Links for Keyword: Autism

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By Donald McCarthy I lived only half a childhood. Friendships were difficult, because I often did not know what to say. I had little patience for small talk and a dislike of new situations. Thrust into unfamiliar surroundings, my whole body would warm, my hands would shake, and I would feel a tightening in my chest and a deep, almost primal urge to scream. Even as an adult, I felt like I viewed reality through a foggy window. I thought it was simply me — that my personality was just odd — and I would need to learn to cope with the fact that I did not fit in well with most people. Then, at age 28, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). My diagnosis was a relief. Suddenly, I knew why I felt the way I did, and why I had a hard time living the way others did. But I can only imagine how much better my life would have been if I had been diagnosed as a child and had the chance to understand myself at a younger age. Might I have made emotional connections with my peers, instead of just with Bruce Springsteen songs and characters in Stephen King novels? It turns out I’m not alone. Many people go more than half of their lives before learning that they are autistic; the exact number remains a mystery, as research on adults with autism has been scarce. Although public awareness of ASD and its symptoms has improved in recent decades, many children still slip through the cracks, especially girls and children of color. We as a society have the power and resources to change that; all we need is the will. Consider the science: There is little question among psychologists specializing in autism that an early diagnosis can change a person’s life for the better. Therapy aimed at reworking the way a young person with ASD thinks and comprehends has shown success. Children who undergo therapy see results that allow them to curb undesirable behavior, improve social interactions, and better their own quality of life.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26856 - Posted: 11.29.2019

By Michele C. Hollow As soon as James Griffin gets off the school bus he tells his mom, “Go dance, go dance.” James is 14 and has autism, and his speech is limited. He’s a participant in a program for children on the autism spectrum at the University of Delaware that is studying how dance affects behavior and verbal, social and motor skills. One afternoon while dancing, he spun around, looked at his mother, smiled and shouted, “I love you.” His mom, Rachelan Griffin, said she had waited his whole life to hear him say those words. “I think that the program is a big part of that, because he was dancing when he said it,” she said. According to Anjana Bhat, an associate professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, “Parents report that their children with autism enjoy musical activities and show more positive interactions with others through greater eye contact, smiling and speaking after engaging in a dance and music program.” James is one of about a dozen children on the autism spectrum who meet individually with Dr. Bhat’s graduate and undergraduate students for the dance study, which also uses yoga and musical activities. Some children also participated in robotic therapy, in which a humanoid robot helps them learn to follow dance moves. “Across many different studies we find that social skills like smiling and verbalization are substantially higher when children with autism engage in socially embedded movements versus sedentary games like checkers or building a Lego set,” Dr. Bhat said. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26835 - Posted: 11.20.2019

Lorenz Wagner Henry Markram, the neuroscientist behind the billion-dollar Blue Brain Project to build a supercomputer model of the brain, has set the goal of decoding all disturbances of the mind within a generation. This quest is personal for him. The driving force behind his grand ambition has been his son Kai, who suffers from autism. Raising Kai made Henry Markram question all that he thought he knew about neuroscience, and then inspired his groundbreaking research that would upend the conventional wisdom about autism, leading to his now-famous theory of the Intense World Syndrome. When Kai was first diagnosed, his father consulted studies and experts. He knew as much about the human brain as almost anyone but still felt as helpless as any parent confronted with this condition in his child. What’s more, the scientific consensus that autism was a deficit of empathy didn’t mesh with Markram’s experience of his son. He became convinced that the disorder, which has seen a 657 percent increase in diagnoses over the past decade, was fundamentally misunderstood. Bringing his world-class research to bear on the problem, he devised a radical new theory of the disorder: People like Kai don’t feel too little; they feel too much. Their senses are too delicate for this world. The following is an extract condensed from "The Boy Who Felt Too Much: How a Renowned Neuroscientist Changed Our View of Autism Forever," by Lorenz Wagner, just out from Arcade Publishing, which tells this remarkable story. The car was coasting. Kai heard the wheels crunch as it drew to a halt outside his house. The car door opened, and a young man hopped out. He popped the hood and disappeared beneath it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he fumed. © 2019 Salon.com, LLC

