The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘U.S. News & World Report

Seizing a link between autism and epilepsy

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A new study published in the May issue of Epilepsia shines more light on the link between autism and epilepsy. The findings were picked up by multiple media outlets, including WebMD and U.S. News and World Report, where health reporter Jenifer Goodwin once again broke down the results. Researchers who looked at records of 127 patients aged 3 to 49 who were autistic and had at least one seizure over a 20-year period at the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center in New York City. They found 34 percent of those patients had treatment-resistant epilepsy, meaning seizures continued despite taking medication. 28 percent were seizure-free after treatment and the remaining 38 percent could not be categorized because there wasn’t enough information to determine if their seizures were treatment-resistant or not. The average age of the first seizure in treatment-resistant epileptics was also significantly younger than those whose seizures were treatable (6 for TRE patients versus 11 for patients without TRE). Autistic TRE patients were also more likely to suffer impairments from autism spectrum disorder, as 54 percent of TRE patients had motor skills delays versus 35 percent for those with treatable epilepsy. Autistics with TRE were also more likely to experience developmental regression, which is sometimes noted among parents or other observers following their autistic children. The study’s author, Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the NYU Langone School of Medicine and director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, suggested autistic children may need screening for epilepsy in order to learn more about the connection between the two conditions.

Goodwin has been busy making sense out of study numbers the last couple days. Unlike her last story about a survey of parents on vaccinations and their trust with different sources, Goodwin uses more figures in the autism/epilepsy study to highlight patterns suggesting epilepsy may be more common and severe when it targets autistic people. For those of you wondering why the study sample is small, recall that autism itself is still statistically rare and some people who may be on the spectrum may not have an official diagnosis. Likewise, the number of epileptics in the world is less than one percent, meaning the statistical odds of encountering an autistic with epilepsy are slim. The results of Devinsky’s study will likely spur more investigations on the link between epilepsy and autism if none weren’t already underway, paving the way for more insights on autism and epilepsy or perhaps presenting other information that may not agree with the study Goodwin reports about.

Remember the inverted pyramid I’ve been talking about for the last few posts? It’s hard to miss in this story, with the first piece of data highlighting the percentage of autistics with TRE, then going into other data relating to autism spectrum disorder, then tying the study with the Journal of Child Neurology publication suggesting epilepsy is more prevalent with autistics than previously thought. She does grab a few quotes from Devinsky, the study’s author, but most of the story spells out the study results. That technique is common with stories on studies as reporters follow their deadlines and, depending on the location or mission plan of the news organization involved, finding the human interest source is hard to find with the low odds of a person diagnosed with both autism and epilepsy.

I’m not an epileptic, but I have read about autistic children and adults suffering from seizures in my observation of autism articles and videos. Neither autism or epilepsy may be curable, and the study only begins to excavate a relatively unexplored area of the autism spectrum. With autistics already facing prospects of sensory overload on a daily basis, making the leap to seizures isn’t a stretch. Seeing more stories linking autism and epilepsy should be expected in future media coverage, but knowing when more reports will file in will be a harder task.

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Autism, it’s in our genes

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At least according to a new study that was published in the June 10 issue of Nature. U.S. News & World Report also reported the findings, which could serve as the next step in finding an indisputable cause for autism.

The study pinpoints genetic abnormalities in people with autism spectrum disorder versus people who aren’t autistic. DNA segments are either missing in autistic people or carry a segment repeated several times, known as copy number variations (CNV). On average, autistic people had 19% more CNVs that unaffected individuals in the study, and most CNVs in autistic people were inherited from their parents. Scientists involved in the study say the findings confirm a hypothesis that autism has hundreds of genetic risk factors. However, they say knowledge of genetic abnormalities will also improve treatments for the disability.

Obviously, one study can’t and won’t answer every question out there. However, applying this new information may ultimately have an effect on contemporary topics involving the autism community. A genetic risk for autism would counter the idea that vaccines are the culprit since DNA is constructed long before a child is born. Suggesting genetic factors could also lead to genetic testing for the condition. Controversial as they may be, considering the concerns people have about insurers or employers getting a hold of that information, I doubt autism would ever go that far. If further research supports the findings of this study that autism may be passed genetically to kids, even if parents are nowhere near the spectrum (and virtually none are), it may affect decisions about raising kids. I’ve lost count as to how many times I hear parents metaphorically equate an autism diagnosis with a cancer diagnosis when they find out for the first time. While finding a specific percentage of parents who succumb to fears is virtually impossible, in theory, there’s a possibility if they can get an answer in advance.

The scientific facets of autism will never bore you if you’re looking for a continuously evolving topic. If the urine test I blogged about yesterday does indeed become widely available, coupling the biological test with new information on genetic sequencing would increase accuracy of diagnosing autism significantly. Even though most articles I’ve discussed on this site since the year began focus more on the human interest perspective, that doesn’t mean the science is ignored. Popular press just won’t saturate their coverage with scientific stories since, especially for electronic stories, they’re harder to visualize and communicate to the audience. Stories about overcoming symptoms, accommodating the autism community, and new ways to help them adapt to the rest of the world are far more interesting to the non-scientific audience. However, it’s science that will truly progress our knowledge and approach to the autism community. Perhaps it’s time to bring back Bill Nye 😛

Written by TheSportsBrain

June 10, 2010 at 11:33 am