Category Archives: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Steps to Protect Your Child from their Own Wanderlust

autism wanderlust

Recently, a lot of attention has been paid towards the tendency for disabled children, particularly those affected by autism, to wander off from their families without warning. Unfortunately, such tendencies can end in unimaginable tragedy.

To prevent the occurrence of such catastrophes, researchers, families, and policymakers have since begun a two-pronged campaign under the waivers entitled “The Intellectual Disability Related Disabilities Waiver” and “Community Supports Waiver.”

In the meantime, there are some useful tips out there for parents concerned about their wandering children:

1. Secure your home with locks and alarms that will prevent your child from slipping out unnoticed.

2. Consider a tracking device worn on the wrist or ankle that will monitor the location of your child at any given time.

3. Look into getting an ID bracelet with your child’s name, home phone number, and address. In addition to their Autism diagnosis, specify any other concerns (i.e. nonverbal) to help ensure their comfort and security in potentially dangerous circumstances.

4. Teach your child to swim. This cannot be emphasized enough. The best way to ensure water safety is to teach your child the necessary survival skills to “stay afloat” in any given circumstance. It is important to prevent emergencies, but you cannot acknowledge that they may still happen. It is therefore crucial that you prepare for them.

5. Alert your neighbors so that they know about this wandering behavior and your child’s disability. Increasing the number of eyes and ears open to the possibility of these circumstances can substantially decrease the possibility of your child’s unnoticed departure.

6. Notify first responders in your area so that they become familiar with your child and their special needs. They may never need the information, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

The best way to prevent any emergency is to prepare for it. With the aforementioned tips, parents stand a better chance at protecting their children, both typically and autistically developing, from the dangers that wandering may bring.

Sara Power, Fordham University



Emotional Regulation and Coping Strategies with ASD

autism emotional regulation

Regulating emotions can be a very daunting task for some individuals. Likewise, in an emotional situation or environment, keeping control can be very difficult.

If a situation which requires a higher level of composure is coupled with mental illness or a cognitive disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, emotional control has the potential to become a secondary issue in this situation.

A recent study has recently been completed which demonstrates a neurological disconnect that may contribute to the inability of a person with ASD to handle a high stress/high sensory situation.

The study included 30 participants (15 with ASD and 15 without), and had them complete an emotional regulatory task while in an fMRI. This task had all participants view various pictures of people with neutral faces and no emotional cues. They were instructed to think positive, negative or neutral thoughts while viewing these pictures, and the neural areas that ‘lit up’ were recorded.

The results showed that regardless of instructed emotion, the participant’s pupils all dilated (meaning they were thinking hard about changing their emotion), and the prefrontal cortex and limbic systems of those without ASD ‘lit up’ much more than those with ASD. These two areas of the brain are significant as the limbic system is technically an evolutionarily ‘old’ part of the brain, and in tandem with the prefrontal cortex they control the regulation of emotions, decision-making, and needs.

These two areas were slow to start up and did not activate as strongly in participants who did not have ASD. If the structure that regulates emotion works differently in people with ASD, then emotions are expressed differently as well.

There have been many publications regarding overall strategies to help a child or individual cope with this unique style of emotional regulation. All of these publications include suggestions for the three pillars of ASD: communication, socialization, and behavioral patterns. In general, these strategies are repeated through each publication, which means they are tried and true for most cases.

Depending on who the tip sheet is written for, the child or individual is referred to as someone’s child, a student, or a client (if it is geared towards a behavioral therapist). Suggestions include having access to communication tools at all times and knowing how to paraphrase and simplify sentences without talking down to the child, helping the child/student understand common language like slang and puns, etc.

A key issue that is discussed is to not use sarcasm and to explain body language. Strategies to improve socialization include personal coping skills like not taking rude remarks/behavior personally, as well as using reinforcers to help condition proper social behavior. The child can be taught to recognize their behavior and emotions in addition to the behavior and emotions of those around them while working on simple social skills.

