Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Understanding autism symptoms

One of the most difficult aspects of being a caregiver for someone with autism – whether a child or an adult – is the inability to understand what it’s really like for him. Autism is a condition that can be isolating for the person who has it, and autism symptoms are tough to understand from the outside.

“I like to think of autism as a different way of being,” says Stephen Shore, PhD, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. “It’s a nonstandard way of perceiving and interpreting the environment.”

Every person with autism is different, and there is no single autistic perspective. But experts and people who have the condition say that there are some issues that are shared by many on the autistic spectrum. What are they? WebMD asked doctors, caregivers, and people with autism what it’s like to live with the condition.

2 Keys to Understanding Autism Symptoms
According to experts, the first key to understanding autism is to recognize that it profoundly alters how a person perceives the world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Most Children With Autism Diagnosed at 5 or Older

New research provides a snapshot of what life is like for school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder in the U.S.

The findings, which appear in the NCHS Data Brief, highlight areas where there is room for improvement, including earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and access to behavioral therapies and other services. The new study looked at children aged 6 to 17 with special health care needs and autism spectrum disorder in 2011.

More than half of school-aged kids were age 5 or older when they were first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the study showed. Less than 20% were diagnosed by age 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen children for autism at 18 months of age.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 88 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. This is the umbrella term for a group of developmental disorders that can range from mild to severe and that often affect social and communication skills. Treatment is individualized, and often involves behavioral therapies to address developmental delays along with medication.

Earlier Diagnosis of Autism Is Possible

Of the children in the study, about 9 of 10 received one or more therapies. Most commonly these included speech or language therapy and/or social skills training. More than half of these kids took at least one psychiatric medication, including stimulants, anti-anxiety drugs, or antidepressants.

"Our data indicate that many children with autism -- the majority -- are getting some sort of services such as speech or other individual-based interventions," says researcher Lisa J. Colpe, PhD, MPH, of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. "That is great news."

Outside experts say there are still many gaps in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder among school-aged kids in the U.S.

"Research tells us that children who start intervention earlier do better in the long run," says Geraldine Dawson, PhD, in an email. She is the chief science officer at Autism Speaks. "We can reliably diagnosis autism by 24 months, so professionals need to do a better job, including screening all children at 18 and 24 months."

Data Highlight Gaps in Autism Treatment

In the study, 12% of kids with autism spectrum disorder didn't receive any of the suggested services. Less than half received the kind of behavioral therapies that are believed to be most helpful.

"There are many reasons children with autism are not receiving the interventions they need, including lack of insurance coverage and inadequate numbers of trained professionals," Dawson says. "It is critical that we address the barriers that are preventing children from receiving early intervention. "

Daniel L. Coury, MD, agrees. He is a professor of clinical pediatrics and psychiatry at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He says that doctors need to do a better job of identifying autism earlier and getting these children into services at younger ages.

"If we can get more physicians to do that, it would be a start," he says. This is not going to pick up every child, as those more mildly affected may not be identified until their school years.

Amy Keefer, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore, Md. She says that parents need to advocate for their children.

"Be involved with practitioners who are experts in autism at the first concern, and if a diagnosis isn't given, ongoing monitoring, assessment, and checking in can help guide parents through the developmental stages," she says.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Young adults with autism lag in school, work

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Young adults with autism are less likely to go to college or hold down a job than their peers with other types of disabilities, a new U.S. study finds.

Researchers found that more than one-third of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder had not gotten a job or gone into higher education since high school. And that number was much higher compared with young adults with learning disabilities or other impairments.

It's estimated that about one in 88 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

That's up 78 percent from a decade ago — which health officials attribute to better diagnosis, as well as broader definitions of what constitutes an ASD.

ASDs are a group of developmental brain disorders that hinder a person's ability to communicate and interact socially — ranging from the severe cases of "classic" autism to the relatively mild form called Asperger's syndrome.

But while rates of ASD diagnoses are shooting up, researchers have not known all that much about how kids with the disorders fare after high school.

