Research for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Gets a Boost

oxygen

A Canadian University received praise in response to their use of a treatment for autism called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The research program at Simon Frasier University received this prize in the form of a $500,000 grant from Central City Brewing and Distillery President Darryl Frost. Frost and his wife were compelled to donate to the program after seeing the improvements their son had made after receiving intensive HBOT.

5 year old Callum, who had struggled with behavioral issues, began undergoing the treatment along with dietary changes to improve his symptoms. Before the therapy he began, his father Daryl described him as an “extremely low-functioning child” who was not capable of communicating, feeding himself, or getting dressed independently. He also exhibited aggression, tantrums, and self-harming behavior.

Now, Callum’s father claims he can speak in full sentences, can eat and dress by himself, and is fully potty trained. His behavior and communication has largely improved and he attends kindergarden with the help of an aid.

During an HBOT session, the patient is placed in a pressure chamber where they are able to breathe 100% oxygen. The researchers claim that this allows for greater tissue saturation by up to ten times when compared to normal pressure.

The newly funded HBOT study will be conducted by SFU’s Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit and the university’s associate dean from the Faculty of Science. The study is planned to accept 40 volunteers, both children and adults. Some of the individuals will have autism while others will not. Research will likely begin by 2016. Though studies on HBOT and its effectiveness on autism symptoms have been conducted in the past, the results were fairly subjective and difficult to measure scientifically.

This time around, SFU will be using the university’s Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine. This piece of technology is the most modern brain imaging device available to the university. Using the MEG machine, scientist will be able to track brain oscillations and note changes in mental network connectivity. It will also enable scientists to determine which patients will benefit most from HBOT.

It is not yet clear how this treatment will improve symptoms of autism. What researchers do know is that HBOT increases the oxygen supply to the blood stream, therefore allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. In turn, they theorize that this increased oxygen energizes brain cells and cell pathways. This may actually help repair cells that are damaged or functioning at a low metabolic level.

You can read the original article here.



Special Behavioral Autism Therapy May Alter Brain Activity

therapy

 

Preliminary results from a four-month study show that pivotal response training (PRT) can alter brain function in children with autism.

Areas of the brain that process social information showed changes after the therapy was used on children. Several mental areas showed improvement after the experiment which was measured by response to visual stimuli.

Pivotal Response Training was used with half of the participants in this study with autism spectrum disorder. This therapy uses some of the child’s favorite playtime activities. The therapist then develops certain ways to communicate by engaging the child in their own interests.

Researchers showed photographs of houses as well as pictures of human faces to children in two groups. The first group contained 40 children with autism spectrum disorder and the second was a control group of 20 children who did not have autism. All children were shown the photos before the treatment and then after receiving it for 4 months. Functional magnetic response imaging (fMRI) was used to monitor activity in the brain.

At the beginning of the study, the children with autism showed more brain activity when shown photos of houses than when they looked at the face pictures, which was the opposite of what the control group demonstrated. This indicates that they respond more to physical objects than to social stimuli.

Early results from the therapy showed that following the treatment, children in the autistic group showed increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area is associated with social cognition. The children within this same group who did not receive treatment showed a small decline in mental activity in the same area.

However, in one way the results were contradictory. Some of the children were monitored to determine which regions of the face they focused on. The children with autism actually focused more on the subject’s mouths than they did on their eyes during the second observation after receiving the therapy. This indicates that the children read mouths for social cues more than eyes, like most other children would, though researchers expected to see the opposite after the therapy was complete. This data was only recorded in nine children, so the results should be noted with a larger sample size.

While the research is still in its early phases, the findings show that PRT may be effective in normalizing social cognition in children with autism. Students and associates at Yale University conducting the study hope to have more in-depth results published early next year.



Intellectual Diversity in the Workplace

SuccessThis past week, Shema Kolainu- Hear our Voices curated a presentation by Dr. Stephen Shore, member of ICare4Autsim’s advisory council and an Adelphi University professor who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the topic of career success with autism spectrum disorder. As Dr. Shore pointed out, the success of a candidate depends on how well their strengths are matched to their occupation.

