Category Archives: Treatment

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.



Service Dogs Provide Assistance to Families Affected by Autism

 

Photo from 4 Paws 4 Ability's Website (http://4pawsforability.org/)

Photo from 4 Paws for Ability’s Website (http://4pawsforability.org/)

Silas, a young boy who struggles with autism, may soon receive the help of a four legged friend to navigate through his daily tasks.

The 5 year old boy from Cincinatti, Ohio is playful and expressive, but is unable to speak. This communication barrier puts him at all kinds of safety risks. Silas already confronts all sorts of protective mechanisms set up by his family, who say these issues have gotten more difficult as their son has grown older. They have installed locks on the kitchen cabinets because he climbs on the counters to open them. Cameras have been placed inside the home. When he opens the door to leave the house, a bell sounds to alert others in the house that he may be outside without supervision.

But since technology can only go so far, Silas is a candidate for the 4 Paws for Ability program. This non-profit organization provides service dogs trained to assist children like him.

Service dogs trained through 4 Paws for Ability are assigned to veterans with disabilities as well as special needs children. For children with autism spectrum disorder, the canines can prevent them from running away or harming themselves in other ways. Silas, for example, is constantly at risk when he is outdoors. When taken to a nearby park, he has a habit of running for the water.

The training process can be quite extensive to prepare the animals for this type of work, and it does not come cheap either; the cost to get a dog ready for service is about $15,000. The organization relies largely on donations and fundraising to help with the cost. Silas’ family runs a number of fundraisers to raise money for his very own service dog.

Perhaps most important though, according to the boy’s mother Sally, is just having the unconditional love and support provided by a service dog. “We see pets as a part of the family that could provide him with that extra bond,” Sally told Fox-29 News in San Antonio, Texas.

You can read the original article here. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help Silas, visit his 4 Paws for Ability fundraising page.



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.



New Therapies for Autistic Children in the Near Future

tummy

Scientists are gathering more and more evidence that autism symptoms can be caused by the bacteria found in the gut or intestines. Research is showing that there is a difference in the trillions of bacteria in a healthy child when compared to the bacteria in an autistic child. The bacteria can differ in quantity or type and these differences can make your child’s stomach more or less susceptible to stomach problems. Scientists are finding that these gut differences may actually have a significant effect on the brain and contribute to the disorder itself.

John Cryan, a professor of anatomy and neuroscience at University Cork College, led a study that showed mice who were fed probiotics were less anxious and produces less stress hormones. He explains, “You have this kilo of microbes in your gut that’s as important as the kilo of nerve cells in your brain. We need to do much more studies on autistic biota.”

When Caltech researcher Elaine Hsiao conducted a study on autistic mice, where they were injected with probiotics, showed results after five weeks of no longer having a “leaky-gut.” The bacteria in their stomach started looking more like a healthy mouse’s, they were less anxious and more vocal, and they also stopped obsessively burying marbles in their cages. Hsiao says, “It’s really impactful, this notion that by changing the bacteria, you could ameliorate what’s often considered an intractable disorder. It’s a really crazy notion and a big advance.”

So what does this all mean for future treatment options? Usually autism is treated with behavioral therapies, but this new research implies that autism may one day be treated in the form of a probiotic, which are “good bacteria” that our bodies need–very similar to the ones found in yogurt. Studies have shown that generally 90 percent of autistic children also suffers from stomach and gut issues, including leaky-gut syndrome, which is when bacteria from the gut trickles into the bloodstream. The CDC reports that there are 3.5 times more likely to experience chronic diarrhea and constipation when compared to their typically developing peers.



New Kickboxing Therapy Helps Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Kids part of Fighting for Autism posing with Alex White, UFC and mixed martial arts fighter.

Fighting for Autism is starting a new trial for using kickboxing as a form of therapy for kids on the spectrum. The managing director of US of Fighting for Autism, Brian Higginbotham, who is overseeing their kickboxing therapy program, says “Their first day they couldn’t put a glove on and had no idea how to properly punch. Now they are doing eight strike and ducking under counter punches. It’s pretty cool to see the development and progression of the kids.”

They were able to start this program with the help of Dr. Avi Domnitz-Gebet, a pediatric neurologist at the Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Center in St. Charles and Christina Hannah, owner and inventor of ‘Changeable Chewables.’

So far, with the success they are experiencing, they are hoping to open new kickboxing programs around the world by partnering with other doctors or facilities that would want to host them. Dr. Avi says the program is great for kids and their parents and is a great opportunity to teach self-control, responsibility, and self-esteem. Having the parents involved to interact with their child is a rewarding experience all around.

Joe and Erica Worden, who usually teach MMA training, are also helping kids in the program. Joe explains how “after the first session one kid actually said ‘fun’ to me and his dad said ‘wow, he’s never talked to a stranger before,’ so that’s pretty cool. That is the kind of progress we are seeing, they are focusing more and there is more enjoyment. I would do whatever I needed to do to bring this program out here.”

Kickboxing is a good way for children to really focus on their hand-eye coordination and it puts them in an active environment with other kids and parents they can relate to. Physical exercise is really important for kids with special needs to be healthy and occasionally get out, especially for those on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum.



Tips for Helping Your Child with Social Interaction

Autism can sometimes be characterized by a person’s inability to connect with people, even their own families in a constructive and relationship-building way. The National Center for Learning Disabilities promotes that “guiding your child through various social scripts will enable him or her to navigate such situations with greater ease and less apprehension, especially when he or she is interacting with other children. Research has shown that adolescents with learning disabilities have difficulty in making and keeping friends, spend lots of free-time alone, especially watching television or on their computers.

Here are some activity ideas for helping your child prepare for certain types of social interactions they are likely to face throughout their lives:

– Read storybooks with themes on family and friendship and try to engage your child in storyline to help them understand the interactions between the characters.

– Identify specific social situations that are challenging for your child and role-play how to handle them one-on-one

– Give your child a scenario that he/she can understand and ask them to help you finish the story. Afterward, talk about their ending and other possible endings.

– While watching TV or a movie, point out social cues that may not be so obvious and talk about them with your child

– Make playdates for your child so they can get comfortable with interacting with other children. Supervision is an important part of helping your child along at first.

– If your child seems to have a particular interest, enroll them in an activity that can build on that interest and put them with other kids who have similar interests.

In helping them through these interactions, make sure to be actively listening at all times. For children who have a hard time communicating, you have to also try to understand their emotions, which can be expressed in a variety of ways including but not limited to: outbursts and repetitive behaviors. Also make sure to work with your child’s school and other professionals to make sure your child is having their needs met and that they are receiving appropriate services.

For more resources, click HERE



Earlier Autism Detection Raises Questions About Early Intervention

Autism is a genetic disorder that affects about 20% of younger siblings of those on the spectrum. Researchers are now saying that they often show symptoms as early as 18 months, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP). The study used 719 younger siblings of those with autism, otherwise known as ‘high risk’ siblings, who were assessed at 18 months and then 36 months to identify any social, communications, and repetitive behaviors that could be early symptoms. Warning signs such as poor eye contact and/or repetitive behaviors were observed in 57% of siblings and among those without symptoms at 18 months, for the ones who were later diagnosed, started showing signs by 36 months. Researchers note that about half of the children had poor eye contact combined with limited gestures and imaginative play while other children exhibited repetitive behaviors and lacked nonverbal communication skills.

Although it is important to detect these warning signs or early symptoms of autism, John Elder Robison, author of Raising Cubby, Look Me in the Eye, My Life with Asperger’s and Be Different–adventures of a free range Aspergian, and member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, expresses his concern over early intervention. According to people on the spectrum who had received early intervention treatments as children, their experiences seemed half positive and half negative.

While many people talk about how wonderful it was to have that support throughout their childhood, “others talk about suppressing behaviors that embarrassed parents…[and] imposing their will where it was not wanted.” Robison argues that this is something to take into serious consideration as we move forward with creating new treatments and therapies for early intervention. He critiques our abilities to deter autism in infants now as young as 6 months old, asking what interventions are actually appropriate at this stage and to what end?

When providing intervention for a four-year-old, we are able to see the progress we make in the child’s behaviors and adjust our plans accordingly. However, with an infant, the issues are not very clear, Robison says, “We may pick up a sign of autism, but what kind of autism? Will the child be verbal or silent? Will the child be lovable, eccentric, unable to care for themselves or talk…it’s too early to know.”

As we continue to move forward with autism diagnoses at earlier stages, we also need to move forward in the methods and treatments we use for early intervention.

To read the original study, click HERE

To read John Elder Robison’s article, click HERE