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26828 - Posted: 11.18.2019

By Jonathan Lambert Prozac, a commonly prescribed medication for kids and teens with autism, is no more effective than a placebo at treating obsessive-compulsive behaviors, a small study finds. The results of the randomized clinical trial, published October 22 in JAMA, cast further doubt on the widespread practice of prescribing a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, to treat children with autism who have these behaviors, says pediatric neurologist Ann Neumeyer. “We really don’t have any good medications that have yet been studied in children with autism for these behaviors,” says Neumeyer, the medical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Lurie Center for Autism in Lexington, who wasn’t involved in the study. “That’s a problem.” Autism spectrum disorders encompass a diversity of symptoms, but common among them are obsessive-compulsive behaviors (SN: 10/16/18). Individuals with autism can become hyperfocused on specific ideas or objects and can engage in ritualistic “tics,” such as rocking or hand-waving. For many individuals, these symptoms interfere with everyday functioning. SSRI antidepressants account for a quarter to a third of all prescriptions to children and teens with autism, according to pediatrician Dinah Reddihough at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. “Despite their widespread use, there is no evidence of effectiveness of SSRIs for autism spectrum disorders in children,” she says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 26738 - Posted: 10.23.2019

by Emily Anthes The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, launched by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2013, has a lofty goal: to unravel the cellular basis of cognition and behavior. Since the initiative’s launch, the NIH has doled out about $1 billion to researchers who are developing tools and technologies to map, measure and observe the brain’s neural circuits. Along the way, the agency has also tried to explore the ethical implications of this research. Khara Ramos, who directs the neuroethics program at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, described the emerging field of neuroethics today at the 2019 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Spectrum: Was discussion about ethics part of the BRAIN Initiative from the beginning? Khara Ramos: We knew that we needed to do something with neuroethics, but it took time for us to figure out what exactly, in part because neuroethics is a relatively new field. Bioethics is a broad field that covers all aspects of biomedicine, but there isn’t specialization of bioethics in kidney research or pulmonary research the way there is in neuroscience research, and that’s really because the brain is so intimately connected with who we are. Neuroscience research raises these unique ethical questions, such as: How might new neurotechnologies alter fundamental notions of agency or autonomy or identity? We’re starting to focus on data sharing and privacy from a philosophical, conceptual perspective: Is there something unique about brain data that is different from, for instance, genetic data? How do researchers themselves feel about data sharing and privacy? And how does the public view it? For instance, is my social security number more or less sensitive than the kinds of neural data that somebody might be able to get if I were participating in a clinical trial? © 2019 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26725 - Posted: 10.21.2019

Sandra G. Boodman The July day wasn’t too steamy — a rarity in Madison, Ala. — and her toddler’s physical therapy session wasn’t scheduled for another hour, so Jeannette Vega thought she’d take 26-month-old Tiana outside to play in their yard. Immediately, she was struck by her younger daughter’s difficulty climbing up the sturdy low-slung plastic slide, something Tiana had been able to do with ease only a week earlier. To distract her, Jeannette opened the door of the family’s truck. “Come on, let’s get in and buckle up,” she remembers saying. Tiana took particular delight in clambering into her car seat and fastening her seat belt. Not this time. The little girl seemed rooted to the ground, impervious to her mother's encouragement. "It wasn't that she wouldn't [comply]," Jeannette recalled of the 2015 incident. "I could tell she just couldn't." Later that afternoon, she mentioned Tiana's difficulties to the physical therapist who had been working with the little girl for more than a year to try to overcome her significant, unexplained developmental delays. “This isn’t normal, to regress after so many months of therapy,” Jeannette, now 37, remembers the therapist telling her. She mentioned a disorder Jeannette had never heard of and suggested it might be the cause. Jeannette did a quick search, dismissed the possibility and said she “forgot about it.” But the first anguished words she blurted out nearly a half-year later on that shattering day in the specialist’s office when she learned what was wrong, was that the therapist had been right.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26697 - Posted: 10.14.2019

Jef Akst In the past few years, a number of high-profile studies have linked parental age at birth, and paternal age in particular, with a child’s autism risk. Walid Yassin, a neuropsychiatric researcher at the University of Tokyo, wanted to know if having older parents correlated with characteristics of the brain that have been linked to autism. When Yassin and his colleagues examined the brain scans of 39 adult males with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and of 37 typically developing males, they found that paternal age correlated with characteristics of the white matter in regions of the brain responsible for social interactions in analyses of all 76 individuals. Specifically, in the men with older fathers, these areas had higher radial diffusivity, a measure of water diffusing toward the axonal membrane instead of along the axon, suggesting damage to nerve cells’ myelin sheaths, says Yassin. “And such difference in radial diffusivity has been previously reported in ASD.” Magdalena Janecka, an epidemiologist who specializes in autism at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, applauds the study’s focus on the brain. “We have a lot of epidemiological associations . . . but what [underlies them] is still very much underexplored,” she says. “The authors did a great job at exploring the mechanism that could connect the two.” But Janecka adds that the results can’t distinguish whether the link between age and autism is due to an accumulation of mutations in the sperm of older men, or if men who choose to have children later in life are enriched for certain traits associated with autism. “Is the effect we’re observing due to age or is it due to some underlying propensity of men who delay fatherhood?” she asks. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26690 - Posted: 10.11.2019

