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RESEARCH

Researchers Reveal First Autism Candidate Gene That Demonstrates Sensitivity to Sex Hormones


xrl.in/78ze

             
      ScienceDaily — George Washington University researcher, Dr. Valerie Hu, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and her team at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, have found that male and female sex hormones regulate expression of an important gene in neuronal cell culture through a mechanism that could explain not only higher levels of testosterone observed in some individuals with autism, but also why males have a higher incidence of autism than females.
      The gene, RORA, encodes a protein that works as a "master switch" for gene expression, and is critical in the development of the cerebellum as well as in many other processes that are impaired in autism. Dr. Hu's earlier research found that RORA was decreased in the autistic brain. In this study, the research group demonstrates that aromatase, a protein which is regulated by RORA, is also reduced in autistic brains.
      This is significant because aromatase converts testosterone to estrogen. Thus, a decrease in aromatase is expected to lead in part to build up of male hormones which, in turn, further decrease RORA expression, as demonstrated in this study using a neuronal cell model. On the other hand, female hormones were found to increase RORA in the neuronal cells. The researchers believe that females may be more protected against RORA deficiency not only because of the positive effect of estrogen on RORA expression, but also because estrogen receptors, which regulate some of the same genes as RORA, can help make up for the deficiency in RORA.
      "It is well known that males have a higher tendency for autism than females; however, this new research may, for the first time, provide a molecular explanation for why and how this happens. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding some of the biology underlying autism, and we will continue our work to discover new ways to understand and, hopefully, to someday combat this neurodevelopmental disorder," said Dr. Hu.
      In her research published in 2009, Dr. Hu and colleagues found that RORA deficiencies were only apparent in the most severe cases of autism and were observed in the brain tissues of both male and female subjects. They further found that the deficiency in RORA was linked to a chemical modification of the gene (called methylation) which effectively reduces the level of RORA.





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• • •

U.Va. Receives Grant To Study Simulator's Effects on Teen Drivers with Autism



      Source: University of Virginia  xrl.in/790q

      Newswise - Researchers at the University of Virginia have received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study the use of virtual reality driving simulators to train and evaluate the driving skills of teens with Asperger's and high-functioning autism, both of which are considered autism spectrum disorders.
      Driving a car is an important step toward independence for adolescents and young adults. With no legal restrictions on driving with autism spectrum disorder, this study aims to assess and develop driving skills in teens with Asperger's and high-functioning autism, or HFA, and work around the symptoms that interfere with learning to drive.
      "The symptoms of Asperger's and HFA make learning to drive particularly challenging for individuals with this disorder," said Ron Reeve, a professor in U.Va.'s Curry School of Education and a licensed clinical and school psychologist, who is the study's co-investigator. "For example, they may hyper-focus on one aspect of driving and struggle with the multi-tasking required to simultaneously keep the car in the correct lane, maintain an appropriate distance from the car ahead, attend to a changing stoplight or other signal."
      Adolescents with Asperger's and HFA have a high need for structure and predictability, which may present difficulty when unexpected disruptions break the routine - an almost daily occurrence when one is behind the wheel.  "Their difficulties with motor planning and coordination may interfere with the complexity of simultaneously steering, accelerating, judging time and distance and hazard detection," Reeve noted.
      The benefits of using the virtual reality driving simulator are multifold. The simulator offers safe exposure to challenging defensive driving demands. It also can play back and rehearse challenging maneuvers without the potential human element of getting frightened or frustrated with the driving performance of HFA trainees.
      Daniel Cox, professor of behavioral medicine in the School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the study, has utilized the simulator to effectively teach teens with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder to drive more safely.  The latest study, to begin this summer, will involve 20 HFA teenagers, each with a learner's permit. Half the teens will receive virtual reality driving simulator training (10 sessions of progressively demanding maneuvers), going from learning how to maintain lane position to adding speed control, then braking, use of mirrors, turn signals, etc. Once the participants have reviewed these maneuvers, they will be applied in progressively more demanding virtual traffic and road conditions.
      The other half of the study group will receive whatever training they would normally receive. For example, these teens will potentially receive on-the-road training with parents, driver's education instructors or even professional driver's training. Both study groups will be evaluated afterward by qualified, independent driving evaluators who will not know who did and did not receive the virtual reality training.
      The study expects to report its findings by the summer of 2012.
      "We hope that by controlling the complexities of driving for these teens on the simulator, and by replaying mistakes to provide a safe environment for practice, we can build skills in teen drivers with Asperger's and high-functioning autism," Cox said. However, he noted, "Not all individuals with autism spectrum disorders will be able to develop the skills to safely drive a car, and we hope the simulator will also help us determine who is and who is not a good candidate to become an independent driver."
      
