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Excess Mortality and Causes of Death in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Follow up of the 1980s Utah/UCLA Autism Epidemiologic Study

27 Sep

Long term studies are an under explored area in autism. Research interest in autism has grown a great deal and understanding of autism has grown. Thus we have few studies from the past to form the basis for long term studies and the populations may not represent current populations.

The Utah/UCLA study from the 1980’s does present one possibility for long term follow up. The study was performed when the DSM III was still in effect, for example of how the population selected then was different. A recent study showed that there were autistics missed then, even among the intellectually disabled.

With that in mind, there is still value in exploring long term outcomes in this group. In particular, the present study explores the increased mortality of autistics. In particular, mortality due to “iratory, cardiac, and epileptic events” were more common among autistics, who died nearly 10 times more often (by roughly age 30) than non autistics.

Here is the abstract

This study’s purpose was to investigate mortality among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ascertained during a 1980s statewide autism prevalence study (n = 305) in relation to controls. Twenty-nine of these individuals (9.5 %) died by the time of follow up, representing a hazard rate ratio of 9.9 (95 % CI 5.7-17.2) in relation to population controls. Death certificates identified respiratory, cardiac, and epileptic events as the most common causes of death. The elevated mortality risk associated with ASD in the study cohort appeared related to the presence of comorbid medical conditions and intellectual disability rather than ASD itself suggesting the importance of coordinated medical care for this high risk sub-population of individuals with ASD

More long term, longitudinal and retrospective, work is needed to fill in some major knowledge gaps. Some is ongoing but we need to not only mine the data from the past but also law the groundwork for future long term studies.


By Matt Carey

A Systematic Review of Vocational Interventions for Young Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorders

28 Aug

Autism is more than something which concerns children. Autistics, like everyone, grow up. Some will find jobs, some could use supports to obtain jobs. At present, most do not gain employment. How can we as a society better support autistics in gaining employment? Well, that question is largely unanswerable. A paper out yesterday in Pediatrics A Systematic Review of Vocational Interventions for Young Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorders (full text is free), shows that there is little data on vocational services for adults.

The abstract is below, and the paper online, but a quick view of the study can be found in this Reuters article, quoting lead author Julie Lounds Taylor and Paul Shattuck, an autism researcher not involved with the study:

“Even though there are vocational services out there, they haven’t been rigorously studied,” Taylor said.

She stressed, though, that the findings do not mean the programs don’t work – just that better studies are needed.

An autism researcher not involved in the new report agreed.

“I think this is more a critique of the research community, not the programs themselves,” said Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Why have there been so few studies, and no high-quality ones?

Both Taylor and Shattuck said that in autism, the research focus has historically been on children.

“But children with autism grow up,” Taylor pointed out. “We have startlingly little evidence on how to help adults.”

Prof. Shattuck was, in my opinion, being polite. Autism parents such as myself will have a hard time finding someone to blame for this. We have dominated the discussion and advocacy efforts for some time and we have not called for better research on such critical areas as the effectiveness of adult supports.

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Many individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are approaching adolescence and young adulthood; interventions to assist these individuals with vocational skills are not well understood. This study systematically reviewed evidence regarding vocational interventions for individuals with ASD between the ages of 13 and 30 years.

METHODS: The Medline, PsycINFO, and ERIC databases (1980–December 2011) and reference lists of included articles were searched. Two reviewers independently assessed each study against predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria. Two reviewers independently extracted data regarding participant and intervention characteristics, assessment techniques, and outcomes, and assigned overall quality and strength of evidence ratings based on predetermined criteria.

RESULTS: Five studies were identified; all were of poor quality and all focused on on-the-job supports as the employment/vocational intervention. Short-term studies reported that supported employment was associated with improvements in quality of life (1 study), ASD symptoms (1 study), and cognitive functioning (1 study). Three studies reported that interventions increased rates of employment for young adults with ASD.

