Saturday, May 23, 2009

Clinic Notes: Autism in Adults

In a recent article in "Time Magazine" the brother of a man with severe autism describes the life of his autistic brother and the ordeal his parent and now him are dealing with. Noah, who cannot speak or care for himself, bangs his head and pinches himself, and grabs people, spent 15 years in a state facility. His "therapy" has mainly been drugs, which unsuccessfully managed his symptoms. The article was taken from Karl Taro Greenfield's book, Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir.
Greenfield notes that his parents were exhausted after years of caring for Noah at home and had no choice but to place him in an institution for children with developmental disabilities. They visited weekly and the family served as Noah's support group until he was moved to an assisted living facility. Greenfield notes, as I did in a previous blog, that we are not prepared for the explosion of adults with autism that will be here in a few years. All of the money now is being spent on services and research for children who are growing up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Clinic Notes: Terrorists Recruiting Asperger's Suicide Bombers?

Apparently, terrorists using the internet helped a British citizen with Asperger's plant a bomb in a restaurant. The bomb went off prematurely injuring the man with Asperger's and causing a stampede in the restaurant. Sentenced in the Old Bailey Court to 18 years in prison the suspect is now undergoing test in a mental hospital. Many of the children with Asperger's that I treat in my clinic have problems with social concepts so I'm not surprised that the terrorists were successful. I suppose this is an isolated incident?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Clinic Notes: Where Will All of the Children with Autism Go

Everyone is concerned now with the rising number of children with autism. Autism diagnoses in California have increased twelve fold in two decades and rates are rising elsewhere. Providing services for these children with autism has placed a heavy burden on education and healthcare with many children unable to get the services they desperately. I practice in a rural area and at The Children's Treatment Center ( 70 to 80% of the children that we see have an autism diagnosis. Everyone who provides services for children with autism is overwhelmed. Research is increasing and that is good, but autism likely has more than one cause and there are no good animal models of autism. Since autism involves impaired communication I doubt that we will ever have a good animal model so it's likely that a cure is a long way off. When the children with autism reach adulthood and the school system is no longer responsible for them where will they go? Some will be able to have careers and live independently, but many will require continuing services. I used to be able to get special needs children in sheltered workshops and group homes in a few months, but now the wait is years and because of funding cuts some existing facilities are closing. Unfortunately, the majority are going to be with their parents. Furthermore, these children with autism will probably outlive their parents and who will take care of them then? It is time to start planning.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Clinic Notes: Recovering from Autism

Now there is evidence, some of it anecdotal on You Tube that perhaps 10% of children can recover from autism. Most of these children have received years of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which started at a very young age. As I wrote about in an earlier blog previous studies have shown that it may be possible to prevent autism in high-risk toddlers with intensive ABA. While this is good news getting insurance coverage for ABA is still a problem. Blue Cross Blue Shield tells parents in the state where I live that ABA is experimental and not covered while Blue Cross Blue Shield in other states has treatment plan forms and suggest CPT codes to the provider for billing for ABA. Come on these are children's lives we are talking about.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Clinic Notes: Vitamin D Deficiency and Autism

The building next door to my clinic is full of tanning beds. Everyday I see a stream of people going in and out year round getting that golden tan under the lights. In the past I have shook my head and pitied them for risking skin cancer just for that back from vacation look. But now I'm not so sure. Some recent research suggest that avoiding the sun causes vitamin D deficiency and may contribute to the development of certain cancers such as prostrate cancer. And a recent study suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be involved in autism. The evidence comes from studies in Minnesota and Sweden involving Somalis immigrants. Their African home was on the equator and they got plenty of sunshine and vitamin D. There was no autism in their native land. In fact, there was no word in their language for autism. But when the Somalis moved the Minnesota and Sweden the incidence of autism in the Somalis soared. The Somalis in Sweden even call it the "Swedish Disease." I wonder now if parent should be dragging their kids to the tanning beds with them. With all the video games and childhood kids don't get outside as much as they used to. Maybe a few minutes in the tanning bed, equipped with video games of course, would cut the rate of autism.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Clinic Notes: The Music of the Spheres and ABA

In normally functioning brains, neurons fire in rhythm. However, in brains which are impaired by various disorders like schizophrenia or autism, the neurons oscillation frequencies are not tuned correctly and fire out of rhythm like band instruments each playing a different song. This behavior of neurons in the brain reminds me of the ancient Pythagoraian concept of universal music or music of the spheres where the sun, the moon, and the planets move in harmony--not an audible harmony, but a geometrical mathematical harmony that prevents chaos. Likewise the neurons in the brain must fire in a normal rhythm in order to process sensory information, thoughts and feelings, and implement speech and movement. In autism, it is obvious that at least parts of the brain are not working right and seem to have different rhythms. Although I have not done any empirical research and know of no studies, in my clinic the pacing or the rhythm of how we do ABA makes a difference in how kids progress. The frequency of breaks, the intensity of the drills makes big difference in the effectiveness of ABA. It's like a dance that must be learned between therapist and child. Perhaps a dance out of autism.