only are they likely to pick up the flu before other members of the family, but there's some evidence that preschoolers are actually the drivers of annual influenza outbreaks. Stop the flu in young kids, and you might just stop it for everyone else, too.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have identified a common genetic variant that more than doubles a person's risk for autism. But since about 47% of the population carries the variant, the scientists figure that an unidentified environmental factor must also be at play.

Oct
17
2006

Sucked in: Will this harm your development?
Sucked in: Will this harm your development?

Autism is a serious concern in our country today, with 1 out of every 166 children diagnosed with some form of the disorder. But could the sharp rise in Autism (it was only 1 in 2500 30 years ago) be linked to the increased prevalence of TV in our homes? Economists from Cornell University say that the data shows a pretty strong correlation.

Michael Waldman and Sean Nicholson looked at populations in California, Oregon, and Washington using the Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey. They compared this information with clinical autism data and found a statistically significant correlation between and increase in early childhood hours spent watching TV and autism rates.

Is that science?

Well, the authors of the study will be the first to say that this isn't definitive proof that TV causes autism (or that autism causes TV...sorry, bad joke). And these guys are economists looking at population data not medical scientists studying individuals with autism. But that doesn't mean this study is without merit. Something in our environment causes autism and we don't really know what it is. I support any unique thought on the subject that gives us new research questions to evaluate.

Do you have a story or thought on autism? Have you heard of other possible causes of autism?

A study published in the most recent issue of Pediatrics shows that the rate of autism and related disorders increased even as thimerosal (a mercury preservative) was eliminated from vaccines and fewer children received the MMR vaccine. The study looked at 28,000 children over 11 years. This and other studies confirm that there is no evidence to suggest that the MMR vaccine increases the risk of autism.