Autism and the Immune System Camp Lejeune NC

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Autism and the Immune System

Autism May be Linked to Disturbances in the Immune System.
Date: Monday, July 13, 2009
Source: Pediatrics
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Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects many parts of the brain; how this occurs is not yet understood. Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child's life. Although early behavioral or cognitive intervention can help children gain self-care, social, and communication skills, there is no known cure. Not many children with autism live independently after reaching adulthood. About a third to a half of individuals with autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. The main goals of treatment are to lessen associated deficits and family distress, and to increase quality of life and functional independence. No single treatment is best and treatment is typically tailored to the child's needs.

Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body really attacks its own cells. This may be restricted to certain organs or involve a particular tissue in different places of the body. The treatment of autoimmune diseases is typically with immunosuppressant medication which decreases the immune response. Examples of autoimmune diseases would be: celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. A substantial minority of the population suffers from one or more of these diseases, which are often chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening.

A recent study found that children of mothers with an autoimmune disease have up to a three times greater risk of having autism. Previous research had already found a link between mothers with type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis and the increased risk for autism, but this particular trial now found the link with celiac disease too. The study included 3,325 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, including 1,089 diagnosed with infantile autism. They found children whose mothers had an autoimmune disease that the children were more likely to have autism. They also found that the risk of infantile autism was increased in children with a family history of type 1 diabetes. The researchers found an increased risk for autism was not huge, but it is significant: almost 2 times greater for type 1 diabetes, 1.5 times greater for rheumatoid arthritis and more than 3 times greater for celiac disease. These results are important because they appear to support the theory that autism is somehow associated with disturbances in the immune system. The researchers also note that although these findings are significant, it should not cause worry or be unsettling for parents or future parents with autoimmune diseases since the overwhelming majority of parents with these conditions do not have children with autism. The study author states that the link between autoimmune diseases and autism could be associated with the diseases themselves, it could be that the genes associated with autoimmune diseases and autism are located near each other or it could be that an autoimmune disease changes the quality of a pregnancy, which results in circumstances that increase the risk for autism.1
 
1 Atladottir HO, Pedersen MG, Thorsen P, et al. Association of Family History of Autoimmune Diseases and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics. Jul2009.

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