Thursday, March 29, 2007

Did It Work?

Part 8 of the Wired Series "Hacking My Child's Brain" looks at preliminary results.

Thomas the Tank Engine

Here's an example of a child with ASD whose Thomas obsession led to a breakthrough.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Another Way to Communicate

This article highlights a promising use of Makaton, a kind of modified sign language.
"To the untrained eye, it may look like a funky new dance routine.
But for many the introduction of Makaton, a new form of sign language, is proving a lifeline. Little Morgan Harrison, a pupil at Park School on Whitegate Drive, is a "non-speaker" and on the autistic spectrum. But since September the five-year-old's development has come on leaps and bounds thanks, his mum and teachers believe, to the use of Makaton. Makaton uses simple pictures, hand gestures and the spoken word to communicate on a child level. "

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Philadelphia Zoo Awareness

April 22 is Autism Awareness Day at the Philadelphia Zoo. There will be a magic show, jugglers, live music, and Pierre Robert from radio station WMMR. This event is sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Autism Society of America. More info about the event here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Work in Progress

If things on the blog look a little funny, please bear with me. I am trying to learn to use more Blogger features, like adding a blogroll, just like my friend Liz said to. So please be patient while I stumble along.

DNA Glitches Tied to Autism

From CNN:
"Little glitches in the DNA of people with autism suggest that the disease might be caused by as many as 100 different genes, researchers reported Thursday.
The study is one of several new reports on autism in recent months, which have shown the disease is far more common and more complex than many experts had believed.
"These findings certainly complicate the search for genes contributing to autism. These are rare changes, dispersed across the genome, and they tell us that autism may be the final common path for many different genetic abnormalities," said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute for Mental Health, which helped fund the study.
The small changes are not what people usually think of as genetic mutations but are called copy number variations -- extra copies or missing stretches of DNA.
For instance, one child with Asperger's syndrome was missing DNA from a stretch of 27 genes.
The findings suggest that autism spectrum disorder may involve 100 or more genes, the researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science."

"Usually, tests of DNA of people with diseases show that everyone in a family who has the disorder carries the same mutation or pattern of mutations.
But that's not the case here. The researchers found numerous spontaneous mutations in 14 of 195 people with autism spectrum disorders compared to two of 196 unaffected people.
And of the 14 autism patients with mutations, only two had relatives with autism.
"Our results show conclusively that these tiny glitches are frequent in autism, occurring in at least 10 percent of cases, and primarily in the sporadic form of the disease, which accounts for 90 percent of affected individuals," Sebat said in a statement.
Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said such work does not answer one overwhelming question about autism -- what causes these genetic changes in the first place."

I also heard about this in National Public Radio.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Jeremy Sicile-Kira and Elijah Wapner, sons of Autism One 2007 Conference presenters Chantal Sicile-Kira and Dr. Valerie Paradiz will be featured on MTV's documentary series “True Life.” "True Life: I'm Autistic" will air on Sunday, March 18th at 9:00 pm EST. This episode will follow three teenagers on the spectrum, Jeremy, Elijah, and Jonathan Lerman, over 6 months.
MTV website here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Other Shoe Droppped

Part 7 of the ongoing series "Hacking My Child's Brain" is up. The inevitable questions about neurodiversity have cropped up, and the writer has opened up the forum and asked for comments.
I have to admit, I was waiting for this reaction. This is an issue all parents of children with ASDs face, in some form or another.

A Brother's Story

I don’t feel disabled,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m weird. I just know that from everyone’s reactions.”

This is an eloquent account of a family's journey with Asperger's, as told by a young man's neurotypical younger brother.

Some excerpts:
"Mom stayed home then, taking care of us and the house. Dad worked 10-hour days at IBM, feeling stuck in a managerial job he never really wanted. Every morning before Erik and I headed off to primary school, Mom would make our breakfast and Dad’s lunch.
While Mom got our cereal or toast with chocolate sprinkles ready, I’d get dressed in my second-floor room. A floor above, in Erik’s room, the drama would start.
Erik, get dressed! I’d hear my mother yell up the stairs. Erik, take 20 less minutes on your shower!
Erik, brush your teeth! And — again — Erik, get dressed!
Despite her pleas, most mornings found Erik curled up in his room, reading a video game magazine or staring off into space.
I hated the yelling, so I’d hear one order and follow it. (That stuck with me for life — I’ve often been called mature for my age, probably from watching my parents give the same orders over and over. Or maybe from not wanting to add to the chaos.)
“It was a really, really tough time,” Mom told me recently.
One exhausting morning after another, after we were finally out the door, she would sink into a living room couch, turn on the TV and try to forget what was going on around her. She’d try to forget her husband’s disaffection with a job he hated. She’d try to forget that she was thousands of miles from her parents. And she’d try to forget that she had a son who didn’t seem to be learning any of the practical aspects of life."

"That was the year my parents sent Erik to his first psychologist. They didn’t learn then that he had Asperger’s; the disorder hadn’t been identified yet. But they did learn that he needed special attention, and that it wasn’t their parenting that was at fault. They received tips, such as breaking down activities into smaller steps, on how to help him learn. “What we learned was we could not expect Erik to do what other children were doing at his age,” Mom said. “We had to meet him where he was and where his needs were. When we started doing that, when we stopped putting demands on him, the whole atmosphere in the house improved tremendously.”
It saved the marriage.
They were lucky."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Classroom Design for Kids with ASDs

"The standard of education for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can be improved by better classroom design, but often not enough attention is given to their needs. Now, researchers Coventry University's Design Ergonomics Applied Research Group have developed a new environment that is engaging autistic children in schools through digital technology.
Experts from Coventry University have designed the first low cost education and activity area for children with autism that can be used in mainstream schools. The environment is enabling teachers to educate and integrate children with special needs within conventional schools.
Over 100 primary and secondary school children in Birmingham and Coventry have successfully tested and used the high-tech (fixed and portable) teaching and learning spaces. "

"The system is comprised of a computer, tailor made software, a projector, a video camera and sound speakers. To provide a safe, neutral environment traditional classroom strip lighting is swapped for daylight bulbs and an LED lighting system, and hypo allergenic marmoleum flooring and a padded projection screen where installed. The rooms are painted white, and black blinds block out light and noise from outside.
Improvements in users have included greater levels of engagement with other people, for example, improved communication with their peers. Teachers and parents have also noted that the children develop a better relationship with their school routine and improve their performance in mixed ability classes. "

Full article here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

NJ Autism Bills Advance

"A package of bills aimed at improving the diagnosis, treatment and awareness of autism gained widespread support during an Assembly committee hearing today. It comes after a recent study found New Jersey had the highest incidence of the disorder among 14 states.
The bills would establish an autism registry under the state Department of Health and Senior Services, with funding of $500,000; create a task force on adults with autism; extend funding for autism research and treatment; and strengthen an early intervention program for babies and toddlers.
Other measures would reorganize the Governor's Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism to attract research funding, and require extra training about autism for classroom teachers. A separate bill would establish an autism awareness program for emergency, police and fire department personnel.
Two resolutions would urge the state to look at any possible links between the incidence of autism and prenatal sonograms or vaccinations containing thimerisol -- two proported causes of autism that have never been scientifically proven. "
Full article here.