Sunday, August 23, 2015

Autism Disorder AND Epilepsy (But NO SUDEP!!!) at 6:05 AM

I was awake at 5:30 this morning, had some breakfast, and was enjoying a mug (not a cup, a mug) of coffee when I noticed that the time was 6:05 am.  Startled I jumped up to see if everything was OK with my son Conor.  Conor suffers from severe autism disorder and epileptic seizures, including half a dozen grand mal or tonic clonic seizures, since last Christmas. One feature of Conor's autism disorder is that he gets up at precisely 6:01 a.m. every morning.  He often wakes up before 6:01 but stays in bed until that time and then gets up.  Until this morning I can not recall the last time he might have slept in past 6:01.  I was worried when he had not come out of his room by 6:05. 

I worried because of the epileptic seizures from which he suffers. (My fear was brief; gone as soon as I ran into his room and saw him stirring)  Some who suffer from such seizures have been known to die in their sleep with no clear explanation, a condition called SUDEP, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.  A special program  called The Center for SUDEP Research which will be a "Center Without Walls for Collaborative Research in the Epilepsies" has been  established in the US by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)  to tackle SUDEP.

 A NINDS press release provides an overview of SUDEP and a brief description of the plan of action:

"While the causes of SUDEP are currently unclear, mounting evidence points to seizures that induce structural defects and/or brain circuit malfunction in areas that control cardiovascular and/or respiratory functions. Using a multidisciplinary approach, scientists and clinicians participating in the new center without walls hope to understand what causes SUDEP and how can it be prevented.
One team of researchers will identify genes, predisposition to neurochemical imbalances, and structural irregularities in the brain that may increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory disruptions in epilepsy. In parallel, another team will develop a sophisticated repository for storing and sharing genetic, tissue and clinical data samples collected from 400 study participants with epilepsy per year for three years at each of 10 clinical sites across the country. This team will also analyze the collected samples to identify risk factors for SUDEP."
Some may question why I would have been apprehensive about the possibility of SUDEP when my son did not come out of his room at 6:01 am.  The primary reason is that his adherence to the 6:01 routine was until this morning  almost without exception, a feature of his severe autism disorder.  The second reason is that a good friend who was, and is, very active in autism advocacy in New Brunswick lost her adult son to SUDEP. In that case her son appeared to be sleeping in past his usual time just as my son did this morning ordinarily a blessing for both parent and son. Her son, like mine, suffered from both autism and seizures, and was not sleeping in, tragically he had passed in his sleep.
As the parent of a son with severe autism who suffers from epileptic seizures I can not take any break from routine for granted, even very thankfully as it turned out this morning, one resulting from a few minutes of extra sleep. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Surprise! A Meaningful Autism Disorder Study Provides Evidence of Autism's Harsh Realities

Autism is a disorder which, far beyond its core diagnostic criteria, brings with it higher than average medical conditions and psychiatric illnesses.   The health status of adults on the autism spectrum study confirms the harsh realities of autism disorders and should not be ignored or lightly dismissed by academics, mainstream media or professional "self" advocates who, despite their very high functioning levels, insist on burying the harsh realities of the severely autistic, like my son, in the mounds of autism ignorance they dump on the public landscape. As the study indicates autism disorders mean significantly higher than average psychiatric illnesses and medical conditions.  Not much joy to be found in those realities.This study though should be helpful in bringing a much needed dose of autism realities to the  public understanding of autism disorders and the harsh realities that accompany them.

The health status of adults on the autism spectrum

  1. Lisa A Croen1
  2. Ousseny Zerbo1
  3. Yinge Qian1
  4. Maria L Massolo1
  5. Steve Rich2
  6. Stephen Sidney1
  7. Clarissa Kripke3
  1. 1Kaiser Permanente Northern California—Oakland, USA
  2. 2Kaiser Permanente Northern California—Santa Rosa, USA
  3. 3University of California, San Francisco, USA
  1. Lisa A Croen, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California—Oakland, 2000 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612, USA. Email:


Compared to the general pediatric population, children with autism have higher rates of co-occurring medical and psychiatric illnesses, yet very little is known about the general health status of adults with autism. The objective of this study was to describe the frequency of psychiatric and medical conditions among a large, diverse, insured population of adults with autism in the United States. Participants were adult members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California enrolled from 2008 to 2012. Autism spectrum disorder cases (N = 1507) were adults with autism spectrum disorder diagnoses (International Classification of Diseases-9-Clinical Modification codes 299.0, 299.8, 299.9) recorded in medical records on at least two separate occasions. Controls (N = 15,070) were adults without any autism spectrum disorder diagnoses sampled at a 10:1 ratio and frequency matched to cases on sex and age. Adults with autism had significantly increased rates of all major psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and suicide attempts. Nearly all medical conditions were significantly more common in adults with autism, including immune conditions, gastrointestinal and sleep disorders, seizure, obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and diabetes. Rarer conditions, such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, were also significantly more common among adults with autism. Future research is needed to understand the social, healthcare access, and biological factors underlying these observations.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Positive Adult Autism Meeting with Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers

Minister of Social Development Cathy Rogers
Photo Source: NB Liberal Site 

July 14, 2015 Meeting with Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers
at 551 King Street, Photo by Harold L Doherty

On July 14, together with autism advocate Cynthia Bartlett and Clinical Psychologist and Professor Emeritus (Psychology) Paul McDonnell I met with Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers and 3 of her advisers.  The meeting had been requested by Minister Rogers when it became clear in the Legislature gallery that I, and presumably some others in the gallery, were unhappy with the government’s response to opposition MLA Ernie Steeves motion on adult autism care.  Bathurst MLA Brian Kenny, with whom I had spoken during our small demonstration outside the Legislature earlier that day was talking to Minister Rogers and pointing up at me.  A short time later Mr. Kenny came up to the visitors’ gallery and asked me to come out to the hall where Minister Rogers asked me if we could schedule a meeting to which I agreed.  I was thankful for the opportunity to address the adult autism care issues which have never been addressed in any coherent, systematic and well informed manner.  I was very pleased that Cynthia and Paul were available to attend at the meeting and share their experience and expertise.

The principle around which our discussion took place was the same principle on which those of us who advocated as parents for early autism intervention in NB  relied on in our successful advocacy efforts – the need for an evidence based approach. Fortunately the Minister and her advisers seemed to be in agreement with this principle at outset and needed no convincing.  That may not sound like much today but it was not always an easy sell in our early advocacy efforts in a province where clich├ęs about community and inclusion are often sold as solutions to the most challenging disorders and deficits.

The evidence with respect to adult autism care in NB is clear: we do not have a plan to address in a humane, professional, reliant manner the needs of autistic adults, particularly those at the severe end of the spectrum, in New Brunswick.  We have housed New Brunswick ‘s autistic adults in a variety of hospital settings from general hospital wards to the Restigouche  Regional Psychiatric Hospital in Campbellton far from the bulk of NB’s population, far from most families.  We have housed a NB autistic youth on the grounds of the Miramichi Correctional Facility only because no other location had the resources to provide proper care and safety.  That youth and at least one young man were sent to the Spurwink facility in Maine for several years at a cost to the Province of approximately $300,000 per year per person.

What we discussed was the proposal developed largely by Paul McDonnel with input from parent advocates including Dawn Bowie, Lila Barry, Cynthia Bartlett and me and enunciated in principle in his 2010 CBC internet interview and analysis:

September 2010, CBC, N.B. can be a leader in autism services (Analysis, Paul McDonnell)

"Our greatest need at present is to develop services for adolescents and adults.

What is needed is a range of residential and non-residential services and these services need to be staffed with behaviorally trained supervisors and therapists.Some jurisdictions in the United States have outstanding facilities that are in part funded by the state and provide a range of opportunities for supervised and independent living for individuals with various disabilities. The costs of not providing such services can be high financially and in terms of human costs. As a psychologist in private practice I know there are large numbers of older individuals who are diagnosed later in life with Asperger's Syndrome that have no access to professional services of any kind.

In the past we have had the sad spectacle of individuals with autism being sent off to institutional settings such as the Campbellton psychiatric hospital, hospital wards, prisons, and even out of the country at enormous expense and without any gains to the individual, the family, or the community.
We can do much, much better.

We need an enhanced group home system throughout the province in which homes would be linked directly to a major centre that could provide ongoing training, leadership and supervision. That major centre could also provide services for those who are mildly affected as well as permanent resident care and treatment for the most severely affected. Such a secure centre would not be based on a traditional "hospital" model but should, itself, be integrated into the community in a dynamic manner, possibly as part of a private residential development. The focus must be on education, positive living experiences, and individualized curricula. The key to success is properly trained professionals and staff."

