Autism Linked to Excess Neurons

Crystal Phend, via a kind Larry Winkler email:

Children with autism appear to have bigger brains with more neurons than normal for their age, a small preliminary study affirmed.
Postmortem examinations of seven boys with autism showed 67% more neurons in the prefrontal cortex (1.94 billion), which controls social and emotional development as well as communication, compared with six controls (1.16 billion, P=0.002), Eric Courchesne, PhD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues found.
Autistic brains also weighed 17.6% above normal for age (P=0.001), the group reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Point out that the brains from autistic boys in this study were 17.6% above what is considered normal brain weight based on age.
Neuron counts in the autistic children should have been accompanied by brain weights of 29.4% versus the observed 17.6% enlargement, they said. “Thus, the size of the autistic brain, overlarge though it is, might actually underestimate the pathology of excess neuron numbers,” the group explained.

Scientists and autism: When geeks meet

Simon Baron-Cohen:

In the opening scene of The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a cold Mark Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, who is exasperated by the future Facebook founder’s socially oblivious and obsessive personality. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is the stereotypical Silicon Valley geek — brilliant with technology, pathologically bereft of social graces. Or, in the parlance of the Valley: ‘on the spectrum’.
Few scientists think that the leaders of the tech world actually have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can range from the profound social, language and behavioural problems that are characteristic of autistic disorder, to the milder Asperger’s syndrome. But according to an idea that is creeping into the popular psyche, they and many others in professions such as science and engineering may display some of the characteristics of autism, and have an increased risk of having children with the full-blown disorder.

A Hormone May Treat Autism, Social Disorders

Shirley Wang:

Researchers are finding that a hormone in the body believed to help people form emotional bonds with each other may work to treat people with schizophrenia, autism and certain other psychiatric disorders related to social interaction.
A number of small scientific studies have been published recently suggesting that puffs of oxytocin into the nose may reduce some symptoms in people with these disorders and improve their ability to function. In particular, the hormone seemed to enhance patients’ abilities to recognize others’ emotions, which is a crucial step in improving social interactions.
Oxytocin, produced both by men and women, is nicknamed the “love hormone” because of its apparent role in building trust between people. Women, for instance produce large amounts of oxytocin during labor preceding childbirth, presumably to foster bonding with the newborn.

California Governor Brown should give ‘thumbs down’ on autism-linked education bill

Patrick Johnston:

Hundreds of pieces of legislation are sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting his proverbial “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” Gov. Brown has already warned that many of these bills will be vetoed, saying that there will be “plenty of veto blues.”
One bill that regretfully deserves a veto is Senate Bill 946 (Steinberg). It would impose a costly new mandate for private health insurance to pay for educational non-medical services for children with autism, while exempting the public health programs — Medi-Cal and Healthy Families — from the requirement to cover the same therapy.
The bill was jammed through the legislature at the last possible moment without sufficient time for debate or evaluation of the potential consequences of passage. While on the surface it may seem like a well-intentioned bill, it is riddled with flaws and in the end will do more harm than good.

Autism Risks: Genes May Not Play Biggest Role


Up to now, genetics were thought to account for 90 percent of a child’s risk for autism, but a new Stanford University School of Medicine study suggests environmental factors could play a much larger role than previously thought.
The largest study of its kind, the research focused on autism in 192 pairs of twins — 54 identical, 138 fraternal. The surprise came when Stanford researchers found a greater number of fraternal twins shared autism than identical twins. Fraternal twins share only half their genes with each other, thus, when both fraternal twins are autistic, it suggests factors other than genetics are at work.
In fact, “About half of what we see is due to environmental factors, and half of what we see is due to genetic factors,” Dr. Joachim Hallmayer tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. Hallmayer is the lead author of the study.

New Study Implicates Environmental Factors in Autism

Laurie Tarkan:

A new study of twins suggests that environmental factors, including conditions in the womb, may be at least as important as genes in causing autism.
The researchers did not say which environmental influences might be at work. But other experts said the new study, released online on Monday, marked an important shift in thinking about the causes of autism, which is now thought to affect at least 1 percent of the population in the developed world.
“This is a very significant study because it confirms that genetic factors are involved in the cause of the disorder,” said Dr. Peter Szatmari, a leading autism researcher who is the head of child psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario. “But it shifts the focus to the possibility that environmental factors could also be really important.”

Autism Prevalence May Be Far Higher Than Believed, Study Finds

Betty Ann Bowser:

For the first time, researchers have studied an entire population sample and found that one in 38 children exhibited symptoms of autism. The study was published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“These numbers are really startling” said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, one of the three organizations that funded the project. Most previous researchers have found that about one in 110 children is autistic.
The NewsHour explored the puzzling condition of autism in the recent Autism Now series, anchored by Robert MacNeil.

Research Uncovers Raised Rate of Autism

Claudia Wallis:

An ambitious six-year effort to gauge the rate of childhood autism in a middle-class South Korean city has yielded a figure that stunned experts and is likely to influence the way the disorder’s prevalence is measured around the world, scientists reported on Monday.
The figure, 2.6 percent of all children aged 7 to 12 in the Ilsan district of the city of Goyang, is more than twice the rate usually reported in the developed world. Even that rate, about 1 percent, has been climbing rapidly in recent years — from 0.6 percent in the United States in 2007, for example.
But experts said the findings did not mean that the actual numbers of children with autism were rising, simply that the study was more comprehensive than previous ones.

Catching signs of autism early: The 1-year well-baby check-up approach

Science Codex:

A novel strategy developed by autism researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, called “The One-Year Well-Baby Check Up Approach,” shows promise as a simple way for physicians to detect cases of Autism Syndrome Disorder (ASD), language or developmental delays in babies at an early age.
Led by Karen Pierce, PhD, assistant professor in the UC San Diego Department of Neurosciences, researchers at the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) assembled a network of 137 pediatricians in the San Diego region and initiated a systematic screen program for all infants at their one-year check up. Their study will be published in the April 28 online edition of the Journal of Pediatrics.
“There is extensive evidence that early therapy can have a positive impact on the developing brain,” said Pierce. “The opportunity to diagnose and thus begin treatment for autism around a child’s first birthday has enormous potential to change outcomes for children affected with the disorder.”

Doctor warns of complacency in face of autism danger

Vanessa Ko:

Hong Kong has escaped the anti-MMR childhood vaccine movement – linking the jab to autism – which spread across many English-speaking countries in the past decade.
But despite the overseas movement’s dangers and the fraudulent study that inspired it, a prominent paediatrician has nevertheless warned that local parents are too complacent about potential environmental factors that could trigger the onslaught of autism among some young children.
“They just don’t know about it. They are just ignorant about it,” said Dr Wilson Fung Yee-leung, who is a council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association.
He said it was dangerous not to be concerned about autism and its potential environmental causes.

Autism’s Causes: How Close Are We to Solving the Puzzle?

