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a Lesser Known Side of Autism
Many parents have stories of autistic children wandering off, running away unexpectedly
By Jenifer Goodwin from US News. xrl.in/8d09
HealthDay News - Many parents know that heart- stopping feeling of being at the park or the mall, and suddenly losing track of their child. For the parents of autistic children, those concerns can be even more intense.
Though wandering is often associated with Alzheimer's, autism experts say a tendency to wander is an under-recognized, and harrowing, facet of the neurodevelopmental disorder.
Autistic children who've wandered off may not realize they're lost, so it never occurs to them to ask for help finding their way home, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks. Some may realize they're lost but won't -- or can't -- ask for help because of the speech and social difficulties that come with disorder. Others may even hide or run if approached by a police officer or someone else trying to help.
And while typical toddlers tend to grow out of wandering and learn that it's important to tell mom or dad where they're going, autistic children's wandering may persist into adulthood.
Carol Christiaanse, a mother of two from Westport, Conn., has been there. Her son, Matthew, is now 25 and has an autism spectrum disorder called "pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified."
When Matthew was 4, Christiaanse and her family went to a fall festival at the local high school. She turned her back momentarily, and when she turned back, Matthew was gone. There were police at the festival, who said they'd make an announcement over the loudspeakers.
"They were trying to be helpful and they said, 'Don't worry. When he hears his name, he'll identify himself to someone'," Christiaanse recalled. "I said, 'No, he won't. He doesn't respond to his name.'"
A half hour later, a groundskeeper found Matthew headed down the road towards the neighboring town.
Another time, Christiaanse's daughter found Matthew walking down the yellow line in the middle of a twisty country road. Then there was the time Carol was taking a shower, came downstairs and found Matthew gone. She frantically searched the house, the yard and the neighborhood, and was getting ready to call the police when she saw her son walking down her street, a man driving slowly next to him in his car.
"The man knew something was wrong with Matthew, but he was too afraid of being considered a kidnapper to put him in his car and drive him home," she said.
Today, Matthew is 25 and living at a home with other adults with disabilities. One cold, rainy night, Matthew left the facility without telling anyone, planning to walk 12 miles to see his friend in another town. A police officer found him shivering on the steps of an office building, 3 miles from home.
"It scared me to death," Christiaanse said. "We feel lucky and blessed that he might have a guardian angel looking after him -- all of these things could have ended really disastrously."
Autism experts don't really know why people with autism have a tendency to wander. Christiaanse believes it's related to the problems in making social connections -- it simply doesn't occur to her son to let someone know that he's headed out.
Another characteristic of autism is having obsessive interests, Dawson said. "A child might have an obsession with street signs, so they'll leave home intending on going back to see a street sign that they saw earlier in the day," she explained.
And some cases have ended in tragedy. In July, Mason Medlam, a 5-year-old Kansas boy with autism, drowned in a pond near the family's home. The family knew the child wandered and had a fascination with water, his mother testified during a meeting of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee in October in Bethesda, Maryland.
"I was hyper-vigilant with him. I knew he had absolutely no concept of danger. I knew he was a runner, and I knew he would be attracted to the most awful of dangers if we didn't always know where he was," his mother, Sheila Medlam, said.
They had installed multiple locks on every door, and his mom slept next to Mason at night because she feared he would try to leave.
"I was terrified that he would wake up in the night and somehow find a way out of the house and be lost to me forever," she said. "I couldn't take him to a babysitter's house because there weren't any that had taken the precautions we had. How many child-care providers are willing to add multiple locks to their doors and take on such a risk as a child who wanders at the first opportunity?"
+ Read more: xrl.in/8d09
+ More information: The National Autism Association xrl.in/8d0d has a safety toolkit on autism and wandering.
Autism Clue From Brain Protein
“A single protein may trigger autistic spectrum disorders,”, BBC News has reported. According to the news, when mice were bred to lack a protein called Shank3, which normally aids the transfer of signals between brain cells, they showed classic autism-like behaviours, including social problems and repetitive behaviours.
