What in the World Is Going On – August 2013 Edition

We often think of summer as a slower, laid back period but it certainly has not been so for new research. We’ve had two groundbreaking studies released this past month – the first one led by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children’s Dr. Stephen Scherer and the Centre for Applied Genomics lab. This new research identified genetic risks for autism in 50% of the cases, bringing scientists much closer to understanding the mystery of autism. Previously, doctors only had the ability to identify about 20 per cent of the genetic risks of autism.

“This is really delivering the big jump,” Scherer said. “We go from 20 per cent to roughly 50 per cent where we find, and this is important, a genetic variant associated with either autism or an accompanying medical symptom seen in the patient.” Other medical symptoms can be seizures, sleep and anxiety problems, and Fragile X syndrome — a condition causing learning and developmental disabilities. A “genetic overlap” between autism and epilepsy is also often observed, the study noted.

A team of researchers has discovered a new way to diagnose autism – through movement. “We consider this more like a personalized medicine. … Everybody has his own motion DNA, and we need to find what is the right way for them to develop,” said Jorge José, vice president of research at Indiana University. “We like to think of this as a complementary tool to diagnosis.”

Movement has not been paid attention to by autism scientists. Rutgers Professor Elizabeth Torres who has done a lot of fascinating research on this subject says, “This is a systemic problem. This is not a problem of mind. That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she said of autism. “You have to look at the peripheral nervous system. Without that you can’t think in high levels.” To read more about this fascinating research, click here.

The other new and exciting study reveals the biological basis for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) which affects 5 to 16 percent of school-aged children and is often present in people with autism. This new study from UC San Francisco found that children affected with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure, showing a biological basis for the disease that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

The new DSM-V has not included SPD as a disorder. This new finding may establish a biological basis for the disorder that can be easily measured and used as a diagnostic tool and may perhaps help SPD to be included in a future DSM edition. To read more on this recent breakthrough, click here.

On the topic of sensory issues, OT Brooke Backsen has written an article about a sensory toolkit for your purse – a must have for moms. Being prepared when you’re out and about can make all the difference in having a successful outing. Her toolkit suggestions are simple and inexpensive – things like bubbles, straws, fidget toys, Silly Putty, an action figure etc.

And also on the subject of sensory integration, Chloe Rothschild – young adult with PDD-NOS, recently published an article on Fidgets 101. She talks about what items are fidgets, why fidgets are useful, and all items in her list are linked to Amazon.com. To purchase these products in Canada, visit the Canadian company FDMT. They have over 1500 products to choose from! Thanks, Chloe, for your comprehensive list.

It’s exhausting combating the common myths around autism such as people with ASD are savants, they don’t feel emotions, they prefer to be alone, vaccines cause autism, and the list goes on. When confronted with such myths, it’s important to educate and inform people on what is true. The Raising Children Network in Australia has some great answers to these myths and others on their website.

Getting involved in the arts is more than just a way to occupy time. Fine arts activities help children with learning disabilities in many ways such as developing fine and gross motor skills, coordination, and reading. Read about some of the benefits in this article.

While it may only be August, it’s never too late to start thinking about back to school topics. I recently discovered the website NEADS – The National Educational Association of Disabled Students. NEADS is a consumer organization, with a mandate to encourage the self-empowerment of post-secondary students with disabilities. NEADS advocates for increased accessibility at all levels so that disabled students may gain equal access to college or university education, which is their right. The Association provides information on services and programs for students with disabilities nationwide, publishes a regular newsletter, and conducts research on issues of importance to its members. Members include disabled students, educators, organizations and professional service providers. NEADS is governed by a 12 person Board of Directors which represents each of the provinces and the territories.

Their comprehensive website has article on transitioning from high school, applying for financial aid, campus student groups, and the list goes on. If you have a child that is entering the world of post-secondary education or thinking about it in the future, this is your site.

On this topic of transition planning, there is a new book out on self-determination and transition planning that is a must-have – Self-Determination and Transition Planning. Self-determination has a powerful positive impact on post-school outcomes for young adults with disabilities—but how can educators teach students the skills they need to make their own choices and achieve their goals as they enter adulthood? This empowering guidebook shows the way.

Packed with practical, research-validated guidance on explicitly teaching self-determination skills, this book helps educators support students in communicating their interests and needs, setting and reaching goals, and managing their own lives. Ready-to-use worksheets and activities will help students take an active role in their transition planning, and true case stories highlight the benefits of self-determination instruction: smoother transitions, improved behavior, and fulfilling lives beyond the classroom.

Many people on the autism spectrum experience anxiety. For those higher functioning individuals, there is a new book out called Starving the Anxiety Gremlin: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Anxiety Management for Young People. This is a unique resource to help young people understand different types of anxiety and how to manage them, including panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety, generalized anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Based on cognitive behavioural principles that link thoughts, feelings and behaviours, the techniques described help young people to understand why they get anxious and how they can ‘starve’ their anxiety gremlin in order to manage their anxiety.

This engaging workbook uses fun activities and real life stories, and can be used by young people aged 10+ on their own or with a parent or practitioner. It is also an ideal anxiety management resource for those working with young people, including mental health practitioners, social workers, education sector staff and youth workers.

These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for August 2013.

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