BC Speech Language Communication Blog

Triple Hit Study May Help Explain Autism’s Male Bias – BY: Sarah DeWeerdt

Originally Published at spectrumnews.org/news/triple-hit-study-may-help-explain-autisms-male-bias

The absence of an autism-linked gene, combined with exposure to a mock infection in the womb, produces social deficits in mice — but only in males, according to a new study1.
The results suggest that a ‘three-hit’ model of autism risk — genes, environment and sex — could help clarify the gender disparity in autism. (More than four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with autism.)
The results, published 7 February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide proof of principle for this new hypothesis.
“This is the first explicit test,” says study leader Donald Pfaff, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Rockefeller University in New York City. His study looked at mice lacking CNTNAP2, a leading autism candidate. “There will have to be many other [studies] with other mutated autism-related genes and other forms of stress,” he says.
The new model adds sex to the traditional ‘two-hit’ models of autism risk, which look at interactions between genes and the environment. “One of the novel things of this paper is considering sex to be a hit,” says Larry Young, chief of behavioral neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, who was not involved in the work.
Muted cries:
The researchers exposed pregnant mice to lipopolysaccharides (LPS), a class of molecules that mimic a bacterial infection. Pups born to pregnant mice exposed to LPS are known to show autism-like social deficits. Molecules released by the maternal immune system in response to infection may affect the developing brain.
Some of the pups in the study lacked a working copy of CNTNAP2. Mice missing CNTNAP2 have impairments in social behavior and communication.
When the pups were 3 days old, the researchers recorded high-pitched cries, or ultrasonic vocalizations, that each pup made when separated from its mother. These cries may mirror the communication problems seen in autism.
Mice that have one of the three hits — that is, are either male, were exposed to mock infection in the womb or lack CNTNAP2 — emit fewer ultrasonic vocalizations than do female controls. Those with two of these risk factors emit even fewer cries. And those with three hits — males lacking CNTNAP2 that were born to LPS-exposed mothers — make the fewest cries of all.
“They’ve taken a very complicated design and presented it in a way that is very easy to understand,” says Jason O’Connor, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas, San Antonio. “So I think, conceptually, it’s an important step for the field.” O’Connor was not involved in the work but has studied CNTNAP2 mutants exposed to infection in the womb.
Memory mechanism:
Once the mice in the new study reached adulthood, Pfaff’s team noted a change in their social behavior. Mice with zero, one or two hits are eager to sniff and investigate a new visitor to their home cage; their interest in the mouse wanes when it visits again.
Mice with three hits don’t show this pattern. They spend a relatively brief amount of time sniffing a visitor mouse, no matter how many times it has visited.
Mice with the triple hit also have altered gene expression in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. For example, in the left hippocampus, these mice show dampened expression of a gene for corticotropin-releasing hormone, a molecule involved in the stress response.
Finding a molecular alteration in the brain bolsters the results of the behavioral studies, Young says. The hippocampus and the stress response are both implicated in autism.
The three-hit combination may also alter gene expression in other brain regions, Pfaff says. In addition, genes in other pathways may contribute to the mice’s altered social behavior.

References:
Schaafsma S.M. et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 114, 1383-1388 (2017) PubMed

International Effort Expands List of Genes Tied to Autism – By : Jessica Wright

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBTAINED AT : http://www.spectrumnews.org

A massive sequencing study spanning seven countries links 38 new genes to autism or developmental delay and intellectual disability1. The study, published Monday in Nature Genetics, underscores the power of collaboration: Researchers from 15 institutions teamed up to recruit more than 13,000 people with one of the conditions. The work highlights genetic differences between the conditions. Autism, intellectual disability and developmental delay share several risk genes, which has led some researchers to speculate that autism is, in some cases, a form of developmental delay.

The new study suggests that autism is distinct from developmental delay and intellectual disability and that some genes are significant in only one condition. “I’m convinced that autism and developmental delay are not the same thing — that there are, in fact, genes that are going to predispose to one and not the other,” says lead researcher Evan Eichler, professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Eichler and his colleagues compiled a list of more than 200 genes involved in autism, developmental delay or both conditions. They sequenced this shortlist of genes in enough people to statistically link many new genes to the conditions. The researchers were able to reconnect with the participants after analyzing the sequencing data. This allowed them to examine the effects of certain mutations on clinical features. “The ability to go back and phenotype these individuals once you have found mutations in these genes is so important,” says Santhosh Girirajan, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved in the study.

Global reach:
Sequencing studies over the past few years have delivered a list of roughly 60 genes with strong ties to autism. In these studies, researchers scoured the protein-coding regions of the genome for harmful spontaneous mutations in individuals with autism. However, researchers often found each mutation in a single individual with autism — not enough to statistically connect the mutation to the condition.

