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RESEARCH

Brain Inflammation A Hallmark Of Autism, Large-Scale Analysis Shows

Johns Hopkins study is largest so far of gene expression in autism brains

       hopkinsmedicine.org


font-size: 11px;The human brain using colors and shapes to show neurological differences between two people. Credit: Arthur Toga, University of California, Los Angeles via NIGMS.

      While many different combinations of genetic traits can cause autism, brains affected by autism share a pattern of ramped-up immune responses, an analysis of data from autopsied human brains reveals. The study, a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, included data from 72 autism and control brains. It was published online today in the journal Nature Communications.
      “There are many different ways of getting autism, but we found that they all have the same downstream effect,” says Dan Arking, Ph.D., an associate professor in the McKusick-Nathans Institute for Genetic Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “What we don’t know is whether this immune response is making things better in the short term and worse in the long term."
      The causes of autism, also known as autistic spectrum disorder, remain largely unknown and are a frequent research topic for geneticists and font-size: 11px;neuroscientists. But Arking had noticed that for autism, studies of whether and how much genes were being used — known as gene expression — had thus far involved too little data to draw many useful conclusions. That’s because unlike a genetic test, which can be done using nearly any cells in the body, gene expression testing has to be performed on the specific tissue of interest — in this case, brains that could only be obtained through autopsies.
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• • •

Molecular Network Identified Underlying Autism Spectrum Disorders

     
eurekalert.org

      Researchers in the United States have identified a molecular network that comprises many of the genes previously shown to contribute to autism spectrum disorders. The findings provide a map of some of the crucial protein interactions that contribute to autism and will help uncover novel candidate genes for the disease. The results are published in Molecular Systems Biology.
      "The study of autism disorders is extremely challenging due to the large number of clinical mutations that occur in hundreds of different human genes associated with autism," says Michael Snyder, Professor at the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine and the lead author of the study. "We therefore wanted to see to what extent shared molecular pathways are perturbed by the diverse set of mutations linked to autism in the hope of distilling tractable information that would benefit future studies."
      The researchers generated their interactome - the whole set of interactions within a cell - using the BioGrid database of protein and genetic interactions. "We have identified a specific module within this interactome that comprises 119 proteins and which shows a very strong enrichment for autism genes," remarks Snyder.
      Gene expression data and genome sequencing were used to identify the protein interaction module with members strongly enriched for known autism genes. The sequencing of the genomes of 25 patients confirmed the involvement of the module in autism; the candidate genes for autism present in the module were also found in a larger group of more than 500 patients that were analyzed by exome sequencing. The expression of genes in the module was examined using the Allen Human Brain Atlas. The researchers revealed the role of the corpus callosum and oligodendrocyte cells in the brain as important contributors to autism spectrum disorders using genome sequencing, RNA sequencing, antibody staining and functional genomic evidence.
      "Much of today's research on autism is focused on the study of neurons and now our study has also revealed that oligodendrocytes are also implicated in this disease," says Jingjing Li, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine who helped to spearhead the work. "In the future, we need to study how the interplay between different types of brain cells or different regions of the brain contribute to this disease."
      "The module we identified which is enriched in autism genes had two distinct components," says Snyder. "One of these components was expressed throughout different regions of the brain. The second component had enhanced molecular expression in the corpus callosum. Both components of the network interacted extensively with each other."
      The working hypothesis of the scientists, which is consistent with other recent findings, is that disruptions in parts of the corpus callosum interfere with the circuitry that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. This likely gives rise to the different phenotypes of autism that result due to impairment of signaling between the two halves of the brain.
      "Our study highlights the importance of building integrative models to study complex human diseases," says Snyder. "The use of biological networks allowed us to superimpose clinical mutations for autism onto specific disease-related pathways. This helps finding the needles in the haystack worthy of further investigation and provides a framework to uncover functional models for other diseases."

