Study Finds Fever may Lead to Improved Behavior in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Kennedy Krieger Institute Research Confirms Parent and Physician

Reports that Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Exhibit Fewer

Autistic-like Behaviors during Illness with Fever

Dec 03, 2007, 00:00 ET from Kennedy Krieger Institute

    BALTIMORE, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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. In a study published today in the
 journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in
 Baltimore, Maryland confirmed, for the first time, parent and clinician
 reports that the behavior of children with ASD improves with fever. The
 study evaluated children with ASD during and after an episode of fever and
 found that fewer autistic-like behaviors were recorded for children with
 fever compared to controls. Understanding how fever affects the behaviors
 of children with ASD may provide insight into the causes of the disorder
 and potential treatment opportunities.
     In typically developing children, signals are constantly being sent
 through pathways that connect the different regions of the brain and allow
 them to communicate with one another. Research has shown that these
 connections between brain regions are not made in children with autism,
 which limits their ability to communicate and socialize. But, the rapid
 behavioral changes observed with the onset of fever in children with ASD
 suggest that the different regions of the brain are in fact capable of
 connecting and communicating with one another, and that something about the
 fever state triggers or speeds up the signaling between brain regions.
 Understanding this "fever effect," including why and how connections are
 made between brain regions during a febrile (fever) state and not in an
 afebrile (without fever) state in children with ASD may provide valuable
 insight into the neurological basis of the disorder.
     "Since autism spectrum disorders are behaviorally defined and
 diagnosed, studying changes in behavior resulting from a wide range of
 physiological changes is critical to increasing our understanding of this
 complex group of disorders," said Andrew Zimmerman, Director of Medical
 Research at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy
 Krieger Institute. "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
     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. Results revealed fewer autistic-like behaviors for children with
 fever compared to controls, with more than 80 percent of fever subjects
 showing some behavioral improvements and approximately 30 percent
 exhibiting dramatic improvements.
     "Pilot research studies such as this provide clues about the underlying
 metabolic changes in the brain that may prove to be targets for novel
 autism therapies," said Dr. Gary Goldstein, President and CEO of Kennedy
 Krieger Institute. "These and other similar findings are shaping the future
 direction of autism research."
     Further research involving a larger participant pool is needed to
 better understand fever-specific effects in autism. In the future, Dr.
 Zimmerman would like to collaborate with other research institutions to
 study the underlying biologic mechanisms of fever-specific effects in
 autism by conducting blood tests during and after fever and analyzing
 immune measurements and hormonal changes in the blood. This research study
 was the work of senior author Dr. Andrew Zimmerman of the Kennedy Krieger
 Institute and the doctoral thesis of Laura Curran at Johns Hopkins
 Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The
 study was funded by Cure Autism Now, which merged with the organization
 Autism Speaks in 2007.
     Pediatrics is an official peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy
 of Pediatrics, publishing original research, clinical observations, and
 special feature articles in the field of pediatrics. The journal has been
 continuously published by the American Academy of Pediatrics since January
     About Autism
     Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is the nation's fastest growing
 developmental disorder, with current incidence rates estimated at 1 in 150
 children. This year more children will be diagnosed with autism than AIDS,
 diabetes and cancer combined, yet profound gaps remain in our understanding
 of both the causes and cures of the disorder. Continued research and
 education about developmental disruptions in individuals with ASD is
 crucial, as early detection and intervention can lead to improved outcomes
 in individuals with ASD.
     About the Kennedy Krieger Institute
     Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and
 adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord, the
 Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD serves more than 13,000
 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and
 community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a
 wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to
 severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the
 understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions
 and earlier diagnosis. For more information on Kennedy Krieger Institute,

SOURCE Kennedy Krieger Institute