Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Documentary Film "The Boy Inside"

Canadian documentary filmmaker turns the lens on her own family to record her son's life with Asperger syndrome.
"Autistic author Temple Grandin notes that likely autistics include everyone from Mozart to Carl Sagan. "If you got rid of all of the genes that make autism and Asperger, we'd have a very boring world," she says in the movie. "A little bit of abnormality is needed."
Adds [filmmaker Marianne] Kaplan: "The halls of academia are filled with people with Asperger syndrome, particularly in the areas of math and the sciences. Adam can have a productive life. He talks. He communicates. He's in the world. He goes to school."
The problem is the disability is still often stigmatized by other students and even some teachers."

The film's website includes online forums where youth, parents and volunteers can share their thoughts.

Autistic Brain Has Difficulty Coordinating

Refreshingly jargon-free explanation of a current theory for autism:
"A growing number of scientists believe autism may be caused by a lack of coordination in the brain.
"Some people think that autism is a disruption of social function," says Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "But I think it's much more widespread. It's a disruption of many kinds of behaviors that require good cortical coordination."
For example, a conversation requires some areas of the brain to produce words. At the same time, Just says, other parts need to assess whether the listener understands those words. If those areas don't coordinate, there's no conversation.
Just says important skills require more than one part of the brain to work together.
"It's like the Internet," he says. "It's not one place. It's not Los Angeles. It's not Zurich. It's the network."

Michael Murias of the University of Washington presented a study on brain coordination. It compared 18 adults who have autism spectrum disorder with 18 typical adults.
All of them had electrodes attached to their scalps. Murias says the experiment itself was pretty easy: "We just instructed them to close their eyes and relax."
Then Murias and his team measured brain waves called alpha waves to see whether certain areas in the brain were communicating. In people with autism, they weren't -- at least not very well.
"The degree of communication within the brain was diminished," Murias says. "Particularly within the frontal lobes and particularly between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain."
Murias says that's important because the frontal lobes are involved in so-called "executive functions," which help us recognize another person's intentions and avoid antisocial behavior. But only when the frontal lobes are connected to other parts of the brain.
In autism, the problem appears to be with the brain's connecting cables.
Those cables are contained in what scientists call white matter. Marcel Just, who has been studying white matter using a technique called diffusion-tensor imaging, says he's found that "the quality of the white matter is lower in autism. It's less coherently organized."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Responses to Paper on TV-Autism "Link"

Slate has been publishing comments posted by their readers (referred to as "The Fray") reacting to their staffer Gregg Easterbrook's articles on the possible link between television viewing and autism, here and here. Easterbrook trumpets the Cornell study linking tv watching to autism. Here are some interesting comments (they are listed on the Slate page after the date October 17):

Easterbrook consistently refers to the increase in autism that begins "around 1980, about the same time cable television and VCRs became common". If Easterbrook had done his homework he would have found that 1980 was also the year the diagnosis of "Autism" actually became a diagnostic entry in its own right in the DSM-III. It was reclassified from being part of "psychotic" disorders (like schizophrenia) to having a specific heading in "developmental" disorders. Furthermore, in 1980's the 'autism spectrum' (autism, PDD-NOS, and the newly-minted Asperger's syndrome) definitions were changed or created to include persons with normal range IQ, and less severe symptoms. All of these changes to diagnosis would significantly impact the makeup of the population called "autism spectrum disorders" (ASD)-- sometimes just called "autism" by the media. (to the confusion of many readers). All of these changes coincided with the increase in television-watching, but (am i going out on a limb here?) weren't caused by television. […]

And here's another:

Families that were early adopters of Cable were better off financially than families that did not get cable until years later. We know that middle and upper middle class parents are more likely to take their children to the doctor more often and to pursue possible health issues until they get an answer. In other words, having cable has NOTHING to do with CAUSING autism. It is simply something that financially secure families are more likely to have and those same families are more likely to get a diagnosis for their children.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Data Suggests Link Between Television Viewing and Autism

This one is sure to be controversial:

In a paper to be presented at a conference of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Oct. 20, in Cambridge, Mass., the authors reviewed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey on TV viewership rates among children and compared it with data from the National Climactic Data Center, which looks at the amount of precipitation communities receive. This analysis showed that children from rainy counties watch more television. When autism rates were then compared between rainy and drier counties, the relationship between high precipitation and levels of autism was positive.
"We tested our hypothesis using existing, well-known data," said Michael Waldman, a professor of economics at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management and a co-author of the research paper. "The analysis shows that early childhood television viewing could be an environmental trigger for the onset of autism and strongly points to the need for more research by experts in the field of autism."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Broken Mirrors: A Theory of Autism

The November 2006 issue of Scientific American has a feature article on autism, focusing on mirror neurons.

Study: Mutated Gene Raises Autism Risk

Dr. Pat Levitt and colleagues at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, studied 743 families in which 1,200 family members were affected by autism spectrum disorders, which range from fully disabling autism to Asperger's syndrome.
They found a single mutation in a gene called MET, which is known to be involved in brain development, regulation of the immune system and repair of the gastrointestinal system. All of these systems can be affected in children with autism.
Full article here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Michigan Student with Asperger's on NPR

In eighth grade, Josh wrote an essay about being different. His teacher liked it so much, she suggested he send it to National Public Radio for its series, "This I Believe." NPR liked it, too, so he gets to read his essay during the "All Things Considered" news show.
Article here.
Josh's essay, with a photo, is here.
I had to include this because my son is crazy for Godzilla - among other things - too.

