Schafer Autism Report

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012                                       Vol. 16 No. 9







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RESEARCH
Families of Autistic Children Make $18,000 or 28% Less than Average

Autism Risk Gene Linked To Differences In Brain Structure

Novel Mouse Model for Autism Yields Clues to a 50-Year-Old Mystery

Study Investigates Why Those With Autism May Reject Social Touch

Bone Marrow Transplant Reverses Rett Syndrome in Mice

Unprecedented Academic-Industry Collaboration Seeks New Drugs And Novel Treatments For Autism

A Novel Blood-Based Biomarker For Detection Of Autism Spectrum Disorders

RESOURCES
Police Roll Out ID Bracelets For Those With Autism, Alzheimer's

TREATMENT
Got [Camel] Milk?

EDUCATION
Family, Grateful for Daughter's Special Needs Services, Gives Back to School

Teacher’s Aide Charged For Assault On Autistic Student; Busted By Camera

PEOPLE
Dad Killed, 7 Kids, Three Autistic



RESEARCH

Families of Autistic Children Make $18,000 or 28% Less than Average



      By Christine Hsu medicaldaily.com/news

      An autistic child learns to speak next to his teacher during a therapy session at a school for autistic children. (Vincent Du/Reuters)
      Families of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) earn 28 percent less than families whose children have no health problems and 21 percent less than parents of those with other health conditions, according to a new study.
      The findings revealed that the average $18,000 income gap between families with autistic children and those without is mostly because mothers with autistic children do not have jobs or take lower paying jobs and work fewer hours.
      An autistic child learns to speak next to his teacher
       Researchers based their findings off of national household surveys done yearly between 2002 and 2008 that included 261 children with autism and more than 64,000 without health problems.
      Researchers adjusted for factors like parents' age, race, education and health, and found that there were no differences between fathers, there were considerable differences in income between mothers.
      The study found that women with autistic children were six percent less likely to work, worked less than seven hours and made 56 percent or $14,755 less than mothers of kids with no health issues and 35 percent less than mothers of children with other health limitations, according to Dr. Zuleyha Cidav of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
      However, researchers found no significant differences in the fathers’ employment, work hours or earnings between dads with children affected with ASD or those with no health conditions.
      Cidav said that these findings are not surprising because mothers are generally the primary caregiver and decision maker, therefore they have to “devote considerable personal resources to obtaining health care services for their children,” and sacrifice on things like personal career and income, according to a statement.
      The study authors also pointed out that the mothers of children with ASD studied actually had more potential for higher earnings because they were significantly more educated and older than mothers of children who are healthy or have other health conditions.
      Researchers noted that previous studies focused on assessing the financial impact of childhood autism by examining direct costs to the healthcare system, but have largely ignored that indirect financial impact on families can actually be quite significant.
      Parents of ASD children either have to choose reduced opportunities to work for time on needed care, and have limited ability for the high cost of specialized child care, or increase the amount of time they spend working to pay for needed care and risk their home life to suffer.
      Autism spectrum disorders, ranging from mild Asperger's syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability, affect roughly one in 110 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
+Read more.
   
• • •

Autism Risk Gene Linked To Differences In Brain Structure

     
      By Mary Ann Liebert, Inc./Genetic Engineering News


IMAGE: Brain Connectivity is published bimonthly in print and online. For more information visit.






      New Rochelle, NY, Healthy individuals who carry a gene variation linked to an increased risk of autism have structural differences in their brains that may help explain how the gene affects brain function and increases vulnerability for autism. The results of this innovative brain imaging study are described in an article in the groundbreaking neuroscience journal Brain Connectivity, a bimonthly peer-reviewed publication from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. The article is available free online at the Brain Connectivity website.
      "This is one of the first papers demonstrating a linkage between a particular gene variant and changes in brain structure and connectivity in carriers of that gene," says Christopher Pawela, PhD, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Assistant Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin. "This work could lead to the creation of an exciting new line of research investigating the impact of genetics on communication between brain regions."
      Although carriers of the common gene variant CNTNAP2—identified as an autism risk gene—may not develop autism, there is evidence of differences in brain structure that may affect connections and signaling between brain regions. These disruptions in brain connectivity can give rise to functional abnormalities characteristic of neuropsychological disorders such as autism.
       Emily Dennis and coauthors from UCLA School of Medicine and UCLA (Los Angeles, CA) and University of Queensland and Queensland Institute of Medical Research (Brisbane, Australia), used a sophisticated imaging technique to study the brains of healthy young adults who are carriers of CNTNAP2. They report their findings in "Altered Structural Brain Connectivity in Healthy Carriers of the Autism Risk Gene, CNTNAP2." (Link)





