(Illustration: Patrick Lynch, Yale University)
By Karen Weintraub
In what might ultimately be a game-changer for managing and treating autism, Yale researchers report that they can now identify kids at risk for autism right after birth — instead of waiting until they’re diagnosed at age 3 or 4 — by examining their mother’s placenta.
Harvey Kliman, M.D., a research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, says he is able to make such a determination by looking for abnormal folding in the newborn’s placenta – the organ that feeds the baby during pregnancy. Kliman’s study, based on examining 217 placenta samples, is out today in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
By finding these children early, the hope is that they can begin aggressive therapy that will compensate for any behavioral, social or communications difficulties they would otherwise have had.
“Now we have something that can flag children at birth,” says Kliman, a placenta expert and lead author of the study.
A Child With Faulty Folding
Chris Mann Sullivan is a believer.
Sullivan, a longtime autism behavioral therapist, sent her newborn daughter Dania’s placenta to Kliman three years ago because she thought she might recommend the analysis to her clients and wanted to try it herself.
Dania Sullivan, at right, was flagged at birth for being at risk for autism. Her older sister Kayla does not have the condition. (Photo: Chris Mann Sullivan)
To her shock and horror, Kliman saw evidence of this faulty folding in Dania’s placenta.
Once she recovered from her surprise, Sullivan began to try the therapies she knew so well on her own child, adapting them for Dania’s young age. Sullivan, of Norman, NC, describes her approach as intensive, “really, really good parenting.” Instead of letting tiny problems resolve themselves, she addressed them aggressively.
As a baby, when Dania, would only look and roll in one direction, Sullivan started encouraging her to use the other arm.
When the child didn’t intuitively understand facial expressions, Sullivan spent hours showing her pictures of familiar people smiling. And when Dania, who had asthma, began getting sick a lot and couldn’t seem to bounce back, Sullivan started giving her preventive nebulizer treatments every time she came in from playing outside.
Last summer, when Dania, now 3, didn’t want to stay in a wet bathing suit, her mother quickly changed it – and then regretted it when Dania’s reaction escalated into a fear of anything wet.
“You would have thought the world would have ended the first time we did not put on a dry bathing suit,” said Sullivan. But now Dania is over her aversion. “We pushed through it. Pushing through it with little kids is a lot different than pushing through with an older child.”
And that’s why it’s so important for parents to know that their child may need extra help at the very beginning of life, rather than waiting for counterproductive patterns to get established, Continue reading