Links for Keyword: Autism

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by Emily Underwood "Antibrain" antibodies that slip through the placenta from mother to fetus during pregnancy may account for roughly a quarter of autism cases, a new study suggests. Some scientists say the work could lead to a blood test that accurately predicts whether a mother will bear a child with this immune-triggered form of the disorder—a claim that's raising eyebrows among skeptics. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a range of communication and social deficits estimated to affect 1 in 88 children, is now largely thought to be a neurodevelopmental malady that begins in the womb. For years, many researchers have brushed aside the idea that an out-of-whack immune response could contribute to this, preferring to focus on genetic factors that could derail typical brain development, says immunologist Judy Van de Water. Over the past decade, however, she and her colleagues at the University of California (UC), Davis, as well as several other research groups, have been slowly building a case for the role of an immune disorder in a subset of autism cases. "We just didn't quit," she says. In 2008, Van de Water found that roughly a quarter of 61 women with autistic children carried in their blood an unusual group of antibodies—large, Y-shaped proteins with sticky ends that normally bind to and destroy foreign or potentially harmful microbes. Some of these, called autoantibodies, occasionally go rogue and attack the body's healthy cells, causing autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The higher the level of autoantibodies in the mother's blood, the more severe the child's autistic symptoms, Van de Water observed. She hypothesized that these autoantibodies were attacking proteins necessary for fetal brain development. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18368 - Posted: 07.11.2013

By Darold Treffert The good news is that occasionally one reads about children who have ‘recovered’ from, or who have ‘out-grown’ their ‘autism’. And that’s great. Not to detract anything from that good news, though, if truth be told, the ‘recovery’ in many cases is from autism they fortunately never had. Instead what those children ‘outgrew’ were conditions such as hyperlexia (children who read early) or Einstein Syndrome (children who speak late) in which ‘autistic-like’ symptoms can be, for a period of time, in my view, prematurely and mistakenly misdiagnosed as Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The good news that these non-autistic children turn out to be bright, successful, neurotypical children remains undiminished. But the bad news is that in the meantime parents have been needlessly pessimistic and worried about their child, and sometimes unnecessary or even misguided treatment, educational and other management decisions have been carried out. I have been involved with the study of autism for many years. In fact I had the opportunity to learn about autism directly from Dr. Leo Kanner himself when he was a visiting professor at times during my medical school years. Dr.Kanner was the first to identify and name early infantile autism in 1943. Following my psychiatric residency I started a Children’s Unit at a psychiatric hospital in Wisconsin. Most of the patients were autistic and it was there I also met my first savants that have also so intrigued me and have been the object of my research for over 50 years as documented in my 2010 book on the topic: Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18361 - Posted: 07.09.2013

By Jessica Wright and SFARI.org With the right incentive, such as winning a prize, children with autism do fairly well at inferring the thoughts and beliefs of others, according to a study published in the May issue of Developmental Science. Research has shown that children with autism usually struggle with a widely used test designed to gauge this ability, called theory of mind. The new study suggests that they are able to grasp theory of mind, but don’t have a strong motivation to give the correct answer when taking the classic test. The particulars of the test vary, but children are generally told a story in which two characters (often called Sally and Ann) place an object in a basket. After Sally leaves the room, Ann moves the item into a box. The child passes the test if he or she knows that Sally will look for the item in the basket and not the box. Typical children struggle with this test as 3-year-olds, but most pass it by 5 years of age. The majority of children with autism continue to fail the test well into their teenage years. Adults with autism are usually able to pass the Sally-Ann test, as it is often called, but struggle with more subtle examples of theory of mind. In the new study, the researchers revised the Sally-Ann test into a game. For typically developing children, the motivation to answer a question correctly may be tied to a desire for social interactions. In contrast, children with autism may use theory of mind when they want something concrete, for example when competing for things with a sibling, the researchers say. © 2013 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18353 - Posted: 07.06.2013

by Mark Viney The largest and most comprehensive study yet into the long-term health of children born as a result of IVF confirms that they are no more likely to develop autism than children conceived naturally. Some IVF procedures can, however, lead to a small but significant increased risk of intellectual disability. Making babies isn't what it once was. Around 1 in 50 children are now conceived through IVF, and 5 million "test tube babies" have been born worldwide since 1978. The growing numbers of IVF births has prompted some to question whether the procedure leads to any health problems. For example, the IVF embryo transfer procedure is more likely to lead to twin births, which can lead to health problems in babies. Others wonder whether children born through IVF procedures are at a greater risk of developing autism. The evidence to date has been ambiguous. In an effort to resolve the question, a research team including Karl-Gösta Nygren at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, looked at the health of 2.5 million children born in Sweden between 1982 and 2007, following them for an average of 10 years. Of these children, about 31,000 were born following an IVF procedure. Some 19,500 of these IVF births followed simple mixing of sperm and egg in a dish, but in 10,500 cases, the sperm were unable to penetrate and fertilise the egg under their own steam, and were instead artificially injected into the egg. For the remaining cases – fewer than 1000 in total – there were no sperm in the prospective fathers' ejaculate, so the sperm were extracted from their testicles through a surgical procedure before being injected into the egg. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18340 - Posted: 07.03.2013

Niko J. Kallianiotis for The New York Times Autism, or the fear of it, chased one Korean mother from her Queens church. “I very carefully told the mom: ‘I think your child is a little different. Why don’t you take the test for autism?’ ” said the Rev. Joy Lee of the Korean Presbyterian Church in Flushing. “She told me, ‘Oh no, my child will be O.K.’ So then she quit. After that, she did not pick up the phone.” Ms. Ko said her own mother refused to discuss Jaewoo with relatives and friends after he was given his diagnosis. It crushed another Korean mother — twice. First, she said, when her son received the diagnosis, and again when friends saw it as a sign that she herself was sick. To cure him, they said, she needed psychotherapy. Sun Young Ko, of Forest Hills, whose 8-year-old son, Jaewoo Kwak, was given a diagnosis of autism 18 months ago, said her own mother refused to discuss her grandson with relatives or friends. “She’s kind of hiding,” Ms. Ko said. Raising an autistic child is hard enough, let alone raising one in a culture in which the stigma surrounding autism still runs high. Now, inspired by a 2011 study of a South Korean city that found relatively high rates of autism, a leading advocacy group is teaming with churches, doctors, schools and news organizations in Flushing, trying gingerly to bring Korean parents around to the idea that if there is something unusual about their child, concealing it and avoiding help are absolutely the wrong things to do. “More so than other populations, Korean-Americans really measure their own self-worth, and the worth of the family, in terms of what the child is able to achieve and what the child means to the family,” said Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology at George Washington University and the senior author of the South Korea study. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18328 - Posted: 07.01.2013

By Nadja Popovich Eye-tracking has become the tech trend du jour. Advertisers use data on where you look and when to better capture your attention. Designers employ it to improve products. Game and phone developers utilize it to offer the latest in hands-free interaction. But eye-tracking can do more than help sell products or give your finger a rest while playing Fruit Ninja. Years of research have found that our tiny, rapid eye movements called saccades serve as a window into the brain for psychologists just as for advertisers—but instead of giving clues about our preferred cookie brands (pdf), they elucidate our inner mental functioning. The question is, can capturing such movements help clinicians make diagnoses of mental and neurological disorders, such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson’s disease and more? For many researchers in this growing field, the outlook so far looks positive. “Visual scanning reflects a model of the world that exists inside the brain of each individual,” explains Moshe Eizenman, a leading eye-tracking researcher at the University of Toronto. “People with mental disorders have a model of the world that is slightly different than that of normal people—and by moving their eyes, they provide information about this different model.” Autistic children, for example, tend to avoid social images in favor of abstract ones, and they also more rarely and fleetingly make eye contact when looking at faces in an image or video in comparison with nonautistic kids. Similarly distinct, abnormal eye-movement patterns occur in a number of mental disorders, scientists have found. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18291 - Posted: 06.20.2013

By Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News Women who live in areas with polluted air are up to twice as likely to have an autistic child than those living in communities with cleaner air, according to a new study published today. Building on two smaller, regional studies, the Harvard University research is the first to link air pollution nationwide with autism. It also is the first to suggest that baby boys may be more at risk for autism disorders when their mothers breathe polluted air during pregnancy. Babies born in areas of the United States with high airborne levels of mercury, diesel exhaust, lead, manganese, nickel and methylene chloride were more likely to have autism than those in areas with lower pollution. The strongest links were for diesel exhaust and mercury. “The striking similarity with our results and the previous studies adds a tremendous amount to the weight of evidence that pollutants in the air might be causing autism in children,” said Andrea Roberts, a research associate at the Harvard University School of Public Health and lead author of the new study published online in Environmental Health Perspectives. Scientists have been trying to figure out whether a variety of environmental exposures are linked to autism, a neurological disorder diagnosed in one out of every 50 U.S. children between the ages of 6 and 17. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18290 - Posted: 06.20.2013

by Douglas Heaven Here's a game of join the dots. Hundreds of genes have been linked to autism, but to understand the roles they play – and the ones most likely to eventually lead to treatment – we need to work out how they are connected to one another. Now Caleb Webber at the University of Oxford and his colleagues have done that, creating the largest interacting network yet of genes linked to autism. The team looked at the DNA of 181 individuals with autism and found they often had either more or fewer copies of certain genes known to be important for the transmission of brain signals, a system thought to go awry with autism. By feeding these genes into a computer model and tracing their interactions, they were able to build a web-like network, with genes in the centre having many connections and those at the edge just a few. They found that many of the genes identified in the 181 people were connected to others that had previously been linked to autism. By turning certain genes on or off in the model, the team found that extra or missing copies of genes in the centre of the network were much more likely to disrupt brain signalling – and therefore be influential in autism – than those on the edge. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18262 - Posted: 06.12.2013

By Geoffrey Mohan Hyperactive brain cells firing together could be an early indicator of autism and developmental disabilities, a team of UCLA researchers has found. Networks of neurons were found to be firing in a highly synchronized and seemingly unrelenting fashion, even through sleep, in the brains of juvenile mice that have a genetic abnormality similar to one that causes mental retardation and autism symptoms in humans, according to the research published online Monday in Nature Neuroscience. Without independently firing neurons, the human brain would be about as functionally complicated as a digital switch. With it, we compose poetry and send robotic carts to Mars. "If you want to code information, you can’t just have all the cells fire together or not, because then that’s just binary. It goes up and down," said UCLA neuroscientist Carlos Portera-Cailliau, a lead author of the report. “But if you have billions of neurons, all firing independently or in small clusters, then you can code a lot of information.” That “de-synchronization” was greatly diminished in the neocortex of the juvenile mice that had been altered so that they lack the same protein known to cause mental retardation and autistic behaviors in humans. These so-called Fmr1 Knockout mice, named for the gene that is knocked out, exhibit autism behaviors, among them social deficits – they don’t go over and sniff and examine a new mouse introduced to the cage, like wild mice would. Copyright 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 18235 - Posted: 06.05.2013

by Emily Underwood Without a way to forecast whether the early warning signs of autism will develop into severe impairment, parents of children with the disorder are left with one harrowing option: Wait and see. Now, a new study suggests that a distinct ripple of brain waves measured while toddlers listen to words can reliably predict how they will fare in a range of cognitive areas up to age 6—the longest-term forecast yet achieved. In addition to pointing toward more effective treatments, the discovery could help reveal how early social abilities facilitate the development of language. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have begun to display telltale social and language deficits by the time they're toddlers; they fail to play or make eye contact with others, for example, or to say short sentences such as "drink milk." Although scientists have long considered the brain systems that govern these two types of deficits as separate, a growing body of evidence suggests that they are actually deeply intertwined, says Patricia Kuhl, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Washington, Seattle, and lead author of the new study. One of Kuhl's first important clues that social deficits might hinder language acquisition in autism came from her 2005 study of "Motherese"—the exaggerated, sing-song baby talk that parents instinctively shower on their children. When given the choice between listening to samples of Motherese or computer-generated tones, Kuhl found that preschoolers with autism "actually preferred the Robovoice," she says. This lack of interest in human speech not only correlated with the severity of a child's autistic symptoms, Kuhl notes, but with a lack of typical brain response to subtle changes in syllables, such as the switch from "ba" to "da." That's bad news, she says, because "picking up these tiny changes means the difference between learning language or not." © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 18207 - Posted: 05.30.2013

