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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

News about girls with autism

Reposting from HealthDay News... Something we should all keep in mind. As I've always said, one size does not fit all...and as it is often said, "when you've met one person with autism, you've just met one person with autism." Not all treatments work for everyone!
Girls With Autism May Need Different Treatments Than Boys
New studies highlight variations in symptoms, genetic makeup
HealthDay news image
WEDNESDAY, May 1 (HealthDay News) -- With four to five times more males affected by autism spectrum disorders than females, much less is known about girls with autism.

Fortunately, more research is beginning to focus on autism in girls, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks, with two such studies set to be presented Saturday at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Sebastian, Spain.

"Autism affects boys much more frequently than girls. But, we may be missing some girls. The diagnostic criteria were developed using symptoms in boys, and symptoms in girls and boys may be different," Dawson explained.

"Because of this difference in incidence, researchers may end up with a small number of girls in studies," she said, adding that differences in symptoms or reactions to treatments may lead to the girls' data being excluded from studies. But, it's just those differences that may really need to be researched, to make sure girls are being diagnosed and treated correctly.

"Other neuropsychiatric disorders have already made the discovery that symptoms can be different in girls and may require different treatments for girls," said Dawson, who is also a research professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. One such example is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Girls tend to be less hyperactive than boys, and may instead appear as if they're daydreaming.

In the latest autism research, the first study compared visual scanning patterns in boys and girls with autism spectrum disorders. Scanning patterns were also collected for typically developing children.
"We used eye-tracking technology while the participants in these studies watched videotapes of social scenes that presented naturalistic stimuli," said study co-author Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center, in Atlanta.

The study, which was led by Klin's student, Jennifer Moriuchi, included 116 school-aged children with autism spectrum disorders. Eighty-one were boys and 35 were girls. The children with autism had varying degrees of social disability. The study also included 36 typically developing children.
"On a surface level, it appears that boys and girls with autism appear to spend equal time learning from the eyes. They did look less than other children," Klin said. But, when the researchers correlated the youngsters' eye tracking with their level of disability, a much different picture emerged.

"In boys, the more they looked at the eyes, the less socially disabled they are. In girls, the more they looked at the eyes, the more disabled they are," said Klin, chief of the division of autism and related disorders at Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"What the study is suggesting is that we should not automatically assume that boys and girls learn about the world in the same way," Klin said, adding, "we have to take gender as a mediating factor."
Dawson said "the study found that there are differences in the way girls and boys look at the eyes, so there may be differences in the way autism is manifested in girls than in boys." She noted that an important criterion right now for diagnosing autism is a lack of eye contact and using the eyes for social cues.

The second study looked at the genetics involved in autism, and potential differences in boys and girls. Yale University researchers analyzed samples from 2,326 families. Included in those samples were those of 2,017 boys and 309 girls with an autism spectrum disorder.

The Yale team found differences between the boys' and girls' genetic samples.

"The fact that autism does affect boys so much more frequently has been staring us in the face for decades. There's been a hypothesis that there's something in the extra X chromosome that girls have that may be protective," Dawson explained. "The idea is that if you have this protective mechanism in place you may need more risk factors to overwhelm that protective effect and cause autism, and that's exactly what they found."

"To develop autism in a girl requires more genetic mutations," Dawson said. The type of mutations they found are called "de novo" mutations, she added. This means that the genetic change occurs in the sperm or the egg. It isn't a gene that's passed down from the parents. These mutations can occur randomly, or they can be caused by an environmental trigger.

Because these studies are being presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

SOURCES: Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks, and research professor, department of psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Ami Klin, Ph.D., director, Marcus Autism Center, and professor and chief, division of autism and related disorders, Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta; May 4, 2013, presentations, International Meeting for Autism Research, San Sebastian, Spain

URL of this page: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_136418.html (*this news item will not be available after 07/30/2013)


Friday, May 10, 2013

Move over Keepon!

