Autism and Touch

One of the hardest challenges for families facing autism is the problem of touch. Often, autistic children resist hugging and other types of physical contact. A new study as sighted by Time’s Healthland Blog offers insight into why some people shrug off physical touches and how families affected by autism can learn to share hugs without overwhelming their autistic child’s senses.

Yale neuroscientists recruited 19 young adults and imaged their brain activity as a researcher lightly brushed them on the forearm with a soft watercolor paintbrush. In some cases, the brushing was quick, and in others slow. Studies show that most people like slow brushing and perceive it as affectionate, while the faster version is felt more tickle-like.

None of the participants in the current study had autism, but the researchers evaluated them for autistic traits — things like a preference for sameness, order and systems, rather than social interaction. They found that participants with the highest levels of autistic traits had a lower response in key social brain regions — the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) — to the slow brushing.

A Similar study as reported by Medical News Today reports on Neuroscientists  who show how the brain responds to caress. The brain makes the connection between touch and emotion. “We demonstrated for the first time that the primary somatosensory cortex – the brain region encoding basic touch properties such as how rough or smooth an object is – also is sensitive to the social meaning of a touch,” explains Michael Spezio, a visiting associate at Caltech who is also an assistant professor of psychology at ScrippsCollege in Claremont, California. “It was generally thought that there are separate brain pathways for how we process the physical aspects of touch on the skin and for how we interpret that touch emotionally – that is, whether we feel it as pleasant, unpleasant, desired, or repulsive. Our study shows that, to the contrary, emotion is involved at the primary stages of social touch.”

According to Martha Kaiser, senior author of the study and associate director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory at the YaleChild Study Center, the STS is a critical hub of the social brain. “This region is important for perceiving the people around us, for visual social stimuli and for perceiving social versus nonsocial sounds,” she says. The current findings suggest that the region is also involved in processing social touch and that its response is linked to the individual’s social ability, she says.

The OFC, in contrast, helps the brain evaluate experiences — whether something is likely to be good or bad and if it involves pleasure or pain. “The brains of people high in autistic traits aren’t coding touch as socially relevant, that’s one interpretation,” says Kaiser of her findings. “The OFC is very important for coding reward so maybe they’re feeling the touch but in these individuals, their brains don’t code that type of touch as being as rewarding as in individuals with fewer autistic traits.”

If that’s the case, finding ways to make social experience — including touch — more rewarding might be one way to help autistic people connect better with others.

A Day at the Carnival

The Washington Times reports from Silver Spring, MD in a personal perspective from a mother of a child with autism. What to most parents is a simple day in the park turns into a day of anxiety and frustration for this parent. The mother, Jean Winegardner, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. Read more of Jean’s work at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times.

The stress that Ms. Winegardner experienced at the elementary school end-of-the-year carnival began as simple: keeping an eye on her child in a crowd. It’s something that all parents deal with. The additional stress of his autistic behaviors can be both damaging to himself and other children. Ms. Winegardner is most times unsure whether to let her child go off by himself.

On a personal level in her article titled “Autism at the school carnival” Ms. Winegardner shares how painful it is for her to see the other children ignore her child. She writes, “My kid is different than the other kids. I get that and I’m okay with it. I think my kid is pretty cool and I don’t care that he has a different way than everyone else.” It’s the other kids that see the differences and don’t see the similarities.

Many schools have integration programs that allow autistic children to learn within a public school environment with a personal tutor or shadow. These shadows help the child to learn while the environment helps with the social process. The socialization of course affects not only the child dealing with autism but their peers. Group education can help avoid in the future what Ms. Winegardner and her son are dealing with on a daily basis.

This day at the carnival for Ms. Winegardner becomes a looking glass to the future. She worries not for the great fun and giggles that he experienced that beautiful day as an elementary school child, but for the future. She knows he will notice the way he is treated as an adult. Autism education is not only for the families dealing with the disorder, but for society at large. We are all part of communities and we need to learn how to live together and respect one another.

NY State Senator Eric Adams Visits Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices

NY State Senator Eric Adams joined Dr. Weinstein and his team at in Brooklyn, NY on the first of June 2012. His smile and caring personality lit up each room The Senator entered. Children ran to meet this generous man. With the addition of each room and educational system, Senator Adams seemed to be impressed further.

While touring the facility, the team had the pleasure of introducing The Senator to a child who, when he entered the school, did not speak. The teacher allowed herself to be held tightly by the child’s small arms. She told Senator Adams, “Ask him what his favorite food is.” The answer was cookies. The response was an outstanding “wow” of appreciation. On this day each visitor was able to experience first hand the changes and growth children make at Shema Kolainu.

Throughout the time together, Senator Adams appeared humbled by the work that is happing at Shema Kolainu. In a soft undertone he thanked teachers personally on the way out of the room. “Thank you for the work you are doing.” Shema Kolainu extends the same thanks to Senator Adams. It was a true honor to be able to extend a visit to him.

