Indiana University Awarded Grant to Study Link Between Autism and Body Temperature

indiana autism research

The Eunice Kennedy Shrive National Institute for Child Health and Human Development has granted $900,000 to Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Science to study the connection between fever and autism symptom relief.

Jeffrey Alberts and Christopher Harshaw are the researchers behind the study. They plan on addressing a growing number of reports from parents, who say that when their child has a fever, the social symptoms of autism are temporarily improved. The social symptoms include mood and communication.

Alberts says that this phenomenon isn’t completely unknown but the exact mechanisms that link body temperature to the behavioral changes are being researched. 

The study will first be conducted with mice. Alberts has already studied heat conservation and huddling behaviors in rodents such as mice, as well as other mammals.  He found that the more heat an animal produces, the more attractive it becomes to potential mates under cooler conditions. 

This study will examine two types of mice: one with autism-like symptoms that will have their body heat tracked, and another group mice with poor heat regulation. This group will have their social behavior monitored.

Scientists predict that the inability to produce heat will affect their social behavior. They also think that the mice with impaired social behavior will have problems maintaining body temperature. Both groups will be compared to a control group. 

By Sejal Sheth

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Neurological Findings behind Autism: Astrocytes

astrocytes and autism

Looking out through the window of everyday life, autism research doesn’t feel like it affects us very much at all. To many people, scientific findings are difficult to truly analyze in-depth.

But we are living in an era of immensely significant breakthroughs which drive our understanding of autism.

In the 1990s, scientists found that as human brains develop, a non-neuronal cell called an astrocyte wedges itself between synapses and produces a protein called hevin.

In 2011, the purpose of hevin was finally discovered. This substance produces new and lasting neural connections in the brain.

Earlier in 2015, researchers used 3D electron microscopy to continue studying the role of astrocytes and hevin, which are abundant in all brains.

They discovered that hevin in the frontal cortex encourages more inputs from the thalamus, which contains sensory and motor information. At the same time, it discourages inputs from local neurons within the frontal cortex, which can impair cognitive functioning.  

In neurotypical brains, as the aging process continues, the number of synaptic connections lessens in order to make cognitive processes more effective. In brains with neurological disorders, including autism, the connections remain. It’s as if cortical and thalamus connections are in a turf war, competing to make connections. An imbalance between the two hinders normal development of the brain’s neurons, which may explain difficulty in motor skills and cognitive functions.

So what do these findings mean for us at home?

Simply said, the world is one step closer to uncovering the full truth of the developmental disorder that has always been a puzzle with not enough pieces. Yes, knowing the role of hevin and astrocytes can’t pay off the bills or feed our dogs. But, it’s useful information that can lead us to knowing how developmental diseases develop in the first place.

Research continues to be conducted on astrocytes. And while the findings don’t exactly change how we live day to day, we are one jigsaw piece closer to understanding the full picture of autism.

By Samantha Mallari

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Why Were Cases of Autism So Hard to Find Before the 1990s?

autism book

 

In March 2015, Steve Silberman asked the question, “Why were cases of autism so hard to find before the 1990s?” Silberman notes that autism doesn’t follow the normal trajectory for a condition or diagnosis. Instead, he says, he learned about it from the process of storytelling.

Silberman’s new book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, comes out in August. The book focuses on Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins in the 1940s. Kanner published a group of case studies for 11 boys that had specific characteristics, including flapping and anxiety when there was a change in routine. In his notes, Kanner laid out the classification for ASD. He decided that epilepsy, which is common in autistic people, was not required for an autism diagnosis.

In Silberman’s TED talk, he says that the increase is due to people steering away from Kanner’s assertion that autism is rare. Instead, he compares it to an epidemic like something someone could “catch from another kid at Disneyland.”

Silberman also outlines the history of autism. He says that Kanner not only thought it was rare, but that he attributed the cause of the condition to a child’s parents.

Finally, Silberman looks to others in his book to answer the question. He discusses the other research done by people such Lona Wing, Andrew Wakefield, and finally, Hans Asperger. In a surprising end, it was Asperger who said that the “cure” for the worst symptoms of autism is in understanding teachers, accommodating employers, supportive communities, and parents who believe in their children’s full potential.

Written By Sejal Sheth

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North Carolina Man to Build Group Home for Autistic Adults 

autism ranch

Beautiful countryside, a working farm, horse stables, an animal shelter, and, more importantly, multiple housing facilities- this is the dream retired postal worker George Bean has for his 33 acre property in North Carolina. His inspiration comes from his 30 year old daughter Lorie who has high functioning autism. She loves being in the country and wants to be around people like her.

This project has been years in the making. Bean purchased the lot back in 2000 and has been working with his daughter to get everything prepared. She is excited just at the thought of having a place where adults with autism can live.

The property was named Swallowtail Summit Farms, after Lorie’s love for butterflies. She would like to build a monarch nursery along with lush gardens and possibly a swimming pool. On the top of the hill there is a gorgeous view overlooking the property where they plan to have a communal activities building.