• • •

Preeclampsia During Mother's Pregnancy Associated With Greater Autism Risk

      ucdmc.ucdavis.edu

Cheryl Walker

      Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more than twice as likely to have been exposed in utero to preeclampsia, and the likelihood of an autism diagnosis was even greater if the mother experienced more severe disease, a large study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found.
      Women with preeclampsia experience hypertension during the latter half of their pregnancies, and may have increased levels of protein in their urine and edema, or fluid retention. Preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia, a life-threatening condition in which seizures may occur.
      The study was conducted in more than 1,000 children between the ages of two and three years enrolled in the Childhood Risks of Autism from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study in Northern California. It is published online today in JAMA Pediatrics.
      “We found significant associations between preeclampsia and ASD that increased with severity. We also observed a significant association between severe preeclampsia and developmental delay,” said Cheryl Walker, study senior author, assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine and a researcher affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute.
      While preeclampsia has previously been examined as a risk factor for autism, the literature has been inconsistent. The current study provides a robust population-based, case-controlled examination of the association between autism and preeclampsia and whether risk was associated with preeclampsia severity.
      The research was conducted in more than 500 male and female children diagnosed with autism; nearly 200 diagnosed with developmental delay; and 350 children who were developing typically. All of the mothers had confirmed diagnoses of preeclampsia.
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• • •

Autism and Air Pollution: New Study Bolsters Suspected Link

       By Bill Briggs nbcnews.com



      Pregnant women may nearly double their risk of giving birth to a child with autism by inhaling smog spewed by vehicles or smoke stacks, according to a new Harvard study that could help unlock the deepest autism mysteries.
      The research, released Thursday, fortifies previous scientific findings that linked air pollution to autism. And it offers fresh insights by showing women in their third trimesters seem most vulnerable if they breathe in elevated levels of tiny airborne particles emitted by power plants, fires and automobiles.
      "We found an association that was specific to pregnancy and especially to the third trimester, identifying a window, which might shed a light on processes that are happening that can lead to autism," said Marc Weisskopf, the report's senior author and associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
      The higher the exposure rate, the greater the risk, he found.
      Tying those mini toxins to the final trimester may offer a compelling clue, Weisskopf added, because so much neuronal growth occurs during those three months — "a time when brain development could be affected."
      The findings appear online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
      The Harvard team focused on pregnant women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study II, a group of more than 116,000 female U.S. nurses who agreed to be tracked starting in 1989. Researchers amassed data on where participants lived while pregnant and crosschecked air-pollution readings for those areas as recorded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
      Among those mothers, Weisskopf and his colleagues identified 245 children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during the time period examined.
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• • •

Minute Movements of Autistic Children And Their Parents Provide Clue To Severity of Disorder
 
     
sciencedaily.com



Researchers measured minute movements as participants repetitively touched a spot on a touch screen. Credit: Image courtesy of Indiana University

      Imperceptible variations in movement patterns among individuals with autism spectrum disorder are important indicators of the severity of the disorder in children and adults, according to a report presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in November.
      For the first time, researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University report developing a quantitative way to assess these otherwise ignored variations in movement and link those variations to a diagnosis.
      "This is the first time we have been able to explicitly characterize subtypes of severity in autism spectrum disorder," said Jorge V. Josť, Ph.D., vice president of research at Indiana University and the James H. Rudy Professor of Physics in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. "We also have determined that a pattern exists in the movement variations in some cases between children with autism and their parents, leading us to surmise that genetics plays a role in movement patterns."
      In a blinded study, Josť, who also is a professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the IU School of Medicine, and co-principal investigator Elizabeth B. Torres, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University, attached high-sensitivity movement sensors to the arms of study participants to track their micro-movements as they extended and retracted their hand to touch a specific spot on a touch screen.
      Using analytics they developed, Drs. Josť and Torres, together with Di Wu, a Ph.D. graduate student in Josť's lab in the physics department at IU Bloomington, evaluated the local spikes in speed -- traditionally considered as noise in the data. The sensors recorded 240 movements per second for the 30 people with autism, eight healthy adults and 21 parents of children with autism tested. The participants were asked to touch a spot on a screen moving continuously about 100 consecutive times.
      "These variations in the hand's movement speed produced a pattern that clustered in specific regions of a graph that produced metrics we could use -- not only in children with autism but in their parents," Dr. Torres said. "People with autism are known to have problems with sensing their body motions and of their body in general. Our earlier research proved that the random patterns of their speed were significant. What we did not expect was to find random, minute speed fluctuations during the intentional action itself, much less identify this form of intentional tremor in some of their parents."
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• • •

Diverse Autism Mutations Lead To Different Disease Outcomes

      Columbia University Medical Center

      People with autism have a wide range of symptoms, with no two people sharing the exact type and severity of behaviors. Now a large-scale analysis of hundreds of patients and nearly 1000 genes has started to uncover how diversity among traits can be traced to differences in patients’ genetic mutations.
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• • •

