Watch CBS News

Study On Newborn Horses Could Provide Clues On Autism In Children

(CBS) -- A recent study about newborn horses may have uncovered a promising clue about children with autism.

CBS 2's Marissa Bailey takes a closer look at the discovery in this Original Report.

Researchers at the University of California Davis say a condition in newborn horses called maladjustment syndrome could provide a new link to autism.

"Dummy foals, maladjusted fouls…those foals tend to just lay, be very lax," said equine veterinarian Chris Downs. "They weren't interactive. They would kind of lay in a heap. Their ears tended to be floppy. They had no real interest in getting up and nursing."

In the study, researchers found dummy horses have higher levels of neurosteroids, the hormone that keeps them asleep in the womb.

Pressure from the birthing process usually tells the brain to quit production of the hormone. The same is true for humans.

So, in an effort to mimic birth pressure, researchers use a special harness to put horses to sleep, then abruptly wake them up.

In some cases, a once-detached horse starts acting completely normal.

"I think we have to be optimistic but cautiously optimistic about new findings," said Dr. Rachel Loftin.

Dr. Loftin has studied autism for years and says while there are similarities, it's still too early to know if there is a connection between newborn horses and children with autism.

"There's nothing practical that we can take from this yet," Dr. Loftin said. "We wouldn't want to leave stones unturned and I think certainly looking at hormones, which are such key factors in human behavior is important."

1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, the majority of those are males.

Still Dr. Loftkin says it could be ten years or more before researchers make a connection between horses and autism.

Researchers say a larger and more controlled clinical trial is needed to better understand the process in foals.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.