Schafer Autism Report


Tuesday, December 16, 2020                                         Vol. 12 No. 176

NYTimes: Are Nut Bans Promoting Hysteria?

Nicotine Addiction and Autism
Wayne State Prof's Research Pushes Autism Treatment Forward
Urinary Porphyrins Study Continues in the Puget Sound Region of Washington State
Experts Boost Learning In Rats With Hearing Defects
Autism's Mysterious Increase

Makeover' Family Saved From Foreclosure

Utah May Mandate Health Insurance For Autism Therapy Legislation

Need Support Between Support Group Meetings? Get Online Help Now!
Helping Your Son/Daughter and Family Have a Happy Holidays: The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Dr. Harry Schneider to Premiere on Autism One Radio on December 17!


NYTimes: Are Nut Bans Promoting Hysteria?
Worries about nut allergies are intense in some circles.

      By Lars Klove for The New York Times.

      Every parent of a school-age child has heard the warnings about nut allergies. Some schools ban nuts entirely, while others set aside special nut-free tables. Parents are often quizzed about the ingredients and preparation methods for birthday treats they send to school. One parent told me she was asked whether a knife used to cut brownies had ever been used to spread peanut butter.
      While nut allergies are clearly a risk to some children, often the response to this health concern represents “a gross overreaction to the magnitude of the threat,” argues Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, an internal medicine doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School, in a recent column in the British medical journal BMJ.
      In the column, Dr. Christakis points out that about 3.3 million Americans are allergic to nuts, and even more — 6.9 million — are allergic to seafood. But of 30 million hospitalizations each year, just 2,000 are due to food allergies, and about 150 people die annually from serious allergic food reactions. That’s the same number of people killed by bee stings and lightning strikes combined. About 10,000 children are hospitalized annually with traumatic brain injuries from sports, 2,000 children drown each year, and about 1,300 die in gun accidents, he writes.
      Dr. Christakis notes that while it’s reasonable for schools and parents to take basic precautions, there is no scientific evidence that nut bans are particularly effective at protecting children. But more important, he argues, is that limiting widespread exposure to nuts can make things worse. The “policy of avoidance” means that fewer children are being exposed to nuts, likely increasing their risk for developing an allergy. A 2008 study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of 10,000 British children found that early exposure to peanuts lowers risk of allergy, rather than increasing it.
      Dr. Christakis is best known for his work on social networks and the effect they can have on health issues like obesity, smoking and even happiness. He also argues that extensive efforts to protect children from nuts has created a culture of anxiety that spreads.
      “We try to relieve anxiety about nut allergy by signs saying, ‘this is a nut free zone,’ which suggests that nuts are a clear and present danger,” Dr. Christakis said. “But in doing so, we increase the anxiety.”
      To read more about Dr. Christakis’s research, go to his Web site, where you will also find a link to the full BMJ article, “This Allergies Hysteria Is Just Nuts.”


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• • •


Nicotine Addiction and Autism
Shared brain protein link.

      Scientists have identified a relationship between two proteins in the brain that has links to both nicotine addiction and autism. The finding, presented at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in November, has led to speculation that existing drugs used to curb nicotine addiction might serve as the basis for potential therapies to alleviate the symptoms of autism.
      The discovery identified a defining role for a protein made by the neurexin-1 gene, which is located in brain cells and assists in connecting neurons as part of the brain's chemical communication system. The job of the neurexin-1 beta protein is to lure another protein, a specific type of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, to the synapses, where the receptor then has a role in helping neurons communicate signals among themselves and to the rest of the body.
      This function is important in autism because previous research has shown that people with autism have a shortage of these nicotinic receptors in their brains. Meanwhile, scientists also know that people who are addicted to nicotine have too many of these receptors in their brains.
      "If we were to use drugs that mimic the actions of nicotine at an early time in human brain development, would we begin to help those and other circuits develop properly and thus significantly mitigate the deficits in autism? This is a novel way of thinking about how we might be able to use drugs to approach autism treatment," said Rene Anand, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology in Ohio State University's College of Medicine and principal investigator of the research.
      "It would not be a complete cure, but right now we know very little and have no drugs that tackle the primary causes of autism," he said.
      The drugs in question are known as cholinergic agents, which interact with the brain to counter nicotine addiction. Dr. Anand said the medications could be retailored for use in children in an effort to increase the level of neurexin-1 beta protein in the brains of people with autism.
      More neurexin would in turn not only enhance the presence of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, but also a host of other proteins that are important for the proper formation and maturation of synapses. Proper synapse function is critical to the nervous system's ability to connect to and control other systems of the body.
      "Now that these associations have been made, we believe that nicotine in smokers' brains possibly increases the level of neurexin-1 and, as a consequence, helps bring more receptors to the synapses and makes those circuits highly efficient, reinforcing the addiction. In autism, we have the opposite problem. We have a lack of these receptors, and we speculate that neurexin levels are lower," he said.
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• • •

