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Autism Super Conference

hosted by Future Horizons, Inc. in cooperation with the Autism Society of Greater Georgia
October 7, 8, 9   1999
Hilton, Atlanta Northeast, Atlanta, Georgia

Temple Grandin

Eustace Cutler
(Temple's Mom!)

"Real Experts" Day -
People with Autism Speak Out

Carol Gray -Social Skills

Maria Wheeler - Behavior Problems

Dr. Lisa Lewis -
      Special Diets for Special Kids

Nancy Kashman and Janet Mora -

Dr. Peter Gerhardt - Into the Community

Parent Panel -


Possible Link Between Immune Disorders and Autism from

Autism appears to be more common in families with a history of autoimmune disorders, according to researchers, suggesting a shared genetic origin for each of these illnesses. Study subjects with a strong family history of immune disorder "were twice as likely to have autism" compared to subjects without such histories, conclude researchers led by Dr. Anne M.Corni
of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Their finding are published in the June issue of the Journal of Child Neurology.

Autistic individuals appear psychologically 'walled off' from normal contact with others, remaining largely uncommunicative and fixated on repetitive motions or tasks. Autism generally first appears during early childhood and affects four times as many boys as girls. The condition's cause remains unknown.

Comi's team knew that specific abnormalities in the genetic code of autistic individuals are also found in persons with autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type I diabetes. In these illnesses, the immune system goes awry, mistakenly attacking particular types of normal, healthy body cells.

The researchers compared rates of various autoimmune disorders in the families of 61 autistic patients and 46 healthy 'controls'. They report that families with two or more members suffering from autoimmune disease faced double the risk for autism compared with families without such histories. And the risk increased further when more family members were affected. "Those (subjects) with at least three family members with autoimmune disorders were 5.5 times more likely to have autism," according to the authors. The investigators also point out that having a mother with some form of autoimmune disease raised individual risks for autism nearly 9-fold. The autoimmune illnesses most often associated with raised risks for autism include type I (early-onset) diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, and lupus.

Comi and colleagues note that defects in
'major histocompatibility' (MHC) genes - which play a role in determining 'self' from 'nonself' or foreign proteins - are common in individuals with either rheumatoid arthritis or autism. They speculate, therefore, that these abnormalities "could result in autism in some individuals and rheumatoid arthritis in others". Other factors - including events occurring at or around birth - may play a role in the genesis of autism. The researchers stress that the search for the cause of autism remains "an elusive challenge", and urge further study into possible links between autoimmune disorders and autism.


The following article first appeared in the
June 1999 Connecticut FEAT Newsletter

New York State Department of Health Recommends
Intensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Treatment

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) recently released a report recommending intensive behavioral intervention as the most effective treatment for children with "autistic disorder" and "pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)." This report is the outcome of a two-year effort to develop clinical practice guidelines for the Early intervention program in New York State. The guidelines were developed by an independent, multi- disciplinary panel of topic experts, clinicians, educators, and parents. The DOH panel used the same methodology and guideline format that have been used in recent years by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, a part of the United States Public Health Services. According to a May 28, 1999 article in the New York daily newspaper Newsday, "The state panel that developed the guidelines says studies support the effectiveness of the strategy, called Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA, and that there is no scientific evidence that other approaches, such as sensory or auditory integration, music therapy and facilitated communication, work."

This report specifically recommended that "intensive behavioral intervention programs include as a MINIMUM (emphasis in original) approximately 20 hours per week of individualized behavioral intervention using applied behavior analysis (ABA) techniques (not including time spent by parents)." The report further noted that "the precise number of hours of behavioral intervention vary depending on a variety of child and family characteristics. Considerations in determining the frequency and intensity of intervention include age, severity of autistic symptoms, rate of progress, other health considerations, tolerance of the child for the intervention, and family participation." For further information regarding this report, which is titled:
"Clinical Practice Guideline: The Report of the Recommendations. Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Assessment and Intervention for Young Children
(0 - 3 Years)", you can contact :
New York State Dept of Health, Early Intervention Program, Corning Tower Bldg, Room 208, Albany, New York, 12237-0618; 518-473-7016

Scientific trials of so-called 'wonder' hormone treatment for autism will be conducted in Seattle, Denver
by Joel Schwarz
University of Washington
DATE: May 10, 1999

Secretin, a hormone that some parents claim possesses almost magical properties as a treatment for autism, will be scientifically tested in large-scale trials starting later this month in Seattle and Denver. Concurrent trials, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), will be conducted at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center. Fifty-one children between ages 3 and 12 and diagnosed with autism will be tested at each site.

Secretin is a naturally occurring human hormone produced in the small intestine that helps control digestion and is used in diagnosing gastrointestinal problems. Over the past six months secretin has been the focus of national media attention with some parents of autistic children saying hormone injections have resulted in improvements in their eye contact, alertness and use of language.

Autism is a severe developmental disorder that interferes with a child's ability to communicate or relate socially with other people. Afflicted individuals also have a restricted range of activities and interests. Autism is far more common that once believed, and as many as 550,000 Americans are estimated to have the disorder. Approximately 75 percent of children with autism also have some form of mental retardation.

The secretin trials project will be headed by Dr. Alan Unis, a UW associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and director of the developmental neuropsychiatry clinic at the CHDD, and Geraldine Dawson, a University of Washington psychology professor who also is directing a $7.3 million nationwide study to uncover the genetic and neurobiological causes of autism. In Denver, the trials team will be directed by Dr. Ed Goldson, professor of pediatrics at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and Sally Rogers, professor of psychiatry at the center and at JFK Partners.

About 100 children have received secretin injections as a treatment for autism and to diagnose digestive and gastrointestinal problems that frequently accompany the disorder, according to NICHD. But there have been no published studies evaluating the effectiveness of secretin. However, some parents of autistic children have been vocal proponents of the hormone, citing its benefits in stories in the Wall Street Journal and on "Dateline" and "Good Morning America", and others.

In addition to the trials in Seattle and Denver, a number of other secretin trials are already underway or scheduled to start soon at the University of Chicago, the Southwest Autism Research Center in Phoenix, Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta, Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and at a site in
North Carolina. Two forms of secretin will be tested in the Seattle and Denver trials. Some children will be given an injection of natural secretin. Others will be given a synthetic secretin that is chemically equivalent to the pig hormone. A control group will be given a placebo injection of a saline solution. Prior to receiving an injection, children selected to participate in the trials will be given a complete diagnostic evaluation that includes behavioral observation, language testing and review of records and observations made by parents and teachers. A month following injection, the same evaluation will be repeated to note any changes in the children, according to Unis and Dawson.

Scientists have known for a long time, said Unis, that children with autism have high levels of blood serotonin, a hormone or chemical messenger similar to secretin. Both serotonin and secretin are produced in the small intestine and are found in the brain as well as the digestive tract. These hormones, also called neuropeptides, can effect sleep, appetite and other brain-regulated functions. He said that secretin stays in the blood for only a brief time, no longer than 20 minutes, but its effects have been noted weeks later.

One question the trials won't examine is the exact chemical composition of the natural form of pig secretin. It has been determined to consist of 60 percent secretin and 40 percent unknown components, which Unis said may be composed of broken bits of peptides. Researchers do not know if secretin or these unknown components are responsible for alleviating some of the symptoms of autism that have been alleged by parents. However, Dawson, a pioneer in the early detection of autism, said that no proven medical treatment has yet been found that addresses autistic symptoms. There are medications that do relieve some conditions related to autism, such as hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors. Dawson and Unis said that if the initial round of tests show secretin is beneficial, a larger study would follow to examine such important questions as the proper dosages of secretin and possible effects.