CONCLUSIONS: Few studies have been conducted to assess vocational interventions for adolescents and young adults with ASD. As such, there is very little evidence available for specific vocational treatment approaches as individuals transition to adulthood. All studies of vocational approaches were of poor quality, which may reflect the recent emergence of this area of research. Individual studies suggest that vocational programs may increase employment success for some; however, our ability to understand the overall benefit of supported employment programs is limited given the existing research.


By Matt Carey

“We want respect”: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities address respect in research.

21 Aug

The concepts of neurodiversity are not complex and yet are often misunderstood and misrepresented. Respect is not a difficult concept. The need for research to respect those who are the focus is not difficult.  Respect includes aknowleging that disability does not disenfranchise a person from her human rights. Respect means including the views and opinions of those involved in the research, even if they are intellectually disabled.

Consider this recent study:

“We want respect”: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities address respect in research.

Abstract Respect is central to ethical guidelines for research. The scientific community has long debated, and at times disagreed on, how to demonstrate respect in research with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To illuminate the voices of those most affected, the author studies the views of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities on respect in research. Findings are consistent with disability rights’ ideas and indicate that adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have much to contribute to the discussion, that they value participating, and that they agree with calls to focus on human rights and dignity. Notably, participants spoke at lengths about the nature of interactions between researchers and participants. Implications are discussed, including how to infuse research standards with community-supported values and preferences.

For emphasis: ” . Findings are consistent with disability rights’ ideas and indicate that adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have much to contribute to the discussion, that they value participating, and that they agree with calls to focus on human rights and dignity.”

Call it “human rights and dignity” and it isn’t a controversial concept. It may not be always followed but it isn’t controversial. Call it “neurodiversity” and somehow it’s a big deal.

One of the misconceptions I’ve read is that neurodiversity is a topic for so-called “high functioning” autistics. Many comments have come through this site calling my child “high functioning” because of the views expressed here. (Those commenters assumed incorrectly).  Here’a something to consider: the study noted above not only focuses on people with intellectual disability, it makes no mention of autism in the abstract.   The study did not even come through in my daily email of pubmed autism abstracts.

Comparing Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders in a Developmentally Disabled Adult Population Using the Current DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria and the Proposed DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

8 Aug

The proposed change in diagnostic criteria for autism (from DSM IV to DSM 5) has been a topic of much discussion. To put it mildly. Little, if any, data has been available on how this change may affect the adult population.

A recent study seeks to address that void:

Comparing Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders in a Developmentally Disabled Adult Population Using the Current DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria and the Proposed DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

Reseaerchers studied autistic adults with intellectual disability. They found that 36%  of their study population would lose their diagnosis under DSM 5.

The American Psychiatric Association is making changes in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) criteria for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). In order to examine potential effects of the changing of the criteria, 330 adults with intellectual disability (ID) from two developmental centers were examined. However, due to the fact that the DSM-IV-TR/ICD-10 Checklist does not contain one of the restricted behavior items listed in the current proposed DSM-5 criteria, 41 participants were eliminated from the study. An additional 62 individuals were randomly removed from the study so that no one group was 1.5 times larger than any other group. This left a total of 227 individuals. These individuals were divided into three groups: those who met criteria for an ASD according to only DSM-IV-TR criteria, those who met criteria according to the proposed DSM-5 criteria, and controls with ID not meeting ASD criteria according to either diagnostic system. After statistical analysis, individuals in the DSM-5 group evinced significantly greater overall ASD core symptoms than those in the DSM-IV-TR group or controls. In addition, those in the DSM-IV-TR group exhibited significantly greater overall ASD core symptoms than those in the control group. Furthermore, we found that the percentage of adults diagnosed with ASD declined by 36.53% when using DSM-5 as compared to DSM-IV-TR criteria. Implications of these findings are discussed.


by Matt Carey

Chad Jackson starved to death

17 Jul

A recent news story discussed how a mother of autistic adult Chad Jackson was charged with murder. More details are now becoming available. In Autopsy: Adult son with autism starved, we learn that previous to Mr. Jackson starving to death and his doctor had ordered tests performed to determine why he was losing so much wait.

The victim’s doctor told investigators he had ordered blood tests when he became concerned about the amount of weight Chad had lost — but Yodi Jackson never had those tests done.

Yodi Jackson was Chad Jackson’s mother.

–by Matt Carey

Mom charged in death of son with autism

7 Jul

A recent news story, Mom charged in death of son with autism, the discusses how an adult autistic was allegedly murdered by his mother:

She was arraigned the same day on charges of second-degree murder and second-degree felony abuse. Court records reviewed by 24 Hour News 8 indicate she starved her son to death.

The Vulnerable Adult Abuse charge stems from, court records show, Jackson’s “Failure to insure that he (the victim) receive proper nutrition , hydration and or medical care.”

“I just found out. I’m really at awe,” said Jackson’s friend Manda Diskin. “I can’t believe they found enough to charge her with murder.”

The mother’s friend goes on to defend the mother :

“These kids have a lot of ailments that people don’t know,” said Diskin. “Without speaking, they can’t always tell you that they’re in pain. Not having a verbal way to tell someone that you’re hurting. That could happen to anyone with a special needs kid.”

I am having a very hard time understanding that statement. Are we to believe that after 25 years the mother could not tell her son was starving to death because he was non verbal?

Bail in this murder case was set at $10,000. As is common in the United States, the mother was a letter to obtain a bond with 10%.

Second degree murder charge and out with only $1000.

I am at a loss for words.

Thank Mitsubishi for supporting an Autism Campus Inclusion Leadership Program

19 Jun

In February I posted an email from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network describing their program for this summer:

ASAN Invites Autistic College Students to Autism Campus Inclusion Leadership Training

That program was supported by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). If you feel grateful for their support of this program, you can contact some of the executives of the Foundation.

Katsuya Takamiya, President and CEO:
http://tinyurl.com/786gdcg

Kevin R. Webb, Director, MEAF:

Mitsubishi Electric Public Relations:

I can’t take credit for finding those links. That credit goes to the “Canary Party”. Never heard of them? Well, they are an offshoot of groups like SafeMinds and others. The sort who are behind the blog, Age of Autism.

No, they didn’t collect those links in order to thank the Foundation for their efforts. They wanted their membership to complain. They have a webpage (Mitsubishi Funds Group that Opposes Preventing or Curing Autism). Their discussion is rather long, but the main points are copied below. (The original has formatting problems which they don’t seem to want to fix.)

Despite the many worthwhile autism charities desperately in need of funding, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) has chosen to fund one that:
1) opposes all efforts to cure or prevent autism, denies an increase in autism prevalence and now seeks to promote this form of “activism” among college students nationwide.
2) blatantly violates MEAF’s own stated guideline: “We do not fund organizations or programs connected with a controversial social or political issue.” MEAF is funding a “neurodiversity” initiative by ASAN (Autism Self Advocacy Network) – highy controversial in the autism community. According to ASAN, “The training is meant to prepare students to engage in self-advocacy and pro-neurodiversity activism on their college campuses.”
3) promotes “self-diagnosis” of autism, causing students who may have the disorder to not qualify for college disability support services and national testing service accommodations, thus diminishing, not “enhancing” chances for academic success and future employment. “Self-diagnosis” (without medical confirmation) of any disability, disease or disorder is an irresponsible practice and should not receive corporate funding.
4) does not promote “full inclusion of people with disabilities alongside their peers without disabilities,” as called for in Mitsubishi guidelines, but promotes segregation of people with disabilities in extracurricular activities.

Yes, the “canary party”, a group devoted to promoting the failed “mercury in vaccines caused an autism epidemic” idea is claiming that ASAN is “highly controversial”. A group spreading fear of vaccines is pointing fingers claiming someone else is “irresponsible”.

Take the time. Click on the links. Let the good people at Mitsubishi know that people appreciate their support.

