Category Archives: Research

Autistic Students Regain their Appetites

Chef Lucio, changing lives one meal at a time

Chef Lucio, changing lives one meal at a time

Mealtimes can be difficult for people with autism. This was the case at Queensmill, a West London school for children on the autism spectrum. But, times have changed. Ever since Djalma Lucio Polli de Carbalho, a Brazilian chef who goes by the name of “Lucio,” joined as head chef, Queensmill’s students are regaining their appetite.

Indeed, the children are showing incredible progress at lunch time. Jude Ragan, the headteacher at Queensmill is delighted. “Tables used to be thrown over,”she says. “That’s stopped. Because the kids are eating, obviously they aren’t hungry which means the afternoons are better. The teachers feel properly cared for, which they deserve to be. But mostly we can just take pleasure in food. It’s a part of the day we all enjoy.”

Queensmill is composed of 140 students between 2 and 19 years of age. Most have trouble communicating and are non-verbal, using pictogram systems to show what they’d like to eat. Their relationship with food, however, is very complex.

Autistic people often experience a sensory overload when they approach food, as they may be hypersensitive to various temperatures and textures. Some seek a sensory hit and desire strong stimulants like crunch or heat. Others seek just the opposite and stick to warm or cool, bland foods. At times, depending on circumstances like quantity and quality of sleep, an autistic person may swing from one preference to the other.

Patterns are also very important for some autistic people; a small change in their daily routine can severely throw them off. This can be extremely stressful for the parents of autistic children. Evidently, Lucio’s cooking is turning things around. His food is made from scratch and a pleasure for everyone— even the staff at school. Ragan admits “the benefit he brings to us is incalculable.” He prepares everything from chicken with lemon and garlic to roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes. His objective is to expand what the children eat to ultimately prepare them for an unpredictable and diverse future around food.

One mother recounts, “I was absolutely astonished when Matthew started eating. Since the new year, he’s eating things like curries that he would never have touched before. The fact is our children have very little control over their own lives and Lucio’s food has given them the opportunity to try things.”

Queensmill is thankful and grateful that Lucio joined their team. Their past year of delightful progress will hopefully inspire other schools to make changes in their kitchens for the children, their families, and their future.

For the original article, please click here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/19/lunchtime-revolution-school-children-autism

By Maude Plucker



Guinea Pigs and Autistic Children Get Along Well

guinea pig autism therapy

According to a recent article published in Developmental Psychobiology, guinea pigs are animals that help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder display more interactive social behaviors and become less anxious.

In previous research that had been done, the results were taken from parental or teacher surveys. However, this study is different because it looked at the level of arousal from three different children (one autistic child and two typical developing children). Each child wore a wristband that measured the electric charge that races through skin.

The typically developing children reported being happy and had high levels of arousal. Researchers believe this is because children are excited by the idea of animals and playing with them. Children with autism also reported feeling happy but their level of arousal had declined. This could suggest that the animals lowered their level of stress and anxiety.

This research could be used as a type of intervention for teachers without many resources. Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, says that it may be easier for children with autism to interact when there is a third object rather than a face-to-face interaction. 

Another study, carried out by Marguerite E. O’Haire from Purdue University, gave groups of three children with varying abilities two guinea pigs to play with. The study found that there was improved sociability for all children.  The children had the opportunity to feed, pet, photograph, groom, draw the animals, and clean their cages. After the eight-week test period, typical and children on the spectrum described the guinea pig as their best friend.

Deborah Fein, an autism expert at University of Connecticut, says that when you lower a child’s anxiety level, they pick up social skills incidentally. Along with that, the guinea pigs can be used to teach children with autism empathy and responsibility.

Check out the original article at New York Times Blog.

By Sejal Sheth



The Easiest Thing You’ll Do All Day- ICareTV is Just A Click Away!

Autism…

Today, more people are hearing this word than at any point in human history.

But if you ask the world, “What is autism?” the responses vary.

To some, this word conjures up thoughts of people with superhuman abilities to organize and remember facts. To others, it is a strange disorder that makes it hard for some people to socially interact.

And for many, “autism” is the reason why they struggle for employment, why they are denied an education, why they are excluded from society’s definition of “normal”.