Lack of Help for Families Dealing with Autism in Boston Area

A KIRTON couple have criticized the lack of support for families of children with autism in the Boston area. Their action does not end with criticism. Sharon and Neil Walters set up a local support group Special Friends for Special Needs a year ago to fill the void and give help and advice to concerned parents. “It’s outrageous just how little help there is for parents of children with autism,” said Sharon. “For a parent with an autistic child, it seems like there’s no help around here. Local pediatricians are good with diagnoses but I think the lack of after-care for dealing with the condition is an issue.” When a child has autism it affects the whole family.

Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and unusual repetitive or severely limited activities and interests. Autistic disorder is the most commonly known type of ASD, but there are others including pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified as Asperger’s syndrome. These three conditions along with Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder make up the broad diagnosis category of pervasive developmental disorders. One in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, by age 8, according to a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a rate that has risen far above the 2006 estimate of 1 in 110.

Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices (SKHOV) shares information and news, links and the latest research with families through many different venues such as workshops, conferences and individual parent training. SKHOV holds workshops for parents and families on daily livings skills topics and other topics to help the whole family with their child with autism. See our list of workshops here. Additionally SKHOV, along with ICare4Autism is sponsoring an international autism conference in August 2012. See the conference site for more details.

The CEO and Founder Dr. Joshua Weinstein of both SKHOV and ICare4Autism is set to complete a 50 million dollar Global Autism Center to be located on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem in 2015. The goal is create opportunities for powerful collaborations that will bring better methods of detection and treatment to patients and their families all over the world. The Global Autism Center has 4 core elements: ICare4Autism INSTITUTE, a global research center, ICare4Autism MODEL SCHOOL, applying the latest research to meet the educational needs of students with autism, ICare4Autism ACADEMY, the world’s first advanced professional school of autism studies and ICare4Autism FOUNDATION, engaging a global community of autism scientists, educators and advocates.

Why is one central agency imperative? To assist parents dealing with the same issues as the Walters’ worldwide. Soon the Walters will be able to connect Special Friends for Special Needs to parents in India, Canada, Israel, Brazil, China, The United Kingdom and more. The Walters situation is a confirmation and personal example of the research we have found at ICare4Autism.

The couple said some of their members were upset that when their children were diagnosed with autism, all they received was a letter from the pediatrician confirming the diagnosis and some leaflets. Sharon said: “As a parent, it’s devastating to be told your child is diagnosed with a life-long condition and you go through a lot of guilt, asking if there was something you did wrong.” The couple said they feel more should be done following a diagnosis, to offer referrals and advice on where families can get support.

Special Friends for Special Needs now offers support for families of children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Asperger’s Syndrome and other development disorders. It currently has about 30 members in Boston and the surrounding areas. Neil said: “Through our group we can offer one-to-one help and advice and are always on the end of the phone. Our aim is to get people on the right track to make their lives a little easier.”

The group holds a monthly get together for their members where children and their families affected with the conditions are invited to a special bowling night at Boston Bowl. This is held on the first Thursday of the month. “As a group we can help people answer questions they might have,” said Sharon. “We are not experts but our seven-year-old daughter Demi-Lee, who diagnosed aged two with autism, Asperger’s and AHDH, has given us five years’ experience in dealing with those disorders.” Neil added: “We want to pass on what we have learnt to parents in the area and let people know we are here to offer support – we are a non-profit group and just keen to help others in a similar situation.”

If you are in the Boston area, or to contact the family directly, you can email them at

Source: LINK


Study Shows Delays In Siblings Of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

(Medical News Today) A new University of Miami (UM) study shows that one in three children who have an older sibling with an Autism Related Disorder (ASD) fall into a group characterized by higher levels of autism-related behaviors or lower levels of

Dr. Messinger

developmental progress. The study will be presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in May, 2012. ASDs are developmental conditions characterized by problems with social interaction and communication. Previously, an international consortium of researchers found that almost one in five of the younger siblings of children with an ASD themselves developed an ASD.

UM’s College of Arts and Sciences professor Dr. Daniel Messinger, presenting author of the study, says, “It is clear that the younger siblings of a child with an ASD may face challenges even if they are not themselves identified with an ASD. This new work identifies classes of outcomes in these children. We found that the majority of these high risk siblings appear to be developing normally. However, a higher than expected proportion of the children face challenges related to higher levels of autism-related behaviors or lower levels of verbal and non-verbal developmental functioning.”

The study reveals that difficulties faced by the younger siblings of children with ASD involve both lower levels of verbal and nonverbal functioning and higher levels of autism-related problems. Examples of a child’s autism-related problems – which are not as severe as those of children with an ASD – include lower levels of back-and-forth play with others and lower levels of pointing to express interest in what is going on around them.