PBS NewsHour:

ROBERT MACNEIL: As we’ve reported, autism now affects one American child in a 110. Last month, a committee convened by public health officials in Washington called it a national health emergency. The dramatic rise in official figures over the last decade has generated a surge of scientific research to find what is causing autism.
Among the centers for such research is here, the University of California, Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento. Here and around the country, we’ve talked to leading researchers about where that effort now stands. Among them is the director of research at the MIND Institute, Dr. David Amaral.
DR. DAVID AMARAL, MIND Institute: Well, I think we’re close to finding several causes for autism. But there’s — I don’t think there’s going to be a single cause.
ROBERT MACNEIL: The science director of the Simons Foundation in New York, Dr. Gerald Fishbach; Dr. Martha Herbert, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; and Dr. Craig Newschaffer, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University in Philadelphia. First, I asked, how close are we to discovering the cause of autism?

Autism Now: Demand for Educational Resources for Children Outstrips Supply

PBS NewsHour:

ROBERT MACNEIL: In New York City schools, there are more than 7,000 students with autism. Seven hundred of them, from preschool age to 21, attend this public school for autism in the Bronx, PS 176.
WOMAN: Roll the dice. Oh, boy. What number?
WOMAN: Good. What are you going to do next?
ROBERT MACNEIL: These children see doctors periodically, but they go to school every day. It’s the public school system that bears most of the burden of treating children with autism, because treatment means teaching. And federal law mandates that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate education.
RIMA RITHOLTZ: Autism can suck the fun out of life. Having a child with a disability can suck the fun out of life. And we work very hard here to put the fun back in.

College-Bound and Living With Autism

The New York Times:

Several readers of the Consults blog recently had questions about the long-term course of autism, including succeeding in college and beyond. Our experts Dr. Fred Volkmar of the Yale Child Study Center and Dr. Lisa Wiesner, co-authors of “A Practical Guide to Autism,” respond. For more on this and other topics, see their earlier responses in “Ask the Experts About Autism,” and The Times Health Guide: Autism. The authors also teach a free online course on autism at Yale University, which is also available at iTunesU and on YouTube.
Are you aware of any longitudinal studies of occupational outcomes and successful (independent) living for high-functioning autistic adults? Where would I find those? Are there particular strategies that should be pursued in high school or college to enhance the likelihood of success in these areas?

Autism Now

PBS NewsHour:

For the first time in more than 15 years, Robert MacNeil is returning to the program he co-founded, with a major series of reports on Autism Now. The subject that drew him back is one that resonates deeply with his own family and many others. Robin’s 6-year-old grandson, Nick, has autism.
The six-part series, “Autism Now,” will air on the PBS NewsHour beginning April 18. It’s the most comprehensive look at the disorder and its impact that’s aired on American television in at least five years. For more than a year, Robin has been researching and preparing these stories. He and his producer, Caren Zucker, have been criss-crossing the country producing the reports for the past five months.
As Robin told Hari Sreenivasan during a recent visit to our Washington studio, the series is designed to provide viewers with an authoritative, balanced look at the latest scientific research and medical thinking about the disorder. Equally important, it chronicles the growing impact of autism as seen through the eyes of families, children, educators and clinicians.
Since Friday is the beginning of Autism Awareness Month, we are posting Hari’s interview with Robin to introduce our audience to the series:

Autism Treatments Scrutinized in Study

Shirley Wang:

Three new studies conclude that many widely used behavioral and medication treatments for autism have some benefit, one popular alternative therapy doesn’t help at all, and there isn’t yet enough evidence to discern the best overall treatment.
Parents of children with autism-spectrum disorder often try myriad treatments, from drugs to therapy to nutritional supplements. The studies being published Monday and funded by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, were part of the effort to examine the comparative effectiveness of treatments in 14 priority disease areas, including autism-spectrum disorders.
Autism and related disorders, conditions marked by social and communication deficits and often other developmental delays, have become more common over the years and now affect 1 in 110 U.S. children, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Autism sufferer Lo Yip-nang found a way to express himself through art – and his work is dazzling thousands

Oliver Chou:

A joyful kaleidoscope in clay, Lo Yip-nang’s display of intricate patterns in jewel tones entranced thousands of people who visited his exhibition at the Jockey Club Creative Art Centre in Shek Kip Mei. Although many were eager to talk to the artist, he kept working with his slivers of coloured clay, giving monosyllabic replies to queries.
“You’ve been working all day; are you tired?” asks one woman. “No,” he says after a long pause. “People like your work, does that make you happy?” asks another. “Yes.”
Lo wasn’t playing the temperamental artist, though. The 30-year-old is autistic and his two-week exhibition last month is a personal triumph – and a sign of hope that people with the disability can live independently.
Autism stems from glitches in neurological development that cause sufferers to be socially impaired. Unable to interpret what people are expressing or to communicate how they feel, they typically become engrossed with specific objects instead or find comfort in repetitive behaviour and routine. But Lo, or Nang as he is affectionately known, is a rare autistic person who found a way to express himself.

In Virginia assault case, anxious parents recognize ‘dark side of autism’

Theresa Vargas:

When a Stafford County jury this month found an autistic teenager guilty of assaulting a law enforcement officer and recommended that he spend 101/2 years in prison, a woman in the second row sobbed.
It wasn’t the defendant’s mother. She wouldn’t cry until she reached her car. It was Teresa Champion.
Champion had sat through the trial for days and couldn’t help drawing parallels between the defendant, Reginald “Neli” Latson, 19, and her son James, a 17-year-old with autism.

Life Beyond Autism

Janet Grillo:

It’s been 81 years since Virginia Wolff published her famous essay, more than 20 since I read it, and even more before I followed her advice that “a woman must have a room of her own, if she is to write.”
When my mother was my age, she considered the best part of her life as behind her. When my grandmother was this age, considered herself “old.” And my great-grandmother most certainly was. But that was then, and this is the era of longevity, vitality and change. We’ve rewritten all the rules. But maybe rules are only scaffolds we construct to contain what we can’t control. Which is just about everything.
My dreams and expectations changed radically when my child was diagnosed with Autism. From that moment, and for the next decade, every thought in my head, urge in my heart and pulse in my body was redirected to helping him. When your child is diagnosed as on the Spectrum, you’re told that much can improve, but most profoundly before the age of 5. My son was already three. So the clock was ticking, the meter was running, and I had a choice to make; pursue my needs, or save his life. So I put away the screenplay I was writing, abandoned the film collective I was trying to form, and forgot any notion of going back to a traditional job. In their place, I organized a line of behavioral therapists, occupational therapists, auditory training technologies, and casein-free diets. And thanked God each day that I had the resources so I could.

Bill Gates: Vaccine-autism link ‘an absolute lie’

Danielle Dellorto:

Microsoft founder Bill Gates sat down recently with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta in Davos, Switzerland.
The billionaire philanthropist was attending the World Economic Forum to push his mission of eradicating polio by 2012. Gates, through his foundation, also pledged $10 billion to provide vaccinations to children around the world within a decade.
Gupta asked Gates for his thoughts about the alleged autism-vaccine connection. He also asked: Who holds ultimate accountability for the billions of dollars being spent on aid? Is a certain amount of corruption and fraud expected? Below is an excerpt of their conversation.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Ten billion dollars [pledged] over the next 10 years to make it “the year of the vaccines.” What does that mean exactly?

Proximity to freeways increases autism risk, study finds

Shari Roan

Children born to mothers who live close to freeways have twice the risk of autism, researchers reported Thursday. The study, its authors say, adds to evidence suggesting that certain environmental exposures could play a role in causing the disorder in some children.
“This study isn’t saying exposure to air pollution or exposure to traffic causes autism,” said Heather Volk, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But it could be one of the factors that are contributing to its increase.”

Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds


A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.
“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”

Scientists Test ‘Trust Hormone’ For Autism Fight

Jon Hamilton:

For decades, parents of children with autism have been searching for a drug or diet to treat the disorder.
Their latest hope is the hormone oxytocin. It’s often called the trust hormone or the cuddle hormone. And just to be clear, it has nothing to do with the narcotic oxycontin.
But some children with autism are already being treated with oxytocin, even though it’s not approved for this purpose.
The Trust Hormone
It’s no wonder parents of children with autism have high hopes for oxytocin. So do a lot of researchers, like Jennifer Bartz at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Hyman’s Anecdotal Healings: Now The Autism

Kim Wombles:

Mark Hyman loves the case study; when one of his posts at Huffington Post deals with an almost magical healing he’s engendered, well, chances are, there’s gonna be a kid involved. This time up, it’s Hyman curing autism cuz he’s teh man.
Let’s look at his first paragraph: “Imagine being the parent of a young child who is not acting normally and being told by your doctor that your child has autism, that there is no known cause, and there is no known treatment except, perhaps, some behavioral therapy.”
Fortunately, I don’t have to imagine this scenario; I can and do speak from experience. The whole assessment thing for Bobby was hell on wheels from 1994 when we first began the process through 1998 when we got a thorough assessment. We were never told there were no known causes. Even in the mid 90s there were known causes and tests to run, like Fragile X, so that right there is BS on Hyman’s part. We were also, despite the crap we were told, never told there was no known treatment. Speech, OT, PT and therapy were begun in 1994, even as we went through a string of inaccurate diagnoses.

Explaining autism

The Economist:

AUTISM is a puzzling phenomenon. In its pure form it is an inability to understand the emotional responses of others that is seen in people of otherwise normal–sometimes above normal–intelligence. However, it is often associated with other problems, and can also appear in mild and severe forms. This variability has led many people to think of it as a spectrum of symptoms rather than a single, clear-cut syndrome. And that variability makes it hard to work out what causes it.
There is evidence of genetic influence, but no clear pattern of inheritance. The thought that the underlying cause may be hereditary, though, is one reason for disbelieving the hypothesis, which gained traction a few years ago but is now discredited, that measles vaccinations cause autism.
One suggestion that does pop up from time to time is that the process which leads to autism involves faulty mitochondria. The mitochondria are a cell’s powerpacks. They disassemble sugar molecules and turn the energy thus liberated into a form that biochemical machinery can use. Mitochondrial faults could be caused by broken genes, by environmental effects, or by a combination of the two.

The Mystery Among Us Autism diagnoses are on the rise. The reasons are elusive, but understanding the disorder doesn’t have to be

Mary Melton

Autism has hit L.A. harder than almost any other region of California, with diagnosed cases double or quadruple the state average in many instances, and at a time when our local schools and public health agencies have ever less funds to intervene. In the September issue of Los Angeles we tackle the subject of autism in L.A. While the causes of this public health crisis are elusive, understanding the disorder doesn’t have to be. We offer practical advice for parents on what do after their son’s or daughter’s diagnosis and an etiquette handbook for friends and relatives (example: Do not say, “She’s autistic? She looks normal.”). We explore how the film industry has shaped–and misshaped–autism awareness, whether it’s Elvis Presley as a singing physician who smothers autism with hugs in 1969’s Change of Habit or Claire Danes’s majestic work in HBO’s Temple Grandin. Dustin Hoffman discusses the many realities that coalesced into his Oscar-winning role as Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man. We hear from warrior moms–or “AutMoms”–struggling for their children in Silver Lake and Compton, and from dads as diverse as Altadena poet Tony Peyser and former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete. Then there are firsthand accounts from adults with autism, among them Pulitzer-winning music critic Tim Page, who tells how he chooses not to wear prescription eyeglasses in order to dull the sensory assault that is Los Angeles.

iHelp for Autism For autistic children, the new iPad is an effective, portable device for teaching communication and social skills. It’s also way cool.

Ashley Harrell:

Three weeks had passed since Shannon Rosa had glanced over the numbers on her tiny blue raffle ticket. Like many other parents, she had agreed to cough up $5 not because she thought she had any real chance of winning, but to support the school.
Now, as she sat in her Honda Odyssey in a Redwood City parking lot, about to pick up some tacos for the family, her cellphone rang. It was the school secretary. Rosa had won the raffle.
Alone in her van, she screamed. Then she drove straight to Clifford School to claim her prize: a glistening new iPad.
Although Rosa already owned an iPod Touch, she had purposely held off on the iPad. She isn’t an early adopter; she likes to wait until the kinks are worked out. But for $5, she didn’t mind taking the iPad home one bit. Maybe Leo would like it.

Autism and the Madison School District

Michael Winerip, via a kind reader:

People with autism are often socially isolated, but the Madison public schools are nationally known for including children with disabilities in regular classes. Now, as a high school junior, Garner, 17, has added his little twist to many lives.
He likes to memorize plane, train and bus routes, and in middle school during a citywide scavenger hunt, he was so good that classmates nicknamed him “GPS-man.” He is not one of the fastest on the high school cross-country team, but he runs like no other. “Garner enjoys running with other kids, as opposed to past them,” said Casey Hopp, his coach.
Garner’s on the swim team, too, and gets rides to practice with a teammate, Michael Salerno. On cold mornings, no one wants to be first in the water, so Garner thinks it’s a riot to splash everyone with a colossal cannonball. “They get angry,” the coach, Paul Eckerle, said. “Then they see it’s Garner, and he gets away with it. And that’s how practice begins.”

Students With Autism Learn How To Succeed At Work

Jon Hamilton:

People with autism often have a hard time finding and keeping jobs, so more schools are creating programs to help students with autism get prepared for the workplace. One of those programs helped change the life of Kevin Sargeant.
Just a few years ago, when Kevin was still in elementary school, things weren’t looking good for him. He was antisocial, desperately unhappy and doing poorly in school.
“He was pretty much a broken child, the way I would describe it,” says his mother, Jennifer Sargeant. “We really didn’t see that he would be able to go to college, even have a job. That just wasn’t in our future for him.”
Kevin, now 18, says his autism left him unable to handle the social interactions at school.

Autism and Education in France

Chantal Sicile-Kira:

Recently I was invited to Paris to present at a prestigious international colloquium on autism and education, which was organized by the INS HEA, the French Ministry of Education’s training institute for special education teachers. Seventeen years earlier, I had left France because in those days, children with autism did not have the right to an education, and my son, Jeremy, was severely impacted by autism.
It was an emotional moment for me, standing there, addressing 500 attendees in a lecture hall of the Universite Paris Descatres in Bolulogne – Billancourt, explaining my son’s educational experience in the United States, where all children have the right to a free and appropriate education under IDEA.
In 1993, my family left France, where we had been living since 1981. Both Jeremy and his sister, Rebecca (who is neurotypical), were born in Paris at the time when children with autism were considered mentally ill, not developmentally disabled. They had no right to an education. Instead, they were enrolled in day programs on hospital sites, where they were treated with psychoanalysis. Parents had no right to visit the day program, nor did they receive any communication about what went on during the hours their child spent there.

