Category Archives: Autism in the News

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Mom Spurs Marijuana-Autism Study In Philadelphia

New gym provides safe space to play for people with autism

LEWIS CENTER, OH (WCMH) — Most of us may not give a second thought to exercising or enjoying the benefits of a gym, but that’s not always the case for some people with autism or special needs. A gym called We Rock the Spectrum changes that.

The new facility in Lewis Center is the first Ohio location of We Rock the Spectrum. The gym provides sensory safe play for kids that include gym pieces of theraputic equipment designed to work with many of the sensory processing issues that children on the spectrum face. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Shonda Williams. Her son has autism, and she says they’ve never found a facility like this.

“They absolutely just cater to everyone children on the spectrum, children that are not on the spectrum, they make you feel welcome,” she said.

WCMH photo/Mike Klug

Lyndsey Vidra worked as an educator for children with autism. Her experience led her to open this gym. Music, art class, and even a private birthday party space is provided.

“Today was just a great one,” she said. “We had a parent tell me that her laugher told her this was the best day ever, and it started with she was afraid of the zip line and by the end, we can’t get her off of it so … that was a pretty quick reward an hour of being open so I know its a good thing we’re doing.’”

For Shonda Williams and her son, it’s better than a good thing.

“It’s very important to me that my son feels like everyone else like hes a part of everyone else in the world, really is important,” she said.

The equipment is weight-specific, so children and adults with autism can enjoy the facility.

The link between autism and older parents is clear, but the why is not

Older men and women are more likely than young ones to have a child with autism, according to multiple studies published in the past decade.

Especially regarding fathers, this effect is one of the most consistent findings in the epidemiology of autism. The link between a mother’s age and autism is more complex: Women seem to be at an increased risk both when they are much older and much younger than average, according to some studies.

Nailing down why either parent’s age influences autism risk has proved difficult, however.

How do we know that older men are at elevated risk of fathering a child with autism?

Epidemiologists have gathered data on large numbers of families and calculated how often men of different ages have a child with autism. The first rigorous study of this type, published in 2006, drew on medical records of 132,000 Israeli adolescents. It showed that men in their 30s were 1.6 times as likely to have a child with autism as men younger than 30. Men in their 40s had a sixfold increase in risk.

Pep Boatella for Spectrum

Since then, scientists have conducted similar analyses of data on children born in California, Denmark and Sweden, as well as of an international data set on 5.7 million children. Nearly all of this research has shown an increased prevalence of autism among the children of older fathers.

At what age does the risk increase for men?

No one knows. The age ranges and ages of the men differ across studies, making results hard to compare. Overall, the findings indicate that the risk increases steadily over time rather than suddenly rising after a certain age.

How big is the increase in risk?

The differencesvary from 5 percent to 400 percent. One study this year based on whole-genome sequencing of nearly 5,000 people suggests that parents in their mid-40s are 5 to 10 percent more likely to have a child with autism than are 20-year-old parents.

But a large 2014 study based on Swedish medical records hinted that the risk of autism among children born to fathers older than 45 is about 75 percent higher than it is for children born to fathers in their early 20s. And a 2010 analysis of Swedish data found that men older than 55 are four times as likely to have a child with autism as men younger than 30.

Even so, the absolute risk of having a child with autism is low, even for the oldest parents. The researchers in the 2017 study calculated that about 1.5 percent of children born to parents in their 20s will have autism, compared with about 1.58 percent of children born to parents in their 40s.

What might explain why older men are at elevated risk of having a child with autism?

The most prominent hypothesis is that the sperm of older men has accumulated many spontaneous mutations that the men pass along to their children.

Sperm divide more often than egg cells do. With each division, a cell’s DNA is copied, presenting an opportunity for mutations to occur. One analysis of families in Iceland showed that with each passing year, a man transmits an average of two more spontaneous, or de novo, mutations to his child.

Studies in mice confirm that pups of older male mice harbor a relatively large number of mutations. And this hypothesis is consistent with the observation that a child with autism who has an older father tends to be the only child with autism in that family.

Other factors must contribute as well, however. A mathematical model of autism inheritance indicates that de novo mutations account for no more than 20 percent of the increased risk of autism among children of older fathers.

What else could explain these patterns?

It is possible that the connection runs the other way: Men who are likely to father a child with autism may have children relatively late in life. These men may have autism traits that delay their ability to find a partner.

Changes in chemical tags on sperm DNA as men age could also play a role. This hypothesis is consistent with epidemiological studies showing that the age of a grandparent at the time of a parent’s birth can affect a grandchild’s autism risk, and age alters chemical tags on sperm in mice. But this idea is controversial: There is no direct evidence that these tags are transmitted across generations in people.

Studies have noted additional factors, including an elevated risk of autoimmune disease in older parents. And because they are likely to be relatively wealthy compared with younger parents, older parents may be more likely to seek an evaluation for their child.

How might a mother’s age influence risk?

A woman’s chances of having a child with autism also increase steadily with age. But several studies have found that teenage mothers are also at increased risk. Overall, researchers have conducted fewer studies of maternal age and autism, and the results are not as clear-cut as they are for fathers. The effects of maternal age are more difficult to detect in epidemiological studies because women have children over a narrower age range than do men.

The number of de novo mutations in egg cells increases with age, although to a lesser degree than it does in sperm. As with men, women who have autism traits may have children late.

Does the trend toward having children later in life explain the increase in autism prevalence?

Probably not. Independent calculations suggest that the trend toward later parenthood accounts for only about 1 to 5 percent of the increase in autism prevalence. But investigating the link between parental age and autism risk could provide clues to the biology underlying the condition.

This article was originally published on Spectrum, which focuses on autism research.

Chicago man’s success shows college dreams within reach for more people with autism

It was never a question whether Paris King would go to college.

The 23-year-old, who is on the autism spectrum, loved learning — especially history — and he and his parents saw no reason why he shouldn’t continue to do so after high school.

But during the four years King spent earning his bachelor’s degree in history at Roosevelt University, he endured setbacks that would have challenged any student. His father died. King was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was mugged near his home. And his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that required aggressive treatment.

So when King walked across the stage and received his diploma Friday at a graduation ceremony, he was cheered on by faculty, family and friends for not only believing that a person with autism is capable of college, but also for overcoming enormous personal challenges to become a role model for people with disabilities.

Moline: Grant is autism center; Ericsson serves Floreciente

Moline’s former Grant Elementary School — one of eight buildings closed by the Moline-Coal Valley District during the tough economic times of the 1980s — is thriving as the Quad-Cities Autism Center.

The nonprofit center was founded and is directed by Michelle Smyth, whose son has autism, and it fills the entire building with bright, colorful classrooms and other training space.

Over the past 11 years, the center has served 150 children, ages 18 months to 12 years, with one-to-one, research-based instruction to develop and enhance their lives, Smyth said. At any one time, the center enrolls about 25 children, and there is a 12-month waiting list, she said.

The center also provides education, guidance and resources for parents.

In 2015, the Moline-Coal Valley District closed Ericsson and Garfield elementary schools, moving students to the expanded Hamilton School.

Ericsson, 335 5th Ave., was purchased for $50,000 in 2015 by Heritage Church, which operates several campuses in the Quad-Cities. The school became the Esperanza Center, serving the Floreciente community.

Garfield, 1518 25th Ave., was sold for $75,000 to Gorman & Co. for the possible use of senior housing. Gorman is the Wisconsin-based company that renovated the former (1914) Moline High School on 16th Street into 60 loft apartments, opening in 2007. It also built the new Moline Enterprise Lofts along the riverfront. At present, though, Garfield is vacant.

Following is a closer look at what has happened to Moline schools:

When the eight-building closure occurred in 1983, school and city officials held out hope that economic conditions might improve, and some of the schools might reopen.

In fact, that happened with one: Jane Addams, 3520 53rd St., reopened in 1992 and is still open today. Here is what happened to the others:

The former Coolidge Junior High, 34th Street and Avenue of the Cities, is still owned by the district and houses its alternative high school, the office of the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education and other office space, according to the district.

The former Jefferson, 30th Street and 26th Avenue Court, also is still owned by the district and is the Jefferson Early Childhood Center, according to the district.

Coal Valley South/Betsy Ross, 111 W. 23rd St., was sold to what is now Valley Meats Inc., and its new address is 2302 1st St., Coal Valley, according to a representative of Valley Meats.

McKinley School, 4108 5th Ave., is owned by a private individual, according to the Rock Island County Assessor’s website.

Maple Grove School, 1535 36th Ave., was purchased by Grace Bible Fellowship Church and is used as a church, according to the church.

Grant School, 2450 6th Ave., is now the autism center. At first, though, it was purchased by the Moline Gospel Temple and housed Temple Christian High School.

When that use proved no longer viable, the building was turned into the New Hope Community Center, and various areas were turned into offices/work space for several nonprofit groups, said Smyth, of the autism center.

As those groups found other locations and the autism center continued to grow, the center decided, two years ago, to buy the building, she said.

A green canopy with a white New Hope sign still hangs over the main entrance, though. MGT New Hope is the new name for what formerly was the Moline Gospel Temple. The initials are a nod to its heritage.

William Carr School, 707 19th Ave., was demolished and the site is occupied by the Salvation Army Family Store and Donation Center and has the address of 701 19th Ave., according to the district.

Going further back

Irving School, 701 12th St., and Lincoln School, 1015 16th Ave., closed as schools in 1970, moving students to a new, bigger school on the Lincoln site called Lincoln-Irving, according to the district.

The land where Irving stood is now the site of the Trimble Funeral Home & Crematory at Trimble Pointe.

Coal Valley North, a kindergarten-second grade school, 411 E. 19th Ave., Coal Valley, was demolished in 1976 and was replaced that year with Bicentennial School, 1004 1st St., Coal Valley. The land of the former school is now the site of a single-family home, according to the Rock Island County assessor’s website.

Black Hawk Elementary, 4000 11th St., closed in 1985. It now is owned and operated by Quad-City Christian School, according to the district.

Horace Mann, 3601 69th Ave., closed in 2009, with students moving to the expanded Bicentennial School. The district still owns the building and leases it to Camelot Therapeutic School.

More about the former Moline High School

Former Moline High School closed when the current Moline High School on Avenue of the Cities opened in 1958.

Before the old building was renovated into its current apartments, it was home to Moline Community College, the forerunner of what is now Black Hawk College. When Black Hawk moved to 34th Avenue, the building served as home to Beling Consultants.

After Beling merged with Raymond Professional Group, the building was put up for sale in 2000. A large fire in 2003 had many in the community wondering if the landmark building had a future.

In 2005, Gorman came to the rescue with a $9.4 million public/private investment that included the city of Moline and the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

In doing its work, Gorman preserved the building’s original grand entrance, terrazzo floors, monumental stairways, period lighting fixtures, chalkboards and wall sculptures.

All Sides Weekend: Accomodating Autism During the Holidays

Today at 11am

Children with sensory difficulties, and others on the autism spectrum can struggle with the amount of sheer stimulation and social interaction the holidays bring. How can parents, family, and society at large, best navigate the festive season for these kids? Guest host Clare Roth discusses ideas for hosting sensory-friendly celebrations, accessible holiday events in the Columbus area, and more.


  • Sarah Smalley, office manager, Sensory Solutions LLC
  • Melissa Lawrence, program director, Nationwide Children’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Luis Biava, conductor, New Albany Symphony
  • Lyndsey Vidra, co-owner, We Rock the Spectrum Columbus
  • Ryan Scarlata, associate artistic director, Columbus Children’s Theater


  • The New Albany Symphony Orchestra in partnership with the Autism Society of Central Ohio and Methodist Eldercare presents “Santa and the Symphony”, a sensory-friendly holiday experience featuring music, crafts, and a special treat for each audience member, on Saturday, December 16 at 11:30am.
  • We Rock the Spectrum Columbus Kid’s Gym hosts a Grand Opening celebration with food, raffles, fun, special guests and much more at its Lewis Center location Saturday, December 16 from 10am to 5pm.
  • A tradition returns to Columbus Children’s Theatre this holiday season in a in a family-friendly, hour-long performance of Mr. Scrooge. Playing Thursday through Sunday now until December 23rd, 2017.
  • Gateway Film Center will host a sensory-friendly showing of The Secret of Nihm (1982) on Sunday, December 17 at 11:00am.
  • Marcus Theaters offer a number of “Reel Movies for Real Needs” events throughout the year that feature sensory-friendly showings of family-friendly movies. Upcoming films for December include Star Wars: The Last Jedi (12/16) and Ferdinand (12/30).
  • AMC Theatres also offer a number of sensory-friendly film showings throughout the year. Two showings of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are planned December 23 and 26.

Sensory-friendly ‘Nutcracker,’ ‘Charlie Brown’ designed for children with autism

Encouraged by past successes, Milwaukee Ballet and First Stage are offering sensory-friendly performances of their holiday shows for children with autism and their families.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” (6 p.m. Dec. 20) and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (7 p.m. Dec. 21) will lower the volume of music and reduce strobe and flashing lights while keeping some house lights up. Audience members can move around freely or go to a quiet space if desired. 

The purpose of these changes is to make a relaxed evening possible for people with sensory processing disorders and their families, said Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink. 

Jayne Schroeder of Wauwatosa brought her son Jackson Hickey to the sensory-friendly “Nutcracker” last year, thanks to a gift of tickets from her uncle Dave Begel. Jackson, an 18-year-old senior at Wauwatosa East High School, has Down syndrome and autism. 

Schroeder was pleasantly surprised by how much effort the Milwaukee Ballet, working with Autism Speaks, made for the event. That included a social story, a document with words and pictures that walks through every element of the evening in advance, including driving to the Marcus Center, parking, intermission and bathrooms. She went through the social story with Jackson several times before going to see “The Nutcracker.”

RELATED: Milwaukee Ballet’s social story for “The Nutcracker” 

Schroeder said Jackson also enjoyed the meet-and-greet before the performance, where he could see the Rat King, for example, in costume but with his head piece off. 

She plans to return this year with Jackson and a larger group of friends and family. “I hope it becomes a tradition for us,” she said.

Schroeder encouraged other parents of children with autism to go, too. “Try not to let your worst fears let you miss out,” she said. The ballet has put “so many safety nets in place.” 

Read: ‘Mockingbird’ reflects First Stage’s growing experience with autism

First Stage is a local trailblazer in teaching and performing theater for children on the autism spectrum. Its Next Steps Theater Academy offers classes for children with autism and other sensory-processing disorders. Last season, First Stage performed “Mockingbird,” a drama in which the main character was a girl with Asperger syndrome. 

First Stage also plans sensory-friendly performances this season of “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” (1 p.m. Jan. 20) and “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat” (3:30 p.m. Feb. 3, at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center).    


Milwaukee Ballet performs a sensory-friendly “The Nutcracker” at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. For info and tickets, visit or call (414) 902-2103.

First Stage performs a sensory-friendly “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theatre. Visit or call (414) 267-2961.

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Autism traits increase thoughts of suicide in people with psychosis


IMAGE: Professor Stephen Wood, researcher at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, Australia.
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Credit: Orygen

People with autism traits who have psychosis are at a greater risk of depression and thoughts of suicide, new research has found.

The research, led by Professor Stephen Wood at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, showed that, among people with psychosis, depressive symptoms and thoughts of self-harm were not because of the psychosis, but instead were linked to the level of autism traits a person had.

“The more autism traits people with psychosis had, the lonelier and more hopeless they felt and were more likely to think about suicide,” Professor Wood said.

“When a person presents with a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, they are at an increased risk of self-harm or suicide. People with autism are also at a heightened risk.”

Professor Wood’s team explored how the two might be related by reviewing people with a clinical diagnosis of psychosis and those without. “What we found was that with both groups the more autism traits a person had, the more likely they were to have depressive symptoms and suicide ideation.”

The research has been published in the journal Schizophrenia Research.

Professor Wood said to prevent people attempting suicide it was important to identify those most at risk. “Our study shows that a person’s level of autism traits is an extremely important marker in helping identify those people with psychosis at risk of suicide,” he said.

“What we need to do now is improve care for people with high levels of autism traits who develop a psychotic illness. This means better training for clinical staff to support people with both autism and psychosis, and the need to ask about autism traits in clinical assessments.”


The research was supported by Caring Minds (Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust) and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

About Orygen

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health is the world’s leading research and knowledge translation organisation focusing on mental ill-health in young people.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

Brain Stimulation in Mice Gives Hope of Restoring Social Behaviours in Autism

Stimulation of specific brain cells could one day be prescribed to individuals who have autism – to help reduce the difficulty they experience with social interactions.

Research carried out on the brains of mice has not only confirmed a potential area of brain tissue that could be critical for many of the characteristic behaviours in autism, but even hints at a method that could one day correct the impairments it causes in humans.

Scientists from the O’Donnell Brain Institute in Texas have demonstrated in transgenic mice that an area in the cerebellum long associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be manipulated to both produce autism-like characteristics and reverse them.

While it’s important to keep in mind the differences between animal models and humans, the researchers used the same mapping processes on people who didn’t have ASD to show we share the same neurology.

Autism and associated disorders are characterised by traits that include difficulties in communicating and socialising, as well as experiencing sensitivities to various stimuli and exhibiting repeated movements such as hand flapping or pacing.

The variety of characteristics and degrees of severity make it hard to pinpoint exact causes of the condition, though enormous headway has been made in recent years in identifying the diverse connections in the brain that could be responsible for many of these traits.

One area which is thought to be responsible is the small walnut-shaped blob at the back of the brain known as the cerebellum, generally known for its role in coordinating precise, practised movements, such as walking or playing an instrument.

In post-mortems of people with ASD, an abnormality in the right hemisphere of a zone called crus cerebellum I (RCrusI) has been consistently linked with those diagnosed with the disorder.

This might make some sense when it comes to repetitive movements, but the researchers had shown in a 2012 study based on mice models that the abnormalities could also impede social interactions.

Following up on the research, scientists in this latest study stimulated the neurons in RCrusI to effectively switch autism-like behaviours on and off, confirming the tissue’s connection with the disorder.

“This is potentially quite a powerful finding,” says senior researcher Peter Tsai from UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute.

“From a therapeutic standpoint, this part of the cerebellum is an enticing target.”

Neuromodulation describes technologies that directly alter the firing of nerves, which can often involve interfering with pain reception in the brain or ‘deep brain stimulation’ of tissues related to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

In this case the researchers applied it to the cerebellum and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map the resulting functional connectivity – the traffic map of brain activity – with the rest of the brain.

Applied to both mice and humans, the study demonstrated we have good reason to think the areas in both reflect each other fairly closely.

The team then used fMRI scans to show the same functional connections are disrupted in children diagnosed with ASD and mice engineered with the rodent equivalent of the disorder.

What’s more, when RCrusI functions were disrupted in non-engineered mice, they began to display unusual social behaviours and repetitive actions reminiscent of traits associated with ASD.

Flipping this on its head, the researchers then used specially designed stimulants to artificially increase the rate of firing in the engineered mice’s affected cerebellum nerves.

Amazingly, while the repetitive behaviours remained unchanged, the usual signs of social impairments were reduced. Or to use the researcher’s jargon, their social behaviours were “rescued”.

“Our findings have prompted new thoughts on how the cerebellum may be involved in autism and most importantly suggest that the cerebellum could be a therapeutic target for treatment,” says Tsai.

Don’t expect some wonder drug to come out any time soon. The stimulants – called designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs’, or DREADDs – were designed to fit unique chemical locks genetically engineered into the mice’s brains.

But using other stimulants to manipulate the firing of the cerebellum’s cells could one day be an option for treatment.

It’s not a promise of a cure-all. ASD is far more complicated than we ever considered, arising from a mix of faulty genes and environmental factors to affect various neurological circuits that give rise to a whole bunch of characteristics associated with communicating and sensing.

But the social impairments arising from ASD can be among the most stressful, so any research that helps us better understand these aspects and even find a way to treat them is to be celebrated. 

This research was published in Nature Neuroscience.

Autism Speaks Unveils New Scientific Agenda

Autism Speaks has a new three-year strategic plan for science. (Autism Speaks/Flickr)

A year after dropping references to a cure from its mission statement, the nation’s largest autism advocacy group is charting a new course with a bold rewrite of its scientific priorities.

Autism Speaks released an updated three-year strategic plan for science this week that includes a two-pronged approach.

The organization is looking to further biological research aimed at developing personalized therapies. At the same time, the plan recognizes that people with autism need immediate solutions to address co-occurring conditions like epilepsy, sleep issues, gastrointestinal troubles and mental health concerns, as well as evidence-based programs to support the transition to adulthood and aging in general.

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“This plan renews our commitment to be an engine that drives cutting-edge science and paves the way for personalized care,” said Angela Geiger, president and chief executive officer at Autism Speaks. “These advances in research will help transform the landscape for people affected by autism, accelerating progress toward new and improved options that will enhance the quality of life now and in the future.”

The release of the revamped agenda is the culmination of over four months of work to better align the nonprofit’s science plan with the new mission statement the organization adopted last year. Both of the updates do away with words like “struggle,” “hardship” and “crisis” as well as any reference to curing autism.

As part of the process, Autism Speaks solicited feedback from families, researchers and other stakeholders in the community earlier this year, ultimately garnering input from more than 6,000 people.

How Autism Speaks chooses to allocate its science budget is meaningful. The group distributed $12.6 million in grants in 2014, trailing only the U.S. government and the Simons Foundation in spending on autism research, according to a federal report.

Notably, at 12 pages long, the new plan is much more concise than the 74-page document it replaces.

Going forward, the nonprofit said that its science agenda will continue to evolve.

“The plan released today is a living document,” said Thomas Frazier, Autism Speaks’ chief science officer. “We will continue to review progress and incorporate feedback in the coming years.”

‘Virtual child’ helps train people working with kids with autism

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell are currently developing a “virtual child”  for professionals and students working with kids living with autism spectrum disorder. The learning tool will allow these caregivers an opportunity to practice behavioral interventions outside of a real-world situation. 

“The biggest challenge educators face — especially those who train employees in their agencies — is that practice must occur one-on-one with a single child,” Richard Serna, associate professor and interim chair of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, wrote in an email to MobiHealthNews. “This product could help prepare an employee, student, or potential employee more efficiently — and at their leisure — to work with a child. In addition, it provides “do no harm” training. Think flight simulator.”

Serna recently landed a $250,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to address the acute need for professionals trained in behavioral intervention, according to a statement released by UMass Lowell. 

One in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of children diagnosed with autism increased by 119.4 percent, the agency reported. 

The virtual child can be used to help train new employees, college students, special education teachers, paraprofessionals and even parents, Serna said. It provides and opportunity for trainees to practice teaching methods they already learned in a more traditional setting.

Serna gave the example of practicing discrete trial training, which is a highly structured approach to teaching a child where a practitioner provides many trials that include the delivery of instruction, the response of the child, a prompt for the correct response, and positive praise or error correction for the child.

The tool also gives feedback to the user. If the trainee implements the procedure correctly he or she can move on to the next lesson. However, if the user does not implement the skill correctly, the software provides feedback until the user has mastered the technique. 

The project is still in its infancy but the researchers have already successfully developed a similar product that was also interactive. However, instead of an animated child, they used a child actor to produce video clips, Serna said. 

Researchers decided to create a virtual boy because males are impacted by ASD four-to-five times more frequently than females. 

The product has the capacity to expand and potentially go international, according to Serna, as there is a need for this kind of training in China, Brazil, and Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

“Fundamentally, acquiring knowledge about a behavioral intervention procedure is relatively easy; practicing the skill with a child with autism is more difficult, because each child is different,” Serna said in an email. “This product could provide many more opportunities for agency employees, university students, individuals seeking employment in the field to have practiced and be more ready to work with live children. Of course, this would never take the place of live practice; it just makes live practice more successful and efficient.”

Autistic boy, 8, wrote heartbreaking suicidal notes and tried to kill himself with scissors

Jack was put on a ward without specialist mental health treatment despite doctors agreeing that he was in ‘severe distress’ (Picture: Liverpool Echo)

A mother has revealed that she has been waiting several weeks to get urgent help for her eight-year-old son who tried to kill himself and wrote heartbreaking suicide notes.

Jack Rogan, who has autism, wrote notes saying ‘I wish that mam would kill me’  and asking ‘what is wrong with me. His mother Kerry Linnell, 43, also wrote notes of what he said, including things like ‘burn me alive’ and ‘put me in a graveyard’.

He had also tried to take his own life with a pair of scissors, Ms Linnell revealed.

She took him to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in October following his suicide attempt, but doctors said there were no beds available on a specialist unit, despite agreeing that he was in severe distress.

Ms Linnell praised the staff for doing what they could to help, but added that he was put on a ward where there was no mental health treatment and he remained there for seven weeks.

His mother kept a record of the different things he would say while experiencing suicidal thoughts (Picture: Liverpool Echo)
He wrote down his own thoughts and on one occasion tried to kill himself with a pair of scissors (Picture: Liverpool Echo)

Ms Linnell said Jack had started talking about taking his life after struggling to cope at a new school last year.

She said: ‘It’s a terrible situation, and it just tears me apart I’m not able to give him what he needs.

Free nappies for premature babiesA website is giving away free nappies for premature babies

‘Jack has written notes begging me to kill him, asking who he is, “why am I such a bad person” and “please everyone forget me”.

‘He asked why he had no friends and said he wanted to be put in the ground with RIP over him.

‘As he’s getting older he realises how different the world is to him, and it makes him feel like a bad person.

Kerry kept a bedside vigil for seven weeks to stop her son from harming himself (Picture: Liverpool Echo)

‘He would kick and punch me, pull my hair, bite himself and try to pull his ear off. Then he’d start sobbing afterwards and start saying those things.’

