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Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category

The Los Angeles Times (9/2, Roan, http://tinyurl.com/face-gaze) reported  that with autism rates soaring over the last decade, researchers are seeking the earliest clues of the disorder.  The quicker a child is diagnosed, the better the long-term outcome.  In the September issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, leading autism researchers say they think infant gaze is among the first clues of social functioning.   Infants who don’t exhibit this fondness for human faces, may be exhibiting one of the first signs of autism, the inability to socialize .  The researchers, from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and the University of Delaware, observed 25 6-month-old infants who were siblings of children with autism.  They were compared with 25 infants from families with no history of autism.   They found that the infants in the low-risk group were more likely to have normal social gazing.  The high-risk siblings, however, spent less time looking at their caregivers and more time focused on the toy. The study provides more evidence for early diagnosis, the lead author of the study, Rebecca Landa, said in a news release.   The lack of interest in people’s faces is “a subtle difference that could be easily overlooked by both parents and some professionals.”

 

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HealthDay (http://tinyurl.com/self-reflection-autism 12/18, Preidt) reported the brains of autistic people are less active than expected when they’re engaged in self-reflective thought, a finding that helps explain autism-related social difficulties, say British researchers.  Using functional MRI, they measured the brain activity of 66 males, half of whom had autism, while they were asked questions about their own or the Queen’s thoughts, opinions,preferences, or physical characteristics.  The researchers were particularly interested in an area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is known to be active when people think about themselves.  In non-autistic volunteers, this part of the brain was more active when they were asked questions about themselves than when they were thinking about the Queen. But the response was equal when those with autism were asked about themselves and the Queen.  “This new study shows that within the autistic brain, regions that typically prefer self-relevant information make no distinction between thinking about the self or another person. This is strong evidence that in the autistic brain, processing itself is atypical,” said Michael Lombardo of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.  “The atypical way the autistic brain treats self-relevant information as equivalent to information about others could derail a child’s social development, particularly in understanding how they relate to the social world around them.”

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The Washington Post (http://tinyurl.com/autism-classes 12/3, Brown) reports, “As the number of children with autism has ballooned nationwide, so has the population of children who…are capable of grade-level academics,” but who lack “social and emotional skills they need to negotiate school on their own.”  Many of these youngsters “spend the bulk of their day in mainstream classes supported with a suite of special education services.”  Now, “many parents of this growing group worry that” mainstreaming “children…this way fails to teach them what they need to navigate the world independently and instead imbues them with a sense that they’re unacceptably weird.”  The article goes on to discuss alternative programs started by Washington, DC-area schools to assist children with mild autism acquire social skills.

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The Chicago Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/autism-alternatives 11/23, Tsouderos, Callahan) reports, “Thousands of US children undergo” alternative “therapies…at the urging of physicians who say they can successfully treat” some “children with autism.” However, “after reviewing…scientific studies and interviewing top researchers in the field, the Tribune found that many of these treatments amount to uncontrolled experiments on vulnerable children.” Some therapies include vitamin and supplement regimens, oxygen chambers, hormones, and even “chelation,” even though “last year, the National Institutes of Health halted a controversial government-funded study of chelation before a single child with autism was treated” after finding that “rats without lead poisoning showed signs of cognitive damage after being treated with a chelator.”

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The AP (http://tinyurl.com/abilify-for-autism 11/21) reported that the FDA “has approved top-selling Abilify [aripiprazole] as a treatment for autism-related irritability in children from the ages of six 17…Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Friday.” The agency’s “latest approval allows the” medication “to be used to treat symptoms associated with autism, such as aggression toward others, deliberate infliction of self-injury, tempter tantrums, and moodiness.” Bristol-Myers and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., collaborators on the development and distribution of Abilify in the US and Europe, “said in a statement that it was intended to be used as part of a more comprehensive treatment program that includes educational, psychological, and social aspects.”

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autism_ribbonOn the front page of its Science Times section, the New York Times(11/3, D1, Wallis http://tinyurl.com/eliminating-aspergers) reports that “experts who are revising” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders “have proposed to eliminate” Asperger’s syndrome “from the new edition, due out in 2012,” folding “Asperger’s syndrome and another mild form of autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified…into a single broad diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder.” These “proposed changes” are “part of a bigger overhaul that will” see “psychiatric disorders…as a continuum, with many degrees of severity,” with the goal of developing “severity measures within each diagnosis,” according to Darrel A. Regier, MD, “research director at the American Psychiatric Association and vice chairman of the diagnostic manual’s task force.”

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autismHealthDay (10/21, Preidt) reported that, according to a study appearing online Oct. 21 in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers from Duke University say they have discovered that “people with autism have a higher-than-normal number of gene-regulating molecules called methyl groups in a region of the genome that regulates oxytocin receptor expression.” In fact, “in both blood samples and brain tissue, the methylation status of specific nucleotides in the oxytocin receptor gene is significantly higher in someone with autism, about 70 percent, compared to the control population, where it is about 40 percent,” the authors explained. They suggested that “higher methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene may result in less sensitivity to the hormone” which “affects social interaction.”

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autismAFP (10/20, Santini) reports that researchers at University of California-Davis say that “blood levels of mercury are similar in children with autism and in those developing typically.” In the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers said, “The bottom line is that blood-mercury levels in both populations were essentially the same. However, this analysis did not address a causal role, because we measured mercury after the diagnosis was made.   According to the Los Angeles Times (10/19, Roan) “Booster Shots” blog, the research “is part of a dedicated effort by scientists to identify and study possible causes of autism, both environmental and genetic. The study participants are children between ages 24 months and 60 months who are diagnosed with autism as well as children with other developmental disabilities, and children who are developing normally.”  The Sacramento Bee (10/20, Tong) notes that after looking at the 452 children, the researchers found that “children with autism had lower [blood mercury] levels, but it was because they eat less fish.” After the “researchers took fish consumption into account, the difference disappeared.” HealthDay (10/19, Gardner) and Reuters (10/20, Morgan) also cover the story.

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chromosome 5HealthDay (10/7, Preidt) reported that, according to research published Oct. 8 in the journal Nature, researchers from Harvard University’s Broad Institute say they have identified “new genes and genomic regions that might be associated with autism.” Specifically, the team has “identified a single-letter change on chromosome 5 near a gene called semaphorin 5A, which is believed to help guide the growth of neurons and…axons.” This gene’s activity seems “to be reduced in the brains of people with autism.” By analyzing “DNA from people with autism,” the investigators “also found a possible link between autism and parts of chromosomes 6 and 20.”

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The AP (10/5, Johnson) reports, “Two new government studies indicate about 1 in 100 American children have autism disorders — higher than a previous US estimate of one in 150.” One study “stems from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health,” in which “parents reported about 1 in 91 children, ages three to 17, had autism.” Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced “that their preliminary findings also shoautismw about one in 100 children have the disorders.” While “greater awareness, broader definitions and spotting autism in younger children may explain some of the increase,” Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said, “The concern here is that buried in these numbers is a true increase.”  The Chicago Tribune (10/2, Tsouderos) reported, “Dr. Ileana Arias, deputy director of the CDC, said the agency considers the disorder ‘a significant issue that needs immediate attention.’  In a column in Age of Autism (10/3), David Kirby wrote that HHS Secretary Sebelius said during “a hastily arranged telephone ‘visit'” that while the prevalence of autism might be higher than previously thought, “We don’t know if it has gone up.” She also “declared autism ‘An urgent public health challenge,'” adding that “President Obama was ‘right to make it one of our top health priorities.'” USA Today (10/5, Rubin) also covers the story.

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