Archive for the ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)’ Category

One in three children in the U.S. may suffer from a special need

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by admin

A recent study found that approximately one in three children in a sample population struggles with some form of special need, including learning disabilities, behavioral or emotional disorders, asthma, chronic conditions and developmental disorders.

A cross-sectional study published in the July 25 Pediatrics studied learning disabilities, emotional problems or behavioral problems in school-age children and these disorders affect on students’ well-being.  The U. S. researchers found that learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders can cause difficult social and academic situations at school. Researchers studied more than 1,450 students in grades four through six, following their progress.  The population was derived from 34 rural schools in three large school districts in Maryland and West Virginia.  One-third of these students struggled with learning disabilities or other forms of “special needs,” including learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral disorders, asthma, chronic pain and ADHD, among other disorders, and related needs.

In addition to struggling academically, the third of students in the study who were identified as having special needs were identified as being targets for bullying and strategic social isolation.  These students were more likely to be disruptive in class, perhaps as a result of their academic struggles or, just as easily, of their frustration with being treated as an outsider.

Study co-author Dr. Christopher B. Forrest, a professor if pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “Health affects school performance.  Special health care needs have manifold effects on school outcomes that increase the likelihood that these kids are not going to successfully transition to adulthood.”

Forrest and colleagues used surveyed students and their parents, gathering data on long-term health problems, which were qualified as being those health problems that require health services or cause functional problems. Special health care needs were defined as those conditions lasting longer than 12 months and requiring intervention, which might take form of prescription medication, therapy or other educational services.  Students’ school records were reviewed to gather data on attendance, grades and standardized test scores.

The study’s findings indicate that one of every three children had a “high” special need.  Boys were twice as likely as girls to have a special health care need.  In some cases, Forrest and his team found that the problems generated by a special health need crested at a certain age.  Nonetheless, one in three children with a high special need is alarming. Children with special needs are affected by their condition in the classroom and in other arenas.

Forrest explained his position: “[They] have significant differences in their engagement in school and their school relationships, as well as academic achievement.  It sets up a trajectory for these kids that’s highly distressing.”

The study, however, was not national; it studied only populations in West Virginia and Maryland. The cities from which study populations were drawn had and high proportion of low-income families, potentially contributing to and skewing the study’s results.  Higher-income schools may have more structures to accommodate and facilitate the development of students with high special needs.

The executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York City stated, “[The study] certainly clarifies that learning disabilities, once again, are shown to have a demonstrable effect on children’s achievement in school. We know that students with learning disabilities . . . have very distinct social and emotional challenges that can lead them into difficult situations. We also know many of these things intensify as children grow older.”

Learning disabilities can be very damaging to students’ academic and social development, threatening their potential to become viable adults.  Brainjogging treats and manages learning disabilities, enabling families to thrive even as one member struggles with a potentially inhibiting disability. Brainjogging offers cognitive therapy and tutoring for students and adults with learning disabilities, and specializes in autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, ADHD and language and auditory processing disorders.

Closely spaced pregnancies increase health risks, including autism risk

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 by admin

Closely spaced pregnancies increase autism risk three-fold within 12 months and two-fold between 12 and 23 months.

Closely spaced pregnancies can increase the risk of myriad disorders and conditions: premature births, lower birth weight, schizophrenia, brain diseases and, according to a new study published online Pediatrics, autism.

Autism is not caused by a single factor, but is rather the result of an amalgamation of factors.  A recent study on the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and autism risk directed attention to the fact that the uterine environment may be one environmental factor increasing autism risk.   The Pediatrics study, helmed by Keely Cheslack-Postava, a post doctoral research fellow at Columbia University, investigated the relationship between closely spaced pregnancies and autism risk. Specifically, Cheslack-Postava studied the mother’s womb and how closely spaced pregnancies change the uterine environment.

Cheslack-Postava gathered data on 662,730 second-born siblings in California, all born between 1992 and 2002.  None of the individuals’ older siblings were diagnosed with autism. By age 6, 3,137 had been given a diagnosis of autism – and of these, 2,747 were born less than 36 months after their siblings.  There was a three-fold higher autism risk for second-borns conceived within 12 months of the first child.   When a second child was born within 12 and 23 months after a first child, the risk of the second-born developing autism was twice as high as that of a child born a full three years after the first sibling.

