Oh no, here we go again …

A recent report claims that autistic children improve when they have a fever:

Fevers could actually improve autistic behavior in children, new research suggests, hinting at the possibility of a biological cause behind the disorder that has proved so difficult for experts to understand.

Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore report that autistic children who are sick are less likely to make repetitive movements, use less inappropriate speech and are not as hyperactive as they normally behave.

Shocking news, that — feverish children are less hyperactive. Feverish children are just less active in most ways, because they feel crappy!

You can just see it coming on the horizon — more junk “biomedical treatments” to “cure” autism. Snake-oil salesmen will be sticking kids in saunas and trying to induce fevers or whatnot. Nevermind the disclaimer way near the bottom of the article:

In the meantime, however, experts warn that parents should not induce fever in their children or withhold medical treatment to replicate the reported improvements in behavior.

:: sigh ::


  1. qw88nb88 said,

    10 December 2007 at 0:40

    Gee, you think?!

  2. JSmth said,

    9 December 2007 at 23:51

    I like the inbuilt quote that invalidates the whole argument:
    “I do not think that the methods used are sufficient to rule out lethargy as a contributing factor, and the improvements she reported are all reductions in negative behaviors that could reasonably be related to slowing of activity levels,” Fein said.

  3. Marla said,

    8 December 2007 at 13:20


  4. Patrick said,

    7 December 2007 at 21:05

    Headaches have many of the same effects this study is evaluating as positive changes on me. So I wonder when they decide to do the headache or stomach ache study (good catch Ettina!)

  5. Ettina said,

    7 December 2007 at 16:52

    My kitten was more cuddly and less hyperactive when he had a cold (right after coming home from the SPCA). Does that mean colds can treat kittenhood?
    How about treating autism by drugging them to feel romantic towards everyone?
    I see the same problem in gluten free casein free diet. When *I* have a really bad stomachache, I tend to withdraw and act ‘out of it’. It’s not ‘opiates from poor digestion’ (in fact my most common cause of stomachaches has nothing to do with digestion – instead it’s because I’m a fertile female) but just that I don’t feel good.

  6. amanda said,

    6 December 2007 at 15:23

    Not only that, but humans often have an instinct, as a social species, to seek each other out for help when sick. Autistic people have lots of instincts that override our standard ‘autistic behavior’ (for instance many of us make exceptions to the ‘no eye contact’ rule for romantic situations), and it doesn’t mean that triggering those instincts constantly is the answer.

  7. 6 December 2007 at 13:48

    Hmph. I have a fever right now, thanks to a case of the flu, and I am certainly not feeling less autistic. I’m just not stimming as much because I don’t have the energy to stim, and as a result my overload threshold is way lower. I’m just lucky I finally got my big heavy feather bed to snuggle under, or I’d be having meltdowns left and right.

  8. 6 December 2007 at 12:36

    Re, the claims that things like eye contact and “social relatedness” increase when some autistic children have a fever: I wonder if these are actual increases or if the parents are projecting these things onto their children? There could be an effect going on here where:

    1. Parent sees that the child is stimming less, etc.; since these are behaviors that people often associate with autism, and because part of the goal of certain programs such as ABA etc is to reduce stimming as supposedly a way of “curing” or treating autism, parents think of it as if the child’s autism is reduced

    2. Because parents now see their child as behaving “less autistic” than usual, they become more prone to “seeing” other signs of “reduced autism” and interpreting them accordingly. So they notice things like eye contact more readily.

    Before I would trust a study like this, I would want to see the above effects accounted for (placebo effect??). Some kind of objective observation of the child’s behavior with or without a fever from someone besides the parents.

    I also like (scarcasm mode) the bit in the article where reduced stimming is automatically equated to being an “improvement” in the child. As if there was something automatically wrong with non-injurous stimming.

  9. Mat said,

    6 December 2007 at 7:29

    I’m not sure what frightens me more about the note about ‘not inducing fevers in children’…that it exists in the first place, or the fact that it starts with the phrase ‘In the meantime’, which implies that there may be a time when inducing fevers in autistic kids IS a good thing.

  10. abfh said,

    6 December 2007 at 2:55

    Snake-oil salesmen will be sticking kids in saunas

    That’s been going on for a while already.

  11. Grace said,

    6 December 2007 at 2:39


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