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IMFAR (the International Meeting For Autism Research) starts tomorrow.

11 May

IMFAR is the world’s largest autism science conference. I don’t recall the exact statistics, but there are probably over 1000 researchers who attend. Literally hundreds of presentations on various topics. I am not attending, but I will try to write a few articles about abstracts and topics that I think of are interest.

I do know that this year Shannon Rosa (twitter: @shannonrosa) and Carol Greenburg will be attending and tweeting and probably putting some thoughts up at the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism (twitter: @thinkingautism, Facebook and the TPGA blog.

IMFAR shows what a huge effort is going on in autism research. People are working hard to understand autism and (more importantly) make a difference in the lives of autistics.

By Matt Carey

Autistic kids are more likely to be hospitalized–and that includes for vaccine preventable diseases

15 Jul

There’s a lot of talk about comorbid conditions and autism. Sadly that conversation is often used to suggest that vaccines cause autism. As in, “look at how much GI disease there is in autism. Must be caused by vaccines!”

And because of that discussion, probably most of the people drawn to read this article will be because I highlighted vaccines in the title. So let’s get that out of the way first. A group of researchers looked at what leads to hospitalization of autistic kids. In specific, they looked at “Ambulatory care sensitive conditions” which are defined as: (ACSCs) are conditions for which appropriate outpatient care prevents or reduces the need for hospitalization. The study was presented at IMFAR and is titled Ambulatory Care Sensitive Hospitalizations Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

What did they find for vaccine preventable diseases? Autistic kids are 3 times more likely to be hospitalized for vaccine preventable diseases than are kids with no chronic conditions.


Three times more often.

For diseases that can be easily prevented with vaccines.

But sadly some of the most vocal opponents to vaccines are autism parents. All due to the misinformation that claims that autism is caused by vaccines. And the result is that autistic kids suffer from preventable diseases.

Not only do these parents contribute to the misinformation campaign against vaccines, they also ignore the fact that other conditions are even more common among autistics than, say, GI disease. Not to downplay GI disease. Not at all. From this study, hospitalization from constipation occurred in 1.2% of autistic kids. That’s over 4 times higher than for kids without chronic conditions and that’s a big deal. But what fraction of autistic kids hospitalized for mental health conditions? 23.5%. That’s over 8 times more often than kids without chronic conditions. And nearly 10 times more common than hospitalization from constipation and gastroenteritis combined.

14.5% of autistic kids were hospitalized for epilepsy. Nearly 10 times the value for the general population.

But as a community, autism parents are not talking about mental health conditions and epilepsy much. The most vocal among us have let themselves focus on the (now dead) vaccine debate. And it is hurting us as a community. It is hurting the people we are supposedly working to serve: autistics.

To bring this back from a critique of the harm that vocal minority of the parents cause–

Yes, autistics are more likely to be hospitalized than are the general population. And big issues for us include mental health and epilepsy.

Hospitalization–any hospitalization–is a big deal. Especially in the autistic population. Not too long ago we saw that autistics were more likely to be restrained in the ER. I remember being left overnight in the hospital when I was a kid. No way I could do that with my autistic kid, and I don’t see being left alone as a viable option for many of the autistics (both kids and adults) I know. How do we support autistics (and other disabled people) when hospitalized? From my experiences, I can say “not well”.

And that’s something I hope we can change. I hope enough people read past the vaccine part of this article and take the time to really think about where we are applying our advocacy in the autism communities.

Here’s the table from a paper

Ambulatory Care Sensitive Hospitalizations Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

P. S. Carbone1, P. Young1, G. Stoddard1, J. Wilkes1 and L. Trasande2, (1)University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, (2)NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY

Background: “Ambulatory care sensitive conditions” (ACSCs) are conditions for which appropriate outpatient care prevents or reduces the need for hospitalization. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be at risk for hospitalization for ACSCs because of difficulty accessing high quality primary care.
Objectives: The purpose of this study is to describe the prevalence and health care utilization of children with ASD who are hospitalized for ACSCs and compare them with the prevalence and health care utilization for the same conditions in hospitalized children without ASD.

Methods: Using the 2009 Kids Inpatient Database, hospitalizations for an ACSC were examined within three cohorts of children aged 3-20 years: children with ASD, children with chronic conditions without ASD (CC), and children with no chronic conditions (no-CC). In order to compare the prevalence of each ACSC for the three cohorts we separately analyzed discharges with a primary diagnosis ICD-9-CM code that corresponded to each of ACSCs listed in the table. In order to compare inpatient health care utilization for the three cohorts we analyzed total charges (TC) and length of stay (LOS), for each ACSC.