Jessica Wright Delicate lines dance across a screen mounted on the wall of the operating room. Their peaks and valleys become pronounced, suddenly flatten into a straight line—and then return, stronger than before. These digital traces represent the buzz of neurons in 12-year-old Kevin Lightner, read by two thin electrodes that surgeons have inserted deep into his brain. Kevin, who has autism and has had seizures since he was 8 years old, lies uncharacteristically still in the center of the room, draped under a blue sheet, his tiger-print pajamas neatly folded on a nearby shelf. What’s happening in this room may be the last chance to bring Kevin’s seizures under control. An hour and a half ago, neurosurgeon Saadi Ghatan removed a roughly 2-inch by 1-inch piece of the top of Kevin’s skull. He replaced it with a rectangular metal device, carefully screwed into the newly exposed edges of bone. The implant, a “responsive neurostimulation device,” is now transmitting signals from the electrodes planted in Kevin’s thalamus. The surgeons’ hope is that the device will learn to recognize what kind of brain activity precedes Kevin’s seizures and discharge electrical pulses to prevent them—like a “defibrillator for the brain,” as Ghatan puts it. If it works, it could save Kevin’s life. Ghatan projects the device’s readout to the screen by gently placing a black wand over the exposed metal in Kevin’s skull. The signal on the screen is surprisingly strong, given that it stems from the thalamus, a brain region that reveals its activity only weakly, if at all—and so is rarely the choice for monitoring seizures. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 26687 - Posted: 10.10.2019

Ariana Eunjung Cha After Danielle Rizzo’s first son and then her second were diagnosed with autism, she has struggled with the how and why. She wondered whether she could have prevented the condition in her second child by putting him on a gluten-free and casein-free diet. Did she have her children, born 14 months apart, too close together? She even held off on vaccinating her younger son before he, too, was diagnosed not long after the first. (The supposed link between vaccines and autism has been debunked by extensive research. The American Academy of Pediatrics; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and other medical groups have compiled some of the many scientific papers.) Rizzo came to suspect a genetic link involving the sperm donor for both children, after finding several other children conceived with the same donor’s sperm who have also been diagnosed with autism or related developmental challenges. A geneticist with expertise in autism identified possible autism-risk genes carried by the children. Her story, in a report published by The Washington Post on Sept. 14, prompted an outpouring of comments and questions — legal, scientific and ethical — about her case. While there is no central database of donors and their children in the United States, some sperm banks try to mitigate risks of donors passing on genetic conditions by testing them for up to 400 common heritable conditions. However, genetic testing is not required and is by no means comprehensive, as evident by the case studies reported in medical journals regularly.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26671 - Posted: 10.04.2019

Saba Salman As a graduate in the 1980s, Simon Baron‑Cohen taught autistic children at a special school in London. Little was known about autism then, and people often misheard him, assuming he taught “artistic children”. “People would be ashamed if they had an autistic child, or ashamed of saying, ‘I am autistic’, whereas now it’s treated as more ordinary and there’s less judgment,” he says. “In the 1980s, autism was seen as categorical, so ‘you either have it or you don’t’ … nowadays, we talk about a spectrum.” Today, Baron-Cohen, 61, is a world expert on autism, a Cambridge professor and director of the university’s influential Autism Research Centre. There is also greater awareness of autism, a lifelong condition affecting how people interact or process information. Estimates suggest one in every 100 people is on the autism spectrum (700,000 adults and children), from those with severe developmental disabilities needing intense support, to those with milder traits. Well-known autistic people include campaigner Greta Thunberg (who calls her “difference” a superpower). As a cognitive neuroscientist, Baron-Cohen has helped focus attention, from his pioneering psychological studies (autism was first diagnosed in the 1960s in the UK) to founding the UK’s first diagnosis clinic in Cambridge 20 years ago with charitable funding (today the centre is NHS-run). Yet his latest research reflects how improved awareness and understanding of autism have not led to improvements in the lives of people with autism. In the studyexploring how autistic adults experience disproportionately more “negative life events”, 45% of the 426 participants say they often lack money to meet basic needs (compared with 25% of non-autistic people) and 20% have been sexually abused by a partner (compared with 9%). The research, involving questionnaires created with autistic people, suggests why those with autism may experience more depression. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26664 - Posted: 10.02.2019