A Justice for Jacko Facebook page has been set up by friends of his family and a

Jack spent seven weeks at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (Picture: Youtube/Alder Hey Children’s Hospital & Charity)

Friends of the family have launched a ‘Justice for Jack’ Facebook page and a petition calling for more beds for children with mental health problems.

In hospital, Ms Linnell stayed at his bedside around the clock to prevent him from harming himself and had given up work to care for him.

Consultation on ‘opt-out’ organ donation system launched online

Ms Berger, Labour MP for Wavertree and shadow minister for mental health, said in Parliament new government plans did nothing for young children like Jack.

She said she feared young people like Jack ‘faced years of torment, anguish and pain, made worse by the fact so much of it is preventable’.

She added: ‘We are leaving a generation in pain; they are being let down because the care is not there. I believe that Ministers have failed to meet the scale of the challenge.’

An Alder Hey spokesman said: ‘ Alder Hey is commissioned to provide an inpatient service for children and young people under 13 with the most complex mental health conditions. Our specialist Dewi Jones Unit is based in Waterloo and is one of only six units solely dedicated to children’s mental health conditions in the country.

Barbara Demeneix Could Link Autism To Touchdown Passes

Barbara Demeneix, a team leader at The Paris Natural History Museum, certainly has credentials. She earned a Ph.D. in endocrinology and physiology from the University of Calgary, published two books, more than 170 papers, and received a number of awards for her work primarily focused on thyroid function.

That’s why it’s hard to understand, with such training and experience, how Demeneix became one of the head counselors in the “Endocrine Disruptor Camp,” which all but guarantees a certain amount of nuttiness.  Once again that camp does not disappoint chemophobes and homeopaths who think any trace of any chemical does something important. This time she claims we should stop using fireworks because they might cause autism. Hoo boy. 

Her reasoning, such as it is, is this:

  • Iodine deficiency is linked to autism.
  • Fireworks contain ammonium perchlorate. It makes them go boom.
  • Perchlorate competes with iodine in the thyroid gland.
  • The amount of perchlorate in fireworks is sufficient to result in lower iodine levels. Please. (1)
  • Therefore, perchlorate causes autism.

The science is so wrong that it would take me until July 4th to properly explain how nuts it really is. Instead I will be brief and note that events are linked to other events all the time. Sometimes they are real (cigarette smoking causes cancer) and sometimes they are stupid, like that touching receipts with BPA will give you man-boobs. (2) One of the most famous phrases in toxicology is “the dose makes the poison” but Demeneix seems to have forgotten it, so it’s no surprise she conveniently also forgets a close second: correlation is not causation.

If we accept Demeneix’s claims on fireworks and autism we also should accept this graph:

The sale of organic foods correlates perfectly with the increase in the number of diagnoses of autism. The r value (in this case 0.9971) is a measure of how good the correlation is. It doesn’t get any better than this. It is virtually perfect as shown by a table from an article  “How To Interpret a Correlation Coefficient R.”

  • +0.30. A weak uphill (positive) linear relationship

  • +0.50. A moderate uphill (positive) relationship

  • +0.70. A strong uphill (positive) linear relationship

  • Exactly +1. A perfect uphill (positive) linear relationship.

So, the correlation between organic foods and autism is perfect.

It’s still wrong. It is so obviously wrong that Environmental Working Group, one of the Three Stooges of the science world, know it is nonsense. If you examine enough pairs of separate trends graphs like this will turn up simply by coincidence. You don’t draw conclusions based on correlation alone. You will screw it up way more times than you’ll get it right. 

But Demeneix doesn’t want to get the science right, she wants to help her friends at Environmental Health News.  It’s easy to see if we look at her other statements.  

“But while they are a visual delight, fireworks are anything but innocuous. Research has shown that they can cause significant air pollution and the residues they leave behind – including strontium, barium, cobalt and lead – can be highly dangerous.”

OK, let’s enter this universe. Take a look at the photos below and try to tell me with a straight face how fireworks are a significant contributor to air pollution (and strontium poisoning ????).

Obviously the city on the far left is the U.S., with some of the cleanest air in the world. The two on the right are where actual air pollution is. Stopping fireworks is not going to matter there. 

But she claims a reason for her madness.

“A less-known fact is that fireworks contain significant amounts of perchlorate, a chemical of particular concern because of its potential effects on foetal brain development.”

Dozens of chemicals have effects on brain development if the dose is high enough, and those are just the chemicals you can find in organic dinner. But the dose is not high enough, even among people who work with perchlorate much less who see fireworks once a year. A CDC toxicology profile on perchlorate shows this, if Demeneix ever bothered to read it. If thyroid hormones are being affected it’s sure not obvious from this document (emphasis mine):

Endocrine Effects. No significant effects on serum levels of TSH [throid-stimulating hormone], total serum thyroxine (TT4), T3, or free thyroxine index (FTI) were found among the ammonium perchlorate workers studied by Gibbs et al. (1998). The mean airborne concentration of perchlorate to which the workers were exposed ranged from 0.02 to 0.63 mg/m3 . The researchers estimated that exposure to airborne perchlorate provided an average cumulative lifetime absorbed dose of up to 0.01 mg perchlorate/kg/day for high-exposure workers. Comparison of pre- and post-shift serum thyroid hormone measurements for individual workers failed to find any evidence of a transient effect associated with daily exposure.

Toxicological Profile For Perchlorates, CDC

Occupational exposure is a key test for determining real harm. If people who work every day with perchlorate are not affected kids are not going to be harmed by a fireworks show.

She then claims

“The lack of either iodine or thyroid hormone during early development, especially the fetal and perinatal periods, results in lower IQ as well as an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disease such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (AD/HD).” 

It’s hard to trust anything the endocrine disruptor activists say but autism is multifactorial, so even if this is true, where is the evidence that watching fireworks has any effect on thyroid function?

There isn’t any. That doesn’t stop her from declaring it omipresent and therefore dangerous (emphasis mine)

“Fireworks are by no means the only source of perchlorate in our environment. Because it’s highly soluble in water and stable, perchlorate can contaminate croplands and be taken up by vegetables and fruits grown there. Foods with the highest documented levels of perchlorate include melons, dairy and leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce… But both cows-milk and soy-based infant formulas have been found to contain significant levels of perchlorate as well. Yet soy products are not [an] option, as they contain yet another compound that interferes with thyroid hormone production, genistein. So, soy-fed infants and children are doubly at risk.”

Okay, if any of this were accurate we’d all be long dead. Since trace amounts of perchlorate can be found everywhere on earth (Venus too. I think), we can eat nothing, drink nothing and maybe even breathe nothing. And she is also scaring the environmental demographic that is willing to believe her about endocrine disruption – vegetarians and supplement buyers. Genistein is a polyphenol antioxidant found in soy and has been touted as a supplement to prevent half the diseases on earth. 

Genistein is an estrogen mimic too. So if half the women in New York are consuming something that will screw up TWO of their endocrine functions, how are they all still walking around? 

There is more silliness in Demeneix’s article. I haven’t even scratched the surface. But the take-home message is that she just hates chemicals and is a master at using the tired old endocrine disruptor canard to scare you about everything and nothing. 

It’s too bad that Independence Day can’t give us independence from ridiculous pseudo-science like this. Still, I promised in the title I could link autism to football touchdowns. So here is what Demeneix can use for her next article:

  1. Alcohol consumption is known to cause developmental disorders in babies.
  2. Autism is one type of developmental disorder.
  3. Beer contains alcohol
  4. Beer consumption is linked to watching NFL games.
  5. The NFL is more popular when a lot of points are scored.
  6. When more games are watched more beer is consumed
  7. The number of touchdown passes is linked to the number of points scored and more alcohol consumption.
  8. Therefore, touchdown passes cause autism.

Maybe touchdowns should be banned. Field goals do not disrupt your endocrines. But they sure are boring.


(1) This is utter nonsense. The amount of perchlorate that one will be exposed to from watching a fireworks show is vanishingly small. 

(2) See: Why I Don’t Write About Pottery From the Ming Dynasty

Researchers work to help children with a rare form of autism

Researchers work to help children with a rare form of autism
Credit: Maya Szatai

Dylan started life as a typical baby, meeting his milestones for walking, talking, and other markers of normal development. In a home video from when Dylan was about 3, he climbs, bursting with energy, on the couch and pretends to read aloud from a picture book. His conversation is animated as he talks about the book with his father, who is recording, and he speaks in full sentences. In kindergarten, his parents noticed some language delays, and Dylan received special education support, but his mother, Kim Covell, saw him as “just a quirky kid.”

That changed at the end of third grade. Dylan entered a period of intense anxiety that lasted nearly six months. In a video from this phase, he frantically paces his living room, shaking his hands, scratching his shoulders, repeating over and over, “I’m upset. … I don’t like it. … oowww, it hurts. … I’m scared.” He scratches under his shirt, giving the impression he wants to crawl out of his skin. “He cried all the time,” Covell recalls. “I’m convinced when he was looking at me, he was seeing a distorted version of me.” As this phase of terror ended, Dylan started new, dangerous behaviors. He jumped from high places and darted into the road. He developed tics and licked surfaces. Then he slowly ceased talking, began to lose vocabulary, and used simpler sentences. When his scores on his developmental evaluations dropped in every single area, his family convinced his school to get him evaluated at the Yale Child Study Center (YCSC).

In advance of the visit, Covell shared the videos of Dylan at the ages of 3 and 8 with clinicians at the YCSC. A final video shows him sitting limply in front of a puzzle, staring around the room. Occasionally, he picks up a piece and shows it to the camera before setting it back down. He does not speak. Minutes after the video ended, Fred R. Volkmar, M.D., the Irving B. Harris Professor in the Child Study Center and professor of psychology, and Alexander Westphal, M.D., HS ’11, Ph.D. ’12, FW ’12, assistant professor of psychiatry in the YCSC, broke the news: her son had childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).

The diagnosis offered little comfort. “It put a name to it, but it didn’t really help,” Covell says. What the family learned was terrifying: there is no treatment for CDD, and Dylan will likely need special services and support for his entire life. But in those first few years, Covell says, things were OK. “It was challenging—he lost a lot of speech and some of the joy, but he was still involved in the family.” From fifth through 10th grade, the family worked with the public school system to get Dylan the support and accommodation he needed. Covell said it was especially difficult to get the schools to understand Dylan’s new reality. “He’s different from your typical kid with autism.”

As a result of years of advocacy, Covell, an assistant editor for the Press News Group in Southampton, N.Y., started a summer camp specifically tailored for kids on the autism spectrum, pairing them with typically developing peers. Now, she figures she has seen just about every variety of autism. This exposure, however, makes her uncomfortable putting Dylan’s experience and her family’s challenges on the same spectrum. “I have friends whose kids have autism and are going to college. My kid can’t wash his hair. It’s not only hard to think of those as the same thing; it’s absurd.”

The mystery of what is really going on with her son has kept her connected to Yale, and committed to participating in any research that might help scientists better understand autism and CDD.

A rare and devastating disorder

CDD, which affects between one and two children in 100,000, was first identified in 1908. It is also known as Heller’s syndrome, for the Austrian educator Theodor Heller, who identified the disorder 35 years before autism was first described. Westphal, one of the doctors involved with Dylan’s case, describes CDD as what happens when normal kids suddenly develop autism. They lose acquired language; motor, social, and play skills; and frequently bladder and bowel control. The loss often follows a period of such psychiatric disturbances as hallucinations and anxiety, similar to Dylan’s six-month period of terror. In 2013, CDD, then a distinct disorder, was incorporated into autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychologists and psychiatrists. This reclassification has diminished awareness of the disorder, making it harder for families to find information and researchers to secure grant money.

This DSM-5 reclassification is a mistake, according to Abha Gupta, M.D., Ph.D., FW ’07, assistant professor of pediatrics, who became interested in CDD during her fellowship at Yale. Although people with CDD meet the full criteria for autism—characterized by difficulties in social communication and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior—the clinical history of the disorder is different. It is distinguished by its late onset—starting any time between the ages of 2 and 10—and involves dramatic regression and severe impairment.

YCSC faculty have researched CDD for more than 20 years, starting with Volkmar, the center’s former director. Through word of mouth, families affected by CDD referred one another to the YCSC for evaluation, building up a community of families like Dylan’s that are committed to seeking answers for a condition that has no treatment.

In addition to the desire to understand a mysterious and devastating disorder, the interest in studying CDD comes partly from what it could say about all of autism, says Westphal. The conventional wisdom on autism is that it is a developmental disorder existing from the beginning and that different individuals are affected by atypical development in various areas of communication and social learning to differing degrees, hence, its description as a spectrum disorder.

But Westphal describes CDD as more of a global catastrophe in the brain—low-functioning autism by a different pathway. “That’s significant because it may illustrate that not all people with low-functioning autism have the same kind of autism as people with high levels of function.”