Results: Within the 24,174 in the ASD cohort, we found that the proportion of hospitalizations for an ACSC was 55.9%, compared with 28.2% in the CC cohort and 22.9% in the no-CC cohort (p<0.001). The most prevalent ACSCs among children with ASD were mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, mood disorder) (23.5%) and epilepsy (14.7%). Children with ASD were more likely to be hospitalized for a mental health condition, epilepsy, constipation, dehydration, underweight and a dental condition compared with the other cohorts (Table). After adjusting for covariates (age, gender, race, median household income, primary payor, hospital variables [size, location region, teaching status, type] and point of origin of admission), we found that children with ASD were nearly ten times more likely to be hospitalized for a mental health condition (OR: 9.72; 95% CI: 8.39-11.26; p <0.001), nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy (OR: 6.58; 95% CI: 5.95-7.29; p <0.001) and more likely to be hospitalized for constipation, pneumonia, dehydration, vaccine preventable diseases, underweight and nutritional deficiencies, compared with the no-CC cohort. Adjusting for the same covariates we found that children with ASD were twice as likely to be hospitalized for mental health conditions (OR: 2.19; 95% CI: 1.99-2.41; p <0.001), five times more likely to be hospitalized for epilepsy (OR: 4.99; 95% CI: 4.60-5.41; p <0.001), and were significantly more likely to be hospitalized for constipation, dehydration, and underweight compared with the CC cohort. The ASD cohort had higher TC and longer LOS for mental health conditions compared with the other two cohorts.

Conclusions: Outpatient efforts to prevent hospitalizations in children with ASD should focus on mental health care needs and seizure management. Other strategies should include actively managing constipation and dehydration, monitoring nutritional status, and immunizing against vaccine preventable conditions. Understanding the reasons for the higher healthcare utilization among children with ASD hospitalized for mental health conditions should be the subject of further research.

By Matt Carey

The largest autism science conference, IMFAR, starts this week

12 May

IMFAR, the International Meeting For Autism Research, is being held this week in Atlanta, Georgia. The schedule for the meeting is up, as is the list of talks (program). Abstracts are embargoed until Wednesday at 10am EST.

Here is a list of general topics for the conference:

Adult Outcome: Medical, Cognitive, Behavioral
Animal Models
Brain Function (fMRI, fcMRI, MRS, EEG, ERP, MEG)
Brain Structure (MRI, neuropathology)
Cognition: Attention, Learning, Memory
Communication and Language
Early Development (< 48 months)
Intellectual and Behavioral Assessment and Measurement
Invited, Keynote Speakers, Awards
Medical and Psychiatric Co-morbidity
Molecular and Cellular Biology
Repetitive Behaviors and Interests
Social Cognition and Social Behavior
Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
Specific Interventions – Non-pharmacologic
Specific Interventions – Pharmacologic
Technology Demonstration

I, for one, am very glad to see a focus on adults (<a href=”“>three sessions) and on services (three sessions).

There is a session on Autism in Africa. There is very little information on this area.

There is a dearth of autism research on the African continent; this scientific panel session aims to highlight recent research progress addressing this gap. The panel includes scientific presentations from two sub-Saharan African countries, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies and reporting on both urban and rural African populations. Altogether, the findings from these studies highlight the major barriers to appropriate support for families of children with autism in Africa (including the severe shortage of diagnostic and educational services, lack of awareness about autism and its causes, and high levels of stigma), and report on a promising scalable model that can help tackle these problems by training frontline community-based health extension workers. The challenges and opportunities discussed in these presentations apply not just to the countries under study, but have relevance for the entire African continent and low/middle income countries elsewhere. During the panel discussion these common themes will be reviewed and priority areas for future research and opportunities for intervention will be highlighted, in order to facilitate future autism research, advocacy and capacity building efforts.

I was able to attend IMFAR in San Diego a few years ago with the aid of an Autism Science Foundation grant. It was a great experience and I wish I could attend this year. There is nothing like it for concentrated autism science.