Cheslack-Postava’s research redirects attention to the uterine environment.  While no one uterine factor can be attributed to increasing autism risk, gestation depletes folate and other nutrients necessary for healthy fetal development, increasing the likelihood that the development of autism in a second sibling is tied to uterine environment.

Despite the study’s findings, Cheslack-Postava says, “At this point we aren’t able to say from this research that delaying a second pregnancy would have an effect on autism risk.”

Additionally, Dr. Rita Cantor, a professor of human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, stated that while the three-fold and two-fold increased risks for second-borns sounds high, parents must remember that the overall risk of autism is low.  She says, “There are a lot of people who have closely spaced pregnancies who don’t go on to have children with autism.”

There are also first borns with autism, so Cheslack-Postava’s study does not yield anything definitive about the uterine environment’s nutritional depletion from a recent pregnancy causing autism.  Her research does, however, call attention primarily to the uterine environment, and subsequent research can be focused on the uterine environment of children who develop autism.  This may isolate uterine variables that increase the likelihood of a child’s developing autism, regardless of where the child falls in birth order.

Brainjogging has enormous success with individuals with autism.

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy increases the risk of autism

Friday, July 8th, 2011 by admin

Taking antidepressants in the year before pregnancy increases the likelihood of the child developing ASD. Taking antidepressants during the first trimester increases autism risk fourfold.

Researchers in California conducted a study, published online by the Archives of General Psychiatry, involving data from more than 1,800 children to investigate the relationship between a mother’s use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), during pregnancy and the development of autism.  Of the children in the study, fewer than 300 had an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  The study found that women who were prescribed drugs to treat depression in the year before giving birth were twice as likely to have children with ASD, compared with women who did not take antidepressants during the year prior to pregnancy.  The risk increased significantly for women who took antidepressants during the first trimester.  These women’s children were four times more likely to develop ASD or a similar developmental disorder.

The SSRI family being studied includes paroxetine, generic Paxil; fluoxetine, generic Prozac; and sertraline, generic Zoloft.  These antidepressants boost moods by increasing levels of available serotonin, a neurotransmitter, surrounding nerve cells in the brain.  Some children with autism have been discovered to have higher levels of serotonin in their blood; additionally, family members of children with ASDs show higher levels of serotonin than individuals in families that do not have members with an ASD.

There is not yet a line of distinction between whether the SSRI or the depression it is prescribed to treat is the true influencer that increases autism risk.  Individuals with autism often have a family history of mental health problems.  Additionally, people with autism, markedly children, have higher than normal rates of depression and anxiety.  There is some discussion as to the extent that these and other mood-related disorders are comorbid with or part of autism.

Autism may be more closely or at least as closely linked to environmental factors as to genes

Thursday, July 7th, 2011 by admin

Environmental factors appear to be as influential as, if not more influential than, genes in the development of autism.

While autism is genetic and genes have been proven to influence the development of autism in certain individuals and populations, a new study suggests that environmental factors may also contribute significantly to the occurrence of the developmental disorder. Genes may even take a backseat to the influence of environmental factors.

The report online appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Dr. Joachim Hallmayer, a psychiatrist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his team suggest that genes may account for 40% of autism risk while environmental factors may account for up to 55% of autism risk. These external factors were not explicitly stated in the study, but external research has offered up increased maternal and/or parental age, multiple pregnancies, medications and/or infections during pregnancy and low birth weight as factors that contribute to the development of autism.

Hallymayer and his colleagues analyzed groups of identical and fraternal twins in an attempt determine the extent to which genes account for autism risk.  Identical twins share the same genes whereas fraternal twins are no more genetically similar than any two siblings.  The research team determined that the prevalence of autism in both fraternal and identical twins is higher than in the general population.  Additionally, identical twins are more likely to both be affected by autism than fraternal twins.  However, fraternal twins were also both affected more frequently than in the general population, suggesting that perhaps autism has more to do with shared environment than genes.  A more crowded uterine environment might contribute to increased likelihood of onset of autism in fraternal twins. Comparing the prevalence of autism in the fraternal and identical twin groups allowed scientists to isolate how much genes and shared environment during childhood contributed to twins’ overall health, including the occurrence of autism spectrum disorders.

Dr. Neil Risch, study author and director of the Institute for Human Genetics at University of California San Francisco, stated, “The fact that both groups have elevated rates suggests that something is making the two groups of twins similar to each other. Whether it occurs in utero, during childbirth or soon thereafter, we can’t differentiate. But it suggests that something environmental is causing the twins to be alike.”

