Affinity Health Plan

  • New Studies Aim to Solve the Mysteries of Autism

    April 27, 2015

    No one knows the cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disorders marked by lifelong social, emotional, communicative and behavioral problems. In a study, released April 14, 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association, points to a possible link between autism and gestational diabetes and to a lesser extent Type 2 diabetes. The study found that mothers who developed gestational diabetes during the first 26 weeks of pregnancy or before the third trimester were 42 percent more likely to have a child with autism than mothers who had not had diabetes. While the risk is lower for mothers who had Type 2 diabetes, their children were also at a higher risk than mothers who never had diabetes.

    "Pregnancy is definitely a critical time," said Dr. Sharon Dean, an obstetrician/gynecologist, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Affinity Health Plan."Between eight and 13 weeks is when all the organs develop. However, the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) continues to undergo development after the initial stage of organ formation," she said.

    To reach their findings, doctors reviewed data on more than 322,000 children born between 1995 and 2009 in Kaiser Permanente Southern California hospitals. While this news is fascinating, researchers said that this study was small, and more research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.

    Another study, released on the same day, by the International Journal of Epidemiology suggested the DNA in the sperm of some men could contribute to autism. The study looked at fathers of autistic children. It found that some of the gene changes that can occur during cell division can be passed on and may be related to autism and disorders similar to autism. Again, researchers explained that this study was too small to tell whether this finding contributes to solving the disorder's mysteries. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that researchers do agree that in some way genes and the environment play important roles.

    Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), are some of the dysfunctions in Autism Spectrum Disorder. These disorders can range from very mild to severe. Boys are five times more likely to have it than girls. One in every 42 boys is diagnosed with ASD; among girls that figure is one in every 189. Yet, of the children identified with ASD, a clear 46 percent have average to above average intellectual ability, according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

    Statistics show that the number of children with ASD is rising in the United States, from one child out of every 110 children in 2006, to one in every 68 children in 2010. While the causes remain unknown, one thing is known: Taking excellent care of your health before your baby's birth is critical. "Start prenatal care as early as possible," Dr. Deans advised. Eat a healthy diet, and maintain a proper weight. "Get a screen test done to make sure that you don't develop [diabetes]," she said. And if you do develop it, she recommends following your doctor's orders and taking all your prescribed medicines.

    Although autism is difficult to diagnose, the two-stage process, first involves the parent/caregiver and the pediatrician checking on whether the child is reaching developmental milestones on time. Secondly, a team that includes a psychologist or a psychiatrist, a neurologist, a speech therapist, and other professionals experienced in diagnosing ASD will perform an evaluation.

    "The evaluation of a child who may have ASD includes a thorough review," explained Dr. Elisabeth Hager, a psychiatrist with Beacon Health Strategies. Pediatrician and school records are among the information gathered for review.

    Next, a parental interview that includes the child's medical history, behavior and development is completed. Then, standardized age-appropriate tests take place to assess IQ (Intelligence Quotient), fine motor skills, attention and memory. Also, the child's repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and social and communication skills are observed.

    "Because the evaluation can take several hours, it is good to dress your child comfortably and bring snacks or other comforting objects to help your child," advises Dr. Hager. A psychiatrist also will evaluate your child for any other problems, such as depression or anxiety. "If these problems are identified they can be treated, which can help your child feel better," she said.

    While causes and cures for ASD elude doctors, what is known is that early intensive intervention can improve learning, social and communication skills. A child can be diagnosed with ASD as early as age two. However, the CDC reports, that many aren't diagnosed until they are four years old.

    What is important for parents and caregivers is to become familiar with typical age milestones and learn the early signs of autism. If a diagnosis is received, know that you are not alone. Help and information can be found at Autism Speaks, the CDC and the National Institute of Mental Health.

    "While the diagnosis of ASD can be scary, we are learning more each day about the causes and treatments," said Dr. Hager "There are many resources available including support groups, and schools are getting better at identifying student needs and bringing support to students and families."

    Dr. Sharon Deans is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 37 years of healthcare experience. She also serves as Vice President, Senior Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer at Affinity Health Plan. Dr. Elisabeth Hager is psychiatrist who works for Beacon Health Options. She has a private practice and specializes in geriatric psychiatry and addiction medicine. Beacon Health Options provides services for the members of Affinity Health Plan.

    Comments (1)

    erica on 05/21/2015
    I am wondering if affinity will cover my transabdominal cercalge. I have recently lost a baby due to insufficient cervix and the best approach for carrying a baby again full term would be a TAC. How do I find out or what are the steps needed for me to get approved.
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