Gupta and Westphal were two of the lead researchers on a team composed of geneticists, clinicians, neuroimaging experts, and eye-tracking scientists to perform a neurogenetic analysis of CDD. They identified genetic mutations associated with it, mapped its pattern of abnormal brain activity through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and charted its social activity through eye tracking. In every area, patients with CDD were compared to those with autism, both with intellectual disability and without, and to typically developing controls. The team hoped these data could help them understand what happens in the brains of kids like Dylan, and how similar it is to more common subtypes of autism.

The genetic analyses showed important differences between CDD and most forms of autism. Not only were different genes involved, but so were the brain regions where these genes were active. The genes most likely to be involved in CDD were expressed strongly in non-neocortical regions of the brain, which help control eye movements and attention to social information. ASD genes are more strongly expressed in neocortical regions. Another analysis showed that the pattern of expression of potential CDD genes had the most similarity to autism cases with a history of regression, suggesting that regression might have a distinctive genetic pattern. The symptoms seen in CDD, this finding suggests, are likely caused by a genetic mechanism in the brain different from most other subtypes of autism.

The team used non-sedated fMRI to see patterns of brain activity when the research participants looked at images of emotional faces (a social stimulus) and houses (a neutral stimulus). The study also, for the first time, included patients with intellectual disabilities in addition to their autism—a group that is underrepresented in imaging studies because it is difficult to get these patients to cooperate with the study protocols.

The CDD cohort had an abnormal pattern of activity in nonneocortical brain regions when viewing faces versus houses, a departure from the abnormal pattern that people with high-functioning autism exhibit. The low-functioning group had a pattern between those of the CDD and high-functioning autism groups.

The researchers also found a surprising convergence between the genetic and neuroimaging tests—the regions that were abnormally overactive in people with CDD were the same regions where CDD candidate genes are most active.

Eye-tracking studies record what research participants look at when shown pictures or videos. When viewing faces, most of us look at the eyes, while high-functioning individuals with autism split their time between the mouth and eyes. This difference is thought to explain some social skills deficits found in people with ASD. Because people with CDD are more severely affected than average, Gupta expected to find an abnormal eye-tracking pattern. Instead, she found that people with CDD focused on the same things as typically developing people did. “They also favored the eyes when viewing faces,” Gupta says.

The clinical observations, genetic analyses, and imaging and eye-tracking data converged in several areas. First, the genes that are most likely to be involved in CDD are very active in the same areas that are overactive when people with CDD looked at faces. Along with this abnormal overactivity came increased attention to the eyes. The researchers speculate that because CDD surfaces after prolonged normal development, the neural circuits that control attention to faces may be preserved. If so, then whatever is happening in the brain during the regression in CDD does not change how the brain processes faces. Why the preservation of some neural circuits is still accompanied by the severe behavioral symptoms of CDD remains a mystery.

A distinct disorder

Studies like this, says Westphal, are notable and should push a rethinking of the definition of autism. He favors modeling it as “a converging constellation,” in which multiple pathways meet to present similar symptoms. “For me, CDD is so much at the center,” says Westphal. “It’s the canary in the coal mine, marking the possibility that gradual developmental accounts do not explain all forms of autism.”

The distinction has clinical implications. With a CDD diagnosis, the initial push is to hunt for a reversible cause. If the patient is diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability instead, that hunt never happens. “This means we may be missing a whole world of possible treatments for kids on the low-functioning end,” says Westphal.

Pamela Ventola, Ph.D., FW ’08, assistant professor in the YCSC, helped lead the team that evaluated the research participants. She believes that this study supports her hunch that CDD is its own entity. In other research, she has predicted the effectiveness of a particular treatment based on brain images of patients. CDD “feels very different, clinically,” she says. Even though many of the behavioral features are the same as those of autism after the regression has passed, Ventola thinks the results suggest that CDD may be an entity distinct from ASD. “This interdisciplinary research is really the key—none of these methods alone would have given these results,” she says.

James C. McPartland, Ph.D., an associate professor in the YCSC who wasn’t involved in this study, is skeptical about abandoning the spectrum model for kids who also have intellectual disability or severe regression. Previous attempts to define subtypes based on clinical evaluations were unreliable and inconsistent, he says, something that does families and patients no favors. And he points out that the sample of 17 participants with CDD is still relatively small. It is impossible to figure out the degree of heterogeneity that exists in CDD. “The reason we stay with the spectrum is because we haven’t found anything better.”

Dylan’s story continues

Dylan continued to lose speech skills. Two years ago, at 16, he was diagnosed with catatonia, a disorder characterized by stupor, mutism, loss of motor skills, and periods of hyperactivity that can be combative and destructive. Dylan has since started at the behavioral clinic of a private autism school that has experience working with students who have catatonia. After over a year of working with him, they have found a communication system for him. Covell describes it as an “old-school” picture system—laminated icons. Many kids use iPads to communicate using pictures, but Dylan’s unpredictable behavior—he can become destructive when frustrated—makes that impractical. He can stay in the school until he is 21, and there is no clear answer for what will be best for him after that.

For Kim Covell, the most elusive mystery is the sense, shared by many people who have loved ones with CDD, that the old Dylan is still in there somewhere. He becomes verbal when he gets agitated, but he refers to people and events in his pre-CDD past—teachers from preschool, classmates, things he did with his family. “There’s something—it’s there,” Covell says. “But it’s not.”

Explore further:
Autism severity detected with brain activity test

Provided by:
Yale University

Autism therapy: Social behavior restored via brain stimulation

Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

The research from the O’Donnell Brain Institute provides the first evidence that a specific part of the cerebellum, a region near the brain stem that has long been thought to only have roles in coordinating movement, is critical for autistic behaviors. It also establishes a more accessible target for brain stimulation than many autism-related neural circuits that are buried deep within the brain’s folds.

“This is potentially quite a powerful finding,” said Dr. Peter Tsai, who directed the research from UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. “From a therapeutic standpoint, this part of the cerebellum is an enticing target. And although neuromodulation would not cure the underlying genetic cause of a person’s autism, improving social deficits in children with autism could make a huge impact on their quality of life.”

The research — the cover story of December’s Nature Neuroscience — utilized neuromodulation to demonstrate that humans and mice have parallel connections between specific domains within the cerebellum and cerebral cortex that have been implicated in autism studies. Subsequent phases of the study showed that disrupting the function within the cerebellar domain resulted in autistic behaviors and that brain stimulation corrected social impairment in mice.

The next step is to ensure the same technique would be safe to conduct on children. Although doctors have safely applied cerebellar neuromodulation to disorders such as schizophrenia, it has not been studied in children with autism.

Dr. Tsai is planning on changing this situation through future studies at UT Southwestern’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

“This area of the brain has not received the attention it deserves in regards to understanding autism,” said Dr. Tsai, noting that most of the focus of autism research has been on the cortex, a region of the brain associated with cognition.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects approximately 1 in 68 children in the U.S. It is characterized by social interaction and communication challenges, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.

To better understand the cerebellum’s role in mediating these behaviors, Dr. Tsai’s team used neuromodulation to show that humans and mice have parallel connections between the Right CrusI domain of the cerebellum and the cortex’s inferior parietal lobule.

The study authors next used brain imaging to demonstrate that those same connections are disrupted in a cohort of autistic children and an autism mouse model. They further showed that disrupting function within Right CrusI in normal mice resulted in impaired social interaction and abnormal, repetitive behaviors.

The team went further and asked whether neuromodulation could improve behaviors. By stimulating neurons in Right CrusI of the autism mouse model, the scientists showed that cerebellar stimulation improved social behaviors but not the repetitive behaviors characteristic of autism in these mice.

Dr. Tsai said the limited effects may reflect the involvement of additional parts of the cerebellum or perhaps the restricted timeframe for which some behaviors can be corrected. However, he also noted that this neuromodulation restored social behaviors even in adult mice. This result suggests autistic children may still benefit from treatments even if intervention is delayed until later in life.

“Our findings have prompted new thoughts on how the cerebellum may be involved in autism and most importantly suggest that the cerebellum could be a therapeutic target for treatment,” said Dr. Tsai, Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics, who cares for children with autism and cerebellar disorders as part of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

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Materials provided by UT Southwestern Medical Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Israeli Scientists Show Individuals Have ‘Neural Fingerprint,’ Search for Early Markers of Autism

Photo Credit: Pixabay / Geralt

Israeli researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev say people possess a “neural fingerprint” – a magnitude of variability in brain activity that is unique and individual.

Their findings, published this week in eNeuro, hold promise for identifying and assessing the severity of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including autism and attention deficit disorder.


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The researchers say that most people assume that when they see the same thing repeatedly, their brain responds in an identical, reproducible manner. But actually, brain responses vary dramatically from one moment to the next and most importantly, the magnitude of this variability is a stable individual trait.

“Some of us have brains that are more variable and less stable than others. This variability is apparent when we record the brain responses of individual adults with an EEG,” explains group leader Dr. Ilan Dinstein, head of the Negev Autism Center.

“The magnitude of this brain variability is pretty much the same regardless of what the subjects are doing, whether they are performing one task or another,” says Dinstein. “It is also consistent over time, even when we tested the subjects a year later. All of which means that each one of us has a specific magnitude of brain variability regardless of what we are doing.”

Until now, the scientific consensus has held that brain variability/noise mostly depends on whether a person is paying attention (or not) to the task that they are performing. Dinstein and his team were able to show that, in fact, the task performed is a minor factor; the major factor is the person’s identity.

“The really interesting question here is whether individuals with different magnitudes of brain variability/noise have different behavioral capabilities,” says Dinstein.

“We are now using EEG recordings during sleep in very young children to see if excessive variability is an early marker of at least some cases of autism. We hope that this may aid in early diagnosis and point to a specific neural problem in some of the autism cases. This will hopefully lead to specialized autism treatments that we are now developing at the Negev Autism Center.”

In this small study, Dinstein and his Ph.D. student Ayelet Arazi and post-doctoral student Dr. Gil Gonen-Yaacovi had 24 subjects complete two experimental sessions, separated by a year. Each session included four EEG experiments that differed in their structure, stimulus, attentional demands, and cognitive loads.

In the first experiment, the task was easy – subjects passively observed a checkerboard annulus on consecutive trials. In the second experiment, the task was slightly more demanding – subjects pressed one button in response to a circle stimulus and another button in response to a triangle stimulus. In the third experiment, the task demands further intensified – subjects responded only to the circle stimulus and had to refrain from responding to the triangles (i.e., the task required inhibition). In the final experiment, task demands were high – subjects had to identify if the current stimulus (Chinese letter) was the same as the one shown two trials before.

These different tasks allowed the researchers to demonstrate the generalizability of their findings.

Individual subjects exhibited the same magnitudes of brain variability regardless of the task they performed and across recording sessions separated by a whole year.

Dinstein is a member of the Departments of Psychology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences as well as the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience at BGU. He is also the director of the Negev Autism Center. Arazi is a member of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, Gonen-Yaacovi is a member of the Department of Psychology.

This study was supported by ISF grant 961/14 and an Israel Ministry of Immigrant Absorption Fellowship.


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York Suburban considers expanding district autism support program

The York Suburban school board is considering whether to bring back some of its autistic support students from the local intermediate unit by expanding its own support program.

Student personnel director Natalie Hasenfuss recommended during a committee meeting Dec. 4 that the school board implement an autistic support program for students in grades 3 through 5.

Currently, York Suburban hosts five autistic support classrooms that include students from other school districts as part of an arrangement with the Lincoln Intermediate Unit (LIU).

The LIU’s system, known as “fair share,” has districts provide classrooms for LIU staff to operate in.

More: York Suburban board reorganizes, starts superintendent search process

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The number of LIU support classrooms within a district is determined by the LIU and depends in part on how many students utilize autistic and other special education support services.

At York Suburban, there are 42 students in grades 3 through 12 who receive autistic support services, according to Hasenfuss.

The district already has an in-house autistic support classroom for students in second grade and under, and new data presented by Hasenfuss shows a growing number of students in grades 3 through 5 with autistic support needs.

The number of students needing autistic support services is expected to increase to seven by the 2018-19 school year and to nine the following year — up from four this year.

In the current arrangement, the district pays out $36,648 per student to the LIU, leading to more than $146,000 in tuition costs this school year.

If costs stay the same, which is unlikely, that agreement will cost the district over $256,000 for seven students next year, Hasenfuss said.

One well-staffed district support classroom of eight students includes one teacher and two paraprofessional staff members, according to Hasenfuss.

Along with some support from the LIU — though much more limited — as well as curriculum and supplies, the proposed change would run the district nearly $251,000 in the 2018-19 school year.

Autism prevalence in children has increased dramatically, from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 in 2014, according to CDC data presented at the meeting.

Board member Joel Sears asked Hasenfuss for five years of projected costs and enrollment to better compare LIU’s program to the district’s own operation. 

The board has until March to notify the Department of Education and the Lincoln Intermediate Unit of a decision to start its own autistic support program, Hasenfuss noted.

