Category Archives: Research

New Research Found on Diets of Autistic Children

autism and special diets

A recent study published in this month’s Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that autistic children put on special diets may not receiving all of the vitamins and nutrients that they need.

Families with autistic children often choose gluten-free, casein-free diets, or add supplements to ease symptoms of autism as well as making up for picky eaters. However, the published study has found that by doing this, children are not getting a proper balance of nutrients. 

The study had the caregivers of hundreds of autistic children log their daily food and drink intake, including any supplements that are added to their diets. The study focused on children ages 2 to 11.

Researchers found that children with autism consumed normal levels of micronutrients but had deficiencies in vitamins D and E, calcium, potassium, and choline. This is typical for most children. However, those who were taking supplements were also lacking in vitamin D and calcium. Along with that, those children were taking in excessive amounts of vitamin A, folic acid, and zinc. Children who had special diets, such as gluten or casein-free, took in more magnesium and vitamin E, had appropriate levels of vitamin D, but not enough calcium. 

Patricia Stewart, who led the study, said that the excess intake of nutrients in multivitamins might lead to adverse effects. She advises that when supplements are used, one should pay careful attention to the amount of vitamin D and calcium intake too.

Sourced from Disability Scoop

Written by Sejal Sheth

Swimming Lessons for Autistic Children: Pros and Cons

autism swimming lessons

There are hundreds of articles and videos on the Internet dedicated to teaching kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) how to swim. The exercise has a great number of benefits in itself, but it can be particularly beneficial for individuals on the autism spectrum.

There are numerous physical benefits. Research indicates that children with ASD who follow hydrotherapy treatment may see an increase in overall fitness, specifically measured by improved balance, speed, flexibility, and endurance. These are areas in which autistic children are often limited. 

Swimming is a great way to get fit while avoiding the high impact that other exercises like running can have on joints. The largest muscles in the body are used for swimming, which in turn promotes the development of gross motor skills. Roughly nineteen percent of children with ASD are overweight, and just under 40% are at risk of becoming so. It is crucial for these children to stay active, for excess weight may cause an increased risk for other health issues such as bone and joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, depression is a possible consequence of being overweight. Swimming can be fun and increase strength, which is why so many people encourage that all children, not just those with ASD, learn to swim and practice often.

In addition, there are social benefits to learning to swim. It may offer children with ASD the opportunity to practice communicating and following directions. The impaired ability to communicate is common for individuals on the spectrum, so this may be one of the greatest challenges in teaching them to swim. However, when done effectively, it has been said that these children made progress in their ability to concentration on a task and also respond to others.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that children with ASD are often attracted to bodies of water. This is fortunate because they may be enthusiastic to learn to swim, an exercise that may pertain many benefits. However, this attraction is also unfortunate because water can be dangerous, especially for autistic individuals who have a tendency to elope or wander away from safe, supervised areas. According to the National Autism Association, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for individuals with ASD. The question becomes: will teaching my child to swim encourage him/her to approach water, possibly putting him/her at greater risk of drowning? Or should I avoid teaching my child to swim in the hopes that he/she will feel too insecure to approach water?

In response to an article entitled “How to Keep Children with Autism Safe Around Water,” “Eileen,” the mother of a twenty-two year old son with severe autism, says she completely disagrees that autistic children should learn to swim. Eileen points out that autistic children are often drawn to water because it feels good and calms them. However, the danger, she says, is that these children may not distinguish a supervised body of water from an unsupervised one and, with a “false sense of security,” may jump in and drown.

In contrast, Dana Walker, the mother of a nine year old autistic boy, is glad she choose to enroll her son in swimming lessons. “I know that with additional practice, Brady will beat the odds that are so against our children that have autism and water concerns,” she says. By doing some research, Walker found a qualified and enthusiastic institution that was dedicated to teaching Brady to swim safely. Walker adds, “I will be comforted knowing that he is learning the skills that will keep him safe near and in the water.”

Each parent must think long and hard about their decision to enroll their autistic child in swimming lessons. While drowning is the leading cause of death for individuals with ASD, many of these children learn to swim, adore it, and are equipped with swimming techniques to handle these situations. It is up to you to evaluate the pros and the cons and make a decision that feels right for your family!

Written by Maude Plucker

Autism Parenting: High Stress, High Rewards

stressed out mother

Mothers of adolescents and adults with autism show signs of chronic stress similar to soldiers in combat and struggle with recurring fatigue and work interruptions, new studies report. These mothers also devote significantly more time caregiving than those with non-disabled children. 

Researchers kept track of a group of mothers of adolescents and adults with autism for eight days. At the end of each day, the mothers were interviewed about their experiences. On four of the days, researchers measured the subjects’ hormone levels to evaluate their stress.

