August 2012 Archives

August 30, 2012

Selling an Idea: Autoimmunity and Autism is the New Snake Oil

Article first published as Selling an Idea: Autoimmunity and Autism is the New Snake Oil on Technorati.Boys with autism on brass tigers at Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City.On Saturday, the New York Times ran an article in their Opinion column with the following title: An Immune Disorder at the Root of Autism. The article made a very clear, glaring assumption: All children with autism are subject to a self-destructive immune system, which is caused by a lack of parasites in the body. By the end of the article, the author (not a doctor, by the way), claims that by introducing whipworm into the system in order to treat autism in children. Never mind the dangers of such a decision, the illness it could cause, it's all because we don't balance our immune system by being too clean. With such a wild assumption, particularly with the recent finds in Iceland regarding genetic mutation likely in aging fathers, it needed to be checked. According to the author, research has been done to prove this theory. From what I could read from doing a quick Google Scholar search, all studies revolving around the connection between autism and immune systems were inconclusive, requiring a lot more research. Most of the research out there is sparse, and much hasn't been duplicatable in additional studies, casting doubt on the connection.The problem is, the author, who is flogging his book, "An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases", which will be available September 4th, makes claims without any substance or citations. Biologist Emily Willingham took him to task in an article that is well worth the read. She did a lot of the legwork in searching for research, sifting through the author's claims, and pointing out the glaring problems in his article. The problem is, people are going to believe him. The same people who are determined to believe that vaccines are the root cause of autism are taking this up as "proof" that their theory is correct. Others will start giving parasitic eggs to their children, infecting them on purpose, in an effort to "cure" their autism. Children are going to get sick, if not die, from malnutrition and anemia because parents are going to panic. I've long maintained that autism is a condition ripe for misinformation, as no one knows what causes it. As such, much like the uneducated peasants of old, snake oil salesmen can come in with their crazy ideas, sell a book or treatment, make millions, endanger children in no position to defend themselves or tell their parents they hurt, and have a following vow that they are right and anyone who doubts is a "hater". It's scary, it's frustrating, and it's wrong. The only thing that can combat such charlatans is good education, of which there are plenty, and yet many people refuse to be educated, refuse to do the research, and therefore give up their responsibility as parents to someone else. Now, I'm all for new theories, and new research. But to make an explicit claim that ALL instances of autism are caused by anything has to be backed up by a significant amount of research before I'll take it seriously. New research is just that, new, and assumptions are made based on the results of the study and the biases of the researchers. Additional studies need to be made with the same results being found, in order to reinforce the theory or find an actual connection. Until that has been done properly, Mr. Moises Velasquez-Manoff has cast himself as a snake-oil salesman looking to generate sales of his book, and not to help children and adults on the autism spectrum.Sir, shame on you.

August 29, 2012

Father's Age, Mutation, and Autism

Article first published as Father's Age, Mutation, and Autism on Technorati.Boy with autism at the Turtle Reef exhibit at Sea World, San Diego.I was 29 when my oldest boy was born. I was 32 (almost 33) when my youngest boy was born. For many American's, that's not old to have children, at least now. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average age of mothers in the United States was 21.4 years, while now it is 25 years (or at least was in 2006). From that, and the assumption that the majority of fathers are generally within 5 years older than their wife (based on details from Allcountries.org), and making an assumption that most parents are married (somewhat naive, I know), or that parental action would fall under the same general age difference, it can be guessed that the age of the father averaged at 24 to now 29 in the United States. There is a lot of guesswork there, so I wouldn't consider it a hard number, but you get the idea. Fathers have been getting older over the past few decades. And now, based on an article posted in the science journal Nature, the older the father is the more likely the father will pass on genetic mutations. The research was conducted by the full genome sequencing project in Iceland, deCODE Genetics. After looking at all the genomes provided by the population of Iceland, it was determined that fathers are more likely to pass on genetic mutations than mothers, the older they get. The conclusion from this would be that genetic conditions, like autism, is attributed to inheritance from the father, and not the mother. And the older the father, the more likely it could happen. That's because more mutations happen the older the man, which explains where more diversity can happen. It does not mean, however, that you are guaranteed to have an child with autism if you are older than your early 20's. It just increases the likelihood.This has stirred up a lot of activity in the Autism community. It has angered the vaccine-haters, cast doubt on a possible cure, and will probably make a change to marriage/parenting schedules in the future. The question is, are they right? Right now, it's just an assumption. Genetic mutation is one of the possible theories of the cause of autism, particularly with parents with no history of autism in the family having children with autism. And there are a lot of people, using anecdotal evidence (my friends were young!) to disprove the theory. I'm not going to comment on the right or wrong of this connection that has been made, and touted by the media. My family has a history of autism going back at least to my grandfather's time, and it's pretty wide spread in the family on my father's side. But that being said, it's quite possible that autism first reared its head in my family due to such a mutation. Of course, it's also probable that it didn't. I don't know, because it would take more research to confirm. And that's what this theory needs: more research. I think it's very promising, and to finally have a "cause" nailed down for the autism spectrum will go a long way in understanding what is going on, even though it's not likely to bring about a "cure" or treatment. Still, once we understand autism, it becomes less scary, more familiar, and easier to manage without pending guilt or constant blame being thrown about indiscriminately. So, what does this study really mean in the long run? It means that we can start to pour money into more research around genetic mutation, therapy, and education programs for autism instead of pouring it into other theories that have been discounted long by the scientific community for lack of evidence, even though certain celebrities seem to think they are right.

