What in the World Is Going On in Autism – December 2014 Edition

Autism is defined by certain symptoms that we can observe such as communication difficulties, restricted behavior patterns, and social skills deficits. Some scientists are now looking to physics to explain some of the subtleties. At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) in Washington, D.C., a research study was presented that highlighted the micro-movements of those with ASD which are smaller, less perceptible, and not within a person’s conscious control.

“Researchers recorded the movements of 30 people with autism, eight neurotypical adults, and 21 parents of children with autism as they pointed at and reached for a target in the middle of a screen about 100 times in a row. What they found is that all subjects demonstrated brief increases in speed along the way, called peripheral spikes (or “p-spikes”). But these minuscule gestures actually broke down into different types.”

In people with autism, the pattern of these spikes is completely random unlike that of neurotypicals. To understand more about what these micro-movements mean and how this could translate into therapy, click here.

Parents of children with autism often worry about a younger sibling being affected as well. In a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, three distinct behavior profiles such as difficulty making eye contact, repetitive behaviors, lack of communicative gestures and a limited imagination may predict an autism diagnosis by the age of 3.

There are no screening tools designed to evaluate baby siblings of those with autism, so clinicians should pay particular attention to the combinations of these three behaviors. You can read more about this study here.

At the University of Montreal, lead author Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc published an excellent study on why people with autism have difficulty judging facial expressions. “The evaluation of an individual’s face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual,” said Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc. Understanding how people with ASD perceive and evaluate social situations will help us to better interact with them. To read more, click here.

Police find it challenging to interact, interview and question witnesses and suspects with autism. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK funded a research study to find out what works and doesn’t work when police interview individuals on the spectrum.

“More than 400 UK frontline and investigative police officers holding a variety of ranks provided information for the study. They spoke of the difficulties and challenges they encounter when obtaining written, oral and identification evidence. Officers reported, for example, finding it hard to build rapport with people with autism, which usually plays an important part in interviews. They also described difficulties in arranging a suitable environment for interviews.”

Police stations are not sensory friendly places because they tend to be noisy, busy, and brightly lit.

Although these findings are not surprising, there are some positive strategies being employed by police officers who have firsthand experience with ASD. To read more, click here.

Sitting on Santa’s knee and telling him what your Christmas wishes is a childhood tradition, but for children with autism this isn’t always a reality. Long line-ups, loud music, screaming children, and a busy shopping mall can be too stressful for a child with autism. Enter the Quiet Santa Program – geared to children with autism and special sensitivities. The lights are dimmed, the music is turned off. Often these events, called Quiet Santa or Silent Santa, are held before the mall opens. Malls all over Canada and the US offer the program. Call your local mall to see if they offer this program or if they would be willing to set it up. If you want to learn more about how the program works, view this news clip from Halifax, NS.

Mental health issues in adults with ASD is still a neglected area of support and intervention. The Autism Research Centre (ARC) at the University of Cambridge, U.K, conducted a study that found adults with Asperger Syndrome were ten times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general population. Depression is a potential risk factor for suicidal thoughts.

Co-author and ARC Director Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen said, “Adults with Asperger’s syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, underachievement, and unemployment. This study should be a wake-up call for the urgent need for high quality services, to prevent the tragic waste of even a single life.” Click here to read this article in its entirety. To read more on this topic, have a look at Nick Dubin’s book entitled The Autism Spectrum and Depression.

Not all children can sit at a desk in school; therefore, classrooms should offer alternative seating options. Six Alternative Seating Options in the Classroom for a Child with Special Needs highlights some great ideas. Some of these products can be found at a reasonable price from the Canadian company FDMT located in Montreal, Quebec.

The holidays are filled with expectations and excitement that can often lead to over-stimulation, anxiety and stress for those with ASD. I’ve written some article over the past few years to help alleviate the holiday pressure and keep everything on an even keel – Ho-Ho-Hold the Expectations, Keep Calm and Carry On This Holiday Season, and How to Keep the Holidays Happy. May your days be merry and bright this Christmas!

New in the Can I Tell You About series is Can I tell you about Anxiety? A guide for friends, family and professionals. Young Megan invites readers to learn about anxiety from her perspective, helping them to understand why she sometimes feels anxious and how this affects her physically and emotionally. She talks about techniques she has learnt to help manage her anxiety, and tells family, friends and teachers how they can support someone who suffers from anxiety.

The Zones of Regulation has been a wildly popular program for individuals on the spectrum. This program has been adopted by school districts, parents and therapists across the country. This colour coding idea has been carried over into the area of conversation by author Joel Saul in his new book The Green Zone Conversation Book: Finding Common Ground in Conversation for Children on the Autism Spectrum.

This book provides a simple visual model to help children experience more success in finding common ground in conversation. The “Green Zone” is a visual representation of finding common ground between one person (blue) and another person (yellow) to create a “green zone” that represents the pair’s shared interests. The book, illustrated with hundreds of photographs representing the range of other people’s interests, clearly explains what the “Green Zone” is and how to find it, and contains many photocopiable conversation practice activities and reinforcement worksheets based on this simple visual.

Ideal for use in classroom settings or at home, this attractive, full colour book is suitable for children on the autism spectrum aged 7 and up.

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

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