The laboratory study behind this news found that genetically mutated mice that could not make Shank3 had problems at a nerve cell level, which meant that nerve impulses were not conducted normally. In addition, the mice demonstrated social dysfunction in their behaviour that can be likened to some of the social problems demonstrated by people with autism, such as avoiding contact with other mice.
Some forms of autistic spectrum disorder have been linked to problems with Shank3. This study has gone some way to exploring the underlying mechanisms for them. However, autism is a complex disorder, which is likely to have a number of genetic and environmental causes. The study authors have pointed out that only a small proportion of people with autism have a problem with Shank3. Also, as a mouse study, it should be remembered that the direct relevance of these findings to human health are not clear.
Where did the story come from? The study was carried out by researchers from Duke University Medical Centre in the US, the University of Coimbra and the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Portugal, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Broad Institute in the US. The research was funded by the US National Institutes of Health, The Hartwell Foundation and grants from different organisations to individual researchers. The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature.
BBC News has covered the science behind the story well. This is early research and, currently, its direct application to human health may be limited given that only a small proportion of autism cases are thought to be caused by problems with the particular proteins that were studied.
What kind of research was this? Autism itself and autistic spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders that manifest themselves through communication deficits, impaired social interaction and repetitive behaviours. Scientists set up this laboratory research to explore the neurological basis of some underlying brain cell problems associated with these diseases.
A number of different genes have been implicated in autistic disorders, including a gene called Shank3. This in turn produces a protein called Shank3, which plays a role in the way that nervous impulses are conducted across brain cells. Problems with the Shank3 gene have been implicated as the cause of some of the major neurological symptoms associated with Phelan-McDermid syndrome (also known as 22q13 deletion syndrome), one type of autistic spectrum disorder.
There are different forms of Shank3 protein and they are all large and complex molecules. They are involved in complex reactions that are not fully understood.
The researchers bred genetically modified mice that were unable to produce the Shank3 proteins, and compared their behaviour to that of regular mice. Some of the genetically modified mice lacked the ability to produce one particular type of Shank3 protein. Others lacked the ability to produce the other forms of the protein.
What did the research involve? The researchers used a series of behavioural tests to investigate the behaviour of the mice that lacked the ability to produce different forms of the Shank3 protein. Mice were assessed when they were young adults, approximately five to six weeks old. Investigators were unaware of the genetic status of the mice, i.e. whether they were the ones that could produce Shank3 normally or whether they were genetically modified.
The behavioural tests involved exposing the mice to a maze and determining how long they spent in open and closed arms of the maze, and how they moved from light to dark parts of the maze. They were also made to walk along a turning rod. Social interaction was determined by assessing the mice’s ability to initiate contact when exposed to each other in a three-chamber social arena.
Brain samples from the mice were then examined. The researchers examined how the levels of a number of known proteins in the synapses were affected by the mutations. They also looked closely at the morphology and physical make up of the brain cells. The researchers attempted to determine exactly where Shank3 proteins were taking effect and measured the strength of the nervous impulses in their brains.
What were the basic results? While the mice with Shank3 mutations performed similarly to normal mice in some behavioural experiments, the ones that could not produce one particular form of the protein, called Shank3B, demonstrated more anxiety-like behaviour and self-injurious grooming, which resulted in skin lesions. These mice also displayed dysfunctional social interaction. They were more likely to avoid time with another mouse, and they were more likely to prefer an empty cage to a compartment containing another animal.
A number of key proteins were also found to be reduced in mice that did not produce Shank3. These proteins are known to play an important role in the way nerve cells conduct their impulses. In mutant mice some brain cells - those called spiny neurones - were also physically different to those seen in normal mice. Shank3 proteins were found to play a critical role in the way that nervous impulses were transmitted in nerve cells in particular parts of the brain.
How did the researchers interpret the results? In conclusion, the researchers say their results show that problems in the Shank3 gene can result in a number of different functional problems, which may in turn be linked to some of the problems in Shank3-related autistic spectrum disorders. The finding that mice with a mutation in this region demonstrated socially dysfunctional behaviour suggests that this gene may be playing a causal role.
+ Read more: xrl.in/7isv
• • •
New Computer-Based Method to Detect Epileptic Seizures
ScienceDaily — Researchers at Concordia University have pioneered a computer-based method to detect epileptic seizures as they occur -- a new technique that may open a window on the brain's electrical activity.
Their paper, "A Novel Morphology-Based Classifier for Automatic Detection of Epileptic Seizures," presented at the annual meeting of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, documents the very successful application of this new seizure-detection method.
An epileptic seizure, which is caused by disruptions in the normal electrical activity of the brain, can produce a range of symptoms including convulsions and unconsciousness. To learn more about the timing and nature of seizures, the electrical activity of patients' brains is often recorded using electroencephalograms (EEGs). At the moment, however, epilepsy experts must review these recordings manually -- a time-consuming process.
"EEG recordings may cover a period of several weeks," explains study co-author Rajeev Agarwal, a professor in Concordia's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "That's a lot of data to review. Automating the process is difficult, because there's no exact definition for a seizure, so there's no template to look for. Every seizure is different with every patient."
However, seizures have certain recognizable characteristics. They occur when neurons fire in a synchronous or rhythmic manner. As seizures progress, the EEG signals have very strong transitions. Seen on an EEG recording, the waves of electrical activity tend to be spike-like.
The Concordia team, led by PhD candidate and lead author Rajeev Yadav, devised an algorithm to check the sharpness of the electrical signals on the EEG recordings as measured by their angle or slope. A series of sharp signals indicate a seizure.
This approach proved extremely successful. In the study of EEG recordings of seven patients, the new method detected every seizure while scoring an extremely low rate of false positives. Results are far better than those obtained with existing methods.
This method of detecting seizures may have applications beyond epilepsy. "Patterns of sharp electrical activity in the brain are generally not a good thing," says Agarwal, who is also co-founder, chief technical officer and vice-president of Leap Medical Inc.
"Think of comatose patients in the ICU for example," he continues. "Some of them may be having seizures or epileptic form like activity, but there's no way to know at the moment. Our method may allow health professionals to gain a much clearer picture of patients' brain function."
The research team continues to evaluate and refine this method of seizure detection. More patient data from several different centres is being reviewed, and further publications on the subject are planned. So far, according to Agarwal, results are promising.
This research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Regroupement Stratégique en Microsystèmes du Québec.
• • •
'Knowing It in Your Gut': Cross-Talk Between Human Gut Bacteria and Brain
ScienceDaily — A lot of chatter goes on inside each one of us and not all of it happens between our ears. Researchers at McMaster University discovered that the "cross-talk" between bacteria in our gut and our brain plays an important role in the development of psychiatric illness, intestinal diseases and probably other health problems as well including obesity.
"The wave of the future is full of opportunity as we think about how microbiota or bacteria influence the brain and how the bi-directional communication of the body and the brain influence metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes," says Jane Foster, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.
Using germ-free mice, Foster's research shows gut bacteria influences how the brain is wired for learning and memory. The research paper has been published in the March issue of the science journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility.
The study's results show that genes linked to learning and memory are altered in germ-free mice and, in particular, they are altered in one of the key brain regions for learning and memory -- the hippocampus.
"The take-home message is that gut bacteria influences anxiety-like behavior through alterations in the way the brain is wired," said Foster.
Foster's laboratory is located in the Brain-Body Institute, a joint research initiative of McMaster University and St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton. The institute was created to advance understanding of the relationship between the brain, nervous system and bodily disorders.
"We have a hypothesis in my lab that the state of your immune system and your gut bacteria -- which are in constant communication -- influences your personality," Foster said.
She said psychiatrists, in particular, are interested in her research because of the problems of side effects with current drug therapy.
"The idea behind this research is to see if it's possible to develop new therapies which could target the body, free of complications related to getting into the brain," Foster said. "We need novel targets that take a different approach than what is currently on the market for psychiatric illness. Those targets could be the immune system, your gut function…we could even use the body to screen patients to say what drugs might work better in their brain."
• • •
Interest in Toys Predicts Effectiveness of Autism Treatment in Toddlers
ScienceDaily — Toddlers who played with a limited number of toys showed more improvement in their communication skills following parent-guided treatment than those receiving other community-based treatments.
The report is the first to examine this autism treatment -- called Hanen's More Than Words -- for children younger than 2 showing early signs of an autism spectrum disorder. Caught early enough and treated with the right behavioral therapy, autism symptoms can improve dramatically.
The paper appears online March 22 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
"This report adds to our emerging knowledge about which interventions work for which kids. It will help match children with the right intervention and not waste time enrolling them in treatments that are not well-suited for them," said co-author Wendy Stone, director of the UW Autism Center.
Stone said that parents often detect autism symptoms when their children reach about 17 to 18 months old. At this age, typical signs of autism include the child using fewer gestures and facial expressions to communicate, and being less likely to initiate social exchanges, such as pointing out something of interest, than other children the same age.
One in 110 children has autism spectrum disorders, which include autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. More boys, one in 70, than girls are affected.
Few autism interventions focus on toddlers -- children aged 1 to 3 -- and those that do can be time-intensive and expensive. Stone and her collaborators wanted to study the effectiveness of a short-term, relatively low-cost intervention for toddlers showing warning signs.
"Our ultimate goal is to catch the symptoms early and find effective preventive interventions so that these children can attain their full potential," Stone said.
Sixty-two children (51 boys and 11 girls) younger than age 2 and meeting criteria for autism disorders, participated in the study with their parents. The researchers measured the toddlers' baseline social and communication skills during a pretest in which parents and their children played with toys and read books while a researcher observed.
Then the youngsters were randomly assigned either to the Hanen's More Than Words program or to a treatment-as-usual control condition. The program is intended to stimulate mature communication, language development and social skills.
The parents in the treatment group learned strategies to help their toddlers communicate, such as practicing taking turns, encouraging eye contact and modeling simple sentences from the child's perspective. For instance, when the child pointed to crackers, the parent wouldn't just hand over the food. Instead, the parent would get down at eye-level with the child and say, "I want crackers."
"By age 2, most kids have already learned how to interact and communicate with others," Stone said. Children showing early signs of autism spectrum disorders don't seem to learn basic social interactions without coaching, she said.
+ Read more: xrl.in/8d38
• • •
Autistic Boy, 12, With Higher IQ Than Einstein Develops His Own Theory Of Relativity
By Daily Mail Reporter xrl.in/8czq
A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.
Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 - higher than Albert Einstein - and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role.
The boy wonder, who taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry and trigonometry in a week, is now tutoring fellow college classmates after hours.
And now Jake has embarked on his most ambitious project yet - his own 'expanded version of Einstein's theory of relativity'.
His mother, not sure if her child was talking nonsense or genius, sent a video of his theory to the renowned Institute for Advanced Study near Princeton University.
According to the Indiana Star, Institute astrophysics professor Scott Tremaine -himself a world renowned expert - confirmed the authenticity of Jake's theory.
In an email to the family, Tremaine wrote: 'I'm impressed by his interest in physics and the amount that he has learned so far.
'The theory that he's working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics.
'Anyone who solves these will be in line for a Nobel Prize.' But for his mother Kristine Barnett, 36, and the rest of the family, maths remains a tricky subject.