The York Suburban school board will get a first look at 2018-19 budget at the Dec. 18 meeting.

— Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at or on Twitter @EducationYD.

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Is Autism Caused By Touchdown Passes?

Barbara Demeneix, a team leader at The Paris Natural History Museum is at it again. Demeneix certainly has credentials. She earned Ph.D. in endocrinology and physiology from the University of Calgary, has published two books, more than 170 papers, and received a number of awards for her work, which is now primarily focused on thyroid function. I just don’t get it. With such training and experience, it is especially surprising to see some of the claims she makes. Or not. Demeneix is one of the head counselors in the “Endocrine Disruptor Camp,” which all but guarantees a certain amount of nuttiness.  This time she doesn’t disappoint. We should stop using fireworks because they might cause autism. Hoo boy. 

Her reasoning, such as it is, goes like this:

  • Iodine deficiency is linked to autism.
  • Fireworks contain ammonium perchlorate. It makes them go boom.
  • Perchlorate competes with iodine in the thyroid gland.
  • The amount of perchlorate in fireworks is sufficient to result in lower iodine levels. Please. (1)
  • Therefore, perchlorate causes autism.

This article is so nuts that it would take me until, let’s say, July 4th (it is now December 12th) to properly explain how nuts it really is. So, you’ll have to settle for an improper explanation. Events are linked to other events all the time. Sometimes they are real (cigarette smoking and cancer) and sometimes they are mega-stupid, like touching receipts with BPA will give you man-boobs. (2)

There can be no better example of correlation having nothing to do with causation than the graph below. I have used it before.

The sale of organic foods correlates perfectly with the increase in the number of diagnoses of autism. The r value (in this case 0.9971) is a measure of how good the correlation is. It doesn’t get any better than this. It is virtually perfect as shown by a table from an article  “HOW TO INTERPRET A CORRELATION COEFFICIENT R.”

  • +0.30. A weak uphill (positive) linear relationship

  • +0.50. A moderate uphill (positive) relationship

  • +0.70. A strong uphill (positive) linear relationship

  • Exactly +1. A perfect uphill (positive) linear relationship.

So, the correlation between organic foods and autism is perfect. Of course, even the Environmental Working Group, the Three Stooges of the science world, knows that the graph is nonsense. If you examine enough pairs of separate trends it is a given that graphs like this will turn up now and then simply by coincidence. So, one has to be very careful not to draw conclusions based on correlation alone. You will screw it up way more times than you’ll get it right. 

But Demeneix doesn’t know when to quit when she’s behind. Let’s take a look at some other statements from the same article.  

“But while they are a visual delight, fireworks are anything but innocuous. Research has shown that they can cause significant air pollution and the residues they leave behind – including strontium, barium, cobalt and lead – can be highly dangerous.”

OK, let’s enter this universe. Take a look at the photos below and try to tell me with a straight face that fireworks are a significant contributor to air pollution (and strontium poisoning ????).

Stopping fireworks is going to matter while this is going on? Please. 

“A less-known fact is that fireworks contain significant amounts of perchlorate, a chemical of particular concern because of its potential effects on foetal brain development.”

How about dose? A CDC toxicology profile on perchlorate looks at this. If thyroid hormones are being affected it’s sure not obvious from this document (emphasis mine):

Endocrine Effects. No significant effects on serum levels of TSH [throid-stimulating hormone], total serum thyroxine (TT4), T3, or free thyroxine index (FTI) were found among the ammonium perchlorate workers studied by Gibbs et al. (1998). The mean airborne concentration of perchlorate to which the workers were exposed ranged from 0.02 to 0.63 mg/m3 . The researchers estimated that exposure to airborne perchlorate provided an average cumulative lifetime absorbed dose of up to 0.01 mg perchlorate/kg/day for high-exposure workers. Comparison of pre- and post-shift serum thyroid hormone measurements for individual workers failed to find any evidence of a transient effect associated with daily exposure.

Toxicological Profile For Perchlorates, CDC

Occupational exposure is an acid test for determining real harm. If people who work every day with perchlorate are not affected you sure as hell are not going to be harmed by a fireworks show.

“The lack of either iodine or thyroid hormone during early development, especially the fetal and perinatal periods, results in lower IQ as well as an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disease such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (AD/HD).” 

Maybe this is true, but where is the evidence that watching fireworks has any effect on thyroid function? There isn’t any.

“Fireworks are by no means the only source of perchlorate in our environment. Because it’s highly soluble in water and stable, perchlorate can contaminate croplands and be taken up by vegetables and fruits grown there. Foods with the highest documented levels of perchlorate include melons, dairy and leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce… But both cows-milk and soy-based infant formulas have been found to contain significant levels of perchlorate as well. Yet soy products are not [an] option, as they contain yet another compound that interferes with thyroid hormone production, genistein. So, soy-fed infants and children are doubly at risk.”

OK, we’re all dead. Since trace amounts of perchlorate can be found everywhere on earth (Venus too. I think.), we must eat nothing, drink nothing and maybe even breathe nothing. Also, genistein is a polyphenol antioxidant which is found in soy has been touted as a healthy supplement to prevent half the diseases on earth. 

But even worse! Genistein is an estrogen mimic too. So we have half the women in New York consuming something that will screw up TWO of their endocrine functions, yet they’re still walking around. 

There is so much silliness in Demeneix’s article. I haven’t even scratched the surface. But the take-home message is that she just hates chemicals and is a master at using the tired old endocrine disruptor canard to scare you about everything and nothing. 

It’s too bad that Independence Day can’t give us independence from ridiculous pseudo-science like this. 

Let me finish with my own series of stupid correlations:

  1. Alcohol consumption is known to cause developmental disorders in babies.
  2. Autism is one type of developmental disorder.
  3. Beer contains alcohol
  4. Beer consumption is linked to watching NFL games.
  5. The NFL is more popular when a lot of points are scored.
  6. When more games are watched more beer is consumed
  7. The number of touchdown passes is linked to the number of points scored and more alcohol consumption.
  8. Therefore, touchdown passes cause autism.

Maybe touchdowns should be banned. Field goals do not disrupt your endocrines. But they sure are boring.


(1) This is utter nonsense. The amount of perchlorate that one will be exposed to from watching a fireworks show is vanishingly small. 

(2) See: Why I Don’t Write About Pottery From the Ming Dynasty

Study zeroes in on key part of DNA deletion linked to autism

Nested nexus: Genes residing in small stretch of DNA on chromosome 22 may provide clues to the biology of autism.

Filograph / iStock

Deletions within a specific segment of chromosome 22 raise the risk of autism, a new study suggests1.

Deletions or duplications of DNA in this region, called 22q11.2, are associated with autism and schizophrenia, as well as heart and gastrointestinal problems.

In most cases, these deletions or duplications span the entire region. But in about 15 percent of cases, they affect just one of four segments within 22q11.2.

Researchers now report that only one of these segments is tied to autism: 5 of 12 children with a deletion have the condition, compared with none of 8 other children with a deletion or duplication in any of the other three segments.

“That’s a pretty high rate,” says lead researcher Robert Schultz, director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The number of children in the study was small because these mutations are rare, so the findings must be replicated. But if confirmed, they help solve a big puzzle in the field — how genes in this region contribute to autism and other conditions.

“This study by Schultz and colleagues elegantly addresses that knowledge gap,” says Noboru Hiroi, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and of neuroscience, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who was not involved in the research.

Telling trio:

Schultz and his colleagues identified 33 children with a small deletion and 13 with a small duplication in 22q11.2, from a database of more than 1,000 children with mutations in the region.

They assessed 20 of the children for autism. Of this group, 12 children have a deletion that includes a stretch between two ‘points’ in the region, dubbed A and B; the remaining 8 have alterations that affect segments that run from B to D. (A, B, C and D are all blocks of repetitive DNA.) They found that five of the children with a deletion in the A-to-B segment have autism and none of the children with a mutation outside of this segment do. The study appeared 27 October in Molecular Autism.

“The findings are really interesting — particularly that the rate of autism was zero” in children with alterations outside the A-to-B region, says Carrie Bearden, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the work. Bearden says the work is “a first step” in confirming the region’s link to autism.

With such a small sample, it is hard to know the true rate of autism associated with the region. But its link to autism aligns with findings from previous studies.

For instance, a 2014 study reported that individuals with diminished activity of two genes, COMT and PRODH, in the A-to-B segment are more likely to have autism than those with a deletion elsewhere in the region2. And last year, Schultz’s team found that deletion of a third gene in the segment, RANBP1, raises the risk of autism3.

In the new study, Schultz and his team described one child with autism who has a deletion in 22q11.2 that consists mainly of COMT and RANBP1.

The idea that these three genes contribute to autism risk makes sense because animal studies support their involvement in brain development, Bearden says4,5.

The genes have not yet cropped up in any studies of autism. Still, investigating their function could reveal clues to biological mechanisms underlying the condition, Schultz says.

The next step is to replicate the findings in a larger group of children. Collaborative studies that pool information from multiple sites — such as the International Consortium on Brain and Behavior in 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome — could provide the necessary data.

December events at the autism venter

Working the Puzzle for Autism Inc. Center will be having music therapy for any individual on the autism spectrum from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16. The session is free to any individual on the autism spectrum. Siblings will not be allowed to participate as this is therapy. Santa Claus will also be visiting the center at noon on Saturday, Dec. 16, and this event is open for the entire family for individuals on the autism spectrum. The center will also be doing Christmas decorations and having pizza and drinks to celebrate the holiday season. Please RSVP to Lisa Nally-Martin at or message her on Facebook if you plan to attend the Santa event.

Why autism remains hidden in Africa

Raising awareness:

Most Africans are largely unaware of autism, despite its prevalence; to be fair, child mortality and malnutrition are more urgent concerns for most people. In surveys conducted in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia, healthcare workers and families frequently attribute its features to a curse (brought on by a taboo act such as cheating on a spouse) or to being possessed by an evil spirit.

Yenus experienced this lack of awareness firsthand. In 1996, she returned to her hometown of Addis Ababa from Los Angeles, where she had worked in beauty salons for 14 years. Her 4-year-old son, Jojo, still wasn’t talking, but the doctors she saw in the U.S. told her to be patient. Shortly after she returned home, she opened Ethiopia’s first cosmetology school, the Niana School of Beauty, and noticed that Jojo seemed to regress even further. He started spinning around in circles, crying for unknown reasons and biting his finger. He did not make eye contact or pay attention to others. Yenus wondered if he might have autism, something she had heard about on American television. She read up on the condition and grew increasingly convinced that it explained Jojo’s behavior. She took the boy to numerous doctors in Addis Ababa, but no one knew what she was talking about. “There was no knowledge about autism in Ethiopia,” she says. “The word autism didn’t exist.” So she diagnosed him herself based on what she had read in books that her husband sent her from the U.S.

In 1999, she held a star-studded weeklong exhibition about traditional and modern beauty products and services. She decided to use the media attention that event attracted as an opportunity to talk about her son and his condition. “I made sure everybody understood it’s not a curse,” she says.

Jojo received an official diagnosis about a year later, when he was 8. Yenus had taken him to see a psychiatrist in Oxford, England, where they were visiting family. The diagnosis did little to improve Jojo’s situation back home. School after school expelled him because his teachers could not control him. And as Yenus continued to educate the public about autism through frequent appearances on TV and radio programs, she grew distressed by the experiences of families less fortunate than hers. She heard horrifying accounts of children rejected by their families and cut off from even the most basic care.

Lunchtime lessons: Jojo Yenus (middle) and other students at the Joy Center prepare lunch each day with supervision from a cook.

Photograph by Petterik Wiggers / Panos Pictures UK for Spectrum

In April 2002, Yenus used her savings from the beauty school to rent a small house in Addis Ababa, where she opened the Joy Center for Autism. She started with just four students, including her son. As demand grew, she admitted more children and hired staff. Within a year and a half, the school had outgrown its original location and moved to its current site: a house tucked away behind stone walls, shrubbery and a tall green gate in a quiet residential neighborhood in the southwestern part of the city. As of September, the school has 80 students and 53 staff.

Yenus is a well-known figure in Ethiopia and recognized elsewhere in Africa. She appears regularly on TV and radio. “I think you can credit her with being the main person responsible for raising autism awareness,” says Rosa Hoekstra, lecturer in psychology at Kings College London. “She’s really a very powerful, inspiring figure.” But Yenus remains dissatisfied. In Ethiopia, as in other African countries, there are no laws to guarantee children with autism or other special needs the right to public education. To date, there are only two schools in Addis Ababa that specialize in autism — the Joy Center and the Nehemiah Center, founded by a group of families with children on the spectrum in 2010. Together, the two schools have more than 400 children on waiting lists.

The schools provide some therapies that are loosely derived from evidence-based approaches, such as applied behavioral analysis, but other offerings are not. At the Joy Center, for example, children receive occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, music therapy and lessons in art, reading, writing and social skills, as well as a speech therapy called “Abugida fonetics,” which Yenus developed for her son. It involves teaching children how to speak by breaking words down into simple syllables and showing them pictures of mouths making each sound. The idea is that the children learn to mimic those movements.