By DAVID DOBBS In the autistic person, it seems, hums a vital and distinctive essence — but one whose nature is obscured by thick layers of behavior and perception. Or, as Temple Grandin puts it, “two panes of glass.” For a quarter century, Dr. Grandin — the brainy, straight-speaking, cowboy-shirt-wearing animal scientist and slaughterhouse designer who at 62 is perhaps the world’s most famous autistic person — has been helping people break through the barriers separating autistic from nonautistic experience. Like Dr. Sacks, who made her famous as the title figure in his 1995 collection “An Anthropologist on Mars,” Dr. Grandin has helped us understand autism not just as a phenomenon, but as a different but coherent mode of existence that otherwise confounds us. In her own books and public appearances, she excels at finding concrete examples that reveal the perceptual and social limitations of autistic and “neurotypical” people alike. In “The Autistic Brain,” her latest book, written with the science author Richard Panek, she shows this talent most vividly in a middle chapter that looks at the sensory world of autism. It is a world filled with anomalies, in which everyday sensations can be overwhelming: A school bell can feel like a dentist’s drill, a scratchy shirt like a swarm of fire ants. In other cases the autistic person may feel so little sensation that she’ll try to fill the vacuum and create some sort of order — hence the rocking, twirling, hand-flapping, noisemaking behaviors that can discomfit and alienate onlookers. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18149 - Posted: 05.14.2013

by Dr. Claire McCarthy April is Autism Awareness Month--and if there's anything that we need when it comes to autism, it's awareness. We need people to be aware of this condition that affects a staggering 1 in 50 children, so that we can understand what causes it, and find ways to prevent it. And we need people to be aware of the signs of autism--because getting help early can make a real difference. Many children aren't diagnosed with autism until they get to preschool, or sometimes even later--and that means important time is lost. The signs of autism can be present in toddlers--and when we find it then, we can get help to those children and their families right away. The trick is in asking the right questions--and acting on the answers. In the practice where I work, as in many other practices, we ask parents to fill out questionnaires about the behavior and development of their children. At the 18 month and 24 month visits, we ask parents to fill out one called the MCHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers)--that's the tool we've chosen to help us look for autism. It's a list of questions that parents answer yes or no to, questions about how their child acts, plays and interacts with other people. While all the questions on the MCHAT are important, there are six that are most important: Does your child take an interest in other children? Does your child ever use his finger to point at or ask for something? Does your child ever bring objects over to you to show you something? Does your child imitate you? Does your child respond to his name when you call? If you point at a toy across the room, does your child look at it? © 2013 NY Times Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18081 - Posted: 04.27.2013

By Karen Rowan and MyHealthNewsDaily Children at an increased risk of autism may have abnormal structures in the placenta that can be detected at birth, a new study finds. The findings suggest behavioral interventions aimed at social and motor skill development in these children could be started right away, the researchers said. Studies have shown that such interventions are more effective in children with autism when they are started earlier. It's much too early to say that an examination of the placenta could be used as a definitive test for autism at birth, said study researcher Dr. Harvey Kliman, director of Reproductive and Placental Research at the Yale University School of Medicine. Autism spectrum disorders are typically diagnosed when children are ages 3 or 4, or even older. However, if these structures were found upon a child's birth and interventions were started, the child might benefit greatly if they did turn out to have autism, while there would be little downside if a child turned out not to have autism -- it's unlikely they would be harmed by the effort, Kliman said. In the study, Kliman and his colleagues collected samples of placenta tissue from 117 children born to families who already had a child with autism, and compared them with placentas from 100 babies born into families in which no older children had autism. The researchers, who didn't know which placentas had come from each group of children, examined samples of the placentas under microscopes. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18080 - Posted: 04.27.2013