By Matt Carey

IMFAR study: No Differences in Early Immunization Rates Among Children with Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorders

3 May

IMFAR, the International Meeting For Autism Research, is going on this week.  In preparation for the meeting, I posted the titles of a number of studies being presented.  The full abstracts are now available.  One might venture to guess that for a segment of the online parent community, this study (sadly) may get the most attention: No Differences in Early Immunization Rates Among Children with Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorders

It is not one of the very large population based epidemiological studies which have many thousands of participants.  But it is a good sized study with confirmed diagnoses.

As the abstract states, the difference immunization rates is not significant, with the autistic kids rate reported as slightly lower. One child was unimmunized, and that child is autistic.

One vaccine with significantly different uptake rates is the Hepatitis B vaccine, with autistic kids receiving this at a lower rate than the typically developing kids.  The HepB vaccine is one that gets a great deal of focus by those claiming vaccines causes an autism epidemic, with claims of much higher autism risk among those vaccinated with HepB. If this were true, one would expect the autistic group to show a higher uptake of this vaccine.

All in all, as the authors note, this is not a study about causation but the results do not lend support to the idea that vaccines are associated with higher autism risk. The study was undertaken by the MIND Institute, which is generally respected by the groups who promote the idea that vaccines are associated with autism.

K. Angkustsiri1,2, D. D. Li3 and R. Hansen2,4, (1)UC Davis MIND Institute, Sacramento, CA, (2)UC Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, CA, (3)M.I.N.D. Institute and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, CA, (4)The M.I.N.D. Institute, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA

Background: The relationship between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has been of great interest to families and health providers.

Objectives: This study compares the immunization practices of preschoolers with ASD and typical development (TD).

Methods: Immunization records were abstracted from 240 (161 ASD, 79 TD) children between the ages of 24.1-54.4 months participating in the Autism Phenome Project from April 2006 to August 2011. Seventy-eight percent were male. We compared immunization rates for the vaccines required by the State of California for children ages 18 months to 5 years (3 doses of Hep B, 4 DTAP, 4 Hib, 4 PCV, 3 IPV, and 1 MMR). Of note, there was a national HIB vaccine shortage from 2007-2009. Varicella was not included due to the possibility of naturally acquired immunity. 

Results: Immunization rates in ASD children were slightly lower than in TD (see Table 1), but this difference was not statistically significant, with the exception of Hep B, where 91.3% of children with ASD had received 3 doses compared to 98.7% of TD (p=0.024). These rates were at or above those reported in the 2011 National Immunization Survey (NIS). One (0.6%) ASD child had not received any immunizations. The national rate for children who received no immunizations was 0.8%. 

Conclusions: Despite the lack of evidence supporting any causal relation of vaccines to ASD (IOM, 2011) many parents remain concerned and some choose to delay or avoid vaccines. Immunization rates in preschoolers with ASD in our sample were generally lower than TD, although there were no statistically significant differences except for Hep B.  Our study, although not designed to specifically address a causal relationship, does not support an association between vaccines and ASD. In most cases, these immunization practices represent behavior during the first 18 months of life prior to receiving an ASD diagnosis. Further study looking at differences in vaccine acceptance during the 4-6 year booster period is warranted, as having an ASD diagnosis may affect parents’ attitudes towards future immunization.

ASD (n=161) TD (n=79) p-value 2011 NIS
Hep B 147 (91.3%) 78 (98.7%) 0.024 91.1%
DTAP 150 (93.2%) 78 (98.7%) 0.110 84.6%
Hib 107 (66.5%) 48 (60.8%) 0.386 shortage 2007-09
PCV 134 (83.2%) 66 (83.5%) 0.128 84.4%
IPV 149 (92.5%) 78 (98.7%) 0.066 93.9%
MMR 151 (93.8%) 75 (94.9%) 0.99 91.6%

By Matt Carey

TPGA: IMFAR 2012: An Update on the ASD DSM-5 Recommendations

19 May

There is much discussion on the DSM 5 at IMFAR. This includes talks from Sue Swedo at the stakeholder’s lunch and a formal (and highly attended) conference talk The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has four of their editors at the conference and has an article on the DSM 5 discussion.

IMFAR 2012: An Update on the ASD DSM-5 Recommendations

We spoke with Sue [Swedo] at length both at the IMFAR Stakeholder’s lunch, and after her IMFAR talk. Any errors or omissions in this summary of her talk are on TPGA. -SR

More at the TPGA site.

Some first-hand reports from IMFAR

18 May

Here are some reports that have been written on IMFAR so far. IMFAR is a three day conference, with one pre-conference day. Saturday (tomorrow) is the last day.

Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

IMFAR 2012: Genetic Variants in ASD

IMFAR 2012: On Communicating Autism Science

Autism: Friendships in Adolescence from IMFAR 2012

IMFAR 2012 Press Conference

Autism Science Foundation

Reactions from IMFAR Travel Grantees: Day 2

Reactions from IMFAR Travel Grantees: Day 1

Follow Twitter streams



Edit to add:

Here’s an article by Estee Klar:
My First Impressions of IMFAR 2012

I hope to have some articles by autistics soon.

The Implications of DSM V: Changes in Diagnostic Outcomes in An Adult Clinical Sample Re-Diagnosed According to the Proposed DSM V

17 May

The Implications of DSM V: Changes in Diagnostic Outcomes in An Adult Clinical Sample Re-Diagnosed According to the Proposed DSM V is a talk to be given at IMFAR on Saturday. Given the very high focus on the DSM V from the online autism community, I had hope that this study might shed some light on the topic. IMFAR is a forum for preliminary work, and the abstract in this case shows that:

Background: Major changes in diagnostic criteria are proposed for DSM-V, including the collapsing of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder and PDD-NOS into a single diagnosis; ‘autism spectrum disorder (ASD)’. The effects of these changes are as yet unclear; will individuals diagnosed by current criteria still meet diagnostic criteria with the proposed diagnostic scheme? While some work has been reported addressing this issue in children, no studies in adults have been published to date. Adults, including those first receiving a diagnosis in adulthood, are an important, and somewhat neglected, group in autism spectrum clinical services and research and are the focus for the present study.
Objectives: To review the effect of proposed DSM V diagnostic algorithms on the diagnostic outcome of a clinical sample of patients assessed for ASD in adulthood.

Methods: Diagnostic information was reviewed for 100 consecutive adult patients who attended the Behavioural Genetics Clinic, a specialist clinic providing assessment of ASD at the Maudsley Hospital, London. Original diagnosis was made in accordance with the ICD-10 criteria. Diagnostic assessment included a detailed neuropsychiatric interview, Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and / or Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) pending consent to contact parents/parental availability and physical examination. Information from the ICD 10 algorithm, ADI-R, ADOS and neuropsychiatric assessment reports was used to recode diagnostic outcomes in accordance with the proposed DSM 5 ASD algorithm as posted by the American Psychiatric Association.

Results: Data will be presented showing the degree of agreement between current ICD 10 diagnoses (Asperger’s Syndrome, Childhood Autism, Atypical Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified) and the proposed new DSM 5 diagnosis of ASD.

Conclusions: Implications for proposed changes to diagnostic criteria will be highlighted.

The abstract tells us little about results, just that they will be “presented showing the degree of agreement between current ICD 10 diagnoses (Asperger’s Syndrome, Childhood Autism, Atypical Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified) and the proposed new DSM 5 diagnosis of ASD”

IMFAR 2012 begins

17 May

The International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) started on Wednesday with a press conference and a pre-conference program focused on stakeholders. I was fortunate to be able to attend last year, but not this year. I did call in to the press conference, though and it brought back some of the excitement for me.

Before going on, note that the press conference is covered at the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism (by people who actually attended!) as IMFAR 2012 Press Conference

The press conference highlights a number of studies which are about to be presented at the conference. It was stressed that IMFAR is a conference where the abstracts are reviewed before being approved, but the studies are not peer-reviewed as in a journal. It is a conference for very new results.

One study highlighted was Beyond ASD: Developmental Outcomes of High Risk Siblings. This is a follow on study to the well publicized baby siblings study that found about 19% recurrence risk for baby siblings of autistic children. This is the study that looks at the other 81%, the kids who did not get an autism diagnosis. Short answer–even among the children who did not get an autism diagnosis, the baby siblings had more autistic traits than children who were not baby siblings of autistics.