Wayne State Prof's Research
Pushes Autism Treatment Forward

      From Wayne State University: Jon Zemke

      Alexander Gow, a Wayne State University School of Medicine (Michigan) professor, is pushing forward research into a number of neurodegenerative diseases, such as autism and schizophrenia.
      His latest research, published in the Journal of Cell Biology, sheds light on  why these diseases develop and how they might be treated.
      It basically breaks down to the white and gray matter in the brain and how they communicate. Those lines of communications that send signals for everything from sneezing to wiggling a toe sometimes fail. Gow's research shows that a leak in the myelin sheath of these communication lines might play a part in developing diseases like autism and schizophrenia.
      Although far from a cure, if further research shows this is the case, it could give scientists a big clue on how to treat and possibly prevent such diseases.

• • •

Urinary Porphyrins Study Continues
in the Puget Sound Region of Washington State

      Who: Chief Investigator James S. Woods, Ph.D., Professor, DABT Director, Toxicology Program Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington.
      What: Study to determine whether or not children with autism have higher urine porphyrin levels than other children of the same age. Parents and/or caregivers are requested to provide urine samples from both autistic and non-autistic children ages 2-12 years.
      Compensation: Porphyrin assay results will be provided for free to caregivers of all participants via e-mail at a future date.
      Where: Puget Sound region of Washington state (vials must be picked up and returned to coordinators in person) Seattle area - enroll and submit vials: Jason Allen ND, MPH Study Co-Investigator Seattle Integrative Medicine 5322 Roosevelt Way NE Seattle, 98105 Call ahead to set up a brief appointment: 206-525-8012 South Sound - enroll and submit vials:  Denise Fulton Study Coordinator Enroll: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 20, 2008, Jan. 17 & Feb 21, 2009 - Table offered outside next three meetings of the Western Washington Chapter of Talk About Curing Autism - S. Campus Bates Technical College, 2201 S 78th St. in Tacoma  Unfortunately, due to the nature of this particular study, individual samples are not being submitted by mail - hand-off in person is required. We apologize if you receive this message and are unable to participate due to this requirement. 
      When: Enrolling through Feb. 28, 2009 
View/print Porphyrins Study Flyer (.pdf) Funding for the Urinary Porphyrins study is also provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Wallace Foundation

• • •

Experts Boost Learning In Rats
With Hearing Defects

      Reuters - Scientists have managed to train rats with hearing defects to pick out sounds from background noise, giving a possible solution to hearing-impaired children with difficulties in learning language.
      Distinguishing speech from background noise, or temporal processing, is important in learning a language. When there are defects in this function, young children may encounter problems learning a language and reading.
      In an article published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists in China and the United States described how they trained rats with hearing defects to pick out relevant sounds from background noise using food rewards.
      "The training-induced cortical changes endured for at least two months after training ceased," wrote scientists Xiaoming Zhou at the East China Normal University in Shanghai and Michael Merzenich at the W.M. Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California.
      "Our results illustrate, for the first time to the best of our knowledge, the neurological restoration of cortical temporal processing capacities by intensive behavioral training in developmentally degraded juvenile and adult animals.”
      Looking ahead, the researchers said their findings could be used in training people with temporal processing problems.
      "All of these findings contribute to the rapidly growing body of studies that reveal the extent to which, and the specific strategies by which, developmentally impaired brains can be corrected in older children and adults," they wrote.

