Showing posts with label Pathology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pathology. Show all posts

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Matching Pathology with Behaviours in Autism

I think the wrong people are in charge of autism research; forensic scientists or even air-crash investigators might do much better.
We have seen in this blog that many drugs have a positive effect in specific types of autism. In many, but not all cases, the mechanism of that drug and its effect on the pathology of autism is understood. 
If you have followed an ABA programme, you will know that an experienced autism therapist would very easily be able to give a long list of behavioral issues that occur in varying combinations among her clients.
From reading the research, it is clear that the people who understand the biology, often do not understand the psychology and the behavioral issues they are trying to treat - but perhaps they should.  Only then can you target treatments for specific problems.  There can be no single drug for autism, but there can be a drug for obsessive behaviours, and another for self-injury.  You cannot say a low dose of X helps with social cognition, but for aggression you need a high dose of X.  To me at least, this is complete nonsense and shows a complete failure to understand the underlying psychology.
Just as most people struggle with all the jargon of biochemistry, I suppose the medical researchers fail to grasp the nuances of the psychologists’ jargon.  We need to match both sides, because we need science to solve a complex problem that presents itself in hard to describe, odd behaviours and not as nice neat equation to solve.
It is difficult to accurately describe and quantify the behavioral issues of a child with ASD.  It is very hard for a parent, but it is definitely possible for a psychologist using tools like ABBLS and others.  Then you can move towards seeing precisely what behavioral effects a drug has and stop expecting improvements in areas that are completely unrelated.
Having produced the list of deficit areas you can then try and understand the underlying pathology as to why a drug is effective.
I make no claims to have great expertise in this area, but it looks like nobody else does either.
Here are some examples:

Obsessive compulsive behaviours are well known to affect some people with autism.  This is a type of behaviour that most people would understand and would notice if they saw it, although they might find it hard to quantify.

Oxidative stress is a measurable pathological condition that is present in some people with autism.  Oxidative stress exists in other medical conditions and has a known therapy, an antioxidant like NAC.
By chance, it was found that treating someone with obsessive compulsive behaviours with NAC, greatly reduced those behaviours.

In the case of people with autism and obsessive compulsive behaviours, it would be good to know if other deficit areas were also impacted.  Clearly, taking away the obsessive compulsive behaviours, you would expect to see a general improvement, since the person is now much calmer and better able to function and so many behaviours should improve to a certain extent.  But does NAC reduce head banging and other SIB?  I think not.
So we can then conclude that oxidative stress triggers obsessive compulsive behaviours and NAC should be prescribed.  Oxidative stress may exist to a lesser degree in subjects that do not (yet) display obsessive behaviours.

I have not tried to treat anxiety in autism, but many people have.  Anxiety lies on the axis running from happy to depressed.  By raising the level of serotonin in the brain you move from depressed towards happy.  The antidepressant Prozac is given to many children with ASD to reduce anxiety. Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

The problem with such drugs is their side effects and use can result in dependency.  If that was not the case, the advice would be simple.
I think a better and safer way exists to raise brain serotonin levels in autism.

Seizures and SIB
Not all people with SIB (Self-injurious Behavior) have seizures, but I expect many people with seizures have SIB.  Both conditions appear to be channelopathies (ion channel/transporter dysfunctions); but there is more to it than that, what triggers the channelopathy?  It would seem that in both cases the message comes via inflammatory signalling from the vagus nerve.  So to treat these conditions you can block the inflammatory signalling (vagus nerve stimulation), or you can treat the resulting ion channel/transporter dysfunction in the brain; doing both may be quite unnecessary.

If you have neither seizures nor SIB, then using any of the above therapies would be of little effect.

Many open questions remain
All is not clear; for example, where does hyperactivity fit in?  Where does anger fit in?  Is anger just a mild version of SIB?  It is extreme anxiety?  Is it something entirely different?

An interesting finding of mine was that showing affection appears to be pathologically related to self-confidence and lack of inhibition.  The pathology linking them appears to be neuroinflammation, or rather the control of it.