Autism: Curious?

I chanced upon a great post on autism and an interesting press release about some recent research. Here’s a brief quote from the post:

They also might have rigid patterns of behavior. One boy would get upset if there was going to be an assembly at 10 o’clock instead of math. Or some kids need to drive to school a certain way or they get extremely upset. Another child we were working with was upset because his mother dropped him off at preschool in the morning and his father picked him up.

If you’re curious about autism or asperger syndrome, this is an excellent article.

And here’s a quote from the press release, run here at the Wall Street Journal, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

Parents of children with autism were roughly twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, than parents of other children, according to an analysis of Swedish birth and hospital records by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
researcher and colleagues in the U.S. and Europe.

The study, “Parental psychiatric disorders associated with autism spectrum disorders in the offspring,” appears in the May 5, 2008, issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“We are trying to determine whether autism is more common among families with other psychiatric disorders. Establishing an association between autism and other psychiatric disorders might enable future investigators to better focus on genetic and environmental factors that might be shared among these disorders,” said study author Julie Daniels, Ph.D.,
an assistant professor in the UNC School of Public Health’s epidemiology and maternal and child health departments.

This study is big in number of subjects (1237 children, 30,925 controls) and longterm (1977 – 2003). That makes it pretty robust, we can take the findings seriously. It would be a shame, though, if what was taken from the data is that mothers cause autism. That would be like turning back the clock 50 years, when it was thought that “cold” mothers caused schizophrenia. But here’s a curious finding:

Our research shows that mothers and fathers diagnosed with schizophrenia were about twice as likely to have a child diagnosed with autism. We also saw higher rates of depression and personality disorders among mothers, but not fathers.

What does it mean? Anyone’s guess. Good research often raises the questions for further research, hopefully of similar quality.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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