Autism Screening App in the Making!

Researchers at Duke University are currently working on developing a software that tracks and records your infant’s activity during videotaped autism screening tests. They had very successful results in their trials, showing that the program has been just as good at spotting certain behavioral markers of autism as professionals who would be giving the test themselves and was actually more accurate than non-expert medical clinicians and students in training.

The study focuses on three specific behavioral tests that are used to identify young children who may be on the autism spectrum. The first test get’s the attention of the baby by shaking a toy on their left side and then counting how long it takes for them to shift their attention when the toy is moved to their right side. The second test examines the child’s ability to track motion as a toy passes across their field of view and looks for any delays. The last test involves rolling a ball to a child and seeing if they make any eye contact afterward, which would show some engagement with their play partner.

The new program allows for the person administering the tests to concentrate on the child while the program measures reactions times down to tenths of a second, giving much more accuratereadings. Amy Esler, assistant professor of pediatrics and autism at the University Minnesota, participated in some of these trials and says, “The great benefit of the video and software is for general practitioners who do not have the trained eye to look for subtle early warning signs of autismThese signs would signal to doctors that they need to refer a family to a specialist for a more detailed evaluation.”

Jordan Hashemi, a graduate student in computer and electrical engineering at Duke, further states that they are not trying to replace the experts by proposing this app, but rather are trying to provide a resource and tool for classrooms and homes across the country. They recognize the importance of early intervention and are hoping that this app can be a real tool in catalyzing how early we are able to help those on the autism spectrum.

For more information on how technology is paving the road to opportunity for children on the spectrum, look into day 3 of our upcoming International Autism Conference! Click here for more info! 

For more info on the Information Initiative at Duke and original article, click here.

Major Study Finds No Links Between Vaccines & Autism

A major study recently published in the journal Vaccine and conducted by the University of Sydney found that there were no connections between vaccines and autism. The researchers sampled five cohort studies of 1,256,407 children from the US, UK, Japan, and Denmark and five case studies involving 9920 children for the control group. Their findings suggest that vaccines are not associated with autism spectrum disorder or the development of the disorder itself. No industry funding was used in conducting this study.

Both groups show that there is no statistical data that support a link between commonly used vaccines such as ones used for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, or whooping cough. “The odds ratio came up null, null, null. That means there’s no connection,” explains associate Professor Guy Eslick, who led the research, “I hope it reaches a lot of parents who are sitting on the fence about whether to vaccinate their kids. I hope it helps to change their minds.”

The idea that vaccines may link to autism started in 1998 and has become more of an issue to date. Professor Eslick says that it is important to get vaccines, as there has been a spike in measles, noticed back in 2012. “It’s an emotional topic[parents] want reasons for why their child is the way they are, and the unfortunate thing is they’ll cling onto misinformation and spurious studies.” So there is an understanding that those parents who have been involved in the anti-vaccination movement might be skeptical, but the facts remain that there is no evidence behind their cause.

For more information on new and upcoming research in autism, come to our International Autism Conference, click here for more info!

Learning to Drive with Autism


A member of a research team led by Dan Cox at UVA Health System demonstrates the driving simulator. Cox is recruiting teens with autism for 10 sessions of instruction in the simulator. (Jackson Smith/UVA Health System photo(Jackson Smith, UVA Health System / March 7, 2013)

The University of Virginia Health System researchers have developed a virtual world that simulates the experience of driving. According to their study, autistic teens were able to react appropriately to non-human cues and hazards, but did not react very well to the people on the screen. Researcher Daniel Cox reports that, “they had a hard time reading interpersonal cues.” Daniel Cox along with the University of Iowa, home of the National Advanced Driving Simulator is conducting this research into teens with autism and their driving skills.

“Many individuals with high-functioning autism can learn to drive, but it takes at least four times as long to learn. One of the biggest challenged is learning to steer,” Cox. Their current study is recruiting teens with learner’s permits and using the addition of an eye tracker to help them improve their skills. He says that autistic people tend to be “rule-followers” which makes the constant adaptation needed to drive, such as taking care of a flat tire, avoiding accidents, filling gas, and dealing with reckless drivers, something of a real challenge for these teens.

One mother of 15 year old Conner Wenzel, who has his learner’s permit and is diagnosed with Asperger’s and ADHD agrees with Cox on this. She says about her son’s driving, “He’s a real stickler for the rules. He takes a yellow light or ‘no turn on red’ very seriously. The biggest problem is deviating from the route. I worry if he has to make a judgment on the fly.” She describes him as “hyper-vigilant” and acknowledges, “It’s going to take some training on our part, above and beyond driver’s ed.”

John Harrington, a pediatrician, has an 18 year old autistic son who passed his driver’s ed test with flying colors however he worries about letting him drive alone. In the event of an accident or a police stop, Harrington fears that his son won’t know how to respond. But he does believe that driving is an important part of gaining self-esteem and independence. For now, he has informed that DMV that his son should not have his full license, but he is considering letting his son drive as long as there is an adult next to him.

The driving simulator offers a safe environment for practicing these very important driving skills that can only really be taught through experience. Cox has found that the teens he worked with benefited greatly over the course of 10 sessions with the simulator when they had to navigate complex driving scenarios and will continue accepting autistic teens as part of this study.

Our upcoming International Autism Conference will have a whole day dedicated to Technology and the Road opportunity, Click here for more info!

The Autism Difference

Shannon Rosa with son Leo (Source: Huffington Post)

May is Mental Health Month and Shannon Rosa shares her experience of being a parent with a 13-year-old autistic son with some very important points on gaining perspective from an autistic child’s point of view. Unlike many people Shannon found the updated statistic from the CDC, which states that 1 in 68 children are autistic, to be a comforting number. For her, it just serves as a confirmation that her son is neither “damaged or broken – he’s an example of human variation, like any kid.” And as CDC’s Dr. Colleen Boyle states, “It may be that we’re getting better at identifying autism,” which simply confirms research that the autism community has been gathering for years.

Shannon admits that her son’s differences used to upset her and it was a part of him that she found hard to accept. However, with more information and support she has come to understand her son’s differences as something to be accepted and getting him the best resources to accommodate his needs was an important part of this. Getting others to understand autistic children is an ongoing effort. For example, Shannon explains that many parents should not just give up hope after their child hits puberty since many autistic people develop skills throughout adolescence and adulthood. We should also be more aware of sensory overload and how they can lead to their child having a meltdown and so on. She leaves us with these points on how to view/interact with her son Leo and children like him on the spectrum, especially if you are not a parent of an autistic child or unfamiliar with autism:

  • Leo isn’t waiting around for other kids to be friends with him. If he is spoken to with respect, then he may or may not interact with you.
  • Just because he cannot communicate as well as you doesn’t mean he is less intelligent. If you talk about him as though he isn’t there he will remember and be unlikely to trust you.
  • Getting both Leo’s attention and eye contact can be overwhelming for him. He makes eye contact on his own terms, but please don’t demand it.
  • Sometimes it takes Leo a minute to process what you’ve said to him, so just give him a moment instead of trying to simplify your language or shout in his ear.
  • Leo finds it calming to have sensory input such as sifting through pebbles, bouncing on a trampoline, or having a heavy blanket on his lap.
  • If Leo is fidgeting, tapping or exhibiting any other repetitive behavior, if it is not an inconvenience for you then just let him be as it serves as a soothing activity for him.
  • Leo is happy. Although autistic children experience frustration sometimes with communication or sensory overload they can be just as happy and joyous as any other child, something we tend to forget when messages about autism center around pity and prevention.

To read the original article, click here

For more resources on how to understand and care for autistic children, check out our International Autism Conference featuring:

Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, who will be presenting on Integrated Play Groups: Guiding Children with Autism in Social and Imaginary Worlds with Typical Peers.

Brian Iwata, who will be holding a workshop on Functional Analysis and Treatment of Severe Problem Behavior.

Marth Herbert, who will be presenting Taking a Fresh Look at Autism: Chronic Dynamic State–not Fixed Trait

To see these presentations/workshops and much more, CLICK HERE!