So for the new study, researchers collected data on 680 young U.S. adults with an ASD, along with nearly 1,400 young people with learning disabilities, speech or language impairments or intellectual impairment.

All were between the ages of 19 and 23, and had been in special education programs when they were in school.

Overall, the study found, 35 percent of young adults with ASDs had not gone to school or held a job since high school.

That compared with only 7 percent of young adults with speech or language impairments, and 3 percent of those with learning disabilities. Even young people with intellectual impairments were faring better than the ASD group: one-quarter had not gone on to higher education or the workplace after high school.

The findings appear in the journal Pediatrics.

It's not surprising that many young adults with ASDs would struggle, according to Paul T. Shattuck, the lead researcher on the study.

"But I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of the effect," said Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "The gap between them and young people with other disabilities was striking."

Another important finding, Shattuck said, was that low-income adults with ASDs were at substantial risk.

Among young adults from families making under $25,000 a year, 55 percent had not worked or started higher education since high school.

That compared with 18 percent of those from families who made more than $75,000 a year.

"That's a huge difference," Shattuck said. The reasons for the gap are not clear from the study, he noted — but it likely has something to do with access to services for people with ASDs.

Another reason, according to Shattuck, may be that higher-income families have more social connections, including people who could help their child find work or get into school.

The researchers estimate that in 2009, about 163,000 U.S. children with an ASD were living below the poverty line.

There are some services available to help families and kids with ASDs prepare for life as an adult. Shattuck said that special ed programs should include, "as part of the package," some type of transitioning plan for the post-high school years.

"That's the goal anyway," he said. "The reality is, not every kids gets that, and the quality of (the service) will vary from place to place."

There is definitely a need for more research into services for young adults with ASDs, according to Shattuck's team — particularly programs to help kids from low-income families.

The "popular image" associated with autism is the affected child, Shattuck noted.

"But autism doesn't magically disappear in adolescence," he said. "These kids grow up, and that's the age group we know the least about."

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online May 14, 2012.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

French autistic kids mostly get psychotherapy

LONDON – In most developed countries, children with autism are usually sent to school where they get special education classes. But in France, they are more often sent to a psychiatrist where they get talk therapy meant for people with psychological or emotional problems.

Things are slowly changing, but not without resistance. Last month, a report by France's top health authority concluded there was no agreement among scientists about whether psychotherapy works for autism, and it was not included in the list of recommended treatments.

That provoked an outcry from psychiatrists. Groups including Freudian societies, the World Association of Psychoanalysis and France's Child Institute started a petition calling on the French government to recognize their clinical approach, focused on psychotherapy.

"The situation in France is sort of like the U.S. in the 1950s," said Dr. Fred Volkmar, a U.S. expert who directs the Child Study Center at Yale University. "The French have a very idiosyncratic view of autism and, for some reason, they are not convinced by the evidence."

DIY autism treatment raises alarm

Some parents with autistic children are using a DIY hormone treatment to improve their learning, one of Australia's leading researchers has warned.

Adam Guastella, associate professor of the University of Sydney's Brain & Mind Research Institute, has been researching the effect of oxytocin on children with autism. His trials have shown that some patients who are given oxytocin as a nasal spray are better at reading social cues than those given a placebo.

But he is worried a number of parents desperate to help their children are having prescriptions for oxytocin made up. ''At the moment you can't get a script for oxytocin and go to the chemist and buy it,'' he said. ''But you can go to your local compounding pharmacist with an individual script from a paediatrician or a psychiatrist and the compounding pharmacist can make up an oxytocin spray. That's what seems to be happening … people seem to be experimenting with the doses and amounts.''

Professor Guastella said more research was needed to establish the treatment's safety and efficacy.

About 1 in 160 Australian children have autism, a disorder that has a range of symptoms including speech and learning difficulties, and problems understanding emotions and social cues. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone which plays a key role in social interaction, bonding and empathy. It is released in large amounts during and after childbirth.

A clinical psychologist with the country's largest not-for-profit autism specific service provider, Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), Vicki Gibbs, said the research involving oxytocin and autism was relatively new and she was not aware of children using it outside scientific trials.