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• • •

Novel Mouse Model for Autism Yields Clues to a 50-Year-Old Mystery


    Illustration. Early disruptions in serotonin signaling in the brain may contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and other "enduring effects on behavior," Vanderbilt University researchers report. (Credit: © nobeastsofierce / Fotolia)

      ScienceDaily — Early disruptions in serotonin signaling in the brain may contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and other "enduring effects on behavior," Vanderbilt University researchers report.
      Serotonin is a brain chemical that carries signals across the synapse, or gap between nerve cells. The supply of serotonin is regulated by the serotonin transporter (SERT). In 2005, a team of Vanderbilt researchers led by Randy Blakely and James Sutcliffe identified rare genetic variations in children with ASD that disrupt SERT function.
      In a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers report the creation of a mouse model that expressed the most common of these variations.
      The change is a very small one in biochemical terms, yet it appears to cause SERT in the brain to go into overdrive and restrict the availability of serotonin at synapses.
      "The SERT protein in the brain of our mice appears to exhibit the exaggerated function and lack of regulation we saw using cell models," said Blakely, director of the Vanderbilt Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research.
      "Remarkably, these mice show changes in social behavior and communication from early life that may parallel aspects of ASD," noted first author Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, assistant professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and pharmacology.
      The researchers conclude that a lack of serotonin during development may lead to long-standing changes in the way the brain is wired.
      In 1961, investigators at Yale discovered that as many as 30 percent of children with autism have elevated blood levels of serotonin, a finding described as "hyperserotonemia."
      Since then, these findings have been replicated many times. Indeed, hyperserotonemia is the most consistently reported biochemical finding in autism, and is a highly inherited trait. Yet, the cause or significance of this bio-marker has remained shrouded in mystery.
      Until now. In the current study, Veenstra-VanderWeele, Blakely and their colleagues showed that they could produce hyperserotonemia in mice that express a variant of a human SERT gene associated with autism.
      Because the genetic change makes the transporter more active, higher levels of serotonin accumulate in platelets and therefore in the bloodstream. In the brain, overactive transporters should have the opposite effect -- lowering serotonin levels at the synapse and producing behavioral changes relevant to autism. That's exactly what the researchers observed.
Read more.      

• • •

Study Investigates Why Those With Autism May Reject Social Touch

       By Maia Szalavitz, healthland.time.com

      One of the hardest challenges for families facing autism is the problem of touch. Often, autistic children resist hugging and other types of physical contact, causing distress all around.
      Now, a new study offers insight into why some people shrug off physical touches and how families affected by autism may learn to share hugs without overwhelming an autistic child’s senses.
      Yale neuroscientists recruited 19 young adults and imaged their brain activity as a researcher lightly brushed them on the forearm with a soft watercolor paintbrush. In some cases, the brushing was quick, and in others slow: prior studies have shown that most people like slow brushing and perceive it as affectionate contact, while the faster version is felt as less pleasant and more tickle-like.
      None of the participants in the current study had autism, but the researchers evaluated them for autistic traits — things like a preference for sameness, order and systems, rather than social interaction. They found that participants with the highest levels of autistic traits had a lower response in key social brain regions — the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) — to the slow brushing.
      According to Martha Kaiser, senior author of the study and associate director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory at the Yale Child Study Center, the STS is a critical hub of the social brain. “This region is important for perceiving the people around us, for visual social stimuli and for perceiving social versus nonsocial sounds,” she says.
      The current findings suggest that the region is also involved in processing social touch and that its response is linked to the individual’s social ability, she says.
      The OFC, in contrast, helps the brain evaluate experiences — whether something is likely to be good or bad and if it involves pleasure or pain. “The brains of people high in autistic traits aren’t coding touch as socially relevant, that’s one interpretation,” says Kaiser of her findings. “The OFC is very important for coding reward so maybe they’re feeling the touch but in these individuals, their brains don’t code that type of touch as being as rewarding as in individuals with fewer autistic traits."
      If that’s the case, finding ways to make social experience — including touch — more rewarding might be one way to help autistic people connect better with others.
Indeed, Temple Grandin, the well-known author and animal scientist with autism, and the subject of a 2010 HBO biopic, famously built herself a “hug machine” to self-apply deep pressure to her body. She craved the feeling of being securely held, but also needed to be able to control the sensation herself, often finding touch from others too intense.
      A better understanding how social touch is processed differently by autistic and nonautistic people may lead to the development of strategies for family members and loved ones to touch people with autism in a way that soothes and fosters feelings of connection, rather than overwhelms.
      Kaiser and her colleagues are already studying people with autistic spectrum disorders to explore these questions, particularly in children. Making social touch more rewarding early in development might further help autistic children learn social skills, since learning is heavily dependent on pleasure. And because later development relies on early experience, such a strategy could improve their overall development. “I think there are a lot of potential treatment applications for this work,” Kaiser says.

