Posts Tagged ‘ autism spectrum disorders ’

Autistic Kids Benefit from Early Intervention Regardless of Treatment Model

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) receive the same benefit from high-quality early intervention programs that are generalized or specialized, according to new research from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The study, from the university’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) could potentially help educators control the costs of the numerous specialists who treat kids with ASD, without sacrificing the results and benefits that the interventions are known to have.  More from

“We know that more children are being diagnosed with ASD each year, and that it can cost an estimated $3.2 million to treat each child over a lifetime. Understanding that a child can benefit from a high-quality program, rather than a specialized program, may help reduce those costs by decreasing the need for teachers and other school practitioners to be trained to deliver multiple specialized services,” Boyd said. He stressed it remains important to ensure educators are trained to provide high-quality programs that meet the special behavioral, communication and other needs of children with ASD.

Previous research has shown that when children with ASD have access to early intervention via treatment programs, they improve developmentally. Until now, however, debate has persisted over which approach to use, said Boyd. The study appeared in the June issue of Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Two frequently used comprehensive treatment models have a long history: LEAP (Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and their Parents) and TEACCH (now known only by its acronym).

FPG’s study examined the relative effects of the LEAP and TEACCH school-based comprehensive treatment models when compared to each other and to special-education programs that do not use a specific model. The multisite study took place only in high-quality classrooms and enrolled 74 teachers and 198 3- to 5-year-olds in public school districts.

The study found that children made gains over the school year regardless of the classroom’s use of LEAP, TEACCH or no specific comprehensive treatment model. “Each group of children showed significant positive change in autism severity, communication and fine- motor skills,” said Kara Hume, FPG scientist and co-author. “No statistically significant differences were found among models, which challenged our initial expectations — and likely the field’s.”

“This study may shift the field’s thinking about comprehensive treatment models designed for young children with ASD,” said co-author Samuel L. Odom, FPG’s director and the study’s principal investigator. “Perhaps it’s not the unique features of the models that most contribute to child gains but the common features of the models that most influence child growth.”

Image: Preschooler and teacher, via Shutterstock

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‘Cry Analyzer’ Could Help Doctors Predict Developmental Problems

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

A new “cry analyzer” computer program has been developed by doctors and engineers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital in Rhode Island, promising to interpret babies’ cries at levels imperceptible to the human ear.  What could they hear?  Possibly, the frequencies could reveal the likelihood that the baby has a developmental issue such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  More from The Huffington Post:

“It’s a non-invasive way to possibly understand whether an infant is at-risk for later developmental problems, particularly autism,” said Stephen Sheinkopf, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University who helped develop the tool and co-authored a paper describing its use in the ” Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.”

The new tool also helps measure the “health status of babies in the newborn period,” he said. “For example, whether or not they’re experiencing pain after certain procedures in the hospital. Pain-related cries sound different than non-pain cries.”

Last fall, several of the same researchers published research that found the cries of babies can provide early clues about their autism risk. The team compared the cries of 21 different 6-month-old babies who were considered at higher risk for autism (because they had siblings with the disorder) with the cries of low-risk babies. They found many consistent differences, particularly that the infants with a family history of the disorder had higher-pitched cries than those who did not.

The newest study on cry analysis is an extension of that work that helps validate the measurements used, Sheinkopf said. For now, it is targeted for babies who are up to 6 or 9 months old.

Image: Crying baby, via Shutterstock

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Brain Pattern May Predict Autism in Young Children

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Highly interconnected networks of nerves in the brain may be a marker of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that will allow researchers to identify the condition in very young children.  A new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has made this finding, building on research from a year ago that found a non-invasive EEG test could identify unique brain patterns in the brains of autistic 2-year-olds.  The new finding is promising for the ability of doctors to identify ASD at its earliest stages, which would allow interventions and treatments to begin as early as possible.  More from

A highly interconnected brain could mean that signals zooming from sensory nerves to other networks become too overwhelming to parse apart and process, which researchers believe is a hallmark of the autistic brain. And in a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, Stanford University researchers report that this pattern of hyperconnectivity in some brain areas could provide a fingerprint for autism that helps doctors to recognize the condition at its earliest stages.

The scientists scanned the brains of 20 autistic children who ranged in age from 7 to 12 and also imaged 20 typically developing children of the same age for comparison. They found stronger connections within many critical brain networks in the autistic children, including those responsible for introspection, vision and movement.

