March 20, 2009
Vol. 13 No. 29
Robot Brings Hope To Kids With Learning Difficulties
Heightened Level Of Amygdala Activity May Cause Social Deficits In
Vaccine Bullies & Fighting Back
March, 24 is Autism Epidemic Day in New York State
Lawyers: Autistic Teen Not Guilty In Ohio Murder
Insurance Coverage For Autism Clears NM Legislature
Take advantage of Federal Education Stimulus Spending for Students Who
Need AAC And Learning Supports
President Obama's 'Special Olympics' Joke Lands Him In Hot Water
Soft-Spoken Firebrand on Autism One Radio
Sidney MacDonald Baker, MD is Shedding Light on Autism in Northern
California this May
Well, Well, Well: Vaccines and Autism
Robot Brings Hope To Kids
With Learning Difficulties
Crofton, Maryland (AFP) — A robot named
Cosmo has become six-year-old Kevin Fitzgerald's unlikely ally in his
uphill everyday battle with developmental difficulties.
At a strip mall clinic in suburban
Maryland, Kevin is at the unlikely intersection of new efforts to treat
symptoms of autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders
with robotics and computer work.
Here, he scrambles onto a swivel chair
to examine a half-meter- (1.6-feet-) tall robot on the table in front
Prodding four brightly-colored buttons
near the robot's feet, he directs a cartoon version of the machine
around a computer monitor, furtively glancing up at the real thing for
At just 18-months-old, Kevin showed the
first signs of learning difficulties, which were later diagnosed as
"It is like having a stroke," his mother
Patty Fitzgerald explained. "His brain is intact, but his body doesn't
do what he wants it to do."
Some specific skills -- like pronouncing
consonants, matching cause and effect or grasping relative concepts
like better and faster -- can be depressingly difficult for him to
But for the last year, a small
blue-and-yellow android called Cosmo has offered some hope.
Programmed to respond to body movements,
voice activation, or a four-button-panel dubbed "mission control,"
Cosmo is designed to teach basic behavioral and physical skills.
It can gesticulate, reproduce phrases
and move around when prompted.
It also cheers and gives clues to help
children complete specific tasks.
As a piece of engineering, Cosmo is
It has just nine moving joints -- a
number that might underwhelm robotics buffs.
But Cosmo's potential to help children
has caught the attention of Minnesota's globally-acclaimed Mayo Clinic.
There investigators are conducting a
second phase medical trial to see if the robot can help kids with
cerebral palsy develop movements -- such as twisting the wrist -- more
quickly than traditional methods.
"It is going extremely well," said
Krista Coleman-Wood, a physical therapist at Mayo's biomechemical and
motion analysis laboratory.
Wearing a glove fitted with sensors,
children are asked to make movements that copy and are copied by Cosmo,
building up muscle tissue and improving motor planning.
According to Coleman-Wood, it is too
early to say if children make more progress with the robot than through
traditional physical therapy, but fun levels are clearly in the robot's
"Imagine lifting and moving your wrist
repeatedly, it gets boring very quickly... (with Cosmo) there is
cognitive engagement the children are engaged," Coleman-Wood said.
Cosmo's designers hope a successful
trial will mark a huge leap forward for robot-aided therapy.
The robot's inventor, Corinna Lathan,
believes it can vastly improve on traditional and computer-based
learning, serving simultaneously as a toy, a friend and a teacher.
"Manipulating a mouse or a keyboard is
not the same as directly manipulating your environment," said Lathan, a
graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also plans
experiments for NASA through her research and development firm
"There is a lot of research that
indicates if you want to learn social skills or spatial skills, that
interacting in a three dimensional space, not just on flat screen or
computer (is helpful)."
"With the robot you can actually move
from cause and effect... to other developmental skills (and relative
concepts), you can move it round something, you can move it faster."
According to Lathan, Cosmo can also help
improve behavioral problems, such as lack of focus, which frequently
accompany learning disabilities.
"The idea is that rather than hiding in
front of a computer you are actually starting to interact with a peer
and the hope is that that starts to transfer to other peers, human
peers -- adults, care givers, parents," she said.