Autism test could make the condition ‘preventable’

Richard Alleyne:

Diagnosis of autism has always been difficult and often the condition remains unrecognised until too late for treatment to have a maximum effect.
But now researchers at Imperial College London have discovered a potential way of spotting the disorder in children as young as six months old.
They have found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also suffer from disorders in their gut and that this can be detected with a simple urine test.
That would mean that intensive behavioural and social treatment could begin before the disease has caused any permanent psychological damage.
Professor Jeremy Nicholson, the author of the study, said: “Children with autism have very unusual gut microbes which we can test for before the full blown symptoms of the disease come through.
“If that is the case then it might become a preventable disease.”

Parents plow hopes and savings into new school for children with autism

Shawn Doherty via a kind reader’s email:

It started out as the dreaming of a lonely mother overwhelmed and held captive by the challenges of raising twin toddlers with autism, each of whom required up to 43 hours a week of intensive in-home therapy. There should be a refuge where she and others struggling with the devastating developmental disorder could find respite, company, play groups and therapy, Jackie Moen thought. As her boys grew, so did her dreams. Why couldn’t schools build curriculum around these children’s unique talents and needs, rather than forcing many of them to fall short of the rigid classroom norms?
And so Jackie and her husband Ken, joined by a passionate group of other parents, teachers and therapists, have set out to create such a place themselves. In 2007, they bought an old brick schoolhouse in McFarland and poured their savings and a pool of grants and contributions into renovating it into a homey space with donated couches, sunlit classrooms and gleaming wood floors. As soon as the Common Threads Family Resource Center opened in 2007, director of operations Ellen Egen recalls, “the phone calls just kept coming.” Hundreds of children and desperate family members flocked to the cheerful schoolhouse for an array of activities not available elsewhere, including play groups, teen therapy sessions, respite care and mental health counseling. “It grew like magic,” Moen, now the center’s director, recalls.

After autism intervention, boy is now gifted student, musician

Susan Troller:

When Christopher Xu turned 2, his mother’s worst fears were confirmed. The other babies at her son’s birthday party babbled, gestured and used simple words as they played and interacted with their parents and each other. But Christopher was different.
“He was locked in his own world,” Sophia Sun recalls. “No eye contact. No pointing. No laughing at cartoons or looking at me when I talk to him.”
In fact, Sun says, she and her husband, Yingchun Xu, both Chinese-born computer engineers who earned their graduate degrees in Vancouver, British Columbia, had never known anyone with this kind of remote, inaccessible child.
The couple were living with their older daughters, Iris and Laura, in a Chicago suburb when Christopher was born. Both girls were interactive, affectionate babies, but Christopher paid little attention to his mother, his family or his surroundings. As a toddler he spent most of his time lining up his favorite toys in order or spinning himself in circles — over and over again. When the Xu family went to an air show, his mother pointed to the planes roaring overhead, saying, “Christopher, look at that! Look up!” but the little boy just spun around and around, oblivious to the noise or the world surrounding him.
Now Christopher is 11, and he will soon graduate from the fifth grade at Madison’s John Muir Elementary to head off to middle school. Thanks to the love and persistence of his family, powerful early training, insightful teachers and accepting classmates, his story has changed dramatically, and his remarkable abilities are increasingly apparent.

Much more on autism here and via Wolfram Alpha.

Research Reveals Early Signs of Autism in Some Kids

Bruce Bower:

Some infants headed for a diagnosis of autism, or autism spectrum disorder as it’s officially known, can be reliably identified at 14 months old based on the presence of five key behavior problems, according to an ongoing long-term study described March 11 at the International Conference on Infant Studies.
These social, communication and motor difficulties broadly align with psychiatric criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in children at around age 3, said psychologist Rebecca Landa of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. In her investigation, the presence of all five behaviors at 14 months predicted an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in 15 of 16 children.
“That’s much better than clinical judgment at predicting autism,” Landa noted.
Her five predictors of autism spectrum disorders among 14-month-olds at high risk for developing this condition include a lack of response to others’ attempts to engage them in play, infrequent attempts to initiate joint activities, few types of consonants produced when trying to communicate vocally, problems in responding to vocal requests and a keen interest in repetitive acts, such as staring at a toy while twirling it

Hormone offers new hope in autism research

Rob Stein:

A nasal spray containing a hormone that makes women more maternal and men less shy apparently can help those with autism make eye contact and interact better with others, according to a provocative study released Monday.
The study involving 13 adults with autism found that when they inhaled the hormone oxytocin they scored significantly better on a test that involved recognizing faces and performed much better in a game that involved tossing a ball with other people.
Although more research is needed to confirm and explore the findings, the results are the latest in a growing body of evidence indicating that the hormone could lead to ways to help people with the often devastating brain disorder function better.

Autism risks detailed in children of older mothers

Lindsey Tanner:

A woman’s chance of having a child with autism increase substantially as she ages, but the risk may be less for older dads than previously suggested, a new study analyzing more than 5 million births found.
“Although fathers’ age can contribute risk, the risk is overwhelmed by maternal age,” said University of California at Davis researcher Janie Shelton, the study’s lead author.
Mothers older than 40 were about 50 percent more likely to have a child with autism than those in their 20s; the risk for fathers older than 40 was 36 percent higher than for men in their 20s.
Even at that, the study suggests the risk of a woman over 40 having an autistic child was still less than 4 in 1,000, one expert noted.
The new research suggests the father’s age appears to make the most difference with young mothers. Among children whose mothers were younger than 25, autism was twice as common when fathers were older than 40 than when dads were in their 20s.

L.A. Confidential: Seeking Reasons for Autism’s Rise

Melinda Beck:

Why is a child born in northwest Los Angeles four times as likely to be diagnosed with autism as a child born elsewhere in California?
Medical experts have pondered for years why autism rates have soared nationwide, and why the disorder appears to be much more prevalent in certain communities than in others. Now, some recent studies that zero in on California may shed some light on these baffling questions.
A new autism study shows clusters of high autism rates in parts of California. WSJ’s health columnist Melinda Beck joins Simon Constable on the News Hub with more.
Researchers from Columbia University, in a study published in the current Journal of Health & Place, identified an area including West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and some less posh neighborhoods that accounted for 3% of the state’s new cases of autism every year from 1993 to 2001, even though it had only 1% of the population.
Another recent study, from the University of California, Davis, published in Autism Research, also found high rates of autism in children born around Los Angeles, as well as nine other California locations. Autism, usually diagnosed before a child is 3 years old, is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and repetitive behavior.

Autism cluster found in Santa Clara County linked to parent education, not neighborhood toxins

Lisa Krieger:

Researchers have identified a cluster of autism cases in the South Bay — but the elevated regional incidence seems linked to parents’ ability to gain a diagnosis for their child, rather than any geographic risk.
A rigorous study of all 2.5 million births in California between 1996 and 2000 revealed 10 places where the disability is more common than elsewhere in the state — including the Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area, the San Carlos-Belmont area and several parts of southern California and Sacramento.
The scientists found a correlation, not cause, concluding that parents of autistic children in these clusters were more likely to be white, live near a major treatment center, be highly educated and
There was a lower incidence of the diagnosis where families were Latino and less educated.
A diagnosis of autism requires considerable advocacy by parents, who must navigate the complex world of pediatrics, psychiatry and autism experts. Once diagnosed, children gain access to all types of specialized services.