• • •

TREATMENT

Puppets, Play Therapy Can Improve Social Skills, Speech For Children With Autism

     
      By Mike Frandsen DC Examiner  xrl.in/7911

      Playing with puppets is an excellent way for children with autism and other special needs to practice spontaneous, imaginary, and symbolic play, which can help bring children who think concretely into the world of abstract concepts and ideas.
      Play dates can enhance social skills, emotional awareness, and learning, and symbolic play can take learning a step further by enabling kids to take part in scenarios to help them understand how the world works.
      Children with low verbal skills often undergo intensive verbal behavior analysis, speech therapy, and even oral motor exercises.  These therapies are often successful to various degrees, but playing with puppets can also bring out speech development and help kids use what they have learned in a natural environment.
      In one class, some children spoke more during puppet play than during all other times combined.  Emotional engagement and motivation are factors that contribute to potential increases in speech for certain children.
      Imitation and joint attention, two skills used in play therapy, have been shown to be early indicators of how well children with autism will learn language and other skills.  Joint attention occurs when children use eye gaze or gestures such as pointing to communicate with others.
      Children can use imaginary play to communicate non-verbally through joint attention used during play.  They can also begin to use words meaningfully, through emotions rather than through rote memorization.
      Several studies have shown that symbolic play skills are associated with language abilities in children with autism.
      The late Dr. Stanley Greenspan, founder of Floortime, wrote in his book Engaging Autism that emotion is critical to early language and cognitive development. “We believe the primary problem in individuals with autism spectrum disorders is a biological difficulty in connecting emotion to motor actions and later to symbols,” Greenspan wrote. “Emotions link different types of mental functioning."
      When children are motivated and emotionally engaged, they are more likely to generalize skills learned, or use them in a real world environment.
      Playing with puppets can foster creativity, which is important for students who receive a steady diet of structured behavioral therapy.  Imaginary play can encourage engagement, facilitate interaction, and promote the development of abstract thought.
      Creative play using puppets and stuffed animals can help children learn in a spontaneous way, which is invaluable because in life kids will have to often react on the fly instead of always having structure as a crutch.
      Humor and pretend play can help children generalize what they have learned so they can use it socially, and in meaningful ways in natural environments.
      By role-playing with puppets or stuffed animals, kids may also be able to improve their ability to experience empathy, or theory of mind - the ability to understand what others might be thinking.
+ Read more: xrl.in/7911
      