Five years after Kevin started therapy,
Patty Fitzgerald says the last 12 months with Cosmo have proven
"When we first started there would be
times when I could not get him out of the car if he knew it would be
something challenging. Now if I mention that Cosmo is going to be here,
or the computer, he comes running down the hallway."
According to Fitzgerald, Kevin's
progress could allow him to continue to attend conventional schools,
even if some adaptations are necessary.
"We were expecting improvement in
behavior, being able to follow the rules, being able to share and take
turns, but he has picked up some reading skills and some counting
skills and he can write his name.
"Family life is much better, we can go
to a restaurant because we can discus the fact that you don't just
throw your silverware on the floor, you do use a spoon instead of your
hands," she added.
And her long-term goals are now a bit
bolder. "We would love to see him as an adult man, working a job,
having a family, that kind of thing, so, as much as he can possibly
learn: that is our goal."
• • •
Heightened Level Of Amygdala Activity
May Cause Social Deficits In
Something strange is going on in the
amygdala – an almond-shaped structure deep in the human brain – among
people with autism.
Researchers at the University of
Washington have discovered an increased pattern of brain activity in
the amygdalas of adults with autism that may be linked to the social
deficits that typically are associated with the disorder. Previous
research at the UW and elsewhere has shown that abnormal growth
patterns in the amygdala are commonly found among young children
diagnosed with autism.
The amygdala is popularly associated
with the "fight-or-flight response" in dangerous situations. But it has
other functions, including identifying faces and situations and
evaluating social information such as emotions.
The new research shows that brain
activation in adults with autism remains elevated long after similar
brain regions of typically developed adults have stopped being
activated when exposed to a series of pictures of human faces. A
decrease in activation over time to the same type of information is
called neural habituation and is connected with learning, according to
Natalia Kleinhans, lead author of the new study and a UW research
assistant professor of radiology.
"What we are seeing is hyperexcitability
or overarousal of the amygdala, which suggests that neurons in the
amygdala are firing more than expected," said Kleinhans, who is
associated with the UW Autism Center.
"If you consider that habituation
reflects learning in as simple a task as looking at a face, slowness to
habituate in people with autism may contribute even more markedly to
difficulty with more complex social interactions and social cognition.
If the brain is not reacting typically to a static face with a neutral
expression, you can imagine how difficult it may be for someone with
autism to pick up more subtle social cues."
The National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health
funded the research, which appears in the online edition of The
American Journal of Psychiatry.
The UW researchers used functional
magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activation in 19
individuals with autism and in a comparison group of 20 healthy adults.
The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 44 and the two groups were
matched for IQs in the low-normal range. Both groups had their brains
scanned while they looked at series of faces with neutral expressions.
Each face appeared on a screen for three seconds and occasionally a
face would be repeated two consecutive times. When that happened
subjects were instructed to push a button.
The scientists were interested in what
happened in two brain regions, the amygdala and the fusiform gyrus,
when the subjects viewed the faces. It turned out that the fusiform
gyrus, which helps determine what kind of object a person is looking at
– a face or a house, for example – showed no habituation in either
group. But the differences were striking when it came to the amygdala.
"The differences we found were in the
amygdala and specific to the amygdala," said Kleinhans. "They
originated there and did not go across the brain."
She said one theory about autism is that
when this hyperarousal occurs an individual misses important
information. Those individuals with autism who had the most social
impairment exhibited the highest levels of amygdala arousal.
"This is another piece of evidence that
there is something wrong with the amygdala in autism that contributes
to social impairment. These results help refine our understanding of
functional abnormalities in autism and are a new way of thinking about
social dysfunction in autism," said Kleinhans.
• • •
Vaccine Bullies & Fighting Back
By Barbara Loe Fisher.
