Portland – When 6-year-old William Mead of Portland was diagnosed with autism three years ago, his mother, Tory Shirley Mead, was told her son might have to be sedated and institutionalized. But once she found doctors who would treat her son’s physical ailments, she said, his behavior has improved dramatically. Physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that William had food allergies, had an inflamed and ulcerated lower intestine, and was missing key digestive enzymes. But because of his medical treatment, William now can speak more than 1,000 words, can talk in short sentences and, with an aide, attends a Montessori school.
On Thursday, officials at Oregon Health & Science University and the
Northwest Autism Foundation announced that OHSU joined groundbreaking
national program to see how treating the medical problems of autistic
children might alleviate symptoms of the disorder. OHSU and four other
medical centers across the nation are participating in a consortium called
the Autism Treatment Network.
The network, headed by Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts
General Hospital for Children, will gather information from thousands of autistic children to develop ways of treating their physical ills. The network
also includes Columbia University Medical School, Baylor College of Medicine
and the University of Washington.
The treatment network will build a computerized database to let
medical specialists in a variety of fields and from different parts of the
country compare notes on methods of treatment. Eventually, researchers
will use the results to develop standard ways of treating autistic children.
Dr. Brian Rogers, director of OHSU’s Child Development and
Rehabilitation Center, said such an approach has improved treatments in
children with cerebral palsy and mental retardation.
OHSU’s participation is significant because Oregon has one of the highest rates of autism in
the United States, said Steve Edelson, director of the Center for the Study of
Autism in Salem and president of the Autism Society of Oregon. Edelson
said about one Oregonian in 1,000 has autism compared with a national average of one in 2,400.
The rate, in Oregon and nationally, is increasing each year, he
said, but no one knows why. Some experts say the increase is because of greater awareness, he said. Others say the incidence is actually increasing. “If we identify these medical conditions in a more standardized way, we’ll have a better idea of how they impact autism,” Rogers said.