By Perri Klass, M.D. Cesarean delivery can save a baby — or a mother — at a moment of medical danger. However, cesarean births have been linked to an increased risk of various long-term health issues for both women and children, and a recent study shows an association between cesarean birth and the risk of developing autism or attention deficit disorder. The study, published in August in JAMA Network Open, was a meta-analysis. It looked at data from 61 previously published studies, which together included more than 20 million deliveries, and found that birth by cesarean section was associated with a 33 percent higher risk of autism and a 17 percent higher risk of attention deficit disorder. The increased risk was present for both planned and unplanned cesarean deliveries. The first and most important thing to say is that these were observational studies, and that association is not the same as causation. The children born by cesarean section may be different in important ways from the children born vaginally, and those differences may include factors that could affect their later neurodevelopment, from maternal health issues to developmental problems already present during pregnancy to prematurity to difficult deliveries. If your child was born by cesarean section, there’s nothing you can do to change that, and knowing about this association may make you worry, while if you’re pregnant it may make you even more anxious about how the delivery will go. But the information about long-term associations and mode of birth should help to drive further research and understanding of how and why these associations play out. Tianyang Zhang, a Ph.D. student in clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who was the first author on the article, said that earlier research had shown various associations between cesarean delivery and long-term health problems, including higher rates of obesity and asthma in children. This study looked at a range of developmental and mental health issues. Though it did find an association between cesarean delivery and autism spectrum and attention deficit disorders, it did not find significant associations with others, such as tic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders or eating disorders. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 26638 - Posted: 09.23.2019

Lindsey Bever An autistic “Sesame Street” muppet is caught in a conflict between the most prominent autism organization in the United States advocating for early intervention, and autistic adults who see the condition as a difference, not a disease needing to be cured. Since 2017, a Muppet named Julia has given children on the spectrum a role model and helped parents and peers understand the condition. The red-haired, green-eyed 4-year-old flaps her hands when she gets excited, cries when loud noises overwhelm her, strokes her stuffed rabbit for comfort and communicates in her own way and her own time, sometimes using a communication device. Autistic self-advocates, who were consulted in her creation, have applauded how she is not only depicted but also accepted by other human and Muppet characters on the show. Over the summer, Julia became embroiled in a controversy over a partnership with Autism Speaks, an influential and well-funded organization that some autistic adults say has promoted ideas and interventions that have traumatized many people in their community. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), an organization run by and for autistic people, announced it had cut ties with “Sesame Street” after the children’s program partnered with Autism Speaks to make the Muppet the face of a public service campaign encouraging early screening and diagnosis of autism. ASAN has accused Autism Speaks of using “language of acceptance and understanding to push resources that further stigma and treat autistic people as burdens on our families.” It contends that resource materials from Autism Speaks encourage parents “to view autism as a terrible disease from which their child can ‘get better.’ ”

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26624 - Posted: 09.19.2019

Ariana Eunjung Cha BARTLETT, Ill. — Danielle Rizzo’s son is screaming. He is planted in the middle of the lobby of his elementary school, clinging to rainbow-colored blocks as she gently explains that she is here — off schedule, in the middle of the day — to take him to a doctor’s appointment. But the first-grader is not listening. “Happy Meal,” he repeats over and over again. “Happy Meal!” His little brother, who is also going to the appointment, is nearby, not moving. Rizzo is relieved that the two of them are not melting down at the same time, which happens all too often, and firmly guides them out the door. Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities. The phenomenon is believed to be unprecedented and has attracted the attention of some of the world’s foremost experts in the genetics of autism, who have been gathering blood and spit samples from the families. Autism, which affects an estimated 1 of 59 children in the United States, is a “spectrum disorder” characterized by difficulties navigating social situations and restricted or repetitive behavior. Some people who have it never speak and need daily care, while others, like actress Daryl Hannah and Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri, are highly successful in their fields. In recent years a growing movement has been challenging the notion that autism is a disorder at all. Rather, advocates argue, it’s a difference that should be celebrated as adding diversity to human communities.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26611 - Posted: 09.15.2019