During the past decade, families in the
United Kingdom, Canada and America have witnessed the demonization of
brave doctors and parents of vaccine injured children. It has been both
sickening and frightening to watch physicians and some journalists
engage in a relentless persecution of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, tinyurl.com/b3g4nh who
first published research in 1998 examining the potential association
between MMR vaccine and autism. It has become obvious that their goal
is to turn him into a horrible warning to any physician who dares to
investigate vaccine injury, especially regressive autism. Not satisfied
with trying to destroy the doctor, who refuses to recant and defends
pursuit of scientific truth, forced vaccination proponents are now
acting to kill not only freedom of thought and scientific inquiry but
also freedom of speech and informed consent to voluntary use of
Exactly what was the sin that British
gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, M.D. committed in 1998 is.gd/ofyF that made him a target
for persecution? He dared to hypothesize that a subset of children may
be vulnerable, for immunological reasons, to developing vaccine strain
measles virus infection triggered by MMR vaccination that causes acute
and chronic inflammation in the body and can lead to persistent health
problems, including a form of inflammatory bowel disease and brain
dysfunction manifested by autism. It is hardly a radical hypothesis.
Since smallpox vaccine, evidence that vaccines can cause acute and
chronic immune-mediated inflammation in the brain and other parts of
the body has been well documented in the medical literature (A
literature review of evidence is featured in the 2008 book "Vaccines,
Autism & Chronic Inflammation: The New Epidemic is.gd/ofyK .")
What has so infuriated the vaccine
establishment is that the live vaccine strain viral infection mechanism
not only has strong biological plausibility but has been acknowledged
by physicians and scientists is.gd/ofyY
for decades, particularly with regard to live vaccine strain paralytic
polio and death from persistent vaccine strain measles infection. In
fact, vaccine strain viral infection has been associated with not only
live virus polio and measles vaccine, but also with live BCG, chicken
pox and, now, rotavirus vaccine. A late-breaking report at the annual
meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology is.gd/ofzf discusses the
development of live vaccine strain rotavirus infection following
rotavirus vaccination in children with immune deficiencies. The
human-bovine genetic hybrid vaccine, Rotateq, for which Paul Offit,
M.D.is a co-patent holder, caused diarrhea, acidosis, failure to
thrive, dehydration and shock in two babies with undiagnosed immune
system dysfunction within two months of vaccination. Molecular analysis
of rotavirus isolates taken from the babies indicated that the
rotavirus vaccine strains mutated.
+ Read more: www.vaccineawakening.blogspot.com/
• • •
March, 24 is Autism Epidemic Day
in New York State
From the AgeofAutism.com
11:00 AM The State Capitol Albany, New
New York Autism Community: Have You Had
Enough? We have a few questions for our fellow New Yorkers who love
someone with autism: Have you had enough of a State Education
Department that repeats the big lie that there is no “real” increase in
autism even though their own data shows an explosive increase over the
past 15 years? Have you had enough of being told by politicians
that your child’s special education needs are driving up property
taxes? Have you had enough of those politicians making claims
like that without even talking to you? Have you had enough when they
put those claims in a report to the Governor calling for the
dismantling of autism special education regulations? Have you had
enough when our Governor, himself a man who has overcome a disability,
declares that the report on “Property Tax Relief” should become law?!
+ Read more: is.gd/oeEt
• • •
Lawyers: Autistic Teen Not Guilty In
By Thomas J. Sheeran for AP. www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29779070/
Ravenna, Ohio - Lawyers for an
autistic teenager charged with the fatal beating of his mother entered
a not guilty plea on his behalf Friday.
Sky Walker, 18, who was disruptive at
his first court hearing and was kept in a restraint chair and mask to
keep him from spitting, did not appear in Portage County Common Pleas
Court for the brief arraignment.
His team of three defense attorneys and
a lawyer who serves as his guardian entered the plea in the death of
60-year-old Gertrude "Trudy" Steuernagel. The longtime Kent State
University political science professor was found beaten in her home in
January and died a week later.
Officers sent to her home by
co-workers concerned that she hadn't come to work found Walker cowering
in the basement. He allegedly kicked a deputy in the head, and a not
guilty plea also was entered on that assault charge.
Family members led by the victim's
brother, Bill Steuernagel, sat together in court but didn't comment.
Steuernagel said before the hearing began that the family was
withholding comment until the case is resolved, at the request of
His attorneys say Walker can't hold a
conversation and thus can't understand the charges or help in his
defense. Judge John Enlow, who is handling the case, has ordered exams
for competency and mental retardation.
