Family-Owned Nonprofit Works with Businesses to Accommodate Families

USAutism Flag

A nonprofit organization based in Texas is working to bring autism awareness to all sorts of companies.

Hunters Autism Specials was created by the parents of an 8 year old boy named Hunter who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. It all began when the devoted parents searched high and low for a flag to hang outside their home, showing support for autism awareness. Many patriotic residents in the U.S. enjoy hanging their country’s flag outside of their home, or one that declares their favorite sports team. So why not have a banner declaring a cause you support too?

When Hunter’s parents could not find this sort of flag anywhere, they decided to create their own. This was the beginning of Hunters Autism Specials, which now has a website where you can purchase your very own “U.S.A.utism” flag. A portion of the proceeds help fund autism research.

The other central tenant of the nonprofit is to connect families with autistic children to businesses that support the cause. Through Hunters Autism Specials, families have access to special services and discounts offered by their partners. Their partners include Top Golf, Dallas Hockey Club, and Oasis at Cedar Creek Lake. Coupons are available to families with children on the autistic spectrum, like one that offers a free appetizer or dessert from Rockfish Seafood Grill.

Hunters Autism Specials also provides reviews for businesses and rates them on autism friendliness. It is their aim to make families aware of businesses that will help make their next outing as fun and stress-free as possible through special accommodations. In their most recent review, the website praises Durkin’s Pizza for waiving their “no outside food” rule, allowing families with autistic children to accommodate their dietary needs.

Included on the Hunter’s Autism Special website is a blog documenting the organization’s progress, including stories about Hunter’s progress, tips for families affected by asd and inspiration for the tough times. A shop is currently under construction as well.

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Relationship Development Intervention Therapy Introduced in India

Letters

There is no denying that autism can make life more complex. If you are affected by it there is no doubt you have tried or have a desire to try many avenues to help your loved one. Here’s an acronym that may be worth a second look: RDI.

Relationship Development Intervention is an emerging therapy that focuses on parent- child interaction. The foundation of RDI is the importance placed on dynamic intelligence. This therapy has reached the Indian subcontinent where it was reported in their Times. RDI has only just been made available to Indian children in the city of Bhopal.

Currently, only 3 therapists are licensed to practice RDI in India. Certified RDI consultant Rashmi Dutta will be curating a three-part workshop series in Bhopal which will be open to 10 parents. Their observations will be sent to Houston, Texas, where designed programs will be sent back to help the program take off in India.

RDI, although less well known than some other treatments, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis, seems better known in the United States than in India; here the rate of autism is reportedly much higher, at 1 in 68 births in the US compared to a diagnosis of 1 in 250 in India. Citizens of the US have better access to RDI, along with with so many options available here to suit the needs of an autistic child. Every person with the condition has different strengths and areas where growth is more important.

Struggling with applying academic skills into valuable job skills is something that could effect anyone, but this is an especially common problem in those with ASD. If children with autism want to lead an independent life, they must learn to translate their textbook knowledge into real- world skills. These applied skills are what are terms a person’s dynamic intelligence. Strengthening these weaknesses is the focus of RDI.

Speaking about introducing the therapy in her community, Dutta told the Times of India, “Speaking to TOI, RDI consultant from Delhi, Rashmi Dutta, said, “For years, parents of autistic children have no alternative but to stick to mundane therapies wherein there are asked to tell their children assemble puzzles or identify colours, irrespective of their IQ levels. They repeat the same pattern year after year without giving any chance to their children to stimulate their brains into exploring new avenues. RDI therapy will work on the overall personality of the autistic child and help parents bring out the best in them.””

The increasing incidence of autism affects many of us each day. It is difficult for even college educated people without autism to apply what they learned in classrooms in a work setting when necessary. For example, someone can read many books about how to use a computer and know all about the CPU and software it needs but will continue to struggle if their typing skills lag behind. Similarly, your child may know how to be cordial, but their way of addressing others in school might not be appropriate in all situations.

Schools and most therapeutic programs teach us that we each have academic strengths, but application is key. You might find that your loved one is proficient in the areas of dynamic intelligence, but if you think they are behind, it is worth a look.

Melanie L Reach

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National Study will Monitor Children With Autism, Focusing on a Better Treatment Plan

8 year olds with autism

A federally funded project will seek researchers from several universities to study prevalence of autism among 4 and 8 year olds. The study hopes to procure accurate data on how widespread autism is in the U.S.