The main goal is to provide housing options for adults with autism to live and work on a sustainable farm. It will be modeled after Bittersweet Farms in Ohio and Somerset Court in England. Both facilities are homes specifically reserved for adults with autism but their waiting lists have a queue of 100 to 150 people. Bean knew there was a demand for such a place and decided to embark on this housing project.

Right now, their focus is to have a housing and a working facility where adults with autism have a place to stay. Executive Director Caroline Long from St. Gerard House is very excited to see that there is a place exclusively to help adults. There many are programs and services for children but once they turn 18, they’re usually on their own.

As of today they have cleared out a site for the horse stables. A neighbor has agreed to help saw wood for the horses’ walking area. There is also a spot for a 3-4 bedroom group home equipped with a drain field and septic system, with permits in place. Soon, they will complete driveway and a water well.

But the project is becoming bigger than expected, so Bean is looking for more help in funding and construction of the farm. He hopes to have a Board of Directors and a volunteer team. He’s also reached out to the community for help. He is aware of what his daughter needs, but is also looking for input to serve the needs of other farm workers as well.

To read the original article please visit Blue Ridge Now.

By Raiza Belarmino

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Autism Over the Years

hans asperger history

For decades parents have shied away from vaccines believing that it lead to a much worse diagnosis: autism. What they fail to realize is that science has long proven that theory is completely false. Yet parents are still afraid.

The history of autism awareness began in 1943 when child psychiatrist Leo Kanner published a study about 11 patients. He described them as having their own private worlds, ignoring other people including their own parents. They were also able to amuse themselves for hours but would be stricken if a toy was suddenly moved. According to Kanner, autism was an infantile psychosis resulting from cold, unaffectionate parents.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that people really began to question Kanner’s conclusions. Cognitive psychiatrist Lorna Wing had a daughter who was clearly autistic. She rejected the assumption that her and her husband were unaffectionate. The couple was warm and caring to their child. So Lorna and colleague Judith Gould set out to test the prevalence of autism in the London suburb of Camberwell. What they found was that Kanner’s criteria was far too narrow and that autism is more diverse than they ever thought.

The second, and more accurate, story of autism came a year earlier in Germany. Unfortunately due to the devastating world war around that time, it was quickly buried and forgotten. Hans Asperger, who ran a combination clinic and school in the 1930’s, authored the piece. Here he describes autism as a polygentic disability that required a lifelong support and accommodation. He also recognized the unique and valuable gifts his students possessed, calling them little professors. Even more appropriately, he explained the disability as a continuum rather than a narrow, fixed set of characteristics.

In the 1980’s, Lorna and Judith worked relentlessly with the American Psychiatric Association to broaden the criteria and accept the modern term, “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” By then a wave of awareness came over the community with the release of “Rain Man” and newly developed testing.

Now we are in the age of redefining autism and discovering the term neurodiversity. Asperger poignantly explained that the “cure” for autism is compassionate teachers, accommodating employers, supportive communities, and parents who have faith in their children’s abilities.

To watch the inspiring Ted Talk by Steve Silberman, click here

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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What One Mother Learned When Her Son Was Diagnosed With Autism

autism parenting advice

Shawna Wingert is a mother of two boys, a wife, speaker, and a blogger. In her recent article for The Huffington Post, she provided a list of things she learned when one of her sons was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Here are some words of wisdom from an experienced Autism Mom:

1.     People can be mean or they can be kind- it goes both ways. 

2.     You should go to a doctor who sees you as a valuable partner in your child’s health and progress.

3.     She has been amazed by her son’s behavior more times than can be counted.

4.     There is always a reason for a certain behavior and it’s not to annoy her.

5.     Pick your battles- some things are not worth fighting over.

6.     She has learned more about Autism from her son than any book, therapist, or website. The more she pays attention, the more she learns.

7.     There are unique things that work for certain children. 

8.     You will never feel like you are doing it completely right

9.     It helps to find other mothers, ask them questions, and assure them that they aren’t alone.

10. Finally, make peace with the word “Autism” and how it affects your family.

 

Although autism can affect families differently, Wingert has learned to welcome and embrace autism into her life.

By Sejal Sheth

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Premature Babies May Not Exhibit Early Autism Symptoms

premature autistic babies

As mentioned in a previous article on Hear Our Voices, autism signs can often be spotted even during infancy. When babies do not maintain eye contact with those around them, this is often a clue that the child may be on the spectrum.

But preemies are more difficult to read. A new study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy tracked babies who were diagnosed as toddlers with ASD. Of those children, the babies prematurely born did not tend to avert their gaze as infants.

The infants within this study were all born at least 10 weeks before their due date. Of the preemies who were studied, about 21 percent showed signs of autism when they were screened as toddlers. The purpose of the screening checklist is to alert parents that further testing may be necessary to rule out the possibility.

Gaze aversion is an autism indicator that parents and professionals are being taught to look for in an infant. Early diagnosis and intervention is key when it comes to effective autism treatment, leading to more successful outcomes in the child’s life for the long term. Preemies who are later diagnosed with ASD, however, may have different symptoms to watch for.