Eichler and his team looked at 208 genes flagged as contributors to either autism or developmental delay in these and other studies. They hoped that sequencing these genes in thousands of people would confirm their link to the conditions, says Holly Stessman, assistant professor of pharmacology at Creighton University, in Omaha, Nebraska. The team partnered with researchers across four continents to recruit people with autism or developmental delay who had never before participated in a sequencing study. They sequenced the genes in 6,342 people with autism, 7,065 people with intellectual disability or developmental delay, and nearly 3,000 unaffected family members. Combining their findings with evidence from earlier studies revealed 91 genes with statistically significant ties to the conditions. Of these, 38 are genes that had not previously been strongly linked to the conditions. The new analysis reveals some of the “higher-hanging fruit,” Eichler says. The majority of these genes harbor spontaneous, or de novo, mutations. The researchers tied 13 of them to the conditions by comparing them against a control database of more than 45,000 sequences.

New approaches:
The new study pegged five genes with the strongest ties to autism or developmental delay: SCN2A, ADNP, CHD8, DYRK1A and POGZ. Previous studies had highlighted all five as strong candidates for autism. Some of the other candidates are surprising, says Brian O’Roak, assistant professor of molecular and medical genetics at Oregon Health and Science University, who was not involved in the study. “I don’t think you could have picked before you had done the study which genes were the ones that were going to validate,” he says. “We still don’t really have an understanding of what they do and how they would be involved in autism risk, so that’s going to be a really exciting thing to figure out,” he says.

Among the new candidates is a gene called NAA15. This gene is needed for adding a certain chemical group to proteins. Eichler and his team collected clinical data from 13 people with NAA15 mutations and found a high incidence of autism, intellectual disability and speech delay in the group. “It still gets me excited, finding brand-new genes that aren’t even part of the pathways that we know of,” Eichler says. “Hopefully, someday [this knowledge] will be used to treat people.”

Condition connection:
The researchers identified eight genes that were mutated more often in individuals with a primary diagnosis of autism than in those with developmental delay. Among these are the top autism candidate CHD8 and its molecular cousin, CHD2. Another 17 genes were mutated more often in people with developmental delay than in those with autism. However, without clinical assessments of each individual, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that someone with a primary diagnosis of developmental delay also has autism, and vice versa, Eichler says. The researchers recruited 88 participants with mutations in 25 of the new candidate genes to undergo detailed assessments. They also reviewed findings from case reports of people with mutations in the same genes. They found that 11 of the 25 genes are strongly associated with autism. Individuals with mutations in these genes tend to have enlarged heads and fewer seizures than those with mutations in the other genes. Mutations in the autism genes are also found more often in males than in females, supporting the idea of a sex bias in autism.

References:
Stessman H. et al. Nat. Genet. Epub ahead of print (2017) PubMed

Autism in Small Town Rural America- BY: Ann Griswold – Found on: spectrumnews.org

This is a story of autism in small-town America Rural living can be wonderful: community, friendly faces, a slower pace of life. But when there’s autism in the family, it can be tough.

Morning circle is off to a rough start at LilyPad Learning Center. On a bright Monday in September, in the large preschool classroom in Madrid, Iowa, 15 children sit cross-legged, patiently waiting their turn to report whether they watched football or read books over the weekend. A wiry 4-year-old named Izzy Green dashes across the room, her long black hair trailing behind her, and runs between two of the seated children. She bursts into the center of the circle, plops herself onto the floor and curls into a ball, moaning and clutching a little blanket. Small heads turn as Izzy rolls across the carpet and leaps to her feet. She retreats across the room, scoops up a book and hurls it past a teacher. A teacher’s assistant escorts Izzy back to the group and tries to coax her into a yellow plastic chair at the edge of the circle. But the girl shrieks and flails her arms at the assistant, and tumbles back down to the floor. As she kicks her legs, her hands connect with a basket of toys. Plastic dinosaurs fly across the room. All eyes are on Izzy.

Special needs:
Until a few months ago, Izzy was the only one in her preschool with an individualized education plan. Izzy was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Until this past July, she spent her weekdays at a home daycare and a small preschool where she was surrounded by familiar faces — people who knew her quirks. But that preschool closed down. Enrolling at LilyPad has been “a rude awakening,” says Izzy’s mother, Victoria Green, whose straight brown hair and athletic build mirror her no-nonsense personality. Trouble started the first day. The teachers “wanted Izzy to draw on a small piece of paper, but Izzy wanted to draw on the large paper on the easel,” Victoria says. “So a teacher stood in front of the easel to block it, and Izzy hit the teacher.” The teachers told Victoria that Izzy was “aggressive.” Victoria retorted that the teachers should pick their battles. After that, the relationship was “tense,” she says. Izzy’s teachers have looked for some trick to prevent the girl from melting down, running away and throwing toys — and, during recess, even rocks. So far, they’ve come up with two ideas: the yellow plastic chair and a repertoire of staccato commands that usher Izzy through the day. “Izzy, come” or “Izzy, sit down.” Everyone at LilyPad, even the youngest students, know the chair is Izzy’s home base — a place she retreats to throughout her morning. Izzy too seems to recognize the chair as her own, although it doesn’t stave off her tantrums.

