Study Explores How We Map the World & How Autistics Could Benefit

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The typical brain maps and perceives information differently from the autistic brain. Recent research from the Neuroscience Center at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recently explored these differences in a study authored by Hollis Cline, professor of Neuroscience.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and demonstrated how understanding the brain’s learning patterns and adaptions movement movement could have implications for treating sensory processing disorders in autism.

We all interact with movement in a variety of ways. Driving to work or taking the subway are just two brief examples of how we daily and routinely interact with movement. The brain learns and adapts to the forward direction of movement, while moving backwards rapidly feels unnatural.

The study explored the relationship between neurons in the eye and the brain, demonstrating that the brain is more complicated that previously thought. The study also stated that the “the order in which we see things could help the brain calibrate how we perceive time, as well as the objects around us.”

Previously, studies have demonstrated that typically people create a visual system that is an internal map of their world. The map is created through the sensing process built around the “optic flow” objects are perceived.

Cline stated that what feels natural to the human brain is only what the human brain has learned.

The study examined the brains mapping of objects related to the brain’s perception of time and explored the link between time and space in the visual system. The researchers also believe that these findings from this study might also have implications for hearing and sense of touch.

The researchers believe that this study could potentially have positive implications for patients with sensory and temporal processing disorders. This includes autism. The implications of the study could offer new possibilities for retraining the brain to map the world correctly.

Article adapted from Medical News Today

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A Documentary on Autism, “Generation A: Portraits of Autism and the Arts”

urlToday on the blog, we would like to feature an important documentary that focuses on various therapies for autistic individuals as well as captures the lives and stories of individuals diagnosed with autism. The documentary focuses on the presence of arts, movement, and music in their everyday lives as well as shares the stories of the autistic experience.

Joanna Lara, Founder of Autism Movement Therapy describes what her therapy provides for autistic children in the film. “Autism itself comes from the Greek word self, one’s own, or by oneself, which describes the characteristics of our children as, being unto oneself. The three criteria for autism are: speech and language impairment, social skills impairment, and a behavioral issue of some kind. Movement in music requires both sides of the brain to come to attention. With music, movement, and dance, the entire brain is responding to the visual information, the audio information, and then to the gross motor processing.”

The documentary also features Stephen Shore, Assistant Professor of Special Education at Adelphi University, who discusses “core body to environmental relations” in the documentary. He explains that one of the features of autism is individuals with autism often don’t know where their body ends, and the environment begins around them. This ability is something that can potentially be grown and developed through the exploration of movement.

Temple Grandin is also interviewed in the documentary on her experience with being diagnosed with autism at an early age and discusses the various misguided perceptions she was confronted with and overcame throughout various stages of her life.

The documentary film was originally funded and developed as a Kickstartr campaign by Barry Shils and Joanne Lara that successfully raised over 16 thousand dollars for the completion of the film.

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How the ASD Brain Recognizes Emotion: The Differences in Information Gathering

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Previously, studies have shown that individuals on the autism spectrum interpret facial recognition information differently from that of a typically developed brain. Research from the University of Montreal explained that the information interpretation process is different for autistic individuals, rather than the judgment process.

The study conducted at the Hopital Riviere-des-Prairies in Montreal compared the way individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gather information about facial expression. Previously, studies have focused on how ASD individuals processed and judged emotion in facial expression, rather than the gathering process.

Researches expressed that the differences may be in the way autistic individuals gather information and furthermore, might explain why perceptions of peoples’ faces may differ.

The lead author of the study, Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc staid,

“The evaluation of an individual’s face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual. By studying these judgments, we wanted to better understand how people with ASD use facial features as cues. Do they need more cues to be able to make the same judgment?”

The study consisted of 71 participants. The control group was comprised of 38 people and the ASD group was comprised of 33 people without intellectual disabilities. Each group was divided into aged-matched subgroups, such as children and adults. The researchers presented 36 pairs of photogenic and synthetic images to all participants and evaluated their social judgment. In order to evaluate this, researchers asked participants to indicate which emotionally neutral faces appeared “kind” to them.