Risch notes that the study does not discount genetic factors and their influence on the development of autism, saying, “It’s not either-or in terms of genetics or environment. We’re not saying autism isn’t genetic, because the huge majority of twins don’t have autism. Obviously something is priming the risk, and it looks like that may be a genetic predisposition. So a genetic base and environmental factors together may explain autism better.”

It appears, in relation to autism, genes and environmental factors are not mutually exclusive.  Risch’s study indicates that environmental factors are significant in influencing autism.

Park, Alice (2011).  Autism may be more closely or at least as closely linked to environmental factors as to genes. Time.

Hunter-gatherers and… autism?

Friday, July 1st, 2011 by admin

Jared Reser's recently published paper investigates autism as potentially advantageous to hunter-gatherers of past centuries and goes on to confront the effect that the consistent fulfillment of basic needs of children with autism by their parents is related to these children's manifestation of compulsive behvaiors.

Autism is often referenced in light of the deficits associated with the disorder rather than the strengths also common in individuals affected by ASD.  A relatively new perspective, “the autism advantage,” contends that individuals with ASD have compensatory benefits that counter deficit areas.  For example, these individuals also have increased capacity for spatial intelligence, memory and concentration.  These strengths do not negate the social cognition deficits that are characteristic of autism, but they do bring to light the fact that many individuals with autism, despite decreased social cognition, have very high levels of cognition in other areas.

Evolutionary Psychology’s May volume contained a paper by Jared Reser, a brain science researchers and doctoral candidate at the USC Psychology Department, investigated the degree to which autism may have been an evolutionary advantage to early humans.  Reser operated using the autism advantage perspective, hypothesizing that some genes that contribute to autism might have been selected and maintained throughout generations because of the effect they have on behavior in solitary environments.  Specifically, Reser’s paper focused on how autism might have benefited individuals affected by it.  For example, a hunter-gatherer, who would have experienced a decreased level of social interactions, with autism might have been an excellent and self-sufficient forager.  The strengths inherent in autism are often ones that preserve the self.  Compulsory behavior is often manifest in autism.  Reser reasons that hunter-gatherers affected by autism may have directed any urge toward repetitive behaviors toward locating food and water, thereby significantly decreasing, or perhaps even entirely eliminating, compulsive behaviors such as spinning, flapping or making hand circles.

Reser goes one step further: he suggests that children with autism now have parents that feed them, fulfilling the need for sustenance.  Reser’s contention is that perhaps children with autism in the present channel their compulsory energies into tasks such as flipping switches, scratching, picking, stacking or ordering because their basic needs are entirely met.

It is important to note that this article does not reflect the feelings of Camp Academia, Inc., although Camp Academia, Inc. does believe that individuals affected by or with relatives or friends affected by ASD show be privy to the ever-growing body of research.  In connection with this particular article, Brainjogging is aligned with Reser on one key point: encouraging and facilitating individuals affected by autism to take ownership of their own basic needs and activities, when possible, increases individuals’ sense of self and connection to neuro-typical individuals.  Brainjogging has exceeding success with individuals with autism, but the Brainjogging program is complemented by sessions in which Camp Academia, Inc.’s cognitive therapists coach and train individuals and their families to allow individuals affected with autism the opportunity to take ownership of their experience.

Jared Edward Reser. Conceptualizing the autism spectrum in terms of natural selection and behavioral ecology: The solitary forager hypothesis. Evolutionary Psychology, 2011; 9 (2): 207-238 [link]

Mirror neuron systems in individuals with autism

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by admin

A new study in Biological Psychiatry reports that the mirror neuron system, a brain circuit that allows humans to understand and anticipate other people’s actions, may merely be delayed in individuals with autism, rather than ineffective or nonexistent.  The brain circuit regulating mirror neuron systems becomes active when individuals perform certain actions or watch others perform them.  Individuals with autism, however, typically do not have fully developed mirror neuron systems until age 30.  In neurotypical individuals, mirror neuron system function is strongest when they are young and declines throughout their lifetime.  Conversely, the mirror neuron systems of individuals with autism actually increases as they age, reaching “normal” capacity at age 30 and rising thereafter, even to unusually high levels of efficiency.

The mirror neuron system in individuals with autism increase as they age. Image courtesy of Elsevier.

