January 7, 2008

NURTURE NOT NATURE AFTER ALL:

On Parenting: Reassuring Autism Findings: New evidence exonerates vaccines, while super-early intervention sparks interest (Nancy Shute, January 7, 2008, The American)

The best evidence to date that vaccines are not responsible is published today in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers with the California Department of Public Health found that the number of new cases of autism reported in California has risen consistently for children born from 1989 through 2003, which includes the period when thimerosal was phased out. Studies in other countries, including one from Canada published in 2007, have also exonerated vaccines and thimerosal.

"This study is very important for public health," says Eric Fombonne, an autism researcher who heads the department of psychiatry at Montreal Children's Hospital. He hopes the new evidence will encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated, and persuade parents of children with autism to shun chelation and other untested treatments. "When you have a disorder that is so complex, that affects humans at their core nature, people want explanations," says Fombonne, who is optimistic that research now underway on linking genes with autism will provide them. "I think the situation will change dramatically in the next few years, as we discover more genes."

Such discoveries won't help children who are already struggling with the disorder. But one recent bright spot in treatment is evidence that the earlier children get behavioral interventions designed to teach language skills, thinking, and social interaction, the better they seem to do through life. Scientists are now trying to push the limits of that theory, targeting even tiny babies, as young as 6 months, who are too young to be diagnosed with autism.

"Early intervention leads to more positive outcomes," says Annette Estes, a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington. Unpublished work by Estes and her colleagues has found improvements in children who are given intervention at as young as 18 months. The idea is that since small children's brains grow in response to their environment, babies destined to develop autism can develop new neuronal pathways to work around their brain deficits.

This month, Estes started recruiting 200 families with newborns in the Seattle area who have an older child with autism. Those babies have a much higher risk of developing the disorder than kids in the general population: about 1 in 20, compared with about 1 in 150. Half of the parents will be trained to work with their babies using a program called "Promoting First Relationships," which was designed to improve the social environment for normal children in high-stress situations like homeless shelters.


Gosh, you mean if you pay attention to socializing young kids normally most become normally socialized?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 7, 2008 4:29 PM
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