Ripple effect:
Izzy’s tantrums sometimes spark tension among the other students. Her parents face their own struggles at home. Izzy tends to bolt, as she did once when her father, Shane Green, stepped outside their home for a minute to take out the trash. Date nights are out of the question, because the couple has trouble trusting a babysitter to prevent Izzy from running away or getting hurt. In a larger town, they might have been able to find a counselor trained in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), the intensive therapy that is usually recommended for children with severe behavior problems. But their community of 2,500 people has no qualified ABA providers — either state-funded or private — and they live hours away from the nearest one. Many families in other parts of rural America face similar struggles, says Alacia Stainbrook, a behavior analyst and coordinator of an early intervention program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. “The farther you are from a major metropolitan city, the less likely you are to find a behavioral analyst,” she says. “It’s not feasible to drive two hours for a 30-minute therapy session and then back home again.”

In Iowa, more than 80 percent of the ABA providers operate in cities and suburbs — but about half of the state’s population, including Izzy and many of the 8,000 other children with autism, reside in rural areas like Madrid. Like many rural families with children who have special needs, Victoria and Shane have mixed feelings about raising Izzy here. Central Iowa is breathtakingly beautiful and miles away from the crime and bustle of urban life. It’s liberating, says Victoria. But it’s also confining. Families here have far fewer choices — for schools, therapists, pediatricians and playmates — than they would in a city.

Two years ago, when Victoria heard about a clinical trial that would train parents to use an ABA-like intervention at home, she immediately signed up. The trial, which uses video conferencing to virtually transport researchers into the family home, has offered a partial solution to the problem of isolation.
For Izzy, the approach has been a success. Her tantrums have dwindled from 20 minutes each to less than 5, for example, and she has learned to use words to communicate her wants and needs to her parents. But it hasn’t changed her life at school, and Izzy and her teachers continue to struggle.

New approach may treat autism by dialing up genes – BY: JESSICA WRIGHT

Injecting snippets of RNA into the brain could gently boost the expression of certain genes, according to a mouse study1. The finding could help safely treat some forms of autism.
Many mutations associated with autism affect only one copy of a gene, leaving the other intact. In these cases, researchers could use RNA snippets to boost the expression of the undamaged copy.
In the new work, described 20 December in Scientific Reports, researchers increased the expression of the FOXG1 gene in mice. Missing one copy of FOXG1 leads a developmental condition that resembles Rett syndrome, which is characterized by motor deficits, language delay and autism features. Too much FOXG1, on the other hand, could lead to a form of epilepsy called West syndrome.
When the researchers injected RNA fragments specific to FOXG1, the gene’s activity rose only slightly, minimizing the chances of side effects from a potential overdose.

“You don’t get a spectacular result, but just a gentle over-activation of the gene,” says lead researcher Antonello Mallamaci, associate professor of molecular biology at SISSA in Trieste, Italy. The method also does not appear to boost the gene in cells that don’t normally express it. “You will never activate the silent gene,” Mallamaci says. “This is extremely important.”

Recruitment strategy:
It is still unclear how the snippets, called RNAa molecules, ramp up gene expression. Because of this, the researchers can’t rule out the possibility that it spur unwanted expression elsewhere in the genome, says Stormy Chamberlain, assistant professor of genetics and genome sciences at the University of Connecticut in Farmington, who was not involved with the study.
What’s more, not all mutations inactivate a gene, says Michael Wigler, professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, who was not involved in the study. In some cases, a mutation can lead to an abnormal protein that is toxic to the cell. Determining a mutation’s exact effect would be essential before applying the new technique, Wigler says. “With the caveat that you know your mutation is debilitating, this is a very exciting approach,” he says.
Mallamaci and his colleagues engineered RNAa molecules that bind to the regulatory regions of DNA near FOXG1. These molecules enhance gene expression, possibly by loosening the gene’s tightly coiled DNA and allowing the cell’s regulatory machinery to access it. Alternatively, the molecules may directly recruit the regulatory molecules to a gene. The researchers have preliminary evidence for this second possibility.

Fine-tuning:
The researchers tested eight RNAa molecules in neuronal stem cells from embryonic mice. Each of the molecules increases FOXG1 expression in the cells. One of them also enhances FOXG1 expression in mature mouse neurons, which puts researchers a step closer to treating the genetic condition in people.
Using a virus, the researchers delivered the RNAa that works in mature neurons to the brains of newborn mice. Three weeks later, FOXG1 expression was 66 percent higher overall in the brains of the treated mice than in those of controls.
The method may need tweaking, however, because expression in the subset of neurons that respond to the treatment may be too high, Mallamaci says. FOXG1 expression typically increases in response to the elevated levels of potassium that accompany neural activity. The researchers found that adding potassium to RNAa-treated cells further enhances FOXG1 expression. This result indicates that expression in response to RNAa still hews to normal ebb and flow of expression in the cell. “It is very promising to me that this approach respects the endogenous fine-tuning of the gene,” says Mallamaci. Mallamaci and his team plan to look at the effect of boosting FOXG1 expression in mice that lack one copy of the gene.

