Autism and Abnormal Blood Vessels in the Brain

Researchers recently published a study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders called “Persistent Angiogenesis in the Autism Brain: An Immunocytochemical Study of Postmortem Cortex, Brainstem and Cerebellum.” The study found that the brains of those with autism have “unstable blood vessels disrupting proper delivery of blood to the brain.” “Typical” brain blood vessels are stable.

The researchers conducted the study by looking microscopically at post-mortem age-matched normal brains and autistic brains. The researchers did not know which brains had had an autism diagnosis and which brains did not thus eliminating bias in their observations. The study found formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in the brains from individuals who had had an autism diagnosis; no such angiogenesis was noted in the normal brains. The areas of the brain affected were the “superior temporal cortex (primary auditory cortex), fusiform cortex (face recognition center), pons/midbrain and cerebellum.” Specifically, the researchers found increased levels of the proteins nestin and CD34 which are markers of angiogenesis. Importantly, the study findings found that the angiogenesis was not the kind that caused the sprouting of new vessels but instead of splitting, thus causing continuous fluctuations in blood circulation.

Sources:  http://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2015/12/16/scientists-find-new-vessel-for-detecting-autism.html

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-015-2672-6?no-access=true

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Autism and SwiftKey Symbols Visual Keyboard App

SwiftKey this week launched a new Android App called SwiftKey Symbols, a visual symbol type of keyboard instead of the traditional QWERTY keyboard. The image keyboard is designed to help those with communication and learning difficulties such as non-verbal kids with autism communicate more effectively with family, friends and teachers. The app is currently in beta version on the SwiftKey Greenhouse page where users can test apps and provide feedback before the final version is launched.

This visual symbol app keyboard lets users construct sentences by picking out symbols according to categories or using the “prediction bar.” What makes the app really special for autistic kids and others with communication difficulties is the app “learns from each individual’s behavior to show relevant images;” therefore, each individual’s SwiftKey Symbols app will be unique. An additional function of the app is that it remembers what symbols have been used at what time of the day and day of the week in order to improve its prediction capability. Users can also add their own image symbols and categories.

SwiftKey was started by co-founders Jon Reynolds (CEO) and Dr. Ben Medlock (CTO) in 2008. The first SwiftKey keyboard app launched in London in 2010. The company has offices in London, San Francisco and Seoul as well as representatives in India and China.

Sources: http://gadgets.ndtv.com and https://swiftkey.com/en/greenhouse

Apps that Help Kids with Autism

A non-profit, Common Sense Graphite, has come up with what they think are the best apps for working with kids on the autism spectrum. Here is a categorized partial list based on highest rating:

Emotions:

  • Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings: Singing and role-playing conversations based on emotions. Covers not only words but facial expressions and body language.
  • Touch and Learn Emotions: Helps kids identify feelings such as excitement, sadness or anger. One drawback of the app is some of the images could identify more than one emotion which could be confusing.
  • Breathing Bubbles: Name “joys and anxieties” by creating sentences and putting them into bubbles, then “releasing worries” and “embracing joys.”
  • IF…The Emotional IQ game: An adventure game that “promotes wise decision-making and respect for others.”
  • Mood Meter—Building your Emotional Intelligence: Kids “explore a grid of emotions to describe their current mood.” It is expected for users to create much of their own text and images as built-in images and text are “limited.”

Language and Communication:

  • Proloquo2Go: Tool to help kids with speech difficulties communicate better. App needs to be customized to reflect kids’ current abilities and goals. Note: Cost is $220.
  • Language Builder Deluxe: Audio and visual tool to learn language. Kids must have interaction with an adult to evaluate their sentences as there is no feedback. Note: Cost is $10.
  • QuestionIt: Basic approach to teaching “question words and concepts” to kids experiencing language delays.

Social Skills:

  • The Social Express II: Interactive lessons “help students to cope with real life situations.” Free to download but subscription required.
  • Social Stories: Help for kids to write social stories such as “School Day,” “Home Day,” and “On the Bus.” Note: Cost is $7.
  • Conversation Builder: “Themed scripts” help kids to practice “successful social exchanges” including turn-taking, initiation and staying on topic. Note: Cost is $20

Summary: There are numerous apps that can help kids on the autism spectrum with emotions, communication, social skills and schedules (not included in this article). Cost is free to a few dollars unless otherwise noted. All the apps are available on Apple products (at least iPad) but only a few are available on Android. Most of the apps cover at least 4 grade levels—usually more.

Sources: Graphite.org and autism.einnews.com