Some Types of Maternal Infection Can Cause Autism

Maternity is a special period of time in the life of every woman. It’s a nine month long expectation for a little miracle, but also it is also a time when women are vulnerable and fragile.

On June 7th, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, publisher resent studies results based on data from over 4.6 million children, more than 46000 of whom have autism. The studies showed that severe infection during pregnancy increase the risk of having an autistic child by 12% on average. The time, type, site and severity of an infection multiply its impact on autism risk. The researchers discovered that the infection during the first trimester doesn’t have a significant impact on autism development, but when it occurs during the second or third trimester, it increases the risk of autism by 13-14%.

Bacteria, parasites, fungi and unknown pathogens increase autism risk in children by 18% or more. Interesting enough, but this recent study refuted the suggestion that influenza can cause autism. The researches determined that those infections that affect genitals, urinary tract and skin are linked to autism and those that affect digestive or respiratory systems are not. Because genital and urinary tract infection can affect the development of the fetal in the immediate nearness to the womb and skin infection can be a sign that there is a problem with the immune system.

We wish you all to take good care of yourself and be healthy!

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Officials Laud Shema Kolainu at Legislative Breakfast

Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, a school serving the needs of autistic children and their families, recently held its Annual Legislative Breakfast featuring an array of local elected officials and community leaders from across the city.

Dr. Joshua Weinstein, founder of Shema Kolainu, opened the event by expressing his deep gratitude to the dedicated parents, Shema Kolainu staff, elected officials, and management staff that have grown and developed the school into what is it today, proudly declaring that since “day one at Shema Kolainu, we started with miracles, and the miracles have never ceased”.

Also among those in attendance were NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Felder, Councilmembers Andrew Cohen and David Greenfield. The program commenced with Shema Kolainu parent Ethel Gavrilova who described the staff at the Shema Kolainu school “persistent” and “incredibly brave”. Dr. Weinstein lauded the extraordinary efforts of Council member Cohen who chairs the NYC Council Committee on Mental Health for ensuring that the budget allocates funding for the autism initiative—a sentiment shared by Councilman Greenfield who announced his and Cohen’s triumph in increasing funding for autism by $2 million as part of NYC after school programs.

Dr. Alan Kadish, President and CEO of the Touro College and University System was awarded the Excellence in Education Leadership Award and the artwork of Shema Kolainu students. As one of the leading higher education institutions, Touro College boasts of 18,000 students enrolled in 32 schools over 4 countries who go on to careers in the healthcare world. Touro College’s Autism Center and Dr. Kadish’s contributions to educating healthcare professionals to serve the needs of those with autism were also recognized.

Shema Kolainu also awarded Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, the City Leadership Award. Dr. Weinstein in presenting her with a painting by the children of Shema Kolainu, said to her, “I’m presenting you this humble award to a humble person.” She captured the importance of taking care of our youth and those most vulnerable by powerfully stating, “When our children and neighborhoods are healthy, our communities are healthy, and our city thrives”.

Comptroller Stringer commended the hard work of the honorees and others, delivering a heartfelt message that as “parents and grandparents and guardians…when we look at our children, we think they can do anything they want even if they don’t start the race of life in the same way as other kids. We always believe that they can aspire to be anything they want…and Shema Kolainu levels the playing field for all of our children”.

The genuine and candid atmosphere of this year’s event continues to exemplify the obstacles overcome and progress made when there is collaboration among various communities. The fight to raise awareness of autism and provide quality education to children with autism is greatly furthered by Shema Kolainu and all of the dedicated people who come together each year at these Breakfasts.

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How Can Wearable Devices Help People With Autism?

Nowadays, technology and devices are a part of our life. this includes wearable devices which are luxury items we wear to count our pulse while training or manage our phone and emails etc.

What good can be done to people with disabilities? How can wearable devices help them in their everyday life?

Researches from Lankaster University in partnership with the charity Autism Initiatives UK, have initiated the project which supposes to build connected devices to help people who live with autism.

Autistic people sometimes can get susceptible and anxious. So the first goal of researchers is called a “digital squeezeball”. A user is supposed to squeeze a ball when he or she feels anxious. Data from those interactions were recorded using a companion app and the information later used to find out what caused the anxiety and when it happened.

“If there was a long squeeze, that would mean they were anxious and a message would be sent and the app would have picked up on that. Also, as part of the app, we had a social network system — whenever a person shared their location or state of anxiety with the group, the information was collected,” says Ferrario, a research Fellow at the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster and team leader of Clasp, told ZDNet.

Though, the disadvantage of these interactions is that “people didn’t feel comfortable about sharing data about where they were most vulnerable with people they didn’t know or didn’t trust,” says Ferrario.

Thus, researchers understood that the squeezeball wasn’t the best idea of connected devices to use to record interactions.

“We found that the squeezeball didn’t suit many people — it was a bit awkward with the communication, and the size and shape of it was an issue,” said Dr. Will Simm, research associate at the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster and technical lead of Clasp.

So the next step was to design a device, which autistic people could use in a manner they feel comfortable with.