Project Pinpoints 12 New Genetic Causes of Developmental Disorders

Nationwide, genome-wide sequencing provides diagnoses for rare conditions

      Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

      The first results to emerge from a nationwide project to study the genetic causes of rare developmental disorders have revealed 12 causative genes that have never been identified before. The Deciphering Developmental Disorders (DDD) project, the world's largest, nationwide genome-wide diagnostic sequencing programme, sequenced DNA and compared the clinical characteristics of over a thousand children to find the genes responsible for conditions that include intellectual disabilities and congenital heart defects, among others.
      DDD, which is a collaboration between the NHS and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and is funded by the Department of Health and Wellcome Trust through the Health Innovation Challenge Fund, worked with 180 clinicians from 24 regional genetics services across the UK and the Republic of Ireland to analyse all ~20,000 genes in each of 1133 children with severe disorders so rare and poorly characterised that they cannot be easily diagnosed using standard clinical tests. The benefits of diagnosis include improving clinical management, helping parents obtain support, informing reproductive choice and providing a molecular basis for the disorder, which is the starting point in the search for new treatments.
      The DDD project works by collecting together clinical information in a database along with the genetic variants from each patient's genome. If patients who share similar symptoms also have variants in common, it helps to narrow down the search for causative mutations across the genome. However, this can be challenging, since the chance of having a particular type of mutation can be as low as one in fifty million. DDD's nationwide secure data-sharing network has made it possible to find and compare these incredibly rare disorders; in fact, for four of the 12 newly identified genes, identical mutations were found in two or more unrelated children living hundreds of miles apart.
      "Working at enormous scale, both nationwide and genome-wide, is critical in our mission to find diagnoses for these families," explains Dr Helen Firth, an author from the Department of Clinical Genetics at Addenbrooke's Hospital and Clinical Lead for the DDD study. "This project would not have been possible without the nationwide reach of the UK National Health Service, which has enabled us to unite a number of families who live hundreds of miles apart but whose children share equivalent mutations and very similar symptoms."
      In one example, two unrelated children, both with identical mutations in the gene PCGF2, which is involved in regulating genes important in embryo development, were found to have strikingly similar symptoms and facial features. This constitutes the discovery of a new, distinct dysmorphic syndrome.
      All of the newly discovered developmental disorders were caused by new, "de novo", mutations, which are present in the child but are not in their parents' genomes. The DDD project has shown that it is critical to use, where possible, genetic data from parents, most of whom do not have a developmental disorder, to help filter out benign inherited variants and find the cause of their child's condition.
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• • •

Missing Gene Linked To Autism
      
      University of Leeds

      Researchers have shed light on a gene mutation linked to autistic traits. The team already knew that some people with autism were deficient in a gene called neurexin-II. To investigate whether the gene was associated with autism symptoms, the Leeds team studied mice with the same defect. They found behavioral features that were similar to autism symptoms, including a lack of sociability or interest in other mice.
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• • •

'Deep Learning' Finds Autism, Cancer Mutations In Unexplored Regions Of Genome

      Canadian Institute for Advanced Research


Scientists and engineers have built a computer model that has uncovered disease-causing mutations in large regions of the genome that previously could not be explored. Credit: Image courtesy of Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

      Scientists and engineers have built a computer model that has uncovered disease-causing mutations in large regions of the genome that previously could not be explored. Their method seeks out mutations that cause changes in 'gene splicing,' and has revealed unexpected genetic determinants of autism, colon cancer and spinal muscular atrophy.
      CIFAR Senior Fellow Brendan Frey (University of Toronto) is the lead author on a paper describing this work, which appears in the Dec. 18 edition of Science Express. The paper was co-authored by CIFAR senior fellows Timothy Hughes (University of Toronto) and Stephen Scherer (The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto) of the Genetic Networks program. Frey is appointed to the Genetic Networks program, and the Neural Computation & Adaptive Perception program. The research combines the latter groups' pioneering work on deep learning with novel techniques in genetics.
      Most existing methods examine mutations in segments of DNA that encode protein, what Frey refers to as low-hanging fruit. To find mutations outside of those segments, typical approaches such as genome wide association studies take disease data and compare the mutations of sick patients to those of healthy patients, seeking out patterns. Frey compares that approach to lining up all the books your child likes to read and looking for whether a particular letter occurs more frequently than in other books.
      "It doesn't work, because it doesn't tell you why your kid likes the book," he says. "Similarly, genome-wide association studies can't tell you why a mutation is problematic."
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• • •