Intellectual differences are becoming a more familiar subject across the world, and now employers are beginning to recognize the importance of understanding all kinds of minds. Advocacy is increasing for those with developmental disorders as it becomes apparent how many people have struggled with coping alone.

Currently, a number of companies actively recruit workers who are on the autistic spectrum for tasks suited to their mental abilities. These include Freddie Mac, ULTRA Testing, and software company SAP AG. These strengths include attention to detail, vast knowledge of specific subjects, and tendencies to not over-socialize during work hours.

In some ways similar to affirmative action for minorities, workers with intellectual disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are striving to be recognized and given a fair chance to succeed like everyone else. With estimates ranging from 1 in 68 to as many as 1 in 50, the issue is generating more buzz as autism diagnoses continue to become more prevalent.

Freddie Mac has created an internship program for those with autism spectrum disorder that places interns into paid positions within the fields of information technology, enterprise risk management, and the mortgage loan business. The company has placed several interns into permanent full time positions over the past four years, and praise these students for they analytical skills. Some of Freddie Mac’s managers have even realized after working with the interns that they themselves may have autism spectrum disorder.

An intellectual disability is usually not as obvious as a difference in race, gender, or physical handicap, so it has been an arduous process to achieve special recognition for those with brain differences. Many colleges and workplaces have actively worked for many years to include women and minorities in order to promote diversity, for example, but the application process is far more vague when it comes to mental diversity. Fortune refers to this struggle as “the next civil rights movement.”

Regular employment has been shown to improve the lives of adults with autism. According to a study at Vanderbilt University, adults on the autistic spectrum who were engaged in work demonstrated improvements in their behavior and daily living skills.

Integration into the workplace presents special challenges for those on the autistic spectrum, so they themselves must be up to the task. They must be aware of their own mental differences and work to interact with their colleagues and supervisors in the best possible way while managing their tasks efficiently. This includes choosing when and how to disclose their disorders to managers and co-workers.

Employers also face the challenge of how to recruit candidates with the right skills, without excluding individuals with neurological disorders who may function quite well when given the right framework. An autistic person who averts their eyes during an interview, for example, could be overlooked for an IT position that they could excel at despite being shy.

Just like physical diversity, a rainbow of different mental abilities are found in all people. If these are embraced and actively included in our society, it will not only improve the lives of those with developmental disabilities, organizations will often benefit from the contributions of those who see the world from a different perspective.



Looking for the perfect autism book to read with your family during Hanukkah?

Special-Needs-BLOGNicole Katzman’s book, Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles brings together various themes related to the holiday, family, acceptance, and autism. The book is about a boy named Jacob who loves his brother Nathan. Nathan has autism, and when Hanukkah comes, Jacob worries that Nathan might embarrass him in front of his new friend. Katzman is a mother of four children, one diagnosed with autism.

The book is illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau and presents an artistic way many of the thoughts and feelings children with special needs experience.

Katzman said that she wanted to convey the value of acceptance in her book. In an interview, she stated, “Accepting the other in our midst is an important Jewish value. As a mother of a child with autism child I didn’t feel that acceptance. All too often I found the situation to be reverse and at times painful. I knew that in order to help children understand how to accept the other they needed a story to which they could relate.”

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a great resource and teaching tool for children.

Click here to read more about the book or here to purchase.



New Treatment Reduces Autism-Like Symptoms in Adolescent Mice

DNA

According to a new unpublished study, a compound used to treat genetic deficits may be effective against symptoms linked to autism.

Scientists announced at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting that experimental treatments using an immunosuppressant called rapamycin have been met with success when used on adolescent mice. At 6 weeks old, the rodents are at a similar development phase to that of a human teenager.