• • •

Autism's Mysterious Increase

      By Neal Rauhauser. Excerpted from

      Why is the incidence of autism mushrooming? The Autism Society of America states, “Autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. At this rate…the prevalence of autism could reach four million Americans in the next decade.” The steady upswing in the number of cases in the last 20 years has brought us to today's count of one in every 150 children being somewhere on the spectrum.
      Many theories exist as to the causes of autism: the mercury preservatives thiomersal in vaccines, environmental contaminants, infection, and various forms of prenatal stress. It is believed there is a genetic component to ASD, but no specific genetic marker is known at this time. The exact mechanisms behind the changes to the brain are unknown, however the clumsiness and impaired social function seem tied to differences in mirror neurons, and the speech deficit has tantalizing links to other disorders that have been partially characterized via genetic inspection.
      Mirror neurons, or "monkey see, monkey do" neurons, were first identified by chance in lab animals a decade ago. When monkeys were wired with EEG caps to observe brain function, researchers noted that if a subject animal was engaged in solving a puzzle, another monkey watching the process would have the same brain activity, despite the fact that it was sitting motionless. Further experiments were done, first on monkeys, then on humans, and it was learned that we have systems in our brain that allow us to judge another's mood and intent based on facial expression as well as the ability to mimic the physical actions we observe another performing. Having deficits in these areas, those with autism are often physically and socially clumsy.
      A study entitled "A Functional Genetic Link Between Distinct Developmental Language Disorders," published in the November 2008 New England Journal of Medicine, describes a possible genetic explanation for some of the language deficits that autistics experience. Mutations in the FOXP2 gene can affect the CNTNAP2 gene, a massive stretch of DNA representing 1.5 percent of chromosome 7, resulting in speech deficits and deafness. No causal mechanism is described for the mutation, but knowing where the genetic change occurs is a large step forward in the search for the culprit.
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• • •


Makeover' Family Saved From Foreclosure
Deaf Couple Has Blind, Autistic Son


      OAK PARK, Mich. -- Several thousand dollars have rolled in for a Michigan family who feared they were going to lose the home whose renovation was seen by millions of television viewers in 2004.
      Judy and Larry Vardon said that the money should help them avoid foreclosure on the Oak Park home that was refurbished to better accommodate their blind, autistic son, Lance.
      The deaf couple was featured on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
      The Macomb Daily and The Daily Tribune reported Sunday the couple didn't request money, but donations started coming after media outlets this month reported on their plight.
      "I'm afraid I'm going to lose my house now," Judy Vardon, using sign language through an interpreter, told The Macomb Daily. "This house really belongs to Lance. This is his environment. He can't speak out for himself, and I hope we can save this house.”
      ABC said 20.5 million viewers saw a crew led by host Ty Pennington rehabilitate the Vardons' 980-square-foot house in suburban Detroit from the inside out, including installing cameras and flat-screen monitors allowing the Vardons to monitor Lance.
      The Vardons said they were weighed down by a mortgage payment that has almost doubled since the makeover and medical insurance that hasn't covered autism treatment for Lance, who is now 16.

• • •


Utah May Mandate Health Insurance
For Autism Therapy Legislation

Sen. Howard Stephenson sponsoring bill in 2009 session.

       By Heather May for The Salt Lake Tribune.