Since it was first formally recognized in the 1940’s, our society has made impressive steps to improve the  lives of those on the autism spectrum. Autism awareness increases daily and doctors are getting to know the signs better all the time.

But, where do we go from here? How do we take the next step towards global awareness, inclusion, and acceptance?

What the world needs is CARE:

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Shema Kolainu’s Autism Webinar portal, iCareTV, provides what our global community truly needs to make the next step towards improving the lives of those with autism.

If life is a movie,  iCareTV allows the global community to look at it through a new lens.

With iCareTV, the world can watch in-depth workshops and webinars from leading professionals in the field, including Anat Baniel, Ari Ne’Eman, and Stephen Shore.

At the heart of this initiative is a common mission to provide greater awareness of new autism information and research findings. To provide a trustworthy, alternative autism news network. And, to provide a solid community of support for a world that deserves to understand autism better.

Making a real impact today is easier than you think. In this big world we live in, we are connected by a common hope that future generations are able to lead better lives. Make that hope a reality!

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Research Hopes to Find Better Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia

autism and schizophrenia

Recent findings published in Journal of Neuroscience tracked brain waves that are sent to higher brain areas. By understanding their activity when a predictive error occurs, the researchers hope to find a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Every millisecond, our brains recognize many objects, even if there is only minimal visual information. Researchers at Goethe University believe that our brains are able to recognize these objects quickly because our brains are constantly making predictions and comparing them to incoming information. When mismatches occur, our brain is forced to use higher areas of the brain to activate the corrections.

In the research presented, photographs called “Mooney faces” were used. Mooney faces, named after the inventor Craig Mooney, are pictures, which have faces in black and white only. Usually, humans are able to recognize the faces easily as well as recognize the age, gender, and facial expression.

In the study, the Mooney faces intentionally violated two expectations that humans usually have. First, the faces were oriented upright. Secondly, the light was directed from above. Because of the two violations, participants had impaired abilities to recognize faces in the picture.

In this type of situation, the brain is forced to” fix” the orientation. The researchers explain this with a theory called “Predictive Coding” which suggests that signals only have to be sent to higher brain areas for processing if predictions aren’t immediately met. However, other researchers predict the opposite. 

The “Predictive Coding” theory can now be tested.  At the Strungmann Insititute, Frankfurt scientists are able to measure brain waves and, therefore, are able to see when brain waves change. Researchers say that everyday brain wave activity is at about 90 Hertz, but when the brain sees something that is visually contradicting, brain waves increase because of the use of higher areas of the brain.

The results are important because the brain waves used in perception are impaired in people with schizophrenia or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of both disorders through further predictive brain wave studies, helping patients find a way to correct their predictive errors.

Original coverage from News-Medical.net

By Sejal Sheth



Solutions to Sensory Integration Dysfunction

sensory processing disorder

We live in a physical world. No matter how still or silent our surroundings may be, our bodies are always detecting the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations around us.

Your average neurotypical person might feel most at ease in a ratty sweatshirt and a pair of blue jeans. A child with sensory processing disorder, on the other hand, cannot stand the polyester these materials contain and feels on edge whenever she wears them. She has a very different perception of the same material. This doesn’t mean that her senses are “inferior,” they are simply different.

One of the hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorder is SPD. This is characterized by having a disorganized manner of feeling and processing certain tactile sensations. What may feel slightly rough to one person may feel like sandpaper to an individual with ASD. However, the same can happen with stereotypically “soft” items like cotton or silk.

Rather than providing comfort, as they would for most, they agitate the individual and cause them to go into a sensory overload often culminating in a meltdown. If you were constantly in pain, wouldn’t you be screaming out too?

Due to the fact that everyone’s preferences are so individual, it’s difficult to determine what the best course of action is for maintaining a comfortable environment.  The best way to do this is through a simple test of trial-and-error. Of course, the stakes are different for children who become distressed at the touch of certain materials. It is best not to bombard them with potential disturbances.

A better solution would be to gradually and non-forcefully present them with items that could cause a reaction.  Sensory processing is not a simple problem to solve; however, starting off with something as simple as a test of yes-or-no presentations may be a step in the right direction to making the world a little less stressful for them.

By Sara Power



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