Autism epidemic in Monroe County, Indiana

Steven Higgs:

Data from local school and federal public health officials suggest that children in Monroe County, Ind., are diagnosed with autism at nearly double the epidemic rate that afflicts the nation.
On Dec. 18, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that put the incidence of autism in the United States at 1 in 110 for children born in 1996, or 0.9 percent of the population. A survey, sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and published in the journal Pediatrics in October, showed 1 in 91 children between the ages of 3 and 17 had autism.

Autism treatments: Risky alternative therapies have little basis in science

Trine Tsouderos & Patricia Callahan:

James Coman’s son has an unusual skill. The 7-year-old, his father says, can swallow six pills at once.
Diagnosed with autism as a toddler, the Chicago boy had been placed on an intense regimen of supplements and medications aimed at treating the disorder.
Besides taking many pills, the boy was injected with vitamin B12 and received intravenous infusions of a drug used to leach mercury and other metals from the body. He took megadoses of vitamin C, a hormone and a drug that suppresses testosterone.
This complex treatment regimen — documented in court records as part of a bitter custody battle between Coman, who opposes the therapies, and his wife — may sound unusual, but it isn’t.
Thousands of U.S. children undergo these therapies and many more at the urging of physicians who say they can successfully treat, or “recover,” children with autism, a disorder most physicians and scientists say they cannot yet explain or cure.

Judge’s ruling allows autism helper dog in class


A first-grader in central Illinois gets to keep his autism helper dog in school, a Douglas County judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Chris Freese sided with the family of
Kaleb Drew, who argued that the boy’s yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under Illinois law. They say the dog is similar to a seeing-eye dog for the blind and is trained to help Kaleb deal with his disabilities, keeping him safe and calm in class.
The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog’s presence and argued that it isn’t a true service animal.
The case and a separate lawsuit involving an autistic boy in southwestern Illinois are the first challenges to an Illinois law allowing service animals in schools.
Authorities in both school districts have said that the needs of the autistic boys must be balanced against other children who have allergies or fear the animals.
Kaleb Drew’s dog, Chewey, has accompanied him to school since August under court order, pending the judge’s final ruling Tuesday on the family’s lawsuit against the school district.
Similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of autistic children in other states, including California and Pennsylvania.

Schools fight families over autism service dogs

Lindsey Tanner:

Like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, trained dogs are now being used to help autistic children deal with their disabilities. But some schools want to keep the animals out, and families are fighting back.
Two autistic elementary school students recently won court orders in Illinois allowing their dogs to accompany them to school. Their lawsuits follow others in California and Pennsylvania over schools’ refusal to allow dogs that parents say calm their children, ease transitions and even keep the kids from running into traffic.
At issue is whether the dogs are true “service dogs” – essential to managing a disability – or simply companions that provide comfort.

Autism patients’ treatment is denied illegally, group says

Lisa Girion:

State regulators are violating mental health and other laws by allowing health insurers to deny effective treatment for children with autism, consumer advocates contended today.
In a lawsuit, Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica group that monitors insurance practices, is asking a judge to order the Department of Managed Health Care to enforce the law and require insurers to provide their autistic members with the services their physicians have ordered.
Without court action, the suit says, “California’s thousands of autistic children and their families will continue to suffer.”
The department said it was “holding health plans accountable to provide a range of healthcare services for those with autism” and was handling consumer complaints according to the law.
Autism impairs communication and socialization and is often accompanied by repetitive, injurious behavior.

Problem pregnancy ‘autism risk’


Complications during pregnancy and giving birth later in life may increase the risk of having a child with autism, a review of dozens of studies suggests.
Researchers found the bulk of studies into maternal age and autism suggest the risk increases with age, and that fathers’ age may play a role too.
The mothers of autistic children were also more likely to have suffered diabetes or bleeding during pregnancy.
The US review of 40 studies appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The recorded number of children with autism has risen exponentially in the past 30 years but experts say this is largely due to improved detection and diagnosis, as well as a broadening of the criteria.
The cause of the condition is unclear, and the review team from the Harvard School of Public Health said there was “insufficient evidence” to point to any one prenatal factor as being significant.

Research suggests children can recover from autism

Lindsey Tanner:

Leo Lytel was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. But by age 9 he had overcome the disorder.
His progress is part of a growing body of research that suggests at least 10 percent of children with autism can “recover” from it — most of them after undergoing years of intensive behavioral therapy.
Skeptics question the phenomenon, but University of Connecticut psychology professor Deborah Fein is among those convinced it’s real.
She presented research this week at an autism conference in Chicago that included 20 children who, according to rigorous analysis, got a correct diagnosis but years later were no longer considered autistic.
Among them was Leo, a boy in Washington, D.C., who once made no eye contact, who echoed words said to him and often spun around in circles — all classic autism symptoms. Now he is an articulate, social third-grader. His mother, Jayne Lytel, says his teachers call Leo a leader.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, involves children ages 9 to 18.
Autism researcher Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, called Fein’s research a breakthrough.

Autism and extraordinary ability

The Economist:

THAT genius is unusual goes without saying. But is it so unusual that it requires the brains of those that possess it to be unusual in others ways, too? A link between artistic genius on the one hand and schizophrenia and manic-depression on the other, is widely debated. However another link, between savant syndrome and autism, is well established. It is, for example, the subject of films such as “Rain Man”, illustrated above.
A study published this week by Patricia Howlin of King’s College, London, reinforces this point. It suggests that as many as 30% of autistic people have some sort of savant-like capability in areas such as calculation or music. Moreover, it is widely acknowledged that some of the symptoms associated with autism, including poor communication skills and an obsession with detail, are also exhibited by many creative types, particularly in the fields of science, engineering, music, drawing and painting. Indeed, there is now a cottage industry in re-interpreting the lives of geniuses in the context of suggestions that they might belong, or have belonged, on the “autistic spectrum”, as the range of syndromes that include autistic symptoms is now dubbed.

A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family’s Adventure in Fighting Autism

Motoko Rich:

When Rupert Isaacson decided to take his autistic son, Rowan, on a trip to Mongolia to ride horses and seek the help of shamans two years ago, he had a gut instinct that the adventure would have a healing effect on the boy. Mr. Isaacson’s instinct was rewarded after the trip, when some of Rowan’s worst behavioral issues, including wild temper tantrums, all but disappeared.
Now the publisher of Mr. Isaacson’s book about the journey, “The Horse Boy,” has a similar instinct about the market potential of his story, and is hoping for its own happy ending.
Little, Brown & Company, which released “The Horse Boy” on Tuesday, has a lot riding on its success: the publisher paid more than $1 million in an advance to Mr. Isaacson before he and his family had even taken their Mongolian trip.
Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said booksellers had already placed orders high enough to justify a first printing of 150,000 copies.

Treating Autism as if Vaccines Caused ItThe theory may be dead, but the treatments live on.

Arthur Allen:

A federal court may have changed the public discourse about the safety of vaccines in February, when it dismissed the theory that they cause autism. But vaccine damage is still the reigning paradigm for a rump caucus of thousands of parents who turn to physicians with a remarkable set of beliefs and practices in hope of finding recourse for their children’s ills.

