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Minority children with autism lack access to specialists
Hispanic and African-American children are less likely to see specialists for autism or other conditions, according to a new study.
June 17th, 2013
09:13 AM ET

Minority children with autism lack access to specialists

Editor's Note: Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh is a resident psychiatrist at Emory University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.

African-American and Hispanic children are far less likely to be seen by specialists - for autism, but also other medical conditions - and also less likely to receive specialized medical tests than their white peers, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Sarahbeth Broder-Fingert and colleagues studied the records of 3,615 children with autism at the Massachusetts General Hospital,  specifically looking at the rates of both referral to specialists and medical tests undertaken.  They discovered that children from African-American and Hispanic families were far less likely to receive specialized care or specific medical tests such as a sleep study, colonoscopy, or endoscopy.

When compared to their white peers, African-American children were three times less likely to see a gastroenterologist or nutritionist, and half as likely to see a neurologist or mental health specialist, according to the study. The story is similar among children from Hispanic families.

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Vaccine-autism connection debunked again
March 29th, 2013
11:08 AM ET

Vaccine-autism connection debunked again

Many expectant parents are wary of all the recommended vaccines their newborns are supposed to get in the first hours, days and even the first couple of years, believing that too many vaccines too soon may increase their child's risk for autism.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics Friday may put them at ease. Researchers found no association between autism and the number of vaccines a child gets in one day or during the first two years of the current vaccine schedule.

The research was led by Dr. Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Together with two colleagues, DeStefano and his team collected data on 256 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 752 children who did not have autism. The children were all born between 1994 and 1999 and were all continuously enrolled in one of three managed-care organizations through their second birthday. FULL POST


Abuse could mean higher risk of autistic children
March 20th, 2013
04:54 PM ET

Abuse could mean higher risk of autistic children

Being abused as a child may increase a mother's chance of having a child with autism, according to a new study, but researchers aren't sure why.

Investigators at The Harvard School of Public Health looked at more than 50,000 women in the Nurses' Health Study II group, and found that those who reported the highest levels of abuse as children themselves were 60% more likely to have children with some type of autism-spectrum disorder.

The reasons for the apparent connection, reported Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, remain murky. FULL POST


March 20th, 2013
04:09 PM ET

CDC: Higher number of children with autism

The number of children with autism is "significantly" higher than previously thought, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

School-aged boys were four times more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis than girls, according to the new data.

The CDC released a report a year ago estimating 1 in 88 American children has a form of autism spectrum disorder - neurodevelopmental disorders that lead to impaired language, communication and social skills.  The report looked at medical and educational records of all 8-year-olds living in 14 areas of the United States during 2008. FULL POST


Folic acid in pregnancy may help lower autism risk
February 12th, 2013
04:03 PM ET

Folic acid in pregnancy may help lower autism risk

Taking folic acid before pregnancy, and through the first several weeks of pregnancy, may help reduce the risk of autism for those children, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Researchers in Norway looked at data from 85,000 pregnancies, and found that women who took the supplement four weeks before pregnancy, and through the eighth week of pregnancy, were 39% less likely to have children with autism.

The Norwegian study is the largest to date on the benefits of folic acid for autism prevention, and marks one of the first tangible things a woman can do to reduce her risk of giving birth to a child with the disorder. FULL POST


Link between autism and infections during pregnancy explored
November 12th, 2012
02:57 PM ET

Link between autism and infections during pregnancy explored

If a mother has an infection or the flu during pregnancy, can it raise the risk of autism for her child? A new study out of Denmark suggests that the answer is "probably not" and "maybe" and that the issue definitely needs more study.

"Overall, we found little evidence that various types of mild common infectious diseases or febrile episodes during pregnancy were associated with ASD/infantile autism (autism spectrum disorders)," the study authors wrote.

