The Best of Our Knowledge # 878

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention
estimates that one in every 150 children are affected by Autism,
Asperger's Syndrome, or a related disorder. The Harvard School
of Public Health estimates the total lifetime costs for a person with
autism at about 3.2 million dollars. Autism is generally defined as a developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills,
and impacts educational performance. Autism and education are
subjects which invariably are mentioned in the same sentence.
They're also joined in many lawsuits in both Canada and the United
States. The court decisions are as varied as are autism's symptoms.
Just over a month ago, the Supreme Court made what some are
terming a landmark decision. The high court ruled that non-lawyer
parents of minor children with autism can represent their child in
federal court under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
This opens federal courthouse doors for families to challenge their
public school district's plan for their child's education. Dr. Judith
Grether is a research scientist and epidemiologist with the California
Center for Autism. TBOOK asked her if she believes autism is
growing to epidemic proportions?
Thijs Westerbeek reports. (5:41)

Columbia University has just begun collaborating with the Norwegian
Institute of Public Health to recruit 100-thousand pregnant women in
Norway for a major autism study. The researchers will take blood
samples from the mothers and fathers, and from the children's umbilical
cords, and will then follow the children over the next three years to see
who develops autism.

In a very recent dramatic shift, top federal health officials and academic scientists now say they have paid too little attention to the possibility that
toxins or other environmental factors cause autism. At a Washington D.C. workshop held by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine, they and patients' advocates charted a course to investigate whether environmental factors play a role in triggering autism.

Other researchers are using things like magnetic resonance imaging to
watch the brain in action and see how different mental tasks cause
different regions to activate. The technique is being used at Washington
State University in Seattle to investigate whether the brain responds to
specific training in other contexts. TBOOK speaks with both Dr. Elizabeth Aylward, Professor of Radiology, and Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Professor
and Director of the Autism Center.
Laura Durnford reports. (6:38)

A number of therapies are offered to help children with disabilities
such as autism. One organization we found provides horse assisted
therapy for young people in elementary and middle school. TBOOK
spoke with Nancy King, a registered therapist with the North American
Riding for the Handicapped Association. Find out more at their
Tyease Levers reports. (2:53)