They found that one of the hormones associated with stress was very low, similar to people suffering from chronic stress such as soldiers in combat, researchers say in one of two studies published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

These findings show that this is the “physiological residue of daily stress,” according to Marsha Mailick Seltzer, a researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison who organized the studies. But while it is clear that mothers of children “with high levels of behavioral problems,” we still do not know the long-term effects on their physical health.

However, such hormone levels have been connected with chronic health problems such as decreased immune functioning, glucose regulation, and mental activity.

A companion study shows that mothers of children with autism spend at least two more hours per day caregiving than mothers of children without disabilities. These moms were twice as likely to be tired and three times as likely to have experienced a stressful event, researchers report.  

Furthermore, these moms were interrupted at work far more frequently than other moms, causing tension with their employers. 

Still, raising a child with autism does not mean that all positivity will be drained from one’s life. In fact, an article by Michelle Diament from Disability Scoop says:

“Despite all of this, mothers of an individual with autism were just as likely to have positive experiences each day, volunteer or support their peers as those whose children have no developmental disabilities…”

The real issue here is how to give mothers with special needs children the support that they need. These mothers experience high levels of stress in their daily lives, so they have less time to themselves. According to Leann Smith, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked on the study, “we need to find better ways to be supportive of these families.

One way to improve the situation, researchers suggest, is to participate in behavioral management programs, for they can “go a long way toward improving the situation for mothers and their kids alike.”

Written by Nina Bergold

Difficulties Faced by Women and Autism

women with autism

Clare Danes from the film “Temple Grandin”

Imagine this: you are blindfolded and told to walk on a tightrope. Yes, it is difficult. But, there are also people trying to advise you on how to continue walking.

They claim that the real obstacle to your success is because you’re wearing the wrong shoes, or you’re just unfocused- not because you’re blindfolded.

In a sense, this is the case of many women throughout the world, who struggle long before they are diagnosed as autistic. Many women don’t seek a diagnosis at all, or are told that they have completely different personality disorders or mental illnesses. Misdiagnosis, and lack of any diagnosis, of women with autism is common due to two factors: gender stereotypes and unintended discrimination in research studies.

In the early 2000’s, one of Britain’s most renowned Autism experts, Simon Baron-Cohen, published the Extreme Male Brain Theory. The theory generalized that because females tend to exhibit more empathy towards others, autism (which can cause less empathetic tendencies) can be considered an inherently male disorder.

The assumption that autism affects mainly males has led many women to deny their own identities. Many women mask their own symptoms and mimic what are considered socially acceptable behaviors and mentalities.

As a repercussion of the struggle to know what’s “wrong” with themselves, women with autism are more likely to suffer from additional disorders and mental illnesses. In fact, 20-30% of those with anorexia suffer from autism as well. They may not be aware that their perfectionist traits can be symptoms of autism.

Alarmingly, the National Autism Society’s Lorna Wing Centre for Autism director, Dr. Judith Gould, says she sees women over twenty who have never received a diagnosis. Coincidentally,  the majority of those women have been in abusive relationships.

The unintentional discrimination towards women continues by means of research studies.

Carol Povey, Director of the NAS’s Centre for Autism explains, “Past research into autism has concentrated overwhelmingly on males, meaning that the way we understand the condition, culturally and clinically, tends to be based on the experiences and behavior of men and boys,” she says.

Hidden behind the statistic that there is one woman with autism for every 4 males with autism exists a large group of women who are simply being denied their identities due the misunderstanding and ignorance of autism spectrum disorder. These women can be provided better treatments and coping mechanisms once their symptoms are recognized. In the long run, they pay monetary, physical, and emotional costs in their search for peace.

Recently, movements for establishing a means to understand women with autism have been picking up speed. Autism in Pink, for example, is a program funded by the EU that links four European autism to research women, and to provide them with focus groups and workshops.

There is still so much more that the world can do to provide better support for females with autism, and in the coming years,  Already, things are looking up: Director Carol Povey reports that the Lorna Wing Center has seen an increase in women seeking diagnosis in recent years—a promising signal of change.

So now, many women women can untie their blindfolds. They can finally accept themselves.  They can be understood by others. And they can continue doing great things, with the knowledge that they are who they truly are. If you want to learn more about women with autism, you can watch the following documentary from the NAS on Autism in Pink:

Written by Samantha Mallari

Could Autistics Just be Hyperfunctional?

hyperfunctional autism

It is commonly believed in the medical community that autism is connected with limited social behaviors. But what if instead of being inept, autistic brains are wired to actually perceive more details about the outside world? 

In 2007, three researchers developed an alternative theory called, “Intense World Syndrome” that explains what autism is. Instead of it being referred to as a mental deficit, Kamila Markram, Henry Markram, and Tania Rinaldi say that the autistic brain is actually hyperfunctional and super charged. Because of this, stimuli can be overwhelming and cause individuals with autism to withdraw in social and emotional situations as a way to self-protect.

