PO Box 23731
August 10, 1999 - Board Elections
Meeting Time and Place
(see our Group Information)
This Space Available
We need your information for the newsletter. Please fax, email or mail your submission to Phillip Deal prior to the 25th of each month.
Welcome Packets are available at all meetings. If you have not received yours yet and are unable to attend the next meeting, please call our FEAT-Chattanooga phone number and leave your name and mailing address and we will send one to you.
AUGUST MEETING LOCATION CHANGED
Due to scheduling conflicts with Room 140 this month, our regular meeting will be held in the St. Jude Hospital affiliate located on the 5th floor of the Massoud Pediatric Building (same building, different floor). Signs will be posted as a reminder on the day of the meeting.
Meeting Location and
A The Massoud Pediatric Building now locks electronically
at 6:00 p.m. The gravel lot (number 3) where several people parked is now
closed. You should now park in the Erlanger Parking Garage and
FEAT Board Nominations and Elections
At the August meeting, elections will be held for the five
openings on the FEAT-Chattanooga Board of Directors.
|National Institutes of Health|
Sets $25 million for Autism
Tuesday, July 13, 1999
By Jami Talan
Concerned over reports that the number of autism cases is on the rise, federal health officials have begun several new initiatives aimed at unraveling both the prevalence and possible cause of this puzzling neurological disorder.
Prompted by parent groups that united to pressure legislators, the National Institutes of Health has set aside $25 million for autism research this year, up from $10 million in 1995. And officials say more than 75 investigators from 26 universities are now working with the National Institute of Child Health and Development in Bethesda, Md., on autism studies. "In a few years, we should really have the first strong clues as to what's going on here," said Marie Bristol-Power, who coordinates autism research at the federal health institute. It's important to figure this out."
The first step is to determine the disorder's prevalence in diverse areas, experts say. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is moving toward that goal with pilot studies at its base in Atlanta and in Brick Township, New Jersey, an area that has recorded an unusually high number of cases. Early figures for the Atlanta study are expected to be available in September, officials said.
In the meantime, the CDC hosted a meeting last week that brought together a number of autism experts to look at the epidemiology of the disorder.
A number of factors have already surfaced as possible reasons for the increase.
First, officials say there is a heightened appreciation of the disorder among physicians, which probably translates into an increase in diagnosis. Additionally, the definition of the disorder has changed and expanded since the late 1980's.
For instance, newly included in the definition over the last few years are two milder variants, known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and Asperger's Syndrome. PDD also involves problems connecting emotionally with others, language difficulties and restricted interests, but at a somewhat less-disabling level. Children with Asperger's, meanwhile, have normal language skills and average intelligence, but they behave awkwardly in social situations and tend to be obsessive.
But researchers say awareness and definitions cannot account for all of the increase they're now seeing in diagnosed cases of autism. As a result, researchers are looking to prenatal or postnatal environmental characteristics.
For instance, the Brick Township researchers are focusing on possible environmental problems that might explain the unusually high number of autistic children there - about 53 of 6,000 children between the ages of 3 and 10, or one in 500, according to population studies.
Brick Township borders Toms River, a community that has catalogued a curiously high percentage of cancer cases, a cluster some citizens have suggested may be linked to environmental toxins.
The link between autism and environmental toxins has been suggested in the past, experts say: In the 1980s, for instance, the small town of Leominster, Mass., had a suspicious cluster of autism traced to the run-off of chemicals from a nearby sunglasses manufacturer, according to CDC investigators.
At this point, the first step is reviewing health records for the children diagnosed so far and conducting new medical and neurological exams to make sure the diagnosis was correct, said Coleen Boyle, the epidemiologist heading the study. But once that's done, she said researchers will begin analyzing such things as immunization records and the date of the first signs of autism for possible clues.
Pointing to a recent epidemiological study by Swedish investigators who found a much lower prevalence in autism before 1990, the NIH's Bristol-Power said researchers have no choice but to spread as wide a net as possible in trying to determine a cause.
"I don't think it's just better diagnosis, or that autism or PDD is the disease due jour," she says. "There is something else going on, and we are hoping to solve this problem."
Other researchers are trying to determine if the problem is genetic, or whether it may be caused by a toxin, virus or other factor that takes effect in utero, subtly altering intricate brain systems during development.
For instance, Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Seaver
Autism Research Center at
At the same time, geneticists are scouting the genome for new clues - a search, Bristol-Power said, that's been ongoing since 1995, when Francis Collins, the head of the federal human genome project, found autism to be "the most heritable of the complex developmental disorders he had ever seen."
Recently, the search has resulted in the identification of
a number of markers for the disorder. And scientists are optimistic the
genes themselves will be found soon because of the efforts of
organizations such as
Other researchers seek to pinpoint physical differences in the brain that might explain the social and language deficits. For instance, Robert Schultz at the Child Study Center at Yale University has found that autistic children do not use the same brain regions to respond to facial expression as unaffected children do.
When he studied these children's brains with scanning devices, he found that they "find nothing special or different about the face, there's no social meaning for them. This could explain why these children have such problems connecting to others."
While no one is sure what happens to prompt autism, many
scientists now agree that whatever occurs does so sometime before the 30th
week of pregnancy. At that point, researchers say, the frontal lobes and
the amygalda area in the autistic brain tend to look less developed - a
theory that makes sense, they say, since the frontal lobes are the seat of
language, thinking and processing of information, and the amygalda is
thought to help regulate emotion.
Free STEP Basic Law Workshop -
Date: August 21, 1999
A BASIC Rights workshop, provided by STEP
(Support and Training for Exceptional Parents) will be held on
This workshop is designed for parents of children in
special education and parents of children who might need special
education. If you have previously attended a
To register or for more information,