New Indicators for Autism Spectrum Disorders

As many people know, there is no simple, singular test that can diagnose whether or not a child has Autism. Autism Spectrum Disorders vary greatly, and the way a child is affected is very unique and complex. The process of diagnosing a child often takes months or years of evaluations by physicians and psychiatrists. However, there are now tools that have shown great promise in providing an earlier diagnosis. Early diagnosis and intervention is very beneficial to the child, as parents and doctors can plan the optimal strategy to provide the child the best care and education that suits their needs.

Since 2007, The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for all children between the age of 18 and 24 months to be screened for Autism. They have given parents a questionnaire which asks them to evaluate their child’s behavior, social cues, and motor skills. Over the span of a decade, the questionnaire has proved very effective in signaling which children should undergo further evaluation. Although they have seen success with the questionnaire, The Academy has explored newer tools to diagnose children more effectively and with greater accuracy.

Many studies have discovered that eye-tracking is a great measure of a child’s focus and ability to communicate with another. The length of time an infant can hold eye contact with another person is a great indicator of the possibility of ASD. According to a study by LiveScience, children as early as 2 to 6 months were shown to have a steady decline in eye contact, and they were later diagnosed with ASD. Currently, eye-tracking technology consists of complex computer programming, but researchers hope to develop the tool into something that can be used outside of a laboratory.

Another successful tool has been brain imagining. Not only has brain imaging helped researchers understand the foundations of Autism, but it has also improved in making diagnoses. Boston Children’s Hospital has found that it can use electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to identify factors that distinguish a child with ASD. Another scientific indicator is blood testing. Research has shown that genetics play a strong role in the development of Autism disorders, and therefore they have focused on studying the genes that they believe express a risk for Autism.

Lastly, online-tests have shown promise in revealing possible Autism disorders in young children. Tests, such as the Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) take only a few minutes, and can decipher whether or not a parent should focus on taking their child to a doctor for further evaluation. Although these tests are not as cutting-edge as other tools, they may play a fundamental role in flagging symptoms.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing scientific advances and medical research on July 1st in NYC. Speakers include Dr. Martha Herbert, Pediatric Neurologist, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and Director of the TRANSCEND Research Program. Dr. Herbert will be discussing the importance of research and evaluation to detect signs of ASD. To hear Dr. Herbert speak, please select tickets here.

As Autism Awareness Month continues, ICare4Autism will be sharing more scientific news and significant research findings. We will also highlight self-advocates and stories of hope, through both entertaining and informative material, that we hope you will share with others. The month of April is a call to action for everyone to support the Autism community!

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iPads Have Shown Promise in Children with ASD

Researchers have recently discovered that the use of tablets such as iPads, as well as specific apps, can be used to assist in the development of various skills for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although there is no cure for the disorder, several methods have shown great promise in improving behavior and developing skills, including the use of technology. Experts have found that simple, carefully constructed apps have enabled children to communicate efficiently, because the software is predictable and more comfortable than human interaction. App designers across the globe have become dedicated to formulating programs specifically to aid in the development of skills in children.

For example, Toca Boca in Sweden is dedicated to making digital apps for children, to encourage their creativity and develop multiple skills. Toca Band, one of their apps, encourages children to learn about rhythm, and create music with their own unique style. These apps have proved very popular among children with ASD. Toby Price, who has a non-verbal Autistic daughter that uses the apps, states, “She now uses her iPad to show us things she wants, or places she would like to go. She uses it to practice handwriting, and even counting.” He adds, “As a parent, [I am] happy to have found a way to engage our kids with iPads”.

In a recent study, researchers from Canada studied non-verbal Autistic children in their classrooms, who were each given iPads for a six-month trial. There was a statistical improvement in overall communication skills for 75% of the students studied. The tablets were also found to increase motivation, attention, and the level of social interaction among the children. Teacher Sarah Quickenden states, “The normal curriculum that we were offering just wasn’t allowing them to demonstrate these skills to us. We never realized that the children had these skills, because some of them were so locked in.”

Another example of success occurred at Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, school and center for children with Autism in New York. Daniel, a 3-year-old preschool student, was considered non-verbal, as he refused to communicate with words or even gestures. Despite his frustration, his teachers were hopeful that one day Daniel would find a way to express himself. Eventually, Daniel began repeating the names of things he liked, including “iPad”. His communication abilities expanded further as he began forming bits of sentences, such as “want iPad”. His ability to convey his longing to use this item was quite astounding, as he once was unable to express his wants or needs.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be taking place in NYC from June 30th to July 2nd. One of the days will highlight the developments in technology that are being used in Autism treatments and educational strategies. This includes a workshop presented by Michele McKeone, founder and CEO of Autism Expressed, who will be showcasing how her program allows children and teens to utilize technology to build lifelong skills. To attend this conference, please select tickets here.