References:
Fimiani C. et al. Sci. Rep. 6, 39311 (2016) PubMed

The Study of Nonverbal Autism Must Go Beyond Words, Experts Say

This article was originally found on SFARI.org

Author: Sarah DeWeerdt
2 September 2013

The study of nonverbal autism must go beyond words, experts say. Interactive devices do not hinder nonverbal children with autism from learning to speak, and may even help them. Roughly 25 percent of people with autism speak few or no words. A generation ago, that figure was closer to 50 percent. Most researchers agree that the decline is due to the recognition of more people with milder forms of autism, as well as to the advent of early intervention programs that have helped more children develop language than in the past.

“One of the primary success stories of early interventions is that they promote language development,” says Helen Tager-Flusberg, director of the Research on Autism & Developmental Disorders program at Boston University. “Nevertheless,” she says, “there are clearly individuals who are diagnosed early, do have access to high-quality interventions, and still fail to acquire spoken language.”

Paradoxically, many researchers now argue that in order to better understand and treat this subgroup of nonverbal people with autism, the field needs to move beyond focusing on speech production. Emerging research suggests that seemingly unrelated issues, such as motor skills and joint attention, may instead be key.
Language delay gets a lion’s share of the attention perhaps because it is often the first and most compelling sign of autism. “Parents, pediatricians, psychologists — everyone, we all focus on word production,” says Joe McCleery, lecturer in developmental neuroscience at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

But factors that are usually thought of as being outside the realm of speech and communication, such as memory or motor problems, may also play a role, McCleery says. If an infant can’t coordinate movements — such as babbling while rhythmically banging hands on a table or high-chair tray — which is thought to contribute to later language development, then speech may be stymied1.

“It’s very likely that the reasons for why they’re not speaking may be related to a range of different underlying mechanisms,” says Tager-Flusberg. “Once we understand them a little bit better we’ll be able to target the therapies toward the specific kinds of problems that we identify in different children.”

Defining silence:

At the moment, though, children with autism who speak few or no words have received so little research attention that the most basic questions are still on the table.

“We don’t have a really clear definition of what it means to be minimally verbal,” says Connie Kasari, professor of human development and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Without a firm definition, it’s difficult to compare the findings of different studies. For example, various studies have defined children who use anywhere from 5 to 30 functional words as minimally verbal.

“Most kids are not truly nonverbal, which indicates that they have no words and no sounds,” Kasari says. Instead, they may say single words such as “Mama” and “Dada,” and even a few phrases, often ones that they repeat over and over without regard to context.

The number of words isn’t the only thing that determines whether a child is minimally verbal. Age also matters, as researchers are learning. A child who isn’t speaking at age 2 or 3 might be better thought of as pre-verbal, albeit with a language delay. But one who doesn’t speak at 6 or 7 years, especially after many hours of intervention, is much less likely to ever learn.

One study published earlier this year analyzed data from 535 children with autism enrolled in the Simons Simplex Collection, an autism registry funded by SFARI.org’s parent organization. These children weren’t speaking in two-word phrases at age 4, but 70 percent reached the milestone by age 8, and nearly half were speaking fluently by that time2.

“We found that more children did go on to gain phrase speech than previously thought,” says study leader Ericka Wodka, a neuropsychologist in the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

Wodka and her team also found that children with low levels of social impairment and high nonverbal intelligence quotients (IQs) are the most likely to learn to speak.

“I think what our research points to is that social goals really must be considered in intervention as well,” Wodka says. That is, she says, therapies need to focus on not just the ability to produce words, but the motivation to use them.

IQ is clearly also a thorny issue. Many minimally verbal children are intellectually disabled, but Kasari says she has known some children who could not speak, but could read.

“It can be difficult to tell how intellectually impaired somebody is,” says Nancy Brady, assistant professor of speech, language, hearing sciences and disorders at the University of Kansas. “If they can’t speak, then we maybe undershoot them when we assess them and assume that they are much more impaired than they actually are.”

To circumvent this problem, Brady is developing the Communication Complexity Scale to assess nonverbal communication. This test assesses, for example, whether a child uses gestures to request help with opening a clear plastic jar to obtain a toy3.

“Now we’re looking at what they can do, instead of just what they can’t do,” Brady says. “It allows us to identify more attainable short-term goals.” Therapists may work to help make a child’s gestures clearer and help parents interpret them as a stopgap measure while also working on spoken language development.