They also saw more robust links in networks that help the brain to triage the flood of incoming information from both our bodies and our environment that assaults us constantly. Called the salience network, it’s responsible for determining which internal or external sensations need our immediate attention. Using a computer program that the researchers developed to make sense of the brain imaging data, they found that by mapping the salience network alone, they could accurately classify autistic or non-autistic children in their study 78% of the time — and could do so 83% of the time using data from other researchers.

“That’s wonderful,” says Kamila Markram, the Autism Project Director at the Brain Mind Institute of the EPFL, a federal technology institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, who was not associated with the research, “We must move toward biological markers for autism and not just rely on interviews and observations by people.” Markram previously published animal research suggesting that hyperconnectivity may be involved in autism.

Moreover, the more strongly connected the salience network was in autistic children, the worse symptoms they had in terms of repetitive behaviors like rocking and restricted interests such as being obsessed with computers or the periodic table of elements. The findings suggest that from an early age, children with autism develop differently from those without the condition, and that these changes may be detectable through brain imaging.

Image: Brain scans, via Shutterstock
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Epilepsy Drug Used During Pregnancy May Increase Autism Risk

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Pregnant women who use an anti-epilepsy drug called valproate have babies that are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study published in the April 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  More from CBS News:

“This is an important risk factor and one that can be avoided or at least the risk reduced in women who don’t need to take this and can take another drug,” Dr. Kimford Meador, a professor of neurology at Emory University in Atlanta, said to Businessweek. Meador wrote an accompanying editorial published in the same journal issue. “This is the strongest evidence to date that there is a link between fetal exposure and childhood autism or autism spectrum disorder.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 1 in 50 school age children may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASDs are a group of developmental brain disorders that affect social, communication and behavioral development. The disorders can range in severity from people with milder symptoms — called Asperger syndrome — to those with autistic disorder or “classic” autism.

Researchers looked at 665,615 babies born in Denmark between 1996 and 2006. The children were followed for an average of 8.8 years. Out of the group, 5,437 were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and 2,067 were diagnosed with childhood autism specifically.

The researchers found that mothers of 2,644 children took anti-epileptic drugs during pregnancy, with 508 specifically taking valproate. They determined that valproate was linked to an absolute risk of 4.42 percent for an ASD and 2.5 percent for childhood autism.

For women who had epilepsy who did not take valproate, the absolute risk of having a child with an ASD was 2.44 percent, with 1.2 percent receiving a diagnosis of childhood autism.

In January 2013, a British study of 415 children also linked autism to mothers taking valproate. Those results were published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

“Women for whom valproate is a treatment option should discuss the risks and benefits of this drug with their doctor prior to pregnancy, to ensure that their health and that of the potential child is optimized,” Rebecca Bromley, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the University of Liverpool who led the British study, told HealthDay.

Image: Pregnant woman, via Shutterstock

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More Kids Getting Autism Diagnoses at Older Ages

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

A rising number of schoolchildren are receiving diagnoses of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), new data from the National Center for Health Statistics has found, but the findings don’t necessarily reflect a rise in the prevalence of autism.  Two percent of U.S. schoolkids, or about 1 million children, report having received autism diagnoses. More from NBC News:

It’s a large increase since the last report but experts stress it doesn’t necessarily mean more children are developing autism.

Instead, the numbers suggests that more children are being diagnosed as they get older – probably because of many factors, including increased awareness and more services both to diagnose children and help them, the researchers said.

“Our findings suggest that the increase in prevalence may be due to increased recognition of autism spectrum disorders in recent years, especially when the symptoms were mild,” Stephen Blumberg of the National Center for Health Statistics, which published the report, said in a telephone interview.

“Parents are more aware. Professionals are more aware. There may be more access to diagnostic services.”

Autism describes a range of conditions and disorders – some of which a few years ago were not even recognized as conditions. It can range from the very mild social awkwardness seen in some cases of Asperger’s syndrome, to severe and debilitating symptoms that prevent children from interacting in a normal way, prevent learning and often require medication. Some children with autism were classified as mentally retarded in years past, while others struggled quietly with no idea they could benefit from therapy.

Parents should not worry that something new has been happening to kids, says Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring autism in several ways. “We don’t want them to be frightened by the numbers. We want them to recognize that there are things they can do that make a difference in their child’s life,” she said.

Image: School girl, via Shutterstock

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