Recently a similar study suggests the same concept, along with the idea that if treated early in life with a predictable environment, the symptoms can be reduced. The study, which is being carried out at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), compares rats with model autism (exposed to valproate, VPA) in three different environments: standard, predictable enriched, and unpredictable enriched.

So far, the study has found that rats living in predictable environments didn’t develop the same emotions, such as fear and anxiety, which the rats living in unpredictable or standard environments developed. Because of this, the researchers have come to the conclusion that rats living in a very predictable enriched environment are not as likely to develop symptoms of autism.

Kamila Markram says that she thinks these findings will affect the way that children with autism are treated. She hopes that future therapies include structure and predictability as core values. Markran also says that it is necessary for people to change the way that they view the disorder. She wants to change the idea that autism is a deficit, replacing that assumption with the belief that children with autism are hyperfunctional and just trying to cope with an environment they can’t handle.

Originally sourced from this Time article

Written By Sejal Sheth

Apraxia and Autism Often Go Hand in Hand

autism and apraxia

Researchers have been examining the relationship between apraxia, a rare neurological speech disorder, and autism. In a three-year study, 64% of children with autism also had apraxia.

Cheryl Tierney, an associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State, says that children with apraxia have a hard time coordinating the movements of their tongue, lips, mouth, and jaw. Because of this, every time they say a word it comes out differently, making it hard for their parents to understand them.

The rate of childhood apraxia is between one and two for every 1,000. With awareness increasing, children are being diagnosed with apraxia and autism more often than ever before.

The Penn State Hershey Pediatric Developmental Communication Assessment Clinic found that in an initial diagnostic screening, the follow up test showed that 63.6% of children diagnosed with autism were also diagnosed with apraxia. They also found that 36.8% of children diagnosed with apraxia were later diagnosed with autism. 23.3% of children were initially diagnosed with both.

Apraxia and autism symptoms can be improved with early intervention. By detecting one of the two disorders, it is easier to pinpoint the other. However, the two diagnoses have different types of intervention protocol. This is important because knowing the distinction can prevent long-term problems.  

The CASD, or Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder, is used to diagnose autism and apraxia. This tool contains four different types of assessments: two for apraxia and two for autism. Tierney says that CASD can be used to diagnose or rule out autism; therefore it is also used for apraxia.

Written by Sejal Sheth 

New Lego Therapy to Help Build Communication

lego therapy for autism

Playing with Legos is an all-time favorite activity for kids. The colorful building blocks are now being used to help with social and communicative development for children who are on the autism spectrum.

It’s called Lego Therapy, and has become a very popular new type of Play Therapy. The idea is that using Legos will encourage children to have more meaningful interaction and communication with their peers.

Children with autism are often attracted to this kind of toy because it’s systematic, and building with them uses elements of predictability in a highly structured way. Researchers and practitioners throughout the US and UK have found that autistic children are focused, more motivated, and happy to participate in these types of therapy sessions.

This is what makes Lego Therapy hugely successful. Since the child is engaged they are more likely to benefit from it. It’s also said that skills learned in this therapy are easily transferred to other settings.

Some skills that are strengthened through this therapy are:

•   Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

•   Sharing and Taking Turns

•   Listening and Following Directions 

•   Goal Planning

•   Teamwork and Problem Solving

Lego therapy can be used in one-on-one sessions between a child and an adult facilitator. Using it in a group setting allows the children help one another achieve their goals.

The therapy has also been shown to improve communication and social skills as kids work together (or with an adult) to build the intended object.

Mother of 6-year-old Dylan Ryan has noticed a tremendous change in her son. Before, he had minimal language and often replied ‘no’ frequently. However, after years of therapy he’s taken a big step forward by asking to play with other kids.

Therapies for autism are just as individualized as the child. The new Lego Therapy gives parents more options to choose from.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

11 Strategies for Camping With Your Autistic Child

camping trips for autism

Thinking about going camping this summer? It’s the best time of year; school is ending and the weather is too good to pass up. Being around nature is a great way to relax and can create long lasting memories.

