The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘pregnancy

I’m pregnant with an autistic child

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Obviously, that statement is far away from entering the lexicon of childbirth, and unless I’m asked to re-enact a Cosby Show episode where Bill dreams most of the show’s male characters are pregnant (he gave birth to a two-liter bottle of Sunkist), I’ll be physically unable to claim such a thing.

However, health reporter Jenifer Goodwin returns to decipher more studies, with the story stripped in several outlets, including USA Today. Four studies are dissected by Goodwin and the findings may reveal clues on the likelihood of giving birth to an autistic child. One study reveals that catching a fever during pregnancy could increase the risk of autism in children. Another study suggests mothers who have diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity may also carry an increased risk of autism in their offspring. Three studies examined data from 1,000 kids participating in the Childhood Autism Risks and Genetic Environment study, whose acronym is shortened to CHARGE.

In a weighted analysis, the first study suggesting a relation between fever and autism reported that mothers of autistic children were twice as likely to report a fever during pregnancy than mothers of children without autism. Risks were highest when mothers reported a fever during the second trimester of pregnancy. Researchers behind the study those findings as preliminary and no statistical significance was found when sampling weights were omitted.

A second study found mother of autistic children were more likely to have elevated levels of certain inflammatory markers. A third, which drew from CHARGE data, mothers who had any combination of type 2 or gestational diabetes, chronic hypertension, or pre-pregnancy obesity were significantly more likely to give birth to children with autism or another developmental delay. The fourth and final study examined Cesarean-section births and autism using CHARGE data and found no statistically significant link between birthing method and autism. The research was presented in a press conference at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego, but they have yet to undergo the scrutiny of research published in peer-reviewed medical journals. A study co-author who was interviewed for the story did say many factors were modifiable, so if they are confirmed as autism risk factors, they could be altered.

The article should not be a cause for panic as findings are in the preliminary stage and several health factors like diabetes and obesity carry more dire health risks than a potential autism diagnosis in children. While placing a time frame on when the factors described in the array of studies presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research would be confirmed isn’t the most productive choice with the slow-and-steady nature of study development, a confirmation would be significant. Coupled with the continuous attention given to the dangers of obesity and diabetes, mainstream news outlets would waste no time hyping or even saturating media with such a link. Even if a link is confirmed should these studies exit the preliminary stage, I doubt a significant impact would occur with personal health, with obesity on the rise and a lack of incentive, initiative and resources blocking efforts to combat the problem.

Jenifer Goodwin and articles on studies are quite common this year; this is the third story published by Goodwin that I’ve discussed in 2011. She sorted out a lot of data in a facet of journalism notorious for its difficulty to communicate meaning. Given the story’s nature, fitting results from four studies wasn’t too difficult though, as Goodwin highlighted each piece of data and offered a brief expansion to explain its significance. She tempers the findings by not only including the caution from researchers on the preliminary state of data, but ending the article explaining why such data should be viewed skeptically until more research is conducted.

I don’t expect Goodwin to tackle four studies in one article on a regular basis as the research was presented at a significant event. Such gatherings are prime for swarms of data, analysis and conclusions in an attempt to decipher the mystery of autism. Generally, one study will be spelled out per article, as most are published in peer-reviewed medical journals that are distributed regularly. I don’t foresee supplementary coverage from journalists as the information is still speculative, but the studies may lead to additional examinations on a possible link, either disputing what was found or reinforcing conclusions. Those future developments will be the focus of Goodwin and other news editors as this story evolves.

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Spewing newborn babies quickly? Study says autism risk increases

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A Columbia University study discovered something that might make “Octomom” or other parents eager to have several kids pause for a moment: Children conceived less than 12 months after an older sibling is born are three times more likely to develop an autism diagnosis. According to the study, which documented 662,730 second-born California children from 1992 to 2002, the multiplied risk doesn’t subside until at least 23 months have passed. While no data was found suggesting an explanation for the statistical findings, medical experts assert that the risk of actually developing the disability is still low. The study was conducted because authors noticed previous research revealing an association between short intervals and other brain problems, including schizophrenia.

Because the study focused on finding a link and not the factors increasing a child’s likelihood of developing autism, the only speculation offered was nutritional deficiencies that appear in the years immediately following the birth of a child. While this offers little insight about the research, the timing is notable considering my post two days ago when WCCO mentioned the pause parents are having about vaccinating their children. When factoring the overall risk of developing autism, the percentage is low, with current estimates around 1%. However, most journalists and editors will gloss over that specific number in favor of flashy, attention-getting figures. In fact, it’s a pattern you’ll see on most reports about studies; the percentage difference is listed, usually in multiples (twice, three times, four times a likely, etc.), but the overall percentage is never calculated.

The lack of statistical detail often irks me when I read or watch stories on studies because reporters rarely put new findings into perspective. No reference point is often an ingredient in driving the news audience to a state of paranoia, because the audience is more likely to ignore the 1% chance of a child developing autism and see a flashing LED sign about the three-fold increase for children conceived less than a year after their first-born.

To be fair, Linda Carroll, who published MSNBC’s version of the story, does acknowledge the potential of scaring parents-to-be by including figures on the recommended intervals for multiple kids. She also quotes two medical professionals who advise people maintain their common sense about deciding to have a child. Such anecdotes are generally included in reports about studies that could carry significant implications to people’s health. Also stressed are the unanswered variables the study hasn’t accounted for, which only means further research lies ahead, leading to more questions as the search for factors that increase a risk of autism continues.

I’m the oldest of 4, and I’m sorry to say I’m the only screw-up of the bunch :-P. While more questions than answers are revealed by this study, it symbolizes autism’s increasing saturation with Americans as several outlets picked up the study. This may also provide more evidence to organizations who recommend a more patient stance (including the World Health Organization) to ensure the best health for both mother and child. Ultimately, there will always be a risk of something when giving birth, but that hasn’t stopped most parents (and more shady figures) from “laying their eggs.” Journalists would be advised to hatch more stories about the Columbia University study for future use.

Written by TheSportsBrain

January 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm