Study reveals yawning not contagious for children with autism

Study reveals yawning not contagious for children with autism

Study reveals yawning not contagious for children with autism

Autism Research and Treatment recently published a Japanese study that Scientific American examined  this month looking closely at science of a simple yawn, and it’s contagion.

It can be caused by tiredness, stress, and watching other people yawning, a phenomenon known as social yawning, but yawning is contagious. However, autistic children, are immune to this contagion.

Researchers believe that shared behavior, a form of empathy exhibited by many social groups, strengthens the bonds between animals and humans in their social circle, with the predominant form of communication between higher mammals (monkeys) being grooming.

Social yawning causes yawning in concert with one another. Chimpanzees yawn in response to the yawns of baboons. Dogs respond to the yawns of humans.

Consequently Children with autism do not respond to social yawning and some researchers feel that this is because autistic children struggle with empathy.

Because they avoid looking at people’s faces, children with Autism miss those signs and cues. It may not explain it entirely. A small 2009 study found that developing children will yawn even if they have only heard another person yawn, but children with autism do not.

Researchers, in the new study, set up two experiments to determine if children with autism look at others’ faces enough to catch a social yawn.

For the first test, while wearing eye tracking devices, 46 control children and 26 children with autism watched video clips of people yawning and people remaining still. They were asked to then count how many people in the clips were wearing glasses to make sure they looked at the people’s eyes. The video showed the person yawning only when the eye tracker verified that the children had fixed their gaze on the eyes.

In the second test, 29 control children and 22 children with autism watched video clips and were asked to this time count how many of the people in the videos had beards. The yawning sequence played only when the children focused on the mouth area.

About 30 percent of the children, with autism yawned in response to the videos of yawning people. This was a rate equivalent to that of the children in the control groups. This suggests that a lack of social yawning is not due to a lack of empathy in children with autism, but more along the lines of their inattention to facial cues. As in these experiments, when prompted to look at faces, their behavior is the same as the behavior of the children in the control groups.

Researchers indicate further study is necessary with a larger test group, including tests on adults and children diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic.

For more information, please visit

Possible Association Between Ultrasounds & Autism






Jennifer Margulis, author of The Business of Baby, exposes the cultural assumptions and institutional practices dictating pregnancy, childbirth, and infant nurturing as influenced by corporate interests rather than based on the best medical evidence. Margulis is a Senior Fellow at Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and an award winning parenting writer. In an article yesterday for Newsweek: The Daily Beast, Margulis expresses informed skepticism regarding the health risks of the casual use of ultrasounds during pregnancy. Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), formerly referred to as retardation, is among conditions that physicians utilize ultrasound technology to identify during pregnancy. However, ultrasounds themselves may be associated with the development of IUGR and they may not be any more instrumental in identifying them than palpation of the pregnant woman’s abdomen. Former director of Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization firmly asserted the later claim saying, “There is no justification for clinicians using routine ultrasound during pregnancy for the management of IUGR.” A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared outcomes for children of pregnant women who received two scans with that of those who received scans only when other medical indicators necessitated further investigation, finding that ultrasound scan has no positive bearing on fetal outcome. Explaining the discrepancy between utility and use may be the over $1 billion additional annual cost of routine ultrasounds in the U.S. To add injury to insult, a study published in Lancet found that women who received five ultrasounds had a significantly higher chance of developing intrauterine growth restriction than women who received one scan at eighteen weeks. One possible explanation for this association was found through a 2006 study conducted by neuroscientist Pasko Rakic M.D. and Yale University School of Medicine, finding that prenatal exposure to ultrasound waves affects the way that neurons arrange in the brains of mice. Though these findings are part of a larger, ongoing study utilizing primate brains, researcher Rakic considered the data too significant to withhold until the outcome of the larger study, warning, “We should be using the same care with ultrasound as with X-rays.” For Margulis’ full article, visit here or go to additional writings regarding parenting and health.


Margulis, Jennifer. “Are Ultrasounds Causing Autism in Unborn Babies?” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <>.


Virtual Reality: Can Video Games Teach Social Skills?





A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reveals a distinction between uses of technology for autistics and typically developing children, suggesting further development of recreational technology tailored to develop social skills. Researchers Micah O. Mazurek and Colleen Wenstrup measure how children with autism spectrum disorder use technology in comparison to their typically developing siblings. Findings show that children with ASD spent 62% more time watching television and playing video games than in non-screen activities combined. Children with ASD showed more risk of “problematic video game use,”i spending on average about an hour more each day gaming then their typically developing siblings. However, siblings were found to spend more time using social media or socially interactive video games. Autistics often demonstrate obsessive, highly focused characteristics, which are beneficial for performance with video games. Games and tablet/phone apps for autism have been in vogue as of late and can be very useful in preparing autistics for careers. However, these programs do not take into account social stimulus. If autistics are steering clear of socially interactive video games, how do we incorporate social skills into the strategy of video games. Dr. Mazurek asserts the potential of utilizing video games for autistics saying, “Using screen-based technologies, communication, and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away. However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual realty environments would translate into actual social interactions.”[i] What games do your kids prefer and how do you think these games might be altered to strengthen social skills?



[i] “Research Finds That Video Games Hold Both Risks and Rewards for Children with Autism.” Digital Trends. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <>.


Mazurek, Micah O., and Colleen Wenstrup. “Television, Video Game and Social Media Use Among Children with ASD and Typically Developing Siblings.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2012): n. pag. Springer Link. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <>.


Air Pollution Affects Autism: Solutions & Success Stories

A new research study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives this March found a direct correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorders and exposure to air pollution, particularly from traffic. Researchers from the Department of Epidemiology of University of California, Los Angeles, and the Department of Preventive Medicine of University of Southern California, estimated exposure to toxins for a controlled population of children diagnosed with ASD between 3-5 years of age, born in Los Angeles. The study utilized data from air monitoring stations and a land use regression (LUR) model to identify each specific child’s exposure rate. The findings suggest a 12-15% increase in risk for autism when exposed to ozone and 3-9% increase when exposed nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide.[i] A mother and, now, clean air activist, shares the story of her son’s autism diagnosis and recovery. Bridget James was concerned about the poor air quality surrounding her home in Utah before becoming pregnant, but was relieved when her son, Park, demonstrated a pretty strong immune system in his first couple years. It was not until Park was diagnosed autistic at 2-years-of-age that Bridget’s suspicions were confirmed. However, the diagnosis did not last. Bridget, having worked with autistic youth prior to becoming a mother, new the signs and symptoms of autism and took a proactive approach. She researched toxic exposure and took every possible precaution to relieve and prevent pollutants for Park. She altered his diet, administered heavy metal detoxes, and tried her best to protect him from the harsh Utah air. Soon, Park was making eye contact with Bridget again. He began to socialize and had a greater attention span. Bridget describes her son’s changes as “coming back”[ii] to her. While researchers believe there are a variety of causes for Autism Spectrum Disorders, the study ‘Ambient Air Pollution and Autism in Los Angeles County, California’ provides further evidence of environmental contributions to the onset of ASD. Bridget and Park’s story is hopeful, perhaps for prevention, but certainly for the easing of symptoms associated with ASD.  To read me about Bridget’s detoxing strategies and success, click here. For the full report of research findings, click here.



[i] Becerra, Tracy A., Michelle Wilhelm, Jørn Olsen, Myles Cockburn, and Beate Ritz. “Ambient Air Pollution and Autism in Los Angeles County, California.”Environmental Health Perspective 121.3 (2013): 380-86. Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <>.


[ii] James, Bridget. “Autism, Air Pollution, And My Son.” Care2. N.p., 20 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <>.


Pediatric Neurologist Studies How Environment Affects Autism (And All of US)






A large-scale study is being conducted to assess the relationship between toxic chemicals in the environment and brain development. Senior researcher Dr. Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D. is an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Herbert is an advocate of holistic wellness to reduce complications related to ASD. Her book The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be provides instruction on reducing toxic exposure, obtaining ideal nutrition, and reducing stress. The research aims to identify how environment affects brain and body development through out one’s life, not just in early development, and at what point autism happens. Researchers have not yet identified the cause of autism, and while most are focused on discovering a genetic origin, many are opening their eyes to environmental factors that could be causing or influencing the severity of autism.   Dr. Hebert explains the significance of the study saying, “The genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.”[i] The parallel increase in exposure to toxins and diagnoses of developmental disorders seem to bare testament to these working assumptions. Dr. Martha Herbert will be speaking at the International Center for Autism Research and Education’s conference ‘Autism: Cutting Edge Research and Promising Treatment and Educational Approaches’ at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, New York June 5. To register or learn more about the conference, visit For more information regarding Herbert’s work, visit


[i] Arcega, Mil. “New Research Investigates Link Between Autism And Toxic Chemicals.” Voice of America. N.p., 14 Apr. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2013. <–90936449/171102.html>.


Special Education Expert Presents Music Education Strategies & Strengths

Tuesday, at Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices, Stephen Shore Ed. D. held a workshop on music education for children on the autism spectrum. Shore completed his doctoral degree in special education at Boston University and now teaches at Adelphi University in New York. Having been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and non-verbal until the age of 4, Shore brings a unique perspective to the field of special education. He attributes much of his success to the comprehensive interventions his parents guided and the music education he received from an early age. Subsequently, his approach to education is one of both specialization and inclusion. Shore’s strategies are developed particularly for the varying abilities of autistics, but are applicable for neurotypical education as well, allowing for integrated classrooms. While music is often recognized for it’s therapeutic benefits, Shore’s focus is not therapy, but structured, sustained education. Today’s workshop demonstrated the potential of music education to increase communicative abilities, strengthen neurological development in youth, foster social inclusion, and provide potential career paths for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shore charismatically relayed stories of his students’ astonishing talents. One anecdote told of a non-verbal young man who, when guided hand-over-hand while playing piano, sang clear as day. Shore suggests that the structure, support, and focus the student experienced while guided to play the piano enabled him to sing, though he could not speak typically. Drawing from examples of students demonstrating expert knowledge in areas, who are unable to express understanding through certain mediums, Shore makes the case for specialized assessments in education in general, not just for students with developmental disabilities.

Check out Dr. Stephen Shore’s work and many publications at his website: The workshop, ‘Music for Children on the Autism Spectrum,’ will be streaming soon—stay tuned to see Dr. Stephen Shore speak

Autism Education Expert, Stephen Shore, Presents Workshop ‘Music For Children On The Autism Spectrum’ At Shema Kolainu

Tomorrow, Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices will be holding a workshop on ‘Music for Children on the Autism Spectrum.’ Presenting the workshop will be expert Stephen Shore Ed. D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at Adelphi University. Shore is an inspiring individual who is on the Autism Spectrum himself. Having been nonverbal until the age of four and having completed a doctoral dissertation on the needs of those on the autism spectrum at Boston University, Shore is a testament to education and therapeutic strategies. He will be making a case for inclusion of autistic children in typically music courses as well as individualized music training and therapy as a means of communication development. Shore asserts that the “structural regularity” of music aids autistic children with communication in varying ways, contingent on their place among the spectrum. For non-verbal children, music may serve as the form of communication itself. Shore’s musical methods go further than skill development, drawing ideology from the proven physiological benefits of music as well. On Shore’s website testimonial for music therapy, he references a study performed by a neurologist/musician at Beth Israel Hospital, which showed an area of nerve fibers that transmits signals between the two brain hemispheres to be 12% thicker among keyboard players who began training before 7 years of age. To register for Stephen Shore’s workshop ‘Music for Children on the Autism Spectrum’ at Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices click here! The workshop is April 16th, 2013 at 10 AM. Learn more about Stephen Shore’s work at his personal website or his Adelphi University page.

Early Autism Detection

Although autism is hard to diagnose before 24 months, symptoms often surface between 12 and 18 months and  if it is caught in infancy, treatment can begin early and we can gain much progress from taking advantage of the adolescent brain’s amazing flexibility. If signs are detected by 18 months of age, rigorous treatment may help to rewire the brain and undo the symptoms.

The initial signs of autism entail the lack of normal behaviors and not the existence of abnormal ones. This then is hard to spot. Often enough, the most basic symptoms of autism are misinterpreted as signs of a “good baby,” because the toddler may seem quiet, self-sufficient, and easy going. However, you can detect warning signs early if you know what to look for.

Some autistic infants don’t respond to cuddling, reach out to be picked up, or look at their mothers when being fed.

Service Dogs to help Children With Autism

According to a new study, specially trained service dogs may reduce stress in children with autism.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a range of conditions in which kids have trouble communicating and interacting with others, and behave appropriately in social situations. The results of this study showed that children with an autism spectrum disorder experienced decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a service dog was introduced into the family.  Previous research has shown these dogs can help autistic children in social situations and improve their daily routine, but the new study is the first to show the dogs can have physiological benefits as well. Continue reading

Auditory therapy may be helpful for children with autism

Parents and teachers of children with autism will tell you how hard it is when they call a child’s name and they don’t respond. This most basic social interaction is often a challenge for children on the autism spectrum and in turn, more complex social exchanges seem hopeless.

“I’m less worried about his academic skills. I want him to be able to be in a room with people and like being there,” said one parent of a child with autism. “I want people to like having him there.” Continue reading