Drug Trials Exaggerate Effectiveness of Autism Treatments

What Is Publication Bias?

It is called in scientific circles ‘publication bias’ and has always been a difficulty when it comes medical research. Positive outcomes of drug trials and other research are far more likely to be put before the science community and the wider world than are negative results. Because of this bias, the literature that guides how conditions, such as autism, are treated all too often gives medics only half of the story.

Antidepressants for Repetitive Behaviors?

A typical outcome of this publication bias is the prescribing of antidepressants to ‘help’ with repetitive behaviors, symptomatic in autism cases. This includes symptoms such as hoarding, head bashing or finger tapping, and obsessive compulsive routines. The Food and Drug Administration or FDA have not approved antidepressants for this kind of treatment but they are never the less becoming THE answer to these worrying symptoms in almost one-third of diagnoses. The big question for doctors, parents and autism sufferers is, are they effective?

Are Antidepressants Effective for Autism?

A review of all the published data would suggest that antidepressants for autism are moderately beneficial. This new analysis published in the Journal of Pediatrics and conducted by medical researchers at Yale and Michigan Universities was of ten randomized and controlled clinical trials. Only 5 of these were published and while 3 of them showed some small but significant improvements to patients, the remaining 2 published studies showed no improvements.

The reviewers then went on to analyse all the data with a number of standard statistical tests, looking for consistent validity and the level of reliability in the results. This indicated a heavy publication bias that was so heavy that they revised their conclusions to say that antidepressants are NOT effective in reducing the symptoms of autism. Naturally without the data that has not reached the public domain it is impossible for the researchers to confirm this conclusion once and for all. The researchers did request full disclosure of all 10 studies but had cooperation from only 1 of the unpublished studies. In the case of this study no improvements were found.

Diagnosing Autism Early?

In another related study, experts have proved that diagnosing autism as early as possible improves the chances of helping sufferers to overcome the symptoms of this distressing brain disorder. A key diagnostic tool is to be found in the eye contact of any infant’s gaze. This new study is to be found online at the Journal of Current Biology. Infants between 6 and 10 months, who were in a risk group for autism, were studied closely.Their older brothers and sisters were already diagnosed with the condition.

Scientists at Birkbeck College in London traced brain activity while the infants gazed at faces. on occasions the faces directly observed the babies and on other times they looked away. Autistic kids do not make eye contact as a normal child does. Eye contact is a crucial element in any social development. The subjects that went on to develop autism, had distinct brain activity in this kind of experiment. Even at this very young age they were processing social information abnormally.

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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