Yenus credits this technique for her son’s ability to say simple phrases. But experts say it’s unclear whether these homemade treatments help. “I think I understand why people are driven to generating their own [treatments] when the system doesn’t provide it,” de Vries says. But at the same time, he says, few people try to use proven therapies or collect the types of data needed to validate their homegrown treatments.

Some African researchers, including Waganesh Zeleke, are hoping to collect those data. Zeleke worked as a staff psychologist at the Joy Center before earning her doctorate in the U.S., and she returns each year. She is trying to evaluate the treatments offered there and at the Nehemiah Center. She has found that most of the staff at these schools lack any knowledge of autism or experience providing autism treatments prior to being hired. “Most of their knowledge comes out of self-learning,” says Zeleke, now assistant professor of clinical mental health counseling at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. “It’s all informal, intuition-based.”

Both centers also lack documentation about what the treatments entail or formal assessments of children’s behaviors before and after receiving the therapies. Zeleke says she thinks the treatments are effective, but without any data it’s impossible to tell for sure. She’s working with staff at both schools to teach them how to assess and measure their methods rigorously.

Parents of child with autism file bullying lawsuit against Omaha, Ark. School District

Parents in Omaha, Arkansas claim their child with autism has been bullied not only by other students but also staff.

“It’s horrible,” Tonya Richardson said.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Chad Richardson said.

The Richardson’s say their 13-year-old son has not been to school for more than a year. They say that is because when he did attend school in Omaha, he was bullied.

In a federal lawsuit filed against the school, the parents claim that their son was called names by other students and that the school did not stop the alleged bullying.

“There had been several incidents of bullying and the school did not address or investigate the incidents on hand,” Tonya Richardson said.

The Richardson’s further allege that when their son tried to tell his teacher about the bullying that she then bullied him, calling him a “tattle-tale” then forcing him to sit in the “time out chair” in the middle of the room.

“When you take an autistic child, or any child, and they cannot go to a teacher and tell them that something is happening and is ignored and they’re told they’re being a “tattle-tail,” that is an issue, that is a problem,” Chad Richardson said.

The lawsuit also reads that the boy now experiences PTSD and Tourettes due to the alleged treatment.

“What he has went through in the last 15 months is unbelievable,” Tonya Richardson said.

That’s why, now, he’s taught at home.

“He’s getting home-bound services now, yes,” Chad Richardson said.

They say the school provided those services after a “due process hearing” last spring, which concluded that the district had previously denied the child “free and appropriate public education.”

However, they say the alleged bullying continues to affect him.

“He is not the same child. He’s a different child than we used to know,” Tonya Richardson said.

The teacher mentioned in the complaint is still listed as an employee on the school district’s website and the attorney for the district says the district denies any bullying on the teacher’s part.

“Educators largely have a heart for kids that’s why they’re in the business,” Attorney Marshall Ney said.

Ney says the school also denies accusations that they did not adequately respond to reports of bullying.

“The school takes the topic of bullying very seriously and the care and safety of their kids, and so yes the district absolutely denies the very sensationalized allegations that are being asserted against them,” Ney said.

While the parents are seeking compensation for things like attorney fees, they say the purpose of the lawsuit is to prevent bullying.

“That no other child, whether he has autism or not, goes through what our child went through,” Chad Richardson said.

The district and its attorney have 21 days to respond from the time of the complaint, which was filed last week.

The attorney says it could take a more than a year for the case to be concluded.

What is autism spectrum disorder, what are the early signs, symptoms and causes and can you be tested for it if you’re …

AUTISM spectrum disorder is a condition which can affect a person’s communication skills and social interaction.

Here’s everything you need to know about traits of people with ASD and the support which is available in the UK.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is three to four times more common in boys than in girls (stock image used)

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an incurable, lifelong developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.

It affects around one in 100 people in the UK and is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.

Many people with ASD find it hard to understand other people’s feelings and emotions, and they may have difficulty holding conversations.

When they are young, their language development may take longer and they can struggle to use facial expressions, using gestures to communicate instead.

They may also find it hard to connect with other people and to hold eye contact with unfamiliar individuals.

Many children with ASD like to follow a routine, and changes to this can cause distress.


Autism is an incurable, lifelong developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others

How is autism spectrum disorder tested during pregnancy?

There are no tests that are used to screen for ASD during pregnancy.

Symptoms are usually present before a child reaches the age of three, although a diagnosis can be made later in life.

To make an accurate assessment, information is usually drawn from GPs, nursery or school staff and speech and occupational therapists.

Physical examinations are often carried out in order to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms.

These health implications may also be triggered by underlying conditions including Down’s syndrome or neurofibromatosis.

What are the symptoms of ASD?

The NHS outlines the signs of symptoms of autism spectrum disorder in school-age children.

Spoken language

  • preferring to avoid using spoken language
  • speech that sounds very monotonous or flat
  • speaking in pre-learned phrases, rather than putting together individual words to form new sentences
  • seeming to talk “at” people, rather than sharing a two-way conversation

Responding to others

  • taking people’s speech literally and being unable to understand sarcasm, metaphors or figures of speech
  • reacting unusually negatively when asked to do something by someone else

Interacting with others

  • not being aware of other people’s personal space, or being unusually intolerant of people entering their own personal space
  • little interest in interacting with other people, including children of a similar age, or having few close friends, despite attempts to form friendships
  • not understanding how people normally interact socially, such as greeting people or wishing them farewell
  • being unable to adapt the tone and content of their speech to different social situations – for example, speaking very formally at a party and then speaking to total strangers in a familiar way
  • not enjoying situations and activities that most children of their age enjoy
  • rarely using gestures or facial expressions when communicating
  • avoiding eye contact


  • repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or flicking their fingers
  • playing in a repetitive and unimaginative way, often preferring to play with objects rather than people
  • developing a highly specific interest in a particular subject or activity
  • preferring to have a familiar routine and getting very upset if there are changes to their normal routine
  • having a strong like or dislike of certain foods based on the texture or colour of the food as much as the taste
  • unusual sensory interests – for example, children with ASD may sniff toys, objects or people inappropriately


Currently there are no tests that are used to screen for ASD during pregnancy

Is there a cure for autism spectrum disorder?

There isn’t a cure for autism, but there are a number of ways you can support those with it.

Speech and language therapists and educational support staff can help children and parents with day-to-day life.

Depending on the individual, there are a number of treatments that can treat symptoms or conditions associated with ASD, such as ADHD and sleeping problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder?

One of the major traits of ASD is challenges with social interaction.

This can include language and communicative difficulties in children, including lack of eye contact and a struggle with body language and gestures.

They may show a lack of empathy with other’s emotions and many need routine to feel comfortable.

Babies and small infants with ASD may not use vocal sounds or babbling to communicate.


Children with ASD may have language and communicative difficulties, including lack of eye contact and a struggle with body language (stock image used)

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

The exact cause is unknown, but can occur as a result of a number of genetic, environmental and unknown factors.

Many scientists think that a child inherits certain genes that make them more susceptible to ASD from their parents.

Other researchers claim these genes are only triggered if they are exposed to certain environmental factors.

Some of the possible causes are thought to be being born prematurely before 35 weeks of pregnancy and being exposed to alcohol in the womb.

Other theories include defects in the sensory nerves being the cause.

In the past, some have thought flu during pregnancy to be a cause, but this has been disproved in one study.

Other studies claim that children born to mums with allergies are more at risk of autism and ADHD.

And scientists in Denmark have found that the later you leave it to have kids, the higher the chance your baby will be diagnosed with this condition.

Christine McGuinness shared a heartwarming poem about her twins revealing they had autism

When does The A Word Series 2 start on BBC One and what’s it about?

The six-part drama revisits the funny, messy, mixed-up lives of the Hughes and Scott families as they struggle to do their best as parents, carers, lovers.

Now aged seven, Joe, who has autism, has begun to look at the world and finds that he doesn’t fit in.

“Autistic” is a word he has heard but can’t yet understand and “different” is what he feels, and fears might be something bad.

It is up to the whole family to help Joe make sense of who he is and his place in the world.

You can watch it on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC One.

Which celebrities have spoken about autism?

Paddy McGuinness’ wife Christine has revealed that her twins have autism in an emotional Instagram post.

The mum-of-three posted a heartfelt poem on the social media site to celebrate Leo and Penelope’s fourth birthdays.

Melanie Sykes is another celeb parent that has an autistic child, 12-year-old Valentino.

Katie Price regularly documents the struggles of her son Harvey.

Harvey, who was born blind, suffers from a rare genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome along with autism.

Daniel Ball shares the moment he helped calm down an autistic boy suffering an episode on a train

Up and Coming Autism Entrepreneurs New GPS Prototype Developed in the Name of Lost Child with ASD

Up and Coming Autism Entrepreneurs New GPS Prototype Developed in the Name of Lost Child with ASD

Name: Toron Larkins
Age: 38

About: Toron Larkins has developed the prototype for a waterproof and discreet tracker that will track anywhere in the country in an effort to keep loved ones safe. He is married and has three children plus four stepchildren.

What inspired you to develop the concept for Track-N-Find GPS Undergarments 4 Kids?

I came up with the concept after my identical twin brother told me about the time his kids wandered off and were temporarily missing. He explained how powerless he and his wife felt not knowing where they were — knowing they had exhausted all leads and time was passing. Fortunately, my niece and nephew returned home safely but that experience motivated me to develop an easy way for families to track their children.

What was your connection to the autism community?

Before I completed development of Track-N-Find, l talked to an old friend whose son with autism had recently passed away.  She shared her emotional story and explained how children with autism tend to wander off which is how l became a strong advocate for autism awareness.  I promised to dedicate my invention to the autism community, elderly, as well as aiding in the prevention of kidnappings or any child taken by force.

How does it work, can you describe the product?

My prototype has one of the smallest GPS devices you will find and it is extremely accurate. The application to track your child’s movements is easy-to-use.  I do plan to continue to adjust the product until everything operates at a high level and meets with my patent specifications.  There are several GPS products on the market but they don’t offer the discreteness that Track-N-Find GPS Undergarments 4 Kids placement does.  Once my product reaches the market it will undergo changes in an effort to provide the best possible product for customers.

Why does the development of Track-N-Find mean so much to you?

I spent some time in prison and during that time l vowed to change my life and make a difference in the world. Being locked up you have nothing but time on your hands which l used wisely to outline my life upon release right down to the smallest detail.  As a black man re-entering society with one strike against me, the odds where definitely stacked but failure was not an option.  l definitely had something to prove to myself and to my family and friends.  I made it a priority to earn my GED and started my college education.  I’m currently working on a BA in business. I’m also co-owner of Bella Fashion Boutique LLC., a online and delivery boutique. The boutique was always been my wife’s dream and I’m glad l could be a part of helping to make that happen.

When do you expect the product will be available to the public and how much do you think it will cost?

Track-N-Find GPS Undergarments 4 Kids has a patent pending status and is prototype ready. I’ve taken this as far as l can at the moment so I’m reaching out to the public as a call to action to help spread the word to their community.  Investor support will be crucial to the completion of our final product. We’re also looking for people to help join our team financially  and in promotion and marketing, etc.

What does your family, especially your twin brother, think about your goal to help keep children and the elderly safe?

Family is everything to me —they’re the reason Track-N-Find GPS Undergarments 4 Kids has even made it this far. The support from my family, friends, and community has been overwhelming. The autism community has really rallied around the Track-N-Find movement to spread autism wandering prevention. I vow to make my product affordable for all customers as well as being a part of funded programs that offer our product at reduced prices.

What does the success of this product mean to you?

I remember vividly the story my brother told of his experience when his kids wandered off. To hear and see the hurt in him affected me deeply. This product means a great deal to me, I’ve always be kind of an humanitarian at heart and if l could save every missing person l would and that’s my sole mission with project.  My invention has been dedicated to a wonderful friend of mine named TamaWilcox- Curtis who l happened to reconnect with shortly before the completion of Track-N-Find GPS Undergarments 4 Kids. It was a very sad reconnection because her son with autism had recently passed, needless to say l felt her pain for her loss. We had a long conversation about autism and the problems many children face particularly with wandering. From that very moment l dedicated my invention in the name of her son Fuzani Zuberi Curtis.

This article was featured in Issue 45 – Protecting Your Child with Autism

Living with Autism: Families cope with lack of services after diagnosis

Landon Thompson rolled and shaped Playdough on Monday morning in Carla Kinder’s Panther Academy classroom.

He used cutouts to make a gingerbread man and played with his friends.

Landon, 3, has autism and is learning how to communicate and socialize in Kinder’s preschool classroom. He started preschool late last year and has made significant progress, his mother, Brandi Johnson. She said he went from saying five words to 25 to 30.

Elizabethtown Independent Schools officials say they are seeing a higher prevalence of autism in younger students. Last school year, 32 students with autism were enrolled in the district’s special education program. In Hardin County Schools, 142 students were identified in that category.