Largest Source of Autism Research Data To Date Created

NIH-funded database sets standard for collaboration and data sharing NIH/National Institute of Mental Health 

     
eurekalert.org

      A data partnership between the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR), and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) positions NDAR as possibly the largest repository to date of genetic, phenotypic, clinical, and medical imaging data related to research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
      "The collaboration between AGRE and NDAR exemplifies the efforts of government and stakeholders to work together for a common cause," said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, part of NIH. "NDAR continues to be a leader in the effort to standardize and share ASD data with the research community, and serves as a model to all research communities."
      NDAR is supported by the National Institutes of Health; AGRE is an Autism Speaks program.
      NDAR's mission is to facilitate data sharing and scientific collaboration on a broad scale, providing a shared common platform for autism researchers to accelerate scientific discovery. Built around the concept of federated repositories, NDAR integrates and standardizes data, tools, and computational techniques across multiple public and private autism databases. Through NDAR, researchers can access results from these different sources at the same time, using the rich data set to conduct independent analyses, supplement their own research data, or evaluate the data supporting published journal articles, among many other uses.
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• • •

Fine Particulate Air Pollution Linked With Increased Autism Risk

      Harvard School of Public Health


The greater the exposure a pregnant woman has to fine particulate matter, the greater the risk of their baby having autism, researchers found. Credit: © Oleg Shelomentsev / Fotolia
     
      Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy -- particularly during the third trimester -- may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with low particulate matter, according to a study. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk, researchers found. It was the first US-wide study exploring the link between airborne particulate matter and autism.
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• • •

OCD Patients’ Brains Light Up To Reveal How Compulsive Habits Develop

     
cam.ac.uk



      Misfiring of the brain’s control system might underpin compulsions in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), according to researchers at the University of Cambridge, writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
      The research, led by Dr Claire Gillan and Professor Trevor Robbins (Department of Psychology) is the latest in a series of studies from the Cambridge Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute investigating the possibility that compulsions in OCD are products of an overactive habit-system. This line of work has shifted opinion away from thinking of OCD as a disorder caused by worrying about obsessions or faulty beliefs, towards viewing it as a condition brought about when the brain’s habit system runs amok.
      In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers scanned the brains of 37 patients with OCD and 33 healthy controls (who did not have the disorder) while they repetitively performed a simple pedal-pressing behavioural response to avoid a mild electric shock to the wrist. The researchers found that patients with OCD were less capable of stopping these pedal-pressing habits, and this was linked to excessive brain activity in the caudate nucleus, a region that must fire correctly in order for us to control our habits.
      Basic imaging work has long since established that the caudate is over-active when the symptoms of OCD are provoked in patients. That the habits the researchers trained in these patients in the laboratory also triggered the caudate to over-fire adds weight to the suggestion that compulsions in OCD may be caused by the brain’s habit system
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• • •

Boys With Regressive Autism, But Not Early Onset Autism, Have Larger Brains

However, the study did not find differences in the brain size of girls with autism

      University of California - Davis Health System

      In the largest study of brain development in preschoolers with autism to date, a study by UC Davis MIND Institute researchers has found that 3-year-old boys with regressive autism, but not early onset autism, have larger brains than their healthy counterparts.
      The study is published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. It was led by Christine Wu Nordahl, a researcher at the UC Davis MIND Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and David G. Amaral, Beneto Foundation Chair, MIND Institute Research Director and University of California Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
      "The finding that boys with regressive autism show a different form of neuropathology than boys with early onset autism is novel," Nordahl said. "Moreover, when we evaluated girls with autism separately from boys, we found that no girls -- regardless of whether they had early onset or regressive autism -- had abnormal brain growth."
      Brain enlargement has been observed in previous studies of autism. However, prior to this study, little was known about how many and which children with autism have abnormally large brains.
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• • •

Motor Coordination Issues In Autism Are Caused By Abnormal Neural Connections

      University of Chicago Medical Center

      Abnormal connections between neurons are the likely cause of motor coordination issues seen in autism spectrum disorder. Using a mouse model of autism, scientists identified a malfunctioning neural circuit associated with reduced capacity for motor learning. This appears to arise from an inability to eliminate unneeded neural connections in the brain.
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• • •

