Researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) all have “disruptions in the structure of the corpus callosum” in the brain. The corpus callosum is a nerve fiber bundle that links the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Results of the study were reported in the July 1, 2016 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
In the study, the researchers examined the brains of 71 children with autism, 31 children with ADHD, 36 children with OCD and 62 “typical” children using diffusion tensor imaging. Diffusion tensor imaging measures the diffusion of water across the long fibers that connect the nerve cells in the brain’s white matter. There were “widespread disruptions” in the white matter structure in the brains of the children with autism and the brains of the children with ADHD. The OCD brains had “fewer alterations” than the autism or ADHD brains. Researchers also noted that the children who had the “least independence on daily tasks” (as assessed by their parents) were found to have the “most significant disruptions in white matter.”
Researchers noted two caveats. There were changes in only a small section of the corpus callosum in the autism, ADHD and OCD brains; therefore, the clinical meaning of the changes is unclear. Secondly, “movement in the scanner” by the children could not be ruled out as affecting the differences in the three groups of children.
Sources: Scientific American August 9, 2016 and Spectrumnews.org August 8, 2016
There is a big difference between “sensory deprivation rooms” and “seclusion rooms” in schools. If you are the parent or guardian of a child on the autism spectrum, make sure you know the difference and your child’s school does not use any Seclusion Rooms.
What’s the Difference?
Sensory Deprivation Rooms do not have locked doors; they are not tiny rooms. An aide or teacher usually goes with the student to help him calm down. The student is not left alone. The room is a bit darker than the ordinary classroom so there is less light stimuli. The rooms are not used as punishment or as discipline.
I have first-hand experience within the last 5 years of observing the use of Seclusion/Isolation/ Time-Out Rooms in elementary schools in the United States. In the past, I was a substitute teacher and occasionally I assisted as an aide in autism classrooms. The Seclusion Room was a small, dark room, sometimes as small as an outhouse. The teacher forced the autistic child into it and either locked the door or held the door shut. There were no lights. The autistic child was put into this room when he was “acting out.” There was no “calming down” the child. The child begged to be let out and went into total meltdown. The teacher either ignored the meltdown or told the child he couldn’t come out until he calmed down. It was barbaric and horrifying.
References and Further Resources on Autism and Seclusion vs.Sensory Deprivation Rooms:
New Zealand: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/86214068/Sensory-deprivation-rooms-can-be-a-lifesaver-say-parents-of-autistic-children
United Kingdom: http://www.specialneedsjungle.com/seclusion-rooms-every-parent-professional-know/
Researchers from the Developmental Biology Institute of Marseille and the University of Manchester have identified a link between autism spectrum disorder and abnormal kidneys in children born with a deleted TSHZ3 gene. Their gene research study findings were published September 26 in the journal Nature Genetics.
The TSHZ3 gene region is critical for a syndrome associated with heterozygous deletions at 19q12-q13.11. This syndrome includes autism spectrum disorder. The researchers for this study discovered a patient with this gene deletion who was born with abnormal kidneys and who displayed autism spectrum disorder behaviors. They then reviewed past research in mice and discovered that the mice with this gene deletion not only had kidney problems but also ASD-like learning difficulties. A global search of kidney clinics was then done which found 10 more patients with similar symptoms of abnormal kidneys and autism spectrum disorder behaviors where genetic testing subsequently revealed the deletion of the TSHZ3 gene. The researchers concluded that their gene research findings demonstrate how the TSHZ3 gene is essential for brain cerebral cortical projection neuron (CPN) development and function.
Sources: Genengnews.com (Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News), Sept. 27, 2016.
Nature.com: “TSHZ3 deletion causes an autism syndrome and defects in cortical projection neurons,” Sept. 26, 2016.
According to a study published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry November 5, 2015, gene deletions and copies at the 16p11.2 BP4-BP5 locus are “highly associated” with autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. The study assessed the effects of “62 deletion carriers, 44 duplication carriers and 71 intrafamilial control subjects.”
Results of the study showed that although IQ was decreased for both deletion carriers and duplication carriers, there was variance in language, verbal memory and inhibition between the two types of carriers. Deletion carriers had “severe impairments of phonology and of inhibition skills beyond what is expected for their IQ level.” However, for those with gene duplication, “verbal memory and phonology” was improved compared to the control subjects.
