Posts Tagged ‘ autism spectrum ’

Your Autism FAQs Answered

Monday, April 14th, 2014

As part of Autism Awareness Month, Parents and Easter Seals teamed up to bring our Facebook fans expert  answers to their biggest questions about autism spectrum disorders during our Facebook chat. Dr. Patricia Wright, a board certified behavior analyst and Easter Seals’ National Director of Autism Services, and 2014 Parents Social Media Award Winner Autism Daddy, a 44-year-old blogger and dad to a 10-year-old son with severe/classic autism, shared their expert opinions on all things autism.

Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity.

“What do you wish more people knew about autism spectrum disorders?”

Dr. Wright: I wish that all parents knew how important it is for EVERY child to be screened for autism and other developmental disabilities as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Guidelines. For autism, that is at 18 months and again at 24 or 30 months. For society as a whole, I wish that people could meet the many adults living with autism who are happy, contributing members of society. I think this would leave to greater acceptance of people living with autism and increase the opportunities for children and adults with autism to have greater success in life.

“What are your thoughts on the rising numbers in children with autism? What do YOU believe is a factor?”

Dr. Wright: “There is certainly lots of discussion about the rising prevalence. I have focused my career on supporting people who have already been diagnosed. I do look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information and there is some great research being done at places like UC Davis  that are trying to answer this important question.”

“My son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at 22 months. He is now 25 months and with the help of speech and Applied Behavioral Analysis therapies, he went from completely nonverbal to speaking more than 40 words appropriately (as well as better eye contact and interaction). I’ve heard of, ‘falling off the spectrum.’ Have you seen this happen? Is it really possible?”

Dr. Wright: “The most recent data reports that approximately 13-17 percent of children who are accurately diagnosed with autism lose their diagnosis.”

“Is there a guide of the actual spectrum, from severe to non-severe?”

Dr. Wright: “Autism is diagnosed via observation and interview. Autism diagnostics are typically conducted by a team of professionals which might include a physician, psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, and others as appropriate. There are two ‘gold-standard’ tools: the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These are the best tools we have. The ADOS is an activity based assessment that involves interaction between the parent and the assessor. The ADI is an interview conducted with the parent. It is important to have professionals engaged in the assessment that are trained in autism diagnosis and using good assessment tools like the ADOS and ADI-R. A diagnosis is often a multi-step process and based upon the unique needs of the child there may be other assessments that need to be conducted such as a hearing test, genetic testing and others. Your healthcare provider should lead you through the diagnostic process.”

“Different doctors tell us different things about where our son is on the spectrum. I’ve been told he can’t be because he speaks and is too social. He has a very low IQ. So is he what some would say high functioning?”

Dr. Wright: “Speaking and being social aren’t necessarily rule-outs for an autism diagnosis. An autism diagnosis is conducted through behavioral observation of the child and interview with parents. Autism diagnostics are typically conducted by a team of professionals which might include a physician, psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, and others as appropriate. There are two ‘gold-standard’ tools the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These are the best tools we have. The ADOS is an activity based assessment that involves interaction between the parent and the assessor. The ADI is an interview conducted with the parent. It is important to have professionals engaged in the assessment that are trained in autism diagnosis and using good assessment tools like the ADOS and ADI-R. A diagnosis is often a multi-step process and based upon the unique needs of the child there may be other assessments that need to be conducted such as a hearing test, genetic testing and others. Your healthcare provider should lead you through the diagnostic process.”

“What has been the most helpful resource for you as a parent of a child with autism?”

Autism Daddy: “Facebook! Seriously when my son first was diagnosed, it was pre-Facebook and I went to a few support group meetings in person. The parents were all at different parts of their autism journey, and most were higher functioning than my son. I found the support group meetings frustrating and uninformative. The great thing about Facebook is that you can find the specific support group that fits your needs. Low-functioning, Aspie’s, non-verbal, autism and epilepsy, etc.”

“What do you wish more people knew about what it’s like to raise a child with autism?”

Autism Daddy: “That it can be very hard, exhausting, and isolating. That’s not easy to hear, I know, but it’s the truth. Though the autism parents you know may be putting on a brave face and saying they’re fine and don’t need help, offer to help them anyway. And all you autism parents out there: stop acting so damn strong. I don’t want pity as much as the next guy, but there’s no shame in saying you are overwhelmed and need help.”

“What do you find is the most effective way to encourage your child to communicate with you—and others?”

Autism Daddy: “My son is a tough customer when it comes to communicating, but the iPad is starting to work its magic. He’s able to navigate the iPad like a champ, which is great since he doesn’t have fine motor skills. He likes a lot of the toddler apps like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Elmo’s Numbers & Letters.”

