A new theory is being proposed from anecdotal observations that some autistic children seem to improve when they have a fever, only to regress when the fever ebbs. A 2007 study in the journal Pediatrics took a more rigorous look at fever and autism, observing autistic children during and after fever episodes and comparing their behavior with autistic children who didn't have fevers. This study documented that autistic children experience behavior changes during fever.
"On a positive note, we are talking about a brain region that is not irrevocably altered. It gives us hope that, with novel therapies, we will eventually be able to help people with autism," says theory co-author Mark F. Mehler, M.D., chairman of neurology and director of the Institute for Brain Disorders and Neural Regeneration at Einstein.
Naturally, red lights lit at the thought of causing fever-like conditions in children in order to ameliorate their autistic characteristics. Nonetheless, this finding at least seems to pinpoint the area of concern- the brainstem, specifically the locus coeruleus. It is the locus coeruleus that has widespread connections to brain regions that process sensory information. The article states: It secretes most of the brain's noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in arousal mechanisms, such as the "fight or flight" response. It is also involved in a variety of complex behaviors, such as attentional focusing (the ability to concentrate attention on environmental cues relevant to the task in hand, or to switch attention from one task to another). Poor attentional focusing is a defining characteristic of autism.
Somewhere in that wad of neuroconnections in the locus coeruleus, the neurotransmitting chemicals short out and fail to open the proper sensory gates for the child.
"If the locus coeruleus is impaired in autism, it is probably because tens or hundreds, maybe even thousands, of genes are dysregulated in subtle and complex ways," says Dr. Mehler. "The only way you can reverse this process is with epigenetic therapies, which, we are beginning to learn, have the ability to coordinate very large integrated gene networks."
Until then, the parents and the child remain captive in a cruel, sad, and unending bubble of cruelty.