My boy and Keepon, his first "fluffy" friend! :)

Hi everyone! A while back I wrote about Keepon, a cute little animated yellow puff ball that my little man totally fell in love with and became the first "doll" he enjoyed! In my opinion, Keepon helped unlock my son's interest in dolls/stuffed animals by engaging his attention, stimulating eye contact and interactions. Poor Keepon was dragged into bed, taken to the bathroom, rolled all over the floor, banged, tapped, hit, kicked... all just to see his adorable reaction to my son's every move. At first it was extremely hard for me to believe that a yellow plastic blob could elicit such a response from a child on the autism spectrum, but it did! Now in the news we read about Kelly! Check out the story:

Kelly the Robot Helps Kids Tackle Autism

Small study found they tended to do better at developing social skills when this 'co-therapist' was used

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 HealthDay Logo
HealthDay news image WEDNESDAY, May 1 (HealthDay News) -- Using a kid-friendly robot during behavioral therapy sessions may help some children with autism gain better social skills, a preliminary study suggests.

The study, of 19 children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), found that kids tended to do better when their visit with a therapist included a robot "co-therapist." On average, they made bigger gains in social skills such as asking "appropriate" questions, answering questions and making conversational comments.

So-called humanoid robots are already being marketed for this purpose, but there has been little research to back it up.

"Going into this study, we were skeptical," said lead researcher Joshua Diehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who said he has no financial interest in the technology.

"We found that, to our surprise, the kids did better when the robot was added," he said.
There are still plenty of caveats, however, said Diehl, who is presenting his team's findings Saturday at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in San Sebastian, Spain.

For one, the study was small. And it's not clear that the results seen in a controlled research setting would be the same in the real world of therapists' offices, according to Diehl.

"I'd say this is not yet ready for prime time," he said.

ASDs are a group of developmental disorders that affect a person's ability to communicate and interact socially. The severity of those effects range widely: Some people have mild problems socializing, but have normal to above-normal intelligence; some people have profound difficulties relating to others, and may have intellectual impairment as well.

Experts have become interested in using technology -- from robots to iPads -- along with standard ASD therapies because it may help bridge some of the communication issues kids have.

Human communication is complex and unpredictable, with body language, facial expressions and other subtle cues coming into the mix, explained Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

A robot or a computer game, on the other hand, can be programmed to be simple and predictable, and that may help kids with ASDs better process the information they are being given, Dawson said.
"Broadly speaking," she said, "we are very excited about the potential role for technology in diagnosing and treating ASDs." But she also agreed with Diehl that the findings are "very preliminary," and that researchers have a lot more to learn about how technology -- robots or otherwise -- fits into ASD therapies.

For the study, Diehl's team used a humanoid robot manufactured by Aldebaran Robotics, which markets the NAO robot for use in education, including special education for kids with ASDs. The robot, which stands at about 2 feet tall, looks like a toy but it's priced more like a small car, Diehl noted.

The NAO H25 "Academic Edition" rings up at about $16,000. (Diehl said the study was funded by government and private grants, not the manufacturer.)

The researchers had 19 kids aged 6 to 13 complete 12 behavioral therapy sessions, where a therapist worked with the child on social skills. Half of the sessions involved the robot, named Kelly, which was wheeled out so the child could practice conversing with her, while the therapist stood by.

"So the child might say, 'Hi Kelly, how are you?'" Diehl explained. "Then Kelly would say, 'Fine. What did you do today?'" During the non-Kelly sessions, another person entered the room and carried on the same conversation with the child that the robot would have.

On average, Diehl's team found, kids made bigger gains from the sessions that included Kelly -- based on both their interactions with their therapists, and their parents' reports.

"There was one child who, when his dad came home from work, asked him how his day was," Diehl said. "He'd never done that before."

Still, he stressed that while the robot sessions seemed more successful on average, the children varied widely in their responses to Kelly. Going forward, Diehl said, it will be important to figure out whether there are certain kids with ASDs more likely to benefit from a robot co-therapist.

Dawson agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all ASD therapy. "Any therapy for a person with an ASD has to be individualized," she said. The idea with any technology, she added, is to give therapists and doctors extra "tools" to work with.

A separate study presented at the same meeting looked at another type of tool. Researchers had 60 "minimally verbal" children with ASDs attend two "play-based" sessions per week, aimed at boosting their ability to speak and gesture. Half of the kids were also given a "speech-generating device," like an iPad.

