Saturday, January 24, 2009

Clinic Notes: Parenting a Child with Autism

Most of the children I see in my clinic each week have a diagnosis of autism. Over half of the children we see we are able to mainstream, but it is apparent to everyone that these children will never be completely normal. Parents of these higher functioning children with autism will be able to lead a semi-normal life. For parents of children with moderate to severe autism are not as fortunate. In a recent Schafer Report (January 23, 2009), two articles discuss how having a child with autism "wrecks a parents' life." Furthermore, Dr. Fitzpatrick, author of Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion argues that various biomedical treatments that promise to defeat autism now are offering a "false promise" to "grieving " parents.
In my experience, biomedical treatments have not lived up to their promise and multiple disciplines-speech, occupational therapy for fine motor deficits, ABA, and for some kids medication are the only effective therapies. While these therapies can make life better for the child and the parents they do not come anywhere close to curing autism. Certainly, having a child with autism can wreck a parents' life, but getting competent services can help.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clinic Notes: What the Future Holds for the Child with Autism

Here's a stat to think about. At least 80% of 19 to 30 year old adults with autism are still living at home. Now factor in the increasing numbers of children with autism and it is not hard to forecast a crisis coming in a decade or so. It wasn't long ago that when one of the children in my clinic reached 18 and graduated from high school that I could get them in a group home and a sheltered workshop in a few months. Now it takes years, if it ever happens, because the waiting list is so long and few new group homes and sheltered workshops are being built. In my clinic we mainstream over 50% of the kids with autism we see. I don't know many of these kids will be able to find mainstream jobs when they grow up. So more kids being diagnosed with autism now means more adults with autism in the future. For those of us who work in the autism field it looks like we are getting an autism sandwich.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clinic Notes: Testosterone in the Womb Related to Autistic Characteristics in Children

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and his associates at Cambridge have found that babies exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb have autistic traits such as poor social skills, a lack of imagination, a lack of empathy, less eye contact, and slower language development. This finding supports Baron-Cohen's hypothesis of "extreme male brains" in children with autism. (I note excessive body hair in any of the children with autism that I see in my clinic so I am not surprised.) This finding could lead to a prenatal test for autism and ABA could be started at an early age perhaps preventing autism.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Clinic Notes: Scientology and Autism

Jett Travolta's death is tragic. There is a lot of speculation regarding the role of Scientology in his death with some suggesting that his seizures could have been easily controlled with medication. In my clinic I see many children with various seizure disorders, as well as children with autism, 30%, of whom have seizures. Any pediatric neurologist will tell you that sometimes seizures can be hard to control with medication or a combination of medications. Usually the next step is to implant a vagus nerve stimulator, which delivers a mild shock to the brain when seizures start. Often this works, but not always. Surgery is the next step--cutting the corpus callosum, which connects the 2 hemispheres of the brain or more drastically removing a hemisphere. All of these procedures have side effects and often a decision has to be made as to whether or not the patient would be better off without treatment. I don't know the details of the Travolta case and I certainly take issue with Scientology's view of autism. But in this tragic case I think it is best for everyone to stop writing and speculating and give the family some privacy. And peace.