The connection between birth defects and autism by Betty Mekdeci

On August 24, 2010, 11:09 am

Over the 30 years I have been working on birth defect research, the definition of a birth defect has expanded from structural (missing pieces and parts) to faulty development of the systems that run the body (immune, endocrine, neurological). In many children, structural and functional birth defects coexist and this suggests that the same etiological mechanisms may be at work. It is this paradigm that has taken our organization from its beginning of linking structural birth defects to the popular morning sickness drug to Bendectin to the development of the National Birth Defect Registry. The registry is a powerful tool that can identify linkages between structural and functional birth defects and common factors in the health, genetic and exposure histories of one or both parents.

In January, our organization, Birth Defect Research for Children, released a report on 137 cases of autistic spectrum disorders in the registry. In 60% of our cases, structural and functional birth defects coexisted in the same children. This could suggest several possibilities: 1) ASDs are part of a birth defect pattern and those cases without reports of associated birth defects should be evaluated for subtle physical anomalies; or 2) There are two types of ASDs&.one that occurs as part of a birth defect sequence and the other that may have an origin that may be either pre or post-natal; or 3) ASDs without associated birth defects may be the result of an expanded definition of autism that includes children with severe ADHD, Sensory Integration Disorders and other neuro-developmental problems that were not previously classified as autism.

Betty Mekdeci is the founder and director of Birth Defect Research for Children, a national birth defect information clearinghouse and research organization started in 1982. Betty currently serves on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences'Public Interest Group and the coordinating committee for the national Collaboration on Health and the Environment. In 2001, the Orlando Business Journal selected Betty as one of Central Florida's most influential business leaders for her work on behalf of Vietnam and Gulf War veteran families. She also received the National Gulf War Resource Center's Outreach and Education Award for excellence in reaching and educating veterans, families, the public and the government about Gulf War Syndrome. The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine awarded her organization, its Research Innovation Award for creative and ethical research in the design and development of the National Birth Defect Registry. Betty is married to Dr. Michael Mekdeci, Assoc. VP of Stetson University and has two children, Kristy, a high school art teacher and David who is the Assistant Director for BDRC.

No votes yet