This treatment has previously been used to treat a genetic mutation associated with the TSC1 gene. Abnormalities in this gene can cause a condition called tuberous sclerosis, which is characterized by the growth of benign tumors. About half of the population that suffers from tuberous sclerosis also has austim spectrum disorder.

It was observed that mice who lacked TSC1 in their Purkinje cells, neurons located in the cerebellum, exhibited autism-like symptoms, such as social difficulties, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors, when they reach 2 months of age. It was noticed that when these cells died, symptoms associated with autism became apparent.

A previously released study demonstrated that rapamycin could prevent the symptoms when used on mice that were 7 days old. It was however not determined how effective the treatment was in older mice. In the most recent study, researchers found treated at 6 weeks of age did not develop these behaviors.

The results suggest that this therapy may be used to reduce- or even reverse- behaviors associated with autsim in children of a wide age range. Though the therapy is still in the developmental stages, these findings could be indicate promising discoveries in the field of behavioral treatment for children with autism, even at the later stages.

The average age of an autism diagnosis in children is 4 years. Older children who were diagnosed years ago are often still searching for treatment options into their teenage years, since they may not have had access to intervention in the formative years. Since them symptoms are not always understood at the onset, others are not diagnosed until adolescence, and some not until adulthood. Along with traditional speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychiatric treatment, biological methods of treatment could signal a huge leap in our understanding of autism spectrum disorder.



Regular Exercise Releases Stress and Builds Confidence for Youth on the Autism Spectrum

basketball

Exercise can have stress-relieving benefits that release calming endorphins throughout the body.

For a person with autism spectrum disorder, exercise can be beneficial in other ways. In addition to easing tension, regular exercise can help a child build confidence and improve general morale.

Confidence does not always come easy for Anthony Angelico, a 17 year old high school student from Chicago who lives with asd. With the help of his coach, Dave Geslak, Anthony has made large strides in both his stamina and strength. Both his coach and his mother have noticed an improvement.

Geslak points out that since individuals with autism are sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and other intense stimuli, being able to release anxiety can lift a burden. After an hour’s workout, Anthony is able to channel his energy positive way, making him able to balance his homework and his job at a grocery store.

Physical activity can also minimize compulsive or negative behaviors in autistic children. A regular exercise regimen has the added benefit of providing structure, which can be applied to other areas of life. Learning this type of discipline can help a young person improve their work ethic, whether in school, work, or hobbies.

Coach Geslak, who specializes in creating regimens for youth with autism spectrum disorder, builds custom workouts to ensure the success and happiness of Anthony and others whom he instructs. Shema-Kolainu provides an Adaptive Physical Education program to its students. In a therapeutic environment, children are instructed through techniques tailored to their own needs and abilities.

Anthony’s workout includes weight lifting, hurdle jumping, and hand-eye coordination. A variety of different methods can be employed, so your child is not limited to gym equipment only. Perhaps incorporating dance, a game of tag, or organized sports are more stimulating to your child. Aquatic therapy, where children complete exercises in water, has been used with positive results and does not put stress on joints.



Elephant Therapy Improves Skills for Autistic Children

Child riding elephant

Sometimes, a little understanding from an animal can be very comforting- even if the therapy animal is 9 feet tall and weighs around 4 tons.

Examples of service animals for individuals with special needs abound, from the more well-known service dog to slightly more obscure horse therapy or even dolphin therapy. In Thailand, researchers have seen noticeable improvements when using elephants to help children with autism spectrum disorder.

Several children who have struggled with developing life skills were brought to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in the city of Lampang to participate in a pioneer elephant therapy program. The children are taught to bathe the elephants, play ball games with them, and even ride them bareback. They also sing nursery rhymes and dance with with the elephants, and complete chores at the conservation center.

Nuntanee Satiansukpong, the head of the Occupational Therapy department at Chaing Mao University, says that the pachyderms’ size works to the advantage of children who have a difficult time paying attention, since their presence is so stimulating. The children bond with these large, gentle mammals who are so captivating to spend time around.

