Through play, children with autism can hone thinking skills (Source: Spectrum News)

Play provides some of a child’s first opportunities to rehearse social interactions, generate novel ideas, toy with symbolism and develop narratives — skills that serve us later in life, particularly in our highly social world. Indeed, children who engage in more complex play early in development show greater social competence at later ages. Add the opportunity to invite another person to play, or to follow another’s lead, and the foundation for working with others is set.

For children with autism, however, these opportunities do not present themselves so easily. Yet play is still an important developmental tool for these children. For clinicians, it represents a key arena for delivering therapies that could improve a child’s social skills, language and certain cognitive capacities.

Particular play:

Many children with autism show unusual features in their play starting early in life. These include reduced creativity and imagination, such as recreating scenarios from a television show verbatim. The play of children with autism also tends to have a persistent sensorimotor or ritualistic quality. For example, a child might repetitively arrange toys to mimic some observed play activity.

These play characteristics were part of the diagnostic criteria for autism for many years, but are not listed in the newest edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM). Still, the way children with autism play can provide clues to what skills they lack and highlight areas that warrant intervention.

Continue reading this story on  Spectrum News
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Bilingualism in Autism: Harmful or Beneficial? (Source: Scottish Autism)

Direct research into how speaking or hearing more than one language effects the development of children with autism is scarce. This means that families have little information to help them when deciding whether or not to raise their child with autism bilingually – a pressing question for the increasing number of families in our community who speak multiple languages.
More evidence that asks whether this “bilingual exposure” (i.e. hearing more than one language) might be harmful or beneficial to children on the spectrum is needed. As a foundation for this, a recently conducted study at the University of Edinburgh explores how 17 bilingual parents of children with autism (from a wide variety of language backgrounds) make choices about the languages their child heard and spoke. Based on the results of this study, and on the (limited) other published work in the area, the potential advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism for children with autism are outlined below.
What reasons are there not to raise a child with autism bilingually?
Many parents of children with autism in the study had concerns that exposing their child to more than one language would cause confusion and increase language delays. As a result, parents often dramatically reduced their child’s exposure to a second language after diagnosis. For instance, one parent commented, ‘I’m scared of putting in too much confusion, and he doesn’t understand anything at all. So, that’s why I just said, right OK, English and that’s it.’
Some parents reported that they were also advised by professionals to provide an English-only environment for their child. Unsurprisingly, for parents in the study, concerns about bilingualism were strongly related to their child’s speaking ability. Parents of more verbally able children tended to express more positive views of bilingualism, whereas those of children with limited speech showed greater concerns: ‘for any kid that’s like David or worse, when it comes to communication, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try several languages. It’s hard enough with the single one.’

Read more about this research on Scottish Autism site

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Treating a child’s individual needs rather than a child’s diagnosis of autism (Source: examiner.com)

Of the numerous, and endless, anxieties that a parent encounters, first and foremost is maintaining and protecting the health and well-being of their child. And with a constant inundation of information, and misinformation, parents are often faced with difficult decisions, specifically when it comes to a diagnosis such as autism. Should I be worried that my child isn’t speaking yet? Why won’t my child look at me when I play with them? Does my child have a learning disability? Is my child “normal”?

Each and every one of those questions are valid and important, particularly given the push for universal screening in children as young as 18 months of age. Furthermore, the vast majority ofresearch demonstrates that if a child has a developmental or learning delay of some kind, early intervention, in the form of behavior, or ABA, therapy, is the most effective, evidence-based method to address those deficits. However, given all of this information, when does attaching a label to a child help meet that child’s needs, and when does it hinder them?

The answer, as with most things in life, is complicated. On the one hand, a diagnosis of something like autism or ADHD at an early age can help secure needed support and intervention, such as the aforementioned ABA therapy, as well as other interventions such as speech therapy, from funding sources like regional centers, insurance companies and school districts. In most cases, funding for those services will not be available long-term unless a formal diagnosis is provided, and the number of services accessible is dependent on the specific diagnosis. For example, regional centers in the state of California will grant a range of services to children under the age of 3, regardless of diagnosis, including behavior, speech, OT and respite services. Subsequently, if more services are merited, a formal diagnosis and reevaluation must be applied for families to access that same range of services.

Read full story on examiner.com

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Canada’s Top Researchers are Beating a Path to Help Children with Autism Realize Their Full Potential (Source: ASD Pathways)

Little is known about the outcomes of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The Pathways in ASD study, the largest of its kind in the world, investigates the different developmental pathways that children with ASD follow. By identifying predictors of good outcome that are potentially modifiable we hope to inform the development of effective intervention programs for the early and middle childhood years and so improve the long-term outcomes of children with ASD.

The current study, led by Dr. Peter Szatmari at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University examines the developmental pathways of 423 children with ASD and tries to identify the variables that influence these pathways.

This is a multi-site study with data being collected in Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, Edmonton and Vancouver. The children with ASD are followed from the point of diagnosis at 2-4 years of age through to 11 years of age and assessed using different tests and measures.

The main objectives of the Pathways in ASD study are:

  • To describe the developmental pathways of children with ASD and of family well-being.
  • To identify the inter-relationships among critical child and contextual variables associated with better outcomes.
  • To obtain accurate baseline estimates of school achievement and adaptation so that we can begin charting trajectories of these outcomes into adolescence and beyond.
    Read more at asdpathways.ca
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AUTS2 Isn’t As Connected to Autism As Believed (Source: Spectrum News)

Mutations continue to be the centerpiece of ASD research as scientists are constantly finding new information about how genes and their mutations interact to cause symptoms. The most recent study shed light on the true nature of a gene linked to autism, called AUTS2.
The study focused on disproving the belief that AUTS2 is the cause of autism’s social communication issues, and that a change in the mutation very rarely leads to autism, though it often paves the way for intellectual disabilities. Once the gene begins to be taken away, it could result in small heads, delays in development, a small chin, or arched eyebrows.
 
The researchers collected data from 13 participants between the ages of 11 months to 59-years-old. Three of the participants were from the original study starting in 2013, and all 13 had a type of cognitive disability. Eleven out of the 13 subjects had small heads and repetitive behavior, approximately 83 percent.
 
An additional conclusion of the study was that AUTS2 deletions at the beginning of the gene were much more mild than deletions at the end. At the end, the deletions were spontaneous, while they were slight and inherited from a parent at the beginning of the gene.
 
While the intellectual disabilities displayed in the study were potent from adolescence, they began to decrease with age.
 
Erik Sistermans is the lead of genome diagnostics at Vrije University Medical Center in Amsterdam, as well as the lead researcher of this study. He believes that as a researcher, he needs to share the conclusions with those outside of the autism research field.
 
“This is very important for genetic counseling,” Sistermans says. “It is important for parents to know that these children do not really deteriorate, that [the syndrome] is rather stable once they grow up.”
 
For more information, check out the source for this blog post, Spectrum News.
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