Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may have more in common than previously thought. A recent study by the American Journal of Psychiatry involved brain imaging of white matter and discovered there were impairments in the main tract connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
This main tract is called the corpus callosum and is the largest tract in the brain and one of the first regions to develop. The white matter in this tract enables communication between different brain regions using nerve fiber connections. The scientists found that children with autism and ADHD had more severe impairments affecting the brain’s white matter than children with OCD but this is most likely due to the fact that ADHD and autism have an earlier onset than OCD and so the corpus callosum is likely more affected due to this.
Autism, ADHD, and OCD have commonalities in gene mutations and symptoms and yet they’ve been regarded as three separate disorders. However, the common behavior impairments across all three disorders have been either attention problems, social difficulties, or a combination of the two, all of which vary based on the individual and severity. The fact that they’re so similar raises the question of where similarities stop, biologically and in definition and if, perhaps, all three are part of a larger encompassing disease.
Hopefully this study will highlight the brain structure’s relation to behavior impairment and the shared biology of certain conditions. Furthermore, the study may increase the amount of treatments available by encouraging the sharing of treatments previously thought to be valid for only one specific condition that may, as we are learning now, be effective for others.
Everyone is always discussing the importance of diagnosing Autism early, but to what extent and effect? Recent studies have found that communication has improved for those children diagnosed early and that it may be possible that certain people on the spectrum adapt almost to the effect that their earlier diagnosis becomes unrecognizable.
Now, the Barrow Neurological Institute and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) in Phoenix are accepting men ages 18-25 and 40-60 who can return to Phoenix every 2 years for a new study. They are hoping to find the exact differences in the brain between those who are diagnosed young and received early treatment and those who are diagnosed much later on in life and receive less treatment. Among the many hypotheses, they believe they may see a correspondence in Autism and the expedience of aging itself. Their main goal is, as it has been for so long, finding the neurological key to a world of independence for those with ASD.
For every few studies showing evidence that something leads to autism, there is always a study floating around with research disproving previous beliefs of possible ASD triggers. Recent research, stemming from Australia’s University of Queensland, focused on the long-studied idea of older fathers and their risk of giving birth to a child on the autism spectrum.
In the past decade, researchers have believed that men over the age of 50 that have children can increase the chance of having offspring with ASD due to mutations in their sperm that develop as they age. The study from The University of Queensland found that it’s more likely that men with any autism risk factors just end up conceiving late in their lives.
Two separate study conclusions were pushed together to form this belief. One study said that men over the age of 50 were two times more likely to have children with ASD than men under the age of 30. This coincided with the time that another study surfaced, saying that a man gains two random mutations, called de novo mutations, for every year he ages. These two conclusions were grouped together for the belief that older fathers increase the chance of autism.
The lead investigator of the newest study was James Gratten, a research fellow in neurogenetics and statistical genomics at the University of Queensland. He said that this belief was formed from assumptions of the two study conclusions.
“People have put two and two together and said that the extra mutations explain the increased risk in the children.” Gratten said.
Gratten and his team focused on mathematical models that incorporated multiple pieces of information such as the change of de novo rates with age, ASD and schizophrenia general rates, and how these are connected to hereditary and fertility effects.
With just 20 percent of the mutations linked to autism and schizophrenia from older male age, the researchers don’t find that the assumption holds too much water.
“The small number of additional mutations in children with older fathers can’t really explain the increase in risk that we see,” Gratten explains.
The models all figured that men between the ages of 35- to 39-years-old pass along 20 more mutations to their offspring than those in their 20s. Each model conveys different ideas of how strong de novo mutations have on ASD.
One of the main conclusions of the study is that older fathers actually contribute very little to the overall ASD rate. With the 20 percent of mutations leading to ASD, inherited factors contributing to about half of the risk, and ASD patients with children adding on another 35 percent chance, age-related mutations only account for 10 percent risk for older fathers.
For more information, check out the source for this blog post, Spectrum News.
Mice continue to be in the spotlight for scientific research. Autism researchers used mice, yet again, as test subjects to isolate mutations found in the base of autism diagnosis.