Three and six months later, children who worked with the devices were able to say more words and were quicker to take up conversational skills.

Dawson said the robot and iPad studies are just part of the growing body of research into how technology can not only aid in ASD therapies, but also help doctors diagnose the disorders or help parents manage at home.

But both Diehl and Dawson stressed that no robot or iPad is intended to stand in for human connection. The idea, after all, is to enhance kids' ability to communicate and have relationships, Dawson noted. "Technology will never take the place of people," she said.

The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

SOURCES: Joshua Diehl, Ph.D., assistant professor, psychology, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.; Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks; May 4, 2013, presentation, International Meeting for Autism Research, San Sebastian, Spain

Thursday, May 2, 2013

30 reasons why I wore blue for 30 days:

As most of us know, April is autism awareness month. Many of us joined the "Light it Up Blue" campaign by Autism Speaks by wearing blue and/or turning on a blue light on April 2nd. Well, this year I decided I'd take it up another notch and I made a pledge to wear blue all 30 days of the month of April. Here are my 30 reasons why... not in any specific order, each just as important as the next:

1. Because my son is not missing any pieces. I'd rather wear the blue than a broken puzzle.

2. Because on most days it's just me & my boy for hours on end. Wearing blue helped me feel connected to a bigger community. Each time I looked at the blue I knew I was not alone.

3. Because wearing blue for 30 days straight wasn't easy or fun! Then again, it was nothing compared to how hard my boy has to work every single day of his life!

4. Because I am proud of my son and I want the world to know it. Go ahead: ask me what's up with all the blue!

5. Because I wanted people to ask--I welcome every chance to educate people about the whole spectrum of autism.

6. Because it became contagious-- colleagues at work and family members joined in my cause and helped spread the word.

7. Because autism is not a bad word or something that should be hard or unpleasant to talk about-- the more we talk, the easier it gets for everyone, including my son.

8. Because ignorance creates fear. My son is NOT someone to be feared! The better you understand ASD, the quicker you will realize that your life is made better by having my son in it!

9. Because planning what to wear was quite challenging-- it made me think of the many times my boy faces a task and doesn't even know where to begin! Really, something as simple as picking out clothes should not be so hard...neither should just talking to another child at school!

10. Because I ended up having to buy a few pieces-- I got to tell every cashier about autism-- more education!

11. Because autism awareness is not just a one day or one month thing-- we should work hard each and every single day to educate people about autism so our loved ones with ASD will find greater tolerance as they go through life.

12. Because my son is NOT Rain Man, nor does he have a special genius skill-- other than endless amounts of love!

13. Because I wondered what it would feel like to always wear the same color every day-- would I find comfort and peace in sameness like my son? (no, I did not)

14. Because I felt different from the people around me-- like my son must feel so much of the time-- not LESS, just DIFFERENT... sometimes even special!

15. Because so often I feel helpless when it comes to my son's difficulties at school-- wearing blue helped me feel like I was doing something!

16. Because it gave me the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised by the people I expected the least to join the cause by wearing blue, making donations or  turning on a blue light

17. Because even though I may have sounded like a broken record, I know everyone around me now stops and thinks--and even shares--when they see a blue puzzle piece

18. Because my little guy is breaking all sorts of stereotypes and I want the world to know it!

19. Because early intervention works! The more people know, the sooner kids' symptoms may be spotted and they can start getting the help they need.

20. Because blue does not equal sadness.

21. Because the blue reminded me to stop and pray for my son each day!

22. Because blue makes me feel peaceful.

23. Because blue makes me think of the ocean-- just for a few minutes each day my blue clothes would remind me to close my eyes, take a deep breath and picture myself in a blue sandy beach! Paradise!

24. Because it helped me make new friends by finding other moms out there to connect with!

25. Because I have earned the right to wear blue!

26. Because it seemed like fun to begin with!

27. Because it helped me understand my son's view of the world just a little bit better.

28. Because it was nice to focus on my appearance after not caring for so long.

29. Because on most days it made me feel pretty!

30. Because I love my son with the very essence of my being!

Will you join the cause?