• • •

Dogs Bring Comfort,
Focus For Autistic Children



      By Rusty Ray xrl.in/790t

      Four-year-old Pierce Langston pulled on Woody the Labrador Retriever's ears Thursday morning--hugging and playing with the dog all over his family's house not far from the ocean.
      Pierce's autism doesn't keep him from doing much that most other young boys do, but his relationship with Woody is more than just boy and man's best friend.  The two were paired up through SOS Healthcare's Dogs for Autism program last year.
      "We custom-train the dog to meet the child's--or the parents'--needs," said trainer Gina Crist of Carolina K-9 Training, which partners with SOS. "Every family is different. (The dogs) all do basic obedience and some of the kids have repetitive hand motions, so we teach the dog to interrupt those behaviors."
      Sometimes, it's what Woody doesn't do that is most comforting to Pierce and his mother, Betsy.  She said Pierce likes to run all over the place, especially when he's in public places.
      "He thinks it's a game, and so we take Woody out with us," said Betsy. "He's focused on the dog, he's not focused on what Pierce wants to do. Distracting an autistic child from their goal is a hard thing to do, but we're very lucky to have Woody."
      Betsy said Woody also is a comforting presence when situations become tense and tantrum-filled.
      "Pierce's tantrums can be really, really strong," said Betsy. "It's exhausting when he's having a bad day," she said.
      So Woody will come over, and get very close to Pierce, and allows him to focus on the dog instead of what's bothering him.
      "It's teaching him that he doesn't have to sustain those tantrums to get what he wants," said Betsy.
      "What we've found is that when the dog interrupts the behaviors, it's fun," said Crist. "When a parent or teacher may do it, they may have some anxiety," she said.
      SOS Healthcare continues to work with trainers to pair animals with families of autistic children.  They are also constantly raising money to help defer the cost of purchasing and caring for the dogs.
      If you'd like more information about the program, click here xrl.in/790u .




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• • •

NEWS

China's Autistic Children Need More State Support


       By Wang Jian, Zhu Qing xrl.in/791h

       Hefei (Xinhua)- Qiqi is sitting in the corner of the room, quietly playing with toys. It seems that the four-year-old boy is no different than other children his age.
      However, when Qiqi speaks, his unclear speech and lack of eye contact indicate that there might be something wrong with him.
      Qiqi is one of the 37 children who are receiving rehabilitation training at the nursery for autistic children of the Chunya Disabled Benefit Association in Hefei City, east China's Anhui Province.
      Autism is a neural disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and repetitive behavior.
      For decades, autism went largely undiagnosed in China and the Chinese government only recognized it as a disability in 2006.
      It is estimated that there are about 3 to 5 million people living with autism in China, He Zongwen, vice chairman of Anhui Disabled Federation said, adding that the rates of diagnosis of autism is on the rise worldwide.
      "Autism can cause poverty to families, which may lead to social instability," He said.
      Usually, one of the parents with an autistic child has to quit his or her job to look after the child, because people with autism cannot take care of themselves. At the same time, the family has to pay the high cost for rehabilitation training.
      As a result, many parents with autistic children are impoverished and suffer from stress, and many grandparents are also forced to share the financial and mental burdens.
      Under the current welfare system, Chinese parents have to rely on their children to take care of them when they become older. But parents and grandparents of autistic children may, instead, find themselves trying to support their autistic child in their old age, He said.
      There is no cure or widely accepted treatment for autism. The only way to improve the prognosis is early intervention and long-term specialized training.
      The training of autistic children in China is largely dependent upon the privately-run rehabilitation schools.
      He Zongwen said Anhui Province has about 10 autism rehabilitation facilities and each of them can only hold 20 to 30 children, while the total number of autistic children in the province ranges from 100,000 to 150,000.
      Worse still, most of the nurseries are struggling with a lack of money and resources.
      Established in 2006 by a disabled young woman named Shi Yanxia, the nursery for autistic children of the Chunya Disabled Benefit Association is one of the privately-run establishments which are now fighting for survival.
      Shi Yanxia said, "Our teachers can only earn about 1,000 yuan (151.8 U. S. Dollars) per month and sometimes we have to suspend their salaries due to financial difficulties."
      "Our budget is mainly from the tuition fees, but most of the parents cannot afford high tuition since many families with autistic children are struggling on the poverty line," Shi said.
      "I have to run for donations from various sources all the time to maintain our program, which can be very frustrating at times," Shi said.
      "The grassroots organizations like ours are in dire need of financial and policy support from the government."
      The government should invest more in the education and rehabilitation of autistic children and, at the same time, a community-based public services should also be established to help more autistic children, He Zongwen said.
      
