Monday, June 10, 2013

In Autism, the Importance of the Gut

Michael, an autistic boy living in New York City, started scratching and picking at his face when he was about seven years old. Before long, he was gnawing on the side of his thumb. Along the bottom of his stomach, he tore cuts so deep that they scarred.
Over the next five years, a series of psychiatrists prescribed psychotropic medications to correct the self-mutilation. But nothing seemed to help. By age 12, he'd been taken out of school because he was a constant disruption. Though his parents wanted him to live at home, they decided he could be better cared for in a residential facility.
As they prepared to move Michael to the group home, his family was referred to Dr. Kara Margolis. Margolis, 36, is a pediatric gastroenterologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center. She speaks with contagious enthusiasm and the slightest hint of a Brooklyn accent. By the time she met Michael, bloody scabs dotted his face, from the tender skin below his eyes to the tips of his ears. He'd chewed his thumb down nearly to the bone. There was blood everywhere, Margolis recalls as she describes their first visit. He screamed and paced the room throughout the brief exam.

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