But we understand that any type of outing can cause some concerns when traveling with an autistic child. One mother, Tara, can definitely relate to these worries. Her 8 year old daughter Maggie likes routines and familiarity, so going somewhere new can be a big obstacle. However, through experience Tara has strategized in a way for camping to be enjoyable for the entire family. Here are her 11 tips:

  1. Use the Buddy System. Travel with families whose children are around the same age. This way you can pair the kids up and have an extra set of hands helping you out.
  2. Bring Friends. More people means more fun, and also more help available. It will come in handy if your child doesn’t want to participate in all activities. For instance, the adults can be split up while some take a group to the water and others stay back.
  3. Consider an Electrical Site. Although this kind of defeats the whole “getting back to nature” idea, it can be life saver. Having a fully charged iPad or mobile phone can come in handy in situations if your child starts to become dysregulated. It can provide the break that they need so they can come back to join the fun.
  4. Lock the Tent. You can use a combination lock or zip ties to keep the front closed. This ensures that your child won’t sneak out in the middle of the night without your knowledge (but remember to plan bathroom trips well). You can hide a pair of scissors inside the tent in case of an emergency.
  5. Plan the Location for Your Site. Take a look at the camping site beforehand and find a good place to set up. You want to consider being close to places you’ll use often, such as the bathroom or swimming area.
  6. Look for Playgrounds. They are full of great activities for kids to let out all of their energy.
  7. Always Have Snacks on Hand. This is a great way to get your child to do certain things. For example, if they want some pretzels let them know they can have a bag but first they must help clean up or play catch.
  8. Fire Safety. This is important for all kids but especially those with autism. The sensory stimulation with the lights, heat, and sound can draw their attention. When burning a fire it’s best to have an adult by their side at all times.
  9. Water Safety. You can take water out altogether by choosing a site without a lake or a pond.
  10. Find Shade. Heat can sometimes be overwhelming so having a good shaded area can provide relief.
  11. Have a Lost Plan. If your child tends to wander it’s a good idea to be prepared. Keep a current photo nearby and in your phone. Taking daily pictures is a great way to remember what your child was wearing that day. Also, program the campsite’s numbers into your phone so it’s easy to access if needed.

Originally sourced from The Huffington Post

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Parent Training to Improve Autistic Child’s Behavior

parent training for autism

It’s common for children with autism to exhibit problematic behavior. But, as Kara Reagon, PhD has said, “All behavior serves a person” – meaning that there is a reason for it.

Kids often become frustrated or angry when they are struggling to communicate. However, researchers at Emory University have found that with training, parents are able to obtain the proper skills needed to manage their child’s behavior.

An article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that children behave better when their parents possess these particular skills.

The experiment involved 180 children between the ages of 3 and 7 years old, and their parents. They were broken up into 2 groups.

One group of parents was given a 24-week training program teaching strategies for managing common behavioral problems. It was comprised of 11 core treatment sessions, two optional sessions, two telephone boosters and two home visits. They were trained on effective ways to respond to their child if they begin throwing a tantrum, showing aggression, performing self-injury or non-compliance. More specifically, parents were told to reward expected behavior with positive reinforcement and withhold reinforcement for unexpected behavior is displayed.

The other group of parents were given 12 core sessions providing strictly educational information about autism and just one home visit.

During the study, the parents of the first group stated their children had a 48% improvement in behavior while the second group had a 32% decline. At the end of each program, clinicians conducted their own assessments on the children. It was discovered that the children with the highly trained parents had a 70% positive feedback rate whereas the less educated parent group had only 40% positive feedback.

A running theme that many researchers and studies continue to support is the importance of early intervention. A previous article in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders showed that early intervention on children between the ages of 7 and 15 months (who show signs of autism) can considerably reduce or completely eliminate any developmental delays. These studies have emphasized the importance of both early intervention and proper training for families with autistic children.

To view the original article please visit

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Autism Spectrum Disorder Has Later Onset for Females

autism onset in girls

A recent study handled by the Kennedy Krieger Institute located in Baltimore discovered that not only are females much less likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but they are also diagnosed much later on in life in comparison to males.

The Interactive Autism Network – also known as IAN – supplied their online data registry to the Institute. Information was supplied from almost 50,000 families and individuals affected by autism. The study factored in the age and gender of the individuals diagnosed.

Pervasive developmental disorder, diagnosed by delayed growth in social and communicative areas, affected girls beginning at age four in comparison to boys at an average age of 3.8. As well as this, Asperger’s Syndrome was also more common later in girls’ lives, while earlier in boys’. The overall ratio of boys versus girls in the IAN database was almost 4.5 to 1.

This link could be related to the female tendency to be more shy and quiet rather than males. Dr. Paul Lipkin, the director of IAN, says that these autistic behaviors are often written off as shyness. He also stated that girls struggle more often than boys with ability to understand social cues from others, whereas boys struggle with more obvious mannerisms. This shyness can deter professionals from making the diagnosis, while the true cause remains beneath the surface.

Females with autism cannot always be treated identically to males with ASD. This study aims to help determine the recognizable traits in females that have previously led to later diagnoses. This gender gap can hopefully begin to close by implementing social skills training for girls who exhibit these behaviors. Treating this should not change who these children are as people, but should instead allow them to be more aware and flexible with their emotions and the emotions of those around them.

By Kat O’Toole, University of Maine

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