Services for adults with an autism spectrum disorder

7 May

Paul Shattuck is one of those people I greatly admire. He and his group ask important questions in areas which are generally given low levels of attention. Regular readers to Left Brain/Right Brain will (I hope) recognize that improving the research base for knowledge about autistic adults is a high priority of mine. I can’t say as I was exactly pleased to see the abstract below, as it points out the lack of knowledge that we have. But I was pleased to see this topic highlighted. The study (which I have not seen in full yet) is Services for adults with an autism spectrum disorder.

The need for useful evidence about services is increasing as larger numbers of children identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) age toward adulthood. The objective of this review was to characterize the topical and methodological aspects of research on services for supporting success in work, education, and social participation among adults with an ASD and to propose recommendations for moving this area of research forward. We reviewed the literature published in English from 2000 to 2010 and found that the evidence base about services for adults with an ASD is underdeveloped and can be considered a field of inquiry that is relatively unformed. Extant research does not reflect the demographic or impairment heterogeneity of the population, the range of services that adults with autism require to function with purposeful lives in the community, and the need for coordination across service systems and sectors. Future studies must examine issues related to cost and efficiency, given the broader sociopolitical and economic context of service provision. Further, future research needs to consider how demographic and impairment heterogeneity have implications for building an evidence base that will have greater external validity.

It is amazing that after a decade of intense focus on autism research, we know so little. I greatly appreciate Prof. Shattuck’s team taking the time to review the literature. It’s time to put some major effort into filling in these knowledge gaps.

Mayo Clinic to study adult prevalence and outcomes

18 Apr

A five year project was started this year to investigate the epidemiology and current status of adults in the U.S.. At present we have almost no data on adult outcomes. We have little data using on adult prevalence. Studies from the U.K. have reported a prevalence about 1.1% for autistic adults “…with learning disabilities living in private households and communal care establishments in Leicestershire, Lambeth and Sheffield”. This is slightly higher than reported in 2007. The studies were survey based. The survey was calibrated with testing of a subset of the population. However, the study did not involve direct testing of all individuals or record review of all individuals.

The U.K. study was an excellent first step to demonstrate, amongst other factors, the number of adult autistics and their living conditions.

There is nothing close to this in the United States. We can’t make real comparisons of prevalence between adults and children, for example. Not just because we don’t really have the data. Multiple studies have shown that when one tests adults, even those living in settings for the developmentally disabled, many autistics were unidentified before the study.

Here is the project description from the NIH Reporter website:

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are lifelong neurodevelopmental conditions with mostly unknown etiology that have a huge impact on affected individuals and their families, and are a major public health concern. This proposal, “autism Spectrum Disorder: Birth Cohort 1976-2000, Epidemiology and Adult Status,” in response to NIH Funding Opportunity Announcement (PA-10-158) describes an epidemiologic, population-based, large birth cohort study of ASDs. Significant gaps exist in the knowledge of ASD incidence and its possible rising trend. Detailed characterization (phenotype) of ASD incident cases and ASD subtypes [Autistic Disorder (AD), Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS] is sparse, and potential risk factors (etiologies) are still unknown. Knowledge about adult outcomes of incident ASD cases identified in childhood is almost non-existent. ASD-associated medical costs are high, yet information to improve cost-effective medical management is lacking. A unique set of circumstances, including an already established population-based birth cohort of all children born 1976-2000 to mothers residing in Olmsted County, MN (N=43,934), access to complete, detailed school records for each child in the birth cohort (Independent School District ISD #535 – 41 public, private, home schooled), access to detailed medical records for every child in the birth cohort (Rochester Epidemiology Project-REP; NIH-AR30582), and the Olmsted County Healthcare Expenditure and Utilization Database (OCHEUD) provide the infrastructure to enable the successful completion of this project. This rigorous epidemiologic study involves an experienced multi-disciplinary research team, confirmation of the availability of documented behavioral symptoms of ASD from 1976 forward, with development of a detailed dictionary of descriptive phrases abstracted from medical/school records congruent with DSM-IV-TR criteria (pilot data) and a unique population-based birth cohort. [To help control for changes in special education laws and DSM criteria] this proposal will implement a systematic page by page review of medical and school records of all potential ASD cases regardless of initial school and medical classification and will apply the same uniform research criteria for ASD incident case identification (including DSM-IV-TR criteria), during the 37year study period. We will study the putative rise in incidence of ASD over 37 years, the possible role of certain risk factors on any incidence trend of ASD over time, the “shared risk” hypothesis by estimating the interaction between perinatal risk factors and family history (parents, siblings) of psychiatric disorders, assessing adult ASD current status and outcomes and cost effective medical management analyses. The knowledge achieved through this combined retrospective and prospective epidemiologic approach will substantially advance scientific/clinical knowledge about ASD