“We also suspect a lot of kids (have not yet been) diagnosed with autism,” said Kelly Graham, principal at Panther Academy, where the district’s early childhood programs are housed.

Graham said in past years, the number of students with special needs in preschool and kindergarten significantly have increased.

The higher number of children with autism means an increased demand for services, such as occupational therapy. However, Hardin Memorial Health and other area providers have wait lists for those services.

Jimmy Coursey, manager of outpatient rehabilitation services, said Hardin Memorial has a waiting list of about 40 to 50 patients for occupational, physical and speech therapies. He said they don’t have the therapists or space to meet demands.

Johnson takes Landon to therapy in Louisville because it’s where she could receive the services he needs.

She said Louisville also has more activities better suited to her son, benefits she wished Hardin County had. For example, a nonprofit in Louisville hosted a sensory-friendly Santa experience last weekend.

“It may be the only time he gets to go,” she said.

Other parents of children who have autism have had similar experiences.

“Everything we need for autism, we have to go to Louisville for,” said Jennifer Foster, a local advocate whose son, Christian Foster, attends North Hardin High School.


Landon Thompson, 3, looks at a gingerbread man he made out of Playdough during preschool Monday at Panther Academy. In Kentucky, 3-year-old children are eligible for the preschool program if they have a disability or developmental delay. Landon has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

‘Thrown to the wolves’

Johnson knew early on Landon wasn’t developing like her other children.

“With the fifth kid, you realize things are off or not where they should be,” she said.

“The walking and motor skills were great,” but she said he didn’t babble or speak.

A family doctor referred them to First Steps, the state’s early intervention system offered through Lincoln Trail District Health Department. First Steps serves children from birth to 3 years old.

While he was in the program, Johnson took Landon into the Weiss­kopf Child Evalu­a­tion Center at the University of Louisville for a diagnosis. She said she spent more than a year on a waiting list for an appointment.

Dr. Scott Tomchek, the assistant director of the center, said the average wait time for a preschool-aged child is about four to six months. For a school-aged child, it’s a six-month wait. He said they are working on cutting that time down.

To diagnose developmental disorders such as autism, Tomchek said different therapists evaluate the child through play and assessments. They also talk with the family about concerns.

“Autism isn’t diagnosed through a blood test or MRI, but through interaction with family,” he said.

Tomchek said the center receives about 24 to 28 referrals a day but only can work through 26 to 30 children a day.

Weisskopf accepts Medicaid, which can make them a more financially feasible option than going to a psychologist or doctor who might require an out-of-pocket payment.

“Across Kentucky and across the country, there’s a real shortage of developmental behavioral services,” Tomchek said. “There’s not the access the community needs.”

Doctors at Weisskopf diagnosed Landon to be on the autism spectrum, Johnson said.

“When Weisskopf gave the diagnosis, it was like being thrown to the wolves,” Johnson said. “I did not know what to do next.”


Landon Thompson, 3, right, and classmates listen as preschool teacher Carla Kinder reviews a letter, number and shape Monday morning at Panther Academy in Elizabethtown.

A Life-Saver’

To help navigate the next steps, Johnson found Foster.

“She was a life-saver,” Johnson said.

Foster said she felt blind trying to figure out what to do with regards to Christian’s treatment and education. Now, she passes on what she has learned to other parents. Foster would like more advocates to walk parents through the steps.

Johnson said her two main resources are Foster and the internet.

Life with Landon is a daily learning experiment, Johnson said.

“He can’t tell us what he wants or how he feels,” she said.

Landon’s a picky eater — McDonald’s is his favorite — and he doesn’t understand why he can’t do what other children are doing. In the morning, Johnson said he sometimes doesn’t want anybody talking to him.

He’s a fan of the cartoon show “PAW Patrol” and enjoyed playing soccer last season, she said.

Johnson said only parents who have children with autism can understand and help.

Stephanie Thomas understands. Jay Thomas, her 28-year-old son, has autism and he’s nonverbal.

She said it’s important for parents to have friendships with other parents who have children with autism.

“Sometimes you just need a parent to talk to,” she said.

Thomas said the resources in Hardin County have improved since Jay was diagnosed more than 20 years ago. First Steps had just started back then, and now more awareness exists.

She would like to see more training for community leaders.

“Just because a child has a disability, doesn’t mean they can only be a janitor,” she said.

Foster said she would like to see a mentorship program for young adults with autism and more college scholarship opportunities.

“We could do more,” she said. “That’s the truth.”

‘Waiting list for everything’

Once a week, Johnson and Landon travel to Louisville for therapy.

“There’s a waiting list for everything,” she said of trying to find services.

That’s also true at Hardin Memorial Health.

Coursey said there’s a high demand for pediatric therapists. He said other options in Hardin County, such as Kids Spot, also have wait lists.

He said patients don’t leave therapy very quickly, and a therapist can see about seven to eight patients a day.

Tara Drexler, an occupational therapist at Hardin Memorial, specializes in treating children with autism.

“(The wait list) breaks my heart because these parents want the best for their child,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine how lost they must feel.”

“It seems the more you add, the more the demand,” Drexler said.

As an occupational therapist, she works on fine and gross motor skills, feeding and behavior. She said she sees patients in spurts to work on specific skills and the patients come back to her as issues arise.

For younger children such as Landon, Drexler said therapy involves family education about the disorder, and she tries to help families she sees as much as possible.

She likes working with children who have autism because she can take a holistic approach and work with the entire family. She’s devoted her continuing education to studying autism.

Drexler said she’s noticed an increased awareness of autism and children are receiving interventions earlier. Still, she acknowledged there’s not enough resources in the area for children with autism.

“I’m praying that Eliza­bethtown can add some more resources,” she said.


Landon Thompson, 3, looks over at the playdough station before telling preschool teacher Carla Kinder that is the center he wants to go to Monday during school at Panther Academy.

‘Just Having Fun’

Center time in Kin­der’s preschool class at Panther Academy can look like a free-for-all. Landon and other students in the class can pick where they spend their time and what activities they do.

“They are learning by doing, using hands and exploring their environment,” she said.

Students can choose to read, work on a piece of artwork or play table top games, among other activities. Kinder said all these activities help students learn.

“We know what is behind the play, but they don’t,” she said. “They are just having fun.”

Kinder said social interactions between preschoolers is key.

“It’s amazing how much they learn from each other,” she said.

Kinder started teaching preschool in the early 1990s and then took time off to stay at home with her children. When she returned to teaching in 2009, she said the number of children who had special needs had increased. Every child with special needs receives an individualized education plan which outlines learning goals and services they’ll receive.

To qualify for state-funded preschool, a 3- or 4-year-old must have an identified disability or speech delay. Preschool also is open to 4-year-olds who meet state income requirements.

Kristin Froedge, director of special education for Elizabethtown Independent Schools, said she’s seen a high prevalence of autism in students.

“It’s a trend that we’ll continue to see,” she said.

Students who show signs of autism but don’t have the diagnosis could be classified as developmentally delayed. A student’s eligibility for this classification ends following their 9th birthday, according to the state department of education.

Last school year, 1.2 percent of students in the district’s special education program were developmentally delayed.

Landon works with Marci Kauffeld, a speech pathologist with the district. She said speech is a work in progress. She teaches students how to move their mouth to make sounds for each letter.

“People take for granted being able to speak,” she said.

Kinder said preschool overall is very important for children with special needs, and they see a lot of growth in students.

“The interventions we give them at an early age help them be successful as they get older,” she said.

Need for more open-mindedness

Johnson has cards from her therapist she wants to give to strangers who stare at her and her son when he is having a public meltdown. The cards say, “My son has autism and he’s working through it.”

“Just because he looks normal, doesn’t mean he’s a bad kid and I’m a bad mother,” she said.

Johnson said grocery shopping with Landon can be difficult because he is sensitive to all the stimuli in stores. She would like to see a local grocery store have a sensory-friendly day, so she could complete shopping.

Thomas said it can be easy to judge parents who have a child with autism.

“You shouldn’t do that,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going on at home.”

Thomas said more open-mindedness could lend to more opportunities for children and adults with autism.

“Autism is everywhere and not isolated to one set of society,” she said.

Foster echoed the other parents and said Christian, who recently earned a hard hat for completing three years of engineering course work and a certificate for Hour of Code from Hardin County Schools Early College and Career Center, is no different than anyone else.

“He’s not a cripple,” she said. “He can learn and be successful and go to college … He’ll just get there a little slower.”

Delmarva Power teams with Delaware company to provide employment for adults with autism


Here are some of the top stories on our website for Tuesday December 12th.
Damian Giletto/The News Journal

Delmarva Power and The Precisionists are partnering on a program that will provide employment to local adults with autism, the companies announced at a press conference Monday.

Delmarva Power will be utilizing The Precisionists’ disability employment model across different areas in its business, including managing and updating databases, helping with the processing of solar power applications and assisting call centers by analyzing important data.

The initiative, which helps support the goal of The Precisionists to employ 10,000 people with disabilities in the U.S. by 2025, will include more than a dozen employees working for Delmarva Power out of the TPI offices in Talleyville. And Delmarva Power hopes that number grows.

MORE: Delaware companies find value in autistic workers

In addition to working for Delmarva Power, the new employees will also provide support to other Pepco Holdings utilities, including Atlantic City Electric.

“A diverse team of people, like those team members here at The Precisionists, with different backgrounds, different experiences, different perspectives, different cultures, they make us a better company,” said Mike Poncia, VP of customer operations for Pepco Holdings.

“This partnership will be a role model for any major company interested in building a great, innovative environment utilizing people with incredible talents,” Ernie Dianastasis, the CEO of The Precisionists, said. “The numbers show that for disabilities across the U.S., over 70 percent of individuals are underemployed or unemployed. And the numbers are close for that as it relates to autism.”

STORY: Without distraction or judgment, kids with autism meet Santa

Former Gov. Jack Markell made workforce development for people with disabilities a priority during his 2012-2013 term as chair of the National Governors Association and was in attendance Monday.

“When businesses recognize how much talent so many people in our state and our country have and how much they can make a difference, they’re going to want to hire them,” Markell said. “That’s what this is all about.”

Contact reporter Jeff Neiburg at (302) 983-6772, or on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.

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‘Think autism’: shops, cinemas and other places where all children are valued

When members of an autism support group saw that the Ombudsman for Children’s Office was advertising a free family event in Dublin in November, they thought it would make an enjoyable Saturday outing.

 But the OCO Universal Children’s Day Event didn’t quite live up to its inclusive-sounding title. On checking in advance that it was going to be autism-friendly, Wicklow Triple A Alliance was disappointed to be told it wasn’t.

“I kind of assumed it would be,” says one member of the group, who has a seven-year-old son with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

It’s not difficult to make autism-friendly arrangements, she explains – such as having a quiet room, putting up photographs and descriptive text online to help parents show children what to expect, and, perhaps, allowing them in early so they get a chance to settle before the crowds arrive.

This Greystones mother was annoyed they were told nothing could be done about the event in Wolfe Tone Square this year, but, on the positive side, the OCO told her they would work on it for next year.

In response to a query from The Irish Times, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) said that as part of the celebrations of Universal Children’s Day in November, it organised an open-air concert featuring the National Children’s Choir and Ma Samba Youth Band, to which all children of every background and ability were welcome.

“However, it was not possible on this occasion to make specific provisions for children with autism. Providing a quiet room and autism-friendly atmosphere is something we will include as part of our Disability Summit, which will take place in 2018, and as part of next year’s Universal Children’s Day event.”

Greater understanding about what can be done to make activities and venues more autism friendly is slowly seeping into mainstream events and businesses. It may require physical adaptations and restricted sessions, but also a change of attitudes, through increased awareness and staff training.

Parents of children with ASD are used to judgmental looks when their child is having a meltdown in public, but they could still do without the smug assumptions. It would be even better if, with a little more consideration and planning by others, that meltdown could be avoided in the first place.

Some 300,000 people in Ireland wake up every morning knowing that autism will be part of their day, says Niall Murphy, acting head of operations at Autism Ireland (which is in the process of changing its name from Irish Autism Action). That figure is based on at least 1 per cent of the population having ASD, plus those who live with them.

More businesses and institutions are beginning to take the needs of this constituency on board and trying to make their life a little easier.

For instance, in this the season of pantomimes, The Helix in Dublin has led the way. For its “sensory-friendly” performance of “The Beauty and the Beast on Tuesday, December 19th, the auditorium lights will stay on, the cast will hold back on their louder shrieks and nobody will bat an eyelid at a child or three rolling in the aisles.

For several years now, the Helix Theatre has staged sensory-friendly shows for children with special needs.
For several years now, the Helix has staged sensory-friendly shows.

“It is a show we look forward to every year,” says Claire Tighe, producer of the Helix panto and chief executive of TheatreWorkX Productions, who came up with the idea six years ago. The first time she made the adaptations she was just hoping they had got it right, but was reassured by the feedback, including one family who told her how they could never have done an outing together like that before, having one child with ASD and one without.