Over the next four years, children residing in more than 10 sites within the United States will be studied this announcement was made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday. It is projected that over $20 million will be allocated for this research. Special attention will be paid to autism prevalence in different parts of the country.

One of the participating institutions will be the University of Minnesota, who will be building on research from 2013. The previous study published by Minnesota observed autism at rates of 1 in 36 white children, and 1 in 32 for Somali children in Minneapolis. These rates were notably higher than the national average, and those of other demographic populations in the Minneapolis area. The university’s new study will examine children with both ASD and intellectual disabilities, since those two categories are distinct.

Children will be monitored under the new diagnostic criteria from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Under the new guidelines, children who previously fell under the autism diagnosis are now classified as having Social Communication Disorder (SCD).

Since developmental disorders are commonly misunderstood, correct autism diagnosis is a focus of this study. Some children are misdiagnosed as autistic, while others actually are affected by autism spectrum disorder are wrongly given the diagnosis of SCD. It is determined that children with SCD do not meet the criteria for ASD.

Under federal guidelines, SCD is loosely defined and treatment plans for it lack a formal structure. After this diagnostic change was made, parents began complaining that their children were losing the behavioral therapy and special education services granted to them under an ASD diagnosis once they were reclassified as having SCD.

Rutgers, another university participating in the study, belongs to the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. This organization works to monitor the number of children living with autism in the U.S. The CDCs new study will continue this work already underway by Rutgers.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. hopes that the study will lead people to address autism as a public health concern. In the past, Pallone has spoken out against budget cuts to autism and special needs research. It is estimated in the state of New Jersey, up to 1 in 45 children have autism.

Receiving the correct diagnosis for a development disorder is crucial to receiving effective treatment. At the conclusion of the CDC’s study, the researchers hope that federal agencies will have a better set of plans in place to address developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities.

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Just as No Two People are Exactly Alike, Neither are Autism Symptoms

autism brain

Some recent findings by university scientists shed more light on the genetics associated with different autism symptoms.

Columbia University Medical Center has been doing research to discover if there are connections between the different ASD symptoms and genetic mutations. This research was completed by analyzing data from hundreds of autistic patients in clinical studies. The data was gathered by the Simon’s Simplex Collection, which contains genetic samples from 2,600 families in which one child is affected with autism spectrum disorder, but the parents and siblings are not.

Columbia graduate students and Dr. Vitkup, who is the Associate Professor in the Center of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, came to the conclusion that the more severe outcomes of the disease were linked to those genetic mutations that were most damaging.

Autistic individuals are high functioning tended to have milder mutations that do not completely shut down gene functions. Genes that are mutated in the brain are usually tied to low functioning verbal and/or nonverbal skills.

It has been discovered in the past that ASD is more common in males than in females, and this study, Columbia University researchers also found another interesting connection from this knowledge. Even though males tend to be diagnosed with ASD more frequently, it was found that the females that have autism spectrum disorder tend to have it more severely than boys. Their genetic mutations are more apparent in the bain than they are for males, which cause more severe symptoms. This discovery led Dr. Vitkup to believe that females may have some type of protection mechanism that prevents them from developing ASD.

The Columbia researchers found that the neurons which are most affected by ASD tend to be the striatal and cortical neurons in the brain. These neurons are in charge of behaviors and motions that are repetitive and involve restricted interests, which are common characteristics exhibited by those with autism. Now, researchers need to find the circuits and networks that are involved with these neurons in order to better understand autism and hopefully to find better treatment.

Amanda Meade, Queens University of Charlotte

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Autism Spectrum Disorder Being Responded to on College Campuses

autism college success

There have always been college students with ASD who slip by unnoticed as they struggle silently to get their college degree. In recent studies, it has been found that students with ASD who have attended a community college before entering a four year college are much more successful in graduating than those with ASD who attend a four year college right after high school.

For those autistic students that do attend a four year college or university, programs are being developed and implemented in their school systems that help students with learning disabilities. There are tutoring centers offered on campuses, social skill workshops, and anxiety reduction classes. Even though these programs are offered to help those that have a learning disability like autism, these services usually cost money in addition to the school’s tuition.

One example of a school that offers this type of program is Rutgers University. The program at Rutgers aims to allow students with autism to attend classes and become involved in the school just like any other student. They want the students to feel like they are no different than anyone else, allow them to take any classes they wish, and let them to live in whichever dorms they want. The program at Rutgers is called CPS, or College Support Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum. This program costs $3,000 on top of base tuition.