Brain Anatomy Differences Between Autistic, Typically Developing Individuals Are Indistinguishable

      American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

       'Our findings offer definitive answers regarding several scientific controversies about brain anatomy, which have occupied autism research for the past 10 to 15 years,' says one expert. 'Previous hypotheses suggesting that autism is associated with larger intra-cranial gray matter, white matter and amygdala volumes, or smaller cerebellar, corpus callosum and hippocampus volumes were mostly refuted by this new study.'
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• • •

Endocrine Disruptors Alter Thyroid Levels In Pregnancy, May Affect Fetal Brain Development

      University of Massachusetts at Amherst


In this prospective birth cohort study, researchers looked at the effects of low-dose chemical exposure in 164 pregnant women. Tissue from their placentas, the uterine structure that provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus, was analyzed for a specific enzyme, CYP1A1, which changes endocrine-disrupting chemicals into a form that can interfere directly with the body's thyroid hormone receptors.  Credit: © Wouter Tolenaars / Fotolia

      A new study provides 'the strongest evidence to date' that endocrine disrupting chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls found in flame retardant cloth, paint, adhesives and electrical transformers, can interfere with thyroid hormone action in pregnant women and may travel across the placenta to affect the fetus.
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• • •

Chemo Effect On Brain Cells Pinpointed; Potential Link To Autism

      University of North Carolina School of Medicine


Neurons expressing the Topoisomerase-1 gene (green). Credit: Image by Angela Mabb, PhD

      Scientists discovered how the chemo drug topotecan affects individual neurons to potentially cause "chemo fog." A similar long-term affect in the developing brain could trigger autism. "There's still a question in the cancer field about the degree to which some chemotherapies get into the brain," said a co-senior author of the paper. "But in our experiments, we show that if they do get in, they can have a dramatic effect on synaptic function. We think drug developers should be aware of this when testing their next generation of topoisomerase inhibitors."
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• • •

Highlighted Study of the Month – MIND Institute

Identifying Markers for Treatment Response to Cognitive Training in Autism Spectrum Disorders – Sacramento, California area.

      ucdmc.ucdavis.edu



      We are conducting a study to determine who benefits from a computer-based and game-oriented training program that is meant to enhance the attention and working memory skills of children and adolescents. This study is for children 8-17 with autism, either with or without fragile X syndrome.
      Participants will complete 5-6 weeks of in-home computerized cognitive training (about 25 minutes per day with weekly coach check-ins by phone or email). Participation also includes cognitive and behavioral evaluations during 2-3 visits (about 2 hours each), 1 before cognitive training, and 1-2 after. Qualified MIND Institute researchers will visit your home, or you may come to the MIND Institute with your child for visits. Families will receive compensation for their time and feedback on their child's progress and assessment results.
      For more information about this study, please contact Songpoom Benyakorn & Catrina Calub at (916) 703-0294 or email us at ADHD@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

• • •

CARE

Children with Autism Who Live With Pets Are More Assertive

      eurekalert.org

 

Although much media attention has focused on how dogs can improve the social skills of children with autism, a University of Missouri researcher recently found that children with autism have... view more  Credit: University of Missouri News Bureau

      Dogs and other pets play an important role in individuals' social lives, and they can act as catalysts for social interaction, previous research has shown. Although much media attention has focused on how dogs can improve the social skills of children with autism, a University of Missouri researcher recently found that children with autism have stronger social skills when any kind of pet lived in the home.
      "When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills," said Gretchen Carlisle, research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. "More significantly, however, the data revealed that children with any kind of pet font-size: 11px;in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people's questions. These kinds of social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism, but this study showed children's assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet."
      Pets often serve as "social lubricants," Carlisle said. When pets are present in social settings or a classroom, children talk and engage more with one another. This effect also seems to apply to children with autism and could account for their increased assertiveness when the children are living in a home with pets, Carlisle said.
      "When children with disabilities take their service dogs out in public, other kids stop and engage," Carlisle said. "Kids with autism don't always readily engage with others, but if there's a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond."
      Carlisle also found that children's social skills increased the longer a family had owned a dog, yet older children rated their relationships with their dogs as weaker. When children were asked, they reported the strongest attachments to smaller dogs, Carlisle found.
      "Finding children with autism to be more strongly bonded to smaller dogs, and parents reporting strong attachments between their children and other pets, such as rabbits or cats, serves as evidence that other types of pets could benefit children with autism as well," Carlisle said.
      