Researchers recently ran studies to sequence whole genomes found in the neurons of mice they created through stem cells. With this data, the researchers were able to conclude that each cell held approximately 100 somatic mutations. Subsets of these mutations are known to result in autism.
These mutations have been difficult to track down in the past due to the rapid division of cells. In this study, the researchers had to focus on enzymes developing extra DNA copies, but this could cause errors and lead to incorrect conclusions. There is also no way of verifying the authenticity of the mutations due to no genome being available for comparison.
The study focused on a new strategy surrounding the natural processes of the body, and the power it has to duplicate its own DNA. Nuclei was removed from isolated olfactory neurons from the brains of the test mice, and then injected into the cells of a female’s eggs. This allows the DNA to get rid of its original properties and transform to reflect the surrounding cells.
Seven neurons from the egg cell DNA were taken from 4 mice, resulting in stem cell lines that had the original DNA neurons. Ten of the 100 mutations found were interrupting normal genes.The researchers hope to continue the study in order to see how each mouse brain is affected by specific mutations.
Kristin Baldwin, the associate professor of molecular and cellular neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute, stays optimistic about the future by saying the cells could be their best shot to see the severe mutations in cases of ASD.
Every student has a method that allows them to learn effectively, and it’s up to the teachers to appeal to all forms of learning. Teaching students with autism poses additional issues because they struggle to stay focused. A new type of therapy will allow students with autism to take control of how they learn through shared focus behavioral therapy.
Dr. Connie Kasari, a psychologist of the University of California, Los Angeles, created an autism intervention titled JASPER that focuses on joint attention with children with ASD by taking part in play routines with the students. JASPER stands for “Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement, and Regulation.” The study was funded by Autism Speaks.
JASPER surrounds the idea of following the child’s lead, as opposed to the other way around. It also encourages consistent interaction instead of simple responses.
The study consisted of an eight-week long intervention for 12 half-day preschool classes, as opposed to the one-on-one behavioral therapy sessions they focused on before. Each class had eight children, one special education teacher, and a teaching assistant. Every day of the intervention, the teachers and assistants incorporated JASPER methods in a 15-minute student play time.
“This study moves JASPER from a one-on-one therapy model to classroom settings using small groups of children and focusing on engagement between children, adults, and peers,” Kasari said. “This highlights the promise of interventions such as JASPER that can easily be modified to fit the existing classroom structure.”
As six of the classes participated in the intervention at a time, the other six were waitlisted, the researchers compared the students’ progress to the students in the waitlisted classes.
The preschoolers that participated in the “intervention groups” showed an increase in shared attention with others. They also showed an improvement of initiated communication with their peers using gestures and verbal language. The students also exhibited more extensive communication to the teachers.
For more information, check out the source for this blog post, Psych Central.
Screening for autism in children has recently been a large debate in the ASD research community, revolving around the issue of effectiveness the screening has for accurate diagnosis. Another form of screening has recently gained attention for focusing on autism screening using biologically based methods.
In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health provided Stemina Biomarker Discovery with $2.7 million to support their study, the Children’s Autism Metabolome Project.
The goal of the study, referred to as CAMP, is to examine indications of autism through blood samples. The participants consist of 1,500 children between the ages of 18-48 months.
The study focuses on the pinpointing of metabolites that responded to disease or toxic substances. CAMP will compare blood of 500 children with ASD, 500 children with average development, and 500 children with non-ASD neurodevelopmental disorders.
In the past, Stemina had found six possible metabolic subtypes that pertained to approximately 50 percent of the participants. Three studies concluded that combined metabolic signatures identified 80 percent of the children with autism out of the 495 blood samples that were collected.
These “autism signatures” led the researchers to believe that autism has specific metabolic subtypes.
Elizabeth Donley, Stemina founder and CEO, hopes that CAMP will solve unanswered questions.
“If we have a group of molcules that changed in response to a treatment or a disease,” Donley said, “What is the statistical likelihood that they are a reliable warning sign? What do they tell us about the biochemistry, genetics, or environmental toxicity of this combination? Do they suggest a diagnostic test or treatment pathway?”