To sift through the 15,000-page record of the Autism Omnibus hearings and the decisions by the three special masters who considered the evidence is to peek into a medical universe where autism is considered a disease of environmental toxicity, rather than an inherited disorder, and where doctors expose children to hundreds of tests simply to justify the decision to “detoxify” them. In some cases, the judges found, doctors simply ignored data that didn’t fit the diagnosis.

The court came down hard on the alternative medical practitioners who tailor their treatments to fit theories of vaccine damage. Among the doctors criticized was Jeff Bradstreet, a former Christian preacher in Melbourne, Fla., who has treated 4,000 children with neurological disorders. Among the children was Colten Snyder, whose case was one of those considered by the court.

An Outbreak of Autism, or a Statistical Fluke?

Donald McNeil, Jr.:

Ayub Abdi is a cute 5-year-old with a smile that might be called shy if not for the empty look in his eyes. He does not speak. When he was 2, he could say “Dad,” “Mom,” “give me” and “need water,” but he has lost all that.
He does scream and spit, and he moans a loud “Unnnnh! Unnnnh!” when he is unhappy. At night he pounds the walls for hours, which led to his family’s eviction from their last apartment.
As he is strapped into his seat in the bus that takes him to special education class, it is hard not to notice that there is only one other child inside, and he too is a son of Somali immigrants.
“I know 10 guys whose kids have autism,” said Ayub’s father, Abdirisak Jama, a 39-year-old security guard. “They are all looking for help.”
Autism is terrifying the community of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, and some pediatricians and educators have joined parents in raising the alarm. But public health experts say it is hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.

Court Rules Autism Not Caused by Childhood Vaccines

Shankar Vedantam:

Thousands of parents who claimed that childhood vaccines had caused their children to develop autism are wrong and not entitled to federal compensation, a special court ruled today in three decisions with far-reaching implications for a bitterly fought medical controversy.
The long-awaited decision on three test cases is a severe blow to a grass-roots movement that has argued — predominantly through books, magazines and the Internet — that children’s shots have been responsible for the surge in autism diagnoses in the United States in recent decades. The vast majority of the scientific establishment, backed by federal health agencies, has strenuously argued there is no link between vaccines and autism, and warned that scaring parents away from vaccinating their youngsters places children at risk for a host of serious childhood diseases.

Wisconsin Governor Stumps for Mandatory Autism Insurance Coverage


Gov. Jim Doyle is stumping for a bill that would require insurance companies to cover autism.
Most insurance companies don’t cover autism because it is classified as an emotional disorder rather than a neurological condition.
A host of lawmakers and Drew Goldsmith, a 12-year-old autistic boy from Middleton, backed Doyle at a press conference in his office Tuesday.
Doyle is proposing strengthening current legislation to include minimum coverage levels of $60,000 for intensive treatment and $30,000 for post-intensive services. He said it would cut the waiting list to join a state-run program for autism services by a third.
Lawmakers on Tuesday said they hope to win support for the bill in the Legislature.

Becoming an Autism Educator

Christine Gralow:

For the first time in my six-year teaching career, I am not completely freaked out by going back to school. I have, however, more than paid my dues to reach this stage of teacher emotional stability. In my first year of teaching, I freaked out not only in September, but pretty much every day (and well into every night) of the school year. At the time, I taught teenagers with learning disabilities in the South Bronx, including many emotionally disturbed students. I somehow managed to stick it out, and the next year, I met a Bronx teenager who would change my life and set me on my current career path.
Jeremy has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. As guilty as I feel admitting this as a teacher, there’s no denying that Jeremy was my favorite student. He may always be. While other teachers seemed exasperated by Jeremy’s autistic quirks, I got along with him easily. We hung out during lunch. He fixed the classroom computers and shared his unique life insights. He also easily passed a New York State Science Regents exam on his first try, which quickly shifted the school administration’s attitude from, “We have to get rid of this kid,” to, “We need this kid for our numbers.” Sadly, Jeremy didn’t exactly receive a stellar public education in the Bronx. I often wondered how much further he could have gone had he received stronger educational support from an early age.

Policing kids with autism is a new challenge on the beat

Shawn Doherty:

A barefoot girl in her nightgown is picked up wandering along a dark Dane County highway. Sheriff deputies have no idea how the little girl got there, who she is, what happened to her, or where to take her.
A young man walks out of a camp for adults with cognitive disabilities and into the woods. It takes thousands of searchers a week to find Keith Kennedy — naked, weak, covered with scratches and ticks, but alive.
A 7-year-old with blue eyes slips out of the basement of his house in Saratoga. On the fifth day of a massive search, rescue dogs find Benjamin Heil in a nearby pond, drowned.
These recent Wisconsin cases all involved individuals with autism, a devastating brain disorder that impairs judgment and communication. Over the past decade, the number of children diagnosed with this disorder has multiplied tenfold, and the national Centers for Disease Control now considers autism to be a public health crisis. Autism frequently wreaks havoc not just on a child’s entire family, but on law and safety enforcement in the streets. The problem is expected to get worse as this population grows up.

Parents turn to states for autism help

Jeff Sell:

Jeff Sell, a Texas trial lawyer with four children, recently became a lobbyist for the Maryland-based Autism Society of America, a job that has him crisscrossing the country to persuade state lawmakers to make life easier for people who have the little-understood developmental disability.
He shut down his law firm, which had pursued legal cases linking autism with vaccines. But rather than move to Maryland, Sell is staying in Texas, so his twin 13-year-old sons can continue to receive state-financed treatment for their autism. If he moves, Sell said, his sons would be on a years-long waiting list for therapy that costs as much as $60,000 a year.
“I live in Texas, basically, because it’s economically feasible for me to survive in Texas,” Sell said.
One of the toughest problems facing autism patients, their families and policymakers is paying for treatment. Families are increasingly relying on states to help them cope with the financial, medical and educational needs.
Governors and lawmakers have tried to ease those costs with two different approaches: by requiring private insurers to pick up the tab for more services or by creating new or expanding existing public health programs, such as Medicaid, to cover autism treatment.

Wait for Autism Care Outlasts Bill

Patrick Marley:

Cindy Brimacombe has known for almost two years that her son has autism, but she won’t be able to get him the full treatment he needs until next year because of a long waiting list.
Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature both had plans that would have helped Brimacombe and her 3 1/2 -year-old son, Max. But they ended their session last week without a compromise, guaranteeing that nothing will change until next year.
“It’s so sad,” the Oconomowoc mother said of the stalemate. “It’s so sad because these children have so many special gifts. . . . How can you deny these little ones help?”
Such is the nature of a Capitol under split control, where little gets done but lawmakers build up records they can tout on the campaign trail.

Autism Breakthrough: Girl’s Writings Explain Her Behavior and Feelings

John McKenzie:

Autism Breakthrough: Girl’s Writings Explain Her Behavior and Feelings
Two years ago, working with pictures and symbols on a computer keyboard, she started typing and spelling out words. The computer became her voice.
“All of a sudden these words started to pour out of her, and it was an exciting moment because we didn’t realize she had all these words,” said speech pathologist Barbara Nash. “It was one of those moments in my career that I’ll never forget.”
Then Carly began opening up, describing what it was like to have autism and why she makes odd noises or why she hits herself.
“It feels like my legs are on first and a million ants are crawling up my arms,” Carly said through the computer.

