A study by a Florida State University researcher has shown that African-American children receive a diagnosis of autism later than other children, which can negatively affect their treatment.
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Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University have found that an uncommon bacterium exists in the walls of intestines of children with autism, but not those who do not have autism.The study, led by Brent Williams, tested 23 tissue biopsy samples from children with autism and found that a large portion (12 of the 23) contained the bacteria belonging to the group Sutterella. Even so, the bacteria are generally uncommon, not being found in any of the tissue samples from children without autism.
A recent study shows the causes of autism to be more environmentally influenced than previously thought.
“This is a very significant study because it confirms that genetic factors are involved in the cause of the disorder,” said Dr. Peter Szatmari, a leading autism researcher who is the head of child psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario. “But it shifts the focus to the possibility that environmental factors could also be really important.”
Little is known about the causes of autism and as recently as a few decades ago, psychiatrists thought autism was caused by a lack of maternal warmth. While it is currently thought that there are genetic explanations, there has been growing acceptance that genes do not paint the whole picture, partially because incidences of autism appear to be increasing faster than our genes can evolve.
There are questions over a possible autism epidemic given that the number of children diagnosed in the United States is twenty times higher than it was a generation ago. About one percent of all children are affected, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Scientists are striving to determine an explanation for the spike in diagnoses. While there have been several red herrings, the search for an environmental explanation has so far been fruitless.
Roy Richard Grinker, an anthropologist at George Washington University who has studied autism across the world, believes that what some are calling an epidemic is really an “epidemic of discovery.” Grinker suggests that the percentage of people with autism has always been the same, but previously went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina used MRI brain scans to look at the area of the brain called the amygdala, which was on average 13 percent larger in young children with autism. The amygdala helps individuals process faces and emotions. The size of this specific part of the brain and may help experts pinpoint when autism could first develop.
“We believe that children with autism have normal-sized brains at birth but at some point, in the latter part of the first year of life, it [the amygdala] begins to grow in kids with autism. And this study gives us insight inside the underlying brain mechanism so we can design more rational interventions,” said lead study author Dr. Joseph Piven.
“Once we understand the neurological circuits, we may be able to detect if a child has problems in those circuits as early as 6 months of age,” said Piven. “If we are able to combine those things, we can better predict and guide interventions. We need to let the pattern of early brain development guide us to predict who is at higher risk and who would benefit from early intervention.”
Dr. Joseph Piven will be a key speaker key speaker at 2010 International Autism Conference in Jerusalem, Israel. The conference, titled “Autism: A Global Problem,” will be held the week of February 17 to 19 at the ICC.
Autism experts say such findings are critical in developing new ways to treat and diagnose autism earlier. The study was published in the latest Archives of General Psychiatry and to watch a video of the findings, click here.