       Leeann Whiffen made a promise that when it was over -- two years of intensive therapy to free her son from the grip of autism -- she would do what she could to help other parents afford the same sort of expensive treatment.
      The Highland mother says her son, Clay, is now recovered from the disorder that had muted her babbling toddler and traded his peek-a-boo play for obsessions with round shapes and tan foods. Not even his third-grade teacher would know he was once labeled autistic, she said.
      But she had to take out a second mortgage on her home and put every expense she could on credit cards to free up $30,000 a year for treatment. Knowing other parents aren't so lucky, Whiffen is working to force Utah health insurance companies to cover autism therapy.
      "People need to know these kids can get better," Whiffen said this week. "I can't imagine what life would have been like for him if we wouldn't have been able to do this program.”
      This fall, over breakfast at Mimi's Cafe, Whiffen and another mother of an autistic child, Brittany Recalde, easily persuaded Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, to sponsor the bill in the upcoming legislative session.
      "It's a draconian society that would knowingly watch children grow past the window of opportunity [for treatment] without [providing] assistance," said Stephenson, who has successfully sponsored an autism treatment bill in the past.
      Stephenson said "Clay's Law" is still being drafted, but would include an annual coverage cap, likely around $30,000, and a to-be-determined lifetime cap. It will also require families to contribute.
      To receive coverage, the children couldn't be older than 5, since research has shown the most dramatic benefits occur the earlier the treatment starts, Stephenson said.
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• • •


Need Support Between Support Group Meetings? Get Online Help Now!
Real Help Now Live Chat

      Talk About Curing Autism is currently testing a new web feature: Live Chat with a TACA Parent. Please link to to initiate a chat session.

• • •

Trio Pitches Plan For Autism Residential Facility
Ambitious plan would create site for adults with autism at Dubuque property

      By Andy Piper.

      A mutual acquaintance suggested a meeting of the minds.
      Breyan Strickler, an English professor at Loras College, was seeking ways to preserve one of the last strips of undeveloped land within Dubuque's city limits -- the former Lange Greenhouse property near the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Kennedy Road.
      Meanwhile, Craig and Alyson Beytien were looking into what the future holds for their 15-year-old autistic son once he turned 18 and legally became an adult.
      "We began about a year ago in conversations with Marilyn Althoff, of Hills & Dales, and the mutual recognition that there are significant gaps in services for this growing population of adults with autism," Craig Beytien said. "We've networked with other families in the area faced with a similar challenge. What do you do when these children become 18? What kind of opportunities are there for them?”
      As the Beytiens researched those questions, they discovered The Homestead, near Des Moines, and Bittersweet Farms, in Whitehouse, Ohio, residential facilities specifically designed for adults with autism that provide work on-site through farming.
      They then received a call from Strickler, who describes herself as an environmentalist and social ecologist, and the three agreed to meet at the 4 1/2-acre Lange Greenhouse property to exchange thoughts.
      "My original idea was to create a community garden," Strickler said. "It should stay a working farm. It can't be preserved with a picket around it.”
      Through a melding of the minds, the concept of Red Oak Farm emerged, based on those other residential homes for autistic adults.
      Craig Beytien said the property galvanized fledgeling support they already had received in talking to community leaders and lending institutions. The trio thought the property wouldn't go up for sale until early spring and they would have time to write grant applications and seek funding for their project, which could run in excess of $2 million, including the purchase price of the property listed at about $985,000.
      "Everyone we talk to is very excited about this, but in reality, it's going to be very hard to do," Beytien said. "We're virtually going to have to raise all of the money and relatively quickly. We've got the passion and some ability, but does the economic model support it? We are now literally putting together a business plan that we can put in front of potential investors.”

News You Can Use
      To learn more about the Red Oak Farm concept, visit or call Alyson Beytien at 563-564-5190. To learn more about residential living for autistic adults, visit
• • •

Helping Your Son/Daughter and Family Have a Happy Holidays: The Twelve Tips of Christmas

      Contributed by Dr. Cathy Pratt, Ph.D.

