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Challenging Case Blog

Viewpoints from the interdisciplinary leaders in optimal developmental and behavioral health for all children.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

​S is a 12-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disability who presented to the primary care clinician for a preventative care visit.

S was born at full term after an unremarkable pregnancy. His developmental delays were first noted at around 8 months, when he could not sit independently and had intermittently poor eye contact. He was referred to Part C Early Intervention and subsequently evaluated by a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, where he was noted to be hypotonic, with delayed motor and cognitive skills. Initial genetics evaluation included karyotype, fragile X testing, Angelman and Prader-Willi DNA fluorescence in situ hybridization probes, POLG sequencing, MECP2 testing, a microarray, creatinine kinase, very long-chain fatty acids, lymphocyte arylsulfatase, urine organic acids, and plasma amino acids, all of which were normal.

As time progressed, S continued to have motor and communication delays and developed choreic movements. He also developed episodes concerning for seizure, including periods of staring while awake and episodes of extremity shaking lasting a few seconds with associated eye deviation, which eventually progressed to generalized seizures. He also developed periods of lethargy. Outpatient workup included several EEGs, which were notable for foci in the right frontal and left temporal regions. He has had several brain MRIs showing generalized volume loss and had critical laboratory tests during a period of lethargy, which were unconcerning. He was treated with multiple antiseizure medications. He was diagnosed with ASD at age 5 years because of delayed language, poor social communication, and repetitive behaviors.

Over time, S continued to experience global developmental delays and autistic-like behaviors and remained minimally verbal. However, clinicians noted a number of developmental strengths, including a generally positive mood, a willingness to participate in therapy, improved receptive language skills, attachment to his mother, and a love of nature and the outdoors. He participated in a number of therapy modalities including speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, applied behavioral analysis, aqua therapy, partner-assisted scanning, and therapeutic horseback riding.

In 2019, whole-exome sequencing was newly covered by the state Medicaid program, and testing was obtained in 2020. Whole-exome sequencing revealed a de novo STXBP1 pathogenic variant c.874C>T (p.Arg292Cys), which is associated with developmental and epileptic encephalopathy. His presentation is consistent with STXBP1 encephalopathy including refractory epilepsy, ASD, intellectual disability, and movement disorders.

What are important considerations in genetic testing for children with autism? How does a genetic testing result alter management for clinicians and families?


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Zoe is a 25-month-old girl who presented to developmental-behavioral pediatrics with her parents for follow-up after receiving a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder with global developmental delay and language impairment 3 months ago. Zoe was born by spontaneous vaginal delivery at term after an uncomplicated pregnancy, labor, and delivery. She had a routine newborn course and was discharged home with her parents 2 days after her birth.

At 7 months, Zoe was not able to sit independently, had poor weight gain, and had hypertonia on physical examination. Her parents described her to tense her arms and have hand tremors when she held her bottle during feedings and reported that she had resisted their attempts to introduce pureed or other age-appropriate table foods into her diet. The Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development Screening Test was administered and found a cognitive composite score of 70, language composite score of 65, and motor composite score of 67. Chromosomal microarray analysis, testing for fragile X syndrome, laboratory studies for metabolic disorders, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, and an audiologic examination were normal. Zoe was referred to and received early intervention services including physical therapy, feeding therapy, and infant stimulation services. By 16 months, Zoe was walking independently and was gaining weight well but continued to have sensory aversions to some foods.

At 22 months, Zoe was evaluated by a multidisciplinary team because of ongoing developmental concerns and concerning results on standardized screening for autism spectrum disorder completed at her 18-month preventive care visit. Her parents also reported concern about the possibility of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because they both were diagnosed with ASD as young children. Both parents completed college and were employed full-time. Zoe's mother seemed to be somewhat anxious during the visit and provided fleeting eye contact throughout the evaluation. Zoe's father was assertive, but polite, and was the primary historian regarding parental concerns during the evaluation.

Zoe was noted to have occasional hand flapping and squealing vocalizations while she roamed the examination area grabbing various objects and casting them to the floor while watching the trajectory of their movements. She did not use a single-finger point to indicate her wants or needs and did not initiate or follow joint attention. She met criteria for ASD. In discussing the diagnosis with Zoe's parents, they shared that they were not surprised by the diagnosis. They expressed feeling that Zoe was social and playful, although delayed in her language. Hence, they were more concerned about her disinterest in eating. They were not keen on behavioral intervention because they did not want Zoe to be “trained to be neurotypical.” Although the mother did not receive applied behavior analysis (ABA), the father had received ABA for 3 years beginning at age 5 years. He believed that ABA negatively changed his personality, and he did not want the same for Zoe.