Treatment trials:

Children can communicate nonverbally using a variety of approaches, including cards featuring simple line drawings (known as the Picture Exchange Communication System), by typing on an iPad, or with the aid of a speech-generating device that can be programmed to say words aloud for the child.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t want to use some sort of augmentative system, because they think the kid won’t talk,” Kasari says.

But in fact, the opposite may be the case. Kasari has unpublished data showing that minimally verbal children who also used a speech-generating device early in therapy have more socially communicative utterances after six months than those who get the device later. It’s not clear why, but “it seems to augment their own ability to talk,” Kasari says.

Still, little is known about how to match minimally verbal children with the best therapies to encourage them to develop spoken language. “We have no idea which kids are going to respond to which interventions,” McCleery says. “The more information we can gather on that, the better.”

There are a few glimmers of promise. Tager-Flusberg and her colleagues are planning a randomized trial of auditory-motor mapping training, a therapy that combines rhythmic hand movements with a sing-song intonation. The approach has been successful in treating people who have lost the ability to speak after a stroke, and pilot studies suggest it can also help those with autism4.

Another intervention that may be particularly helpful for minimally verbal children, called JASPER, emphasizes joint attention and play skills that precede, and may underlie, spoken-language development.

“Most kids look to their parents; they look to objects; they show toys; they point to things; they do all of these things before they ever learn words,” says Kasari, a developer of the therapy. “So I think teaching those particular skills helps fill in those gaps, and helps kids learn language faster.”

Kasari and her colleagues have found that working on these skills is particularly helpful for children with the lowest language abilities5, even those who are intellectually impaired6.

With better treatments, almost every child with autism could learn to speak, Kasari says. But even if a few rely on nonverbal or augmentative systems for the long term, that might still be counted a success, she says. “Every child needs access to communication.”

References:

1. McCleery J.P. et al. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 7, 30 (2013) PubMed

2. Wodka E.L. et al. Pediatrics 131, e1128-1134 (2013) PubMed

3. Brady N.C. et al. Am. J. Speech Lang. Pathol. 21, 16-28 (2012) PubMed

4. Wan C.Y. et al. PLoS One 6, e25505 (2011) PubMed

5. Kasari C. et al. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 76, 125-137 (2008) PubMed

6. Goods K.S. et al. J. Autism Dev Disord. 43, 1050-1056 (2013) PubMed

ADHD Drugs Don’t Lead To Better Performance In School: Focused Children Still Need Direction, Study Says

Source: Currie J, Stabile M, Jones L. Do Stimulant Medications Improve Education and Behavioral Outcomes for Children with ADHD? The National Bureau of Economic Research. 2013.

Giving a child Ritalin or Adderall won’t make him necessarily more focused on school, especially in the long term.

It’s perhaps the most controversial disorder of the 21st century: opponents say it’s unnecessarily medicated, while advocates call it a breakthrough. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has received even more attention lately, as one study has found that medicating a child with ADHD has almost no chance of resulting in better grades.

The most common medications used to treat ADHD are Ritalin and Adderall, two stimulants that have been proven to enhance cognitive function in the short term, including focus, memory, and attention. According to a number of studies testing for kids’ academic performance with and without the drugs, over a long timeline, the effectiveness of these benefits disappears.

“The possibility that [medication] won’t help them [in school] needs to be acknowledged and needs to be closely monitored,” said economics professor Janet Currie, director of the Center for Health & Wellbeing, a health policy institute at Princeton University.

Currie helped author an 11-year study on 4,000 Quebec students who took ADHD medication. The study found that boys who took the drugs performed substantially worse than those who didn’t. Girls reported being more emotional while taking the medication, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Our results are silent on the effects on optimal use of medication for ADHD,” the researchers wrote, “but suggest that expanding medication use can have negative consequences given the average way these drugs are used in the community.”

Currie argues that children whose performance suffers while taking the drug could simply be taking an incorrect dosage or have stopped taking it because the side effects outweigh the benefits.

The question remains, however, as to why short-term cognitive processes soar with ADHD drugs but wane in the long term.

The answer may be found in a simple review of ADHD’s symptoms and the effects of its medication.

ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder that gets diagnosed most often in children, after signs that the child has trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that some 2.7 million parents, as of 2007, medicate their child in some form for ADHD.

When a child with ADHD takes Ritalin or Adderall, he or she experiences heightened focus, greater concentration, less hyperactivity, and more overall clarity. For this reason, says University of Pennsylvania cognitive neuroscientist Martha Farah, students who take the drugs must exercise more control in what they focus on. Give them the wrong stimulus, and the child is just as unproductive academically.

According to the Wall Street Journal, if one of Farah’s ADHD students “keeps her head down and studies, she gets very absorbed in her work and accomplishes a tremendous amount. But if a friend stops by, she becomes equally engrossed in the chat.”

This is why little evidence exists to show ADHD drugs help students perform better in school. Focus and concentration are only helpful tools when used correctly. Students who take Adderall and clean their entire bedroom are still shirking the responsibilities of their studies, even if it isn’t the Internet that’s distracting them.

