Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
Babies born to mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy are not any more likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than babies born to mothers who didn’t take the medication. More from Reuters:
Women who take a common type of antidepressant during pregnancy are not more likely to have a child with autism, according to a new study from Denmark.
But children did have a higher than usual risk when their mothers took the drugs – known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – for depression or anxiety before becoming pregnant.
That suggests a possible link between a mother’s preexisting mental health issues and the developmental disorder that hinders social and communication skills.
“Our interpretation is that women with indications for SSRI use differ from women who do not use SSRIs because of these indications (depression, anxiety), and some of these differences are somehow related to an increased risk of having children who develop autism,” Dr. Anders Hviid said. He led the study at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.
“Whether these differences are genetic, social or something completely different is speculation at this point,” Hviid said.
The findings, combined with a separate analysis of the same database published last month in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, suggest people looking for a link between autism and SSRIs need to look elsewhere, Dr. Mark Zylka said.
Zylka, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, has studied autism but was not involved in the analyses.
“There’s been a big question in the literature about whether these drugs affect brain development in any way and cause autism,” he told Reuters Health. That’s important because of how many people take antidepressants, including pregnant women.
Image: Pregnant woman taking pill, via Shutterstock
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Friday, December 20th, 2013
The family of a 3-year-old Florida boy who has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum has won the right to keep a small group of “therapy chickens” that the family says have helped their son improve his quality of life. More from Today.com:
The City Council of DeBary, Fla., unanimously approved a resolution on Wednesday evening that allows the parents of 3-year-old J.J. Hart to raise the three hens in their backyard as a reasonable accommodation under the Federal and Florida Fair Housing Acts. The resolution notes that “the chickens are primarily utilized for the purpose of enhancing the child’s life.”
“J.J. won… I’m glad,” DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia, who knows the Hart family well and has been a vocal supporter of their quest to keep the hens, told TODAY Moms.
“Maybe this will take the smudge off the city of DeBary that we don’t care about people with disabilities, and we can get back to the norm of how great the city really is.”
The small town near Orlando has been under intense pressure to take action since earlier this month, when the City Council voted to end a one-year “Urban Chicken Pilot Program” that allowed city residents – including J.J.’s family — to keep chickens in their backyard. Like many communities, DeBary limits the kinds of animals that can be kept in residential homes.
The decision devastated his parents, who say the feathered creatures did what physical, occupational and speech therapies couldn’t: Bring J.J. out of his shell. He likes to run after them and hold them, and he smiles when they are around.
Image: Chickens, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
The hormone oxytocin may help the social brain functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new Yale University study has found. More from The Boston Globe:
Years of research has revealed the potent effects of oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally released during childbirth and has been nicknamed the “love hormone” for the role it appears to play in pair bonding, whether between couples or mother and baby. Then researchers began to administer the hormone to people in non-romantic situations, to see whether it would change their behavior.
The results were intriguing, suggesting that it helped increase cooperation and trust. As the hormone’s ability to enhance social responses was replicated in other studies, researchers began to wonder whether oxytocin might be helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders, which are characterized by impaired social functioning.
In the new work, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale researchers measured what happened in the brains of 17 children with autism spectrum disorder when they inhaled the hormone or a placebo, and were then directed to perform tasks in a brain scanner that used functional MRI technology. One task was designed to use the social parts of the brain—the children were asked to intuit the emotion a person was experiencing by looking at a photo of their eyes. In another, they were simply asked to identify a vehicle.
What the researchers found was that a single spray of the hormone increased functioning in the social parts of the brain when the children were confronted with the eye-reading task, while the activity in those areas decreased during the vehicle-naming task. Their performance on the task was not different, but researchers think the brain signals indicate that oxytocin made the social stimuli more relevant and rewarding.
