Autism Research Review Part II
A few weeks ago I posted some of the newest, most interesting, and valid research on Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have a couple more studies reviewed below along with links:
1)Anti-psychotic drugs may cause weight gain in individuals with autism
Both pro- and anti-medication sides could be debated, but I think several important factors are evident in prescription medication and autism. First, people respond differently to different drugs. When individuals with autism are given medication, it may be difficult to gauge their response if they have communication deficits.
As an anecdotal, I have seen medication provide absolutely beneficial results for a few of the children I have worked with over my career. There is an absolute place for pharmaceutical intervention. Are some drugs over-prescribed? The evidence seems to suggest as such, not to mention that SSRI’s are beginning to turn up in our water supply. Not exactly what one wants in the ice cubes. It appears that medication, much like many other conventional medical practices, has the unfortunate place of being the first course of action over other legitimate therapeutic practices.
I have been meaning to write about this since I presented at the ASA conference in Dallas this past year. I had a lengthy conversation with the father of an adolescent male on the spectrum. His father, Monty, mentioned that his son was on Resperdal, and had been gaining weight. Monty further suggested that the increase in body fat was similar to female body fat distribution. While males generally gain fat in the stomach, females (0f all cultures) are predisposed to gaining fat mass in the breasts and hips. I had not even thought of this before, but considering his comments many of the young males I work with and have observed in my practice have this same body fat distribution. Many are also on anti-psychotic medications.
Known side effects of Resperidone include gynaecomastia, irregular menstruation and sexual dysfunction. Gynaecomastia is an increased fat deposit in the breast tissue (in males). While I am not sure of a particular study, one possible hypothesis is that the medication is aromitizing into estrogen in the males over time. The increased estrogen would cause a hormonal imbalance and could, in theory, lead to the feminine fat deposits that are being observed in the male autism population. Again, medication does have it’s place, however many of the side effects are unpredictable and can lead to other health complications.
2) Chromosomal Change and Autism
Genetic researchers continue to discover evidence of the relationship between chromosomal markers and autism. In this recent study out of Emory University, researchers found that a specific change in one of these chromosomes (a section of chromosome 17), results in a 14% increase in the likelihood of developing autism or schizophrenia. The findings can not only aid in a faster diagnosis, but may also be able to aid in determining risk.
It is critical for both the current and future generations of those with autism and their families that private institutions, State, and Federal organizations fund further research not only into the causes (yes, there are at least several causes) of autism but also into proven therapeutic practices, education, and health care. Soap box now clear.
3) Structured Teaching (ABA) Leads to New Creativity Skills
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that by using an ABA-based approach (structured, progressive teaching), children with autism were able to gain new creative skills with respect to playing with blocks. Creative ability, a deficit in many individuals with autism, is necessary for a wide variety of life skills, including general problem solving, planning, expression, and socialization. Increasing creative ability can open up new opportunities for children, teens, and young adults on the spectrum.
The most fundamental aspect of my Autism Fitness programs is to systematically develop physical ability so that it may be used creatively. Systematic teaching and mastery = Ability to be used at Random. Play is chaotic, free, and fluid. In order to play, however, we must first have mastered the basic skills to some degree. For vigorous physical play, we need to be able to bend, push, pull, climb, jump, hop, crawl, and combine them all in new ways. Teaching each of these skills individually, and then beginning to create new patterns (movement chains and movement complexes), builds not only new physical relationships but cognitive abilities as well.
Summing it up:
The increase in research on the genetic origins of autism and related disorders is promising. Keep in mind this field is still in its infancy. We have a tendency in the West to separate and compartmentalize different areas of education and science. A trend towards more interdisciplinary research (ahem, how fitness and exercise affect everything), may lend some excellent data on the best therapeutic, preventative, and educational practices.