December 29, 2014 4:00 pm Published by Francisco Monegro, Ph.D., M.D.
The CDC has established that 1 in 42 boys are diagnosed with ASD. Despite the adoption of new diagnostic criteria in DSM-5 in 2013, the percentage of patients qualifying as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has not changed; this data according to a Medscape survey. There are several studies that have tried to decode the etiology of Autism Spectrum Disorder to factors prior to the birth of a child. Currently, the NIH has been supporting studies that explore Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) as a predictor for autism. IGF-1 is synthesized in the liver and fibroblasts, and its dysregulation may be associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Defects of the IGF-1 gene have profound embryonic and postnatal growth retardation and IGF-1 concentrations are correlated with fetal size. Severe IGF-1 deficiency is associated with growth failure before and after birth, indicating that IGF-1 is critical for prenatal as well as postnatal growth and the individuals may also have profound sensorineural deafness and mental retardation as well as abnormal development of the central nervous system (Woods et al. 1996).
Dr. Steinman and Dr. Mankuta (2013) have focused on the correlation between serum level of IGF-1 in the fetus and newborn due to genetic, epigenetic, or environmental factors become a biomarker related with myelination in the brain of the future development of autism. Riikonen and colleagues 2006 found that insulin-like growth factors (IGF) -1 and -2 concentrations from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) were significantly lower in children with ASD than in the comparison group. Because IGF-1 is important for the survival of Purkinje cells of the cerebellum, the authors concluded that low concentrations of IGF-1 in cerebrospinal fluid at an early age might be linked with the pathogenesis in autism. Dr. Buxbaum, in a Mount Sinai Study, nine children (ages 5 to 15) with Phelan-McDermid syndrome and autism, found that IGF-1 treatment significantly improved social and repetitive behaviors when compared to the placebo (in deletions or mutations in the SHANK3 gene, which may play important role in autism). At the “18th Annual Seaver Center Advances in Autism Conference”, November 16, 2014, Dr. Kolevzon, clinical director of he Seaver Autism Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says that “we have a lot more to learn about the safety, tolerability and efficacy of IGF-1,” to treat individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and he suggested to wait for more findings before to use over-the-counter supplements containing a form of IGF.
According to Dr. Buxbaum, one of the objectives of this clinical trial is part of a paradigm shift to develop drugs to specifically treat the core symptoms of autism. This new approach stands in contrast to the use of medications such as Risperdal, Clozaril, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify, Haldol and Geodon that were developed to manage other conditions. Thus far, in controlled and open trial studies, the improvements of autism related symptoms such as aggression, impulsivity, self-injurious behavior, hyperactivity, irritability and repetitive behaviors by using the mentioned drugs have been found in 50% of cases.
December 22, 2014 4:30 pm Published by Kristen DuMoulin, Ph.D.
About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (CDC, 2014). While genetics plays a significant role in ASD, evidence suggests that environmental exposures also affect ASD risk.
Several studies have explored associations of air pollution with ASD. These studies suggest increased odds of having a child with ASD with higher exposures.
Last week, researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health found that the risk of autism spectrum disorder doubled in women exposed to high levels of air pollutants during pregnancy. Higher maternal exposure to particulate matter during pregnancy, in particular the third trimester, was associated with greater odds of having a child with ASD.
They recruited over 115,000 mothers. Participants were asked whether any of their children had been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome or ‘other autism spectrum’, and 245 children were classified as ASD cases. ASD diagnosis was validated by telephone administration of the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). For each child, exposures to particular matter before, during, and after pregnancy were estimated by averaging monthly concentrations for the mother’s residential address.
Findings suggest that air pollution is a modifiable risk factor for autism, and reduced exposure during pregnancy could lead to lower incidence of ASD.
The full article appears online in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.