The study authors note that further research is needed to replicate the findings regarding this gene locus associated with autism and to explain the molecular mechanisms that affect these types of cognition.
There is rising evidence that environmental exposures such as air pollution in genetically-susceptible individuals are a cause of autism. Some examples of air pollution are heavy metals, toluene, solvents, and flame retardants. Many people don’t realize that they can be exposed to these pollutants in their homes. Below are some examples of indoor air pollution:
- Carpeting—Some carpets can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while carpet padding may be treated with flame-retardants.
- Furniture—VOCs can be emitted from the glues and binders in plywood, particleboard and composite wood products.
- Home Printers: Ink cartridges may emit VOCs and glymes. These solvent chemicals are part of the glycol ether family.
- Scented candles—Non-beeswax candles can emit cancer-causing benzene and toluene.
- Non-stick cookware can emit polytetrafluoroethylene. Use stainless steel, stoneware or domestic cast-iron cookware instead.
- Paints, varnishes and wax as well as some cleaning products contain organic solvents. Store in an outdoor shed rather than in your home.
To help protect yourself from these sources of indoor air pollution and potential causes of autism, look for “Low VOCs” information on product labels, well ventilate your home while using solvents, air out new carpeting and building materials before installing them in your home and substitute synthetically scented candles and non-stick cookware with safe alternatives.
Sources: Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (uphe.org)
American Lung Association (lung.org)
You have probably heard of wearable fitness trackers that a person wears to measure their fitness level, but have you heard of a wearable health tracker that measures an autistic person’s response to anxiety thus enabling a prediction of when an autism meltdown is likely to occur? This anxiety tracker is called Reveal and it is made by Awake Labs of Vancouver, Canada.
Reveal is a wearable band with state-of-the-art sensors that measure and track signals the body makes in response to anxiety. There are three types of sensors: a heart rate sensor, a skin conductivity sensor that measures sweat and a temperature sensor. This autism technology system includes software which uses snapshots of these physiological responses and then using an “advanced algorithm” helps to identify patterns of anxiety by graphing the heart rate, sweat and temperature changes over time. If a meltdown appears imminent, a smartphone app notifies a designated person such as a parent or teacher of these physiological changes that are likely leading to a meltdown. Information on how to order one of these autism technology health trackers is provided through the sources below.
The FDA announced today a proposal to ban electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) which are known to be used on autistic people who are “self-injurious or aggressive.” The FDA stated the devices “present an unreasonable and substantial risk to public health that cannot be corrected or eliminated through changes in labeling.” Evidence of adverse effects caused by ESDs included “significant psychological and physical risks …including depression, anxiety, worsening of self-injury behaviors and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, pain, burns, tissue damage and errant shocks from a device malfunction.” Note this is a proposed ban. Once this proposal is published in the Federal Register, Monday, April 25, 2016, there is a 30 day comment period for the general public.
The FDA has known about this shock device for years. The FDA had previously warned the Judge Rotenberg Center in 2011 and 2012 that their ESD was out of compliance with FDA regulations as the device had been modified to allow increases in voltage. Originally, the ESD had been approved in 1994 at a set voltage. This Judge Rotenberg Center is the only known location in the United States that uses the device; the Center was previously known as the Behavioral Research Institute and has moved over the years from California to Rhode Island to its present location in Massachusetts.
Additionally, even the UN has advocated the ESD be banned. Back in 2013, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, called out the Judge Rotenberg Center for using this electrical stimulation device on those with autism and said the device amounted to torture. Mr. Mendez advocated at that time that action be taken at the federal level.
Sources: FDA.gov http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm497194.htm
Office of the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/04/25/2016-09433/banned-devices-electrical-stimulation-devices-used-to-treat-self-injurious-or-aggressive-behavior
Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2016/04/22/fda-seeks-to-ban-electric-shock-devices/#4856b7237ead AND
Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, which is present at birth or develops in early childhood, is caused by mutations in the TCF4 gene located on chromosome 18q21.2. There are reportedly only 500 cases of the syndrome in the world though it is thought the syndrome may be underdiagnosed. One of the major reasons for this likely underdiagnosis is the syndrome has many characteristics that are also associated with autism spectrum disorders; although there are other distinctive features of the syndrome as well.
