The second Sunday in February has been dubbed Autism Sunday. The annual event originated in the 2002 in the U.K by the founders of Autism Awareness Campaign U.K. The International Day of Prayer for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome began with the parents of an autistic child in 1998. They began an awareness crusade at that point and the first service took place at the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Since its inception, the day has been observed by millions of people around the world and is aimed at prayer and education for autistic children and adults.
As people gather in churches, and in thought, to pray for those living with autism, they also aim at bringing awareness and education about the disorder to light. One in 88 American children have autism, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC.) Symptoms vary widely, but generally include problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, intense interest in sometimes peculiar things, as well as difficulty relating to the world around them. Early detection is key to preventing and managing the disorder.
Research shows that autism caused during pregnancy is likely due to older parents, illness during pregnancy, a scheduled c-section or genetic risk factors that are not controllable. Studies are revealing more about the disorder and discovering why the brain reacts the way it does.
One study was published in the journal Science on Feb. 6. The study was led by Yehezkel Ben-Ari from the Mediterranean Institute of Neurobiology. He and his team focused on therapeutic treatment in uteri. They found that a shift in chloride signals the brain, which is the cause of autism. It exposed the brain to valporic acid.
The group studied the chloride in neurons of mice and found that the hormone oxytocin acts like a diuretic. Ben-Ari explained that when the important reactions fail during childbirth, the risk of autism is increased. Birthing mothers who are given the diuretic 24 hours before delivery have restored chloride levels in their brains, therefore correcting the autistic behavior.
Currently, there are no known cures or treatments for autism. This study that looks at prevention during labor and delivery, which point to the drug bumetanide. It acts like the hormone oxytocin and could potentially be used to correct the problem in autistic children. There is not a direct way of testing for or treating autism at this time, however. Early detection and awareness of a child’s behavior patterns is essential for managing the disorder. Treating the symptoms of the disorder is the only option. This can include medication, music therapy, dietary changes, behavior modification programs, sensory integration and speech therapy.
The recent study by Ben-Ari shows promise for correcting the problem during delivery and preventing children from being born with autism. His research also aims to provide education on how the brain functions and why autism occurs. Research on humans is needed to see if the reaction is that same as in the mice. Until a cure is found, however, concerned parents and educators continue their goal to promote awareness. Autism Sunday is one piece of the puzzle in an effort to gather together and harness the power of prayer.
By Tracy Rose