December 15, 2014 3:00 pm Published by Sara Giangiobbe, MAT
Being able to advocate for one’s self is something that we don’t often think about on a regular basis. For those of us without communication deficits, it is easy to let others know what you want in your life. You are in charge of your own decision making; from small things such as wanting to go to the store to buy a bottle of soda, to the larger things such as choosing a career path. This ability to advocate for your personal wants and needs does not come as easily to those with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Recently, QSAC started a self advocacy group, which is designed to empower individuals with disabilities to speak up for themselves. The group promotes independence, and educates its members about their rights and responsibilities. Over the last several weeks that the group has been held, I have seen tremendous growth from each person. Individuals with disabilities are being encouraged to think about their future, and what they would like to obtain in order to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives.
This is not to say that self advocacy undermines or eliminates the need for having family, friends, and professionals as advocates. Much like with our own decision making, it is important to receive feedback and support from the important people in your life to help guide you along the way. Similarly, sometimes the people in our lives do not agree with the decisions we make. It is important to consider safety and other concerns involved with each decision, and work together to find a way to make things happen successfully with minimal risk.
If you have a loved one with autism or other developmental disability, there are a number of ways you can encourage self advocacy, and work with them to understand how they can speak up for themselves. Even if your loved one does not use verbal language to communicate, it is still possible for them to learn to advocate for themselves, in whatever way they can. The journey of self advocacy can begin with small choices in their daily lives, and eventually move to bigger choices of what their goals are for their future.
The ability to advocate for one’s self is a vital part of learning responsibility, and working towards a bright, independent future. By encouraging individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities to advocate for their own wants and needs, we will be able to better support them, and help reach their fullest potential.
December 11, 2014 5:11 pm Published by Gina Feliciano, PH.D, BCBA-D., SAS
Receiving a diagnosis of Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a life altering event; a family’s hopes, dreams and aspirations for their child come crashing to a halt with those few words. Working in a preschool program we see families in varying states of understanding, acceptance and yes denial of this difficult news. This spring, QSAC received an anonymous grant to create a resource for just those families.
Through this grant I had to the opportunity to work with Melissa Peltz to create a multi-touch, interactive ebook, published on the iBooks Store. This ebook incorporates curated apps, videos, and interactive content that highlights topics families told us were important. These resources are meant to provide support for families who might be waiting to receive services or to supplement existing services.
Throughout the book, practical tips and solutions are provided in family-friendly language and cover topics including: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), assessment and intervention (important before beginning any teaching program), home routines, socialization, functional communication, pre-academic/academic skills, and managing problem behaviors.
The book was launched in November and is free on the iBooks Store. We hope that you take a look, find utility in it and share it.
You can find it here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/bridging-the-gap/id936759477?ls=1&mt=11.
December 3, 2014 9:32 pm Published by Joseph Amodeo
Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC), a nonprofit serving New York City and Long Island, has received more than $300,000 in grants in support of its training programs to support children and adults with autism.
A $130,000 grant from The New York Community Trust (NYCT) will support the expansion of QSAC’s teacher training program in New York City public schools. The program will provide participating schools with a series of workshops regarding autism and the implementation of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in the classroom. The expanded initiative seeks to increase the capacity of educators to support students with autism in mainstream learning environments. Participating schools will receive 14 hours worth of in-person trainings as well as 6 hours worth of in-classroom feedback. Schools interested in learning more about the training program or applying to be a partner school can visit www.qsac.com/autismedu.
Regarding the grant from NYCT, Lisa A. Veglia, QSAC’s Deputy Executive Director said, “The expanded in-person training program, made possible by the generous support of The New York Community Trust, will help us to reach hundreds of teachers and other educators over the next two years while also providing them with a more comprehensive curriculum. We’re particularly excited about expanding our program to New York City community schools.”
The Heckscher Foundation for Children awarded QSAC a $132,200 grant that will support the development and launch of a new online training platform for educators supporting students with autism. The project will ensure that teaching professionals have access to valuable training information regardless of their geography or their ability to access in-person trainings. The trainings will also be made available to parents and other support professionals working with the autism community. A $15,000 grant from the Frederick S. Upton Foundation will also support the buildout of the online learning platform and the videotaping of the trainings being funded by NYCT.
A $25,000 grant from the Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund (LIUU Fund) has provided the funds needed to launch a new self-advocacy training program on Long Island for young adults with autism. The program will support the development of the skills participants need to effectively advocate for their rights in meetings with elected officials and community leaders. The project is unique in that it seeks to support the program participants in the development of their own policy agenda that they will present in meetings with local and state officials.