The methodology is similar to that of the CDC reports like the recent 1 in 88 study. The researchers will perform a records review. If the studies on children are any indication, many autistics will be identified through the records review.

This is not the same as a whole population study, where all individuals are screened and many tested for autism. Such a study was performed in Korea recently and resulted in a prevalence of 1 in 38, much higher than found elsewhere with non-whole population studies.

This begs the question of when someone will start a full-population study of adult autistics in the U.S. and, more importantly, what we might find from such a study.

Severe Influenza Among Children and Young Adults with Neurologic and Neurodevelopmental Conditions — Ohio, 2011

17 Feb

Children with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions are at increased risk for severe outcomes from influenza, including death. Those aren’t my words. They are the first sentence in a new report by the CDC: Severe Influenza Among Children and Young Adults with Neurologic and Neurodevelopmental Conditions — Ohio, 2011.

Individuals with developmental disabilities are at a higher risk of harm or death from infectious diseases. They are also often more difficult to diagnose due to many factors including difficulties with communication.

The residents included a high percentage of individuals with great challenges. For example, of those with severe infections, nine had “do not resuscitate” orders (the reasons for this is not given).

All 13 residents with severe influenza had severe to profound neurologic and neurodevelopmental disabilities, including physical limitations (e.g., scoliosis, hemiplegia or quadriplegia, or cerebral palsy) (Table 1), and nine had “do not resuscitate” orders.

The story from this Ohio facility is bad on many fronts. An outbreak of influenza swept through the facility. 130 residents total. 76 residents had acute onset of respiratory illness. 13 were severely ill. 10 were hospitalized, and seven died.

All of those severely ill had the influenza vaccine. However, during the investigation it was found that the refrigerator that stored the vaccines was 27 degrees F. If the same temperature was in effect while the vaccines were stored, the low temperature could have inactivated the vaccine.

In other words, these individuals were given vaccines but they could have been rendered useless by the storage conditions.

Here is the abstract:

Children with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions are at increased risk for severe outcomes from influenza, including death. In April 2011, the Ohio Department of Health and CDC investigated an influenza outbreak that began in February 2011 in a residential facility for 130 children and young adults with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions. This report summarizes the characteristics and clinical courses of 13 severely ill residents with suspected or confirmed influenza; 10 were hospitalized, and seven died. Diagnosis is challenging in this population, and clinicians should consider influenza in patients with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions who have respiratory illness or a decline in baseline medical status when influenza is circulating in the community. Prompt testing, early and aggressive antiviral treatment, and antiviral chemoprophylaxis are important for these patients. When influenza is suspected, antiviral treatment should be given as soon as possible after symptom onset, ideally within 48 hours. Treatment should not wait for laboratory confirmation of influenza. During outbreaks, antiviral chemoprophylaxis should be provided to all residents of institutional facilities (e.g., nursing homes and long-term- care facilities), regardless of vaccination status. Residential facilities for patients with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions are encouraged to vaccinate all eligible residents and staff members against influenza.

The story notes the relatively low efficacy of the influenza vaccine (about 60%). If the vaccines were compromised by low temperature storage, 60% efficacy could have saved 4 of the seven people. So called “vaccine safety” groups should be calling for more effective vaccines, not downplaying the need for vaccines using the 60% figure.

What are the take-away messages from this? For one, influenza *is* a serious disease. Especially to many in the disability community.