Sunday, December 14, 2008

Study Suggests Post-Natal, Environmental Causes of Autism

"Our results suggest that FKPB12 regulates neuron signaling that curbs the manifestation of traits observed in several neurological disorders including autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.These disorders are widely believed to be "determined in utero by genetic hormonal and environmental factors. Because our study indicates that postnatal release of mTOR activity can result in certain perseverative behaviors, it challenges the idea that some aspects of these conditions are developmentally predetermined."

- AFP, NYU neuroscientist Dr. Eric Klann

Autism clearly has a strong genetic component. Some believe it is entirely genetic with no environmental causes or factors. Those who subscribe to the "entirely genetic" belief find it easy to believe that the astonishing rise in the numbers of autism disorder diagnoses is due entirely to diagnostic definition changes, enhanced public awareness and other social factors. If they are wrong in their beliefs, and if scientific researchers and health authorities refuse to investigate potential environmental causes or triggers of autism then possible treatments, cures or enhancements of the lives of autistic people will be sacrificed on the alter of such unwarranted certainty.

From the erroneous and harmful "Refrigerator Mother" beliefs of Bettelheim to the belief that autism arises solely from genetic factors our popular understanding of, and ability to treat and cure, autism disorders have been restricted by simplistic, single factor explanations of the complex group of pervasive developmental, or autism spectrum, disorders. Recently though there has begun an autism research paradigm shift based on the view that:

"autism is not a rare disorder with a constant rate but frequent condition with a rising incidence. It is a combination of environmental influence and genetic vulnerabilities. It is both preventable and treatable, not by any one method but by a combination of behavioral and biomedical approaches. Autistic kids are not defective, they are sick but otherwise normal kids, and thus, recoverable."

A significant example of the autism research paradigm shift can be seen in the recent study authored by researchers at New York University's Center for Neural Science and the Baylor College of Medicine and published in Neuron,Volume 60, Issue 5, 832-845, 10 December 2008. The researchers studied the effects on mice of removal of the FK506-binding protein 12 (FKBP12) which regulates an enzyme (mTOR) involved in learning and memorization. mTOR affects the the ability to change behavior and regulates connections between neurons thereby playing a key role in learning and memorization.

As stated on AFP News, removal of FKBP12 from the brains of mice late in development reduced the mice's capacity to analyze, respond and adapt to new situations. In one example the FKBP12 removed mice, once they learned a path through a maze, had difficulty learning how to travel through a different version of the maze. The AFP article describes this phenomenon as "enhanced perseveration, or pathological repetition, ... often observed in individuals suffering from autism or other neurological disorders".

The Autism Research Paradigm Shift is a central component of the Autism Knowledge Revolution now taking place. Hopefully, that revolution in learning and understanding autism disorders will not be derailed or slowed by the world's current economic crisis ... or by ideologies, agendas and simplistic views of autism disorders.

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Stephanie said...

Hello! I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog. I'm 20 and I have severe autism (well, "moderate" now) and it's nice to finally find someone rational. I came to the online world hoping to find others like me but I was very disappointed to find I was one of the very few who actually has autism.

Anyway, I talk very little and have great difficulty with it but can obviously type well so my doctors are now thinking I may have some kind of verbal-oral apraxia. I live with my father and barely leave my house and the only people I communicate with are my family and I barely communicate with them (I recieve disability). I spent years in institutions literally lost in "my own world," hurting myself, pacing all day listening to my headphones, had rigid routines, talking only when spoken to and using words and phrases I borrowed, until I was 18. A doctor told me that at around 17-20 the fronal lobes begin to activate and that this probably helped to contribute to my "breakthrough," along with treatment and helpful people. Makes sense to me since autistic people obviously develop at a much different rate. I call it my "awakening."

Anyway, Conor is lucky to have such a smart and loving father. I'm very naive and I first I believed that Amanda Baggs was telling the truth, but then I realized that it was obviously a fraud. Low-functioning autistic people able to type exist, but Amanda isn't one of them. It's completely illogical and I don't understand why so-called "aspies" and "auties" believe it. Maybe it's because they aren't autistic enough to see the obvious logic and instead want to be a part of a "social movement." I don't even understand Neurodiversity: I don't understand politics or anything social and can't understand how all of these "severely" autistic people understand it either. What's the point? "Autistic community" is an oxymoron. I can't get past that.

Anyway, I go to the local mental health center for treatment (God forbid I get treatment) and am hoping to move into my own supervised community apartment soon. I'm also a savant, which means that everyone in "aspie-land" hates me. I didn't even know I was talented until I was 18, until my "awakening." I never told anyone what I was thinking, it never occured to me because I thought everyone was exactly like me and knew what I was thinking. So, obviously, no one knew and they assumed I was mildly retarded. My favorite thing is art (I also have music, language, hyperlexia and memory) and I'm planning on being a painter because I can't make money doing anything else; art is my passion, or in clinical terms, "obsession." I realize how lucky I am to have savant talents and it makes me sad that no one likes me for it.

Your blog is one of the few autism blogs I read because yours is actually rational. You have a severely autistic child but you're not part of the "mercury" parents and you love your son for who he is and make sure that he recieves good treatment so that he can have the best life possible. Sadly I've found this is a rare occurance. I have a severely autistic couisn whose mother has fallen prey to dangerous treatments. I like your blog so much I may make a painting for young Conor.

Unknown said...

Thank you Stephanie

Your kind words are very much appreciated.

Harold Doherty

Kendra said...

I loved reading this blog! it gave me much insight to the disorder! I am a current colleges student who is studying the factors to autism! As one of my assignments I was to create a blog for people to become active participants in! I would love it if anyone interested in autism or has children with autism could comment on my blog! here is the link:
Thank you!