The Brain & Mind Research Institute has received a $250,000 research grant from the Bupa Health Foundation, the charitable arm of private healthcare giant Bupa, to examine the effectiveness of oxytocin treatment.

Molly Edington, whose son Dominic Shakeshaft, 7, was diagnosed with would five years ago, said parents will go to great lengths to improve their child's situation.

''When he was first diagnosed I was on the internet day and night looking for answers,'' she said.

Dominic, who is not part of the trial at the Brain & Mind Research Institute, has had a range of interventions since his diagnosis, including medication and special education.

''I saw a naturopath, I saw a specialist, I consulted everyone I could,'' said Ms Edington, of Wombarra, near Wollongong. ''It's hard because there are no easy answers with autism.

Now I just take each day as it comes and I'm grateful for every small improvement.''

The ICE Block Cooler; Support Autism Research: Light It Up Blue Autism Awareness

The inventor of the ICE Block Cooler™ has a son on the Autism Spectrum. The ICE Block Cooler™ was designed to “Light It Up Blue” and increase autism awareness in honor of their six year old son’s journey towards beating autism. His son is currently going to a wonderful school which has graduated many children back into traditional classrooms by the time they reach 1st to 4th grade. While this school is superb, the total costs for this education and additional needs run around $45K for the year. Now, the inventor's son, at almost six years old, has made great progress in his development.

This little boy has overcome a lot of hurdles in his young life as a result of all the hard work and love that has been put into him by his parents, teachers, speech and ABA therapists. We are beating autism in our family and we intend to help others beat it too!

If you think the ICE Block Cooler™ is as cool as we do, then please visit our site and click on the "Like" button and tell your Facebook friends about it because every sale will help to BLOCK AUTISM.

Support Autism Research: Light It Up Blue Autism Awareness

Metal Rockers Shine Light on Autism

Ex-Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz teams with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine on Red Lamb project

Former Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz is back with a new project called Red Lamb, and the band has just released a video for the song "Puzzle Box" (watch below).

Co-produced and co-written by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, the song tackles an unusual subject for metal: autism in children.

When Spitz and his wife, Candi, had identical twins, Brendan and Jaden, they were mystified by the unpredictable behavior of their boys. Even after the twins were diagnosed with autism, information was hard to come by. "When our kids started to go backwards, because they weren't born autistic, we didn’t know where to go," Spitz tells Rolling Stone. "You have to be careful, because there are plenty of people selling snake oil. Back then, we got,'Your kid has to eat this way, and if he doesn't buy our product, he might die.' Once we found Autism Speaks – which was strictly, 'Here's your information' – it was a whole new world."

Raising awareness of autism in the metal community was one of Spitz's inspirations for the song and its fact-filled video. "I can understand why people are scared to talk [about autism] in other forms of music. But the way I was brought up in metal, that's what thrash metal was," Spitz says. "If you read our lyrics, it wasn't, 'Hey baby, I love you.' Whatever bothered us in every day life, that was Anthrax. So we did the same thing with 'Puzzle Box.' We were like, 'It's time. People need to know what we're living here.'"

At around the same time that Red Lamb wrapped its video, the Centers for Disease Control released new statistics showing that about one in 88 children are identified as having a form of autism. "It was mindblowing," Spitz says. "Now the whole world wants to know more."

Spitz began writing songs for what would eventually become his Red Lamb project following a reunion with Anthrax in 2005. Mustaine got involved after hearing some of the music. "Me and Dave Mustaine have been friends forever, and we're kind of quiet friends on a daily basis," Spitz says. "He's just a wonderful human being. I was out there doing stuff in his studio and helping him on a technical aspect, and he was like, 'Play me your stuff.' We usually do not talk about music – our friendship is based solely on our families. He listened to it and really wanted to help."

Co-writing with the Megadeth frontman was a natural next step, Spitz says. "Dave has stayed at my house, and he's one of the few people that understands what we go through on a daily basis with two identical twins that are autistic, and also being away from them out there at his studio recording, and the phone calls that just don't stop of meltdowns and breakdowns," Spitz says. "Who better to co-write what I feel is one of the most important songs of our times than the both of us?"

