What in the World is Going On - February 2014 Edition - Autism Awareness
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What in the World is Going On – February 2014 Edition

A new report from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary addresses the costs for caring for an adult with autism. For example, the costs of supporting an adult with autism in 24 hour care can be as much as $159,000 a year. The gaps in public supports and services are particularly poor for adolescents leaving the school system and the care and daily structure that go with it.

Governments have to start developing policies and budgets that consider the costs of caring for those with autism and other developmental disabilities into adulthood, rather than leaving families struggling without adequate support. The stress is too great for most families to bear alone.

“Only a very few families will have the means to afford to pay for total care,” the report said. “So in most cases, the responsibility for care falls largely, if not entirely, on the family, or in the worst-case scenario, the autistic individual is left with inadequate care. To read more, click here.

Although individuals with ASD tend to have a good memory for details, most will struggle to remember the details of events in their own lives. A new study published 27 November in Development and Psychopathology assessed children’s autobiographical memories by testing both semantic memory, which stores facts such as names and addresses, and episodic memory, which records events they experienced, such as a birthday party. The researchers looked at 63 children with autism who have IQs of 70 or higher, and 63 controls, all aged 8 to 16. Over three days of memory testing, the children with autism needed more prompting to remember both recent and older events, with the researchers asking, “And then what?” when a child paused for too long or became distracted.

The results – “both groups formed their first memories at around 3 years of age. However, those in the autism group retrieved fewer memories than controls did. They also tended to describe past events in general terms, such as, “my holiday with Grandma” or recall nothing at all, rather than supplying specific details.”

Researchers are puzzled by the results because the recall of older memories doesn’t rely on executive function abilities, an area of impairment. The inability to recall memories may be caused by a lack of self-awareness and reflection, which may be key to committing autobiographical events to memory. To read more, click here.

There are new therapies and ways of helping people with autism being studied every week. Getting involved with animals and plant life seems to have a positive effect for those on the spectrum. At the Le Chemin ABA VB Learning Center in Paris, France, they have a therapeutic aquarium. Aquariums can be therapeutic because designing, setting up and maintaining them can serve as a functional activity. Aquarium activities can be shared with siblings, friends and parents to work on turn taking, sharing and teamwork. Children can be calmed by the movement and colours of the fish.

“At Le Chemin, some lessons plans are designed around the therapeutic aquarium. Children learn about the fish, to count the fish and plants in the aquarium and to label the colors on each fish. For the children who have the appropriate developmental skills, there is an aquarium themed story time that takes place in front of the aquarium. The children are guided in writing their own short stories about fish following the story time.” To read more, click here.

Feeding issues can present significant challenges for those on the spectrum. Challenges can range from a limited diet, overeating or not eating, oral motor difficulties, sensory issues around food such as texture, and digestive issues. Parents are concerned about their child’s nutrition, health and overall well-being due to feeding problems.

Autism Speaks has published a new feeding toolkit available for free download. The guide answers the following questions –

  • When should I be concerned?
  • What can we do at home to help with feeding issues?
  • How can I encourage my child to eat a wider variety of foods?

The kit draws its recommendations from the experience of specialists and the evidence-based findings of research involving children and families dealing with autism.

Hand flapping has been a puzzling behavior for neurotypicals to understand. Unstrange Mind – Remapping My World, a blog written by an adult with autism, had a recent post on hand flapping and why the author does it. “The most common reason for me to flap my hands is that I am very happy and excited about something. My boyfriend told me that he loves to see my hands flap because there is a lovely joy that goes along with it that is fresh and appealing, without guile or artifice. If I recall correctly, he used the word “childlike” and meant it in a beautifully loving and respectful sense. Over the month of December, we went through a Jacquie Lawson advent calendar together every morning right after having breakfast together and he got to see lots of hand-flapping on the days when the calendar surprise was a steam locomotive or a peacock spreading his bright tail feathers or a mansion kitchen staffed entirely by giant teddy bears.”

This was something I had never heard about – autism-associated catatonia. “In mild and moderate cases, parents often describe their teens “slowing down” or appearing depressed. Sometimes, they become “stuck” when trying to initiate a movement. For example, a teen might walk up to a doorway then freeze when it’s time to step over the threshold.

Autism-associated catatonia also produces changes in movement patterns. This can include an odd gait or stiff posture, a brief “freeze” during actions or difficulty coming to a stop. You might also notice a marked reduction in speech. In between slow periods, there can be bursts of hyperactivity. Some individuals develop incontinence.”

How do you know if your child has autism-associated catatonia? Look for a marked change in behavior. Autism-related catatonia doesn’t produce across-the-board regression. The ability to turn intentions into action is lost.

For those parents of teenagers who are seeking information on transitioning, post-secondary education, housing, employment or other topics related to adulthood, you may find the Autism After 16 website helpful. This site features a variety of regular column writers, links, and articles which are updated frequently. Check it out!

Do you enjoy on-line learning? The Autism Research Institute offers free webinars throughout the year. Have a look at their latest offerings from February until May, 2014.

If you’re a fan of Michelle Garica Winner’s Superflex series, you’ll be pleased to hear there is a new comic book out called Superflex® Takes on One-Sided Sid, Un-Wonderer and the Team of Unthinkables. In this newest comic, children become familiar with several ways to squash the powers of two, related Unthinkable characters: One-Sided Sid, who gets people to talk only about themselves, and his sidekick sister Un-Wonderer, who likes to keep people from thinking about others. This clever duo tries to get students to do or say things that show they’re only thinking about themselves and not others. The accompanying CD includes 11 related lessons that help children practice the strategies introduced in the book.

There is an excellent new book published about mental health issues and autism entitled A Practical Guide to Mental Health Problems in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder – It’s not just their autism! Exploring the relationship between ASD and mental health difficulties, this book offers practical guidance to help parents and professionals recognize and handle co-morbid conditions, and dispels the myth that they are just a part of autism.

The authors cover a wide range of common mental health problems experienced by children with ASD, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, psychosis, stress, tics and depression, and illustrate these issues with case studies. They also provide vital advice in an accessible format and suggest strategies to ease the difficulties which arise from these co-morbid conditions.

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



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