Fighting autism

December 16, 2015

Autism has remained a puzzle for researchers and health experts on what is the main cause of the disorder. More than six decades ago in 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist at John Hopkins University coined the word but to this date, doctors and scientists have failed to pinpoint the cause of autism.Since 2008 the United Nations has dedicated every April 2 to autism with the intention of increasing global awareness and recognition of children with autism. Since then, autism cases have grown and is considered like a pandemic, with no country immune to it.The symptoms of autism itself vary from case to case, of which impairments in social interaction, verbal and non verbal communication, and imagination, are most prominent according to a researcher specialising in the disease in Australia.In her own words, the researcher informed me recently that although there is no known unique cause of autism, there is growing evidence that autism can be caused by a variety of problems.Obesity during pregnancy may increase chances for having a child with autism according to recent publications although there is no concrete evidence that obesity causes autism.One study in US three years ago said women who were obese during pregnancy were about 67 percent more likely than normal-weight women to have autistic children.They also faced double the risk of having children with other developmental delays. On average, women face a 1 in 88 chance of having a child with autism and suggested that obesity during pregnancy would increase that to a 1 in 53 chance.According to the Australian researcher, there is some indication of a genetic influence in autism, and that the genetic link to autism may be a weakened or compromised immune system.

Another research conducted in Canada showed that depression and or dyslexia were quite common in one or both sides of the family when autism was present.The Sydney based researcher however downplayed genetic factors as the number of people affected by autism was growing each year. In the Australia,it is estimated that there were one in every 300 children with autism, while in 1980s there were one in every 2,000 children.Autism is three times more likely to affect males than females, according to the Australian researcher, however this gender difference was not unique to autism since many developmental disabilities had a greater male to female ratio.Aged 39, the researcher whom I have known for more than 20 years, revealed that there is no substantive evidence that genes cause an outbreak, and she said that autism was more likely caused by the change in the environment, pollution, wider use of artificial fertilisers, and higher consumption of fast foods.In Australia,there was also evidence that a virus can cause autism, and that there was an increased risk in having an autistic child after exposure to rubella during the first trimester of the pregnancy. Additionally, there is growing concerns that viruses associated with vaccinations, such as the measles component of the MMR namely – Measles, Mumps, and Rubella – vaccine and the pertussis component of the DTP – Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis – shot, may cause autism.During our chat, I learned that many autistic children also seemed to have an impairment in one or more of their senses, which could involve the auditory, visual, tactile, taste, vestibular, olfactory, and proprioceptive senses.

These senses may be hypersensitive, hyposensitive, or may result in the person experiencing interference, such as a persistent ringing or buzzing sound in the ears. As a result, it may be difficult for them to process incoming sensory information properly.Also, I was informed that close to 15 percent of autistic individuals had savant skills, or remarkable abilities. These skills were often spatial in nature, such as a special talent in music and art, and mathematical abilities in which some can multiply large numbers in their head within a short period of time. Others could determine the day of the week when given a specific date in history, or memorize a complete airline schedule.Food intolerances and food sensitivities are receiving much attention as possible contributors to autistic behaviors, and many families are observing rather dramatic changes by removing certain food items from their children’s diet.Australian researchers in recent past detected the presence of abnormal peptides in the urine of autistic individuals. It is thought that these peptides may be due to the body’s inability to breakdown certain proteins into amino acids.These proteins were gluten such as wheat, barley, and oats; and casein found in human and cow’s milk. Many parents had removed these substances from their children’s diets and had, in many cases, observed dramatic, positive changes in health and behavior. Evidence of autism may be found in the composition and malfunction of the brain’s blood vessels, was recently published. Researchers sheds new light on the causes of autism, which previously had pointed to neurological make-up rather than to the vascular system, and identifies a new target for potential therapeutic intervention.

The study, “Persistent Angiogenesis in the Autism Brain: An Immunocytochemical Study of Postmortem Cortex, Brainstem and Cerebellum,” appeared in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. In their study, the researchers examined human postmortem brain tissue, some from normal brains and others from those with an autism diagnosis. In the microscopic analysis, the scientists were blind to the nature of the tissue, not knowing if it came from an autistic brain or a typical one.Researchers cellular studies uncovered angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels, in the autistic brain tissue, but not in that of typical brains. The distinction is a significant one, evidence of angiogenesis indicates that these vessels are repeatedly being formed and in constant flux, underscoring an instability in the blood’s delivery mechanism. Specifically, in autistic brains, they found increased levels of the proteins nestin and CD34, molecular markers of angiogenesis, compared to typical brains.But as time passes, there is need to develop more expertise under the supervision of medical practitioners hired by the parents.Hence, greater efforts in advocacy, awareness, research and human resource development should be compulsory. In this regard, government intervention on the autism issue is imperative if the World is serious about dealing with this phenomenon. Intervention could take the form of establishing more inclusive schools for children with autism and formal programs in universities or academies for educators and therapists in order to better handle autistic children. More health centers that provide services to children with autism and medical research on the disorder are also required. There is no country or family immune to autism, members of society should not wait until our children are affected to act. I believe World need to aggressively invest in research and develop a comprehensive action plan that coordinates efforts between the public and private sectors to tackle the challenge of autism.

Contador Harrison