By KATIE THOMAS With the diagnosis of autism on the rise and drug companies facing major setbacks in developing successful treatments, the University of California, Los Angeles will lead a $9 million effort financed by the National Institute of Mental Health to find effective drugs, officials said Wednesday. Under a contract with the institute, U.C.L.A. will form a network of researchers at other academic centers that will try to identify promising new and older drug compounds quickly, and conduct early tests to see if they merit additional investment. The program, part of the “Fast Fail” initiative at the institute, aims to determine within weeks whether a drug works, rather than the years it traditionally takes to evaluate a new drug. “The whole idea is just getting much better in these early phases at identifying drugs that are going to be efficacious and safe, and thereby greatly speeding the development of effective new therapies and reducing the overall cost,” said Dr. James McCracken, who is leading the effort at U.C.L.A. as director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The number of diagnosed cases of autism, Asperger’s syndrome and related disorders in children has been growing in recent years, largely because of increased awareness. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration concluded that one in 50 children aged 6 to 17 had been found to have autism or a related disorder, a 72 percent increase since 2007. Although more cases are being diagnosed, no drugs are approved to treat the core symptoms of the disorders, which are characterized by delays in developing effective communication and social skills. Other drugs often prescribed to people with the disorders treat difficult behaviors like aggressiveness, hyperactivity and irritability. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18070 - Posted: 04.25.2013

By PAM BELLUCK After most pregnancies, the placenta is thrown out, having done its job of nourishing and supporting the developing baby. But a new study raises the possibility that analyzing the placenta after birth may provide clues to a child’s risk for developing autism. The study, which analyzed placentas from 217 births, found that in families at high genetic risk for having an autistic child, placentas were significantly more likely to have abnormal folds and creases. “It’s quite stark,” said Dr. Cheryl K. Walker, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Mind Institute at the University of California, Davis, and a co-author of the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. “Placentas from babies at risk for autism, clearly there’s something quite different about them.” Researchers will not know until at least next year how many of the children, who are between 2 and 5, whose placentas were studied will be found to have autism. Experts said, however, that if researchers find that children with autism had more placental folds, called trophoblast inclusions, visible after birth, the condition could become an early indicator or biomarker for babies at high risk for the disorder. “It would be really exciting to have a real biomarker and especially one that you can get at birth,” said Dr. Tara Wenger, a researcher at the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18069 - Posted: 04.25.2013

By KJ DELL'ANTONIA A cautiously worded study based on data collected in Sweden has found that “in utero exposure to both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.’s) and nonselective monoamine reuptake inhibitors (tricyclic antidepressants) was associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders, particularly without intellectual disability.” The Swedish medical birth register (which contains data on current drug use reported by mothers early in their pregnancies), along with a system of publicly funded screenings for autism spectrum disorders and extensive national and regional registers of various health issues, make a detailed, population-based case-control study possible — one that controls for other variables like family income, parent educational level, maternal and paternal age and even maternal region of birth (all factors the authors note have been previously associated with autism). This is the second study in two years to associate antidepressant use during pregnancy with an increased incidence of autism in exposed children. An earlier, smaller study in California also found a modest increase in risk. The Sweden-based study could not (and did not) exclude the possibility that it was the severe depression, rather than the use of antidepressants, that created the association, but the smaller California study (which considered only S.S.R.I.’s) found “no increase in risk” for mothers with a history of mental health treatment in the absence of prenatal exposure to S.S.R.I.’s. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18064 - Posted: 04.23.2013

By GREGORY COWLES When John Elder Robison was teaching his young son, Cubby, the finer points of etiquette almost two decades ago, he noted that in addition to “please” and “thank you,” it’s nice to include a salutation while making a request. “For example,” he said, “if you wanted me to get you milk, you could say: ‘Please, wondrous Dada, may I have some milk?’ ” The salutation never caught with Cubby. But by the last page of Mr. Robison’s engaging new memoir, readers may have no problem hailing the author that way. Part parenting guide, part courtroom drama, part catalog of the travails and surprising joys of life with the high-functioning form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, this memoir will offer all parents — but particularly fathers — a lot to think about. That its author was almost 40 when he learned he had Asperger’s (a discovery he described in his first memoir, “Look Me in the Eye”), and that he eventually learned his son had the condition as well, make their story more remarkable, but do nothing to diminish its relevance even for readers with no personal experience of autism. Indeed, it can be hard to pinpoint what in the Robisons’ relationship is shaped by Asperger’s and what stems from their own idiosyncratic personalities. Cubby’s name, for instance: Mr. Robison tells us that when his wife (now ex) was pregnant, “I sensed that the best names were not in books at all. For example, if we ended up with a girl, I favored naming her Thugwena, because I knew a girl named Thugwena would be tough and not hassled by bullies.” For boys he liked Thugwald, or else “functional choices” like Kid or Boy. Is this an example of his deadpan humor, in evidence throughout, or is it his Asperger’s blinding him to how others might perceive his actions? Just when you conclude that his tongue is firmly in his cheek, he drops a passing reference to the family cat, Small Animal. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18063 - Posted: 04.23.2013

