Friday, September 20th, 2013
A genetic disorder that can lead to developmental delays, anxiety, and social awkwardness is misdiagnosed as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as much as 50 percent of the time, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California Davis. The mistake can lead to inappropriate treatment for the children, and may even worsen the symptoms of their genetic condition. More from Time.com:
About one in 2000 people are diagnosed with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which can lead to developmental delays, social awkwardness and anxiety, among other symptoms. Because those symptoms overlap with some of the hallmark signs of autism, researchers say that anywhere from 20% to 50% of children with 22q, as the condition is called, are misdiagnosed with autism.
That can have serious implications for these patients, since behavior-based treatments designed to alleviate the social deficits of autism may actually exacerbate anxiety among those with the 22q genetic disorder. If left untreated, children with 22q can be at higher risk of developing other mental health disorders like schizophrenia later in life.
To tease apart the differences between children with 22q and those with autism, the researchers, based at the University of California Davis MIND Institute, recruited a small group of 29 kids from a website the study called Cognitive Analysis and Brain Imaging Laboratory (CABIL). The scientists noticed that parents of children with the genetic disorder often commented that while their kids were diagnosed with autism, they seemed different from other children with the developmental disorder. “It’s quite clear that children with the [22q] disorder do have social impairments,” said study author Tony J. Simon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute in a statement. “But it did seem to us that they did not have a classic case of autism spectrum disorder. They often have very high levels of social motivation. They get a lot of pleasure from social interaction, and they’re quite socially skilled.”
So the team gave the children two of the gold standard tests for diagnosing autism — the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) — to see if they indeed showed signs of autism.
Only five of the children had elevated scores on the ADOS test, and four out of the five had anxiety. None of the 22q children had scores high enough in both tests to classify them as having autism.
Image: Child with pediatrician, via Shutterstock
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Monday, July 29th, 2013
The diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) could be improved by a new technique that takes advantage of the disrupted motor skills that autistic children commonly have. Time.com reports on the new technique, which was developed by researchers at Rutgers University and Indiana University:
Elizabeth Torres, a computational neuroscientist at Rutgers University, explores how movements reflect the way people interact with and sense their environments. Patterns in these movements can reflect brain processes and connections, and that could be helpful in understanding autism.
“The way that we study the brain is quite disembodied. We pay attention to the central nervous system—brain and spinal chord–and we don’t pay attention to the peripheral nervous system,” says Torres, referring to the network of nerves involved in relaying sensory information such as touch, sight and smell. “This plays a pretty important function in self-regulation and autonomy, and it is not often considered in autism and in much of brain research.”
Movement can influences our perception of the world around us, and our ability to sense the environment can also change our movements. “Movement is a form of sensory input that travels back to the brain as a form of feedback, continuously,” she says.
The central nervous system constantly receives and processes this feedback in order to produce the appropriate actions. During normal development, this system learns to anticipate sensory consequences, like how a baby learns to suction its mouth for feeding. But this process may not mature in the same way in autistic children, the researchers discovered.
In two papers published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, Torres, working with a computer scientist and physicist, described a way to both diagnose autism via movement patterns, and potentially treat the condition using similar action-based strategies. They developed a method that focuses on the spontaneous movements that autistic children, even infants, make unintentionally. The research team measured tiny fluctuations of movement among autistic patients, and compared these movements to those of normally developing subjects.
This strategy was able to diagnose autism among children aged three to 25, but even more exciting was the fact that the movement profiles were unique enough to distinguish how severely affected children were by the developmental disorder. All the autistic participants — regardless of their age — were essentially stunted in their ability to process movement by age three. By age four, these patterns in normally developed youngsters should be predictive and reliable. By college age, they are highly predictive, and adults can anticipate how their actions impact their environment and vice versa. But kids with autism are not successfully forming these connections.
Image: Child waving, via Shutterstock
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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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Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
A new study suggests that phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic products flexible, may delay child development, The Washington Post reports.
Sometimes called plasticizers, phthalates are used in thousands of products, from shower curtains and garden hoses to water bottles and hairspray. Although scientists suspect that they cause health problems, little data has confirmed their effect on people.
The Post described this new study:
A small study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives measured levels of four kinds of phthalates in the urine of 319 non-smoking pregnant women. When the children born of those pregnancies were three years old, the researchers assessed their mental, motor and behavioral development.
The study found that phthalates exposure during pregnancy was associated with increased risk of motor delay, a condition that could potentially translate to problems with fine and gross motor skills later in life, according to the study. One of the phthalates was associated with “significant” decreases in mental development among girls; among boys and girls, three of the phthalates were associated with behavior problems such as anxiety and depression, “emotionally reactive behavior” and withdrawn behavior.
More studies are needed because it’s unclear how exactly phthalates act on the body, researchers wrote. These findings “raise a public health concern,” but “should be interpreted with caution,” they said.
(image via: http://momsgoinggreenblog.com)
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