How would you assist Zoe's parents in identification of priorities for her developmental care while ensuring respect for their perspective of neurodiversity?​

Thursday, October 7, 2021

​As part of a multidisciplinary adoption support clinic, Erin, a 5-year-old girl, adopted approximately 6 months before the clinic visit, presents for postadoption evaluation. Erin was born at full term. Her birth history was significant for reported maternal treatment for liver failure during pregnancy. Her previous medical history included hospitalization for a viral illness at age 2 months, recurrent ear infections, and a fractured forearm. Family history was significant for a maternal history of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and concern for substance abuse; a paternal history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression; and full biological brother with a history of ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. Erin and her brother lived with their parents until she was approximately 3 years old. At that time, there were concerns for poor hygiene, inconsistent medical care, poor school attendance for her brother, financial instability, and significant neglect. Erin was reportedly confined to her crib for hours at a time. She and her older brother were removed from the home because of concerns for significant neglect and placed into foster care. 

Approximately 3 months after foster placement, Erin underwent testing because of concerns for abnormal behaviors and possible developmental delays. Symptoms included poor sleep, repetitive behaviors such as head banging, delayed speech that primarily involved grunting, and lack of toilet training. She was hyperactive and aggressive and had poor caregiver attachment. On evaluation, she was small for age, poorly groomed, and easily distracted with poor eye contact and did not tolerate interactions with examiners. Neuropsychological testing consisted of symptom checklists and caregiver interview only because she did not tolerate diagnostic testing. She was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and global developmental delay with intellectual and language impairments. 

Over the following year, Erin was transitioned to a second foster family and was subsequently adopted. She received speech, occupational, and physical therapy, along with trauma-informed therapy. She made significant gains in multiple domains and was able to graduate from trauma-informed therapy after 1 year. On examination, Erin greets you with appropriate eye contact and reports that she is feeling “good." She is verbal and interactive with her brother and parents. She looks to parents for support when asked to participate in the physical examination. She does not display any significant repetitive behaviors. Erin's parents are concerned that her initial diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and global developmental delay do not accurately reflect her current level of functioning and are afraid she may have been misdiagnosed. 

How would you proceed with next steps to address these diagnoses?​

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Billy is a 2.6-year-old boy who presented for evaluation in the developmental-behavioral pediatrics (DBP) clinic 2 weeks before the onset of pandemic-related clinic restrictions. Billy had received early intervention for the past year because of speech and fine motor delays. Billy's parents requested the evaluation in the DBP clinic because his delayed speech and disruptive behaviors had raised concern that he may have autism spectrum disorder. Owing to the onset of the pandemic, subsequent visits were completed through telehealth with a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, psychologist, behavioral clinician, and social workers who developed a collaborative plan of care. Billy was diagnosed with global developmental delay, significant tantrums, and impulsivity but did not meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

Billy lives with his parents and 2 sisters in a rural area, 3 hours from the DBP clinic. Both of his parents have been treated for depression in the past and reported that school was difficult for them. His sisters, ages 5 and 6 years, receive speech/language therapy but have not required additional special education services. His family has endured recent stressors including a flooding event that caused significant damage to their home, financial difficulties, and the recent unexpected death of a close family member. Billy's disruptive behaviors have resulted in difficulty finding and maintaining child care, further contributing to parental stress and dysfunction in the home.

Despite assistance from the social worker, additional developmental and behavioral support services near the family's home were not identified. Therefore, services were offered to Billy and his parents through telehealth. Billy's parents began behavioral parent training with a clinician embedded within the DBP clinic and, with direct support from his parents, Billy began receiving supplemental speech/language and occupational therapies through telehealth. Through recurrent engagement with Billy's parents and frequent communication among the behavioral clinician, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, psychologist, and social worker, Billy was able to make significant developmental progress, and his parents reported improved ability to manage his difficult behaviors.

How can telehealth be used to help families navigate complex systems and obtain optimal care and support?​

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Phillip is a young man born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome referred to your practice for a range of mental health concerns. He underwent palliation to an extracardiac Fontan in infancy and experienced multiple complications over the next decade including valvular regurgitation and arrhythmias necessitating a pacemaker. Phillip continued to have systolic heart failure with New York Heart Association class II symptoms, managed with 4 medications and anticoagulation.

Despite this complex history, Phillip had intact cognitive abilities, achieved typical milestones, and performed well academically in secondary school. His first year of college proved to be more challenging, and Phillip presented to the outpatient psychiatry service with an acute depressive episode. His family history included depression, without known attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Treatment, including a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family support, led to near resolution of his symptoms of depression.

In subsequent appointments, Phillip described a long history of inattention and disorganization with onset in childhood. This contributed to the decision to leave college, despite remission of symptoms of depression. Phillip was unable to study for any extended period without “perfect conditions,” described as the absence of potential distractions except for background music. Despite attempts to maintain “perfect conditions,” Phillip was often off task and “hyperfocusing” on irrelevant topics. Phillip struggled with planning and time management and would misplace items daily. Moreover, although the importance of self-care was well understood, Phillip often forgot to take his cardiac medication or to exercise, and he admitted to inconsistent sleep habits because of losing track of time.

Based on a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation including retrospective report from a parent, Phillip was diagnosed with ADHD, coexisting with major depressive disorder, in remission. Significant ADHD symptoms were documented by interview, self-report, and administration of an abbreviated neuropsychological battery.

Considering concerns regarding use of stimulants in a patient with congenital heart disease, including death, stroke, and myocardial infarction,1,2 how would you assess the risks-benefits of use of stimulants with Phillip?