The main difference found between the two groups was when photographic images of neutral faces were presented, ASD participants gave mixed judgment opposed to the control group. There were no predictable patterns in judgment from the ASD participant group. Each individual judgment varied from one participant to the other.

Researchers also found no difference between the groups when participants were presented with a synthetic image. The synthetic images were created based on the characteristics of the photographic images previously shown to the participants. When the synthetic image pairs contained less useful judgment clues, meaning less pronounced facial features, the results of each group were influenced in the same way by this complication.

The major suggestion from this research is this: because the identical results of the two groups viewing the synthetic images are identical, it is not the judgment process itself that is different for both groups, the differences instead were observed when they viewed photographic images suggesting that the information gathering process about peoples’ faces holds the critical difference.

“We now want to understand how the gathering of cues underpinning these judgments is different between people with or without ASD depending on whether they are viewing synthetic or photographic images. Ultimately, a better understanding of how people with ASD perceive and evaluate the social environment will allow us to better interact with them,” said Forgeot d’Arc.

This article was adapted from this publication here: here.

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Preeclampsia: A Prenatal Condition is linked to Autism

pregnancy-issueA new study published in the journal of JAMA Pediatrics found that mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder are more than twice as likely to have suffered from Preeclampsia during their pregnancy than mothers without the condition.

Preeclampsia is a serious condition affecting pregnancy that is characterized by high blood pressure and increased levels of protein in urine. Preeclampsia symptoms typically include swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, and changes in vision. The condition normally appears after twenty weeks of pregnancy and the only known way for the body to return to normal function is to give birth.

Preeclampsia is currently known as the most common and dangerous condition to affect pregnancy. According to the study, “the condition affects about three to five percent of all pregnancies and accounts for 40 to 60 percent of maternal deaths in developing countries.”

The study was conducted by Cheryl Walker and used a “population-based, case-controlled study investigating any links between the prevalence of autism and the prevalence of preeclampsia. The study also examined whether or not the risk of autism is associated with the severity of preeclampsia.

Researchers monitored over 1,000 children over the duration of the study between the ages of 2 and 3 years of age. The children were participants in the Childhood Risk of Autism from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. Out of the 1,000 children, more than 500 participants were diagnosed on the ASD spectrum, 200 were diagnosed with a developmental delay, and 350 children developed typically. Out of the 1,000 children participating in the study, 100 percent of the mothers were diagnosed with preeclampsia during their pregnancy.

The study concluded that children with ASD are more than twice as likely to come from mothers suffering from preeclampsia than children without the disorder.

The reason that preeclampsia affects development is that it can limit nutrients and oxygen from getting to the brain. These effects have been linked to both autism and overall developmental delays.

Another study potentially linked a vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy to preeclampsia.

To read the original article by Heather Johnson on the study, click here.

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Parental Early Intervention More Effective than Clinician

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Research from Florida State University recently published a study demonstrating that early intervention from parental involvement proved to be more effective in helping the development of autistic children over early clinician involvement.

Amy Wetherby, the director of Autism institute at Florida State University College of Medicine and lead author of the Pediatrics study stated, “we’ve come up with a treatment model that can teach parents to support their child’s learning during everyday activities, and we’ve documented that the children improved their developmental level, social communication skills, and autism symptoms.”

“The findings are important because this treatment is viable for any community. We have early intervention that’s federally and state funded. Now we’ve tested a model that any early intervention system should be able to offer to all families of toddlers with autism. It’s affordable, and it’s efficient in terms of clinicians’ time.”

Most children in the United States are not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder until they are 4 years old. In lower income families, rural communities, and minority populations, the diagnosis usually comes even later. The American Academy of Pediatrics aims to see that every child is screened at 18 and 24 months of age to determine whether or not the child is on the autism spectrum.

Early diagnosis is a critical part of the early intervention process.

The study focused on “Parent-Implemented Social Intervention for Toddlers with Autism.” It demonstrated the results from a seven-year randomized controlled trial. The study involved families of 82 toddlers with ASD who were 18 months old. The families were assigned to one of two nine-month interventions.

Out of the two groups studied, both improved behaviors over the duration of the training in using words and in decreasing autism symptoms, but overall, the group of parents that received individual instruction on how to work one-on-one with their child for 20-25 hours a week in everyday activities demonstrated the best results. Some of the day-to-day activities included making meals, going out into the community, playing on the playground, and grocery store visits.