In one major, U.S. government-funded study known as the MTA that looked at the long-term effects of ADHD treatment, 579 children with the condition were randomized to one of three different kinds of treatment or a control group for 14 months.

During the first year of the study, eight and nine year olds did perform nominally better than students with ADHD who hadn’t taken the drugs. However, as the study progressed, the effects leveled off and the students became academic equals.

At the most recent set of assessments, the eight-year follow-up, there were no differences between any of the groups on symptoms or academic achievement measures, suggesting that there wasn’t any long-term residual benefit of the treatments during childhood, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Farah’s findings mirror these as well. When she and her colleagues gave IQ and neurocognitive tests to students with ADHD, those who were taking medication performed the same as those who weren’t on the drugs.

These findings highlight the importance of fostering a well-rounded support system for children. Family encouragement, positive motivation, and structured education end up contributing more to a child’s education than medication alone.

In a separate study performed by Farah, a statistical review of existing data on the topic, still unpublished, suggests there are “very small effects,” she said, “not zero, but not a whole heck of a lot difference.”

Published by: http://www.Medicaldaily.com

‘Boys Will Be Boys’ in U.S., but Not in Asia

Taken from Science Daily
Story Source: This story is reprinted from materials provided by Oregon State University

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May 22, 2013 — A new study shows there is a gender gap when it comes to behavior and self-control in American young children — one that does not appear to exist in children in Asia.

In the United States, girls had higher levels of self-regulation than boys. Self-regulation is defined as children’s ability to control their behavior and impulses, follow directions, and persist on a task. It has been linked to academic performance and college completion, in past studies by Oregon State University researchers.

In three Asian countries, the gender gap in the United States was not found when researchers directly assessed the self-regulation of 3-6 year olds. The results appear in the new issue of the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

“These findings suggest that although we often expect girls to be more self-regulated than boys, this may not be the case for Asian children,” said Shannon Wanless, lead author of the study.

Wanless began conducting the research during her doctoral studies at Oregon State University under Megan McClelland, an associate professor in OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families. Wanless is now on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh.

One interesting part of the researcher’s findings: Although there were no gender differences in self-regulation when the children were directly assessed using a variety of school-readiness tasks, teachers in Asia perceived girls as performing better on self-regulation even when they actually performed equally to boys.

“Teachers are rating children’s behavior in the classroom environment, which has a lot of distractions and is very stimulating,” Wanless said. “It is possible that boys in the Asian countries were able to self-regulate as well as girls when they were in a quiet space (the direct assessment), but were not able to regulate themselves as well in a bustling classroom environment (teacher ratings).”

In addition, McClelland said cultural expectations of girls’ behavior versus that of their male peers may be influencing teachers’ assessments.

“In general, there is more tolerance for active play in boys than in girls,” McClelland said. “Girls are expected to be quiet and not make a fuss. This expectation may be coloring some teachers’ perceptions.”

The researchers conducted assessments with 814 children in the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and China. Their study showed that U.S. girls had significantly higher self-regulation than boys, but there were no significant gender differences in any Asian societies. In addition, for both genders, directly assessed and teacher-rated self-regulation were related to many aspects of school readiness in all societies for girls and boys.

“We know from previous research that many Asian children outperform American children in academic achievement,” McClelland said. “Increasingly, we are seeing that there is also a gap when it comes to their ability to control their behavior and persist with tasks.”

Wanless said this study paves the way for future research to explore why there is such a large gender gap in the United States, and what can be learned from Asian schools.

“What can we learn from Asian cultural and teaching practices about how we can support girls and boys to be successful in school?” she said. “When we see differences in developmental patterns across countries it suggests that we might want to look at teaching and parenting practices in those countries and think about how they might apply in the United States.”

Both researchers emphasized the importance of working with young children, regardless of gender or culture, on their self-regulation skills. Practicing games such as Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light are a few ways that parents can work with their children to help them learn how to follow instructions, persist on a task, and listen carefully.

“In our study, self-regulation was good for academic achievement for boys and girls,” Wanless said. “That means this skill is important for both genders and we should be supporting self-regulatory development for all children, especially boys. Low self-regulation in preschool has been linked to difficulties in adulthood, so increased focused on supporting young boys’ development can have long-term positive benefits.”

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Journal Reference:
1.Shannon B. Wanless, Megan M. McClelland, Xuezhao Lan, Seung-Hee Son, Claire E. Cameron, Frederick J. Morrison, Fu-Mei Chen, Jo-Lin Chen, Su Li, Kangyi Lee, Miyoung Sung. Gender differences in behavioral regulation in four societies: The United States, Taiwan, South Korea, and China. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2013; 28 (3): 621 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.04.002

Interventions Offer New Hope For Autistic Children Who Never Learn To Speak

Source (Medical News Today)

An Autistica consultation published this month found that 24% of children with autism were non-verbal or minimally verbal, and it is known that these problems can persist into adulthood. Professionals have long attempted to support the development of language in these children but with mixed outcomes. An estimated 600,000 people in the UK and 70 million worldwide have autism, a neuro-developmental condition which is life-long.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have published a paper in Frontiers in Neuroscience showing that while not all of the current interventions used are effective, there is real hope for progress by using interventions based on understanding natural language development and the role of motor and “motor mirroring” behaviour in toddlers.

