Autism in the News
Hormone Linked to Social Difficulties With Autism, Early Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, July 22, 2015 (HealthDay News) - Low levels of a certain hormone may play a role in the social difficulties that children with autism spectrum disorders experience, new research suggests. Vasopressin, a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure, may play a role in social behavior, according to Karen Parker, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. Click Here for More...

Study Finds MMR Vaccine Doesn't Raise Autism Risk

4/21/2015 - The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine did not raise the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders in a large, diverse, national cohort of children, even among those who had older siblings with autism and thus were at increased risk, according to a report published online April 21 in JAMA. Click Here for More...

Toddler Brain Images Reveal Which May Have Autism and Struggle with Language

Autism has always been a tricky disorder to diagnose. There’s no such thing as a blood test, cheek swab or other accepted biological marker so specialists must depend on parent and teacher reports, observations and play ASSESSMENTS. Figuring out a child's trajectory once he or she is diagnosed is just as challenging. The spectrum is wide and some are destined to be on the mild end and be very talkative, sometimes almost indistinguishable from those without the disorder in some settings, while others will suffer from a more severe form and have trouble being able to speak basic words. Click Here for More.

Broccoli Compound Eases Autism Symptoms by Mimicking a Child's Fever

The results of a small clinical trial show that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts may improve symptoms of autism like repetitive movements, irritability, hyperactivity, and
communication problems.

Broccoli Compound Eases Autism Symptoms

Although one in 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, no medications are currently available to cure this group of developmental disabilities. But the results of a recent small clinical trial, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts may reduce the behavioral symptoms of autism by targeting the root cause of the disorder... Click for More.

Tips for Keeping Autistic Spectrum Children Engaged During Summer Break (or Any Season)

NEW YORK—School is out but learning never stops. Summertime activities can greatly advance children’s development—especially those on the autism spectrum.

The more senses an autistic spectrum child uses in a day the better, said Kim Denitto, who does occupational therapy with students at the Center for Spectrum Services, a school for children on the autism spectrum in Kingston, N.Y.

These children have trouble processing and responding to the world around them—either because it’s hard for them to screen out what’s happening around them, or because it’s hard to take in important information.

Denitto says activities that use multiple senses help calm and organize their nervous systems and form new neurological connections (actually reorganizing their brains in a healthy way).

The following are some activities parents can do at home.
Household Tasks

Working in the garden, pushing the shopping cart, and even taking out the trash, are much more beneficial for autistic spectrum children than most people realize, Denitto said.

When children push and pull things and carry weight, it teaches them to plan and execute unfamiliar tasks from beginning to end—skills many of these children really need to work on, she said.

Household tasks, which she calls “heavy work,” can also help children build confidence and think at a higher level, because when they learn to do more things on their own, they rely less on prompts from adults.

“Many children on the autism spectrum become prompt-dependent (often due to their processing delays and our natural instinct to nurture and help our children succeed),” Denitto said in an email.

“It is important to provide opportunities for them to learn and experience success in managing and completing many of life’s everyday tasks. This sometimes takes patience and understanding on our part.”
Floor Activities

Contact with the floor also helps children develop their senses and motor skills, Denitto said.

With her students, she uses things like “Bosu balls (half of a therapy ball), fabric tunnels, rocker boards, foam bolsters and wedges, low balance beams, [and] small plastic play equipment that children can climb and slide down,” she wrote in an email.

Denitto recommends finding activities that get children crawling, such as going through tunnels and obstacle courses, and putting materials with different textures on the floor, so children can step on them and feel the textures underfoot.

“You can buy textured stepping stones online, in toy stores, or in therapeutic catalogs, but you can also use everyday items like plastic grass mats, rubber bathtub liners, carpet squares, yoga mats, bubble wrap, anything that provides a variety of tactile input,” Denitto wrote.
Movement DVDs

A yoga DVD that’s made for children can help calm and occupy them when parents need to take care of other things.

A good way to help children transition between activities is the “MeMoves” DVD, developed by the mother of a girl with autism spectrum disorder. It guides children through very calming, rhythmical movements.

“It’s a nice way to do a little calming or a little warm-up before we introduce another activity [in class],” she said. The program also has an application version.
Strap-on Animals

A couple months ago, Denitto’s school received a set of movement-geared stuffed animals, and the children have really taken to them, she said.

Called Stretchkins, these stuffed animals have very long stretchy arms and legs with bands on their paws, which children can attach to their hands and feet. Thus the animals do whatever movement the children do.

Denitto said the Stretchkins help children become more aware of their bodies in space by giving a good amount of resistance to their movements. Children find the furry creatures fun to touch, and the animals help students engage socially when they’re doing group activities.

