Washington, Dec 5 (UNI) Key behaviour ranging from better concentration to improved word use tends to occur when a child with autism has a fever, scientists reported in an unusual investigation published this week.
The effect, however, is fleeting, and some doctors expressed doubt about the value of the research, Herald reported.
Exactly how a fever changes the brain remains a matter of speculation. But scientists at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore have found that even though the effects are temporary, the discovery opens a new window to understanding autism.
Dr Andrew Zimmerman, director of Medical Research at the Institute's Autism and Related Disorders Center, said the study was inspired by anecdotal reports from parents and clinicians who found that when a child with autism developed a fever, many classic signs of the condition seem to subside.
Dr Zimmerman and collaborator Laura Curran studied 30 children with autism between the ages two and 18 during and after an episode of fever to determine if there was any truth to the rumours about behavioural changes.
The team defined a fever as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and asked parents to document their child's behaviour throughout the episode.
''The patients we took measurements on all returned to baseline after a week,'' Dr Zimmerman said, referring to a reversal to previous behavior.
Despite the reversal, Dr Zimmerman said the change was eye-opening because children not only spoke more and made better eye contact, some experienced better overall relationships with parents and peers.
Dr Zimmerman, who reports the transformation in the journal Pediatrics, said the discovery provides a better understanding of the brain. The organ has tremendous plasticity, he said of its ability to adapt to stress, which in this case was a fever.
The new data sheds more light on why autism occurs, he added.
Fever causes a change in how the brain sends messages between cells. During fever, the body produces a flood of tiny proteins called cytokines that may facilitate messages between brain cells and when the fever subsides, this enhanced activity diminishes as well, he said.
Edward Carr, a professor of Psychology at the Stony Brook University, said though the research is interesting, children with autism experience improvements without fevers.
''His point shows there's a certain plasticity, but I don't think improvement depends on a fever.'' Dr Eric Gould, a pediatrician in Great Neck, said he believes the study was published prematurely.