My 3 ½-year-old daughter was evaluated a few months ago. They told me she’s not autistic, yet she’s on the spectrum scale. She tells me what she needs and wants, knows how to count to 20, is familiar with her colors, etc. How do I explain or make people aware when they wonder why she doesn’t talk as well as other kids her age?”

Autism Daddy: “Don’t get bogged down in the labels. Maybe she’s autistic, maybe she’s not. The key is that she’s young, and she needs a little extra help. When people ask, just say she’s a bit speech delayed. If the experts tell you she’s on the spectrum, don’t freak out. Use that diagnosis to get extra services like speech and occupational therapy.”

“Do they always flap their hands and walk on their tiptoes? Can they be on the lower end of the spectrum if they don’t do this but have other signs?”

Autism Daddy: Flapping and toe walking are just a few of the “stims” that a lot of kids with autism do, but not all. Just because they do or don’t doesn’t indicate their severity.”

Dr. Wright: “Autism is a spectrum disorder, so every child presents symptoms in their own unique way. Not every child with autism has toe-walking or hand-flapping and these behaviors in isolation would not indicate a severity level.”

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Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective

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Meditation as a Potential Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

According to the CDC, 1 in 88 people have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The prevalence has increased ten-fold over the last 40 years. There is no cure, but there seem to be as many treatments as there are manifestations of symptoms of the disorder. On November 14, the David Lynch Foundation and Joey Lowenstein Foundation co-sponsored a webinar called “Autism, Meditation, and Stress” to discuss transcendental mediation as a potential treatment for those affected by ASD—one that is non-invasive, non-medical, and works to help those with ASD as well as their families.

Transcendental meditation is the name of this treatment—truly a practice or technique to quiet the mind. While transcendental meditation itself is not new, the initiative to bring the practice to those on the spectrum has taken off in the past couple of years. A panel of experts in the fields of autism, psychiatry, and neuropsychology, gathered to vouch for the merits of meditation for this particular population.

“Those with ASD are in a state of chronic stress,” explained David Black, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Assessment and Treatment. While at this time the benefits of transcendental meditation are largely anecdotal for those with ASD, the research conducted with people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder show that this practice settles the sympathetic nervous system, can reduce blood pressure, and lessens reactiveness to stimuli. The experts emphasized that ASD is a stress-related condition since the four components of stress are novelty, unpredictability, perceived threat, and low sense of control. It’s the sensitivity to all of these that make those with ASD “wired to be stressed,” according to William Stixrud, Ph.D, a clinical neuropsychologist and President of the Stixrud Group.

But how does TM work to relieve this stress? What does it mean to meditate? Is it just sitting quietly in a room—is that meditation? Transcendental Meditation is taught in seven steps, usually over a four-day period. Anyone who wants to learn will be paired with a certified TM instructor—of which there are thousands in more than 200 cities nationwide. The teacher helps an individual choose a mantra that custom-fits him or her and teaches the student how to use the mantra to access and inner quiet. It all sounds very vague, but I trust that you have to try it to understand it. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m intrigued enough that I hope to meet with a TM instructor in 2014. I could certainly benefit from increased focus and decreased stress as much as anyone else.

It may sound counterintuitive that a child who cannot sit still would be able to meditate, but families report that after working with an instructor their child can do it—albeit only for a few minutes at first, but this will grow over time. Many families have already seen changes in the behavior of their children on the spectrum. Roberta Lowenstein and her 17-year-old son Joey—founders of the Joey Lowenstein Foundation—meditate together. Joey is nonverbal and when he first started to practice TM two years ago he was only able to sit for about 5 minute spurts. But after eight weeks, Joey was able to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. Joey said (through his letterboard) that TM really helps him. He feels calmer. His mother has noted less outbursts. His grades in school have improved.

Roberta was shocked that her son was even able to sit down long enough to meditate. But he can, and he does. Children with ASD are able to meditate and find the calm within. “[The mind] is like the ocean,” said Bob Roth, Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation. “On the surface, the it’s is busy and noisy, but deeper, a calm exists. We use TM to access a deep state of calm which is already present in a person.” Scientifically, this meditation enlivens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which allows for more flexibility, sociability, and ability to cope with novelty. Sounds like a good matchup.

While this webinar focused solely on TM, it isn’t the only kind of meditation that can benefit children with ASD. In the past decade experts have embraced the idea of teaching a form called mindfulness to children with conditions including ASD and ADHD.

More research is necessary, and you do have to have the resources (TM costs around $375 per child—although scholarships are available) to match your child with a certified TM practitioner, but this practice may be worth exploring based on its tested effects on other populations. After all, TM doesn’t produce the side effects that accompany drugs and some other experimental therapies. As one mom said during the webinar, “After one month of meditating, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time Alex had a tantrum.”

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Image: Courtesy David Lynch Foundation; Students meditating at a San Francisco school

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