Overall, the research says, the majority of high-risk siblings are developing typically at three years of age, but the development of a substantial minority is affected by subtler forms of ASD-related problems or lower levels of developmental functioning. Lower levels of developmental functioning and higher levels of autism-related problems in the at-risk siblings define what researchers refer to as the broad autism phenotype.

Autism, Not Hereditary Traits, Affects Motor Skills

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered that autism, not hereditary traits, is the cause of impaired motor skills in those with Autism.

The study was conducted by studying 144 children from 67 different families where at least one child had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder with at least one biological sibling in the same age group. Children were tested by observing them performing various tasks like placing pegs in a pegboard, cutting with scissors, copying forms, imitating movements, running, throwing a ball and doing push-ups. Continue reading

Hear Our Voices Looking to Include iPads to Classrooms

With the onset of more accessible visual electronics such as iPods and iPads,

Visual electronics have been booming. Their popularity, of course, is due to their vibrant colorful graphics, simple touch interfaces, and endless supply of new applications that help users do everything from order a cup of coffee to produce a symphony.

As the accessibility of these products becomes more open to those younger and younger, even showing up in schools. While some parents and teachers disapprove of their personal use in classrooms, stating children may waste time on site like Facebook and not pay attention, other teachers, especially those of special needs and autistic students, are quickly taking advantage of such a powerful tool. Continue reading

Congressional Hearing to Improve Coverage Accessibility to Military Families

Today, a congressional briefing will examine a bill set to improve the coverage and availability of autism services to military families. Under current legislation, autistic children of servicemen have very limited access to treatment services which many are calling shameful. Family of military personnel have medical insurance called TRICARE, which doesn’t cover autism services. To cover autism, families must enroll in ECHO Extended Care Health Option, which you can only apply for after you have enrolled in EFMP Exceptional Family Member Program. Aside from all the paperwork, families are required to live within distance of care programs which can be career-limiting, if a service man or woman retires via choice or medical reasons (i.e. a soldier wounded in battle), their family will no longer have the coverage.

ECHO has a cap for treatment set at $36,000. While this may sound like a substantial number, it will only cover 11-12 hours of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy a week, less than the 25-40 hours a week recommended for children (especially the young or more profoundly affected). Furthermore, the $36,000 cap covers not only autism services, but respite services and medical equipment, which would push families to choose between hours of therapy or a new wheelchair.

Furthermore, the process of accessing ECHO and getting a diagnosis can take months, and even years. Rachel Kenyon, military spouse of a sergeant major based in the US, has a daughter that is autistic and required several surgeries for her chromosomal deletion.

If it’s this hard for us and my husband’s a sergeant major, how hard is it for families of privates? Ms. Kenyon asked. Some parents do have an easier time, and that’s phenomenal. We wish that every family had that experience. But for everyone else we really shouldn’t have to wait this long to get a diagnosis and get care.

However, the bipartisan bill, the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act (H.R. 2288) was introduced by Congressmen John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC) and is now being co-sponsored by 35 additional representatives from both parties. The bill would take autism services out of ECHO and include them into the TRICARE insurance to improve access, and remove the $36,000 cap to allow for those who need it to get more care. Furthermore, because the services would no longer be in the ECHO plan, families would not have to choose between wheelchairs and therapy.

The briefing for the bill is scheduled for today, and you can find more information on the CMKAA website.

Autism Awareness Speaker Awakens Campus

Last Tuesday, expert Dr. Jane Thierfeld Brown (left) visited Union University to educate student, faculty, and staff on the autism spectrum. She gave information and advice vital to both faculty and students alike, ranging from the characteristics of those with autism to what it is like to be autistic.

For example, Brown described that those with autism are extremely sensitive to noise, movement, and light because they have increased sensory perception. They may be easily distracted, only be able to focus on one thing at a time, and are highly knowledgeable on certain topics, especially topics that interest them.

While students may have above average intelligence, they have different ways of learning and suffer when it comes to social situations and knowledge, or what Brown dubs “social dyslexia.” This ‘dyslexia,’ combined with the possible over stimulation of social situations, often leads them to withdraw and appear antisocial.

Director of Student Support Services Shelly Shinebarger says that though the special needs students she works are very bright, they need certain accommodations to “even the playing field.”

When it comes to classes and studies, she compares the help that those with autism need to the service eyeglasses provide. While wearing glasses doesn’t give the wearer an advantage to see more than what’s written on a piece of paper, it allows the wearer to see the writings as others would normally see it.

Taking tests in quiet location or with more time allows the students to fully process the information and ensure that they are doing what is required in the exam.

When students come to college, they lose the parental buffer they had their entire life that would explain and understand their condition and needs to others. When asked how Union students can help those who have Asperger’s Syndrome, Brown responded by saying, “Be open.”