Adding resistance gives children a greater awareness of where they are in relation to objects, other people, and their environment and can help “improve attention, strength, balance, and muscle tone,” Denitto said.

Stretchkins come with an interactive movement DVD that has exercises and dances that children can move with.

If parents want their children to work on writing over the summer—which many autistic spectrum children are not motivated to do—Denitto recommends making it a sensory experience.

You can warm up by playing with materials like play-dough, sand, rice and beans, shaving cream, or having the child rub their hands with lotion.

Hand-strengthening activities that involve pushing, pulling, shaking, or squeezing can also be helpful. You can use things like carts, scooters, wagons, and medicine balls to strengthen children’s hands and get their body ready to learn, Denitto said.

It is also important that children sit correctly when they write, with their feet flat on the ground and their body upright.

You can modify the chair height with seat cushions or wedges and place a block on the floor under their feet so they touch flat. You can also use a nonslip shelf liner to keep them from sliding off the chair, Denitto said.

Some children benefit from writing on an inclined board or a vertical surface (placing paper on a wall), which helps increase their wrist extension and gives them greater finger control.

The school has started using a program called Handwriting Without Tears, a multisensory handwriting system, which was developed by an occupational therapist. The program uses things like wet sponges, play-dough, and wooden pieces to shape letters.

For many children on the autism spectrum, working with these tactile elements is more motivating than a pencil and paper, Denitto said.

Health officials: 1 in 50 school kids have autism

— Mar. 20 12:49 AM EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — A government survey of parents says 1 in 50 U.S. schoolchildren has autism, surpassing another federal estimate for the disorder.

Health officials say the new number doesn't mean autism is occurring more often. But it does suggest that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.

The earlier government estimate of 1 in 88 comes from a study that many consider more rigorous. It looks at medical and school records instead of relying on parents.

For decades, autism meant kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. But the definition has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions.

Same Genetic Basis Found in 5 Types of Mental Disorders



Published: February 28, 2013

The psychiatric illnesses seem very different — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Yet they share several genetic glitches that can nudge the brain along a path to mental illness, researchers report. Which disease, if any, develops is thought to depend on other genetic or environmental factors.

Their study, published online Wednesday in the Lancet, was based on an examination of genetic data from more than 60,000 people worldwide. Its authors say it is the largest genetic study yet of psychiatric disorders. The findings strengthen an emerging view of mental illness that aims to make diagnoses based on the genetic aberrations underlying diseases instead of on the disease symptoms.

Two of the aberrations discovered in the new study were in genes used in a major signaling system in the brain, giving clues to processes that might go awry and suggestions of how to treat the diseases.

Folic Acid in Pregnancy May Lower Autism Risk

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that women who start taking folic acid supplements either before or early in their pregnancy may reduce their child's risk of developing autism.

"The study does not prove that folic acid supplements can prevent childhood autism. But it does provide an indication that folic acid might be preventive," said study lead author Dr. Pal Suren, from the division of epidemiology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.

"The findings also provide a rationale for further investigations of possible causes, as well as investigations of whether folic acid is associated with a reduced risk of other brain disorders in children," he said.

Taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy is already known to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida, which affects the spine, and anencephaly, which causes part of the brain to be missing.

Some With Autism Diagnosis Can Overcome Symptoms study Finds


Published: January 16, 2013

Doctors have long believed that disabling autistic disorders last a lifetime, but a new study has found that some children who exhibit signature symptoms of the disorder recover completely.

The study, posted online on Wednesday by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, is the largest to date of such extraordinary cases and is likely to alter the way that scientists and parents think and talk about autism, experts said.

Researchers on Wednesday cautioned against false hope. The findings suggest that the so-called autism spectrum contains a small but significant group who make big improvements in behavioral therapy for unknown, perhaps biological reasons, but that most children show much smaller gains. Doctors have no way to predict which children will do well.

DSM-5 Criteria For Autism -- Who Will Be Left Behind?

Pharma & Healthcare Emily Willingham, ContributorI

10/11/2012 @ 11:45

When news broke that the autism spectrum categories of Asperger’s disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) would get subsumed into the wider maw of a general “autism disorder,” people worried. They worried about autistic people who are quite verbal or who have typical cognitive skills. What would happen to individuals whose autism doesn’t manifest in those terms as profound? The biggest concern was a new category for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5, social communication disorder. Would people like my son, diagnosed with Asperger’s and whose autism includes echolalia, anxiety, motor deficits, repetitive behaviors, learning differences, and other features well beyond the social, get rolled into what looks like a flimsy, catchall not-safety net of “social communication disorders”? And what other kind of communication is there if not social?

Report Sees Less Impact in New Autism Definition


Published: October 2, 2012

Proposed changes to the official diagnosis of autism will not reduce the proportion of children found to have it as steeply as many have feared, scientists reported on Tuesday, in an analysis that contradicts several previous studies.