Researchers speculated that autism indicators may manifest themselves in an opposite sense with a premature baby. While a neurotypical child who averts their gaze during infancy could be signaling social difficulties, which is characteristic of autism, it is actually normal for a premature baby to avert their eyes.

Preemies are vulnerable when first entering the world, and gaze aversion helps them cope with the stress. It was hypothesized that the preemies who did not avert their gaze were missing the ability to avoid stressors. It is rare to confirm an autism diagnosis before the age of two, so early indicators are a focal topic within the field of autism research.

The findings in this study may be probed further since the sample size was just 62 babies; of those infants, only 58 were awake during the study window.

Information sourced from this article on Futurity.org

By Hannah Jay

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Sniff Tests Could Help Diagnose Autism in Toddlers

sniff test for autism

The first step in effective autism treatment is to get it diagnosed as early as possible––preferably when the child is a toddler.

However, some people with autism can appear to have an intellectual disability, sensory processing issues, or problems with hearing and vision. To complicate matters further, these conditions can be comorbid with autism. This can make it difficult to distinguish autism from other developmental disorders.

But new research might have found an easier way to begin diagnosing autism in the toddler years through a new, simple diagnostic “sniff test.” This behavioral test is measured by sensitivity. Generally, if people sense a pleasant aroma, they are more likely to breath in more. If they come across a nasty stench however, they will adjust to “low-magnitude” sniffs to lower their response to the awful stimulus.

To measure how autistic children differ in this kind of response, researchers used a device called the olfactometer. The device delivered scents though two small tubes that fit into each nostril, while a second tube measured how much air the children breathed during each round of scent testing.

In this experiment, conducted by a team of researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, 36 children were selected: 18 diagnosed with ASD and 18 non-ASD kids, who acted as the control group.

The scents were altered between pleasant smells, such as roses or shampoo, and unpleasant smells, such as sour milk or rotten fish. The control group adjusted their response according to the scent, taking a big whiff of the roses and a smaller one for the rotten fish. This shift happened very quickly- they reacted in about a third of a second. The children with autism, however, did not adjust their response at all.

By using the differences in sniff response between the two groups, the researchers were able to identify the children with an autism diagnosis with 81% accuracy, according to an article in Medical News Today. In fact, they found that the more abnormal the sniff response among the autistic children, the more severe their social symptoms were.  

This research opens the door to a sniff test that could be useful for early autism diagnosis. The test is completely nonverbal and entails no task to follow. It could lead the way to developing a diagnostic tool that can be used very early on, such as with infants who are only a few months old. “Such an early diagnosis,” study author Noam Sobel says, “would allow for more effective intervention.”

Now the researchers hope to determine whether olfactory impairment is involved in social impairments in autistic children.

By Nina Bergold

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Grant Will Be Able to Certify More Autism Teachers

autism higher education

The College of Education’s online Master of Science in Special Education program will be growing this fall.

As part of Project OPERATE, the school has received 1.25 million dollars in grants that will pay for the tuition of nine students. The grant will fund education for students who are accepted to the accelerated master’s degree program every year through 2020. By having this grant, the school will become more competitive and even allow students from out of state or overseas.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Cramer says that they hope to target educators who have already worked with students on the autism spectrum. She also says that because the number of autism diagnoses are increasing, there is a need for more teachers who possess the expertise to work with them. 

Elizabeth Lane-Smith, 22, is currently obtaining her master’s degree in this program. She says that she likes it because instead of having to go back and get an autism endorsement, this program allows students to get a certification in both special education and autism. 

Lane-Smith also says that there is a great amount of flexibility within the program. Although there aren’t many interactions with teachers and peers, students are able to take two classes at a time and log in at any location.

Students who will be receiving the grant as part of their tuition payment will be required to a research project to present at the annual South Florida Education Research Conference. They will also be participating in three professional development seminars online.

By Sejal Sheth

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Autism Insurance Coverage May Soon be a Reality in North Carolina

autism north carolina

In North Carolina, a bill that would require insurance companies to cover costs for autism treatment is in the process of being signed into law.

In the past, coverage for autism treatment has mostly been through efforts of the Senate. However, with recent help from Senator Tom Apodaca from Henderson, bills like this one are being passed easily and more often. Apodaca’s bill passed with a voice vote from the House Insurance Committee. 

And he is not the only House politician showing support. Another Representative, Chuck McGrady, says that we are past the point of arguing on bills regarding autism treatment.

The bill states that eligible children would receive up to $40,000 per year for autism treatment until their 18th birthday. Lorri Unumb, the vice president of state government affairs for Autism Speaks, says that a year of applied behavioral analysis costs an average of $14,000. She mentioned that only children with severe autism would need up to $40,000 worth of treatment.

In order to qualify for coverage, the treatments must have been demonstrated to be effective in published studies, in addition to being ordered by a licensed physician or psychologist. Unfortunately in North Carolina, behavioral analysts are not considered licensed professionals, but other bills are being worked on to clear that.

Originally covered in this article by Wral.com

By Sejal Sheth

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