Autism news: Aug. 10, 2010

A few autism-related news items of note over the past week:

(1) [No surprise] Anti-depressants found to be ineffective for treatment of autism

The Boston Globe reports the following:

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders have trouble with communication and social interaction. There are no drugs specifically approved to treat these problems, although antidepressants are sometimes recommended. But a new analysis finds no evidence that they help people with autism and some signs that they may cause harm in children.

The full story is here.

Dave: Last time I checked anti-depressants were found to be barely better than placebos in treating depression, which is the disease they were designed for, so it’s hardly surprising to me that they don’t work for autism. As far as I know, it has never been demonstrated that there is a link between low serotonin levels and autism, so it is hard to understand how these drugs could help address autistic symptoms. But with roughly 1% of the population suffering from this disease, it clearly behooves drug companies to promote this as a possible treatment, especially since they wouldn’t have to spend any money on development.

(2) [More useful] Babies may show signs of autism

From USA today:

Signs of autism may show up in babies as young as 1 month old, a new study shows.

But the tip-offs are not the usual red flags, such as a lack of eye contact or smiling, the researchers noted.

Instead, they found babies who needed neonatal intensive care and were later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have abnormal muscle tone and differences in their visual processing than babies who went on to develop normally after time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The full story is here.

Dave: There have been several new developments in this area of early diagnosis recently, everything from a urine test (see here),  analysis of babbling (see here) and genetic tests (see here). Since early intervention with behavioural therapy is the autism treatment that has been shown to result in the biggest improvement in outcomes for autistic children, anything that improves early diagnosis is truly an important and welcome development. The problem now is trying to get governments to actually help pay for the necessary (and costly) therapy without making children sit on a waiting list during that time of their development when the therapy is the most beneficial (before the age of 5). Without this, early diagnosis will simply not help most people. Where I live, wait times are 3-4 years and is limited to those who have the most severe symptoms. In places like Texas, the wait can apparently be as long as 5-8 years. On the other hand, 22 states in the U.S. now require insurance companies to cover the cost of intensive behavioural therapy. That’s some progress.

– Dave


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