Red Lamb (which also includes singer Don Chaffin, bassist Randy Coven and drummer Patrick Johansson) self-released their debut LP in February via iTunes. The group is currently in talks with a booking agent to launch a tour.

"We're not just a band giving to a cause, asking someone, 'Will you please buy this product, because a portion of this product will go to help this needy person in this country,'" Spitz says. "I view Red Lamb as more of a permanent fixture of bringing awareness to the world of what this family lives every day. And that's what people need to know and people need to see."

Read more:

Hacking Autism, Helper Apps for the Autism Community

Hacking Autism is an ambitious project to develop free software applications to improve the lives of people with autism . Last Fall the project hosted its first hackathon, which focused on touch-enabled applications for the autism community. Hacking Autism recently released their first app, Mihi, a simple iOS app that helps kids communicate their feelings. Hacking Autism is sponsored by HP.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Low-cost test may screen for autism

It may be possible to predict a child’s risk of developing autism by examining metabolic byproducts found in urine.

Autism is difficult to diagnose because of a lack of specific biological markers and a variability of symptoms, ranging from mild in some individuals to severely disabling in others.

The varying degrees and manifestations of the developmental brain condition are collectively called autistic spectrum disorder. ASD is characterized by impaired social interactions, difficulty in communicating, and repetitive behaviors. Many other symptoms also can be present, including anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, sleep disorders, and gastrointestinal problems.

Currently, diagnosing a child with ASD requires a thorough evaluation by a team from a wide range of specialties. Early intervention often can reduce or prevent the more severe symptoms and disabilities associated with ASD.

Autism specialists and many other people look forward to a day when a test for a biological marker might detect autism risk in young children. As reported in the journal Autism Research, University of Washington scientists evaluated porphyrins in the urine of children to determine if the levels of these metabolites could predict ASD.

While porphyrins are found in everyone’s urine, the researchers observed that certain kinds of these metabolic byproducts are much higher in the urine of some children with autism, compared with typically developing, non-autistic children of the same age.

Additionally, when children with autism were randomly compared with typically developing children or children with other developmental disorders, the porphyrin biomarkers correctly identified more than thirty percent of autistic children without incorrectly identifying a single non-autistic child.

The ability to detect porphyrins in a urine sample opens new clinical possibilities. Simple urine tests, if they prove effective, could become a rapid, low-cost, widely available way to screen young children for this type of autism risk.

“The significance of this biomarker is not only that it may facilitate earlier detection of autism risk,” says James Woods, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. “But also that it might help identify those ASD children whose symptoms are specifically associated with altered porphyrin metabolism.”

He adds, “When validated in a larger study, this biomarker could help to identify a specific subset of ASD kids and improve the search for more focused treatment options for these children.”

Nicholas Heyer and Diana Echeverria, senior scientists at Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation, contributed to the research.

Partial funding was provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as the Autism Research Institute and the Wallace Research Foundation.

More news from University of Washington:

Neuroskeptic: Who Invented Autism?

The concept of "autism" is widely believed to have been first proposed by Leo Kanner in his 1943 article, Autistic Disturbances Of Affective Contact.

But did Kanner steal the idea? That's the question raised in a provocative paper by Nick Chown: ‘History and First Descriptions’ of Autism: A response to Michael Fitzgerald. The piece stems from a debate between Chown and Irish autism expert Michael Fitzgerald, who first made the accusation in a book chapter.

Neuroskeptic: Who Invented Autism?

This Cute Robot Helps Children With Autism Socialize

Big Idea: Keepon is a little robot, developed in Japan, that is used to research childhood communication and interaction. The consumer version, MyKeepon, funds the construction and distribution of Keepons to labs around the globe.

Why It’s Working: Keepon’s simple design and mannerisms make it an effective communication tool that doesn’t intimidate kids with autism. Also, its cuteness factor is nothing short of infectious.

This Cute Robot Helps Children With Autism Socialize