What in the World is Going On in Autism – August 2014 Edition

Researchers have discovered a gene called CDH8 that is linked to autism in an estimated one half of one percent of patients. Their findings could discover a way for genetic testing for autism.

Children with a mutation of the CDH8 gene have a larger head size, wide-set eyes and gastrointestinal problems. In addition to their characteristic appearance, they experience sleep disturbances. The discovery of the CDH8 mutations was published in the biomedical journal Cell.

Although the number affected by this gene mutation is small, it could lead to the discovery of hundreds more genetic mutations involved in autism spectrum disorder. To read more about this research, click here.

There has been a long time debate on whether or not people with autism should drive. Researchers at Drexel University have created the first pilot study asking adults on the autism spectrum about their experiences with driving.

Maria Schultheis, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Drexel, says, “When we investigate whether and under what circumstances a condition or neurological difference might affect driving ability, as a standard starting point we want to go to individuals and find out from their perspective what problems they are having on the road, in their real-world experience. That question is pivotal to shape and inform the goals of long-term research – and is especially important when we turn to look at a developmental difference like autism, where there has been too little research to establish yet whether widespread driving difficulties exist.”

This is the first study that focuses on experienced adult drivers with autism. Because people with autism experience difficulties such as neurocognitive challenges and social recognition difficulties, it would make sense that these individuals would have significant challenges with driving.

“One intriguing finding that Daly and Schultheis noted was that the difficulties adults with autism reported were not clustered in any specific areas, such as problems related to social processing of other drivers’ or pedestrians’ expected behaviors, or difficulties with neurocognitive aspects of driving such as motion perception and reaction time.”

Access to transportation, particularly in rural areas where there may not be public transportation, can increase the capacity for participation and allow greater access in communities. To read more about this study, click here.

Is autism really as prevalent as the Centre for Disease Control says it is based on their study of 8 year-olds in multiple communities across the US? Are these results accurate since they are derived by just reading reports and not actually assessing the children?

Researchers say “the wide variety of results collected from the different study sites should be a red flag. In the latest CDC data, for example, 1 in 45 kids in New Jersey were said to have the developmental disorder compared to 1 in 175 in Alabama. There were also variances by race and ethnicity across the study’s 11 sites and there were differences in the number of children found to have co-occurring intellectual disability.”

The CDC has defended their position and said their estimate of 1 in 68 for autism prevalence may be on the conservative side. To read more, click here.

Vulnerable parents will often try treatments and products such as dietary supplements and biomedical therapies that claim to cure or improve signs of autism. At present, there is no cure for autism and current best practice involves the use of behavioural and educational therapies. If the claim sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Current autism research into the cause of autism is pointing more to genetics so be wary of paying for protocols that have no scientific evidence for improving or curing autism.

I recently read this piece about a parent’s experiences raising a son with autism that was featured in a North Carolina magazine called Mountain Xpress. I did not read the article itself but the comments father Ray Hemachandra made in his blog about how the media portrayed his child and the language used to describe him. The lesson here is even if a reporter has good intentions, the story can often be written in a hurtful and demeaning way which devalues people and who they are. Myths and negativity are created.

Ray wants people to know there is nothing that needs fixing when it comes to his son. “There are people to help and love, just like all people need help and love. That’s what parents of newly diagnosed children (as well as many professionals and society as a whole) need to learn. The faster they learn it, the happier and healthier their children will be, their family will be, and they will be.”

Read this insightful dissection of the published article and what it is we need to advocate for. Ray has other great blog posts that will change your thinking about autism.

Sleep disorders abound in the autism population. Parents often feel desperate for a good night’s sleep as well as a way to help their child get more rest. Melatonin has long been used in the autism community, but it is sometimes used incorrectly with unsuccessful results. Read this article on How to Use Melatonin Correctly from the Talk About Sleep website and look forward to a better night’s sleep.

Who doesn’t love free resources? Victories n’Autism has a number of wonderful visual tools like checklists and schedules available for free download. Laura Molleur, who creates the content on this site, was a special education teacher and you can instantly see how practical her resources are. Check it out!

Anxiety is commonly experienced by individuals on the spectrum. Anxiety BC has created an app called MindShift to help teens and young adults get their anxiety in control. This app can help change how a person thinks about anxiety. Rather than trying to avoid anxiety, you can make an important shift and face it.

MindShift will help you learn how to relax, develop more helpful ways of thinking, and identify active steps that will help you take charge of your anxiety. This app includes strategies to deal with everyday anxiety, as well as specific tools to tackle anxious situations like test anxiety, perfectionism, social anxiety and performance anxiety.

Australian mom with autism Ally Grace has an excellent blog about being autistic. She wrote a post entitled 14 Things I Hate About Being Autistic which gives the reader real insight into what people on the spectrum experience, often as a result of our own ignorance and assumptions. These voices on the spectrum are raising awareness, changing our thinking, and letting us know how they feel and what they need. Dignity, respect and the right to be who they are stand in the forefront. Are we listening?

How can you help kids with autism be flexible, get organized, and work toward goals – not just in school but in everyday life? It’s all about executive function, and this quick problem-solving guide helps you explicitly teach these critical skills to high-functioning children with autism (Grades K-8). Solving Executive Function Challenges: Simple Ways to Get Kids with Autism Unstuck and on Target can be used on its own or in tandem with the popular Unstuck and On Target! classroom curriculum, this practical guide shows how to embed executive function instruction in dozens of everyday scenarios, from morning routines to getting homework done. Designed for therapists, teachers, and parents, these highly effective techniques give children the skills they need to navigate each day, reach their goals, and succeed inside and outside the classroom.

Children on the autism spectrum are often highly visual learners, making colour a powerful and motivating learning tool.

Recently published Colour Coding for Learners with Autism: A Resource Book for Creating Meaning through Colour at Home and School by Adele Devine explains how colour coding helps young people with autism to generalize lessons already learnt. For example, assigning the colour aqua to all personal care activities or the colour purple to timetabling and transitions establishes clear, visual categories. This allows children to draw on learnt experiences, which creates a sense of order, reduces anxiety, and can aid communication, understanding emotions, organization, coping with change and diversifying diet. A wealth of tried-and-tested printable resources to enable the practical application of colour coding in the classroom and at home is included on a CD-ROM.

With colourful illustrations and resources, this book is an effective, must-have teaching tool for anyone involved in the education of young people with autism.

These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for August 2014.


 

 

 

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