Not only is there an emotional benefit from working with the therapy animals, the children also learn to complete tasks on the grounds that translate to real life skill development. The children learn to follow directions by visiting a store to purchase supplies for the elephants, like sugar cane and corn. If the elephant rejects the food, participants must return to the store to exchange it until they find something the animal accepts, which teaches them how to cope when problems arise. Playing games and dancing improves social skills among the children. Bathing the elephants helps the kids get over the strange rough and sticky texture of the elephant skin they have an aversion to.

An initial study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of elephant therapy on children with autism, which was followed up by two more studies. In the first round, 4 male volunteers ages 11-19 were instructed to complete their chores and also learn to ride the elephants. At the conclusion of the study, the children’s motor and communication skills were tested, and researchers determined that they had all improved in the areas of “sensory processing, social skills, postural control and balance, performance of daily living activities, and adaptive behaviors.

The second study built on the methods of the first, using the same group of participants. This time, researchers also noted that children were able to transfer their learned skills and behaviors to benefit them at school. The third study used a larger group, and divided participants into two groups, measuring social behaviors (16 individuals) and motor planning (20) individuals. Improvements were also noted in both categories.

Both statistical analysis and observation were used to measure results. The relatively small sample size presents some limitations, so larger participant groups are needed to collect more accurate data.

The success of elephant therapy begs us to question what types of alternative therapies may still remain untested within the animal kingdom, some of which could continue to bring groundbreaking results for treatment of development disabilities.



Shema Kolainu Presents Guest Speaker Advocating for “Success with Autism” at United Nations

Dr. Shore Presents

Dr. Shore speaks to audience at United Nations about success as an autistic individual

Due to demand, the Shema Kolainu Autism workshops, which have continued to draw larger crowds of people, have relocated presentations to the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.                                         

On Thursday, December 11, Shema Kolainu presented speaker Dr. Stephen Shore, a professor at Adelphi University. Dr. Shore’s lecture entitled “Success with Autism: Using our Strengths for Achieving a Fulfilling and Productive Life (Just Like Everyone Else)” presented some of his findings from his academic research, which focuses on matching people on the spectrum with the ideal occupation.

Dr. Shore spoke in a room at the United Nations following a highly attended presentation at Hotel Pennsylvania. Speaking about his own experience with autism, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, he views having the disorder simply as a different frame of mind rather than seeing it as a handicap. There are different “kinds of minds”- with particular characteristics, interests, and abilities that are actually valuable in the workforce if applied to the right field.

Giving the hypothetical example of a man with asd named Robert, Dr. Shore described how this man’s autistic personality traits were suited to his job at an information desk at Penn Station. His communication skills were factual, detailed, honest, data-driven, and repetitive. Social interaction for Robert is limited and predictable. Because of his restricted interests, he is able to memorize information that his co-workers cannot remember without references. Because of his autism, he is actually more productive than most of the other employees.

After devoting so much of his life to researching asd in addition to his personal knowledge, he can often recognize the signs. Revealing a photo of himself as a baby, he described the “autism stare” which he and others with the disorder seem to exhibit.

“They study everything, like a scientist,” said Dr. Shore.

Something Dr. Shore felt was important to emphasize was that it is important to make autistic children feel like their interests have validity and to nurture that. For instance, if an autistic person enjoys stocking shelves because they love to put items in order, this should be looked at as a meaningful use of their time. When a person with asd is good at something, Shore says, they tend to really excel at it.

So instead of feeling despair when a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Shore hopes that parents and teachers will recognize their strengths and teach them to translate these qualities into meaningful, productive work. The ultimate goal is to mentor youth affected by the disorder to become independent, educated, self-aware individuals who are determined to succeed.

A list of upcoming workshops like this one can be found here. Reserve your spot today and receive a certificate of participation.



Simulated Flight Prepares Autistic Children for Plane Travel

Autistic children at airport

Anyone taking a flight for the first time is likely in for a few surprises. For an autistic child, the experience can be a sensory overload.