“What’s happening in the brain, we think, is that oxytocin is improving how well we are tuning in to social stimuli, to a social world,” said Ilanit Gordon, an experimental psychologist who did the work at the Yale Child Study Center and is now an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Image: Smiling boy, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Infants who do not make eye contact during their first months of life may be displaying a marker for autism, researchers from the National Institutes of Mental Health reported in a potentially game-changing study that was published in the journal Nature. the study found that eye contact and attention to others’ eyes routinely declines in 2- to 6-month-olds who are later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More from the National Institutes of Health:
“Autism isn’t usually diagnosed until after age 2, when delays in a child’s social behavior and language skills become apparent. This study shows that children exhibit clear signs of autism at a much younger age,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIMH. “The sooner we are able to identify early markers for autism, the more effective our treatment interventions can be.”
Typically developing children begin to focus on human faces within the first few hours of life, and they learn to pick up social cues by paying special attention to other people’s eyes. Children with autism, however, do not exhibit this sort of interest in eye-looking. In fact, a lack of eye contact is one of the diagnostic features of the disorder.
To find out how this deficit in eye-looking emerges in children with autism, Warren Jones, Ph.D., and Ami Klin, Ph.D., of the Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine followed infants from birth to age 3. The infants were divided into two groups, based on their risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder. Those in the high risk group had an older sibling already diagnosed with autism; those in the low risk group did not.
Jones and Klin used eye-tracking equipment to measure each child’s eye movements as they watched video scenes of a caregiver. The researchers calculated the percentage of time each child fixated on the caregiver’s eyes, mouth, and body, as well as the non-human spaces in the images. Children were tested at 10 different times between 2 and 24 months of age.
By age 3, some of the children — nearly all from the high risk group — had received a clinical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. The researchers then reviewed the eye-tracking data to determine what factors differed between those children who received an autism diagnosis and those who did not.
“In infants later diagnosed with autism, we see a steady decline in how much they look at mom’s eyes,” said Jones. This drop in eye-looking began between two and six months and continued throughout the course of the study. By 24 months, the children later diagnosed with autism focused on the caregiver’s eyes only about half as long as did their typically developing counterparts.
This decline in attention to others’ eyes was somewhat surprising to the researchers. In opposition to a long-standing theory in the field — that social behaviors are entirely absent in children with autism — these results suggest that social engagement skills are intact shortly after birth in children with autism. If clinicians can identify this sort of marker for autism in a young infant, interventions may be better able to keep the child’s social development on track.
“This insight, the preservation of some early eye-looking, is important,” explained Jones. “In the future, if we were able to use similar technologies to identify early signs of social disability, we could then consider interventions to build on that early eye-looking and help reduce some of the associated disabilities that often accompany autism.”
Download our free baby charts and checklists to keep her info organized and track her growth. Then, check out the Top 14 Pregnancy Fears and why you shouldn’t worry about them.
Image: Infant looking at mother, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Parents, health care professionals, and friends who are connected to life with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are getting involved in a frantic search to find 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, an autistic New York City boy who has been missing for 13 days. More from NBC New York:
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“When you have an individual who can’t speak and communicate for himself, that touches the heart,” said Julius Cannon, one of the volunteers searching for Avonte.
Cannon is among the numerous New Yorkers donating their time each day to help look for the mute autistic boy, who was last seen running away from his Long Island City school. Cannon has worked closely with autistic children and says people in the special needs community, especially those touched by autism, are committed to helping one another.
“I’ve been a part of this special community for years — 15 years, to be exact,” he said. “These kids, whether I work with them, they’re just a part of the family.”
Trudging through the brush to search tunnels, Wesley Miller of Astoria has been searching for Avonte since he went missing.
“When I heard about this kid and found out he was autistic, that really burned me up. I had to do something,” he said.
While Avonte’s family told NBC 4 New York Monday they feared foul play, they sounded optimistic on Tuesday.
“Our hopes are extremely high,” said a relative.
Police Chief Phillip Banks said Avonte’s disappearance has hit a personal note with investigators.
“We started out the meeting, ‘OK, if this was our son, what would we be doing differently?’” he said. “We went around the table and spent the first few minutes speaking about that.”