By Neuroskeptic Last year, there was quite a bit of excitement over a “Genetic Test To Predict Risk for Autism”. The test was revealed in a paper in Molecular Psychiatry, by Australian researchers Skafidas and colleagues. The claim was that a statistical classifier could spot patterns of genetic variation that differed between people with autism and healthy controls – with 70% accuracy. For a good discussion of the paper, including comments from the lead author, see here. However, a Letter to Molecular Psychiatry has just cast doubt on the whole thing. The authors write A classifier was recently reported to predict with 70% accuracy if an individual has an autism spectrum disorder using 237 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Biomarkers, genetic or otherwise, that would facilitate earlier autism spectrum disorder diagnosis are crucial; therefore, these results warrant careful scrutiny. So scrutinize it they do, and they find it wanting: In other words, the ‘autism’ genetic variants were indeed more common in the autism cases, compared to controls, but only because the cases and controls were from different places. The classifier worked, but it wasn’t detecting autism, it was detecting ancestry.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 17996 - Posted: 04.08.2013

By DAVID W. DUNLAP Words of comfort, encouragement and empathy had been available to Nancy Lanza and her son, Adam, within a pair of books that were found by the police during a search of their home in Newtown, Conn., after Mr. Lanza’s murderous rampage on Dec. 14. “It’s the most widely read book about Asperger’s out there,” said Mr. Robison of his memoir. It is all but impossible to know if mother or son were helped by the books, “Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s” and “Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant,” or whether either opened, or even had use for, them. While those familiar with Mr. Lanza and his family have said he had an autism variant known as Asperger’s syndrome, investigators have not confirmed the diagnosis. “Look Me in the Eye” (2007), by John Elder Robison, and “Born on a Blue Day” (2006), by Daniel Tammet, are both memoirs that chronicle the painful chasm of misunderstanding that separates people with Asperger’s from the world around them. Both accounts turn hopeful as their writers grow comfortable in their own skins and more successful in communicating with others. That is why Mr. Robison, 55, said it might be expected that his book would have been found among the Lanzas’ belongings. “It’s the most widely read book about Asperger’s out there,” Mr. Robison said by telephone from his home in Amherst, Mass. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of parents have come to me in the years since that book was published to say, ‘Your stories have given me a window into the mind of my son or daughter.’ It’s not a surprise to see that book in the home of any family touched by autism.” The discovery is not entirely welcome, however, if it reinforces an imagined link between autism and violent crime — a link for which experts say there is no evidence. Americans have struggled for three and a half months to understand why Mr. Lanza killed first his mother, then 20 first graders and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, before taking his own life. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 17973 - Posted: 04.01.2013

By Bruce Bower Children with autism may understand more about how other people think than they’re usually given credit for. The trick to exposing this awareness, a new study finds, is to motivate these youngsters to show what they know. In a lab game that requires a child to compete with two adults for a prize, many kids with autism demonstrate insight into how other people’s thoughts shape their behavior, say psychologist Candida Peterson of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and her colleagues. The finding suggests that previous research testing this ability, called theory of mind, underestimates how well youngsters with autism can interpret other people’s actions, Peterson’s team reports March 19 in Developmental Science. Studies published since 1985 have found that most high-functioning individuals with autism — those who have serious social and language problems but average or better IQs — fail a standard theory of mind test at least through adolescence. Kids without autism usually pass the test by age 5. In the standard test, called the Sally-Anne test, children watch an experimenter play with a doll named Sally, who has a covered basket, and a doll named Anne, who has a box. Sally puts a marble in her basket and leaves. Anne moves Sally’s marble to the box. Kids with autism usually indicate that, when Sally returns, she will look for her marble in the box, failing to recognize that Sally falsely believes the marble remains in her basket. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 17960 - Posted: 03.28.2013