August 20, 2012

Weekend in Salt Lake

This last weekend I flew home to visit my family for the first time in several weeks. It was great to see the kids and my wife, to visit with my parents and siblings, and to generally be with the family. I was worried that I might end up liking it so much that I might just stay.. but fortunately it just got me all the more anxious to have my family move out with me. So what did we do with the family? First, we went to the Hogle Zoo. It's a fun place for the boys, as we used to have a membership there and spent a lot of time watching the animals. It was a blast, and tired out the boys pretty well. Then we took a drive up the canyon. I wanted to head up the canyon before I moved to San Diego, but didn't get a chance. This time we made it. We went up to Park City and around into Heber for lunch. I really like Heber City.. It's not at all like Park City, and that's the way the locals like it. On the main road into Heber, there is a little drive in called Granny's. It's well known for it's shakes and burgers. They used to have battered "English-style chips", but they've stopped making them, apparently. But we stopped and had a great lunch. The boys were not that hungry and so didn't eat their grilled cheese sandwiches, but I had a great "Donkey burger" (basically a bleu cheese bacon burger with Cajun seasoning on the meat), and a German Chocolate shake. We continued down past Deer Creek to Orem, and back home. My oldest got a little restless, but the youngest fell asleep, and I called that mission accomplished. We did a little shopping, and then hung out at home. On Sunday night I flew back home to San Diego. I was expecting to get in about 10:45 PST, and then get home by 11:30 or so. Well, as we get on the plane, everyone settled down and ready to go, the flight attendant announced we have to get off because the plane is broken, and then get loaded up on another plane. It was, by this time, 9:45, when our flight was slated to leave. I figured we would be leaving an hour late. We boarded the next plane, and sure enough, we flew in an hour late. It turned out there was an issue with the thruster not stowing properly on the previous plane, which meant the plane was not safe to fly. Still, I made it home by 12:30 pm, just in time to crash and make it back to work this morning.The weekend was fun, refreshing, and I enjoyed it. Now, I'm looking forward to this weekend: back to the beach. Four more weekends before my family moves out with me, and I can't wait.

August 17, 2012

Pending Apple Announcements

There's a lot of excitement in the rumor mills about the pending Apple announcements of what is rumored to be the iPhone 5, the news about the Apple TV, and the iPad Mini or new iPod Touch Grande. The rumors of features are interesting, and I'm looking forward to the announcement coming, as rumored, this next month.The iPhone 5, I think, is pretty much a foregone conclusion. It's coming a year after the iPhone 4S, it's getting released with the other handsets and iOS devices (assuming there is a replacement for the iPod Touch), and it's pretty much a schedule thing. As for the changes, it's rumored to have a larger screen (16:9 for movies), and a new connector that's a 9-pin connector instead of a 30-pin. There is also a rumor about LTE being supported, but I'm not sure I would trust it as a rumor: it's practically a fact. If it didn't have 4G LTE, when the iPad does, then that would be a great disappointment. In fact, I think there would be a lot of complaining from customers. The Apple TV announcement seems.. interesting. The rumor is that Apple has been trying to work with major Cable companies to turn the Apple TV into a set top box to replace your cable box and add DVR. That's great and all, but I'm not sure I believe that is the case. The Apple TV has been all about streaming content, and building an Apple TV that connects to your cable: that seems pretty limiting. What if you have a dish? No, I actually see it work this way: Apple wants to have the Cable companies stream their online content to their customers through the Apple TV. Why do I think that's the case? Most major cable companies, like Comcast, Time Warner, and Cox, all have online streaming applications. Some even have apps for the iPad and iPhone (and most likely Android), and allow existing customers to connect to their online content. The infrastructure is already there, they just need to provide their content to their subscribers through an "app", much like NetFlix and Hulu Plus subscribers can. It makes more sense, would be easier to keep it up to date, and cable companies could start providing low-end "no box" subscriptions to their content for bargain prices. I think it would be a win for cable companies, consumers, and Apple. Anyway, if there is an announcement, we will find out in which direction they are going. The iPad mini.. A lot has been said about this new device, some of it good, some of it bad. Steve Jobs had quite a lot to say about it publicly, denouncing the form factor for general use. Personally, I don't like trying to type on the smaller screen. I can type just fine on a landscaped iPad screen. I haven't been able to successfully type on a landscaped 7" Galaxy screen (the last time I tried). My fingers were just too close together. Perhaps the landscape has changed as wireless keyboards have become more common. But if the goal is to be mobile, those form factors require thumb typing to be anything close to useful (and I hate thumb typing). That being said, if it were an iPod Touch, just bigger, and targeted even more than the iPad toward consumption, than I can see it. In fact, I see it as a great size for my kids, and would probably be a great reader. I think I would still most likely have an iPad as a laptop replacement, but if the screen on the new iPhone didn't quite cut it for a reader, I could go for something smaller. That being said, it would all come down to battery life. I could live with using a wireless keyboard on a smaller screen if it meant I had a longer battery live. 10 hours is incredible, but 14 would truly be an all day device. And, of course, my opinion is free to be changed at any time, should I find that size to be useful. In fact, it might be a good move overall, if performance matched the iPad, all the iPad apps worked on it, and it had a killer battery life. That would be a game changer for me, particularly since it's rumored to be starting at a very reasonable price. And as far as the name, I'm pretty sure the new device will be called the New iPod Touch, instead of the iPad mini. It would make more sense to replace the iPod Touch market (and shift sales) than to have three devices that are not phones. Anyway, that's what I'm thinking. But we will see what Apple has in store. What do you think will happen? What devices, features, or services are you expecting or would like to see?