      The study was published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.



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• • •

Bone Marrow Transplant Reverses Rett Syndrome in Mice


       By Amir Khan ibtimes.com

A bone marrow transplant reversed Rett syndrome in mice, according to a new study. Rett syndrome is a neurological condition that causes autism-like behavior such as seizures, slow growth, a lack of movement and coordination and a lack of speech.


      Researchers from the University of Virginia set out to test a hypothesis that a faulty immune system plays a role in Rett Syndrome. Researchers used radiation to remove the immune system from mice engineered with the equivalent of Rett syndrome and then administered a bone marrow transplant from a healthy mouse.
      Bone marrow contains stem cells that give rise to immune system cells, and the mice given the transplant essentially had a brand-new, healthy immune system, researchers wrote. The untreated mice got sick and died within weeks, but the oldest of the mice given the bone marrow transplant is over a year old.
      "This seems to stop the disease in its tracks," Noel Derecki, co-author of the study and a graduate student at the University of Virginia, told ScienceNow.
      Bone marrow transplants had no effect in mice whose immune systems were not irradiated first.
      Researchers aren't entirely sure why the bone marrow transplant worked, but they think it has to do with a kind of cell called microglia, which act as janitors of the brain and clean out dead cells and other debris. The mutation responsible for Rett syndrome might also leave microglia unable to do their job, the authors wrote.
      Though a bone marrow transplant worked in mice, researchers urged caution and said the technique may not work in humans.
      "This is very, very preliminary," Jonathan Kipnis, co-author of the study and associate professor of cellular and molecular neuroimmunology at the University of Virginia, told Nature. "It works fantastically in mice, but we can cure almost anything in mice."
      The researchers also warned that clinical trials would be difficult because bone marrow transplants carry a high risk of serious and fatal side effects.
      Nature published the study online on Sunday.
      Rett syndrome affects one in 10,000 girls throughout the world and is caused by mutations on the X chromosome. The mutations are fatal to boys, who only have one X chromosome and typically die within a few weeks of being born. Girls have two X chromosomes so they have a backup of the affected gene, though they still suffer the effects of Rett syndrome.
      
• • •

Unprecedented Academic-Industry Collaboration Seeks New Drugs And Novel Treatments For Autism

      physorg.com

      An international consortium of scientists, led by Roche, King's College London, and Autism Speaks, is collaborating on one of the largest ever academic-industry research projects to find new methods for the development of drugs for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
      European Autism Interventions – A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS) is the largest single grant for autism research in the world and the largest for the study of any mental health disorder in Europe.
      The project, which will take place over the next five years, brings together top scientists from universities around the world, experts from Autism Speaks – the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization – as well as major global drug companies from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) including Roche, Eli Lilly, Servier, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and Vifor Pharma.
      Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affects an estimated 1% of children worldwide and more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, juvenile diabetes and pediatric cancer combined. With a wealth of knowledge and research findings related to ASD emerging every year, it has been hard to take these findings from the bench to the clinic.
      Robert Ring, Vice President of Translational Research for Autism Speaks said: "The lack of effective pharmacological treatments for ASD has a profound effect on patients' lives. We are excited that with this unique collaboration we may see a real shift in future treatment for this devastating disorder."
      EU-AIMS will focus on three areas: the development and validation of translational research approaches for the advancement of novel therapies for ASD; the identification, alignment, and development of expert clinical sites across Europe to run clinical trials; and the creation of an interactive platform for ASD professionals and patients.
      By the end of the project, EU-AIMS expects to provide novel validated cellular assays, animal models, new fMRI methods with dedicated analysis techniques, new PET radioligands, as well as new genetic and proteomic biomarkers for patient-segmentation or individual response prediction. It aims to establish a research network that can then move on to testing the investigational treatments in humans.
+ Read more.