The technical changes required are not huge and what’s probably most important, Tighe adds, is that these families feel completely welcome.

Others following suit include University Concert Hall Limerick, which has a sensory friendly matinee of its pantomime Cinderella, on January 5th and the Ark in Dublin organised three “relaxed” performances of its Christmas show Tracks in the Snow, the final of these being on December 17th.

Even Santa is playing his part with, for example, a sensory day in his workshop at Aillwee Cave in Co Clare on December 21st and he did something similar in Airfield last weekend (Dec. 9th).

Supermarket shopping is an all-year-round challenge for those with sensory issues and several chains now have designated autism-friendly times.

SuperValu, which has 40 of its 219 shops already doing this, recently announced that these will be extended to more stores, along with initiatives that it has developed in conjunction with the Middletown Centre for Autism in Co Armagh. These include store maps, “de-sensitisation” of store sounds at designated times, reduced beep sounds on tills and staff awareness training.

Theresa and Tony O’Dossnovan, creators of the Autism Lifeskill Friend trolley at the launch of SuperValu’s Autism Friendly Shopping initiative. Photograph: Maxwell Photography
Theresa and Tony O’Dossnovan, creators of the Autism Lifeskill Friend trolley at the launch of SuperValu’s Autism Friendly Shopping initiative.

There will also be wider use of autism-friendly trolleys that can be fitted with visual schedules, designed by Cork parents Tony and Theresa O’Donovan, who have a son with ASD, and which were first used in Clonakilty’s SuperValu.

Meanwhile, Lidl Ireland is piloting autism-friendly quiet evenings in three stores – in Dublin, Monaghan and Mullingar – where, every Tuesday between 6pm and 8pm, there is subdued lighting, no in-store announcements or music, priority queueing for people and families dealing with autism, and extra assistance on request.

The impetus for something similar at Tesco in Balbriggan’s Millfield Shopping Centre, Co Dublin, came through an approach from a local support group, Friends of Autism/ADHD. There is now a “quiet hour” between 6pm and 8pm every Thursday, when the tannoys and the TVs in the electrical department are switched off, extra staff on hand and they don’t move into aisles with rumbling trolleys to replace or remove stock.

Cathy Gaffney who has a daughter with ASD and was involved in the setting up of Friends of Autism/ADHD about 10 years ago, says there is definitely a growing understanding of the difficulties of families like hers and how catering for them can benefit the businesses themselves.

“People can’t just go in and shop if the child or an adult is having a meltdown,” she points out. At the designated evenings in Tesco it’s great, she says, “because you know there are not people going to be staring at you”.

She also singles out Funderland in the RDS for praise, as there is always a sensory friendly session to which she can bring her daughter because the machines are slowed down, the lights dimmed and crowds reduced.

At such an event, parents with an ASD child could be queuing up for 10 or 20 minutes and then when it’s their turn, it’s the wrong coloured chair. A child might not sit on an orange chair and “you’d be mortified”, she says – but here staff understand and tell them they don’t have to use that chair.

“It’s those little things that really make a big difference,” she adds.

No music was played, there were no hand dryers operating and a “social story” was posted online to help parents prepare children for what would happen every step of the way, from arriving at the park, to getting on and off the rides.

Another theme park, Tayto Park in Ashbourne, Co Meath, held its first Autism Awareness Day in November and says it is looking at doing another event next April/May.

Autism Ireland helped train staff ahead of the day, says Murphy, who was delighted to be able to bring his own 17-year-old son, who has severe autism and intellectual disability, to the park for the first time.

No music was played, there were no hand dryers operating and a “social story” was posted online to help parents prepare children for what would happen every step of the way, from arriving at the park, to getting on and off the rides.

“One thing children with ASD have in common is that they all wake up with anxiety,” says writer Sarah Webb, who has a son with ASD. She has started lobbying, along with a number of children’s book organisations, to make all book festivals have at least one event for children on the spectrum by 2019.

As children’s curator for several years at the Mountains to the Sea book festival in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Webb organised autism-friendly workshops and events. While “relaxed” events are ideal for some, children with more complex needs do better in individual workshops.

Now recently appointed as family and children’s programmer for the International Literature Festival Dublin 2018, she intends to do something similar at that event next May.

“There is a lot of preparation of work involved to make the experience a happy one,” she explains. “Thought has to be put into the venue – some might have mobility problems. It has to be a calm and non-stressful environment. You need extra staffing – extra volunteers.”

She would work with an artist to come up with a social story for the event, that could be put up on a website and/or emailed to participants.

As well as the preparation being important “so is the message going out that these are not just add-on events, but an integral part of the festival and that families are welcome with open arms, rather than just tolerated”, she says.

Webb acknowledges that autism-friendly sessions are “slowly getting traction” in areas of the arts, such as theatre and cinema, “but it would be nice to see it just as a matter of fact, rather than something we have to discuss”.

Part of the problem, as she points out, is that there is no Government organisation for autism and it is left to voluntary groups to lobby for change and raise awareness. One of these, AsIAm, produced a series of AsYouCan industry-specific guidebooks that are a good starting point for any business.

However, the greatest advocates for change, as AsIAm founder Adam Harris has pointed out, are local support groups. Mostly set up by affected families within the last decade to provide support and specialised activities, they are gathering momentum in pushing the wider community to be more inclusive.

But Murphy of Autism Ireland also wishes that the State would get behind a campaign for more autism-friendly services in, for example, hospitals and doctors’ and dental surgeries.

These services were also highlighted when members of Prism, a peer-led support group in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, were canvassed for this article about where they would like to see improvements.

“GPs have a very poor reputation in terms of understanding and making adequate accommodations for children with ASD,” says one member. Another calls for better training and awareness of ASD among staff in the health and education services, where buildings, waiting areas, classrooms etc need to be more sensory friendly

 “It would be nice to see banks, post offices and credit unions offering supported ASD opening hours,” adds another.

However, credit must go to organisations, services and companies who are already making the effort to be more caring towards the ASD community.


Air travel

Shannon Airport became the first in Europe earlier this year to open a sensory room off its departures lounge for children and adults with neurodevelopmental challenges, including autism. The room has features such as an aquatic bubble tube, an undulated wavy wall, colour changing LEDs and wheel projector.

Enjoying the Sensory Room at Shannon Airport was Ryan Cunningham (4), from Gaelscoil Donncha Rua, Shannon, Co Clare. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene
Enjoying the Sensory Room at Shannon Airport was Ryan Cunningham (4), from Gaelscoil Donncha Rua, Shannon, Co Clare.

There are also “social story” videos on its website showing what to expect when passing through the airport and it can offer pre-arranged tours to familiarise people before a flight. People with special needs can apply for bright orange baseball caps and wristbands so they are clearly identifiable to staff as possibly needing extra assistance.

Dublin Airport will also issue a wristband or necklace identifier to those with a confirmed diagnosis of autism and who are booked to fly.  There are visual guides to both terminals on, as well as advice for carers.

Aer Lingus has online visual guides to what to expect pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight and it welcomes any family or companion travelling with someone with ASD to contact them on


Many of the country’s cinemas host sensory-friendly screenings once a month on Sunday mornings, including all the Omniplex outlets, some in the Odeon chain, Cineworld and IMC.  There are no trailers or advertisements, lights are kept on low, the sound is turned down and allowances are made for restless audience members.


Cork City Libraries is a leader within the public library service in catering for those with ASD. Its first initiative was the introduction last year of private, sensory-friendly visits by appointment to Hollyhill Library at times when it’s closed otherwise to the public. Then senior executive librarian Ann Riordan produced a “social story” to put on its website to prepare children with autism or anxiety disorders for a visit, which has proved helpful to a broad range of library users.

Now Grand Parade Library is piloting a sensory storytime programme with a trained facilitator, aimed at small groups of children aged two to five. The first half begins before the library opens, so participants have a chance to settle before other visitors arrive. A pilot is also planned for Tory Top Library.

Autism-friendly town

Newcastle, Co Down, decided earlier this year to try to become the North’s first autistic-friendly town.  It’s a venture inspired by Autism Initiatives (AI), which has a number of services in the town and employs more than 90 staff there.

Informally, they have always found the seaside town (population 7,500) to be very welcoming to its service users, says AI’s national director Grainne Close. Now, in partnership with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, they are looking to formalise it as an autism-friendly destination.

While aiming to get at least 20 per cent of the town’s 200-plus businesses signed up and trained by next June, some, such as restaurants and an amusement arcade, already have sensory-friendly times.

“We don’t want to create a separate space – we want to make the space inclusive for everyone,” Close says. “We find it is a mindset that is going to do that and also equipping people with skills to be able to manage behaviour.

“I don’t want this just to be a tick-box exercise,” she adds. “We want that when families come, they feel there is something different here.”

Third-level education

Dublin City University is working towards becoming Ireland’s first autism friendly campus through a collaboration with AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland – a specialist consultancy that recruits and supports people with autism.

Dublin Zoo/Fota Island

Dublin Zoo gives free entry to a carer visiting with a child with special needs and, while autism assistance dogs are not allowed in the main area, there is a designated area to accommodate the animals during their owners’ visit.

After a controversy over some families not having autism identification cards accepted, Fota Island in Co Cork last August introduced a 50 per cent discount on the entry ticket for any child or adult with special needs. The accompanying carer receives free entry on presentation of a valid carer’s card.

Autism Portrayal Nets Golden Globe Nod

Freddie Highmore is up for a Golden Globe award for his role as a physician with autism on “The Good Doctor.” (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage)

Hollywood appears to be embracing the story of a surgeon with autism.

Actor Freddie Highmore snagged a Golden Globe nomination this week for best actor in a television drama for his role as Dr. Shaun Murphy on ABC’s “The Good Doctor.”

Highmore, who is typically developing, plays Murphy, a surgical resident with autism and savant syndrome. While medically gifted, Murphy struggles socially causing tension with his co-workers.

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“The Good Doctor” proved so popular that ABC granted the series a full season after airing just two episodes.

The nomination comes as “The Good Doctor” closed out its fall run last week as television’s number one new show, averaging over 17 million viewers per week.

The Golden Globe awards will air live from Beverly Hills, Calif. on Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Kentucky autism center to train first responders

The Kentucky Autism Training Center at University of Louisville is providing training to first responders.

A statement from UofL says the center will teach police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services staff and emergency dispatchers about the special needs of those on the autism spectrum during an emergency. More than 600 employees have already been through the training. Firefighters are expected to complete training by the end of the year and police officers are expected to complete training in 2018.

Heidi Cooley-Cook, who is the family field training coordinator at the center, says it is crucial in urgent situations for first responders to know how to best communicate with those on the autism spectrum.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad says the training is a way to better serve the community.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to study medical marijuana and autism

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is pairing with an Australian biopharmaceutical company in what some advocates say could be the first major effort in the United States to study the effects of medical marijuana on children with autism.

Athena Zuppa, the director of the hospital’s Center for Clinical Pharmacology, will lead a team researching current medical marijuana patients. The hospital will not provide any cannabis products to children.

“This is truly an observational study,” Zuppa said. “We’re not giving them anything. We’re just gathering data to educate ourselves.”

Research with children who are already covered under Pennsylvania’s Safe Harbor provision is likely to begin in early 2018.

There is significant anecdotal evidence showing that cannabinoids, the active compounds in medical marijuana, can help with some of the symptoms of autism. Cannabis advocates say cannabinoids help improve social interaction and control repetitive behavior, and don’t cause the side effects associated with antipsychotic drugs often given to autistic children.


Athena Zuppa is director of the Center for Clinical Pharmacology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The study at CHOP will build on data collected by the Australian company, Zelda Therapeutics, which is funding the research. Zelda, which completed another observational study on autism in Chile last year, is also set to start clinical trials in Australia to investigate the effectiveness of medical marijuana on chronic insomnia.

The partnership between CHOP and Zelda was brokered by the Philadelphia-area mother of an autistic child. Erica Daniels, founder of Hope Grows for Autism, said she was thrilled to have brought the two organizations together.

“For too long, patients and their families have been missing out on genuine therapeutic options with the potential to transform lives,” Daniels said.

Zuppa said that little is known about how cannabis works in kids.

Standard drugs are marketed after going through a rigorous process by the FDA. Because the federal government considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug, akin to heroin and LSD, there have been no clinical trials in the U.S. for any cannabis product.

One of the aims of the CHOP study will determine what parents in the region are giving their autistic children. Cannabidiol, known as CBD, is a substance in marijuana that, unlike THC, does not induce euphoria.

“We’re trying to understand the landscape of what the kids are taking,” Zuppa said. “Some kids are taking only CBD and some are taking a mixture of CBD and THC. I’m trying to understand how parents make their choices.”

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is set to launch early next year.

For more information about the CHOP study, parents and caregivers can call  215-590-4924.

For complete cannabis coverage visit

The Official Autism Scented Candle Making Project