Additionally, today marks World Autism Awareness Day. Globally, people and organizations are promoting awareness through various events and activities. At ICare4Autism, we will be highlighting the need for more awareness throughout the entire month. We will be utilizing this special opportunity by sharing inspirational stories, important scientific news and research findings, as well as some entertaining and informative material that we hope will enlighten some of you, and encourage you to share the information with others. The entire month of April is a call to action to support the Autism community.

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Autism Is Not a Limitation

Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State, was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. Instead of letting this diagnosis limit her, she called upon her individual strengths and talents to find success in her life, and she is encouraging others to do the same.

Grandin recently spoke at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she discussed her activism in connecting Autistic individuals with higher education or careers. Grandin stresses that everyone, including employers, should focus on the unique characteristics and strengths of each person with ASD, and not their perceived limitations. According to Grandin, “There is too much emphasis placed on the deficit, and not enough on the strength”, she continues, “I’m seeing a lot of getting completely hung up on their Autism, caught up in a handicapped mentality”.

Temple Grandin
(photo credit: Melanie Rieders)

Autistic children often have the ability to process material visually, as well as the ability to have an incredible focus on subjects of their interest. “Kids on the spectrum tend to get fixated on the things they like,” Grandin states, “so you need to use those fixations to teach kids different subjects.” For example, if a child has a fixation on airplanes, the teacher should incorporate planes in the teaching matter for physics, engineering, math, or even history.

Lastly, Grandin stated that there should be a stronger focus on the transition from childhood to one’s teenage years. In order to prepare them for adulthood, children should be given responsibilities and tasks. A strong foundation needs to be made in order for the child to potentially handle the responsibilities of employment at an older age.

As today marks the start of National Autism Awareness Month, it is important to realize that Autistic individuals need guidance and support in order to accomplish their goals and find confidence in themselves. Mentors are an essential part of the learning process for Autistic children. They can challenge children to learn things out of their comfort zone, while providing the patience and support that the child needs.

As Autism Awareness month continues, ICare4Autism will be sharing inspiring stories, recent news, and significant research findings about Autism. Additionally, we will be highlighting several self-advocates, who despite their diagnosis, have showcased their strengths and incredible gifts. We will also be distinguishing the eye-opening truth from the misconceptions about Autism that are often talked about or misrepresented in pop culture. We are looking forward to using this month as an incredible opportunity to spread awareness about Autism!

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the Global Autism Workforce Initiative on June 30th in NYC. An esteemed roster of speakers will be discussing the importance of implementing programs that incorporate Autistic individuals in the workplace. For tickets, please click here.

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Companies Seeking Individuals with Autism


Several major companies are becoming aware of the fact that Autistic individuals can bring many benefits to their respective industries. A few organizations are specifically searching for the skills that are unique to Autistic individuals.

Jose Velasco, head of the Autism Initiative at SAP, a large software corporation, is looking to hire individuals with a keen sense of detail. The responsibilities of these positions range from testing new software, debugging, and involvement in customer service inquiries. Velasco has stated that Autistic individuals bring a new perspective to the work environment, as they may help boost creativity, and can work very efficiently. As part of their initiative, SAP has set a goal of having at least 1% of their employees (650 people), have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Individuals with Autism may have a difficult time adjusting to a place of employment, so SAP has taken steps to make the transition easier. In fact, they hold a month-long training that focuses on employee adaptation, which is geared towards increasing the comfort level of an Autistic individual as they begin to work in a team environment. SAP has also implemented a mentoring system, as well as a level of flexibility to accommodate the schedules of Autistic individuals.

Freddie Mac, a mortgage lender, is also seeking to hire individuals with ASD. Freddie Mac is seeking to give full-time paid internship positions to graduates with Autism. As many individuals with an ASD have great skill in mathematics, data analysis, and organization, Freddie Mac is seeking employees in data services, finance, and IT.

