Cerebellar Brain Development in Children Proves to be Crucial in Infants and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
September 7, 2014
It is no secret that the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are on the rise in our children. In 1995, 1 in 500 children were labeled on the ASD spectrum. In 2001 it became 1 in 250 children; in 2009 it was 1 in 110. 2 years ago we saw the numbers go below 3 digits, being 1 in 88 children. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a new 2014 estimate of 1 in 68 children are now labeled on the ASD spectrum. It is important to note that in the 1990’s, diagnosing procedures and criteria changed, so statistics in the years before this change are not as comparable.
The CDC says, “Early identification is the most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with autism.” Why is early identification so important? Autism Spectrum Disorders are now being more and more understood as being neurological in nature. An infant’s and young child’s neurology changes more in the first 4 years of life than in any other time in life. They learn to lift their head, roll over, crawl, balance, walk, all in just a few months. There is more change going on in their brain, more connections being made than in any other time in their life. If there is an injury to a part of their neurology, delays are going to be seen in this time of growth and development. When a child’s neurological development is delayed early on, it can have long term effects. In contrast, when a child’s neurology “injury” is addressed, properly stimulated and catered to, this too, can have positive long term effects on their future development and milestones.
Princeton University shared new research about how an early cerebellum injury hinders neural development, a possible root of autism. In this research article, the cerebellum is explained as the “information processor.” The cerebellum is the part of the brain in the back of the skull. Its major known function is to help with coordination and regulate muscle activity. It is also found to be the most frequently disrupted brain region in people with autism, according to studies made in 2004 and 2005. Think of the cerebellum as a charger for the brain. If the charger is damaged, not well “plugged in”, it is going to have a hard time boosting up the charge to the other areas of the brain. If the charger is not working 100%, it cannot allow the rest of the brain to function at 100% either.
Researchers of Princeton cite a 2007 paper in the Journal of Pediatrics, which found that individuals who experience cerebellum damage at birth were 40 times more likely to score highly on the autism screening test. In 2005, Children’s Hospital in Boston released an important research document, explaining that there is an important developmental link between the cerebrum (front and top part of the brain) and the cerebellum (back and bottom part of the brain). Remember, the cerebellum “charges” the rest of the brain. Dr. Catherine Limperopoulos, a PhD in Children’s Department of Neurology, states, “We’re finding that the two structures modulate each other’s growth and development.”
With all this new research about cerebellum injuries, it becomes understandable why early identification is so important. When an infant is checked for neuro-spinal shifts caused by birth trauma, early identification is made possible, and stimulation of the nervous system can commence. A baby’s upper cervical spine and skull can become compromised during the birthing process, especially when external forces or assistance are used. These structural alterations can possibly affect the cerebellum and level of function of the infant’s nervous system. Remember, the cerebellum is protected by the very back and bottom of the skull. When a baby is born, their skull is not fused together, but is instead “moveable.”
The newest research done by Princeton, the CDC, and Children’s Hospital in Boston is monumental for our children and their quality of life. To find one of the roots of autism could very well be our answer to seeing these statistics begin reversing, instead of going to the expected direction of another increase in children with an ASD diagnosis. As with most things in life, the earlier things are detected, the better.
Center for Disease Control Press Release. “CDC releases 1 in 68 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Center for Disease Control, 27 March 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html>
Children’s Hospital Boston. “Cerebellum Found To Be Important in Cognition And Behavior.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051003081936.htm>
Princeton University. “Early cerebellum injury hinders neural development, possible root of autism, theory suggests.” Princeton University, 2 September 2014. <http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S40/93/21G13/index.xml?section=topstories>