The researchers, led by Dr Joe McCleery, who is supported by autism research charity Autistica, examined over 200 published papers and more than 60 different intervention studies, and found that: • Motor behaviours, such as banging toys and copying gestures or facial expressions (“mirroring”), play a key role in the learning of language.
• Children with autism show specific motor impairments, and less “mirroring” brain activity, particularly in relation to strangers in whom they show very little interest. This finding may hold the key to language problems overall.
• Despite extensive use of sign language training to improve speech and communication skills in non-verbal children with autism, there is very little evidence that it makes a positive impact, potentially due to the impairments in motor behaviours and mirroring.
• Picture exchange training can lead to improvements in speech. Here, children gradually learn to “ask” for things by exchanging pictures. This may work well because it does not depend on complex motor skills or mirroring.
• Play-based approaches which employ explicit teaching strategies and are developmentally based are particularly successful.
• New studies involving a focus on motor skills alongside speech and language intervention are showing promising preliminary results. This is exciting because these interventions utilise our new understanding of the role of motor behaviours in the development of speech and social interaction.
With the support of Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, Dr McCleery’s team have now embarked on new work which builds on these findings to design interventions which specifically target the aspects of development where there are deficits in non-verbal autistic children.

Dr McCleery says: “We feel that the field is approaching a turning point, with potentially dramatic breakthroughs to come in both our understanding of communication difficulties in people with autism, and the potential ways we can intervene to make a real difference for those children who are having difficulties learning to speak.”

Christine Swabey, CEO of Autistica, says: “80% of the parents in our recent consultation wanted interventions straight after diagnosis. Dr McCleery’s work shows how critical it is for all intervention to be evidence-based, and that the best approaches are based on a real understanding of the development of difficulties in autism. We are proud to be supporting the next steps in this vital research which will improve the quality of life for people with autism.”

Alison Hardy, whose son Alfie is six, says: “As a parent of an autistic child, who is non-verbal, I feel quite vulnerable. People are always saying “try this, it worked wonders for us”. But you can’t try everything. We need a proper, scientific evidence base for what works and what does not. Then we can focus our time and our effort, with some confidence that we have a chance of helping our children. The publication of this research is an exciting step in giving us that confidence, it is great that Autistica is supporting this vital work.”

New Hope for Autistic Children Who Never Learn to Speak

Found on: Science News

Apr. 24, 2013 — An Autistica consultation published this month found that 24% of children with autism were non-verbal or minimally verbal, and it is known that these problems can persist into adulthood. Professionals have long attempted to support the development of language in these children but with mixed outcomes. An estimated 600,000 people in the UK and 70 million worldwide have autism, a neuro-developmental condition which is life-long.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham publish a paper in Frontiers in Neuroscience showing that while not all of the current interventions used are effective, there is real hope for progress by using interventions based on understanding natural language development and the role of motor and “motor mirroring” behaviour in toddlers.

The researchers, led by Dr Joe McCleery, who is supported by autism research charity Autistica, examined over 200 published papers and more than 60 different intervention studies, and found that:
•Motor behaviours, such as banging toys and copying gestures or facial expressions (“mirroring”), play a key role in the learning of language.
•Children with autism show specific motor impairments, and less “mirroring” brain activity, particularly in relation to strangers in whom they show very little interest. This finding may hold the key to language problems overall.
•Despite extensive use of sign language training to improve speech and communication skills in non-verbal children with autism, there is very little evidence that it makes a positive impact, potentially due to the impairments in motor behaviours and mirroring.
•Picture exchange training can lead to improvements in speech. Here, children gradually learn to “ask” for things by exchanging pictures. This may work well because it does not depend on complex motor skills or mirroring.
•Play-based approaches which employ explicit teaching strategies and are developmentally based are particularly successful.
•New studies involving a focus on motor skills alongside speech and language intervention are showing promising preliminary results. This is exciting because these interventions utilise our new understanding of the role of motor behaviours in the development of speech and social interaction.

With the support of Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, Dr McCleery’s team have now embarked on new work which builds on these findings to design interventions which specifically target the aspects of development where there are deficits in non-verbal autistic children.

Dr McCleery says: “We feel that the field is approaching a turning point, with potentially dramatic breakthroughs to come in both our understanding of communication difficulties in people with autism, and the potential ways we can intervene to make a real difference for those children who are having difficulties learning to speak.”