• • •

A Novel Blood-Based Biomarker For Detection Of Autism Spectrum Disorders

N Momeni1, J Bergquist2, L Brudin3, F Behnia4, B Sivberg5, M T Joghataei6 and B L Persson1

      nature.com

      Correspondence: Professor BL Persson, School of Natural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Norra vagen 49, Kalmar SE-39182, Sweden. E-mail: bengt.persson@lnu.se Received 3 February 2012; Accepted 4 February 2012

Abstract
      Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are classified as neurological developmental disorders. Several studies have been carried out to find a candidate biomarker linked to the development of these disorders, but up to date no reliable biomarker is available.
      Mass spectrometry techniques have been used for protein profiling of blood plasma of children with such disorders in order to identify proteins/peptides that may be used as biomarkers for detection of the disorders. Three differentially expressed peptides with mass–charge (m/z) values of 2020±1, 1864±1 and 1978±1 Da in the heparin plasma of children with ASD that were significantly changed as compared with the peptide pattern of the non-ASD control group are reported here. This novel set of biomarkers allows for a reliable blood-based diagnostic tool that may be used in diagnosis and potentially, in prognosis of ASD.

• • •

RESOURCES

Police Roll Out ID Bracelets For Those With Autism, Alzheimer's

Suffolk County, NY Police Department offers program to help seniors with special needs

       halfhollowhills.patch.com

       Half Hollow Hills families are encouraged to register senior citizens and individuals with special needs in the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD)’s Special Needs/Silver Alert Program.
      Designed for people with dementia (including Alzheimer’s), developmental disabilities (autism, mentally challenged), severe mental illness and other cognitive disorders that may impair reasoning and result in a person wandering or becoming lost or disoriented, the Special Needs/Silver Alert Program enables individuals, parents, guardians, relatives or other caregivers to register such persons in the SCPD’s database. The information will, in turn, be accessible to police officers responding to an emergency situation involving that individual so the officers are better able to care for that person’s needs.
      Individuals registering for the program may request an identification bracelet that can be mailed free of charge.  The bracelet will contain a distinct number as well as a number for the SCPD that first responders can utilize when contacting the police to obtain the most up-to-date information regarding the individual in need.  To find out more about the program, download the registration form or complete the form online, visit www.suffolkpd.org and click on Amber/Silver Alert or contact Bernadette Zimmerman, SCPD Special Needs Coordinator at (631) 852-6983.
      “By enabling first responders to provide critical care based on an individual’s specific medical needs and history, the SCPD’s Special Needs/Silver Alert program could save lives,” said Suffolk County Legis. Lou D’Amaro.  “I encourage everyone who cares for, or cares about, an individual with special needs to look into this valuable program and take full advantage of an opportunity to help those who are most vulnerable."

• • •

TREATMENT

Got [Camel] Milk?

Anecdotal evidence suggests it may improve autism symptoms, but getting it from the desert to your door isn’t easy.

      By Christina Adams , MFA
autismfile.com
















      Nomads in Algeria have long said, “Water is the soul, milk is the life.” They may be proved right by emerging reports that camel milk, the drink of nomadic peoples from Mongolia to India, may have a healing effect on various diseases.
      Now parents from around the world, as I did in 2007, are also reporting reduced autism symptoms and increased skills in their ASD children. Better sleep, increased motor planning abilities and spatial awareness, more eye contact, better language and lessened gastrointestinal problems are now celebrated in global internet posts.
      Does the milk, lovingly called “absolutely exquisite… quite weird stuff” by longtime West African camel dairy owner Nancy Abeiderrahmane, deserve the praise bubbling from a global bucket of researchers and consumers? And is there an autism connection? I’ve researched the milk since summer 2005… here’s the story.

