Note from JML: Below are the basic details of the study which are followed by my comments.
Who: Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI), "an internationally recognized facility dedicated to improving the lives of children and adolescents with pediatric developmental disabilities through patient care, special education, research, and professional training. "
What: The organization recently released research that suggests fever may actually lead to improvements of behavior amongst children with ASD. According to the study, "Over the past few decades, parents and clinicians have observed that the behaviors of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to improve, sometimes rather dramatically, during a fever. Longer concentration spans, increased language production, improved eye contact and better overall relations with adults and peers have all been reported."
Where: The KKI is located in Baltimore, Maryland. The study appeared December 3, 2007 in Pediatrics, an official peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The journal has been continuously published by the AAP since January 1948.
When: The press release was sent out online and elsewhere on December 3, 2007.
How: Research was funded by Cure Autism Now which merged with Autism Speaks in 2007. The study involved 30 children and apparently resulted from observations made by parents who noticed that the symptoms of autism seemed alleviated when their children with ASD had fevers.
Two Other Quotes from the Press Release:
1. “The results of this study are important because they show us that the autistic brain is plastic, or capable of altering current connections and forming new ones in response to different experiences or conditions,” said Andrew Zimmerman, a a pediatric neurologist at KKI.
2. "Researchers evaluated 30 children with ASD, ages two to 18 years, during and after an episode of fever (fever was defined as 100.4 degrees F/38.0 degrees C or greater). Parents were asked to observe their child’s actions and complete a standardized behavior questionnaire at three different points: during fever; when the fever subsided and the child was asymptomatic; and when the child was fever-free for seven days. These data were compared to data collected from parents of 30 afebrile children with ASD who made up the control group. Children in the control group were matched to children in the fever group in terms of age, sex and language skills."
1. ASD can be a strange disorder and the brain as a whole is still pretty mysterious to scientists, so it should not come as a surprise if one of the main treatments of autism ends up to be a bit unorthodox. Hopefully, if there is some truth to this research, the approaches used to implement a treatment will be ethical. While I praise the KKI, Andrew Zimmerman, and the PPA for their work in the field of autism, I am concerned about the possible ramifications of this study and the ethical dilemma that may result.
2. I have not personally observed an improvement in my son's autism-related behavior when he has had a fever. The last time my son's temperature increased dramatically, he was so sick that we had to take him to the hospital where he stayed for two days. I can't say I noticed any improvement as the result of that fever. However, we were so stressed at that point of time, we might have not noticed any existing, but temporary changes.