• • •

Autistic Children Can Pose Barrier To Housing

Some families have found it hard to secure housing due to disruption or damage from their kids. Meanwhile, $500,000 in state aid to help is stuck in limbo.

      By Abby Simons, Star Tribune


Holding her 4-year-old autistic son Anas Hassan, Marian Ahmed talked about her struggles to maintain rental housing. Photo: Jerry Holt, - Star Tribune Star Tribune Star Tribune

       Marian Ahmed’s new Savage home is sparsely furnished but immaculate, with a stone fireplace and back-yard views of a pond where her four kids can watch the Canada Geese land while they eat their cereal.
      The amenities are nice, Ahmed said, but they aren’t the reason she took on a mortgage she can barely afford. What’s essential for Ahmed is the basement space that allows Anas Hassan, her 4-year-old autistic son, to rock in a specially built suspended swing that keeps him calm, along with the thick walls that allow her other children to rest undisturbed when Anas wakes up screaming in the night. Most important, Ahmed has peace of mind, knowing she no longer risks eviction from a frustrated landlord after one too many complaints from the neighbors.
      “I didn’t want to buy a house, I didn’t want the headache,” the 34-year-old said from the couch that is one of the home’s few pieces of furniture, as Anas squirmed on her lap. “I could rent a townhouse or a three-bedroom apartment and life would be easier. But nobody’s going to rent to us. It’s not only me, it’s about other families."
      Across Minnesota, families with children who have autism or other disabilities struggle to stay in rental homes in the face of disruptions or damage caused by the kids. The situation is particularly acute in the Somali community, where one in 32 children between ages 7 and 9 is on the autism spectrum, according to a University of Minnesota study. That compares to 1 in 48 for children of that age in the overall population.
      The Minnesota Legislature tried in 2013 to help alleviate the problem by creating a $500,000 fund aimed at providing housing for families like Ahmed’s. But bureaucratic glitches have kept the money in limbo, with the families unable to access it.
      The money initially was allocated to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which finances housing for low- and middle-income families. MHFA then advertised for community-based organizations to apply for the money so it could be distributed to needy families. Although they initially showed interest, Habitat for Humanity and City of Lakes Community Land Trust never applied.
      Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity spokesman Matt Haugen said that because the organization works both as a builder and a lender, it would risk violating fair lending laws if it took money tied to a specific goal, like housing for families of autistic children facing eviction. “It’s certainly not a matter of what we want to do; it’s a matter of how we do it,” Haugen said. City of Lakes did not respond to requests for an interview.
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• • •

TREATMENT

How Music Class Can Spark Language Development
 
     
sciencedaily.com




      Music training has well-known benefits for the developing brain, especially for at-risk children. But youngsters who sit passively in a music class may be missing out, according to new Northwestern University research.
      In a study designed to test whether the level of engagement matters, researchers found that children who regularly attended music classes and actively participated showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers after two years.
      The research, which appears online on Dec. 16 in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, also showed that the neural benefits stemming from participation occurred in the same areas of the brain that are traditionally weak in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
      "Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement -- attendance and class participation -- predicted the strength of neural processing after music training," said study lead author Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.
      The type of music class may also be important, the researchers found. The neural processing of students who played instruments in class improved more than the children who attended the music appreciation group, according to the study.
      "Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain," said Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.
      The data was collected as part of a multi-year collaboration with The Harmony Project, a non-profit that has provided music education and instruments to disadvantaged children in Los Angeles for more than a decade.
      Rather than using an active control group, the researchers looked for differences within the group of children participating in Harmony Project classes.
      Unlike most music studies, which often estimate brain activity using paper and pencil tests, Kraus directly assessed the brain by strategically placing electrode wires with button sensors on the students' heads to capture the brain's responses.
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• • •

Are You Helping Your Toddler's Aggressive Behavior?