Unlike Rutgers, Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has a very different approach to helping those that have autism spectrum disorder. Their program costs $8,000 on top of tuition for the University and gives the student a more personalized plan for while they are attending school. This includes two hour a day study hall that is monitored (five days a week), ten hours of peer monitoring per week, and psychoeducational group meetings that also allow the student to have someone to call on anytime that they may need support. Nova Southeastern University also helps these students with obtaining volunteer and job experience before they graduate.

All of the programs that colleges offer are different and unique to their own school; whichever program best fits your child’s needs is an important factor deciding which school your child should attend. Autism has increased to 1 in 68  in the U.S. and we are finding ways to help these children lead lives that are as normal as possible. Implementing these programs into colleges is greatly helping these young adults. The amount of students attending college with ASD is increasing and it is important to know which programs can help these kids and for people attending college to understand the needs of these individuals.

Submitted by Amanda Meade, Queens University of Charlotte

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Fragile X Study Brings Hope for New Autism Treatment

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According to a study done by researchers University of Edinburgh and McGill University, people with Fragile X could be helped by a drug currently being tested for the treatment of cancer.

Fragile X Syndrome is the most common genetic cause of autism spectrum disorders. It affects around 1 in 4,000 boys and 1 in 6,000 girls. Fragile X currently has no proven cure.

In past studies these scientists have found that in people with Fragile X have a chemical pathway in their brains that does not operate the same way as those without Fragile X syndrome. In a recent study the scientists have found that a drug currently in trial for cancer treatment could reverse behavioral symptoms in Fragile X. The researchers have found that a naturally occurring anti-fungal called cercosporamide can block the pathway and improve sociability in mice with the condition.

The researchers identified eIF4E as the key molecule that causes the brains of Fragile X patients to produce excess protein. eIF4E may cause learning difficulties, more serious intellectual disabilities, delays in speech and language development, and difficulties in social interactions.

Nahum Sonenberg, McGill professor in the Faculty of Medicine and the Goodman Cancer Research Centre and co-author of the study says, “We found that eIF4E regulates the production of an enzyme called MMP-9, which breaks down and re-orders the connections between brain cells called synapses. Excess MMP-9 disrupts communication between brain cells, leading to changes in behavior.”

The study showed that by treating Fragile X patients with cercosporamide the activity of EIF4E was blocked. This reduces the activity of MMP-9 thus reducing the behavioral symptoms of Fragile X symptom. These findings suggest that this treatment could be used to treat Fragile X patients.

“Our findings open the door to targeted treatments for Fragile X Syndrome,” says Christos Gkogkas, of the University of Edinburgh’s Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities. “By designing treatments that block just this pathway, it is hoped that we can limit the potential side-effects and develop therapies that are more efficient than general treatment approaches.”

To learn more click here. Article written by our intern staff writer Rachel Kaplan.

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Researcher Explores High School Autistic Experience in Australia.

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A recent research article published by the British Journal of Learning Disabilities presented qualitative research conducted in Queensland Australia exploring mainstream school experiences of young people with autism spectrum disorder and their parents.

The study aimed to share some of the practical strategies adapted and developed to better engage young people with autism spectrum disorder in research as well as critically reflect on what it means for future inclusive methodological approaches related to this area of research.

The researched really emphasized focus on gaining insights from families and individuals interacting with autism in mainstream school settings to better capture their personal experiences and advocate for new perspectives, sensitivities, and awareness in informing the clinical areas of autism research and progress.

The study stated that previous barriers in gaining comprehensive interview data and information from ASD individuals directly could potentially be attributed to complex presentations and difficult-to-extract personal narratives due to communication and abnormal social symptoms frequently associated with ASD.

To do this, the research project focused on interviews and qualitative data. Since there is little documented about methodological issues faced by researchers undertaking interview with young people with ASD, there is little known about maximizing participation in these areas of research.

The research project invited nine families, comprised of 11 parents, two couples and seven mothers. The sample also included eight young people with ASD between the ages of 12 and 15. Seven were males, one was female. All of the ASD participants were diagnosed with autism, 3 with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, and five had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. All participants were able to communicate verbally, seven communicated using complex sentence structures; however, one young person had noticeably less expressive communication.

The project used Carol Grays developed Social Stories to gather and share information from the participants with autism. Interviews, adaptive communication methods, utilizing visual supports, interview processing, and remembering past events were all facets of the process.

