Anesthesia Could Impact Child Development

An Australian study, published in Pediatrics, suggests than even one exposure to anesthesia could impact a child’s learning and later development, particularly involving language. Researchers followed just under 2,900 children from pregnancy through middle childhood and noted that those who had even just one surgery before the age of 3, were twice as likely to demonstrate a language disability by the age of 10 years old.

Although no correlation was found between anesthesia and behavioral concerns, children who had anesthesia were 73% more likely to demonstrate challenges with abstract reasoning skills. Other studies suggested similar findings, but again it is important to note that a causal relation has not been proven at this point.

For example, one of the most common surgeries for young children would involve inserting tubes for frequent ear infections. Frequent ear infections, and difficulty hearing, could also impact a child’s language and communication development. At this point, recommendations include continuing to provide children with medically necessary surgery and anesthesia, until more evidence can be gathered. Additionally, the medication most of the children in this study were exposed to, is no longer used and medical records of other medications were not available to researchers.

SmartTots is an organization that has been founded to look at safety for children under the age of 4, who require exposure to anesthesia. SmartTots provides funding and information on safety when considering surgery for young children, and may be a helpful resource for parents and professionals.

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Genetic Model of Behaviors Seen in Autism Created in Mice

While the idea of genetic mutations being in play for autism to develop has been regularly suggested, isolating which genes specifically impact the disorder has been a challenge. Researchers recently modified the gene pten, which impacts use of the mitochondria in cells, and created a model of similar behaviors as those seen in autism spectrum disorders in laboratory mice. Mice were noted to exhibit repetitive, self-soothing behaviors (grooming) and to avoid social interaction with other mice, following the modification to pten.

Changes to pten have been linked to Alzheimers in the past, with current research being applied to autism and schizophrenia, as well as some other behavioral disorders. The current outcome focus of this finding is on finding and developing medications to remedy or limit the influence of pten on the development of such disorders, with much research necessary prior to modifying treatment.

Mitochondrial DNA has been a target for research in autism spectrum disorders for many years and current research into pten may help explain some findings suggesting that mitochondria are affected in those diagnosed with autism.

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Age of Fathers Linked to Autism Incidence

A study has been released suggesting that the age of a child’s father was “the only important thing” when considering the likelihood of a genetic change that could be responsible for increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders or schizophrenia. To be more clear, as a man increases in age he also increases the likelihood that his genes will not make exact copies of themselves anymore (during meiosis, for those people who remember sixth grade biology). This creates genetic mutations that are present in almost everyone- the issue is which mutation occurs. While some may influence physical features, others may never be ‘activated’ (expressed), and still others are now thought to influence the risk of developmental disorders. Again (see post on causation versus correlation), this does not guarantee a developmental disorder, but it does increase the odds that a mutation may be present that could influence the child’s development. Although some may feel this, again, as a way to blame parents for a challenging diagnosis, the truth is that having children is always something of a risk and genetics are based on probability. Some researchers are more concerned that several generations from now, the gene pool will be dramatically influenced by those who did not develop a diagnosis, but only carried mutated genetic material. This creates outcomes far more vast and creates concerns of future genetic modification practices and regulations.

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Effects of Parent Stress on Child Development

As if parents didn’t have enough to be stressed about, now research is suggesting that parent stress can contribute to concerns with children!

Prior to Birth

Even before a child is born, levels of stress hormones may influence brain development. It makes sense that the adaptive response to high stress levels in an adult is to create a child more suited to survive in the stressful situation, which is the premise of the Predictive Adaptive Response thought to contribute to the potential development of ADHD, anxiety, and increased risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders as well.

In Infancy

Even as an infant, the body and the brain continue to develop. Some studies suggest that the stress exhibited to a young child can actually modify which genes are activated as an infant. This is thought to influence stress responses later in life and has been modeled in an animal model. Although mice are a fairly adequate genetic model, the human genome is significantly more complex, making these effects somewhat incomplete when applied to humans. Regardless, environmental stressors and interactions as a child often do contribute to later characteristics. Consider the early childhood experiences of many children who are diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and the considerable challenges for these children when they attempt to modify their behavior, even in a predictable and secure home environment.


So what this particular information is suggesting is that children require calm. Behaviorally, I would expand that to suggest that children actually crave predictability (within reason) and boundaries. Boundaries create a non-threatening environment by supporting safety, and creating known, predictable expectations and outcomes. Even within developmental research, children who have a secure base are those most likely to interact more with their environment and feel secure enough to venture away from their parent. Additionally, for a home to have some sense of order and calm, the adults in the environment also have to have a sense of order and calm. While stressors happen, regularly in family environments, the modeling of appropriate coping skills and even a bit of ‘time off’ for parents, may actually support the development of a better family environment and better child development. It is important to note that no one is perfect, and that parents aren’t the cause of ADHD, Autism, or anxiety disorders; however, a potential component of these later diagnoses could be exposure to stress and hormones, and, at least this component, can be controlled.

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Helping Your Teen with ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder (Guest Post)

It is every parent’s wish to have a happy and healthy child. But what happens if you see something unusual in your child’s behavior around two years of age? The breaking news after the doctor consultation and the journey that you have to face during all the stages of development of your child with autism is overwhelming. How successful you are at dealing with your child’s Autism Spectrum Disorder depends on your reaction towards it – acceptance or denial. Most parents are able to accept the diagnosis of ASD, but a fraction of them refuses to accept the fact that their child has autism. The process of acceptance may be difficult, but it is where you can help your child live a typical life. It is the key to success in your journey of raising a child with autism.

Before anything else, you have to be educated with the factors involving ASD. Familiarization will help you know how to handle your child’s mood swings, and his or her behavior in general, particularly when your child goes through the transitions from early childhood, puberty, adolescence, and adulthood. The most difficult transition typically happens during puberty. The hormonal changes are the same with teens without ASD, but how to handle these changes productively involves a lot of work from you, as the parent. You may think your teen’s behavior is getting worse, but you should consider the fact that he or she is going into adolescence, where it is normal for teens to argue with their parents, and become increasingly independent. The difference between a teen with ASD and one without is their outlet. Most teens can easily socialize, while an ASD teen may receive rejection from their peers, causing them to shy away from people. This makes it harder for them to understand the transition they are facing. This is where you, as parents, come in.

How do you help your teen with these changes?

Educate Your Tween on Sexuality and Bodily Functions

At puberty, boys have to deal with new emotions and hormonal changes, while girls have their menstrual cycle in addition to emotions and hormones. You should explain to them what it means through books, the internet and open communication not just once or twice, but as many times as it takes for them to understand. Moreover, since teens with ASD are prone to sexual harassment, you need to discuss to them what sex is. You have to teach them to respond appropriately.

Give Them Choices

Children with autism may be very dependent on you, as a parent. They may rely on you in everything that they do. However, just like other teens, ASD teens are also struggling for independence. For your child to gain some of the independence they crave, give them choices when possible. For example, ask them what they want to do this afternoon… go to the park to play with the dog, or watch a movie. Only you know how much responsibility your child can handle but the more independence you can provide them, the easier their transition into adulthood will be.

Build Self Esteem

If you see your child frequently doing things, like drawing, then develop their interest in it by providing them opportunities to develop their skills. In addition, do not forget to praise them, in this case, for their artwork.

Above all, patience and understanding for your ASD teen will make your journey together more enjoyable.

Elaine Enchiverri is a professional freelance writer who enjoys writing about various topics, including advice for parents with children who have autism.

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