Earlier research had estimated that 45 percent or more of children currently on the “autism spectrum” would not qualify under a new definition now being refined by psychiatric researchers — a finding that generated widespread anxiety among parents who rely on state-financed services for their children. The new report, posted online Tuesday by The American Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that the number who would be excluded is closer to 10 percent.

Rate of Autism Diagnoses Has Climbed, Study Finds

Published: March 29, 2012

The likelihood of a child’s being given a diagnosis of autism, Asperger syndrome or a related disorder increased more than 20 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to a report released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new report estimates that in 2008 one child in 88 received one of these diagnoses, known as autism spectrum disorders, by age 8, compared with about one in 110 two years earlier. The estimated rate in 2002 was about one in 155.

Concern Over Changes to Autism Criteria Unfounded, Says APA

From Medscape Medical News > Psychiatry

Deborah Brauser

January 25, 2012 — Concerns that proposed changes to autism criteria in the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) will exclude many individuals from diagnosis and treatment are unfounded, says the American Psychiatric Association (APA). These changes would include merging diagnoses currently listed separately in the DSM-IV, such as autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (NOS). The DSM-5 proposal calls for incorporating these disorders under a single umbrella category of "autism spectrum disorder."  Read more ...

The Autism Society Comments on the Proposed DSM-5 Revisions

January 20, 2012
By Autism Society

Changing the definition of autism does not change the need for help.

As the nation’s largest grassroots autism organization, the Autism Society’s foremost concern is that individuals with autism have access to the resources and services they need.  As it exists today, the autism spectrum is vast.  We are concerned that individuals who could lose the autism diagnosis may not fall under another classification, and would lose access to the appropriate services.  With these changes, it is equally important that those who diagnose autism spectrum disorders have the training and information needed to diagnose appropriately.

A Specialists’ Debate on Autism Has Many Worried Observers

Published: January 20, 2012
New York Times

A study reported on Thursday found that proposed revisions to the American Psychiatric Association’s definition would exclude about three-quarters of those now diagnosed with milder forms of autism called Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. These are people who have difficulties with social interaction but do not share the most severe impairments of children with classic autism.

“He was right on the border, they told me when he got the diagnosis; that’s what scares me,” said Amanda Forman of Flourtown, Pa., whose 5-year-old son was diagnosed two years ago with P.D.D.-N.O.S. After receiving play therapy, occupational therapy and 17 hours a week of behavioral therapy, the boy, who was once unresponsive to other children and engaged in self-destructive behavior, may enter a mainstream kindergarten class next year, his mother said. “What if he has to be re-evaluated? If the criteria were stricter, he might not get these services that have been helping him so much.”

Vaccine Cleared Again as Autism Culprit


Published: August 25, 2011

Yet another panel of scientists has found no evidence that a popular vaccine causes autism. But despite the scientists’ best efforts, their report is unlikely to have any impact on the frustrating debate about the safety of these crucial medicines.
“The M.M.R. vaccine doesn’t cause autism, and the evidence is overwhelming that it doesn’t,” Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, the chairwoman of the panel, assembled by the Institute of Medicine, said in an interview. She was referring to a combination against measles, mumps and rubella that has long been a focus of concern from some parents’ groups.
The panel did conclude, however, that there are risks to getting the chickenpox vaccine that can arise years after vaccination. People who have had the vaccine can develop pneumonia, meningitis or hepatitis years later if the virus used in the vaccine reawakens because an unrelated health problem, like cancer, has compromised their immune systems.

Patterns: Prenatal Vitamins May Ward Off Autism

Monday, June 13, 2011


Published:   June 13, 2011       

Scientists have identified an unexpected factor that may play a significant role in the development of autism: prenatal vitamins.
A new study reports that mothers of children with autism and autism spectrum disorders were significantly less likely than mothers of children without autism to have taken prenatal vitamins three months before conception and in the first month of pregnancy. The finding, published in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology, suggests that taking vitamins in this period may help prevent these disorders, reducing the risk by some 40 percent.
Researchers recruited children through a California project, the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and Environment Study, or Charge, enrolling 288 children with autism and 144 with autism spectrum disorders, and compared them with 278 children who were developing normally. Blood was drawn for genomic analysis, and mothers were asked about their consumption of vitamins before and during pregnancy.
In mothers and children with gene variants that affect folate metabolism, not taking prenatal vitamins before conception was associated with an up to sevenfold increase in the risk of autism, the researchers found. Prenatal vitamins are rich in folate.
“Taking prenatal vitamin supplements even before conception is a concrete step concerned parents can take,” said Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the study’s senior author and principal investigator of the Charge study.