by Nicholette Zeliadt Problems with protein-filled parcels called exosomes contribute to Rett syndrome, a condition related to autism, a new study suggests1. Exosomes traverse the blood and deliver their cargo by fusing with cells. When the cells are neurons, this triggers the birth and maturation of neurons and their connections, the new study found. Mutations linked to autism and Rett syndrome may disrupt this newly identified role of exosomes in brain development. “Maybe something about [cellular] communication, broadly across space and time — which could occur by exosomes — goes wrong in Rett syndrome and is critical for normal brain development,” says lead investigator Hollis Cline, professor of neuroscience at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. The results also point to a new treatment strategy: Exosomes from typical neurons restore the development of neurons derived from a person with Rett syndrome and their connections. The work hints at a new mechanism that contributes to Rett syndrome, says Xinyu Zhao, professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the study. “I’m convinced that exosomes could be a target for [Rett] treatment.” Cline and her colleagues grew neurons from stem cells derived from a boy with a harmful mutation in MECP2 that is known to cause Rett syndrome, and from cells derived from the boy in which the mutation had been repaired. Over seven days, they added exosomes from each set of neurons to standard cultures of neurons. © 2019 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26574 - Posted: 09.05.2019

By Emily Underwood Of the many proposed triggers for autism, one of the most controversial is the “extreme male brain” hypothesis. The idea posits that exposure to excess testosterone in the womb wires both men and women to have a hypermasculine view of the world, prioritizing stereotypically male behaviors like building machines over stereotypically female behaviors like empathizing with a friend. Now, a study is raising new doubts about this theory, finding no effect of testosterone on empathy in adult men. The work does not directly address whether high levels of prenatal testosterone cause autism or lack of empathy. That would require directly sampling the hormone in utero, which can endanger a developing fetus. But the new study’s large size—more than 600 men—makes it more convincing than similar research in the past, which included no more than a few dozen participants, experts say. The extreme male brain hypothesis was first proposed by psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. In 2001, he and colleagues found that women given a single hefty dose of testosterone fared significantly worse at the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET), which asked them to gauge the emotional states of others based on their facial expressions. The women’s performance seemed to track with a controversial metric called the 2D:4D ratio, the relative lengths of the second and fourth fingers. Men—and people with autism—tend to have a longer ring finger than index finger, and some researchers believe that is due to higher prenatal exposure to testosterone. (Others are skeptical.) © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 26571 - Posted: 09.04.2019

Researchers at the University of Waterloo say they have developed a new, "kid-friendly" way of diagnosing autism in young children. It uses infrared technology to read the way a child's eyes move as they process the features of a person's face. "A neuro-typical child will spend a whole lot more time looking at the person's — or the face's — eye," Anita Layton, a professor of applied mathematics, pharmacy and biology, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. "A [child with autism] will look at the mouth a lot more." Layton and her team developed the technique by showing a group of 40 children 44 photographs on a screen connected to their eye-tracking device. The children were all around 5 years old. Seventeen had been previously diagnosed as on the spectrum, the other 23 were considered neuro-typical. The difference in eye tracking has been well documented, Layton said. Her team found a way to turn that difference into a diagnostic tool that works well for young children and even non-verbal kids on the more complicated end of the spectrum. Right now, the two most popular ways of diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder are by having the child or parent fill out a comprehensive questionnaire, or have the child evaluated by a psychologist. "It's not easy for a child. Imagine a four or five-year-old child, neuro-typical or [autistic] to sit there for a long time, to answer your questions. That simply is no fun for a kid," Layton said. The eye-tracking test, on the other hand, can be done in just a few minutes. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 26419 - Posted: 07.15.2019

By Elaine Glusac When Nicole Thibault had her first child, she imagined traveling everywhere with him. But by age 2, he would become upset by simply passing a restaurant that smelled of garlic. Waiting in line elicited tantrums and crowded places overwhelmed him. Autism was diagnosed within the year. “I thought maybe our family dream of travel wouldn’t happen,” said Ms. Thibault, 46, of Fairport, N.Y., who now has three children. But she spent the next three years learning to prepare her son for travel by watching videos of future destinations and attractions so that he would know what to expect. The preparation helped enable him, now 14 and well-traveled, to enjoy adventures as challenging as exploring caves in Mexico. It also encouraged Ms. Thibault to launch a business, Magical Storybook Travels, planning travel for families with special needs. Now the travel industry is catching up to the family. A growing number of theme parks, special attractions and hotels are introducing autism training and sensory guides that highlight triggers, providing resources in times of need and assuring families they won’t be judged. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 59 children falls on the autism spectrum disorder, up from one in 150 in 2002. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a developmental disability that can cause challenges in social interaction, communication and behavior. Some may have sensory sensitivities and many have trouble adapting to changes in routine, which is the essence of travel. The growing frequency of autism diagnoses and the gap in travel services for those dealing with autism created an overlooked market. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26406 - Posted: 07.11.2019