“We came up the idea of a toolkit of components which could be put together with their own personalized sensors, their own location for wearing it for their own characterization of anxiety,” says Simm.

The first prototype looked like a wristband made up with a central computing pod designed to allow the user to customize the attached sensors.

“We wanted to make them as available and customizable as possible, so we used techniques like 3D printing and an open source environment to program it, with the intention of being able to customize it further and build their own device,” said Simm.

Researchers noticed that people could use that device in multiple ways: wrap around the wrist, tie to a belt loop or carry in a hand, and then tug or squeeze on it when they feel happy or have anxiety. The data is transferred to the researcher’s computer and than analyzed.

“We highlight the times they’ve been using it and discuss what situation they were in. It helps to reveal some different layers about their experience of anxiety,” mentioned Simm, adding that some people said it helped them understand their anxieties more.

Sending a signal about feeling anxious through the wearable device allows the user to express their feelings without verbalizing them.

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What Genes Are Causing Autism?

The physiologist from the University of Washington, Raphael Bernier and geneticist Evan Eichler started their research on genes that cause autism in late 2013 when they became interested in a 12-year old girl’s case. Bernier noticed that the girl had wide-set eyes, which had a slight downward slant. Her head was unusually large, featuring a prominent forehead. He was told that the girl had gastrointestinal issues and sometimes wouldn’t sleep for two to three days at a time. He probably wouldn’t have thought too much of this case had he not recently met an 8-year old boy with those similar wide-set eyes and a large head who also suffered from the same gastrointestinal and sleep problems.
While there were definitely other children with the similar physical peculiarities, there was one more similarity that couldn’t be considered a coincidence: a mutation in a gene known as a chromodomain helicase DNA binding protein 8 (CHD8).
CHD8 produces a protein that regulates chromatin—the conglomeration of tightly packed DNA and proteins in the nucleus—during fetal development. Bernier continued his studies and reviewed records from 25 such children from different countries. They all had similar physical symptoms. Mutated CHD8 is now one of the dozens of recognized genetic subtypes of autism.
However, not all forms of autism are caused by genetic mutations. There are also numerous non-genetic factors that contribute, such as environmental pollution, which can affect the brain of a child. Scientists are working towards a better understanding of neural development to give us an answer on what exactly causes autism.
And thanks to advances in induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology, scientists can now grow entire brain-like structures (organoids) derived from cells of patients with autism.
Last year, Yale University’s Flora Vaccarino and her colleagues reprogrammed skin cells from boys with autism who had abnormally large heads—a condition known as macrocephaly, a relatively common phenotype in autism patients—into iPSCs (the stem cells mentioned above) and then differentiated the cells into neurons. Under special culturing conditions, the cells developed into 3-D organoids— mini brains —that mimicked forebrain development at about 10 to 16 weeks post-conception. The researchers also created organoids using the cells of the boys’ healthy fathers, and compared them to the structures derived from the boys’ cells. (See “Mini Brains Model Autism,” The Scientist, July 16, 2015.)
In conjunction with this study, there has been a recent study in France that showed that brain maturation was disrupted and certain portions of the brain seemed to be wasting away in areas responsible for communication. Also, a neurologist of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, Mustafa Sahin, noticed that children with a rare genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis (TSC), where they develop benign tumor growths in the brain and other vital organs, develop autism 50% of the time. All these studies aim at being able to treat a child likely to have autism before the disease develops.
While this is a lofty goal, methods are already in the works with University of Washington planning a clinical trial to treat mice with a medication that repairs sodium channel disruptions and with Boston Children’s Hospital working to study a tumor suppressor in the body that has been linked to macrocephaly and language and social impairments.
The results thus far have mainly confirmed the suspicion that there is not one single form of autism but many, and the different subtypes have to be identified before we can develop specific treatments for each. While there is still no treatment for any one form of autism there is the hope that if we get even one, it is very possible that we will be able to more easily find cures for all the others.

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A Simple Hearing Test May Predict Autism Risk


A recent autism study done at the University of Rochester shows that a simple hearing test may predict autism risk. The test can help to identify and start treating autism at a young age before children learn to speak and study. The researchers have identified that the inner-ear problem in children with autism may be the cause of issues with the ability to recognize speech. Anne Luebke, a study co-author, mentioned, “This study identifies a simple, safe and noninvasive method to screen young children for hearing deficits that are associated with autism.”

Many symptoms of autism become noticeable before the age of 2, and yet, most children are not diagnosed for them until they are 4. The sooner the disorder is diagnosed, the sooner the treatments can be provided, and the more chances there are for the child’s development.

In a recent study published in the journal Autism Research, researchers examined the hearing of children between the ages of 6 and 17, with and without autism. Children with autism had hearing difficulty in a specific frequency 1-2 kHz, which is essential for speech development. The degree of hearing impairment was associated with the severity of autism symptoms.

In summation, the scientists believe that the hearing test could be provided to diagnose autism early on and could even be used to screen infants as it is noninvasive, affordable and doesn’t require a child’s verbal response. This find could be a groundbreaking occurrence in the autism movement.


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