Category Archives: Research

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.



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.



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.



Using the Brain to Diagnose Autism

(Photo: http://nhahealth.com/social-disorders-autism-aspergers/)

(Photo: http://nhahealth.com/social-disorders-autism-aspergers/)

Marcel Just, a psychology professor and the director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University, along with his research team have published new research that would allow us to accurately diagnose autism with 97% certainty.

As of today, most autism diagnoses are done with the help of interviews and behavioral observations which can sometimes give inaccurate results for a variety of reasons–the biggest of which is subjectivity. Dr. Just and his research team’s findings could change the way we diagnose people on the spectrum as well as give us a more objective understanding of autism. Using fMRI brain scans, researchers tested 17 young adults with high functioning autism and 17 typically developing young adults. They were then prompted to think about social interactions such as “hugging,” “humiliation,” “adore,” etc., to measure the activation levels of 135 tiny pieces in the brain. Scientists analyzed these levels to see if there were any patterns and similarities in the brain when each interaction was thought about.

The results showed that the brain patterns are actually almost identical for different people. The researchers were able to identify 33 out of the 34 people correctly for being either autistic or typically developing. “When they thought about hugging or adoring or persuading or hating, they thought about it like somebody watching a play or reading a dictionary definition. They didn’t think or it as it applied to them,” Dr. Just explains.

The study concluded that people with autism are missing a “self factor” or their ideas about themselves and their role in social interaction is altered and a lot of the time very removed from the situation. This type of diagnosis removes a lot of the bias that comes along with a person being observed for any behavior abnormalities.

To read the original study, click HERE

 



Is Autism Different for Girls?

girls and autism

Boys are more likely to get diagnosed with autism–four times more likely. Scientists, however, and many others in the autism community are still debating whether this gender difference is due to biological causes or that girls have symptoms that they are able to “hide” better. Below, researchers have identified some broad characteristics/symptoms that have typically been seen in girls with autism.

  • Having a specific interest can manifest itself differently in girls. For boys, when we find that they are interested in something out of the norm such as a stop sign or bathrooms, we take that as a red flag. But for girls, their interests can come in the form of dolls, books, music groups, or other things that are typically interesting for her peers. “An autistic girl may be more interested in collecting or cataloging information about her passion, she may develop an unusual depth of knowledge for her age, or she may spend an unusual amount of time pursuing one interest, to the exclusion of other activities.”
  • Although there isn’t much difference between when autistic boys and girls start speaking, girls may actually be more linguistically developed than their male peers. Girls tend to actually be more verbal by learning to read at a very young age or becoming a fast reader.
  • Girls and women are better at using imitation to get through social situations. Although they are not very good at being socially interactive, they are able to learn “a set of socially appropriate scripts by copying other girls.”
  • Girls and women on the spectrum oftentimes enjoy socializing and have friends. They especially enjoy one-on-one or small group situations, however social interaction can require alot of recovery time due to sensory overload or other limitations.
  • Females with autism can also experience a variety of conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and others that can really confuse the diagnostic process.

To read more research on females and autism, click HERE

To read the original article, click HERE



New & Improved Google Glasses Offer Help for Autistic Children

(Image taken from Brain Power Program and WBZ-TV)

(Image taken from Brain Power Program and WBZ-TV)

As we continue to develop new ways to help children and people on the spectrum learn life skills, there has been a general consensus that technology has the potential to overcome many of the challenges they face. Ned Sahin, neuroscientist, neurotechnology entrepreneur, and founder of Brain Power is making waves with his new idea of using Google Glasses to navigate the world. The glasses are being engineered to help children on the spectrum with social skills such as engaging in conversation, reading social cues, and encouraging eye contact.

The glasses allow the child to see the person they are interacting with and places an emoticon or icon that illustrates what that person is feeling next to their face. For example, if someone is smiling at them, they will see a smiley face that they will come to associate with happiness, and thus be able to react appropriately. Another aspect of the glasses allow the child to choose what they person is feeling from two icons that appear on the glass, earning them points that encourage them to engage in this game of face and emotion associations.

Dr. Sahin says, “I wanted to do something that would impact people in their daily lives. There was a huge unmet need here. it was staggering when I realized how little progress we’ve made in autism…Parents tell me, ‘I just wish my child could look me in the eye. I wish my child could understand what I’m thinking…what I’m feeling.’ And we’re giving them that.”

While IPads are also useful for providing similar programs, the google glasses are unique because they allow the child to actually look up or towards the person they are interacting with. The glasses also track how many times the child looks at the person who is trying to get their attention by using a motion sensor. Even Dr. Martha Herbert, pediatric neurologist and brain development researcher, says, “That’s the beauty of this device…It tracks multiple things over time so you can get real data about how things are improving.”

To read more about using google glasses to help children on the spectrum, click HERE 



Unique Faces of Autism

unique

Credit: Lisa Feng

People often say, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” But what does this mean? Take two boys Geoffrey Ondrich and Waylon Cude, 16 years old and unrelated, who both have the same diagnosis of autism.

Waylon is a very serious person and also very into computers. He spends the majority of his time playing games online and spent his last summer interning at IBM programming websites. He is a perfectionist when it comes to working on computers. Though he speaks politely and answers questions, especially factual ones, he doesn’t engage in too much other conversation.

On the other hand, we have Geoffrey, who loves his iPad where he watches pieces of his favorite movie or finds music to listen to and starts dancing. His other past times include rocking back and forth and slapping his left wrist onto his right hand. His clinician finds it hard to engage him as he picks up a plate and bites it, then rolls a toy car back and forth on the table.

Two boys, both have the same age and diagnosis, yet are living two very different lives. Geneticist David Ledbetter, chief scientific officer at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania says, “What we’ve learned in the last five years about the underlying genetics is that there are hundreds of, if not a thousand or more, different genetic subtypes of autism.” In the same sense, it is just as no two people have the same personality. Researchers are using this information to try to get to the root cause of autism at the genetic level that could create new treatments in the future that go to the root instead of just addressing the symptoms.

To read more about different mutations triggering different types of behaviors, click HERE



Parents Can Be the Best Resource

parents

When autism was first recognized as a disorder back in the 1940s, people thought that the parents were to blame for their child’s withdrawn behavior. Psychoanalysts thought that cold and detached parenting was the reason behind an autistic child having trouble communicating socially. However, today we know this is not true and there are biological shortcomings of the body and brain development that are responsible for these social deficits.

An important part of helping children on the spectrum with these issues of social interaction is being responsive to the child’s behaviors. This includes making comments or doing things that build on your child’s current interest and actions to support what they are already trying to do. For example, if your child is playing with a ball, you might point to the ball and say, ‘it’s a ball,’ opposed to taking the ball away and asking your child to say ball before giving it back.

Dr. Michael Siller, co-director of the Hunter College Autism Center and Dr. Marian Sigman, co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART), have done research where they show that parents using this responsive method have children who develop better language and social skills. Another study assigned half a group of parents to a one-year long intervention program where they worked one-on-one with a speech therapist to improve their abilities and skills on understanding their child’s subtle social cues. This program was made to help parents interact in a more responsive way to their child. The other half of parents continued receiving their usual community services and, as expected, the parents who went through the program were more responsive and saw more positive results in their children’s social skills as well.

There is a lack of research done on parent-child interaction, since some people are afraid that parents will feel that they are being blamed. However, working on parenting skills and assigning blame are two very different things. This is an important area of research to continue to explore as it can have very promising results for children on the spectrum.