QSAC’s Executive Director, Gary A. Maffei said, “We are truly grateful for the generous support of The New York Community Trust, Heckscher Foundation for Children, Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund, and the Frederick S. Upton Foundation. Their support will enable us to enhance and expand programs that will help to meet the needs of children and adults with autism and their families. By expanding our teacher training program in New York City, and with the rollout of a new online platform, we’ll be able to reach even more educators supporting learners with autism. In addition, the self-advocacy program will help train participants in valuable skills that will empower them to advocate for their rights. These grants will help us further live out our mission of helping children and adults with autism achieve greater independence and realize their full potential.”
December 3, 2014 3:29 pm Published by Rocio E. Chavez, MA., MSEd., LBA
As the holidays approach, we begin our preparations to spend time with those we love and partake in holiday events. The holiday season can be a stressful time of the year for everyone, but it can be especially challenging for an individual with an autism spectrum disorder. However, the following strategies and advanced planning can help to decrease the individual’s anxiety and enhance the holiday experience with the whole family.
- Keep the individual’s behavioral and sensory profile in mind when planning holiday events. For example, how will they respond to specific traditions? How long can they tolerate being seated at the table? Will they be able to tolerate noise levels?
- Prepare for the environment where the event will take place. If the event is outside of your home, consider designating a specific area for them to use in case they need some time away to decompress. Holiday events can be overwhelming and there may be too much sensory stimulation for the individual.
- Prepare family members, especially children, of the individual’s needs and what they can do to help.
- Prior to any holiday event, set aside some time to practice sitting at the table as it would be the day of the gathering. This can include adjusting the lighting of the room, playing music, etc. If the individual uses a schedule, begin to incorporate a picture or text of the holiday event into their schedule during practice time.
- Expose the individual to holiday food before the family gathering, in order to see what they do and do not like. This allows the individual to become more comfortable with the food offered the day of the event. Provide reinforcement if they try any new foods (e.g., a piece of their favorite food for trying a new food). Be prepared to bring or make foods which the individual enjoys so they can still participate at the table with the rest of the family in the event that their food repertoire is limited.
- Set aside some activities that the individual likes if you know they will find the holiday event unpleasant, and/or if they have a short attention span. If the individual cannot tolerate loud noises, consider allowing them to wear headphones or build in breaks away from everything throughout the event.
- When decorating your home for the holidays, consider doing so in gradual steps. Individuals with autism often thrive in predictable environments, and may not transition well when there are sudden changes in their routine and/or environment. Changing your home’s appearance in one day may be overwhelming to some. Give the individual an opportunity to help by allowing them to manipulate the decorations (i.e., as long as it is safe to do so) and help put them up. You can also give them an activity, such as stringing popcorn together to hang on the tree.
- Think about the individual’s sensitivity to lights. You can take them to a holiday themed store prior to decorating your home and observe their reactions. If the lights seem unpleasant, think about alternative decorations.
- If the individual is at risk for putting things in their mouth (e.g., pine needles) or breaking ornaments, consider alternatives such as an artificial tree, placing the tree out of reach, plastic ornaments, etc.
- Keep in mind the individual’s fine motor skills and practice opening presents if necessary. Use pictures on the gifts instead of name tags.
- If the individual comprehends the use of a calendar, use this as a tool to countdown the days until the event. This will offer greater predictability in preparation for the event.
- Reinforce appropriate behaviors throughout the event.
- If the individual uses an augmentative form of communication (e.g., iPad or PECS book), make sure they have it with them at all times. Reinforce spontaneous attempts to communicate.
- Schedule an early dinner or eat before the event if necessary.
- Assign activities and tasks that the individual can handle so they can participate in some way (e.g., setting the table, cleaning up, playing with other children if age appropriate)
- Keep an eye on precursor behaviors that may lead the individual to engage in maladaptive behaviors and intervene accordingly. For example, ask them if they need a break or take them for a walk.
Most importantly have fun and enjoy the holidays!!!!!!!