The issue of Walker's competency to
stand trial will be handled at a court hearing to be scheduled later.
Autism is a developmental disability
that limits social interaction and communication skills, usually
starting before age 3. Walker, for example, has trouble putting words
together to express himself. A family friend said he uses words only in
a way that his mother could easily interpret, such as saying "wheels on
the bus" to indicate he was getting upset.
Gian M. DeCaris, speaking for the
defense team, said he couldn't comment in detail on the pending
• • •
Baxter's Recovery 8 Minute Video
This short is about Baxter’s recovery
from autism, and the journey both he and his family undertook to get
him where he is now.
• • •
Insurance Coverage For Autism
Clears NM Legislature
Santa Fe, N.M. (AP) - Some New Mexico
families with autistic children will be able get insurance coverage for
autism if the governor signs a bill the Legislature approved today.
The measure requires private insurance
policies to provide coverage for treating and diagnosing autism.
It excludes public employees and
companies with self-insured policies, such as some large corporations.
Democratic Representative Joni Marie
Gutierrez of Mesilla estimates the coverage will cost about $15 a
month. About 20% of New Mexicans have private insurance policies.
Opponents object that not all insurance
will be required to cover autism, but Gutierrez says this is a start.
The House approved the Senate-passed
bill on a 51-15 vote. Governor Richardson will have until early April
to decide whether to sign it.
• • •
Take advantage of Federal Education
Stimulus Spending for Students Who
Need AAC And Learning Supports
On February 17th, 2009, the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed and signed into law.
This includes an additional $11.2 billion for The Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B. IDEA Part B funds are used
for special education. These additional funds are intended to support
school districts during these difficult economic times to ensure they
do not reduce special education funding.
Your school district will receive a
portion of this money. Go to the Committee on Education & Labor is.gd/hk8P to view the amount of
money your district will be receiving.
The first half of these funds will be
available immediately. The second half will be distributed in July
2010. They must be used within a specified time frame.
If you think your child speech and
language difficulties and may benefit from an augmentative and
alternative communication (AAC) device, this may be the time to pursue
it with your school.
• • •
President Obama's 'Special Olympics'
Joke Lands Him In Hot Water
By Jocelyn Vena. is.gd/ogUC
President Barack Obama's appearance on
"The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" Thursday night was memorable for a
number of reasons: Their conversation ranged from the controversial AIG
bonuses to "American Idol," and the president joked around quite a bit.
However, one of those jokes has gotten the president into hot water.
When asked about the bowling alley in
the White House, Obama joked to Leno that his average score of 129 "was
like the Special Olympics or something." Although, neither Leno or
Obama seemed bothered by the comment during the show, the White House
issued a statement apologizing for it before the show aired.
"[Obama] thinks that the Special
Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to
people with disabilities from around the world," Deputy Press Secretary
Bill Burton told reporters, adding that Obama only meant the comment to
be a be a funny quip about his poor bowling skills, according to The
+ Read more: is.gd/ogUC
• • •
Soft-Spoken Firebrand on Autism One
I have described Reverend Lisa Sykes,
author of Sacred Spark, as "soft-spoken but a firebrand for social
Listen to her on Radio Linderman Live!
Friday, March 27th.
11:00 - noon EST; 10:00-11:00 CST
How to Tune In: Go to www.autismone.org/radio
at around 11 am EST.
There will be a small screen
there. Attached to the screen will be a play button.
Just hit the play button with their
The schedule to the side of the page
will show Linderman Live! and the start time.