Currently, about 85% of adults with Autism are unemployed, although they may desire to work full-time. Many initiatives are being put in effect in order to significantly improve this rate within the next few years. There are many skills that an Autistic individual can bring to a company, including an incredible attention to detail, a focused concentration, an excellent memory, and detailed knowledge about the subjects of their interest.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the Global Autism Workforce Initiative in NYC on June 30th. A representative from Freddie Mac will be speaking at the Autism Workforce Round Table. The representative will be discussing the importance of implementing programs that give employment opportunities to individuals with ASD. To attend the conference, please select your tickets here.

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1 in 68 U.S. Children Have Autism

The rate of Autism among American children has increased significantly, from 1 in 88, to a staggering 1 in 68 births. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released this news about the astounding 30% rise, which happened within just two short years.

This recent estimate is based on the CDC’s medical and educational records of all 8-year-old children living in 11 U.S. states. Although the average rate of Autism among these states is 1 in 68, the rate varies significantly based on location. Only 1 in 175 children in Alabama has an Autism disorder, while 1 in 45 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in New Jersey. This data defends the studies that state environmental factors and differences in air pollution play a huge role in Autism rates. Despite the difference in number among states, one factor that remains universal throughout the U.S. is that males are much more likely to be Autistic. According to the report, 1 in 42 males has an ASD.

(photo credit: helpyourautisticchildblog.com 

Colleen Boyle, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, stated that they focused on 8-year-old children, because it is a prevalent age where characteristics of Autism are identified. They looked into several factors, such as the child’s IQ, and if they had an intellectual disability, or any other developmental challenges. A huge jump in Autism was seen in children with an above-average IQ. The study states that nearly half of children with an ASD have above-average intellectual capacities.

Although the report does not state why more children are being diagnosed with Autism, increased awareness and more careful diagnoses are being made. One thing that still needs improvement is evaluating and diagnosing children at an earlier age. The average age of diagnosis remains above 4 years old, although strong signs of Autistic behavior can be seen at the age of 2. “The earlier a child is diagnosed with Autism, the better their chances are of overcoming the difficulties that come with the disorder”, states Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and CEO of ICare4Autism.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be presenting recent medical news, research studies, and scientific advances, on July 1st in NYC. Speakers include Dr. Celine Saulnier, Clinical Director for Research at the Marcus Autism Center, who manages and supervises diagnostic evaluations on individuals with ASD. To hear Dr. Saulnier speak, please select tickets here.

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Autism May Develop Before Birth

A recent study has shown that Autism may begin before a child is even born. A detailed and thorough study of the brain was conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, in conjunction with the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

Research was conducted on the brain tissue of several children who passed away at an early age, due to accidents, asthma, and drowning. Differences on the brains of children with Autism were seen immediately, both in the physical structure and at the genetic level. Clusters of disorganized brain cells were found in tissue samples of regions of the brain that regulate social ability, emotion and communication. Researchers state that the clusters are defects that most likely form during the second or third trimester of the mother’s pregnancy.

The clusters are buried deep into the brain, and not only are they in mass quantity, but the cells are not developed properly. “Brain cells are there, but they have not changed into the kind that they are supposed to be. It’s a failure of early formation”, states Eric Courchesne, Autism researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

Scientists have been working for many years to discover what causes Autism disorders, and although many more studies need to be done, an increasing number are agreeing that the origins of the disorder begin before birth. Previous research suggests gene mutations in combination with environmental factors. Genetics play a major role (for example, if one twin has an Autism spectrum disorder, the other is most likely to have one, as well). Other possible influences are potential infections during pregnancy, or a significantly premature birth.

This study follows previous research by Courchesne, who suggests that abnormal gene activity leads to an excessive number of brain cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is located right behind the forehead. The same region of the brain was implicated in this new study. “These abnormalities are not trivial”, Courchesne states, “[and they] are fundamental to developing a human brain”.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be presenting significant medical research, as well as discussing recent scientific advances, in NYC on July 1st. Dr. Martha Herbert, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, will be one of the speakers regarding the scientific evaluations of the Autistic brain. To hear Dr. Herbert speak, please select tickets here.

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Young Adults with Autism Find Hope for Their Futures

Individuals with Autism have faced difficult odds in securing employment in their adult lives. In the past, employers would overlook the talents and strengths of those with the disorder, and focus only on what they perceived as weaknesses. According to a study by the Pediatrics journal, only 55% of adults with ASD attained some type of employment within the six years after they finished high school. Only 35% attempted a college-level education. Although the statistics seem discouraging, many institutions are looking to turn these numbers around, and to provide opportunities for adults with the disorder once they enter adulthood.