Wetherby stated that, “we tried to help parents make interactions fun and fruitful learning moments. But we also taught the parents how to push their child—because their child has autism, and we are finding these children at this very critical moment when their brain is more able to learn. If the parent can start early, then we are more likely to change the child’s trajectory of learning for the rest of their life.”

You can read more about Wetherby’s study here.

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Does Employment Help Autistic Adults Improve Quality of Life?

loans-for-unemployedResearchers at Vanderbilt University published results from a study demonstrating that more independent work environments may lead to reductions in autism symptoms and improve daily living for adults with the disorder.

The study examined 153 patients with autism and found that when the adults had greater independence and engagement, it led to improvements in the core characteristics of autism, such as problematic behaviors or the individuals’ ability to care independently for themselves.

Lead author Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator stated, “We found that if you put the person with autism in a more independent vocational placement, this led to measurable improvements in their behaviors and daily living skills overall. One core value in the disability community and at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is placing people with disabilities in the most inclusive environments possible. In addition, this study gives us evidence that increasing the level of independence in an employment or vocational setting can lead to improvements in autism symptoms and other associated behaviors.”

The average age of individuals participating in the study was 30 years. All participants were a part of a larger longitudinal study examining both adolescents and adults with autism. Data collected for this research took place at two separate times within a 5.5 year span.

Taylor’s research examined autism symptoms like restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, communication impairments, and difficulties with social interactions. She found that individual’s involved with vocational activities demonstrated unique changes in their behavior expressions and overall lessening in autism symptoms that typically interfere with daily living skills.

These results demonstrate that employment may have therapeutic effects for adolescents with autism growing into adulthood. The results of the study were promising in that, vocational activities could help enhance overall well-being and quality of life for autistic individuals.

“The majority of research on autism has focused on early childhood, but autism is a lifelong disorder with impairments that limit quality of life throughout adulthood.  Given the prevalence of autism, now one in 68 children, we must continue to examine the factors that promote well-being and quality of life for adults with autism and other disabilities as a whole” Taylor said

Underemployment is a common issue affecting many adults with autism and 50% of adults with autism spend their day with little social, work, or community interaction.

For more information and the original article published on the topic, click here.

 

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Is there an Economic Link to Autism Growth?

urlGrowth in autism diagnosis continues to increase. Since 1970, the prevalence rose from .5 to 14.7 per 1,000 children. The steady and stark increase in autism over the past three decades has left many skeptical of the number’s accuracy. How could autism increase at such an alarming rate? Many explained the growth in autism rates by attributing them to a flawed medical community heavily over-diagnosing the developmental disorder, but two economists recently published research that disproving this theory and demonstrating that the numbers are real.

Jose Fernadez and Dhaval Dave recently published their article, Rising Autism Prevalence, where they considered an economic perspective of measuring the prevalence of autism. They sought to examine whether or not the demand trajectory of health care professionals in developmental disabilities aligned with the rate of autism diagnosis.

The research used economic theory and market theory to analyze data from the California Department of Developmental Services. They found that each time autism cases doubled, the number of autism health providers grew by as much as 14% over that of non-autism health providers. They also found an increase of up to 11 percent in wages from autism health care providers.

“We focused on auxiliary providers because, unlike physicians and psychologists who can diagnose autism, these workers cannot induce their own demand,” Fernandez said. Fernandez and Dave also found that although autism replaced mental retardation in 1 of every 3 diagnoses during the 2002—2011 period studied, that actual autism cases increased from 50% to 65%.

Fernadez concluded that “at least part of the increase in the autism

caseload represents an effective increase in their demand given that we observe an increase in their wages. This further suggests that at least part of the increase in autism diagnoses, about one half to two-thirds based on the direct and indirect estimates of displacement, reflects an increase in the true prevalence of the disorder.”

You can find the direct article source here, or read other discussions of the article here.

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Chemotherapy and Autism, Is there a Connection?

141203100035-largeResearchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine (UNCSM) recently published a study on linking chemotherapy as a potential cause of autism.

