Friday, November 25, 2011

Are high-achieving parents who met at work behind rise in autistic children?

I think Prof Cohen is on the right track here. For me the key to autism is the mundane fact that autistic people tend to take large hat sizes! That supports the theory that an overdeveloped cortex is the problem. And the cortex is the seat of intelligence so when you get two highly intelligent people together an overdeveloped cortex is an obvious possibility. I married a smart working-class girl so my son is both very bright and very social

Engineers, scientists and computer programmers who meet their partners at work may be fuelling an increase in cases of autism.

Researchers at Cambridge University are working on the first ‘clear test’ of whether the occupation and university choices of high-achieving parents affect the chances of their child developing the condition.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the university’s Autism Research Centre, said there are currently several clues that parents who work in the fields of maths, science and engineering might have a higher risk of having an autistic child.

His team is recruiting parents who are graduates to take part in a survey about their children’s development to test the theory.

Autism, which affects one in every 100 people, inhibits the ability to communicate, recognise emotions and socialise, and can take a mild or severe form.

Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that the trend in recent years for couples to meet at work – as women increasingly take highly-qualified jobs in technical fields once dominated by men – may be behind the tripling in the number of cases since the 1960s.

In California’s Silicon Valley, where there are high rates of partnership between engineers, physicists and mathematicians working in software companies, cases of autism have rocketed.

Previous studies have suggested that the condition is more prevalent among people who are ‘systemisers’ – those who do jobs relating to systems and how they work, such as computer programmes or machines.

One study in 2001 showed mathematicians have higher rates of autism than those in other jobs, and another in 1997 showed that children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be on the autistic spectrum.

Both mothers and fathers of children with autism have been shown to display excellent attention to detail in tests.

People who ‘systemise’ are often obsessed with making sense of complex topics, and can achieve great things, but have difficulty empathising with people.

They can also apply their minds to other careers including music and art. Professor Baron-Cohen has said that being a systemiser may be a symptom of an ‘extreme male brain’ due to high levels of testosterone.

His new study will examine whether two ‘strong systemisers’ have a higher chance of producing autistic children by asking parents to answer questions about their degrees and occupations.

Professor Baron-Cohen said: ‘A clear test of the hypothesis will enable us to test if couples who are both strong systemisers, for example those who studied and worked in STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] and other fields related to systemising, are more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis than couples where only one is a strong systemiser, or where neither is.’

Anyone who is a graduate and a parent of a child older than 18 months can take part, even if their partner is not a graduate.

There is no specific known cause for autism. It has genetic factors, but also environmental ones including increased prevalence in premature babies.


A few extra tablets can cause cumulative paracetamol overdose

There is a strange fashion for treating paracetamol (acetaminophen; Tylenol) as "safe". It has long been evident that it is anything but. So it is good to see caution being advised. A popular syrup for sick children in England -- Calpol -- contains it so parents should be particularly careful with it

Taking just a few extra paracetamol tablets a day over time could lead to a dangerous overdose and even death, a new study suggests.

Paracetamol overdoses are the leading cause of acute liver failure in Britain, usually occurring when patients take a vast number of tablets all at once.

But doctors are concerned that patients who take just slightly too many pills on a regular basis could be at even greater risk because their problem is harder to spot.

People who arrive at hospital having taken a single overdose can often be saved because blood tests reveal instantly how much of the drug is in their system, enabling doctors to act fast to save their liver.

But those who innocently exceed the recommended daily dose of eight 500mg tablets on a regular basis to cope with chronic pain may simply report to hospital feeling unwell, and not mention how many pills they have been taking.

Despite having similar levels of liver damage, blood tests might only show small amounts of paracetamol in their system meaning doctors may not spot the life-threatening problem, experts said.

Research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that although ingesting less of the drug overall, people taking "staggered overdoses" were about a third more likely to die.

They also had a greater chance of liver and brain problems, and were more likely to need kidney dialysis or assistance with breathing, especially if they had waited at least a day before going to hospital.

Dr Kenneth Simpson of Edinburgh University, who led the study, said: "They haven't taken the sort of single-moment, one-off massive overdoses taken by people who try to commit suicide, but over time the damage builds up, and the effect can be fatal.

"The problem is that some people were taking regular paracetamol and not appreciating that they should stick to 4g in a day. "They were sometimes taking two preparations, both of which contained paracetamol, such as regular paracetamol as well as headache tablets."

Researchers studied 663 patients admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for severe, paracetamol-induced liver injury and found that a quarter had taken staggered overdoses – meaning two or more doses, more than eight hours apart adding up to an amount above the daily limit.

The average staggered overdose was 48 tablets – slightly lower than the average one-off overdose of 54 tablets – but the staggered doses could have been taken over a period of up to a week.

In some cases patients had taken two large doses within a 24-hour period but in others they had just two or three extra pills a day over the course of four or five days, Dr Simpson explained.

While one third of people taking staggered overdoses had been attempting suicide, about half had simply been self-medicating for conditions like joint and muscular pains or toothache, he added.

The study also showed that patients taking staggered overdoses were older, with an average age of 39, and more likely to have been abusing alcohol.

Dr Neil Kitteringham, from the University of Liverpool’s MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science, said: “Paracetamol overdose is a significant burden to the NHS. "This large study from Edinburgh shows that unintentional overdosing with paracetamol may have more serious consequences than a single overdose taken with suicidal intent."


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