"This is the first step in a really long series of studies that needs to be done," Estes added.
In their work, Zimmerman's team compared data from 30 children with ASD who had a feverish episode, with 30 similar children with ASD who did not have a fever. Once a child had a fever, the parents were asked to observe their child for 24 hours and then complete a questionnaire about behavior and language ability. They completed a second questionnaire 48 hours after the fever and a third questionnaire after seven days without fever. Parents of the non-feverish children filled out the same questionnaire at the same times about their own child's behavior and language ability.
The study results, published in the December issue of Pediatrics, showed fewer autistic-like behaviors for children with fever, compared to the children without fever, with more than 80 percent of the fever participants showing some behavioral improvement.
Estes, who uses the same behavior checklist in her research that the researchers used in the study, cautioned that the checklist is not specific to children with ASD, nor is it used to diagnose ASD. It is used to assess behavior in children with a variety of developmental disorders, including mental retardation, genetic diseases and Down syndrome, she said.
"The checklist is used to understand other behaviors that children with autism have troubles with," Estes explained. Irritability and lethargy are among those problem areas, she said.
The fatigue associated with illness may seem a natural explanation for the changes in behavior, but the study authors found lethargy was not a factor.
"We stratified subjects based on their level of lethargy and we did not find a difference. Children in both groups, whether their lethargy was hig
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