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

The results of an important year-long study at the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital were just released. Researchers have found a way to predict autism at a younger age which could help with earlier intervention. Scientists have figured out a formula for calculating the genetic probability that a person has autism spectrum disorder by looking at all the available genetic data on autism.

‘The genes that contain variations that lead to autism are turned on during prenatal development. “We’ve stumbled upon the core group of genes that is necessary for human cognition,” said Stephen Scherer, senior scientist at Sick Kids Hospital and lead author of the study published Sunday in Nature Genetics.’

Presently, most children are diagnosed after the age of 4. The sooner interventions can occur, the better the outcome.

Researchers started to look for patterns in known autism risk genes. They focused on exons, the protein-coding parts of genes rather than the entire gene.

“It’s those segments of genes that are turned on very early in brain development and are very highly evolutionarily conserved – those are almost always found to be involved in autism,” Dr. Scherer said. In the next year, they are hoping to develop a tool for clinicians to use. To read more about this study, click here.

The month of May marks the annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). If you would like to read the highlights from this year’s conference which took place in Atlanta, GA on May 14 – 17th, click here.

At the IMFAR conference, Epidemiologist Lisa Croen, of Kaiser Permanente Division of Research presented results of the first large study of its kind that found that adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have higher than normal rates of nearly all major medical and psychiatric disorders. Moreover, their increased health problems extended across all age groups – from young adults to senior citizens. Health problems included GI disorders, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

These findings showed that medical problems for people on the spectrum do not go away with age. Autism can also affect multiple body systems. Because of these complex medical issues, there needs to be a transition plan in place for changing from pediatric to adult medical services

In Neuron journal, there was an article on the nerve called the C-tactile (CT), which is found only under hairy skin and carries information about our social interactions. Francis McGlone, a cognitive neuroscientist at Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K, and his colleagues published a commentary reviewing what is known about these CT nerves, including some provocative studies suggesting they play a role in autism.

Stroking CT fibers activates a brain region called the angular gyrus, which is involved in our internal representation of our body. CT afferents are involved not only in our awareness of others, but in our physical sense of self.

“The same brain regions activated by CT afferents — the insular cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and angular gyrus — have also been implicated in autism and related disorders. Could autism be the result of an impaired touch system?” To read more about this intriguing study, click here.

There is new clinical research about the connection between the two neurological conditions of autism and epilepsy. It is estimated that one third of people with autism also have epilepsy.

“The connection between the two conditions was the result of a study that showed epileptic seizures short-circuit the neurological function that affects socialization in the brain, which are the same traits seen in autism. These characteristics include the impairment of normal social interaction (eye contact, conversation, enjoying the act of sharing with someone else) and tightly regimented or repetitive cycles of behavior.”

The more frequent the epileptic seizures, the more severely impacted the person’s socialization issues may be. These new findings could improve treatment services for those with autism and improve the quality of life for someone that suffers from epilepsy. To read more, click here.

A new study published in the journal Exceptional Children found that children with a low IQ are capable of learning to read. Researchers found that with specialized instruction and persistence, kids with mild to moderate intellectual disability can read at a first-grade level or better. Low IQ scores in persons with intellectual disability is not an indicator of what they can do.

Personally, I’ve been saying this for years. Both of my children have IQ scores below 60 yet they can read at a grade 4 – 6 level, depending on the subject matter and interest level. Reading is a life changing skill as it opens up many doors to independence such as being able to use self-checkouts, reading a map, or following instructions.

The reading approach for people with autism has to be one that does not follow a phonemic approach, but rather a whole language one beginning with sight words that are relevant to that person’s world. Change how we teach reading and make literacy a priority, and you will add meaning and quality of life to those on the spectrum. To read more about this reading study, click here.

I discovered a new website called Wise Education and Behavior that was launched in January 2014. Their learning and behavior strategies can be used for children with or without special needs or adults with special needs. They also have information on disabilities, bullying, education, and child development. The website offers articles, an open forum for discussion and support, personalized support, and free printable reading and math worksheets.

Executive functioning skills is something many people with disabilities often struggle with. So what are executive functioning skills and how to do you know if your child is having difficulty in this area? Have a look at the National Center for Learning Disabilities 9 Key Terms to describe executive functioning skills. If you are interested in a more in-depth training opportunity, attend Joyce Cooper-Kahn’s workshop hosted by Autism Awareness Centre in Calgary, AB on November 15, 2014.

Now that the finer weather is here, it’s time to get out the bicycles – but what if riding is challenge? How can you teach someone to ride? You Can Ride 2 is a volunteer program based in Edmonton, AB on teaching people with challenges to ride a bike. They offer programs across Alberta. There are also a number of resources on their website that can help you start a program in your community and a Train the Trainer program. It could be a great idea for a program as most children love to ride a bike.

Explaining what autism is all about can be challenging. The new book Can I Tell You About Autism? by Jude Welton makes the task an easier one. Tom, a young boy with autism, invites readers to learn about autism from his perspective, helping them to understand what it is and explaining the challenges he faces with issues such as social communication, sensory overload and changes in his routine. Tom tells readers about all the ways he can be helped and supported by those around him.

This illustrated book is ideally suited for readers aged 7 and upwards, and will be an excellent way to increase understanding about autism, in the classroom or at home. It also includes clear, useful information for parents and professionals.

Coulter Video has just released a new DVD on puberty and sexuality for boys on the autism spectrum. The DVD is narrated by a young man with Asperger Syndrome and a neurotypical female co-host and features anatomical drawings and animation. It describes how male and female bodies change during puberty and how to deal with these changes (and urges) in appropriate ways that avoid social, ethical, and legal pitfalls. It includes information about intercourse, periods, pregnancy, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and more.

The program emphasizes the value of young men waiting to engage in sex until they are mature enough to understand the consequences and make decisions they won’t regret. The sections on dating and sexuality include demonstrations of socially expected interactions by age-appropriate male and female actors. This program can help young men deal confidently with a turbulent time in their lives by sharing candid information about what to expect and how to deal with it.

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


 


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