In conclusion, the study wanted to re-prioritize the information that ASD individuals are highly heterogeneous with diverse individual qualities, interests and capabilities. The key message is that diagnostic-related assumptions about impairments can lead researchers to develop strategies, which exclude or restrict rather than maximize participation of disabled people in research.

More information on the study can be seen here

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New Research on Global Autism Assessment Tool

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Researchers at Virginia Tech University recently explored the effectiveness and development of a global assessment practice in diagnosis autism. Authored by Susan White, Laura Smith, and Amie Schry, the study explored clinician-rated global autism functioning using the “Developmental Disability—Child Global Assessment Scale.”

In clinical research, there are a variety of well-established tools to diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but overall, there is a limited repertoire of evidence-based tools for assessing change in day-to-day functioning for autistics globally. This study focused on evaluating tools for change in everyday life symptoms and functioning.

This lack of a further global autism symptoms and progression assessment model demonstrates a lapse in clinical research and progression. Clinical assessments typically measure and target problem areas in patients, such as anxiety or aggressive behaviors, but since there is such a tremendous amount of symptoms from individuals with ASD it is difficult to capture and measure targeted symptoms for determining progression from diagnosis to treatments.

The study included a small scope of patients comprised of 30 adolescents from ages 12 to 17. Of the participants, 15 were randomly assigned to a 14-week cognitive behavioral treatment program for anxiety and social skills, and their results were measured against the other control group. Each participant had a clinical ASD diagnosis, but was also considered higher-functioning in that they had higher verbal engagement and communication. The participants were asked to complete a variety of progression-based assessment tools such as “Children’s communication,” “Child and Adolescent Symptom Inventory ASD Anxiety Scale,” “Clinical Global Impressions-Improvements scale,” Social Responsiveness Scale,” “School Placement,” “Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales—Second Edition,” “Procedure,” and “Statistical Analyses.”

Overall, the results demonstrated that participants with overall higher communication abilities with rated by clinicians to have higher functioning scores overall, and that higher verbal skills were also considered more advanced. Overall though, individual participant classroom education performance did not correlate identically with higher testing in communication skills, signifying that there are no significant differences. In summary, the study proved that there is mixed clinical evidence and support that change in global functioning would relate to change in symptomatic improvement and treatment response.

A portion of the results of this study was presented at the 11th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research.

Read the original article here.

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Efficacy of Alternative Communication Devices for Children with ASD

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One of the primary indicators for ASD diagnoses is disordered communication. Often, persons with this disorder have difficulty reading social cues, interpreting emotive expressions, and otherwise effectively communicating their ideas, wishes, and needs.

Researchers estimate that about 25-30% of all individuals affected by ASD suffer from further language limitations. Often, these persons are largely nonverbal and so rely on alternative means to communicate what they both want and need.

Recently, researchers have begun promoting the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices (otherwise known as AAC devices) to act as a surrogate in communication. They proffer an appealing approach as they rely on simplistic mechanisms that do not require higher processing. Such devices allow persons otherwise incapable of oral communication to express their thoughts, needs, ideas, and wishes.

They are divided into three major categories: manual signs, picture-exchange, and speech-generating devices. While manual signs require that the user use a universal gesture to indicate their desire, picture-exchange devices require users to select a visual image of the subject or concept to which they are referring. Speech-generating devices, meanwhile, go a step further in that they have users select a line drawing of an object or concept (as seen in picture-exchange devices), but add audible speech output.

There has been little research as to which of these three AAC alternatives work best for extremely limited or entirely nonverbal persons with ASD. In a recent study by Sigafoos et al. (2014) however, they tested the efficacies of these distinct modalities in a single-case experimental design. They discovered that it was the choice rather than the mode of communication that predicted how well their control group would learn to communicate. In other words, no one of the three categories proved to be better than the others; rather, the researchers found that the users who were given the option to select their mechanism after learning how to operate them all, did better than those who were simply given one technology to use. They were also able to generalize their abilities to other tasks and subjects faster.

Overall, their research suggests a promising new approach for individuals with ASD selecting different AACs. They believe that the most effective means of implementing this approach is through teaching the person how to use multiple AAC options, providing opportunities for the user to choose their preferred option, and to continue practicing with that option (Sigafoos et al., 2014). By going through this three-step process of self-determined communication, they believe that ASD users can learn to successfully interact with their peers.

While it is important to keep in mind that AACs are meant for purposeful, rather than conversational, communication, these findings show promise for further developments towards that cause.

To read more on the original research article click here.
Article by our intern writer Sara Power.

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