Dec 10, 2007
The December 4, 2007 report from Newsday covers a controversial topic. The article suggests that fever can lessen the symptoms of autism. The study was conducted at the well respected Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The authors state that episodes of fever were correlated with less problem behavior and more appropriate social interaction. However, the study is based solely on anecdotal report (a survey) and though potentially interesting, there is no current empirical support behind the notion that fever temporarily abates the symptoms of autism. Anecdotal report is a very poor means of establishing a causal relation between events. We at The New England Center for Children have worked with persons with ASDs for many decades and have not encountered a child showing temporary recovery from autism. Certainly children with ASDs who exhibit problem behavior often have lower levels during fever but they also tend to play less and sleep more. Perhaps children with fever are more motivated to request assistance or social interaction but our clinical experience does not match up with this report. Having been a postdoctoral fellow at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, I have a great deal of respect for the work conducted there but I'm not sure this study adds any information. More systematic research is necessary to determine whether or not there is any substance to this hypothesis. What we do know about febrile events and autism is that there are correlations between certain febrile events and an increased likelihood of a child being diagnosed with autism. Encephalitis, severe malaria (with high fever), rheumatic fever, rubella (maternal), and other similar maladies are correlated with a higher incidence of autism. That said, there has been some speculation that there is an increasing prevalence of autism due to the prevalent use of fever reducers. Again, this notion is not supported by sound empirical evidence but systematic investigation has not been done on this topic.