      Universite de Montreal


Researchers noted that affectionate parenting is associated with low aggression levels and good language development in children. This observation may indicate that affectionate behaviors of parents can facilitate language learning and the learning of acceptable alternatives to physical aggression. However, it is also possible that low aggression levels and good language development in children encourage parents to be affectionate toward them. Credit: © Felix Mizioznikov / Fotolia

       Physical aggression in toddlers has been thought to be associated with the frustration caused by language problems, but a recent study shows that this isn’t the case. The researchers did find, however, that parental behaviors may influence the development of an association between the two problems during early childhood. Frequent hitting, kicking, and a tendency to bite or push others are examples of physical aggression observed in toddlers.
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• • •

Efficacy and Safety of New Anti-Epileptic Drug Revealed By Phase III Study

      American Epilepsy Society

      New findings from a phase 3 clinical trial suggest an additional therapeutic option may be coming down the pike. Researchers performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in the United States and Europe on the efficacy and safety of the drug brivaracetam, an analog of the commonly used AED levetiracetam, in adults with poorly controlled partial onset seizures.
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• • •

Fragile X Study Offers Hope of New Autism Treatment

      McGill University

      People affected by a common inherited form of autism could be helped by a drug that is being tested as a treatment for cancer, according to researchers. Fragile X Syndrome is the most common genetic cause of autism spectrum disorders. It affects around 1 in 4,000 boys and 1 in 6,000 girls. Currently, there is no cure.
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• • •

Parent Intervention Best For Helping Toddlers With Autism

      Florida State University



      For the first time, toddlers with autism have demonstrated significant improvement after intensive intervention by parents rather than clinicians, according to a new Florida State University study published online in the journal Pediatrics.
      "We've come up with a treatment model that can teach parents to support their child's learning during everyday activities, and we've documented that the children improved their developmental level, social communication skills and autism symptoms," said Amy Wetherby, director of the Autism Institute at Florida State University's College of Medicine and lead author of the Pediatrics study.
      Social communication includes eye gaze, facial expressions, gestures, sounds, sharing of emotion, listening, learning to understand words, discovering how to use objects -- things that children with autism have difficulty learning.
      "The findings are important because this treatment is viable for any community," Wetherby said. "We have early intervention that's federally and state funded. Now we've tested a model that any early intervention system should be able to offer to all families of toddlers with autism. It's affordable, and it's efficient in terms of clinicians' time."
      Most children are not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) until age 4 -- and even later in lower-income, rural and minority families. By contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics wants every child to be screened at 18 and 24 months of age.
      Early diagnosis, however, does little good without early intervention.
      In recent years, some intervention trials had achieved improved outcomes for children but required an inaccessible amount of time from clinicians. Others that focused on teaching parents found that the parents learned, but the children didn't show significant gains from the treatment.
      This study, "Parent-Implemented Social Intervention for Toddlers with Autism: An RCT," outlines the results of a seven-year randomized controlled trial, in which families of 82 toddlers with ASD who were 18 months old were assigned to one of two nine-month interventions.
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  In This Issue:




RESEARCH
Brain Inflammation A Hallmark Of Autism, Large-Scale Analysis Shows

Molecular Network Identified Underlying Autism Spectrum Disorders

Preeclampsia During Mother's Pregnancy Associated With Greater Autism Risk

Autism and Air Pollution: New Study Bolsters Suspected Link

Minute Movements of Autistic Children And Their Parents Provide Clue To Severity of Disorder

Diverse Autism Mutations Lead To Different Disease Outcomes

Project Pinpoints 12 New Genetic Causes of Developmental Disorders

Missing Gene Linked To Autism

'Deep Learning' Finds Autism, Cancer Mutations In Unexplored Regions Of Genome

Largest Source of Autism Research Data To Date Created

Fine Particulate Air Pollution Linked With Increased Autism Risk

Boys With Regressive Autism, But Not Early Onset Autism, Have Larger Brains

Motor Coordination Issues In Autism Are Caused By Abnormal Neural Connections

Brain Anatomy Differences Between Autistic, Typically Developing Individuals Are Indistinguishable

Highlighted Study of the Month – MIND Institute

CARE
Children with Autism Who Live With Pets Are More Assertive

Autistic Children Can Pose Barrier To Housing

TREATMENT
How Music Class Can Spark Language Development

Are You Helping Your Toddler's Aggressive Behavior?

Efficacy and Safety of New Anti-Epileptic Drug Revealed By Phase III Study

Fragile X Study Offers Hope of New Autism Treatment

Parent Intervention Best For Helping Toddlers With Autism







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