Here’s the conclusion from the abstract:

Conclusions: At three years, HR [high Risk]children without an ASD had higher levels of ADOS symptom severity, and lower levels of developmental functioning than LR [Low Risk]children. They were more likely to occupy clusters characterized by lower levels of developmental functioning, and less likely to occupy a cluster characterized by higher levels of developmental functioning and low levels of symptom severity. Descriptively, two-thirds of HR children occupied Clusters 1 and 2, characterized by normative outcomes, whereas one third occupied Clusters 3, 4, and 5, characterized by elevated ADOS severity, lower developmental quotients, or both. These results suggest an early ‘broader autism phenotype’ in HR siblings characterized by ASD symptoms sub-threshold for diagnosis and/or developmental delays.

and the summary:

A new study presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research examined the development of the younger siblings of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASDs are developmental conditions characterized by problems with interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. Previously, an international consortium of researchers found that almost one in five of the younger siblings of children with an ASD themselves developed an ASD. The researchers’ new findings suggest that of the younger siblings who did not develop an ASD, one in three faces challenges at three years of age.

The challenges faced by these younger siblings of children with ASD include slight delays in verbal and nonverbal functioning and somewhat elevated levels of autism-related characteristics. Examples of a child’s autism-related characteristics—which are not as severe as those of children with an ASD—include lower levels of back-and-forth play with others, and lower levels of pointing to express interest in what is going on around them. Overall, the researchers say, the majority of high-risk siblings are developing typically at three years of age, but a minority face challenges that appear to reflect subtler forms of ASD-related problems. Follow-up of these children through school age is necessary to understand their long-term outcomes.

The second study highlighted was Shared Decision Making (SDM) and the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). My guess is that the themes presented in the summary below will not come as a great surprise to those who have read parent narratives on the internet. I.e. that parents look to pediatricians for treatment options for their autistic kids, but the doctors often don’t see autism treatment to be something they can do.

The goal of this qualitative study was to describe factors influencing shared decision making for treatment decisions by pediatricians and parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We conducted in-depth interviews of 20 pediatricians and 20 parents of children with ASD 2-5 years of age. The analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that many pediatricians did not view treatment for autism spectrum disorders to be within their scope of practice or competence. Parents did not view their pediatrician as knowledgeable or invested in making treatment recommendations. We also found that parents often independently pursue treatments, not benefiting from professional guidance regarding safety and effectiveness. Results from this study indicate substantial barriers to shared decision making between pediatricians and families in the care of autism. Research is needed in order to understand how best to help 1) parents have realistic expectations of their pediatrician and 2) improve training of pediatricians to be effective partners in care of children with ASDs and their families

The third highlighted study was Oxytocin’s Impact on Social Cognitive Brain Function in Youth with ASD. The study member who presented this for the study called it “very exciting and very preliminary”. Two features of this study stand out immediately: (1) it is a double-blind, crossover, randomized control study and (2) it includes fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Here is the summary:

We are presenting the preliminary data from the first ever double blind, placebo controlled study of changes in brain activity in children with an ASD (ages 7-18) after a single dose of oxytocin. The initial results indicate that oxytocin, administered via nasal spray prior to the scan, increased activity in brain regions known to process social information. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring substance that is produced in the brain and plays a role in regulating social abilities.

These results provide the first, critical steps towards devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism which may involve a combination of validated clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin. Such a treatment approach will fundamentally alter for the better our understanding of autism and its treatment.

There were two more studies highlighted at the press conference but, I’m sorry to say, I was not able to listen to those presentations.

Measuring Interactive Developmental Pathways in ASD: A Dual-Domain Latent Growth Curve Model Symptoms, Diagnosis & Phenotype – Cognition & Behavior: Early ASD

As children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) grow up, they embark on quite different developmental pathways. Some individuals learn to live independently, maintain friendships, and find work, many require some support in their daily lives, and still others experience many challenges. Understanding how very young children with ASD develop important early skills can provide vital clues that might help predict these various pathways. For example, researchers have suggested that greater social interest and awareness in children with ASD may have a positive impact on language, which in turn may have a positive influence on other aspects of learning and development. This model of “cascading” effects is intuitively appealing but has not been validated in ASD. The Canadian “Pathways in ASD” Study (funded by CIHR and other provincial governments and foundations) is uniquely able to shed light on this issue as it is the largest prospective follow-up study of very young children with this disorder. As part of this study, we used information about 365 2-to-4-year-olds with ASD to examine whether such cascades occurred across early social competence and language abilities in the year after diagnosis. On average, the children made significant progress in social competence and remarkable gains in language abilities over that year. Within this one-year period, greater change in social competence in the first year was associated with more growth in language skills. However the reverse wasn’t true: early language ability had a much smaller effect on changes in children’s social competence. These findings therefore support the idea of early developmental cascade effects. Early advantages and gains in social competence may lead to advantages in other domains. However, children whose very early social skills lag farther behind at time of diagnosis are also less likely to show language progress. This study highlights the importance of early interventions that focus on emerging social competence (versus only language skills), as these are likely to “spill over” across other developmental pathways.