Finally, helping a child create positive habitual behavior patterns can begin to be accomplished by simply giving reinforcement, creating a routine, and being aware of anything that could cause anxiety. By utilizing resources that are aimed to help create a positive environment for an individual with ASD, one ensures their strongest chance for success and reaching their very best potential.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University



Shema Kolainu Reaches out to Support Autism Parents

 

chani katz shema kolainu

Family time is crucial for building confidence in a child’s life. For parents of a special needs child, the everyday challenges for managing behavior and raising a self-sufficient child are magnified.

Yesterday’s Shema Kolainu workshop at Hotel Pennsylvania, hosted by IEP Coordinator Chani Katz, MA, BCBA, gave support for parents who have an autistic child. Ms. Katz presented strategies for parents to cope with routine issues, ranging from sibling relationships to toilet training.

Whether public or private, parenting a child with autism can feel stressful and even lonely. Others around will be quick to judge a parent’s methods before they have ever tried to walk in their shoes. Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices strives to not only provide top-notch education for our students, but also to help give parents the tools for success.

“It definitely brings a lot of lessons to the family when everyone is able to become more nurturing and empathetic,” Ms. Katz said when addressing the crowd.

Milestone’s in a young child’s life such as sleeping through the night or using the toilet properly can put them outside of their comfort zone. For an autistic child, creating a training schedule can prove quite helpful since they love structure. Other tips that have proven effective are to use positive reinforcement of good behaviors and to create a calming environment for activities the child may feel overwhelmed by.

When parenting a special needs child, it is important to remember that each sibling deserves just as much love. The other children may feel jealous and lonely when they feel that their sibling gets priority and extra attention. Some things that parents may do to combat this is to involve themselves daily in their children’s hobbies. Even if they only have a few minutes to devote to a child at the end of the day when they are drawing pictures, for instance, it makes them feel special.

It also helps to reach out for support when tasks become too overbearing for parents. Behavioral intervention services from a professional are often quite important for a child’s development. Parents may also choose to seek out support groups of other children like them to share wisdom. Sometimes, the help of a housekeeper can ease stress.

Above all, educating the public about autism seems to be the most effective way to minimize negativity from other. Katz suggests helping more “atypical” siblings through difficult situations by encouraging them to talk about it, and also to be open with others in the community about a child’s special needs.



Intense Auditory Behavioral Training Shows Promise

auditory autism therapy

A new study conducted by researchers in Mississippi and California was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier in February and claims they may have found a way to rewire the brain to possibly treat autism.

Dr. Rick Lin, a professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and co-author of the study, explains how researchers were able to use a method called intense auditory behavioral training on rats to observe outcomes of the treatment.

The rats were first injected with a drug in order to stimulate serotonin receptors, causing the rats to exhibit autism-like symptoms.  They began to show antisocial behavior towards each other and acted very atypical of a normal rat.

“The rats, they were just not going to play with one another,” Lin explained.  “Just how a child with autism prefers to play by himself, so were these animals.  They were also super nervous, and when we would try to excite them with noise, they would just freeze – that’s not typical of a rat.”

Dr. Michael Merzenich of UCSF worked alongside the teams to subject the rats to a series of tones and ticks that Dr. Ian Paul, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UMMC, explains can create “plasticity”, meaning the brain actually changes over time.  Dr. Paul explained that when the rats heard the noises, they were hearing them at distorted frequencies, causing them to sound muffled – similar to what children with autism sometimes experience.

“Through this training, animals progressively sharpened their abilities to distinguish the fine difference between the sounds that they had heard.  This training had a dramatic impact on all of the autism-like neurological distortions in their brains,” Merzenich concluded.

The study lasted two months and showed promising results for the populations of male rats exclusively.  Scientists still don’t know why, but autism is four times more likely to affect males than females.  In proportion, if this treatment was to be conducted on humans, it would last about two years in a normal child’s life.  Although this treatment is still new, the researchers of the study are confident that their findings in coordination more support and effort can bring hope to families suffering from the effects of autism.

