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

Parents are an important part of an intervention strategy, but a new study shows parents tend to support their child better in a group training setting. The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that parents were able to learn to apply a language-skills therapy method called pivotal response training (PRT) and saw meaningful improvement in their children.

“Parents really do feel more empowered when they’re in a group setting,” said Kari Berquist of the Stanford University School of Medicine, a co-author of the study. “They’re talking, connecting, sharing their experiences. It gives them a sense of community.”

It makes sense that parents would feel more confident being with other parents in the same boat, similar to a support group. To read more about this study, click here.

Communication is a struggle for those on the spectrum because they need extra processing time and often have difficulty reading body language, voice tone, and understanding context. There is emerging evidence that computer-mediated communication, such as text, e-mail, and instant messaging, gives each communicating partner plenty of time to think about the messages and the chance to reply at their own pace. What’s more, computer-mediated communication channels do not have additional signals such as body language that also need to be processed.

Aske Plaat at Leiden University in the Netherlands just completed a comparative study on computer-based communication patterns of those with autism and those without.

“Plaat and Co. began by recruiting volunteers for both groups and asking them to fill out a number of questionnaires about the way they use the Internet and various computer-based forms of communication. They also asked individuals to fill in a standard questionnaire about their well-being and a standard test that measures their degree of autism. They also collected basic details about their sex, age, occupation, whether single or in a relationship, and so on. Finally, they mined the resulting data looking for interesting correlations.”

They found clear differences between the groups. “Plaat and Co. say that people in the autistic group tended to use computer-based communication just as much or more than the control group and tend to appreciate it more and in different ways. They also have more online friends on average than the control group.” To read more about this study, click here.

Wandering or elopement is an all too common occurrence in schools for people with ASD. Schools should have a protocol in place, but often don’t nor do they have proper risk assessments. Autism parent and advocate Leigh Merryday created her own elopement plan for schools called the SPECTRUM Alert for Schools. Each letter in the word SPECTRUM stands for a step in the protocol. To read about the steps, click here. Schools are responsible for a child’s safety. Preventative measures can go a long way.

Dr. Jonathan Weiss, ASD research chair at York University, recently completed a study on mother of children with ASD and a psychiatric disorder. It is no surprise that these moms experienced a higher level of stress than moms of those children with just an ASD. The findings of this research were: individuals with ASD and psychiatric disorders demonstrated more unpredictable behaviors, repetitive behaviors and asocial behavior compared to individuals with ASD only. They also had poorer rated health with more frequent stomach-related and sleep problems. Mothers of sons and daughters with ASD and psychiatric disorders reported higher levels of burden and a poorer quality of the parent-child relationship than mothers of sons and daughters with only ASD.

The question is – what interventions and support will be put in place to help these mothers and individuals with these additional challenges? Services are really lacking in this area and what little is available has long waiting times. To read more, click here.

A dental visit can be a nightmare for a person with autism. Some dentists are reluctant to treat patients with autism, but with some accommodations patients with autism can be calm and cooperative. Autism Speaks has a dental professionals toolkit which is available for free download. Dr. David Tesini also has a 40 minute video for professionals and a 12 minute one for parents to help with dental visits.

The New York Times published a wonderful article on dental difficulties and autism and how to support both dentists and patients to have successful appointments. In Calgary, Dr. Brad Krusky is a superb pediatric dentist with experience in working with autistic patients. He is located in Marda Loop.

Sensory integration dysfunction and autism are still misunderstood. Often it is the underlying cause for challenging behavior. The article Ten Myths about High Functioning Autism and Sensory Integration Disorder relays experiences, insights and opinions of over 150 individuals with high functioning autism (HFA). A good read!

Getting children on the spectrum to eat a variety of healthy foods can be challenging for many. Sensory issues come into play as well as oral motor difficulties. Some children will only eat foods that have certain textures or colours. SLP Becca Eisenberg gives 5 tips for better eating in her blog post Five Tips to Get An Older Child with Special Needs to Eat Healthy. She also has a great website called Gravity Bread that helps parents communicate and enrich mealtimes and food preparation with their children. She has recipes, book recommendations, apps, and a special needs section on her website. Check it out!

 Women and girls are continuing to be under-diagnosed with autism because they display different characteristics of the disorder. Most diagnostic tools have been based on observing males, not females. We often accept social anxiety and shyness in girls as part of who they are and not part of a possible diagnostic profile. Caroline Hearst, now living in New Zealand, was diagnosed at the age of 55. You can read about her in this excellent article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

“Girls might cope in the early years but in their teens things become difficult. They may struggle to get a job or, when progressing up the career ladder, get into trouble for not behaving appropriately. They can’t pick up on subtle social cues such as body language. If you can’t do that instinctively it’s mentally exhausting. Most of them feel relieved at the diagnosis and finding out why they are different. It’s not a label, it’s a pathway to getting the right kind of care and support.”

My most read Facebook post this month was written by a 20 year old person with Asperger Syndrome from the UK. The blog Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Autism and Romantic Relationships hit a chord with people. It really dispels the myths around socializing, affection and the need for relationships. It is often assumed by the neurotypical population that people on the spectrum are happiest being alone; that simply isn’t true. Seeing Double, Understanding Autism is an insightful blog written by someone who is very articulate and intelligent.

It is paramount to teach public washroom safety to boys, yet how many of us actually teach this? In the new book Tom Needs to Go, author Kate Reynolds created a visual resource to help parents and carers teach boys and young men with autism or other special needs about how to use public toilets safely. It covers the subtleties of social etiquette including where to stand and look, as well as practicalities such as remembering to lock the cubicle door. With simple and effective illustrations throughout, the book is the perfect starting point for teaching independence when using public toilets.

Bill Nason’s popular Facebook group, The Autism Discussion Page, has now been made into two books. I highlighted the first book of the two in last month’s column. The second book, The Autism Discussion Page on Anxiety, Behavior, School, and Parenting Strategies, covers anxiety and stress, challenging behaviors, stretching comfort zones, discipline, and school issues. It also provides more general teaching and mentoring strategies for coaching children on the autism spectrum in basic daily living strategies to improve their day-to-day lives.

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

 

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