Head Lag in Infants At Risk for Autism

This new prospective study of six-month-old infants at high genetic risk for autism identified weak head and neck control as a red flag for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and language and/or social developmental delays. Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute concluded that a simple “pull-to-sit” task could be added to existing developmental screenings at pediatric well visits to improve early detection of developmental delays.

While previous studies have shown that head lag indicates developmental delays in children with cerebral palsy and preterm infants, postural control in infants at risk for ASD had not been examined. In this research, Dr. Landa and her team assessed infants in a “pull-to-sit” task, a simple measure of postural control in infants. The findings suggest that motor delays may have an important impact on child development.

Four of the editors from The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism are at IMFAR this year. Their post on the press conference is already up: IMFAR 2012 Press Conference

Differences in White Matter Fiber Tract Development Present From 6 to 24 Months in Infants With Autism

23 Feb

If you watch for autism related news stories you likely have seen multiple stories on a paper out Friday in the American Journal of Psychiatry: Differences in White Matter Fiber Tract Development Present From 6 to 24 Months in Infants With Autism (full paper available online). The researchers studied brain structure in children and compared those who went on to be diagnosed with autism to those who did not. They found differences in white matter between the two groups. In particular fiber tracks were different.

Here’s figure 1 (click to enlarge) from the paper to give you an idea of what they mean by fiber tracks. Check the brain cartoons on the right. Then check the actual data in the graphs. These are “significantly different” trajectories for these measurements. They are not clear differences that could lead to a diagnostic tool.

Here is the abstract:


Evidence from prospective studies of high-risk infants suggests that early symptoms of autism usually emerge late in the first or early in the second year of life after a period of relatively typical development. The authors prospectively examined white matter fiber tract organization from 6 to 24 months in high-risk infants who developed autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) by 24 months.

The participants were 92 high-risk infant siblings from an ongoing imaging study of autism. All participants had diffusion tensor imaging at 6 months and behavioral assessments at 24 months; a majority contributed additional imaging data at 12 and/or 24 months. At 24 months, 28 infants met criteria for ASDs and 64 infants did not. Microstructural properties of white matter fiber tracts reported to be associated with ASDs or related behaviors were characterized by fractional anisotropy and radial and axial diffusivity.

The fractional anisotropy trajectories for 12 of 15 fiber tracts differed significantly between the infants who developed ASDs and those who did not. Development for most fiber tracts in the infants with ASDs was characterized by higher fractional anisotropy values at 6 months followed by slower change over time relative to infants without ASDs. Thus, by 24 months of age, those with ASDs had lower values.

These results suggest that aberrant development of white matter pathways may precede the manifestation of autistic symptoms in the first year of life. Longitudinal data are critical to characterizing the dynamic age-related brain and behavior changes underlying this neurodevelopmental disorder.

If the idea of differences in fiber tracks seems somewhat famiiliar, last year Eric Courchesne at UCSD reported at IMFAR about
Abnormally Accelerated Development of Higher-Order Long-Distance Cerebral Tracts In ASD Infants and Toddlers. The paper was highlighted at the IMFAR press conference (and discussedhere at Left Brain/Right Brain.

At the press conference David Amaral mentioned similar work at the IMFAR press conference last year.

At 51:20 in the video above, Prof. Amaral speaks on the work that precocious brain growth at 4-6 months of age in infants and is most prominently present in children with regression.

“..despite the fact that the regression, the behavioral regression, takes place at 18 months or 24 months, the brain changes actually started taking place at 4 to 6 months. So it actually casts a doubt on the idea that a vaccine, the MMR vaccine for example that’s taken at 12 to 18 months, would be actually the precipitating factor because things were starting much much earlier than that.”

The talk that Prof. Amaral was speaking about was Total Cerebral Volume Is Associated with Onset Status In Preschool Age Children with Autism.

C. W. Nordahl1, A. Lee1, M. D. Shen1, T. J. Simon1, S. J. Rogers1, S. Ozonoff2 and D. G. Amaral1, (1)Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, Sacramento, CA, (2)Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, M.I.N.D. Institute, UC Davis, Sacramento, CA
Background: Autism is a heterogeneous disorder, and multiple behavioral and biological phenotypes likely exist. One well-characterized behavioral phenotype is onset status. While some children with autism exhibit symptoms very early in life, others experience a regression or loss of previously acquired skills. There is currently very little known about the neural substrates associated with these two different behavioral trajectories in autism.

