Newswise — The behavior of children with autism may improve during a fever, according to a first-of-kind study, "Behaviors Associated With Fever in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders," published Nov. 30 in Pediatrics.
Researchers hypothesize that fever may restore nerve cell communications in regions of the autistic brain. The restoration may help children improve socialization skills during a fever.
The study was based on 30 autistic children between ages 2 and 18 who were observed during and after a fever of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. More than 80 percent of the children showed some improvement in behavior during a fever and 30 percent showed significant improvement, researchers said. Behavior changes included longer concentration span, increased amount of talking and improved eye contact.
The study was written by Craig J. Newschaffer, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Drexel University, and Laura K. Curran, Ph.D., an epidemiology doctoral degree graduate who Newschaffer advised before he joined Drexel from Johns Hopkins University.
"Any leads that suggest new biologic mechanisms that could be acted on through treatment are welcomed," Newschaffer said.
Study data suggest that behavior changes may not solely be the byproduct of sickness and, consequently, could be the byproduct of a biologic response to fever. More research, however, is needed to prove fever-specific effects, researchers say.
Autism can limit social interactions and disable verbal and nonverbal communication. About 1.5 million Americans have some form of autism, according to the Autism Society of America. The cause of autism is unknown.
The study was co-written by Stephen O. Crawford, M.H.S., predoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University; Michael V. Johnston, M.D., research scientist in the Kennedy Krieger Institute; Li-Ching Lee, Ph.D., assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins University; and Dr. Andrew W. Zimmerman, M.D., pediatric neurologist and research scientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.