Written by Mara Papleo, Cleveland State University



On Making Autism Visible to Strangers

labelling autistic child in a crowd

For parents, one of the biggest hurdles they face raising a child with autism is the fact that it is a hidden disability. It may not be concealed behind a wall, or in disguise, but there are no trademark physical attributes that would signal public to their disability. As a result, misunderstanding in the form of aggressive criticism is an unfortunate reality parents have to deal with.

Farida Peters of Toronto, Canada is one of those parents. Every weekday, she takes her 5-year-old son Deckard on a seventeen stop subway ride that can last up to an hour so that he can get to his behavioral therapy on time.  Anyone acquainted with autism spectrum disorder knows that such rides can be a nightmare as they involve so many alterations dependent on the day: something Deckard simply cannot deal with.

In the past, he would throw tantrums during their ride when he couldn’t find a seat or didn’t have room to stand. The smallest thing could set him into a tailspin of screeching and stimming as he encountered boundless anxiety in the form of changes in their routine commute. To the uninformed eye, he was simply the petulant child to an overindulgent mother. After months of harsh words and exasperated encounters, Farida came up with a solution to alert her fellow commuters to what was actually going on.

Recently, Farida began clipping a laminated sign to her backpack that states: “My son is 5 years old and has autism. Please be patient with us. Thank you.” Though she’s met criticism for publicly labeling her child, Farida defends herself, saying “Honestly, I don’t always have time to apologize to everyone when I’m in crisis mode. I try to, but I have a kid who needs a lot of support.”

Despite some admonishments from close friends, the sign has improved Farida and Deckard’s commute drastically. Behavior that would once provoke an angry sigh or glare from a stranger now results in a reassuring hand on Farida’s back, and people asking how best they can accommodate her son.

The encouragement and support has comforted Farida immensely during times of duress; however, it’s proven even better for Deckard. Of course, his anxiety is now alleviated by the kindness of strangers; however, even better is the fact that people now engage him in positive conversation. Someone may see the sign and compliment him on his shirt or good behavior; others may simply offer a smile or a silly face. Regardless of the form the kindness comes in, it’s reinforced Deckard’s good behavior.

There’s an African proverb that claims that: “It takes a village to raise a child.” For Farida and her husband, the encouragement and kindness they’ve received as a result of her sign couldn’t prove this better.

Sara Power, Fordham University



Untying Knots of ASD and Associated Syndrome

understanding autism: untying knots

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is like a dense bundle of knots. Getting to its core can only be done by unraveling the complexities of numerous syndromes that are linked to ASD, one by one.

Doctor Alexander Kolevzon is currently working to comprehend Phelan-McDermid syndrome (PMS). A clinical director at Mount Sinai, Kolevzon directed a pilot study that aimed to improve the social impairments of those suffering of PMS, many of which also have ASD. The study was originally published in the December 12 issue of the journal Molecular Autism.

“Because different genetic causes of ASD converge on common underlying chemical signaling pathways, the findings of this study may have implications for many forms of ASD,” Kolevzon reported. The chemical signaling pathways he refers to involve the role of SHANK3, a gene found on chromosome 22. SHANK3 is highly involved in synapses, the gaps between neurons through which chemical messages are passed to reach individual target cells. Mutations and deletions of the gene cause developmental and language delays, as well as poor motor skills.

While the deletion or mutation of the gene causes PMS, it has remained unclear whether there exists a link between variations of the gene and autism until now. Mount Sinai’s preclinical study persuaded Doctor Kolevzon that a link exists, and inspired the hospital to conduct the first controlled trial of any treatment for PMS. Using SHANK3 deficient mouse models and neuronal models of SHANK3 deficient humans, the preclinical study indicated that reversal of synaptic plasticity and motor learning deficits may occur due to insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1. IGF-1 is highly involved in synaptic transmission; it boosts synaptic circuits viability by promoting nerve cell survival and synaptic maturation. In addition, IFG-1 increases synaptic plasticity, the tendency for synaptic connections to change in structure and function to efficiently process novel stimuli.