Scientists at UNCSM published research demonstrating how a common chemotherapy drug called, Topotecan is capable of drastically suppressing the expression of Topoisomerase-1. What is Topoisomerase-1? Topoisomerase-1 is a gene that triggers creating proteins that are essential for normal brain function. When a patient is currently undergoing treatment with this drug, it works against proteins that are necessary for neurons to communicate through synapses. Researchers have found that after the drug is removed from the body, the brain function and communication seems to return to normal.

The experiments conducted have used only Topotecan, but the larger class of the drug could be linked to the cause of healthy brain function. Many similar drugs to Topotecan are currently in development and other research has found that the drugs penetrate the blood-brain barrier.

“There’s still a question in the cancer field about the degree to which some chemotherapies get into the brain. But in our experiments, we show that if they do get in, they can have a dramatic effect on synaptic function. We think drug developers should be aware of this when testing their next generation of Topoisomerase inhibitors,” said Mark Zylka, Phd.

This research indicates that it is possible for many factors related to chemotherapy to have a similar affect as Topotecan in brain function, as Topotecan could affect long-term development. Topotecan is one example of a suppressant of the genes linked to autism. Dr. Philpot also directing the study stated that, although the experiments they are conducting are isolated to using cells in a dish, they are finding consistent results with chemotherapy patients.

Dr. Philpot stated, “It is very good to know that at UNC we have a big effort to study patient-reported outcomes during therapy so that we can balance care for the whole person.”

You can find more information about the original article here.

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Movement Matters: New Perspectives in Autism Research

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Professor Richard Schmidt is a cognitive psychologist working to innovate and introduce new perspectives in social research and autism.

“Interpersonal relations rely not only on spoken, linguistic communication, but also on the shared physical language of the body,” he says. “For example, a listener’s shifts in posture are coordinated with a speaker’s speech rhythms. It’s a like a dance—a back and forth, a give and take. For individuals with autism, that dance is off-beat.”

Prior to Schmidt’s work, the most research on autism and social interactions focused on the relationship to language and mental impairments. Schmidt’s research does something differently. Funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), Schmidt has found a close correlation between body coordination and the severity of autism.

“Our research investigates the impairments in social interaction by evaluating social competence in terms of the bodily ‘dance’ that occurs in social interactions, rather than in terms of mental abilities,” an entirely new perspective on the disorder.”

Schmidt’s research hopes to find a correlation between a lack of synchronicity in body language of pre-verbal infants and their mothers. Secondly, he hopes to establish a common body language in patients with autism. Finding more in each of these areas could help lead to an earlier diagnosis and allow therapists more effectively serve their patients.

“Because the measurement of interpersonal bodily coordination is an objective behavioral measurement, it can potentially be used to evaluate the social competence in the very young at the crucial early stages of autism. We can also use bodily coordination interventions – such as ‘social’ movement therapy—to potentially divert the path of the disorder at other critical stages.”

You can learn more about Schmidt’s research funded by the NIH here.

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Dear 2014, What were the Major Discoveries in Autism Research?

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As 2014 draws to an end, we here at ICare4Autism are reflecting on some of the major discoveries made in Autism research over the past year. Health content reporter Lacie Glover recently drew attention to the two areas of major research and growth development over the past year.

The first major area of major research was in understanding the relationship between environmental factors and the development of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) analyzed over 100 million medical records where they compared both autism and intellectual disability rates with genital malformations in newborn males. Since, malformations are often an indicator of exposure to toxins, they looked for a correlation and found one. UCMC published a steady a increase in malformations and autism prevalence related to environmental toxins presence.

Following this study, the University of Wisconsin examined air pollution exposure for developing children in North Carolina and California. The states were selected due to their similar climates but and differing pollution levels. The study concluded that autism birth rates were highest during heavy air pollution seasons.

The second area of research growth in autism draws attention to the importance of early detection. This year, the Autism Genome Project discovered that genetic testing method called copy nerve variant testing (CNV) is an effective way to predict the autism. This discovery has powerful implications since early detection and treatment is one of the key aspects of improving quality of life for autistic children.

To read more on Glover’s collection of major research discoveries in Autism from 2014, please click here.

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