Like autism spectrum disorders, many of those with Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome have delayed development of mental and motor skills. People with the syndrome typically do not develop speech or learn only a few words. Delays often occur in learning to walk. Additionally, their demeanor is “typically … happy, excitable…with frequent smiling, laughter and hand-flapping movements.” Those with the syndrome commonly experience “anxiety and behavioral problems;” and they may also experience recurrent seizures.
Some unique features of Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome are breathing problems and certain facial and ear characteristics. The breathing problems can fluctuate between hyperventilation and slowed breathing or even apnea and may be triggered by “fatigue, anxiety or excitement.” The distinctive facial features are “thin eyebrows, sunken eyes, a prominent nose with a high nasal bridge, a pronounced double curve of the upper lip called Cupid’s bow, wide mouth with full lips and widely spaced teeth.” Additionally, the ears may be “thick and cup-shaped.”
A recent gene research breakthrough that may lead to a treatment for Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome was discovered by scientists at the Johns Hopkins University-affiliated independent laboratory, the Lieber Institute for Brain Development. The researchers studied the brains of rats affected by Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome and found “alternative channels in the brain interrupting normal cell activity.” The gene research showed these interruptions caused inappropriate responses to stimuli in the environment. Further, the researchers discovered a drug being “investigated for use on chronic pain” that blocked these alternative channels resulting in cells behaving normally. However, at this point, researchers are not sure what restoring normal cell activity would do to those with the syndrome but are hopeful that some of the deficits could be eliminated.
Sources: CapitalGazette.com of March 11, 2016.
Ghr.nlm.nih.gov; “Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome;” Last reviewed February 2015.
You may have read of recent news reports of autistic children who wandered off from home and were later found dead, often from drowning. To help with the wandering problem, Project Lifesaver was developed to help those with autism, Down Syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders who have wandered off to be brought home in a timely manner.
The company behind Project Lifesaver is Project Lifesaver International (PLI) which is a 501c3 non-profit organization. There are three components to their program: Teaching search and rescue techniques; applying “appropriate tracking technology;” and providing a basic understanding of autism, dementia and other cognitive disorders while certifying first responders in techniques to “assess and effectively manage the safe and comfortable return” of the individual with a brain disorder who wanders.
PLI has developed three possible options on how their program can be used. Option 1 is the original Project Lifesaver International program where an agency makes the purchase and maintenance of all tracking equipment and transmitters. The agency making the purchase will maintain all of the information regarding the “at risk” individual and their family or caregiver (hereafter referred to as “client”) in the PLI database and are solely responsible for all of the financial transactions to PLI.
Option 2 is similar to option 1 in that an agency purchases the tracking equipment and gets training from Project Lifesaver International. However, the client will purchase the transmitters and pay the monthly maintenance fee directly to PLI. The agency maintains all of the client information instead of PLI and PLI only receives the information necessary in order to supply the necessary equipment to the client.
With Option 3, a client enrolls with Project Lifesaver directly, purchases the transmitters and does the monthly maintenance. The agency involvement is limited to PLI sharing with the agency the information needed on the “at risk” individual in the event of a search.
A new study published this month by the American Association of the Advancement of Science indicates that immune cells “may have a direct role in causing behaviors linked to autism.” The study abstract noted that previous research has already shown “viral infection during pregnancy has been correlated with increased frequency of autism spectrum disorder in offspring.”
For this study, researchers at New York University Langone studied a subset of T-helper lymphocyte cells called TH17 and the production of cytokine interleukin-17a (IL-17a). The study in mice mimicked a viral invasion and showed using genetic mutants and blocking antibodies that TH17 and IL-17a caused maternal immune activation (MIA) behavior abnormalities in mice offspring. Additionally, the study demonstrated that “blocking the action of TH17 and IL-17a completely restored normal structure and functioning” in the mice offspring brains. The study’s authors suggest that the “therapeutic targeting of TH17 cells in susceptible pregnant mothers may reduce the likelihood of bearing children with inflammation-induced” autism spectrum disorder behaviors.