• • •

RESOURCES

My Friend with Autism,
Enhanced Edition Beverly Bishop

    
Book Review
Publisher: Future Horizon, Inc. www.FHautism.com
Review by Special Needs Almanac

      Children are much more accepting of things they understand. If a child has never seen a picture of a giraffe or a zebra, they will be shocked when they first go to the zoo. If, on the other hand, they have colored pictures of and read stories about giraffes and zebras - that are so different from the cats and dogs they are used to seeing - they will have a better understanding of them and have a better experience interacting with them.
      My Friend with Autism explains what autism is, and why kids with autism do the things they do. This book empowers children by helping them understand and accept children with autism.
      With 1 in 150 children having autism, all children need this information - to understand their classmates, their cousins, the kid down the street, their own brother or sister. This book also gives the child with autism a great resource to better understand himself.
      The included CD contains printable pages from the book, which the child can give to friends, to explain the child’s behaviors. The CD provides black and white versions of the book pages, as well as useful resources for adults, such as Page-By-Page Discussion Guidelines, 12 Behaviors that May be Suggestive of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, 10 Quick Strategies for Helping a Child with Autism, and more.

• • •

Book: Phil's Findings: Autism Can Severely Handicap A Family

      By Philip A. Rue xrl.in/790s

      Autism is a word which describes the condition of a person (usually a child) who is unable to function as a normal human being.
      Despite diligent and long-term efforts by parents, siblings, therapy specialists, teachers, and aides to train and teach the autistic victim the fundamental basics of living, only small, yet applauded improvements are achieved.
      Samantha Brown is the lovely child subject of “Living with Autism, Sammie’s Story,” a book written by her dedicated and sympathetic mother, Suzanne C. Brown.
      Baby Samantha was born in April of 1971, a picture of health and normalcy. Relatives came to visit and congratulate the parents on this new arrival who joined three other siblings.
      One branch of the family arrived when Samantha was three weeks old. This family consisted of the father, mother, and teenage son who cuddled his pet monkey in his arms.
      According to Suzanne Brown, the baby’s mother, her new baby was never the same after that visit.
      This 200-page story which describes the subsequent life of Sammie the child, and her mother, is more like a diary than a novel based on an author’s imagination. This was real.
      Several days after that visit with the pet monkey in tow, Samantha’s symptoms of abnormal behavior began. Restlessness, bottle rejection, slight temperature, and a sudden convulsion caused the concerned mother to take her to the Emergency Room at the nearest hospital. A doctor looked and listened, and then sent them back home to recover.
      The next day, after another convulsion, she visited a pediatrician this time, who diagnosed possible viral meningitis. She was then hospitalized for three weeks.
      A lifetime duty for a mother with an autistic child was about to begin. In order to have the funds necessary for the baby’s care, Suzanne Brown had to work at a variety of jobs. She did this willingly.
+ Read more: xrl.in/790s

• • •

MEDIA

What Causes Autism


Dr. Oz Video Series



xrl.in/790b

       One in every 110 children born in the US will be diagnosed with autism. Dr. Oz, a panel of experts and pediatricians, and an audience of families living with this diagnosis discuss the issue during a heated and emotional debate. Here, 3 families share their stories and their struggles.
      
• • •

PEOPLE

10 Years Later: Catching Up with the Mann Quadruplets



     Mann Quadruplets 10 years later

      Visiting the Mann quadruplets, diagnosed with autism 10 years ago, as they move into middle school.