Objectives: We examined the relationship between total brain volume and onset status in a large sample of 2-4 year old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (n = 48, early onset, n = 58, regression) and a comparison group of age-matched typically developing children (TD) (n = 55).

Methods: Diagnoses and autism severity were based on ADOS and ADI-R scores and clinical judgment by trained, experienced psychologists. Developmental quotients (DQ), verbal quotients (VQ) and nonverbal quotients (NVQ) were based on the Mullen Scales. Onset status was categorized based on parent reports from related ADI-R questions. Total cerebral volume was compared between autism onset groups as well as relative to age-matched typically developing controls. Autism severity and DQ were also evaluated in relation to brain volume and onset status.

Results: Children who exhibited regression had significantly larger total brain volumes than children with early onset autism (p = .004). Total brain volume in the early onset ASD group did not differ from the TD group, whereas total brain volume was significantly larger in the children with regression. Moreover, children with regression had significantly lower VQ (p = .03) and higher (i.e. more severe) ADOS social and communication scores (p = .02). Total brain enlargement remained significant even after controlling for these variables. There were no significant correlations between total brain volume and VQ or ADOS scores.

Conclusions: Total brain enlargement has been reported in children with autism under the age of five. However, behavioral associations with abnormal brain enlargement have not been fully explored. Our findings suggest that abnormal brain enlargement in autism is associated with a parent-reported regressive pattern of onset and more severe symptoms involving both developmental impairment and ASD severity.

The idea that autism, even regressive autism, has signs as early as 6 months is challenging to some groups on two levels. First the idea that autism involves physical differences in the brain. Second that these differences are present well before regression, or well before vaccines which are sometimes proposed as precipitating events.

The study itself has limitations, one being generalizability. It makes a lot of sense to monitor siblings of autistics since the recurrence risk is high and the chances of collecting data on autistics is higher than in the general populaiton. However, this leaves us with the question: are the types of autism found in siblings (familial autism) representative of all forms of autism?

Apply for IMFAR Travel Grant from the Autism Science Foundation

23 Feb

Are you interested in attending IMFAR (the International Meeting for Autism Research)? The 2012 conference will be held in Toronto, May 17 – May 19. I attended last year in San Diego with the assistance of the Autism Science Foundation (ASF) through a travel grant. If it was possible, I would go this year as well even without the grant.

Applications are open for this year’s ASF travel grants but the deadline (February 29) is coming very quickly. If you are thinking of applying, now is the time.

Here is the announcement from the Autism Science Foundation
. I’ll highlight this section:

Applicants should send a letter to describing why they want to attend IMFAR and explaining how they would share what they learned with the broader autism community.

Below is the announcement in full:

We are now accepting applications for travel grants to send a limited number of parents of children with autism, individuals with autism, special education teachers, and other stakeholders to attend the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). This year the conference will be held in Toronto, Canada from May 17-19.

The awards cover up to $1,000 of expenses to be used for registration, travel, accommodations, meals and other directly related expenses, including childcare or special accommodations to enable individuals with autism to participate. Grantees are responsible for obtaining international travel documents.

Applications must be received by February 29, 2012.

Grant Requirements:

Grantees must submit the original receipts for reimbursement and are expected to submit completed travel expense forms within 15 days of return from IMFAR.
Grantees are asked to participate in ASF related activities at IMFAR including a group photo and social media promotion. Full details will be shared closer to the event.
After attending the conference, grantees are asked to share what they learned in their own communities to further spread the knowledge gained within 6 months of attending IMFAR. Grantees are asked to send a short write-up plus photos or a video of their activity for use by ASF.

To apply:

Open to autism stakeholders: individuals with autism, parents of children with autism, special education teachers, graduate and undergraduate students, journalists, and others.
Grants are awarded to US residents only, over 18 years of age.
Applicants should send a letter to describing why they want to attend IMFAR and explaining how they would share what they learned with the broader autism community.
Letters should be sent as Microsoft Word attachments of no more than 2 pages, 12-point type, “Arial” font, with standard margins.
In the email subject line please write: IMFAR Grant.
Letters must be received by February 29, 2012.

Recipients will be announced in late March.