Mexico Autism Conference Day 3 Recap
Conference Concludes with Presentations on Treatments, Genetics, Brain Development, Epidemiology and Screening Methods
Autism Speaks to the World, an International Congress for Autism Research, hosted by Autism Speaks and the Mexican Autism Clinic, A.C. (CLIMA) concluded on July 7 at the Royal Pedregal Hotel in Mexico City. Held from July 5-7, 2007, the Congress promoted awareness, treatment services, and autism research throughout Mexico and the world.
Presentations given during day three of the congress described current treatments for autism; genetics and underlying brain physiology of the disorder; autism epidemiology; screening methods; and range of programs supported by Autism Speaks.
The next speaker, Pat Levitt, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development at Vanderbilt University, pointed out that most of the drugs used in psychiatry today were discovered serendipitously. Knowledge of underlying systems affected in autism should produce more targeted drugs, he said.
Along those lines, Levitt described studies that identified a mutation in a gene called MET, which plays complimentary roles in brain, as well as gastrointestinal (GI) and immune system development. Children with autism often reported to present gastrointestinal and immune problems, he said. A simple mutation that substitutes cytosine for guanine in the gene’s sequence appears to be correlated with poor connectivity among brain regions in children with autism, he said. But given MET’s known role and activities in regulating the immune system, Levitt suggested that MET mutations might impact brain, GI, and immune system in parallel, and possibly increase susceptibility to environmental factors that trigger autism.
Eric Courchesne, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California at San Diego described his influential studies showing that children with autism have enlarged head circumference at six to 14 months of age. Subsequent studies with volumetric imaging, he said, indicated that the brains of two to four year old children with autism are far larger than normal. Much of that abnormal growth is found in the grey and white matter of the frontal lobe, where social and communication skills affected by autism are coordinated, he said. As children with autism mature, Courchesne added, brain overgrowth becomes arrested. Later, he said, brain matter may actually “thin” or become reduced in volume, although this has yet to be confirmed. Courchesne also described his current research studying post-mortem brains of autistic individuals, supported in part by Autism Speaks. Those studies have shown that frontal lobes in the brains of children with autism contain 42% more cells than normal, explaining their profoundly increased weight and size. Because brain cells develop prenatally, Courchesne emphasized that key processes leading to autism likely occur during pregnancy.
Cecilia Montiel-Nava, from La Universidad del Zulia, in Venezuela, described her work coordinating the only large-scale epidemiology study of autism in Latin America. Performed in children aged three to nine years living Maracaibo, which is the largest municipality in Venezuela, that study generated a prevalence rate of 11.2 cases per 10,000 individuals, which is substantially less than the 60 to 70 cases per 10,000 individuals found in replicated studies performed elsewhere.
Montiel-Nava suggested that the population from which those numbers were drawn may not be representative of the population at large, however. Moreover, addition of PDD/NOS cases increased the prevalence rate to 36.0 per 10,000, she said. Like Dr. Fombonne who spoke earlier in the week, Montiel-Nava emphasized that epidemiology studies are crucial to determine needs for public health planning. “We’re also providing services for the families of patients that we identify,” she said. “For those who benefit, it’s the difference between day and night.”
Tony Charman, a clinical psychologist at Institute of Child Health in London, evaluated screening tools for autism, emphasizing their difference with diagnostic methods that are more rigorous. Charman stated that screening tools must be considered both in terms of their sensitivity—meaning the proportion of children they correctly identify as having the disorder—and their specificity, which is the proportion of children identified correctly as not having the disorder. Screening tools used into two major studies were compared: One, in the United Kingdom, used a screening method called Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or CHAT.
The other, in the Netherlands, employed a test called the Early Screening of Autistic Traits, or ESAT. CHAT, used to screen roughly 16,000 toddlers aged 18 months, demonstrated low sensitivity unless administered in a two-stage process—first by parents, then by clinicians. In single-stage evaluations performed by parents alone, the screen missed up to two thirds of cases, he said. ESAT results proved inconclusive, in part because a third of parents opted out of the study, possibly because age of child assessment was too young, at 14 months. Charman emphasized that screening tool selection should balance needs with the consequences of false-positive or false-negative results. For instance, school audits might tolerate false positive results better than other screens designed to identify children for further evaluation, which can be expensive and anxiety provoking for parents, he said.
Finally, Clara Lajonchere and Andy Shih, Autism Speaks’ vice president for clinical programs and vice president for scientific affairs respectively, gave overviews of Autism Speaks’ programs. Speaking in Spanish, Lajonchere emphasized that while autism affects one in every 150 people in the US, it gets just $30 million in private funding annually and $90 million from the government. Leukemia, on the other hand, which afflicts one in every 25,000, gets more than $235 million in research funds per year.
Created in 2005, Autism Speaks now strives to promote a vision of collaboration and information exchange, she said. Those goals are advanced by several key programs; including AGRE, which is a collaborative repository for genetic material used in autism research; the Autism Tissue Program, a brain bank which collects post-mortem brain samples from autism patients; a Clinical Trials Network, which seeks to accelerate studies of key drugs for autism treatment; a treatment portfolio, which advances evidence-based treatment protocols for autism; and an Internet-based system to support autism research worldwide.
Shih concluded with an overview of current and upcoming Autism Speaks projects. “The reason we’re here is that you need our help as much as we need yours,” he said. “And the only language that transcends cultural or social customs is science.”
Autistic people have fought the inclusion of ABA in therapy for us since before Autism Speaks, and other non-Autistic-led autism organizations, started lobbying legislation to get it covered by insurances and Medicaid.
ABA is a myth originally sold to parents that it would keep their Autistic child out of an institution. Today, parents are told that with early intervention therapy their child will either be less Autistic or no longer Autistic by elementary school, and can be mainstreamed in typical education classes. ABA is very expensive to pay out of pocket. Essentially, Autism Speaks has justified the big price tag up front will offset the overall burden on resources for an Autistic’s lifetime. The recommendation for this therapy is 40 hours a week for children and toddlers.
The original study that showed the success rate of ABA to be at 50% has never been replicated. In fact, the study of ABA by United States Department of Defense was denounced as a failure. Not just once, but multiple times. Simply stated: ABA doesn’t work. In study after repeated study: ABA (conversion therapy) doesn’t work.
What more recent studies do show: Autistics who experienced ABA therapy are at high risk to develop PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions. Historically, the autism organizations promoting ABA as a cure or solution have silenced Autistic advocates’ opposition. ABA is also known as gay conversion therapy.
The ‘cure’ for Autistics not born yet is the prevention of birth.
The ‘cure’ is a choice to terminate a pregnancy based on ‘autism risk.’ The cure is abortion. This is the same ‘cure’ society has for Down Syndrome.
This is eugenics 2021. Instead of killing Autistics and disabled children in gas chambers or ‘mercy killings’ like in Aktion T4, it’ll happen at the doctor’s office, quietly, one Autistic baby at a time. Different approaches yes, but still eugenics and the extinction of an entire minority group of people.
Fact: You can’t cure Autistics from being Autistic.
Fact: You can’t recover an Autistic from being Autistic.
Fact: You can groom an Autistic to mask and hide their traits. Somewhat. … however, this comes at the expense of the Autistic child, promotes Autistic Burnout (this should not be confused with typical burnout, Autistic Burnout can kill Autistics), and places the Autistic child at high risk for PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions.