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Friday, August 10, 2012 Reader Supported.
Autistic Teens Thrive With Chance To Shine
The study finds that autistic adolescents are as capable of forming friendships as their peers, given a chance to emphasize their strengths. "They're so highly focused on that interest, people think they're weird. But by involving themselves in an activity around the interest, they not only make friends but also become valued members of the group. Their specialized skill becomes a strength," says Robert Koegel. (Credit: iStockphoto)
Autistic adolescents are able to make friends when given a chance to play up their strengths—like high intelligence and very specific interests, say researchers.
The junior high and high school years are emotionally challenging even under the best of circumstances, but for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), that time can be particularly painful. Lacking the social skills that enable them to interact successfully with their peers, these students are often ostracized and even bullied by their classmates.
The new study conducted by researchers at the Koegel Autism Center at University of California, Santa Barbara also shows that the area of the brain that controls such social behavior is not as damaged in adolescents with ASD as was previously believed.
The findings appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.
“The problem is that their restricted interests can dominate their lives and further push away people they’d like to get to know,” says Robert Koegel, director of the Koegel Autism Center and the study’s lead author. He is also a professor of counseling, clinical, and school psychology and of education in UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.
“They’re so highly focused on that interest, people think they’re weird. But by involving themselves in an activity around the interest, they not only make friends but also become valued members of the group. Their specialized skill becomes a strength."
The research team, which also includes Lynn Koegel, the center’s clinical director, and Sunny Kim, a graduate student in education, took a creative approach to helping three boys with ASD to interact with their peers.
Rather than discourage their sometimes-obsessive interests, the researchers helped set up social clubs around them and invited students who do not have ASD to join. The clubs provided a venue for the ASD students to display their special interests and abilities, and helped them engage with their peers in a more meaningful way.
Koegel offers the example of a student with ASD who has a keen interest in computer graphics. The team created a graphic design club in which students would design logos for various companies and businesses. Because most of the students lacked the necessary expertise, they depended on their classmate with ASD to make the venture a success.
“When he was able to interact on a topic in which he was interested, he was able to demonstrate more normal social behavior,” Koegel says. “He not only made friends with his fellow members, he was elected club president."
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Neuroscientists Find Brain Stem Cells That May Be Responsible for Higher Functions, Bigger Brains
Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have identified a new stem cell population that may be responsible for giving birth to the neurons responsible for higher thinking. (Credit: © rolffimages / Fotolia)
ScienceDaily — Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have identified a new stem cell population that may be responsible for giving birth to the neurons responsible for higher thinking. The finding also paves the way for scientists to produce these neurons in culture -- a first step in developing better treatments for cognitive disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, which result from disrupted connections among these brain cells.
Published in the August 10, 2012 issue of the journal Science, the new research reveals how neurons in the uppermost layers of the cerebral cortex form during embryonic brain development.
"The cerebral cortex is the seat of higher brain function, where information gets integrated and where we form memories and consciousness," said the study's senior author Ulrich Mueller, a professor and director of the Dorris Neuroscience Center at Scripps Research. "If we want to understand who we are, we need to understand this area where everything comes together and forms our impression of the world."
In the new study, Mueller's team identified a neural stem cell in mice that specifically gives rise to the neurons that make up the upper layers of the cerebral cortex. Previously, it was thought that all cortical neurons -- those making up both the lower and upper layers -- came from the same type of stem cell, called a radial glial cell, or RGC. A neuron's fate was thought to be determined by the timing of its birth date. The Scripps Research team, however, showed that there is a distinct stem cell progenitor that gives rise to upper layer neurons, regardless of birth date or place.
"Advanced functions like consciousness, thought, and creativity require a lot of different neuronal cell types and a central question has been how all this diversity is produced in the cortex," said Santos Franco, a senior research associate in Mueller's laboratory and first author of the paper. "Our study shows this diversity already exists in the progenitor cells."
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Immune Function Genes CD99L2, JARID2 and TPO Show Association With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Paula S Ramos, Satria Sajuthi, Carl D Langefeld and Stephen J Walker
Molecular Autism 2012, 3:4 doi:10.1186/2040-2392-3-4 Published: 9 June 2012 Abstract (provisional)
A growing number of clinical and basic research studies have implicated immunological abnormalities as being associated with and potentially responsible for the cognitive and behavioral deficits seen in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) children. Here we test the hypothesis that immune-related gene loci are associated with ASD. Findings We identified 2,012 genes of known immune-function via Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Family-based tests of association were computed on the 22,904 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from the 2,012 immune-related genes on 1,510 trios available at the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) repository. Several SNPs in immune-related genes remained statistically significantly associated with ASD after adjusting for multiple comparisons. Specifically, we observed significant associations in the CD99 molecule-like 2 region (CD99L2, rs11796490, P = 4.01 x 10-06, OR = 0.68 (0.58-0.80)), in the jumonji AT rich interactive domain 2 (JARID2) gene (rs13193457, P = 2.71 x 10-06, OR = 0.61 (0.49-0.75)), and in the thyroid peroxidase gene (TPO) (rs1514687, P = 5.72 x 10-06, OR = 1.46 (1.24- 1.72)).
This study suggests that despite the lack of a general enrichment of SNPs in immune function genes in ASD children, several novel genes with known immune functions are associated with ASD.
+ The complete article is available as a provisional PDF. The fully formatted PDF and HTML versions are in production.
• • •
Pets Promote Social Behavior In Autistic Children
By Debbie Nicholson allvoices.com
View slideshow: Dog breeds for autistic children According to researchers animal therapies are widely used but their relevant benefits have never been scientifically evaluated until now. Researchers evaluated the association between the presence of arrival of pets in the families with an individual with autism and the changes in his or her prosocial behaviors. For the study 260 individuals who met the DSM-IV criteria for autistic disorders were involved in two separate analyses.
In the first analyses researchers had matched 12 individuals who did not have a family pet before the ages four or five but did get a pet after the age of five, by age, sex, language ability and epilepsy history to 12 individuals who never had a family pet. At the time of assessment the average age was 10.8 with a range of seven to fifteen.
For the second analyses researchers matched eight individuals who had a family pet since birth with eight individuals who never had a family pet. At the time of assessment the average age was 11.1 with a range of six to sixteen.
The pets in the study had included dogs, cats, one hamster and one rabbit.
All the participants were evaluated with 36-item Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised at the age of four or five and then again at some point after five. The tool measures four main domains -- reciprocal social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests. Parents also filled out a questionnaire about the relationship between their child and the pet.
Out of the 36 measures participants who had gotten a family pet after the child was born had scored higher in two categories; “ offering to share” and “offering to comfort”, after having the pet for a couple of years.
The authors had written in their conclusion; “This study reveals that in individuals with autism, pet arrival in the family setting may bring about changes in specific aspects of their socio-emotional development. It suggests the improvement of some prosocial behaviors in such individuals under certain circumstances. Thus, it offers a “window of opportunity” to future longitudinal developmental studies to further confirm these findings and explain their underlying mechanisms. Given the current state of knowledge, we suggest further research exploring our hypothesis on the association between the arrival of a new pet and the change in a family dynamic to evaluate the impact of another child’s arrival."
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• • •
Oxytocin Helps People Read Minds
By Amber Moore medicaldaily.com
Oxytocin is also called as a bliss hormone. Animal studies have shown that this hormone plays an important role in keeping mating pairs together. This hormone helps establish lasting relationships and reduces fear.
For the study, Dr. Siri Leknes, a research fellow at the Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo, administered nasal sprays to 40 healthy students. One set of students received nasal spray that had salt-water while the other received oxytocin.
They were then showed pictures of angry, happy and sad expressions. There were some pictures among them that had "hidden expressions" which required attention from the subconscious mind.
Leknes found that when people who were given oxytocin saw these pictures, they saw more intense expressions in them than the control group. The oxytocin-group saw angry faces as angrier and happy faces as happier.
“We found that oxytocin intensified test subjects’ awareness of the emotions present in the photos. Faces expressing anger stood out as angrier and less happy, and correspondingly, faces expressing happiness were happier,” said Leknes.
All participants were tested twice without them knowing if they were receiving salt-water or oxytocin nasal spray to ensure that there is no bias in the study.
“It turns out that those with the lowest aptitude for judging emotional expression properly – that is, those with the poorest scores during the saltwater round – were the ones who showed the greatest improvement using oxytocin. This is really fascinating; the people who need it the most are thus the ones who get the most out of using the hormone,” Leknes said in a statement.
In many mental disorders and addictions, people lose the sense of judging other peoples' emotions. Leknes says that oxytocin could be used as a supplementary treatment for people who lack the ability to distinguish emotions.
“Oxytocin will not be a cure-all for mental illness or drug addiction, but it may be of use as a supplementary treatment. It may make individuals better equipped to interpret the signals of others around them, which may improve how they function in social settings,” Leknes explained.
Earlier studies have linked oxytocin to improvement in social information processing ability in autistic children including a study published in Biological Psychiatry and research from Yale University.
“If it turns out that our assumptions are correct, then we may be able to come up with a simple treatment that would mean a great deal for people who find it difficult to pick up on the social cues of their peers,” said Leknes.
The study was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Controversial Down's Syndrome Testing Gets Swiss Go-Ahead
Switzerland has given the green light for a new prenatal test for Down's syndrome amid controversy over whether this will lead to more abortions, a Swiss newspaper reported Sunday.
Testing will be available in the country from mid-August following a decision by Swissmedic, the national agency for therapeutic products, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung am Sonntag reported.
The test, developed by life sciences company LifeCodexx, involves screening pregnant women's blood samples for the presence of foetal Down's syndrome, which is also known as trisomy 21.
The German-based firm described the procedure, marketed as PrenaTest, as a "risk-free alternative to common invasive examination methods such as amniocentesis".
Demand is high in Switzerland from doctors and expectant mothers, the company said. The test will also be marketed in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, according to the German-based firm's website.
The Swiss national health insurer Santesuisse and the Swiss gynaecological society are happy for the cost of the test to be reimbursed as part of standard medical cover if it proves successful, the NZZ report said.
But the international federation of Down's syndrome organisations has objected to such testing at the European Court of Human Rights.
The federation, grouping 30 associations in 16 countries, said in June that the Strasbourg court should "recognise the human condition and protect the right to life of people with Down's syndrome and those handicapped".
Down's syndrome is caused by having an extra copy of chromosome 21 and the risk increases as a woman gets older.
Invasive procedures currently used for prenatal diagnosis -- in the 16th week of pregnancy -- pose a one percent risk of foetal loss. The diagnosis is therefore only made available to high risk women, which fails to catch all cases.
• • •
Department of Defense and Tri-Care Ordered to Provide Applied Behavioral Therapy to Autistic Children of Military Dependents
PRNewswire - Washington D.C. Federal District Judge Reggie Walton today ruled that the Department of Defense and its military insurance arm, Tri-Care acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying applied behavior analysis therapy to military dependents with autism spectrum disorder. The ruling was issued in the case of Berge v United States, No. 10-0373. This ruling capped the military families' three year battle with the Department of Defense and TriCare.
The Court granted Summary Judgment to the families, ordering that the government cover ABA therapy for thousands of autistic children of military dependents. The government had taken the position that the therapy was "unproven." Judge Reggie Walton held that this conclusion was arbitrary and capricious and ordered the government to provide the therapy immediately. The 67 page ruling is expected to benefit 20,000 children with autism spectrum disorder.
The attorneys for the families are:David Honigman, 248 330 2962 cellGerard Mantese, 248 515 6419 cellBrian SaxeJohn J. Conway248 457 92001361 E. Big Beaver Rd. Troy, MI 48083
• • •
School Voucher Program Thrives As Participation In The Controversial Aid System Grows, It's Begun To Add Some Diversity
Tim and Kathy Parks knew for years that their son Chakotay, who has autism, would outgrow traditional public school. They also knew that finding a new school for him -- one that would meet his needs and that they could afford -- would be a challenge.
"We were just desperate to find a place for him to fit in and grow," Tim Parks said. "In Indiana, it makes it very narrow. There aren't very many choices."
Through one of their autism support groups, the Parkses learned about the Independence Academy of Indiana, a small private school that specializes in educating students with high-performing autism and Asperger's syndrome.
The problem was the cost. Tuition is $11,900 a year.
"It was so expensive," Parks said, "that we didn't think we could afford it."
Nonetheless, this school year, Chakotay, 13, will be entering Independence Academy's eighth grade. How he got there is one of the success stories of the state's year-old voucher program.
Indiana's voucher program allows parents to receive thousands of dollars that can be applied toward tuition at private schools that participate in the program. The amount of aid is based on the per-pupil funding the state sets for a student who otherwise would attend public school in his or her local district, so it doesn't necessarily cover all of the private school tuition.
But for a strategy whose primary mission is to provide parents with more choices, one criticism has been that Indiana's program lacks many options other than religious-affiliated schools -- or choices for parents looking for specific expertise.
In that regard, Independence Academy is noteworthy. It is one of 41 additional private schools that decided this year to join the voucher program, and one of the first two nonreligious private schools in Marion County to sign on to it.
The other nonreligious school is Todd Academy, which is specifically for academically gifted children.
"Now," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, "we're kind of seeing this blossoming of nonreligious schools."
Lindsey Brown, executive director of School Choice Indiana, said she's not surprised to see more diversity in the program. As more schools joined, she said, it was likely there would be different kinds of schools joining, too.
That said, the voucher program both locally and across the state continues to be dominated by religious and especially Christian parochial schools -- a concern to some critics, who see it as government support for religion.
The state Department of Education does not keep track of whether schools applying to the voucher program are religion-based. It appears, however, that of the 301 schools approved for the program, just eight are nonreligious.
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• • •
On the Spectrum: Art and Autism Artists shine bright in group exhibition at Westside ArtWalk
Everyone is different. Art as a career choice is certainly not for everyone, including those who have natural artistic ability. Art has been my life. Form follows function — that’s one of my many rules, which are so brilliantly easy to follow that they’re automatic. Art is not meant to be “pretty.” It must spur questions in the minds of viewers, or else it is impotent.
In London, Ontario, where I was born, I earned the special art certificate from H.B. Beal, majoring in sculpture. Later I earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. At Hickok Technical Institute, I earned an A.S. certificate in technical drawing. The last certificate gave me skills to enter a large corporation as a draftsman, and I was promoted to positions where they utilized my illustration skills and organizational skills to become a middle manager as a creative director and more.
Commercial art paid for my gallery art so that I could gain exposure. Whether it was art for hire or for a gallery, it always satisfied my aesthetic.
Art and life are humorous. While I was in my last year at Beal, in Canada, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The doctors couldn’t make a diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) back then. Today, I’m still an outpatient of psychiatric care. At 55, I was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I knew I had been like this all my life, in my heart, and I laughed.
Lately, I have new goals. I did some presentations regarding autism and a TV interview. I want people to know that they can get an education and focus on a career of their choice through persistence, as I have done.
My most recent art focuses on my mission toward autism awareness. The new series of work called Autism VIPs, introduces to the public the spokesmen and spokeswomen for the cause of autism awareness. This series includes Temple Grandin, Keri Bowers, Stephen Shore and Debra Hosseini. Soon there will be others who are living as well as those famous individuals who have been identified posthumously as having had ASD in the writings of Michael Fitzgerald, Tony Attwood and Simon Baron-Cohen. I plan portraits of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Emily Dickenson, Anais Nin and St. Joan of Arc.
For anyone talented with artistic abilities and who has a diagnosis of ASD, I recommend vocational counseling as well as clinicians. ASD people are focused, and I see that as our strongest attribute, because we can impact society in a very positive way. Our difference is good, not bad. Autism awareness and the push for changes in legislation is an ongoing movement, similar to the civil rights and women’s rights movements throughout the world. This will eventually help autistics and their parents overcome their fears and have a life. It will bridge the differences between neurologically typical people and autistic people. In our global culture, our definition of what it is to be human will surely change for the better.
+ See more art.
• • •
Wakefield's Libel Suit Against BMJ Thrown Out
By Deborah Brauser From Medscape Medical News
A judge in Texas has thrown out the libel action suit filed in that state by Andrew Wakefield against the BMJ, the journal's editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee, MD, and journalist Brian Deer, according to a news release from the BMJ.
As reported at the time by Medscape Medical News, Wakefield filed his defamation suit in January 2012 because of a series of articles and accompanying editorials published by the BMJ in 2011. The articles, which were written by Deer, were highly critical of the much-maligned study of Wakefield's that was published in (and later retracted from) the Lancet linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to regressive autism and bowel disease.
Dr. Godlee cowrote the BMJ's editorial, which called Wakefield's study "an elaborate fraud." Although 10 of the study's 12 coauthors have now disavowed the findings, the study has been blamed for plummeting rates of MMR vaccinations.
British citizen Wakefield chose to file his suit in Texas, where he is currently residing, because the defendants "purposely availed themselves of the privileges, benefits, advantages, and profits of conducting their affairs in the state of Texas."
However, Travis County district judge Amy Clark Meachum announced in her ruling that Texas courts have no jurisdiction over the 3 British defendants.
"We have always had full confidence in what we published in the BMJ. We look forward to putting this litigation behind us," Dr. Godlee said in the news release.
Plans to Appeal
Wakefield's study was published in the Lancet in 1998 amid a huge outpouring of media coverage. It was retracted by the journal in 2010 and described by the Lancet's editor at time of retraction as "utterly false."
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• • •
Mom Seeking $50,000 From School That Put Autistic Boy In “Box"
Waupun, Wisconsin — The mother of an autistic boy in Waupun is taking the first step toward suing her son’s school for locking him up in seclusion. Mandy Rennhack filed a notice of claim with the Waupun School District seeking more than $50,000 in damages for “false imprisonment,” after her son’s special education teacher placed him in a so-called “quiet room” for refusing to follow directions.
FOX6 Investigators broke this story back in May, prompting a state investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. It also generated huge reaction within the autism community.
Now, the state is ordering the school to stop using the plywood “quiet room” until changes are made.
“I’m surprised the number of people that did not know it existed in this town,” Rennhack, whose 10-year-old son, Tyler, has Asperger’s Syndrome said.
For weeks, Rennhack tried telling everyone that Tyler had been locked in a plywood box at Rock River Intermediate School, but says nobody would listen.
It’s a 5-foot by 7-foot, padded room built of plywood, with a hard tile floor, no ventilation and a handle that locks when you hold it.
The room is designed to hold special education students in seclusion during a violent outburst, but earlier this year, Tyler was placed inside as punishment for refusing to follow directions.
“You have to do what the rules say you have to do,“ Donald Childs, who was still the Superintendent of Waupun schools when FOX6 first broke the story said.
“You don`t lock children up. You help them,” Rennhack said.
When FOX6 News first reported the story in May, the autism community erupted in response. Rennhack started getting Facebook friend requests from all over the world — Texas, Tennessee, Canada and even the UK.
To Rennhack’s relief, the story also prompted an investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, or DPI.
“Something is being done now,” Rennhack said.
On May 23rd, DPI ordered the Waupun School District to “stop using the seclusion room” until “corrective actions” are taken, like, installing a larger window or unbreakable mirror, adding ventilation and removing the locking door handle.
“It’s an improvement. It’s still a box,” Rennhack said.
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