There is, however, some contention that the increased strength of the mirror neuron system in individuals with autism may be due to early interventions in their lives, including social function interventions and academic ones.

The study, which contends that individuals with autism, who were once thought to have defective or nonexistent mirror neuron systems, may merely have delayed mirror neuron systems, is significant in its implications for autism-related research.  Delayed mirror neuron systems can be identified as a main research interest for autism research.  These brain circuits could be targeted with varied and focused interventions in an attempt to enable individuals with autism to overcome social deficiencies potentially associated with decreased efficiency in these circuits.

Elsevier (2011, May 5). Mirror neuron system in autism: Broken or just slowly developing?

Columbia University research indicates possibility of early diagnosis of autism

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 by admin

Recent research from Columbia University demonstrates detection of autism using fMRIs. Further research needs to be conducted on younger, more critical populations.

A recent study by researchers at Columbia University demonstrates that researchers can predict autism in children using functional MRI (fMRI) scans.  Twenty-seven children between the ages of four and seventeen were given fMRIs while they listened to recordings of their parents voices; twelve of the children had autism and fifteen were typically developing.  The fMRIs measured activity in the brain regions involved in hearing and language comprehension, the primary auditory cortex and superior temporal gyrus, respectively.  The fMRIs revealed that there was no difference in the primary auditory complex in either group, but that the superior temporal gyrus was significantly more active in the typically developing children.  Immature language comprehension – or complete lack thereof – is a hallmark of autism.

Additionally, 27 age-matched children with autism were given fMRIs while listening to recordings of their parents’ voices.  Columbia’s researchers correctly identified autism in 26 of the children.

The findings are significant but require further research.  Although the fMRI scans did identify autism, there is not yet any indication that these scans can distinguish between autism and other developmental disorders.  Autism spectrum disorder is, indeed, a wide range of abilities and deficits – autism does not manifest in the same way in any two individuals.  Columbia’s team cannot yet identify whether autism detected is more or less severe within the spectrum.

Finally, autism is most easily treated with early intervention, which ideally takes place at or even before age two.  The children in Columbia’s study were ages four to seventeen; Columbia will need to conduct trials on younger children in order to substantiate suppositions that fMRIs can correctly identify autism in this critical population.

ASD, increased perception and diminished self-regulatory abilities

Friday, May 27th, 2011 by admin

Individuals with ASD exhibit increased activity in the occiptal lobe.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is partially characterized by impulsive activity and poor planning and self-regulating abilities.  ASD is often characterized by extreme visual strengths.  Dr. Laurent Mottron, of the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders, gathered a team to investigate the relationship between autism, visual strengths and planning weaknesses.

To conduct the study, Mottron’s team reviewed 15 years of data regarding how the autistic brain interprets faces, objects and written words (Science Daily).  The meta-analysis included 26 brain imaging studies that included 357 autistic individuals and 370 non-autistic individuals.  The individuals with autism revealed greater activity in the occipital and temporal regions of the brain, which are both associated with perceiving and recognizing patterns.  The

They also demonstrate heightened activity in the temporal lobe.

individuals with autism also exhibited decreased activity in the brain’s frontal cortex, which is associated with cognitive control, including decision-making, planning and executing thoughts and decisions.

Autistic populations have long demonstrated increased visuo-spatial awareness than individuals without autism.  The greater degree of activity in the occipital and temporal brain regions further supports these findings.  More significantly, the occurrence of this increased activity in the specified regions suggests brain reorganization in autistic populations.  Individuals with autism have brains that actually favor perceptive processes and place less significance on higher-level cognitive tasks, including decision-making and other demonstrations of self-regulation and an internal locus of control.

However, individuals with ASD experience decreased activity in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for high-functioning cognitive taskes, like decision-making and self-regulation.

Mottron’s research further substantiates the supposition that the brain of individuals with autism is actually organized differently than that of individuals without autism.  Understanding the nuances of a brain affected by autism may lead to the development of further treatments for autism.  Brainjogging, Camp Academia, Inc.’s patented cognitive processing software, actually strengthens neural connections in the brain and enables the brain to invigorate seldom-used neurological pathways. This literally increases the brain’s plasticity.  Brainjogging is the answer for individuals with ASD.

Increased odds: rates of autism spectrum disorder rocket

Friday, May 20th, 2011 by admin

The rates are rocketing: the suspected prevalence of autism has nearly tripled.