The Mount Sinai placebo-controlled, double-blind study exposed nine PMS-suffering children, ages 5 to 15, to three months of IGF-1 treatment and three months of placebo. The order of treatment was random. Major improvements were observed during the IGF-1 phase as opposed to the placebo phase. Specifically, the children showed fewer signs of social withdrawal and restrictive behaviors, two indicators that standard behavior scales such as the Aberrant Behavior Checklist and the Repetitive Behavior Scale employ when assessing the effects of ASD treatments. Thus, the study became the first to explore the probability that the growth hormone IGF-1 can greatly ameliorate social impairment linked with ASD.

This study is just the beginning. Improving PMS symptoms helps untangle the cluster of knots that is ASD. Joseph Buxbaum, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Genetics and Genomic Sciences and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai, affirmed that “this clinical trial is part of a paradigm shift to develop targeted, disease modifying medicines specifically to treat the core symptoms of ASD.”

Maude Plucker, Tufts University



Star with Autism is Speaking Out Against Bullying

basketball player with autism

Keep up to date on autism success stories, and you will discover many young people who achieve exactly what they were told they could never achieve, and reach even further beyond their wildest dreams.

Anthony Ianni was told as a child that he might graduate high school, but would have to live in a group home after leaving his parents’ house. He was also told he would never be an athlete.

Now a professional public speaker, Ianni inspires students reach for their dreams, and not take “no” for an answer. After all, he’s glad he did- the former Big Ten Champion played for Michigan State basketball team. He became the first known Division 1 player with autism spectrum disorder.

At 4 years old, Ianni would throw tantrums and as his parents would describe it, “wig out.” After extensive monitoring, he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, which falls on the autistic spectrum.

In school, Ianni experienced constant bullying from his classmates as a result of his social difficulties. Even though he was bigger and taller than most of his peers, he was often picked on just for being bigger. He is not alone; up to 90 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder report being bullied.

The former athlete now holds a college degree, and he uses his platform to reach children who are being bullied, and to encourage them to have confidence in themselves.

“Let your talents do all your talking for you,” Ianni said as he addressed a group of students at Concord Middle School.

Finding basketball was a saving grace for the young man who would eventually grow up to be a Spartan. He was able to finally fit in with his teammates as he put his heart into something he loved. As a motivational speaker, he is on the road five days a week, addressing students all over the country with his anti-bullying speeches.

“It’s his passion, it is his life,” former MSU coach Tom Izzo said to the Lansing State Journal. “I wanted to be a coach, this is what he wants to be. I really believe that. His passion comes through when he speaks.”



Autism May Hide Anxiety Symptoms

anxiety and autism

Imagine living in a world that changes day-to-day. That doesn’t sound too much different from reality right? Now say that this change involves disastrous sounds, alien people, and foreign territories. Sound like your typical, every day transition? Generally, this is how persons with autism experience change, and it is why they are so resistant to it.

When we see one disorder occurring at the same time as another, we call it comorbid. With autism, one such comorbid disorder is that of anxiety. Anxiety is defined as being a nervous disorder characterized by extreme unease and discomfort. Often it is seen in the form of obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks.

Persons with autism are known for their resistance to change. It is because of this that anxiety is often overlooked as an actual disorder when it co-occurs with autism. Panic in response to a change in routine may be looked at as obstinate behavior when in fact the person in question feels crippling anxiety.

Part of the problem with diagnosing anxiety in autism comes from the fact that such individuals have difficulty describing their emotional state; as a result, professionals don’t get a clear understanding of what exactly is going on in their heads. However, the error has been attributed to diagnostic tests that fail to acknowledge the many ways in which anxiety manifests itself.

The National Institute of Mental Health is currently working on challenging the diagnostic criteria for anxiety so that they can treat it more successfully with pharmaceuticals and behavioral therapy. For the autistic community, such a change could mean access to the kinds of solutions that would relieve the 63% of afflicted persons that experience overwhelming panic on a nearly daily basis. Hopefully, NIMH will pull through, but in the meantime it is important that autism professionals familiarize themselves with the trademarks of anxiety so as to improve the quality of care for their clients.

