Autism

[From Bruce Abbott (950117.1230 EST)]

My thanks to Bill Powers (950115.1815 MST) and Martin Taylor (950116 13:50)
for their comments on autism and the prospects for doing PCT research with
these kids. But let's see if our clinician friend will be interested in
conducting such a project first. As the Wicked Witch of the West said,
"These things must be handled DEL-e-cate-ly or you harm the spell."

For some reason, the subject of autism seems to be a recurring theme for me.
A few years ago I did a sabbatical with Jaak Panksepp, who first suggested
that opiate blockers such as Naloxone and Naltrexone might prove useful for
improving the autistic child's social responsiveness. This treatment is now
undergoing clinical trials world wide and appears to provide some benefit.
The theory beneath the treatment is that social contact (hugging, holding,
etc.) normally produces good feelings by activating endogenous opiates in
the brain; if these levels are already high in autistic children, they would
have little need for social contact and "bonding." Opiate blockers would
increase this need by reducing the effectiveness of these opiates and thus
creating the need to stimulate higher levels through social contact. Jaak
has been doing some informal observations on several autistic children
living in his vicinity. His former student, Barbara Herman, is now one of
the major players in autism research in Washington. A few years ago, I had
the opportunity to observe a boy age 4 who attended the preschool where my
wife taught. My wife thought he might be autistic, although the boy's
parents denied there was anything to be concerned about--if the boy didn't
play with the others it was because he was so far ahead of them that they
bored him. A few minutes' observation were enough to convince me that the
boy was indeed autistic. A short time later I met Barbara Herman at the
Neuroscience convention and described the boy's behavior to her. She stated
that his behavior met six of the seven diagnostic criteria.

As a result of these experiences, I've developed more than a passing
interest in the disorder and, as noted, have a few "connections" who might
prove useful in getting some PCT research going in this area. At the same
time, I don't want to give anyone the impression that I, myself, claim any
expertise. It's just something I've had a "back-burner" interest in for
some time and would be willing to pursue (or at least facilitate) if the
opportunities can be arranged.

Regards,

Bruce