Autism and Eye Contact


In theory, autistic individuals shun eye contact with others.

According to a new study, that’s not a voluntary or learned behavior. Eye contact can cause excessive stimulation of a section of the brain, and that in turn can be felt as pain by the individual.

That makes sense. If something causes pain, you usually try to avoid doing it.

Unfortunately, lack of eye contact is also interpreted by some as a sign of dishonesty. With the autistic person, that interpretation simply doesn’t apply.

Bottom line: you have to get to know someone in order to understand what their physical cues mean.


  1. Nouchine Hadjikhani, Jakob Åsberg Johnels, Nicole R. Zürcher, Amandine Lassalle, Quentin Guillon, Loyse Hippolyte, Eva Billstedt, Noreen Ward, Eric Lemonnier, Christopher Gillberg. Look me in the eyes: constraining gaze in the eye-region provokes abnormally high subcortical activation in autism. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-03378-5

Babies, Metals and Autism


A new study from NIH indicates that children with autism and more lead and less magnesium and zinc than do children without the disease. Further, using a laser approach to assess growth rings in teeth, the exposure to lead might be before birth.

What we don’t know is whether absorption of lead and lack of absorption of the other metals is due to how the child’s body processes these metals or due to simple exposure.

However, the findings suggest that pregnant women should avoid exposure to lead (a major source of which remains paint in older homes and buildings)

The findings also shifts some attention away from vaccines, as exposure to lead in the womb is well before the child is vaccinated.


  1. National Institutes of Health, “Baby teeth link autism and heavy metals, NIH study suggests,” Press release, 1 June 2017.

Autism and Parenting


OK, this finding isn’t rocket science, but it makes sense, and has all sorts of implications for the people involved and their friends and relatives. (1)

Parents of children with autism tend to be less satisfied with their marriage, have less time for each other, and are more prone to divorce. The time issue may be the key of the three items: autistic children place more demands on their parents.  Time demands add stress to what is in many cases a less than happy situation.

It’s one thing if there are others who know what’s happening and offer to help.  Still another if the healthcare system offers respite care (relief for caregivers — something common in Europe and almost nonexistent in the US).

These parents need understanding and they need help. Where they have a strong support system to help them, they’re very lucky.  Many don’t.

What you need to consider:

  • Do you know someone with an autistic child?
  • If yes, find a way to share the load. It matters.


  1. Sigan L. Hartley, Leann Smith DaWalt, Haley M. Schultz. Daily Couple Experiences and Parent Affect in Families of Children with Versus Without Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-017-3088-2
  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Insight into day-to-day lives of parents raising children with autism.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 2017. <>.

Second Opinions and Autism


StarryNight_by_Van_GoghI’ve made the point in several posts about the need for second opinions.  Doctors are human, which means they aren’t perfect:




  • The amount of new material for doctors to read in their own specialty amounts to several hours every night, and many just don’t put in the time after a long day of seeing patients.
  • Like most people, doctors tend to base diagnoses in part on the symptoms the patient presents and in part on what they expect to see.  In flu season, they are more like to see patients as having the flu than to order tests for meningitis.  Teachers, car mechanics and parents do the same thing.  It’s a coping mechanism for dealing with too many choices.

I reported in a previous post about having a grandson who was diagnosed at 2 as having Asperger’s.  Almost 10 years later, a different doctor ran a CAT scan and found scar tissue from a stroke.  Once therapists starting treating him as a stroke victim, he made amazing progress in both education and social skills.  However, he lost 10 years of his childhood due to the error.

His introduction to a speech therapist with substantial experience in treating both autism and stroke victims allowed the error to be discovered.

How common are strokes in children?

It turns out that stoke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children (1).  However, many parents and doctors don’t think about stroke when a child’s behavior changes.  Strokes are particularly common among

  • Children under age 2
  • Boys
  • African American children

The strokes that are known are usually those that are fatal.  Because of misdiagnosis and the lack of universal medical screening for children in the US, we don’t know just how common non-fatal strokes are.

(The lack of universal medical screening for children is also what allows children to die from undetected heart conditions while playing sports.)

Autism can also be confused with a range of other psychological conditions (2).

A child can have an autism spectrum disorder, and a lot of people do.  However, that can also be a lazy diagnosis from a doctor who doesn’t want to dig deep enough to find the truth.

Second opinions matter!



(1) National Stroke Association.

(2) WebMD. “Other Conditions With Symptoms Similar to Autism”.

(3) International Alliance for Pediatric Stroke.

(4) Adam Kirton, MD, MSc, FRCPC, “Stroke in Children,” Child Neurology Foundation.

(5) Daniel  Tsze and Jonathan Valente, “Pediatric Stroke: a review,” Emerg Med Int. 2011; 2011: 734506.