Saturday, February 16, 2008

Recent autism studies

An article published in Science News, January 12, 2008, p. 19, reports on recent studies attempting to unravel the possible genetic causes of autism.

Geneticist Mark J. Daly of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has found a small stretch of chromosome 16 that promotes autism when it is in an altered form. It is found in about 1% of children with the disorder. The study looked at 751 families with two or more children with autism or a related disorder, for a total of 1,441 affected children. The researchers found additional evidence of both DNA deletion and extra copies of genes within the chromosome 16 area in children diagnosed with autism. In most of the cases, the altered genes arose spontaneously, but some were inherited from parents.

Another study, led by geneticist Aravinda Chakravati of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, identified
a small area of chromosome 7 that showed a link to autism. A specific gene on chromosome 7 makes a protein essential for neural communications.

In another study reported in Science News, September 29, 2007, p. 197, researchers found no association between Mercury in
vaccines and climbing autism rates. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enrolled 1,047 children from 7 - 10 years old. The researchers compared the amount of Themerosol, a Mercury based preservative used in vaccines, that children received through the first 7 months of life and the results of a battery of tests for language, memory, motor coordination, attention, and intelligence. They found no correlation between the amount of Mercury the children received and performance on the tests.

In another study by the California Department of Public Health, researcher Robert Schechter found that the prevalence of
autism in children aged 3 - 12 years old has increased gradually from 1995 to 2007, even though Themerosol was removed from vaccines from 1999 - 2001.

Science News
is available on-line only by subscription.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Take the high road...

“…take the high road. There’s less traffic.” Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald

Thursday, February 7, 2008

More on abuse case based on allegations made through facilitated communication

The Detroit Free Press reports more developments in the case of a 14-year-old autistic girl who accused her father of rape through facilitated communication, a widely discredited communication technique where a facilitator holds the arm or wrist of the girl over a keyboard while she spells out messages.

Family Court Judge Joan Young ruled that the girl could continue to use facilitated communication at school, but that she could not use it to communicate about the pending case against her parents. The judge was alarmed that West Bloomfield police had questioned the autistic girl's mentally-impaired brother on December 4, 2007, without notifying his guardian and without a parent or attorney present. She said this is not to happen again.

A column by Brian Dickerson, "Crying rape through a Ouija board", also appeared in the Free Press on 2/6/08. He concludes that "...the gravity of the state's allegations can't camouflage the weakness of its case. Barron [the District Court judge] should call an end to this travesty now, before a higher court does it for him."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Respite evenings in Chelsea, MI

The Chelsea Free Methodist Church is offering families of special needs children one respite evening per month for free. The program, called Rest and Refresh, is open to families of children with physical, emotional, or mental disabilities. Siblings may also attend.

One Saturday night per month, the church, which is located at 7665 Werkner Road in Chelsea, MI, will offer respite from 5-9 p.m. Volunteer care givers will be selected based on the child's needs. All volunteers are required to submit to a background check and will go through an orientation for the program.

A family orientation night will be held on Saturday, February 23, 2008 from 5-9 p.m. at the church. The first respite care evening will be on Saturday, March 8, 2008.

For questions about the program, call Liz Graves, Rest and Refresh Coordinator, at (734) 475-8801. For an application, call (734) 475-1391 or email

Monday, February 4, 2008

In abuse case, prosecution's witness sheds doubt on reliability of facilitated communication

It is hard to tell what is motivating the prosecution to continue with this case [see posts from 1/24/08 and 1/30/08] involving a 14-year-old autistic girl who has accused her father of rape. The girl cannot talk, but she uses a highly controversial communication technique called facilitated communication where a facilitator guides the hand of the girl over a keyboard and assists her in spelling out messages. Defense experts who testified at a hearing last week said that the communications are from the facilitator, not the girl, and that the technique has no scientific validity. The judge agreed that the technique is not scientific, but will hold another hearing on February 22, 2008, to determine the girl's competence. He did not disallow the use of facilitated communication.

An article in today's Detroit Free Press says that the girl's mother is asking a Family Court judge to remove her daughter from the school she is attending, because she is afraid the school and prosecutors are trying to influence the girl by coaching her. The article also reveals more about a hearing last week where even the prosecution's witness doubted the reliability of the communications from the girl:

[The Assistant Prosecutor Andrea] Dean sat red-faced during one hearing last week while an expert witness she had called, Dr. Sandra McClennen of Eastern Michigan University, voiced concerns about the prosecution's case, saying investigators ignored pleas to verify the claims with a second facilitator

Under questioning, McClennen said protocols call for abuse claims to be verified using a second facilitator who is unaware of the allegation. But after she explained the protocol to a social worker on the case, a West Bloomfield Police officer returned her call.

"The gist of it was, 'We don't want your services,' " McClennen testified.

The girl's father has been in jail since December 1st and the mother is free on bond with charges of neglect and witness tampering. This story is being reported by Free Press staff writers John Wisely and L.L. Brasier.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Epsom Salts cut risk of cerebral palsy in preemies

An AP article from 1/31/08 describes a study presented to the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Dallas which shows that Epsom Salts, or magnesium sulphate, given to women who go into premature labor, can reduce the risk of cerebral palsy in their infants.

In the government-funded study, researchers gave an infusion of magnesium sulfate to women about to give birth to a premature baby to see if it would reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. Enrolled in the study were 2,241 women who were 24 to 31 weeks pregnant... They were given either the compound or a fake solution. The infants were examined for signs of cerebral palsy at birth and over the next two years.

Of the babies who survived, moderate or severe cerebral palsy occurred in about 2 percent of those in the treatment group compared to about 4 percent of those whose mothers didn't get the compound.

The number of infants who died was about the same in both groups.

Two of the researchers mentioned in the article were Dr. John Thorp of the University of North Carolina and Dr. Dwight Rouse from the University of Alabama.