It was formerly believed that one in one hundred children in the United States had an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Wallis, 2009).  Although this was considered a “stunning statistic” (Wallis, 2009), A recent study by a team of U.S. and South Korean researchers found that approximately one in 38 children has an ASD (Walsh, 2011).

Dr. Young Shin Kim at Yale School of Medicine headed the team of researchers, who conducted a six year study of children from ages 7 to 12 in the Islan district of Goyang, South Korea (Walsh, 2011).  Of the approximately 55,266 children screened for characteristics common to ASD, scientists found the rate of occurrence of ASD to be 2.64%.  This figure is the equivalent of the aforementioned one in 28 odds of ASD.

The "autistic box" refers to the metaphorical glass cages in which many students with ASD exist. A new study suggests that far more students than previously believed are struggling with ASD.

Researchers sent a 27 item questionnaire to elementary students’ parents and teachers.  The social deficits commonly found in individuals with ASD were particularly telling of whether or not a student might have ASD.  If a questionnaire indicated that a student may have had ASD, the child was evaluated to determine whether or not he or she required a diagnosis. The students identified as having a diagnosis of ASD were primarily high-functioning students who did not have any reported mental-health problems prior to the diagnosis.

ASD is an extremely complex disorder.  It is multifaceted and its many faces include social deficits, expressive and receptive language deficits, unawareness of nonverbal cues, etc.  Further screening for ASD will likely uncover more students suffering from the disorder.  Brainjogging is immensely effective in treating students with ASD.  Camp Academia, Inc.’s cognitive processing software, Brainjogging, is currently pending a patent specifically tailored to students with ASD.  Brainjogging prepares the mind to learn by increasing students’ cognitive processing efficiency.  Increasing cognitive processing speeds primes the brain to be more receptive to the nuances of language.  Brainjogging prepares the mind for further tutoring and instruction, making it more pliable and more likely to receive and retain information.

Wallis, C. (2009).  New studies see a higher rate of autism: is the jump real? Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1927824,00.html#ixzz1MrPssGRO.

Walsh, B. (2011). Not so rare. A landmark new study indicates that autism may be surprisingly widespread. Time, 177(21), 20.

Virtual conversation simulator beneficial for adults with autism

Thursday, May 19th, 2011 by admin

Several adults with autism found a prototype of a virtual conversation simulator to be beneficial.

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. recently published a study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking that investigated the effectiveness of a virtual conversation simulator in enhancing the conversational integrity of adults with autism.

A hallmark of autism is a degree of difficulty in communicating with other individuals, particularly in social interactions that require insight into and awareness of non-verbal conversational clues.  Many individuals with autism have normal intelligence levels but struggle with social situations.  Doctors from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and SIMmersion LLC in Columbia, Maryland, engaged adults with autism in a virtual conversation simulation program.  The prototypical program was designed to assess the value of such a program for individuals, specifically adults, with autism (ScienceDaily).

The study’s participants included 12 adolescents and adults with autism.  These individuals engaged in a virtual conversation simulator with an onscreen partner designed to replication realistic feedback triggered by the participant’s conversation responses (Trapgnier, C.Y., Olsen, D.E., Boteler, L., & Bell, C.A., 2011).  After two weeks, the participants were asked to use a Likert-type scale to rate the degree to which they found the simulator beneficial.  Study participants rated the simulator as highly beneficial.

One of the particular deficits associated with autism is the ability to understand and utilize pragmatic language, specifically elements of pragmatic language that often arise during conversations.  The researchers’ prototype rated individuals on their ability to manipulate, maintain and pleasantly conclude conversations on various topics, not just the participant’s preferred topics (Trapgnier, C.Y., Olsen, D.E., Boteler, L., & Bell, C.A., 2011).  This initial prototype for a virtual conversation simulator program supports the development of a more sophisticated program to investigate the degree to which virtual conversation simulators actually improve upon the pragmatic language skills of individuals with ASD.

Camp Academia, Inc. offers tutoring services for students with learning disabilities, and is particularly successful with individuals with ASD.  Camp Academia, Inc. has offices in Columbus and LaGrange, Georgia, and utilizes BrainJogging, its patented cognitive processing software.

Trepagnier, C.Y., Olsen, D.E., Boteler, L., and Bell, C.A. (2011). Virtual conversation partner for adults with autism [Abstract]. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(7).