Schafer Autism Report

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Friday, March 20, 2009                                                    Vol. 13 No. 29

The Autism Calendar is the most complete compilation of Autism Events for April,
and for the rest of the year, too.
Be sure to add your event - small meeting, fundraiser or large conference here - no charge.

Deadline for April calendar is March 25.






TREATMENT
Robot Brings Hope To Kids With Learning Difficulties

RESEARCH
Heightened Level Of Amygdala Activity May Cause Social Deficits In Autism

ADVOCACY
Vaccine Bullies & Fighting Back
March, 24 is Autism Epidemic Day in New York State

PEOPLE
Lawyers: Autistic Teen Not Guilty In Ohio Murder

FINANCES
Insurance Coverage For Autism Clears NM Legislature

EDUCATION
Take advantage of Federal Education Stimulus Spending for Students Who Need AAC And Learning Supports

MEDIA
President Obama's 'Special Olympics' Joke Lands Him In Hot Water
Soft-Spoken Firebrand on Autism One Radio

EVENTS
Sidney MacDonald Baker, MD is Shedding Light on Autism in Northern California this May

COMMENTARY
Well, Well, Well: Vaccines and Autism


TREATMENT

Robot Brings Hope To Kids
With Learning Difficulties


is.gd/oh5n

      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 of him.
      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 encouragement.
      At just 18-months-old, Kevin showed the first signs of learning difficulties, which were later diagnosed as developmental dyspraxia.
      "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 master.
      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 unspectacular.
      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 favor.
      "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 AnthroTronix.
      "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 revolutionary.
      "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."




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• • •

RESEARCH

Heightened Level Of Amygdala Activity
May Cause Social Deficits In Autism


is.gd/ogXc

      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.

• • •

ADVOCACY

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 vaccines.
      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 York

      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

• • •

PEOPLE

Lawyers: Autistic Teen Not Guilty In Ohio Murder

      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 attorneys.
      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 competency issue.

• • •

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.

www.wakingupbaxter.com/watch_now.htm

• • •

FINANCES

Insurance Coverage For Autism
Clears NM Legislature


is.gd/oh2U

      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.

• • •

EDUCATION

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.

• • •

MEDIA

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 Associated Press.
+ Read more: is.gd/ogUC

• • •

Soft-Spoken Firebrand on Autism One Radio

      I have described Reverend Lisa Sykes, author of Sacred Spark, as "soft-spoken but a firebrand for social reform". –Lenny

      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 mouse.
      The schedule to the side of the page will show Linderman Live! and the start time.

• • •

EVENTS

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 Baker.
      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 child?"
      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 standard protocol.
+ Read more: tinyurl.com/dysmy5

• • •

COMMENTARY

Well, Well, Well: Vaccines and Autism

      By Connie Howard at vueweekly.com
www.vueweekly.com/article.php?id=11292

      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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