Christine Swabey, CEO of Autistica, says: “80% of the parents in our recent consultation wanted interventions straight after diagnosis. Dr McCleery’s work shows how critical it is for all intervention to be evidence-based, and that the best approaches are based on a real understanding of the development of difficulties in autism. We are proud to be supporting the next steps in this vital research which will improve the quality of life for people with autism.”

Alison Hardy, whose son Alfie is six, says: “As a parent of an autistic child, who is non-verbal, I feel quite vulnerable. People are always saying “try this, it worked wonders for us.” But you can’t try everything. We need a proper, scientific evidence base for what works and what does not. Then we can focus our time and our effort, with some confidence that we have a chance of helping our children. The publication of this research is an exciting step in giving us that confidence, it is great that Autistica is supporting this vital work.”

10 Art Projects for Kids with Sensory Issues

Written By: Erin McNeill

Kids with sensory issues are sometimes resistant to art projects because they don’t enjoy being messy or they don’t enjoy touching the mediums that are squishy, wet, or are made up of smaller parts, such as sand or rice. If you want to engage your child in art projects, it’s best to start with non-messy experiences for your child and build up to bigger projects. Go slowly and encourage your child to try new things, even if it’s just for a very short time. Here are some projects and activities to get you started.
1.Plastic baggy painting – This is a great project to start with for kids with sensory issues as it doesn’t require the child to actually touch the paint and get messy, but it still gives them the opportunity to move and squish the paint around in the bag. This gives a more mild sensory experience. Simply squirt a small amount of paint into a zip top plastic bag (the freezer type are stronger), use multiple colors for mixing, close the top and tape to the table or the window and have your child “paint” inside the baggy. Observe what happens to the paint and discuss the mixing of colors and what colors make up other colors.
2.Water play – Set out a large tub, fill up some smaller containers with water and a few drops of food coloring, pick out some utensils to play with and go to town! Your child can experiment by mixing the containers of colored water and transferring liquids from container to container. Water is generally a non-threatening item to most children and can create a calming experience for a child. Be prepared with plenty of towels and a dry change of clothes!
3.Model Magic Clay – Model Magic Clay can be found at any craft store or big box store. It will provide a non-messy clay experience for children. It is light-weight and easy to manipulate for children of all ages and it dries in about 24 hours for those little ones that can’t wait to play with their creations. Once dry you can paint your creation if you’d like!
4.Sensory tubs – As your child becomes more and more adapted to touching the world around them, a sensory tub can be a great place to really dig in, so to speak. Fill a medium tub with rice, dry pasta, sand or whatever else you can find. Food grains are generally a good option, and you can save them for another time. You will want to label them for crafts. Bury small objects for your child to find. It may take them a bit to be willing to dig for the items, but the surprise of what they’ll find usually wins out! Give your child tools to use in the tub to move around the objects and the grains. It’s best to start with one tactile substance in the tub at a time. As your child is more willing to touch different things, you can start mixing what you put in the tub.
5.Color Wonder – Color Wonder provides art experiences for children without the mess. The markers or finger paints will only show up on the special Color Wonder paper, which means that they are clear and won’t show up on your child’s skin as they are creating their masterpiece.
6.Painting with tools – Finger painting may be a long stretch for children with sensory issues, but creating an experience where your child won’t have to touch the paint is a step between no painting and finger painting. Have your child paint with unusual objects, such as a fly swatter, spoons, rolling a car or marbles in a tray of paper with paint squirted on top or using string. Let your imagination go wild; just make sure whatever you paint with is washable.
7.Shaving cream play – Playing and painting with shaving cream is a messy project that your child may be resistant to, but knowing that clean-up will be easy may help them start this project. Once your child has started playing in the shaving cream, you might want to see if they’d like to create marble paper with the foam. If your child is sensitive to smells, use unscented shaving cream so the smell isn’t overwhelming to them.
8.Puffy paint in squeeze bottles – You can make this puffy paint at home and put it in squeeze bottles. Have your child squirt out designs and write with the paint. Allow the paint to dry and then you can have your child trace the paint with their fingers, creating an entirely different experience for your child.
9.Styrofoam sculptures – Save Styrofoam from packaging and use it to create art projects! Have your child create sculptures with the Styrofoam; you can use toothpicks, skewers or craft glue to keep items together while building.
10.Gak – Once your child has gotten used to handling objects and substances that are messy, squishy or even kind of gross, it’s time to make gak! Gak is a science experiment with a very fun result. Making the gak is incredibly overwhelming for a lot of children, but that portion of the experiment only lasts for a short while and soon you have transformed some ordinary ingredients into a wonderful play substance that will provide hours and hours of entertainment!

Keep encouraging your child to try new things. You can start with just having them touch it, then put it away for another day if it’s too much for them. It will take time to introduce your child to different substances and textures, and may take repeated exposure to get them to enjoy the experience. Praise them for their efforts and make the experience fun for them!