And yet, he said the findings warrant more research, particularly whether there might be some gene or region of a chromosome that plays a role in both brain and lung development and is associated with autism.
"I've never heard of anything like this before and certainly, your first thought is, 'If autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, why would we be finding problems in the lungs?'" Coury said. "The fact is we are thinking more and more that autism is a whole-body disorder. We are seeing some people with autism that have lower gastrointestinal problems and immune problems. So, once you toss aside the idea that this is strictly a brain problem and think of it as a whole-body problem, this becomes possible."
Airway structures begin to develop in utero during the first trimester and continue until about 20 weeks, Stewart noted. The difference in lung structure among children with autism spectrum disorder was difficult to spot at first, she added.
"When I was talking to my partner about this, he said, 'What are you talking about?' Then I pointed it out to him ... He started seeing it and now he can't miss it," she said.
Autism is a developmental disorder that causes problems with social, language and communications skills and repetitive or restrictive behaviors. Because the condition has a wide range of symptoms and degrees of severity, autism is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). About one in 110 children in the United States has ASD, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on autism.
SOURCES: Barbara Stewart, M.D., ped
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