Inflammation Calmer
      While autism is still defined as a developmental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), studies have shown that immune system responses may be present. Inflammation is one of those responses, and is common to many human diseases.
      Dr. Reuven Yagil, a veteran Israeli camel expert who first described the use of camel milk to treat autism, says, “Autism is not a brain affliction but an autoimmune disease afflicting primarily the intestines.” American-Israeli scientist Dr. Amnon Gonenne agrees that while autism is not defined as an inflammatory disease, it appears that in some cases of autism that exhibit allergic symptoms, there is an active inflammatory component.
+ Read more.

• • •

EDUCATION

Family, Grateful for Daughter's Special Needs Services, Gives Back to School


The Miller family, who has an eight-year-old autistic daughter at the Brown School, donated $1,000 to the school's special education services as a way to say "thank you."




      By Tara Vocino 
peabody.patch.com

      Bella regularly takes swimming lessons and participates in Special Olympics events.
      Bella enjoys horseback riding lessons with the horse, Flower, in Merrimac.
      Bella poses with her Special Olympics swim coach, Charlie Piper.
      Emily Chmiel, a paraprofessional at the Brown School, works with Bella at school. A portion of the $1,000 check from the Millers will go towards training for paraprofessionals.
      Upload Photos and Videos
      The Miller family was so appreciative of the work the special education staff at the Brown Elementary School has done with their autistic daughter, Bella, that they are giving back.
      Chris Miller, managing partner of Miller Mortgage on Lowell Street in Peabody, donated a $1,000 company check to the school. His wife and Bella's mom, Dawn, asked the money to go towards two specific purposes.
      "I asked the money to go towards required materials for speech therapy, such as an iPad," she said. "And training paraprofessionals. I understand from the administration there's not a lot of money in the budget. Her [paraprofessional] shadows her. Their close relationship hasn't always been easy, but she loves going to school."
      Bella was diagnosed with a moderate form of autism and a severe speech impediment in June 2007. Now in mainstream classes with teachers' aide Emily Chmiel by her side, she was in special education classes at the McCarthy School at three years old and at Brown School until last fall.
+ Read more.

• • •

Teacher’s Aide Charged For Assault On Autistic Student; Busted By Camera

      By Alix Bryan, Virginia. Wtvr.com 

      Police have charged a teacher’s aide at Matoaca Middle School with assaulting an sixth grader with autism who is non-verbal, said Chesterfield police Lt. Andrea Riesmeyer Chesterfield police say Jan Costley was charged with a misdemeanor assault charge after bruising the child’s arm.
      Police did obtain surveillance video from gym class of the assault which was enough to charge the teacher’s assistant, said police.
      The incident happened on March 7, said police.

• • •

PEOPLE

Dad Killed, 7 Kids, Three Autistic

Family Of Man Shot Dead In Mpls Talks Of His Life, Death

    
Sonya Goins, Producer

     Minneapolis (WCCO) – Thirty-three-year-old Jason Youngmark suffered a fatal gunshot wound last Saturday at 26th Avenue and Emerson Avenue in North Minneapolis.
      His family says he had stopped by to say hello to friends. Youngmark’s wife and sister said he was active in the community and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
      “I’m just kind of getting by still,” said Stacy Davis, Youngmark’s wife. “It’s still surreal to me that this has happened, but I know it has and I just have to deal with it one step at a time for my kids. I’m their only parent now."
      Davis has seven children between the ages of 1 and 10. And three of the children are autistic.
      “They’re all handling it okay, but I don’t know how exactly what they’re going through inside. I only hope they’re okay,” Davies said.
      Youngmark’s youngest sister, Rose, said he put a lot of value into his family.
      “He wasn’t just having kids,” she said. “He was there for them: to teach them, to love them, to guide them."
      Rose said Youngmark wasn’t involved with gangs, drinking or drugs.
      “He was a good guy,” she said.
      The women have a notepad that Youngmark kept with him. It was full of ideas for the future. The notes speak on the importance of God and family. They also touch on ideas such as a community garden and affordable housing.
      “He cared, he made an impact on people — on anyone he touched,” Rose said. “You will never hear anybody say he deserved what happened; it’s just not even fathomable."
      No arrests have been made in connection with the shooting. The family, however, says Youngmark and the gunman knew each other. They say Youngmark mentored his shooter.
      For information on a vigil in Youngmark’s honor, click here: 





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