What in the World is Going On in Autism – January 2015 Edition

As we kick off the New Year, what will be the focus or trends in autism for 2015? Hopefully, the voices of those on the spectrum will become stronger, heard more often, and taken seriously. It’s time to build services around what people want and need. We should not be fitting people into existing services that don’t work for them or reflect their values.

Social media and the web will continue to offer people on the spectrum platforms for expressing their views. Never before have we had access to so many different first-hand accounts and opinions. Hearing these viewpoints can help us alter our behavior and become more cognizant of how we talk about people with autism matters.

Genetic research is making huge strides due to advances in technology. A research team led by computer engineers at the University of Toronto has developed a biological browser, a first-of-its-kind filtering technology, to sort genetic coding. This could have direct impact in the autism field.

“In a study published online on Thursday in the journal Science Express, the Toronto researchers report that their system accurately confirmed 94 per cent of the known genetic culprits behind well-studied diseases without any information related to the patients or their conditions. It also discovered new genetic mutations linked to colorectal and pancreatic cancers, spinal muscular atrophy (a leading cause of infant mortality), and most dramatically, 39 genes never before linked to autism.” To read more about this new technology, click here.

Inflammation has been known to exist in the gut and other parts of the body of those with autism. A new collaborative study between John Hopkins and the University of Alabama has discovered that the microglial cell, which polices the brain for pathogens and other threats, appears to be perpetually activated in the brains of those with autism — and the genes for inflammation responses are then turned on.

“Given the known genetic contributors to autism, inflammation is unlikely to be its root cause,” Dr. Dan Arking said. “Rather, this is a downstream consequence of upstream gene mutation.”

So what does this mean? The next step may be treating the inflammation to see if the symptoms of autism improve. To read more about these findings, click here.

Two new studies published in September explored the link between autism and aggression. The first study, published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, found that one in four children with autism displays aggressive behavior. They tended to have milder autism and low IQ’s. Children with significant aggressive behavior also tended to have mood and anxiety symptoms, sleep difficulties, and paying attention.

The second study, published in Autism, explored possible pathways to aggressive behavior in undergraduate students who do not have autism. Social anxiety and dwelling on negative, hostile feelings predicted verbal and physical aggression. People with cognitive preservation (talking about the same thing over and over) tend to dwell on negative feelings. Perseveration is a feature of autism. While aggression is more linked to certain psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizoaffective disorder and social phobia than to autism, people on the spectrum can exhibit aggression due to rumination, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and attention difficulties. To learn more about these studies, click here.

Regular exercise is essential to good health, but did you know it can help a person with autism self-regulate and manage stress? Coach Dave Geslak has created exercise programs for people on the spectrum using structure and visual supports. The Exercise Connection emphasizes these five points:

  1. Body Image
  2. Posture
  3. Motor Coordination
  4. Muscular Fitness
  5. Cardiovascular Fitness

Geslak is also the author of a new fitness book called The Autism Fitness Handbook: An Exercise Program to Boost Body Image, Motor Skills, Posture and Confidence in Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Designed to address specific areas of difficulty for children, teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the 46 exercises in this comprehensive program are proven to improve body image, motor coordination, posture, muscular and cardiovascular fitness. The boost to confidence, relationships and general wellbeing resulting from this will be transformative for individuals with ASD and their families.

To read more about this exercise program and its benefits, click here.

My most read post this past month on Facebook was by a person with Asperger Syndrome named M. Kelter. The article was about social skills training and managing negativity. Kelter says we need to stop thinking about social skills training as either good or bad, but rather ask these three questions:

“Is the goal of the training to normalize (for the sake of others) or empower (for the sake of the autistic)?”

“Who is defining the goals? The autistic or someone else (parents, teachers, etc.)?”

“Is the process humane and respectful?”

Kelter states, “For social skills training to work and be a beneficial process, it has to be oriented towards the person on the spectrum…who they are, what they want, and it has to be a good fit for their unique needs and personality.” We have to move away from creating programs and trying to slot people into those programs.

The other question Kelter tackled was about negative feelings about being on the spectrum. There were 3 reasons discussed about why some people choose to be positive about life on the spectrum. The insight is just brilliant and well expressed. Read this well written piece and you’ll see why it was so popular.

Teaching safety skills could save a child’s life; however, these are complex skills that require a specific type teaching for people with autism. Canadian Sarah Kupferschmidt wrote an article about teaching street skills. She breaks the task down into 5 tips. To learn more, click here.

On the technology front, Digital Learning Tree featured an article highlighting the best Autism Education iPad apps. The apps are listed by topic. Digital Learning Tree is a site created by teachers for teachers and is dedicated to progressive and inclusive education – lots of freebies on this site, on-line course, resources, and ways to collaborate on-line.

Medical appointments can be daunting, confusing and anxiety provoking for parents of children with special needs. Parent Karen Wang wrote a piece on how to improve communication with your pediatrician. These 10 points could make your next doctor’s appointment more productive.

It’s important to give our children on the spectrum ample opportunities to try new things and have different experiences. We can never predict what our children will end up liking or developing an interest in. Take Philip Martin-Nelson, now 20, diagnosed with severe autism in early childhood. At the age of 6, his mother enrolled him in a ballet class. Ballet was the thing that clicked for him and Phillip is now a principal dancer at Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. To see a video of Phillip and learn more about his journey into dance, click here.

Awareness about the importance of self-regulation is on the rise. The new book Asanas for Autism and Special Needs: Yoga to Help Children with their Emotions, Self-Regulation and Body Awareness teaches yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other special needs using visuals.

Breaking down yoga instruction pose by pose, body part by body part, breath by breath, this book uses easy-to-understand language and clear photographs to show parents, teachers, yoga instructors, and other professionals how to introduce the life-long benefits of yoga to a child with special needs. These benefits include gaining greater awareness and understanding of the body, learning to self-regulate the nervous system, and developing coping skills to work through difficult emotions such as anger and anxiety. Creative yoga games, activities, relaxation exercises, and chair yoga poses are included to make learning yoga a fun, interactive, and calming experience for children with a wide range of abilities.

These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for January 2015.

 

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