There was also discussion of some of the serious issues that often accompany autism including intellectual disability, seizures, self injury, wandering and the need for surveillance of some autistic adults to ensure their safety.

The Minister did not make any clear commitments, at least as far as I understood our discussion.  She did say that other departments would have to included in the discussion, a point on which we agreed.
My assessment is that the meeting was positive and that the Minister sees autism care as a need that really has to be addressed in New Brunswick.

It is up to parents though, as it always has been, to keep these needs in the forefront if we want decent places for our children to live as adult; places where they can live  happy lives, according to their level of need,  with proper health care, education and security.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

6 Years Later New Brunswick STILL Hasn't Addressed Adult Autism Care

Years have passed, governments have come and gone, but still the elected  members of 
the New Brunswick legislative assembly, despite international recognition for its parent
 advocacy driven early intervention and school autism services, have not seen fit to provide
 a systemic adult care autism system in New Brunswick.

The following blog commentary is a re-post, word for word, of a commentary I posted on May 5, 2009: Autistic Adult Care Improvements Long Overdue in New Brunswick.  Since then one group home has received some training for staff from UNB via the Department of Social development. Beyond that though there has been very little progress. As I said in concluding 6 years ago:"The time to help autistic adults is overdue though ... long overdue"  Today, over 6 years later, that statement is truer, and sadder, than ever:

I have said often on this blog that I am very happy with the progress that has been made here in New Brunswick in addressing the needs for evidence based autism treatment and in ensuring that autistic children receive a real, quality education. There are still problems that have to be addressed concerning preschool interventions for and education of autistic children but the distance we have traveled in the six years since then Health Minister Elvy Robichaud announced in the New Brunswick legislature that the government was committing funds specifically to autism is remarkable. That progress has, for the most part though, been confined to autistic children. New Brunswick's adults with autism disorders are badly in need of improvements to the barely existent residential care system for autistic adults.

Despite the substantial, and increasing, numbers of autistic adults and the complexity of the challenges they face New Brunswick does not have a residential care system dedicated specifically to adults. New Brunswick adults with autism who require residential care currently live in group homes with persons with other challenges. The problem with a general residential care system is that the staff working in such places will not generally have autism specific training. Nor are the locations necessarily appropriate for persons with autism disorders.

The good will of New Brunswick's political leadership, from either of the two parties that have governed, is no longer a matter of debate in the mind of this autism dad. The path to progress began under the Conservative government of Premier Bernard Lord and has taken some major leaps forward under the Liberal government of Premier Shawn Graham. It would be dishonest for me not to acknowledge what both leaders and their parties have done for New Brunswick's autistic children. Far from slamming these leaders and their parties I personally thank them for what they have done to help our children with autism spectrum disorders.

The story is different though when it comes to New Brunswick's autistic adults where all aspects of autistic life have been largely neglected or mishandled. While there are many pressing needs at the adult level the fact is we have long been in desperate need of an autism specific residential care system with properly trained personnel. Such a system would require autism specific residences in each region of the province with autism trained staff.

There is also a need for a central adult autism treatment and residential care facility in Fredericton. That need is proven by the fact that New Brunswick has sent its more severely affected autistic youths and adults to facilities outside the province including to Maine in the United States. We currently have autistic adults living in the psychiatric facility in Campbellton. I know of at least one instance in Saint John where an autistic adult was living on a hospital ward. In the past an autistic youth, charged with no crime, convicted of no crime, was housed on the grounds of a youth correctional facility in Miramichi while awaiting a spot at the Maine facility.

The talent reservoir for the establishment of an adult care centre already exists in Fredericton which is centrally located providing relatively convenient access compared to more remote locations. The Stan Cassidy Centre which provides pediatric tertiary care services is located in Fredericton on the grounds of the Chalmers Hospital. The main campus of the University of New Brunswick and its excellent, community involved, psychology centre is located in Fredericton. The UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program is located in Fredericton and has already indicated that it foresees no problem in developing a training program for adult care workers. All of these resources could be drawn on to supplement and support a modern, secure community based and autism specific residential care and treatment facility.

New Brunswick needs a publicly operated, not for profit, community based residential care system for autistic adults with facilities in each region and a central facility in Fredericton capable of providing in house residential care and treatment for the more severely autistic adults for whom the group homes have already been proven not to be a solution. The political leadership of this province has shown a conscience, substantial good will, and determination in helping autistic children. The time to help autistic adults is overdue though ... long overdue.