The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know

David Wolman:

The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who’s shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?
But then the words “A Translation” appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn’t speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what’s going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions. In a synthesized voice generated by a software application, she explains that touching, tasting, and smelling allow her to have a “constant conversation” with her surroundings. These forms of nonverbal stimuli constitute her “native language,” Baggs explains, and are no better or worse than spoken language. Yet her failure to speak is seen as a deficit, she says, while other people’s failure to learn her language is seen as natural and acceptable.
And you find yourself thinking: She might have a point.

Wisconsin Legislature Still Split on Virtual Schools, Autism

Patrick Marley:

As the Legislature heads into the last days of its session, Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on bills that would protect virtual schools and expand health coverage for children with autism.
With the clock running out, nothing may happen this year on those issues. Then again, in the final frantic moments of legislative sessions, surprise compromises can arise, just as one did Thursday on ending the pay of fired Milwaukee police officers charged with serious crimes. Now, those officers continue to receive pay until they exhaust their appeals, which can take years.
The legislative session ends March 13, but lawmakers have not announced any meetings past next week.
The Assembly’s latest meeting – which adjourned just before 5 a.m. Friday – bogged down over the autism bill. Democrats delayed a vote on the bill until Wednesday after Republicans who control the house rewrote it.
The version Senate Democrats passed Tuesday would require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. Assembly Republicans changed the bill Friday to drop the insurance mandate and instead plow $6 million in state taxpayer money into a state autism program.

Chromosomal Abnormalities Play Substantial Role In Autism

Science Daily:

Genome-wide scans of families affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have revealed new evidence that previously unknown chromosomal abnormalities have a substantial role in the prevalent developmental disorder, according to a new report. Structural variants in the chromosomes were found to influence ASD with sufficiently high frequency to suggest that genomic analyses be considered in routine clinical workup, according to the researchers.

On Parenting: Reassuring Autism Findings

Nancy Shute:

Parents of children with autism don’t get much good news: It’s still not clear what causes the often devastating disorder, which affects as many as 1 in 150 children and for which there is no cure. As a result, theories abound on potential causes, the most notorious being the 1960s-era notion of “refrigerator mothers.”
In recent years, much energy has been expended on arguing whether vaccines could cause autism: Some parents think that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine or thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in other vaccines, is the culprit. Scientists, on the other hand, think autism is largely genetic, and have focused on looking for genes that could be at fault. That disconnect has been frustrating to parents and sometimes dangerous; an unproven treatment known as chelation therapy, which leaches heavy metals such as mercury from the body, resulted in the death of a 5-year-old boy in 2006 after he was administered the wrong drug.
The best evidence to date that vaccines are not responsible is published today in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers with the California Department of Public Health found that the number of new cases of autism reported in California has risen consistently for children born from 1989 through 2003, which includes the period when thimerosal was phased out. Studies in other countries, including one from Canada published in 2007, have also exonerated vaccines and thimerosal.

A New Approach to Correcting Autism

Claudia Wallis:

The causes of autism remain largely shrouded in mystery, but there are some types of the disorder that can be traced to specific gene defects. The most common of these — responsible for roughly 5% of autism cases — is a flaw in the X chromosome that causes a condition known as Fragile X Syndrome. Because the defect has been studied on a molecular level, it provides a unique window into understanding autism — and treating it. And that is why a paper published in this week’s issue of the journal Neuron is bound to generate excitement, even though the work was done in rodents. It shows that wide-ranging symptoms of Fragile X, which include epilepsy, impaired mental functioning, aberrant brain structure and other abnormalities, can be reversed. The work, researchers say, holds enormous promise for humans with Fragile X and probably for other forms of autism as well.

Autism ‘Epidemic’ Largely Fueled by Special Ed. Funding, Shift in Diagnosing


A few decades ago, people probably would have said kids like Ryan Massey and Eddie Scheuplein were just odd. Or difficult.
Both boys are bright. Ryan, 11, is hyper and prone to angry outbursts, sometimes trying to strangle another kid in his class who annoys him. Eddie, 7, has a strange habit of sticking his shirt in his mouth and sucking on it.
Both were diagnosed with a form of autism. And it’s partly because of children like them that autism appears to be skyrocketing: In the latest estimate, as many as one in 150 children have some form of this disorder. Groups advocating more research money call autism “the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States.”
Doctors are concerned there are even more cases out there, unrecognized: The American Academy of Pediatrics last week stressed the importance of screening every kid for autism by age 2.

More here.

Autism & Vaccines: An Update

Jeneen Interlandi: Despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary, thousands of families still ardently believe that vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal are the cause of their children’s autism. A study published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine concluding that there is no correlation between thimerosal and neuropsychological development in young children is … Continue reading Autism & Vaccines: An Update

With rise in autism, programs strained

Carey Goldberg: A decade ago, it took a few months to get a child into Melmark New England, a special school largely for children with autism. Now, the wait can be five years Boston-area parents, worried their child may be autistic, routinely face delays as long as nine months to confirm the diagnosis — even … Continue reading With rise in autism, programs strained

Public Schools Open Their Doors To Autism

Kathleen Carroll: The growing number of children identified as autistic — and the steep cost of educating them — is fueling a boom in public school programs. In Bergenfield, a dozen preschool students are attending the inaugural class of the TriValley Academy, a collaborative effort with New Milford and Dumont. Districts including Leonia and West … Continue reading Public Schools Open Their Doors To Autism

Prevailing Wisdom on Autism Questioned

From University Communications, UW-Madison Experts question prevalent stereotypes about autism February 20, 2006 by Paroma Basu As theories about autism spread like wildfire in the media and the general public, a panel of autism experts will reflect on the validity of four widely held – and potentially inaccurate – assumptions about the developmental disability. Drawing … Continue reading Prevailing Wisdom on Autism Questioned

Sensitivity Readers Are the New Literary Gatekeepers

Kat Rosenfield: At first, Gullaba was asked to add an Asian character—east Asian, specifically, perhaps a Pacific Islander. Then it was suggested that Titus’ wingman, the biggest secondary character, should also be assigned an Asian identity. And there was one more bizarre twist: Another agency employee, who we’ll call Sally, was brought in at the … Continue reading Sensitivity Readers Are the New Literary Gatekeepers

Mothers speak out over sons locked in psychiatric units

Lucy Adams Three mothers whose sons have been locked in hospital psychiatric units in Scotland for years have spoken to BBC Scotland because they are desperate to get them out. The three young men did not break the law but have autism and learning disabilities. The Scottish government said it was unacceptable to hold people … Continue reading Mothers speak out over sons locked in psychiatric units

Parents vs Teacher Unions on closed taxpayer supported K-12 Schools: Chicago edition

Guilia Heyward: The possibility of more online school for John Christie’s fourth-grade son, Ian, is enough to bring Mr. Christie to tears. Mr. Christie said his son, who has been diagnosed with autism, thrived with the schedule that in-person instruction gave him during the fall. But in earlier parts of the pandemic, when school was … Continue reading Parents vs Teacher Unions on closed taxpayer supported K-12 Schools: Chicago edition

Averting Targeted School Violence

US Secret Service: BEHAVIORAL Several plotters displayed symptoms of, or were diagnosed with, behavioral disorders, including disruptive disorders. One plotter was admitted to the hospital for a mental health evaluation after a tip was received about the attack. Prior to this, she had been diagnosed with multiple conditions, to include conduct disorder. She had been … Continue reading Averting Targeted School Violence