Speaking to the paper, Mrs Barnett said: 'I flunked math. I know this did not come from me.' And it hasn't gone un-noticed by Jake, who added: 'Whenever I try talking about math with anyone in my family they just stare blankly.' Jake was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, a mild form of autism, from an early age.
His parents were worried when he didn't talk until the age of two, suspecting he was educationally abnormal.
It was only as he began to grow up that they realised just how special his gift was.
He would fill up note pads of paper with drawings of complex geometrical shapes and calculations, before picking up felt tip pens and writing equations on windows.
+ Read more: xrl.in/8czq
• • •
Autistic Student Defeating The Odds: 21-Year-Old Is Finalist for Truman Scholarship
Written by Ed Kemp xrl.in/8d58
Every time a door closes, Marie Holowach touches her left shoulder with her right hand. The ritual is not optional.
"If I don't put my hand on my shoulder, I feel like I'm going to die right now - or something else bad is going to happen," she explained.
Holowach, 21, is a highly functioning, highly successful 4.0 student at the University of Southern Mississippi. She's a Presidential Scholar, a National Merit finalist and just this month was named one of 197 national finalists for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, which pays out $30,000 to college juniors for graduate studies and leadership training.
Holowach also has autism, a developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder of the brain.
Throughout her life, she has battled panic attacks, insomnia, attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive behaviors such as the need to immediately flip over cell phones sitting screen-side up.
Doctors diagnosed her at age 14 with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that impairs social and academic development.
"Having Aspergers is liking speaking a different language - like living in a different world with a different culture," she said.
A different world in which others can frequently and jeeringly remind one of one's alien status.
Because her dad changed careers, Holowach often changed school settings growing up from Cullman, Ala., to Fort Wayne, Ind., Wheaton Ill., and finally Madison.
She said she was taunted by classmates for her quirks even as they recognized her gifts.
"I always had a really good memory; so they (my classmates) always wanted me to be on their jeopardy team and things like that," Holowach said.
"I call it the zoo effect: I was an exhibit to be looked at, but not to be interacted with."
Meanwhile, teacher support was iffy.
"It was kind of a grab bag with teachers - some were accepting; some didn't get it at all," she said.
+ Read more: xrl.in/8d58
• • •
Free On-line Conference in Honor of Autism Awarenss Month
Anyone can access this conference from their computer or phone line. If you know anyone who can't get out to conferences, this is a good resource for them.
Some of the sessions will be pre-recorded, some will be live so you can type in your questions to the presenter.
You can sign up by going to the Autism College website and clicking on the link Sign up for our Free On-line Autism Conference on April 9 and 10 autismcollege.com
• • •
Vaccine Book Recommendations
From Laura Hayes
It has been on my mind for many weeks now to send an email to all of you regarding some excellent new books that have been published regarding the following: vaccines and related safety, efficacy, and ethical issues; vaccines and their link to autism; parental rights regarding vaccine choice; the ever-increasing number of vaccines being added to the CDC-recommended vaccine schedule, etc. I have prayed that the truth would come to light regarding what consumers are told and not told about vaccines, and regarding the role that vaccines might play in the current autism epidemic, not to mention the role they might play in the host of other childhood disorders and diseases which are occurring at alarming numbers never seen before. Well, prayers have been answered, and I would like to tell you about 4 new books, plus one that was written a few years ago which is still extremely relevant, that are well-researched, well-written, and well-documented.
If you are thinking to yourself that you don't have infants/toddlers/pre-schoolers right now, so this doesn't affect you, please let me explain why it does still affect you. If you have older children, there are new vaccine mandates regarding booster shots (please know that exemptions exist should you choose to not vaccinate, and you can request a waiver form from your school nurse). If you have teenagers, there are a number of new vaccines aimed directly at them, like the Gardasil vaccine (this one comes with a long list of possible adverse effects, and many teenage girls have already died from this vaccine, while others have suffered horrific side effects, so remember to educate before you vaccinate).
+Read more: www.sarnet.org/ltr/Vaxbookrec.doc
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