Providing some interesting and possibly hopeful findings for parents of children with autism, a recent study shows that a fever may temporarily improve social skills in kids with autism. It's research that might eventually lead to a deeper understanding of this increasingly diagnosed condition.
For decades both parents and doctors have reported that some of the behaviors of kids with autism seemed to improve for a few days when they came down with a fever. So researchers set out to find out what effect, if any, fever might have on kids with autism spectrum disorders (often referred to collectively as "autism").
The researchers analyzed the behaviors of 30 children (ages 2–18) with autism during and after a fever of 100.4? Fahrenheit or more. Then they compared these behaviors with those of 30 kids with autism who did not have a fever.
According to the study, supported by the Cure Autism Now Foundation, kids with a current or recent fever showed temporary improvements in use of language, irritability, hyperactivity, and other behaviors.
But the researchers point out that more studies are needed to find out "whether these changes are direct biological consequences of fever" and how, exactly, fever might affect the brain in autism.
More common in boys than girls, autism spectrum disorders can affect the way a child behaves, thinks, communicates, and interacts with others — some kids have only mild symptoms, whereas others' are more severe.
Subtle symptoms are often present before a child's first birthday — sometimes even in early infancy — but often go unnoticed until the symptoms are more obvious to parents, usually when a child is between 15 and 36 months old.
Calling autism an "urgent public health issue," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in early 2007 that about 1 in 150 children in the United States are diagnosed with the developmental disorder — a higher rate than health officials had previously thought.
Although it might seem like more kids have autism today, it's unclear whether the increased numbers mean that the disorder is actually on the rise. Why? For one, a broader definition of autism can be applied to more children who show varying degrees of symptoms. Plus, health professionals have become more aware of the condition, which has led to more diagnoses.
Though there's no cure for autism, getting help early on is crucial to helping kids cope with the disorder, learn, and communicate. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently began urging doctors to routinely screen all children for red flags of autism at 18 and 24 months old.
What This Means to You
Parents of a child with autism are often desperate to get help — and understandably so. Although this latest study does show some positive, brief effects of fever in kids with autism, if you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder, it's crucial that you never try a "home cure" by creating your own fever-inducing remedies. That could do far more harm than good. Much more research is needed into why, how, and whether fever can affect autistic behaviors, and whether this knowledge might translate into the development of more effective treatments.
Always talk to your doctor before starting any kind of treatment plan to make sure it's safe and appropriate for your child.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2008
Source: "Behaviors Associated with Fever in Children With Autistic Spectrum Disorders," Pediatrics, December 2007.