• • •
Sidney MacDonald Baker, MD is Shedding
Light on Autism in Northern
California this May
Parents, caregivers and clinicians, are
invited May 17-18 to spend a weekend at the Esalen Institute in Big
Sur, California with Defeat Autism Now! co-founder Dr. Sidney MacDonald
Treating the Unique Child: Private
Options, Public Policy and the Autism Spectrum will be an intelligent
conversation leading to the ultimate question faced by parents,
teachers, physicians, therapists: "Have we done everything we can for
This is a question Dr. Baker learned to
ask in Nepal in 1959 when he apprenticed with Dr. Edgar Miller during a
year off from his Yale undergraduate education. This question should
concern those entrusted with public policy, where the one-size-fits-all
approach is in direct conflict with the fundamental law of Nature: that
each living organism is unique. Individuality has practical clinical
implications, and demands a tailored approach for the individual, not a
+ Read more: tinyurl.com/dysmy5
• • •
Well, Well, Well: Vaccines and Autism
By Connie Howard at vueweekly.com
If we’re to believe CNN’s Campbell Brown
brought us the whole story with her February 12 coverage of the
immunization controversy, the only cause for concern is the one posed
by parents opting out of vaccine programs. And if we’re to believe
Newsweek’s Sharon Begley (“Anatomy of a Scare,” February 21, 2009), the
entire controversy was built on a house of cards that has now been
demolished. The Huffington Post and Robert F Kennedy
Jr, however, add key information omitted from the other stories. The US
“vaccine court” on February 20, 2009 awarded the parents of 10-year-old
Bailey Banks a lump sum of over $810 000 plus an estimated $30 000 to
$40 000 annually, based on an unequivocal ruling made in June of 2007
that his brain damage was a direct result of his MMR
vaccine. His was not an isolated ruling. A CBS
investigation has found that the vaccine court has awarded close to $2
billion in compensation to over 1300 families claiming vaccine damages
since 1988. “In many of these cases,” writes Kennedy, “the government
paid out awards following a judicial finding that vaccine injury lead
to the child’s autism spectrum disorder."
But in many of the successful cases,
though medical records show the children display classic symptoms of
regressive autism, the word “autism” was avoided. The court is, in
Kennedy’s words, “quite willing to award millions of dollars in
taxpayer funded compensation to vaccine-injured autistic children, so
long as they don’t have to call the injury by the loaded term ‘autism.’"
In Bailey’s case, evidence provided by a
neurological exam 16 days after his MMR shot had shown Acute
Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), which led to Pervasive
Developmental Delay. The court ruled Bailey’s ADEM “severe enough to
cause lasting, residual damage,” and that he “would not have suffered
this delay but for the administration of the MMR vaccine."
Care taken to avoid a link between
vaccines and autism is understandable: a causal link would do
irreparable damage to vaccine programs. Care taken is therefore
extensive; jury trials aren’t allowed, vaccine defenders have unlimited
resources for expert witnesses and litigation costs while plaintiffs
cover legal costs on their own. And, Kennedy informs us, plaintiffs
have no right to discovery against the pharmaceutical industry or the
government—US government epidemiological data of vaccinated children
has been kept out of the hands of plaintiffs and independent scientists.
The Centers for Disease Control has also
actively suppressed and defunded epidemiological studies that might
establish a causal link, and refused to fund research comparing
vaccinated groups with unvaccinated-by-choice groups of children not in
the public school system.
Vaccines have in some instances been a
great gift and saved lives. But they have also become big business, and
business needs growth. Opposition to mass vaccination programs is,
contrary to common belief, gaining momentum with good reason. The
Journal of Child Neurology has published an analysis of previously
published research that had initially concluded no connection between
vaccines and autism—and now concluded it had wrongly drawn those
conclusions, that there is in fact a significant link between blood
levels of mercury and diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder.
The award to Bailey’s family followed a
judgment by the same court that had thrown out three claims involving
MMR and autism, a victory hailed by vaccine proponents as proof that
doubts about vaccine safety had been demolished. But in light of this
new information, that’s clearly not the case.
Dr Bernadine Healy, former director of
the National Institutes of Health, has called for more research into
sub-groups potentially at increased risk of vaccine reactions. In a CBS
interview late last year, she said she believed “governments have been
too quick to dismiss the concerns,” and that she “takes issue” with the
decision of the Institute of Medicine not to look for susceptibility
groups. She, along with thousands of others, rightly opposes the
stalling of science out of fear what the research might yield.
Note: The opinions expressed in
COMMENTARY are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the
views of the Schafer Autism Report.
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