Is Autism a Death Sentence?

Article first published as Is Autism a Death Sentence? on Technorati. Boy with autism sitting on a motorcycle.I don't envy doctors. They take a lot of grief from patients who are not happy about aches and pains, get drilled on all the latest advertised drugs that anyone with a television seems to think they need, and once in a while they are placed in an untenable position: They have to decide who gets to live, and who doesn't.Recently, it was reported by ABC News and other news outlets that Paul Corby was denied the waiting-list for a heart transplant, because he has autism. He has autism, which is defined medically as a psychiatric condition, and because of the potential issues with drugs necessary, at the age of 23 he was denied the chance to wait for a heart. Why did he need one? Because his left ventricle didn't close when he was born, and his heart doesn't pump enough blood. It's a dangerous, life-threatening condition that would require a transplant. And yet, he can't have one.I don't know of any other reasons why he was denied, what factors were weighed, or whether or not it was an attack on his autism as opposed to legitimate reasons, so I can't comment on the decision itself. But It does beg the question: should autism restrict anyone medically? Should someone with autism be excluded from blood transfusions, organ transplants, or revolutionary new procedures? We all know that organs are rare, and there are long waiting lists for organ transplants. Should someone without autism be considered in front of someone with autism?It's so easy to see someone with autism or another physical disorder and see only that disorder. You don't see that children with autism can also be children with the flu, children with chicken pox, children with measles (yes, if you don't get them vaccinated), and children with a cold. Our kids get sick, and often without us knowing right away because they can't explain how they feel. It is frustrating for parents enough when you know they will be out of school for a couple days. I can only imagine what Paul's poor mother is feeling, knowing her son's life isn't worth the same as others on the waiting list, just because her son has autism.The media has been reporting on this story for days, and I'm sure they will talk to every expert out there, get plenty of public opinions on the matter, and even find some celebrity to make a comment on the situation, on the outside. My heart goes out to the doctor that made the decision: that unpopular, inflammatory decision that could be very damaging to a career, should anyone find out the doctor's name. It's a responsibility that I would never be able to manage, personally. I'm really glad that I'm not a doctor.

August 13, 2012

Bearing up the Yoke of Autism

Article first published as Bearing Up the Yoke of Autism on Technorati. Boy with autism at Seaworld's Sea Turtle Reef exhibit.I just read a very telling post by a very human mother of a child with autism. She described a situation where immediate changes of plans was necessary, but yet they had to deal with the elephant in the room: her child's autism. She describes her momentary frustration she has with her child's condition, and the limitation it places on her to be able to do what she feels needs to be done (for more information on the situation, please read her post).Her description of autism as a yoke, something that holds her, her family, and her child back, is a very telling metaphor. Families who have children on the autism spectrum find that all their plans for their family, the visits to crowded locations like airports, amusement parks, museums, concerts, etc., are all limited by the sensory needs of their child.With our family, we had frustration after frustration as we fought to find a way to keep our sons occupied during the summer months without having them go outside in 100+ degree weather. We found more time was needed to devote to our children's education in order to help him move to the level of his peers, only to have his slow speech disappear during the summer. Often times dealing with autism, and not the child, seems to become an exercise in futility.Now, I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about my sons. I'm not. I love them both deeply, and love the lessons they have taught me in patience and unconditional love. They are both my children, and have such wonderful personalities that I can't imagine having any other children. They are generally very happy, constantly enjoying even the most simple activities. They are both so willing to help. It's just that barrier of communication that autism brings to our relationship that makes it frustrating.All parents are human, even parents who have children with autism. We work hard to make sure that autism doesn't interfere with everyone else's lives, at the expense of what is perceived as "normalcy" for our own. And at times, we can feel at a loss to see the positive side of such attention. But then your child looks you in the eyes, smiles big, and says a word (or even two!), and your world comes up roses.So, just like the oxen who work together to plow a field full of live-giving grain, parents of a child with autism can accomplish great things by pulling. But don't look down on any of us if, at times, we chafe just a little bit.

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