By Michele C. Hollow My son often asks, “What do you have against jokes?” “Nothing,” I reply. “Well, stop killing them,” he says. He’s 18, autistic, and does standup. He has learned the importance of delivery and timing, skills mastered by the best comics. Despite this, many people believe people with autism are humorless. Tell that to Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Palin and Dan Aykroyd. All identify themselves as having autism spectrum disorder, or A.S.D. One of Mr. Aykroyd’s symptoms included an obsession with ghosts and law enforcement. His deep interest in the ghost hunter Hans Holzer inspired him to co-write “Ghostbusters.” “It’s a huge myth that people with A.S.D. don’t understand or are not interested in humor,” said Thomas Frazier, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization that sponsors research and conducts awareness and outreach activities. “And the types of humor they like, understand, and even don’t get comes down to the individual. It’s the same with neurotypicals. It’s all about teaching the mechanics of it, and once you are comfortable with it, you come to appreciate it.” Of course, the autism spectrum is broad, and some people on it may appreciate certain jokes more than others. “Humor is personal, individualized, and people process jokes differently,” Dr. Frazier said. A 2018 study published in the journal Psychological Reports found people on the spectrum struggle with jokes that defy logic and familiarity. The setup is followed by a punch line with a twist. “Having a joke take you on a totally different path from the setup is disconcerting,” Dr. Frazier said. “A lot of people with autism don’t like incongruous humor.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 26339 - Posted: 06.19.2019

By Aiyana Bailin To my dismay, Simon Baron-Cohen’s recent article “The Concept of Neurodiversity is Dividing the Autism Community” perpetuates a common misunderstanding of the neurodiversity movement: that it views autism as a difference but not a disability. Baron-Cohen presents the issue as one of opposing sides: the medical model, which sees autism as a set of symptoms and deficits to be cured or treated, and the neurodiversity model, which he believes ignores any disabling aspects of autism. Unfortunately, this confuses the neurodiversity movement with the social model of disability, and it is an incomplete understanding of the social model at that. Before I go into details, let me summarize what the neurodiversity movement does believe: Autism and other neurological variations (learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.) may be disabilities, but they are not flaws. People with neurological differences are not broken or incomplete versions of normal people. Disability, no matter how profound, does not diminish personhood. People with atypical brains are fully human, with inalienable human rights, just like everyone else. People with disabilities can live rich, meaningful lives. Neurological variations are a vital part of humanity, as much as variations in size, shape, skin color and personality. None of us has the right (or the wisdom) to try and improve upon our species by deciding which characteristics to keep and which to discard. Every person is valuable. Disability is a complicated thing. Often, it’s defined more by society’s expectations than by individual conditions. Not always, but often. © 2019 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 26310 - Posted: 06.07.2019

by Jessica Wright Spontaneous mutations that occur between genes are as important in autism as those within genes, a new study suggests1. The study, published today in Nature Genetics, is the first to look at the impact of these ‘noncoding’ mutations across the whole genomes of autistic people. Many teams over the past three years have sequenced the DNA of autistic people both within and between genes. Yet sorting through the hundreds of thousands of mutations between genes had seemed nearly impossible because researchers know so little about these genetic segments. The new study overcomes this challenge by using a machine-learning approach. The researchers created an algorithm that predicts whether a particular noncoding mutation alters any gene’s expression. It assigns each mutation a score based on how likely it is to do so — and to be harmful. “The unique approach here is that instead of just counting mutations, we’re using the deep-learning-based frameworks to look at their regulatory impacts,” says co-lead author Olga Troyanskaya, professor of integrative genomics at Princeton University in New Jersey. “All mutations are not created equal, and all effects are not created equal.” (Troyanskaya also holds a position at the Simons Foundation, Spectrum’s parent organization.) A strength of the study is that it looks at spontaneous mutations across the entire genome, experts say. © 2019 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26291 - Posted: 06.03.2019