Sheba News Page New 2019 3

Results of Two Sheba Studies Spark New Hope for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

In a recent study conducted at Sheba Medical Center, researchers discovered that a combination treatment consisting of the drug donepezil and the food additive choline improved receptive language skills in children with autism; the most successful results appeared in young children ages five through 10. The same research group performed another study that demonstrated the exceptional benefits of using hospital clowns as a part of treating autism.

Dr. Lidia Gabis, Director of Sheba’s Weinberg Child Development Center at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, was responsible for the study involving donepezil and choline. (Donepezil is typically used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and is marketed under the brand name Aricept.) Sixty children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder participated in the study.

At the end of the nine-month-long study, Dr. Gabis noted significant improvement with receptive language, which refers to the ability to comprehend words and language. In general, children with autism have trouble with this skill. The younger group showed substantial improvements – even as long as six months after the end of treatment, while adolescents showed minor improvements and had the side effect of irritability. The only other reported side effect was minor gastrointestinal issues, which both groups experienced.

“We were so thrilled with the results in the younger children. This is a huge breakthrough showing that core symptoms of autism can be improved with a novel pharmacological combination. It is so promising, and we look forward to having other researchers replicate these findings with a larger sample size,” said Dr. Gabis. “We are making great strides in treating autism-related disorders and bringing hope to families struggling with this disability across the globe.”

Lidia Gabis

Dr. Lidia Gabis, Director of Sheba’s Weinberg Child Development Center

Over 10 years ago, Dr. Gabis founded the Keshet Center, one of the largest autism centers in the world. This state-of-the-art facility follows a personalized, family-centric approach to early diagnosis, intervention, and research of autism-related disorders.

Another groundbreaking investigation performed by Sheba at the Keshet Center explored the effects of using hospital clowns in group therapy. It was found that the clowns had very positive effects on young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, aged two to six years. 24 children with autism enrolled in the intensive special education program at Sheba, and they were evaluated before and after clown intervention. After the clown intervention, the children demonstrated a considerable increase in vocabulary, play reciprocity, and social smiles.

“These preliminary results indicate that clown care may be beneficial for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder since it promotes communication and social reciprocity in a fun and lively interventional setting,” said Dr. Gabis.