NJ Plans to Shift More Early Autism Expenses to Parents

"For children with developmental delays, early recognition and quick help can make a lifetime of difference. But the state is proposing that some families pay thousands more for that help because the rising number of children in need have overwhelmed the budget.

The federal government mandates that states offer early intervention services for infants and toddlers -- from birth to age 3 -- with disabilities. The services are provided not only to children with autism, but to those with hearing impairments, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and a variety of other disorders that cause their development to fall behind.
The federal government provides some funds, with states and families making up the rest.
The problem is the need and cost have escalated dramatically.
Double the number of children -- 13,788 -- were referred to the New Jersey program in fiscal 2006, which ended June 30, compared with six years earlier. Each child referred is evaluated. As of July, 8,815 children -- including 932 in Bergen and 493 in Passaic -- were receiving services.
At the same time, the cost of services has increased to an average of $100 an hour. This year, the Legislature allocated $78 million, up from $22 million in 2000. But even with the budget increase, officials are anticipating a $13 million shortfall.

To help close the budget gap, lawmakers have directed that the share paid by families be doubled to $6 million a year.

The state Health Department is accepting comments on the proposal through the end of October.
Voice your opinion
The state is accepting written comments on the proposed increases in family contributions for early intervention. They can be sent to:
Terry Harrison, Part C coordinator
New Jersey Early Intervention System
P.O. Box 36450 East State St.
Trenton, NJ 08625-0364
Email: Terry.Harrison@doh.state.nj.us
Fax: (609) 292-0296
The comments should include: Name, title, address and telephone number, concerns or support about the proposal, and recommendations."
Full article here.
Additional information here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Yes I Can! Award

Do you know a child or youth with a disability who has made outstanding achievements? Then nominate him or her for a ...
Yes I Can! Award
The Foundation for Exceptional Children established the Yes I Can! International Awards Program in 1981 to acknowledge the achievements of children and youth with disabilities; overcome barriers caused by public misconceptions; encourage children and youth with disabilities to seek their highest potential; and increase public awareness of the abilities, aspirations, and personal qualities of people with disabilities.

Deadline is November 20th. More information on how to nominate someone here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Time to Give Up on a Single Explanation for Autism

"We argue that there will be no single (genetic or cognitive) cause for the diverse symptoms defining autism. We present recent evidence of behavioral fractionation of social impairment, communication difficulties and rigid and repetitive behaviors. Twin data suggest largely nonoverlapping genes acting on each of these traits. At the cognitive level, too, attempts at a single explanation for the symptoms of autism have failed. Implications for research and treatment are discussed."

Three psychiatrists have written an opinion piece arguing for researchers to look at autism as a more complex, less monolithic thing. Here is a cogent summary, courtesy of MindHacks, and here is the full-text of the article.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Effect of Maternal Age on Severity of Autism

This abstract from a newly published journal article about a recent study says maternal age does not influence the severity of autism.

Travels With Autism

This looks intriguing.

TRAVEL WITH AUTISM launches this October, providing a new concept for the autism community: vacations specifically designed for families with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. TWA's mission is threefold: (1) to provide an appropriate and safe vacation where families with individuals with ASD can simply have fun together (2) to provide an environment where multiple families with individuals with ASD can interact in a holiday atmosphere (3) to provide an opportunity for individuals with ASD to stretch themselves by learning new skills.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New CDC Study

The Centers for Disease Control have announced a $5.9 million study in six states to try to find the causes of autism.
The study, the next of the agency's promised initiatives to look more closely at the disorder, would look for factors that may put children at risk for autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, the CDC said.
It said 2,700 children aged 2 to 5 and their parents would take part in the five-year study. Researchers will look for infections or abnormal responses to infections in the child or parents, genetic factors, the mother's reproductive history, hormone levels, potential gastrointestinal problems in the child and other factors. Brief article here.

I briefly looked at the CDC autism site, which looks pretty interesting, but did not find any specific mention of this new study.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Author Claims Famed Seismologist Had Asperger's

Here is a profile of the author who wrote a biography of Charles Richter, of the famed earthquake measurement scale.
"People who knew him described him as a walking contradiction. The reason I'm sure in my bones that he had Asperger's (syndrome) is that it reconciles the apparent contradictions.
He wasn't unfriendly or uninterested in teaching. He yearned to connect with people and share his wisdom. He was just sorely lacking in social skills. He couldn't deal well with the give-and-take of a classroom situation or a scientific conference. But he was in his element when a reporter asked a question and he was free to expound. The experts will tell you that such stiff, one-sided, pedantic conversations are a classic hallmark of Asperger's."

Monday, October 02, 2006

ASPEN NJ Fall Conference

Friday, October 27, 2006 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Hilton Woodbridge 120 Wood Avenue South Iselin, NJ
Our internationally recognized Speakers and Topics:

Robert B. Brooks, Ph.DHarvard Medical School
"The Power of Mindsets: Nurturing Motivation, Self-Esteem and Resilience in Children with Asperger Syndrome and Related Disabilities"

Michael D. Powers, Psy.D.Yale Child Study Center
"Educating Individuals with Asperger Syndrome/PDD-NOS/High Functioning Autism: Recognizing Opportunities and Meeting Challenges in Middle and High School"

To register and for more information please see http://aspennj.org/