Sara Power, Fordham University



Utilizing Restricted Interests Improves Reading Comprehension

literacy research for autism

Narrow, specific interests are a characteristic for those with autism spectrum disorder. A group of university researchers wants to channel this tendency into a method that will improve literacy.

“Perseverative interest” is the term that describes this phenomenon. Researchers at UVA have discovered that by including a child’s restricted interests frequently in their reading material, literacy instruction may improve the child’s comprehension.

University of Virginia Curry School of Education Professor Michael Solis collaborated with Cleveland University Professor Farah El Zein and designed a literacy curriculum which uses a child’s specific interests frequently within a story. If a child loves trains, the texts references trains several times.

When he tested his model, Solis discovered that the method improved enagement with the material for the children who participated. They then performed better on curriculum-based tests as well following the experiment.

Solis was inspired to delve into this research after conducting a thorough search on the availability of instructional methods designed to improve the scholastic performance of children with autism. He discovered that there was a surprising lack of such data available on reading comprehension, and much of the data available lacked stringency.

According to Solis, most of the specialized instruction for autistic children focuses on improving their social skills and behavior. The most widely accepted methods for increasing reading comprehension among children with autism is to apply the same methods used for a variety of disabilities.

Since Solis is an expert on tailoring reading instruction to suit a variety of special needs, he set out to create a more specialized, and therefore more effective method of teaching reading comprehension to children with autism.

“Reading comprehension is critical to academic success, enabling attendance in college and meaningful employment,” Solis said to NBC29. “We really need to close that gap. Conventional reading interventions used in special education classrooms are not bringing the results with children of autism as they are with others.”



Unique As a Snowflake: Study Finds No Two Cases of Autism the Same

autism cases are unique

If you were to put a group of children together, the differences in their personalities would be obvious- the extroverted kids would lead the game, the shyer would hang back, friends would form bonds and take on a partnership role, and the rest filling the various dynamics of the group.

It is the same as children affected with Autism Spectrum Disorder- if they were to fill a room, their personalities shine and their unique differences would be immediately seen.

Although it has been commonly accepted that no two people with ASD are the same, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, (Canada) recently conducted a study which looked at the genetic makeup of siblings affected with autism and their respective parent’s. They found that a significant (69.4%) amount of these siblings’ DNA code had varying aspects of ASD, making them as “unique as snowflakes”.

This means that siblings who both have the same autism diagnosis can have a different coding scenario, in turn showing a greater variation in their expression of the disorder. This helps to explain how a family with two children with the same diagnosis of autism can show significant differences in their behavior, as any other family can attest.

In the above mentioned article, Valerie South’s two sons (Thomas and Cameron) were both diagnosed with a type of low-functioning autism, which leads to difficulties in learning development. And like most brothers, they have their own expressions of self, different from one another.

In the study, their entire DNA sets were assessed, and it was found that, although they had the same diagnosis, the expression of the ASD-related genes were largely differentiating. The study had 170 participants with ASD, and looked at all genetic variations that were relevant to the disorder (both their genetic makeup and the outward expression of the gene). It also looked at the structural variation of the genes associated with the spectrum.

With almost 70% of the siblings showing significant genetic variation in relevant genes, this scientifically backed hypothesis confirms the anecdotal knowledge parents with children of ASD have known for years; the variability between siblings is as significant as any brothers or sisters without the disorder, and ultimately, no two cases of autism are ever the same.

This innovative study brings to light how Autism Spectrum Disorder is viewed, studied, and treated. The concept that no expression of this development disorder can be considered thesame calls for complete tailoring of therapies, treatments, as well as how people are diagnosed.

The image of this disorder as a spectrum has now been reinforced with the information from this new study, and it is time to open the discussion on how these individuals should be cared for, and how we talk about autism.

Written by Sydney Chasty