      By Jennie Montgomery xrl.in/790o

      Ten years ago, we introduced you to the Mann family, whose quadruplets were diagnosed with autism at 18-months. At that time, they were faced with having to leave Georgia to get the recommended early-intervention treatment for their children. After our story laws were changed, and they did receive special needs services... and paved the way for countless autistic children in Georgia.
      We catch up with the Manns in this Newschannel 6 Extra.
      Here's the thing about being a quadruplet: you've got built-in playmates.
      12-year old Alex says, "You can do something with someone else, you're never bored, you don't have to get worried about just doing stuff by yourself, or calling over a friend'"
      Quite a change from the Mann babies we met a decade ago...
      Mom Leslie says, "Some of the kids have little issues with school and other things that need tweaking here and there, but I don't think it's anymore than what other parents have to deal with. It's nice that you do have these kinds of problems and it's nice to have the kind of problems that everybody else deals with."
      A nice problem, because Leslie Mann knows what it's like to deal with catastrophic problems.
      Leslie tearfully told us in 2001, "I look at pictures that we took of them 6 months ago, and you looked at them with all the hopes and aspirations and now, you know, you have to readjust."
      Today, it's like she's in a different family.
      "Just to be looking at them thru those eyes of thinking, and everything being so clouded over at that diagnosis of autism, and now honestly, I really don't even see them that way."
      She showed the boys that video for the first time, too... and let them decide if they would share their story -their incredible progress- with us.
      Mark says, "It made me feel kinda sad for like, kinda when my mom was crying and stuff, but then it also made me a little proud of myself to see where we've been with me and my brothers."
      Leslie is quick to give credit to the many people who have helped them along the way.
      "All the people who opened the doors for us to get the treatment that we did, the ABA consultants, RDI, OT, you know, every type of consultant, we had just amazing people."
      But getting that treatment was a battle all by itself.
      "There were no services at the Columbia County school system, there was nothing here. Nobody could get anything through early intervention."
      Leslie and Doug Mann became advocates for their children, to fight for legislation that would give their boys-- and all the other autistic children in Georgia-- a chance at reaching their full potential.
      She explains, "now they actually have services for all the children from 3 years old and up where they have a whole system in place now."
      As for the Mann boys? Well, they've got big plans: Alex wants to be in the Air Force- or a baseball player, Michael wants to be in the Marines and Mark says he just doesn't know yet.
      And like all brothers ,they're competitive: just ask who's the toughest.... the smartest... the quiet one? That's Michael! And the lover boy? Alex!
      "Aidan, what do you like about your school? RECESS!!"
      Ten years after we first met the Mann family, Aidan is the only child who is visibly affected with autism. He has a special wide-open room, his decompression place, where he can swing, play games, and work puzzles. Or, settle into a beanbag for a story with Mom. He knows where things are here and can settle down.
      Mark, Alex and Michael are active 6th graders, in middle school.
      Leslie says Aidan sometimes asks hard questions.
      "He will say 'Why am I different?' or, 'What's wrong with me?' I just say that he's just special and that we love him the way he is and I can tell when I say that he just gets a really big smile on his face."
      And this is what Leslie has learned: if you suspect your child has autism, get a diagnosis so you know what you're dealing with, take them to specialists who can help, and be involved in your child's life.
      "Do everything that you would with a 'typical" child so that they can assimiliate into your world, so that they can be a part of the world with everybody else."
      And that's why the boys wanted to do this story: as Alex says, "to show that if you work hard enough, you can always achieve your goal."
      Mark adds, "And to also help other people with the same problems as us to give them hope."
      When her boys were diagnosed, Leslie was particulary concerned about the vaccinations they'd received as infants and any impact that could have had. While no correlation has ever been proven, she's very glad that the FDA took the mercury-based preservative Thimerasol out of vaccines.
      Her concern now is that the rate of autism continues to rise, with four times as many boys diagnosed as girls.




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  In This Issue:











































RESEARCH
Researchers Reveal First Autism Candidate Gene That Demonstrates Sensitivity to Sex Hormones

U.Va. Receives Grant To Study Simulator's Effects on Teen Drivers with Autism

TREATMENT
Puppets, Play Therapy Can Improve Social Skills, Speech For Children With Autism

Dogs Bring Comfort, Focus For Autistic Children

NEWS
China's Autistic Children Need More State Support

RESOURCES
My Friend with Autism, Enhanced Edition Beverly Bishop

Book: Phil's Findings: Autism Can Severely Handicap A Family

MEDIA
What Causes Autism

PEOPLE
10 Years Later: Catching Up with the Mann Quadruplets


   







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Biomedical Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Scientific References and Abstracts
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