I have been through this before

Ann Bauer: Since Bettelheim took his life, the Orthogenic School has undergone major changes. Their own Family Handbook makes glancing reference to Bettelheim’s “highly controversial” theories and credits him (briefly) for drawing attention to the problem of autism. In 2014, the school moved from the somber brick buildings where it had been housed for almost 100 years … Continue reading I have been through this before

Civics & Censorship: YouTube to Remove Videos Containing Vaccine Misinformation

Dave Sebastian: YouTube said it would remove content that falsely alleges approved vaccines are dangerous and cause severe health effects, expanding the video platform’s efforts to curb Covid-19 misinformation to other vaccines. Examples of content that would be taken down include false claims that approved vaccines cause autism, cancer or infertility or that they don’t … Continue reading Civics & Censorship: YouTube to Remove Videos Containing Vaccine Misinformation

No Meaningful Differences in Male and Female Brains, Study Finds

Claire Suddath: In a new study published in in the June edition of Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews, Lise Eliot, a professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University, analyzed 30 years’ worth of brain research (mostly fMRIs and postmortem studies) and found no meaningful cognitive differences between men and women. Men’s brains were on average about 11% larger … Continue reading No Meaningful Differences in Male and Female Brains, Study Finds

Reproductive Problems in Both Men and Women Are Rising at an Alarming Rate

Shanna H. Swan, Stacey Colino: So, we continue to wonder: Where is the outrage on this issue? The annual 1 percent decline in reproductive health is faster than the rate of global warming (thankfully!)—and yet people are up in arms about global warming (and rightly so) but not about these reproductive health effects. To put … Continue reading Reproductive Problems in Both Men and Women Are Rising at an Alarming Rate

Civics: Graduates of Elite Universities Dominate the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Study Finds

Zaid Jilani: Following the 2016 election, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet reflected on his industry’s coverage of the country. “If I have a mea culpa for journalists and journalism, it’s that we’ve got to do a much better job of being on the road, out in the country, talking to different kinds of people … Continue reading Civics: Graduates of Elite Universities Dominate the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Study Finds

Restraint and seclusion in Wisconsin schools allowed, but not tracked

Samantha West: When Amber McGinley looks at her 9-year-old son, she sees a kind and loving little boy who loves helping her in the kitchen, doing puzzles and playing with electronic devices. She also sees a little boy who faces significant challenges at school. The third-grader has autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder and vestibular … Continue reading Restraint and seclusion in Wisconsin schools allowed, but not tracked

Civics: The Washington Post cancelled its number one canceller

Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson: On Thurs Jan 23, University of Toronto professor of psychiatry Dr. Ken Zucker, a leading international expert on gender dysphoria, and editor-in-chief of Archives of Sexual Behaviour, spoke at McGill University. Dr. Zucker’s presentation was titled, “Children and Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria: Some contemporary research and clinical issues.”  Inviting Dr. … Continue reading Civics: The Washington Post cancelled its number one canceller

Parent questions Madison School District practice barring third party from working with child in class

Scott Girard: The Madison Metropolitan School District’s practice of barring an outside therapy organization from providing classroom support for students with special needs is being questioned after a parent’s request to do so was at first allowed, and later prohibited. The parent, who asked not to be named to protect the identity of her son, … Continue reading Parent questions Madison School District practice barring third party from working with child in class

How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results

Kirsten Grind, Sam Schechner, Robert McMillan and John West: More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal: Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary … Continue reading How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results

School inclusion failed 15-year-old Jayden Moore, but he has finally found a place he belongs

Vanessa Blanch: When Jayden was in Grade 5, Roberts said, she had no choice but to quit her job to stay home with her son. He was spending most of his school day in a seclusion room, or else the principal was calling her to pick him up because of his poor behaviour​​​​​​. Roberts explained … Continue reading School inclusion failed 15-year-old Jayden Moore, but he has finally found a place he belongs

U.S. measles outbreak grows with 75 new cases, mostly in New York

Gabriela Borter: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 9.8% increase in measles cases as of May 10, a resurgence that public health officials have attributed to the spread of misinformation about the measles vaccine. Data are updated every Monday. In New York, 66 cases were reported according to CDC spokesman Jason … Continue reading U.S. measles outbreak grows with 75 new cases, mostly in New York

People near Portland aren’t vaccinating babies. Health officials just declared a measles emergency

Ashley May: People choosing not to vaccinate has emerged into a global health threat in 2019, the the World Health Organization recently reported. The CDC has also recognized that the number of children who aren’t being vaccinated by 24 months old has been gradually increasing. Some parents opt not to vaccinate because of the discredited … Continue reading People near Portland aren’t vaccinating babies. Health officials just declared a measles emergency

Madison School Board backs contract that would keep police officers in high schools

Logan Wroge: The Madison School Board on Monday backed a proposed contract that would keep police officers at Madison’s four main high schools. Board members voted 4-2 in favor of the proposed contract, which would emphasize alternative disciplines instead of arresting or citing students, lay the groundwork for a new complaint procedure against the officers … Continue reading Madison School Board backs contract that would keep police officers in high schools

In China’s Public Schools, Kids With Asperger’s Are Cut Adrift

Ni Dandan: Cheng Yanbin always knew his son, nicknamed Junjun, was different from other kids. Whenever his fellow kindergarteners played together in gleeful twos and threes, Junjun sat off to one side and didn’t join in the fun. “Other kids would laugh at a funny game or story, but his facial expression just stayed the … Continue reading In China’s Public Schools, Kids With Asperger’s Are Cut Adrift

Parents Are Leery Of Schools Requiring ‘Mental Health’ Disclosures By Students

Julio Ochoa: Children registering for school in Florida this year were asked to reveal some history about their mental health. The new requirement is part of a law rushed through the state legislature after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The state’s school districts now must ask whether a … Continue reading Parents Are Leery Of Schools Requiring ‘Mental Health’ Disclosures By Students

For Brandon: How One Family’s Struggle Can Help Us Imagine an Education System That Does Better by Exceptional Children

Travis Pillow, via a kind Deb Britt email: Twenty-five years ago CRPE was founded on the idea of the school as the locus of change. Today we are reexamining our old assumptions in light of new technical possibilities, changes in the economy, and a recognition that even the most effective schools may need to develop … Continue reading For Brandon: How One Family’s Struggle Can Help Us Imagine an Education System That Does Better by Exceptional Children

Are Facebook and YouTube quasi-governmental actors?

The Economist: ONE of the internet’s most odious conspiracy theorists has had his videos and podcasts removed from Apple, YouTube, Spotify and Facebook. Alex Jones (pictured), who has a radio show and runs a few websites, including Infowars, has raised doubts about the murders of 26 children and teachers in the Sandy Hook mass shooting, … Continue reading Are Facebook and YouTube quasi-governmental actors?

Partnerships with people on the spectrum yield rich research insights

Nicholette Zeliadt: There are different views on whether ‘people with autism’ or ‘autistic people’ is the better way to refer to individuals on the spectrum. Some of the people quoted in this article prefer to say ‘autistic,’ but Spectrum’s style is to refer to ‘people with autism.’ It wasn’t until Anna Remington had nearly finished … Continue reading Partnerships with people on the spectrum yield rich research insights