The syndrome has for years "been attributed to hypoxia—insufficient oxygen during the birthing process," Balley writes. Typically, when a foal’s brain is deprived of oxygen, the resulting effects include mental deficits, abnormal behavior, blindness and even seizures. Oddly, however, most foals with neonatal maladjustment syndrome survive the ordeal and have no lingering health problems. This raised the question of whether hypoxia was the culprit in the syndrome." (UC Davis photo: Effects of the syndrome are reduced by using a harness to mimic the pressure normally experienced in the birth canal.)
Researchers have found a similar disruption in the transition of fetal consciousness between horses and children, Balley writes. "With continuous treatment, including around-the-clock bottle or tube feeding plus intensive care in a veterinary clinic, 80 percent of the foals recover." Researchers note that "some children with autism do outgrow autistic behaviors by the time they reach their teen years," which suggests a possible parallel to the recovery of foals with maladjustment syndrome.
"Researchers are exploring whether abnormal regulation of neurosteroids during the time around childbirth could be one of many factors that might contribute to autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders," Balley writes. "A recent study has reported elevated levels of neurosteroids in children with autism spectrum disorder."