How fever might negate autism behaviors
Yesterday's news, but worth reposting anyway. I've experienced this with my kids. I thought it was pretty freaky when it happened. I remember the last time they were both fairly ill, vomiting, fever, etc. We pulled them off their supplements for the week, but instead of tanking, they were pretty well-behaved and "normal" in their speech and actions. Very odd. Now, it makes sense. Read on....
Key behavior ranging from better concentration to improved word use tends to occur when a child with autism has a fever, scientists report in an unusual investigation published yesterday.
Exactly how a fever changes the brain remains a matter of speculation. But scientists at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore have found that even though the effects are temporary, the discovery opens a new window to understanding autism.
Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, director of medical research at the institute's autism and related disorders center, said the study was inspired by anecdotal reports from parents and clinicians who found that when a child with autism developed a fever, many classic signs of the condition seem to subside. The effect, however, is fleeting.
Zimmerman and collaborator Laura Curran studied 30 children with autism between the ages of 2 and 18 during and after an episode of fever to determine if there was any truth to the rumors about behavioral changes. The team defined a fever as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and asked parents to document their child's behavior throughout the episode.
"The patients we took measurements on all returned to baseline after a week," Zimmerman said, referring to a reversal to previous behavior.Despite the reversal, Zimmerman said the change was eye-opening because children not only spoke more and made better eye contact, some experienced better overall relationships with parents and peers.
Zimmerman, who reports the transformation in the journal Pediatrics, told Newsday the discovery provides a better understanding of the brain. The organ has tremendous plasticity, he said of its ability to adapt to stress, which in this case was a fever. He also said the new data sheds more light on why autism occurs. Fever causes a change in how the brain sends messages between cells.
During a fever, the body produces a flood of infinitesimal proteins called cytokines that may facilitate messages between brain cells. When the fever subsides, this enhanced activity diminishes as well.
"In the science of autism a lot of people are looking at the synapse as the area where the problems are," Zimmerman said. A synapse is the tiny gap between the ends of nerve fibers across which messages are fired.
Edward Carr, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, said that though the research is interesting, children with autism experience improvements without fevers. "His point shows there's a certain plasticity, but I don't think improvement depends on a fever.
Gould added that "observational studies are not worth anything. They're so patently absurd on the surface. You can't compare apples to apples because each of those kids was different. It's not like each of them had strep throat."