But they also say their data suggest there are three scenarios in which there might be an increased risk of the child developing autism. If the mother had the flu, there was "a two-fold increased risk of infantile autism; if the mom had "prolonged episodes of fever" (lasting a week or more), the risk goes up threefold; "and use of various antibiotics during pregnancy were potential risk factors for ASD/infantile autism."  

But the study authors also concede that the results may be skewed by multiple testing, contributing to the potential for “chance findings.” FULL POST


Evidence weak that vocational programs help young adults with autism
August 28th, 2012
09:11 AM ET

Evidence weak that vocational programs help young adults with autism

Google "vocational interventions for young adults with autism" and you'll get more than 200,000 results. But a new study finds there's little science to backup the efficacy of current methods used to help young adults with these neurodevelopmental disorders segue into the workforce.

"There's startlingly little information on the best ways to help adolescents and adults with autism achieve their maximum potential in the workplace and across the board," says lead study author Julie Lounds Taylor.

Taylor and her colleagues at Vanderbilt University sifted through more than 4,500 studies that made reference to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and therapies and found only 32 studies published between January 1980 and December 2011 that met their basic criteria, including having at least 20 study participants between the ages of 13 and 30.
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Older fathers may be linked to child autism
As many as 20 to 30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be because of the father’s advanced age, a new study found.
August 23rd, 2012
05:33 PM ET

Older fathers may be linked to child autism

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

Women aren’t the only ones whose biological clocks are ticking: A new study on the genetics of autism finds the sperm of older men may be to blame for many cases of the disorder.

The study, done by researchers in Iceland, indicates that as many as 20-30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be linked to the father’s advanced age.  Unlike findings on disorders such as Down Syndrome, this study found that the age of the mother made no difference.

“This is really a paradigm shift,” said Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director of the New York University Fertility Center.

Traditionally, women have borne the brunt of concerns about having a healthy child as they age, while many men have assumed their sperm were no different at 80 than at 20.

“I had my babies at 38 and 39 and I was terrified,” said anchor Ashleigh Banfield on CNN Newsroom. “Honey, you’re in the conversation now. It’s not just me.”

Video: Older fathers may be linked to autism

While older men have an increased risk of fathering a child with autism, the risk is still low – 2% at the most for dads over 40, according to the new study.

The authors looked at random mutations in genes that are linked to autism and schizophrenia. Looking at 78 families, the researchers found that on average, a child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to the father’s genes. Children born to 40-year-old fathers had 65 mutations.

As men age, "Sperm will have acquired more mutations than when they were younger, which will increase the chance of children they father inheriting a disease-producing mutation,” said Richard Sharpe, who does research on male reproductive health at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh.

One scientist said men might want to take a tip from some young women who freeze their eggs to use when they’re older.

“Collecting the sperm of young adult men and cold-storing for later use could be a wise individual decision,” wrote Alexey Kondrashov, a professor who studies evolution at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute.

With autism, no longer invisible


Baby's poor head and neck control may be an autism clue
May 17th, 2012
01:49 PM ET

Baby's poor head and neck control may be an autism clue

Early research suggests that if a 6-month old baby has "head lag," or weak head and neck control, it may be an early sign of autism or another language/social developmental delay.

The test is simple - babies who are lying on the floor are pulled up into a sitting position. If the baby's head is not moving forward as you pull the baby up, it's a sign of weak head and neck control.

Researchers already know that head lag could be an early sign that a child's nervous system is not developing correctly. They've seen this in children with cerebral palsy and preterm infants, for example. But so far it had not been documented in children with autism.
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April 9th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Mom's weight may be risk factor for autism

A mother's weight and diabetic condition may increase the risk of her unborn child developing a neurodevelopmental disorder, such as autism, according to a new study published in this week's journal Pediatrics.

Researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute in California found that mothers-to-be who were obese were 67% more likely to have a child with autism as opposed to normal-weight mothers without diabetes or hypertension.

And a pregnant woman who is obese doubles her child's risk of having another developmental disorder (poor communication skills, lack of attention) compared to a child born to a mother at healthy weight.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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