The process of boarding entering the crowded terminal, going through security, checking luggage, and boarding a plane are not everyday occurrences. A child with autism may by quite sensitive to all the crowds and unfamiliar situations that move along so quickly. Feeling overly stimulated causes them to feel bombarded.

Schools lead children on fire drills and even storm preparedness simulations, so why not take them on a run-through of what to expect when they fly for the first time? That is exactly what 50 families participated in through the Arc of Baltimore’s Wings for Autism at Thurgood Marshall Airport, joining a trend of similar projects set forth by other similar organizations.

This organization leads families through a test run to familiarize the children with what is expected when taking a place. Children were instructed to wait in line for entrance to a designated security gate, then handed boarding passes for a short flight that never actually left the ground.

Once seated on the plane, the children listened to the security procedures over the speaker, before the staff distributed pretzels and drinks to everyone. Since children with autism are often prone to become absorbed in electronic devices, they must also learn to put these devices away when the airline staff requires it.

The simulation is seen as a test for special needs children to determine whether they are ready and able to take an actual flight. Possible scenarios could be reminiscent of a scene from the film Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character Ray has a screaming meltdown at the possibility of an unsafe flight.

Jennifer Bishop, a Baltimore mother of a 14 year old autistic boy named Nathaniel, took a plane trip with her son 10 years ago that she describes as “disastrous.” Jennifer had such a difficult time that she vowed she would never fly with him again. Now, with her aging mother turning 92, she wants to revisit flying with Nathaniel.

The teen is wheelchair-bound at times and does not always want to walk. New places intimidate him. When boarding the plane with his mother behind pushing his wheelchair, Nathaniel at first refused to get up and board without his mother beside him. With just a bit of maneuvering, Jennifer was able to stand in front of her son and coax him into the first row of seats with her. Once he sat down, Nathaniel smiled with satisfaction.

Implementing a “drill” procedure for boarding a plane and completing the flight successfully can make the experience less traumatic for both special needs children and their families, once an actual flight is necessary. The patience and understanding of volunteers who assisted the children was quite instructive when it came to preparing them for airline travel.



How Autistic Children Can Benefit from Horticultural Therapy

autistic children gardening

The healing properties of gardening have long been discussed for improving mental well-being. Connecting with nature in this way can help reduce stress and improve your mood.

Tending to plant life can also be helpful to those with autism spectrum disorder. Horticultural therapist and author Natasha Everington assists parents, teachers, and school counselors in applying these techniques to improve child development.

Etherington’s book entitled Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs – Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration, and Build Social Skills, was released in 2013 and received much acclaim. According to the Canadian Horticulture Therapy Association, “Horticultural Therapy (HT) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) use plants, gardens, and the natural landscape to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”

The author claims that working outdoors in the dirt can offer psychological benefits that cannot be found in a traditional classroom environment. Children build social and cooperation skills while working with others to complete these activities. You may also see improvement in their speech development as they communicate with others working on the task.

Benefits of horticultural therapy are also physical. Digging builds flexibility, endurance and motor skill development. It can also result in lower blood pressure and reduce muscular tension.

It can also be a bonding activity for parents and children. Parents sometimes see a different side of their child when working on a garden together, and this can lead to more positive behavior. These therapies can also be useful to patients affected by Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Gardening requires focusing energy on a larger goal and following instructions.

Ideally, there would be an available patch of land to work with. This is not always possible, so there are other options for those who do not have yard access. These include using a wooden box, constructing a box out of brick or cement block, or using window boxes and planters. If possible, place potted plants on a balcony or rooftop, or build a greenhouse out of plastic materials.

Programs teaching gardening skills can be hard to come by. Etherington suggests that if you are interested in exploring the benefits of horticulture therapy and do not have access to an existing program, you can always create one. The book contains plenty of information on how to start your own horticulture therapy program.

You can read the original article here.