Looking for the perfect autism book to read with your family during Hanukkah?

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Nicole Katzman’s book, Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles brings together various themes related to the holiday, family, acceptance, and autism. The book is about a boy named Jacob who loves his brother Nathan. Nathan has autism, and when Hanukkah … Continue reading

Autism and Touch

One of the hardest challenges for families facing autism is the problem of touch. Often, autistic children resist hugging and other types of physical contact. A new study as sighted by Time’s Healthland Blog offers insight into why some people shrug off physical touches and how families affected by autism can learn to share hugs without overwhelming their autistic child’s senses.

Yale neuroscientists recruited 19 young adults and imaged their brain activity as a researcher lightly brushed them on the forearm with a soft watercolor paintbrush. In some cases, the brushing was quick, and in others slow. Studies show that most people like slow brushing and perceive it as affectionate, while the faster version is felt more tickle-like.

None of the participants in the current study had autism, but the researchers evaluated them for autistic traits — things like a preference for sameness, order and systems, rather than social interaction. They found that participants with the highest levels of autistic traits had a lower response in key social brain regions — the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) — to the slow brushing.

A Similar study as reported by Medical News Today reports on Neuroscientists  who show how the brain responds to caress. The brain makes the connection between touch and emotion. “We demonstrated for the first time that the primary somatosensory cortex – the brain region encoding basic touch properties such as how rough or smooth an object is – also is sensitive to the social meaning of a touch,” explains Michael Spezio, a visiting associate at Caltech who is also an assistant professor of psychology at ScrippsCollege in Claremont, California. “It was generally thought that there are separate brain pathways for how we process the physical aspects of touch on the skin and for how we interpret that touch emotionally – that is, whether we feel it as pleasant, unpleasant, desired, or repulsive. Our study shows that, to the contrary, emotion is involved at the primary stages of social touch.”

According to Martha Kaiser, senior author of the study and associate director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory at the YaleChild Study Center, the STS is a critical hub of the social brain. “This region is important for perceiving the people around us, for visual social stimuli and for perceiving social versus nonsocial sounds,” she says. The current findings suggest that the region is also involved in processing social touch and that its response is linked to the individual’s social ability, she says.

The OFC, in contrast, helps the brain evaluate experiences — whether something is likely to be good or bad and if it involves pleasure or pain. “The brains of people high in autistic traits aren’t coding touch as socially relevant, that’s one interpretation,” says Kaiser of her findings. “The OFC is very important for coding reward so maybe they’re feeling the touch but in these individuals, their brains don’t code that type of touch as being as rewarding as in individuals with fewer autistic traits.”

If that’s the case, finding ways to make social experience — including touch — more rewarding might be one way to help autistic people connect better with others.

Lack of Help for Families Dealing with Autism in Boston Area

A KIRTON couple have criticized the lack of support for families of children with autism in the Boston area. Their action does not end with criticism. Sharon and Neil Walters set up a local support group Special Friends for Special Needs a year ago to fill the void and give help and advice to concerned parents. “It’s outrageous just how little help there is for parents of children with autism,” said Sharon. “For a parent with an autistic child, it seems like there’s no help around here. Local pediatricians are good with diagnoses but I think the lack of after-care for dealing with the condition is an issue.” When a child has autism it affects the whole family.

Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and unusual repetitive or severely limited activities and interests. Autistic disorder is the most commonly known type of ASD, but there are others including pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified as Asperger’s syndrome. These three conditions along with Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder make up the broad diagnosis category of pervasive developmental disorders. One in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, by age 8, according to a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a rate that has risen far above the 2006 estimate of 1 in 110.

Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices (SKHOV) shares information and news, links and the latest research with families through many different venues such as workshops, conferences and individual parent training. SKHOV holds workshops for parents and families on daily livings skills topics and other topics to help the whole family with their child with autism. See our list of workshops here. Additionally SKHOV, along with ICare4Autism is sponsoring an international autism conference in August 2012. See the conference site for more details.

The CEO and Founder Dr. Joshua Weinstein of both SKHOV and ICare4Autism is set to complete a 50 million dollar Global Autism Center to be located on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem in 2015. The goal is create opportunities for powerful collaborations that will bring better methods of detection and treatment to patients and their families all over the world. The Global Autism Center has 4 core elements: ICare4Autism INSTITUTE, a global research center, ICare4Autism MODEL SCHOOL, applying the latest research to meet the educational needs of students with autism, ICare4Autism ACADEMY, the world’s first advanced professional school of autism studies and ICare4Autism FOUNDATION, engaging a global community of autism scientists, educators and advocates.

Why is one central agency imperative? To assist parents dealing with the same issues as the Walters’ worldwide. Soon the Walters will be able to connect Special Friends for Special Needs to parents in India, Canada, Israel, Brazil, China, The United Kingdom and more. The Walters situation is a confirmation and personal example of the research we have found at ICare4Autism.

The couple said some of their members were upset that when their children were diagnosed with autism, all they received was a letter from the pediatrician confirming the diagnosis and some leaflets. Sharon said: “As a parent, it’s devastating to be told your child is diagnosed with a life-long condition and you go through a lot of guilt, asking if there was something you did wrong.” The couple said they feel more should be done following a diagnosis, to offer referrals and advice on where families can get support.

Special Friends for Special Needs now offers support for families of children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Asperger’s Syndrome and other development disorders. It currently has about 30 members in Boston and the surrounding areas. Neil said: “Through our group we can offer one-to-one help and advice and are always on the end of the phone. Our aim is to get people on the right track to make their lives a little easier.”

The group holds a monthly get together for their members where children and their families affected with the conditions are invited to a special bowling night at Boston Bowl. This is held on the first Thursday of the month. “As a group we can help people answer questions they might have,” said Sharon. “We are not experts but our seven-year-old daughter Demi-Lee, who diagnosed aged two with autism, Asperger’s and AHDH, has given us five years’ experience in dealing with those disorders.” Neil added: “We want to pass on what we have learnt to parents in the area and let people know we are here to offer support – we are a non-profit group and just keen to help others in a similar situation.”

If you are in the Boston area, or to contact the family directly, you can email them at kirton.autism@btinternet.com.

Source: LINK