On today’s Autism Awareness Day, we wished to discuss what the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is and some of the medical, social, economic, and scientific aspects that surround it.
ASD is not a psychiatric/psychological disease, but a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a dyad of impairing signs from an early developmental period:
“persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts”
“restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities”
This dyad is often associated with various sensory issues, common digestive dysfunctions, and sometimes an intellectual deficit. This syndrome is referred to as “spectrum” because affected individuals show various levels of severity for each clinical sign.
In developed countries, ASD is estimated to affect 1 out of 60 births (with a 3-4:1 male to female ratio). This represents over 650.000 people in France alone despite the fact that 60% of surveyed French people estimate that there are only around 50.000 ASD persons in France. The average medical expenditures for children and teenagers with ASD are estimated to be 4–6 times greater than for those without ASD, even more so when recommended behavioral interventions are used.
In 2007, the United Nations (UN) general assembly voted to designate the 2nd of April “Autism Awareness Day” to raise awareness about this neurodevelopmental disorder. Sadly, although less than 50% of ASD diagnoses are associated with an intellectual deficit, 80% of ASD children remain out of the school system in France. Thus, the UN recently criticized the way France was handling handicap in general and autism in particular.
Both predisposing genetic factors and environmental conditions seem to lead to autism, but the mechanisms leading to this neurodevelopmental disorder or its clinical manifestations remain obscure. For several years, Biofortis has been involved with some academic laboratories that study the role of the gut microbiota in ASD. Indeed, intestinal bacteria are thought to play a role in both behavioral and digestive manifestations of autism. Thus, gut dysbiosis has been demonstrated in several cohorts of autistic children and induced gut dysbiosis has been shown to reproduce autism-like signs in rodents. It is hypothesized that a higher number of neurotoxin-producing bacteria (e.g. Clostridium species) associated with a more permeable digestive barrier could exacerbate certain autistic symptoms. For more detail on this subject, check out Biofortis Mérieux NutriSciences’ 6th newsletter in the Fall as this white paper will focus on the interactions between the microbiota and neurological disorders, including autism.