      Director, Indiana Resource Center for Autism While many happily anticipate the coming holiday season, families of sons/daughters on the autism spectrum also understand the special challenges that may occur when schedules are disrupted and routines broken. Our hope is that by following these few helpful tips, families may lessen the stress of the holiday season and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. The following tips were developed with input from the Autism Society of America, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism and the Indiana Autism Leadership Network.
      •  Preparation is crucial for many individuals. At the same time, it is important to determine how much preparation a specific person may need. For example, if your son or daughter has a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her. Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the date of various holiday events, or by creating a Social Story that highlights what will happen at a given event.
      •  Having decorations around the house may be disruptive for some. It may be helpful to revisit pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house. If such a book does not exist, use this holiday season to create a picture book. For some it may also be helpful to take them shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are engaged in the process. Or involve them in the process of decorating the house. And once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about those that can be touched and those that can not be touched. Be direct, specific and consistent.
      •  If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to gradually decorate the house. For example, on the first day put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day decorate the tree and so on. And again, engage them as much as possible in this process.
      •  If your child begins to obsess about a particular gift or toy they want, it may be helpful to be specific and direct about the number of times a child can mention the toy. One suggestion is to give your child 5 chips. They are allowed to exchange one chip for 5 minutes of talking about the desired gift. Also, if you have no intention of purchasing a specific toy, it serves no purpose to tell the child that maybe they will get the gift. This will only lead to problems in the future. Always choose to be direct specific about your intentions.
      •  Teach your child how to leave a situation and/or how to access support when an event becomes overwhelming. For example, rather then having a behavioral episode, the individual should be taught ahead of time that they should go to their room when feeling overwhelmed. This self-management tool will serve the individual into adulthood.
      •  If you are traveling for the holidays, make sure you have the child’s favorite foods or toys available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations. Also prepare them via social stories or other communication systems, for any unexpected delays in travel.
      •  Know your child and how much noise and activity they can tolerate. If you detect that a situation may be becoming overwhelming, help your child find a quiet area in which to regroup. And there may be some situations that you simply avoid (e.g., crowded shopping malls the day after Thanksgiving).
      •  Prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Allow the child access to these photos at all time and also go through the photo album with your child while talking briefly about each family member.
      •  In preparation for the holiday season, you might want to practice opening gifts, taking turns and waiting for others, or giving gifts to others. You might also choose to practice certain religious rituals. Work with a speech language pathologists to construct pages of vocabulary or topic boards that relate to the holidays and family traditions.
      •  It may also be helpful to prepare family members for strategies to use to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents, and to enhance participation. Help them to understand if your son/daughter prefers to be hugged or not, needs calm discussions, or provide other suggestions that will facilitate a smoother holiday season.
      •  If you child is on special diet, make sure there is food available that they can eat. And even if they are not on a special diet, be cautious of the amount of sugar consumed. And while we are talking about health, try to maintain a sleep and meal routine.
      •  Above all, know your child. Know how much noise and other sensory input they can take. Know their level of anxiety and the amount of preparation it may take. Know their fears and those things that will make the season more enjoyable for them.
      Our hope above all is that you will have a wonderful holiday season!

• • •


Dr. Harry Schneider to Premiere on Autism One Radio on December 17!

      Wednesday, December 17
2:00 pm ET / 11:00 am PT
      Many of you may know of Dr. Harry Schneider from either the Autism One 2008 Conference (The Discovery of Language-Specific Areas in the Brain of Nonverbal Children with Autism and Practical Application to Treatment: An Emerging Theory) or from his interview with Polly Tommey in The Autism File magazine's USA/Canada September debut issue.  Dr. Schneider will premiere his program, Towards Restoring Language, next week on Autism One Radio on the topic of Comorbidities.  And "stay tuned" for his article in the January issue of The Autism File entitled New Frontiers in Language Restoration, which will report on encouraging progress.

      And on the VoiceAmerica Health and Wellness Channel....
      Tuesday, December 16 12:00 noon ET /
9:00 am PT
      Autism One: A Conversation of Hope
      The Relationship of the Gastrointestinal Tract to Autism as a Whole-Body Condition
      Teri's guest, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, MB BS FRCS FRCPath, is an academic gastroenterologist who has published over one hundred thirty original scientific articles, book chapters, and invited scientific commentaries.  Dr. Wakefield serves as the Executive Director of Thoughtful House Center for Children in Austin, Texas.  Thoughtful House aims to provide a research-oriented, integrated biomedical and educational approach. Teri and Dr. Wakefield will discuss a broad range of topics including immunologic, metabolic, and pathologic changes occurring in inflammatory bowel diseases such as autistic enterocolitis, links between intestinal disease and neurologic injury in children, and the possible relationship of these conditions to environmental causes, such as childhood vaccines.  Teri will also ask about how to remediate existing damage and prevent damage in the future.  Please visit:

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