Monday, April 30th, 2012
This month, PNN has featured an “Awareness Spotlight” in honor of Autism Awareness month, sharing a news item on an autism-related topic each day of April. The decision to focus on this topic could not have come at a more important time for American families, as the month began with the CDC’s announcement of new research that found 1 in 88 American children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Looking over the full complement of posts as we wrap up the month, two major categories of issues rise to the top: new insights on both the causes and treatments of ASD, and bullying, depression, and suicide risks for autistic children. Clearly, autism is a topic that will not disappear from PNN just because we’ve turned the calendar to May.
In case you missed our spotlight, here are some of the most compelling, most-discussed PNN posts.
Image: Autism awareness ribbon, via Shutterstock.
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Friday, April 27th, 2012
An experimental drug that inhibits a receptor in the brain has been found in mice to reduce behaviors commonly associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including social problems and repetitive behaviors. CBSNews.com has more:
For the study, published in the April 25 issue of Science and Translational Medicine, researchers from the National Institutes of Health bred a strain of mice to display autism-like behaviors. Similar to how children with autism have social deficits and engage in repetitive behaviors, these mice did not interact and communicate with each other and spent an inordinate amount of time engaging in repetitive behavior – in this case self-grooming.
Cue the experimental drug called GRN-529. The drug was designed to inhibit a type of brain cell receptor that receives the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate is typically involved in learning and memory processes and stimulates other areas of the brain and nervous system.
When mice with the autism-like behaviors were injected with the experimental compound, they reduced the frequency of their repetitive self-grooming and spent more time around strange mice, even sniffing them nose to nose. When tested on a different strain of mice, the experimental compound stopped all repetitive jumping behavior.
“These new results in mice support NIMH-funded research in humans to create treatments for the core symptoms of autism,” Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement. “While autism has been often considered only as a disability in need of rehabilitation, we can now address autism as a disorder responding to biomedical treatments.”
Image: Lab researcher, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, April 26th, 2012
After sending his 10-year-old son to school with a hidden recording device, a New Jersey man is alleging that teachers at his son’s elementary school shouted, insulted and otherwise “bullied” the child because he has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). CNN.com reports:
Stuart Chaifetz said he placed the recorder in the pocket of his 10-year-old son, Akian, in an attempt to find out why staffers at Horace Mann Elementary School had reported that the boy had been acting out and hitting his teachers.
What surfaced was more than six hours of recordings of what he says are teachers and aides apparently talking about alcohol and sex in front of the class, punctuated by yelling at his son to “shut your mouth.”
Chaifetz posted the recording online Monday, which has since led to disciplinary actions, including the removal of at least one teacher, school officials said.
Image: Blackboard, via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
A new study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network (part of the Kennedy Krieger Institute) looked closely at why bullying in school continues to be a serious problem faced by children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The findings highlight two difficult truths – most autistic children have experienced bullying, and more than half feel they have been purposely provoked into fighting by bullies.
Almost two-thirds of autistic children had been bullied at some point in their lives, and they were three times more likely than neurotypical kids to be bullied in the past three months. This was even true for home-schooled autistic children, who were sometimes educated at home precisely because of the bullying issue. “After a horrible year in 3rd grade,” said one mother, “where he was clinically diagnosed as depressed (he has always been anxious), I pulled my son out of public school and am homeschooling him this year. He is doing much, much better without the constant name calling and being singled out for his ‘weird’ behaviors!”
The three most common types of bullying were verbal, or, in other words, psychological in nature: “being teased, picked on, or made fun of” (73%); “being ignored or left out of things on purpose” (51%), and “being called bad names” (47%). But almost a third of autistic children also experienced physical bullying – being shoved, pushed, slapped, hit, or kicked.
Even more disturbing was the fact that over half of the autistic children surveyed had experienced intentional triggering of meltdowns or had been “provoked into fighting back.” One mother said, “Often kids try to upset her because they find it funny when she gets upset and cries. She is overly emotional, and they seem to get a kick out of this.”
Bullying was most pronounced in regular public schools (43%), but better in special education public schools (30%), and lowest in regular private schools and special education private schools (28% and 18%, respectively).
Image: Clenched fists, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
A new review of published and unpublished research is raising questions about whether certain antidepressants can help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) control repetitive behaviors and manage other symptoms. Reuters reports:
The drugs, which include popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are sometimes used to treat repetitive behaviors in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
“The main issue to emphasize is that SSRIs are perhaps not as effective at treating repetitive behaviors as previously thought. Further research will help confirm these findings in the long run,” said Melisa Carrasco, the study’s lead author, in an email.
For their analysis, Carrasco, a researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and her colleagues examined PubMed and ClinicalTrials.gov for randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trials — considered the gold standard in medical research — supporting the use of SSRIs and similar antidepressants in children with autism.
Image: Prescription pad, via Shutterstock.
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