For example, at the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas, Autistic individuals are learning how to utilize modern technology to design games and apps. The institute was founded by Dan Selec, who wanted to provide new opportunities for individuals like his Autistic teenage son. With time, Selec was able to evolve the institute into a tech company where Autistic individuals could learn various skills, develop their talents, and potentially build the foundation for an incredible, life-long tech career.

(photo credit: northcountrypublicradio.org)

Currently, the nonPareil Institute has 135 students. Previous students have gone on to teach the ones who are currently learning there, proving just how knowledgeable, skillful and confident individuals can become with a clear focus and the right support. The staff programmers at nonPareil, also former students, have gone on to sell several apps and ebooks. Selec is determined to expand the institute beyond the reaches ofTexas, and to create specific criteria to meet the strengths and weaknesses of each individual. This can potentially lead to a great number of Autistic adults that are determined to enter several different career paths.

If young Autistic individuals have a great support system, and people who are willing to be patient and understanding with them, they truly are capable of accomplishing great things in their adult life.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the Global Autism Workforce Initiative on June 30th in NYC. The Keynote Speaker will be Randy Lewis, former Executive Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics for Walgreens. During his career, Mr. Lewis was responsible for implementing an integrated workforce, where 40% of the distribution employees are disabled, including those with Autism disorders. To hear Mr. Lewis speak, please select tickets here.

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Connecting Autistic Students to Social Media

Autism Expressed is an interactive learning system designed for teens and tweens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It teaches the digital skills that have become essential in communicating in today’s world.

Autism Expressed was designed by a high school teacher, Michele McKeone, who understood that her students would need to learn these skills in order to succeed and gain opportunities after high school. By teaching her students digital and marketable skills, she was able to ease her students’ transitions out of high school, and give them a better opportunity in achieving higher education or employment.

Michele McKeone
(photo credit: Allison Dougherty/Autism Expressed)

Although many schools are utilizing basic technology to enhance various skills of Autistic individuals, Autism Expressed actually introduces real world applications of technology. Students have the opportunity to learn how to create and send emails, how to navigate the Web, and ways to utilize social network platforms. They also learn higher executive skills, such as online calendar management, and online resume preparation.

The program features a series of video animations providing specific instructions. Each lesson develops specific skills to enable students to use technology independently. In addition to skill development, Autism Expressed addresses the importance of internet etiquette. The curriculum that Autism Expressed follows is made up of four modules, each with a series of lessons that will incrementally develop specific skills. At the end of each lesson, students participate in a related activity which will demonstrate their level of ability.

Thousands of students have already used Autism Expressed, and have showcased incredible levels of skill and understanding of the digital world. McKeone has stated that there are even students who have used the program that have been able to find basic technology positions after high school. One particular student created an online portfolio for his college application, with a coordinating blog attached. This is a perfect example of just how beneficial Autism Expressed has been towards expanding the digital skills, as well as the creative expression, of many teens with ASD.

Autism Expressed will be presenting a workshop at the ICare4Autism International Conference in NYC on June 30th. They will be demonstrating the uses and benefits of the program, and the importance of developing marketable and digital skills as part of the Global Autism Workforce Initiative. For tickets to the conference, please click here.

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The Link between Autism and Anxiety Disorders

We all experience bouts of anxiety from time to time, but unfortunately, for individuals with Autism, it can be a way of life. Studies are now showing a strong link between Autism and the rate of anxiety disorders. Since many individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cannot comprehend the world around them, and are constantly struggling with trying to adapt to what society says is “normal”, it is quite understandable why so many are living with anxiety each day. These individuals go about life with amplified feelings of stress, worry, or fear, making it even more difficult to function in everyday situations.

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have discovered that 40% of all children with ASD suffer from at least one anxiety disorder. The study also states that children with ASD displayed much more severe symptoms that neurotypical children suffering from the same disorders.

There are several reasons why individuals with Autism are at a higher-risk for having an anxiety disorder. Many have sensory issues to light and sound, causing them to panic during a sensory overload. In an attempt to have a bit of control over their environment, many individuals with ASD choose to stick to places they know, and avoid unfamiliar or typically crowded atmospheres. Interaction with other individuals can be extremely challenging for Autistic children, and as a result, they may suffer from social rejection. This may cause them to withdraw further from the rest of the world, and become highly anxious in all social situations.

Anxiety can be detrimental to an Autistic individual, and make their daily life much more difficult, so it is essential to cultivate a world of acceptance, warmth, and understanding to help them feel safe and at peace.

For more Autism Research, please click here.

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