CAMP is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation of Massachusetts.
For more information, check out this post’s source, News Medical.
Prodigies are hard to come by, but they are praised for the talents when they are discovered, like mental calculators or mastering the piano by fifth grade. There have been multiple studies on children prodigies and comparing their behavior to autism symptoms. These studies have concluded in multiple similarities between prodigy-like behavior and children with ASD.
In 2015, a study took place that focused on how prodigies with remarkable memories had similar working memory characteristics to children with ASD. The study was conducted by Dr. Leo Kanner, a scientist that is recognized as one of the identifiers of Autism in the 1940’s Kanner examined eight prodigies, all of whom scored in the 99th percentile in working memories.
Kanner’s study concluded that extraordinary memory is common in both prodigies and children with Autism. Kanner studied children with ASD and they were able to memorize and recite “an inordinate number of nursery rhymes, prayers, lists of animals, the roster of presidents, the alphabet forward and backward.”
Another study on the working memory of children on the Autism Spectrum was held in 2015, where over 200 participants with ASD had remarkable memories, as noted in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Other past studies have concluded that prodigies and children with ASD have highly passionate feelings towards specific interests, as well as detail-oriented eyes. Child prodigies are also known to have a relative on the spectrum.
The most noted result of these studies is the fact that both children with ASD and child prodigies have mutations on the Chromosome 1 and it’s short arm, which was not seen in neurotypical relatives.
These studies stress the fact that these similarities do not mean that all children with ASD are prodigies, but prove that ASD symptoms are similar to the behavior of child prodigies.
Mice have always been a staple in scientific studies. The reason behind mice being used for medical experiments is because they have similar behavior, genetic, and biological to humans. Drug testing, seizures, and Cancer studies have all used mice in the past as models. Recently, neuroscientists have used mice to analyze the gene that is missing from people with autism, which is called Shank3. They ended up making a discovery that could drastically change the future of people with ASD.
Using mice as models, researchers at MIT have been able to reverse the symptoms of autism by turning the gene later on. This results in a natural rewiring of the brain.
The Shank3 protein is what allows neurons to communicate in the synapses. Without it, autism symptoms surface such as compulsive behavior and avoiding social situations.
Guoping Feng, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and his team genetically engineered mice to have their Shank3 turned off for embryonic development, but was later able to have it switched back on with the ingestion of tamoxifen. This resulted in the repetitive behavior exhibited by the mice to disappear, as well as an increase in social interaction.
This study allowed Feng and his fellow researchers to conclude that people with Shank3 mutations, especially those with ASD, could use the genome-editing process to fix the gene later on in the person’s life, resulting in an improvement of their symptoms.
General approaches for a larger population of people with ASD include identifying and modulating defective circuits for people with specific behavioral abnormalities
“This suggests that even in the adult brain we have profound plasticity to some degree,” said Feng. “There is more and more evidence showing that some of the defects are indeed reversible, giving hope that we can develop treatment for autistic patients in the future.”
When you move into a new house, especially with a new family, interior design is one of the most exciting things about the move. Mothers will tear through home decorating magazines and Pinterest, designing every square inch of the home. If a house is also the home of a child with ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are certain designs and preparations that a house should have to protect and benefit the child. Fastcodesign recently posted an article about proper interior design for a child on the Autism spectrum.
Sensitivity to sounds, light, sight, and textures are important aspects to incorporate into the interior design of a space meant for a child on the Autism spectrum. The article focuses on creating a Center of Autism and the Developing Brain for the New York-Presbyterian, but it incorporates several interior design elements that can be used in an average home for a child with ASD, especially in playrooms.
Familiar designs are important to keep in mind for comfort, due to a child’s sensitivity to unrecognizable spaces and structures. Central gathering spaces such as small huts and pavilions are great ideas. These types of design elements were used in the center to give a village, “Disney” like feeling.
Acoustics are also vital to a comfortable space for a child with Autism, as normal sounds could seem irritating to their ears, such as the hum of air conditioning. Soundproofing is vital, as well as absorptive carpeting and rubber flooring to decrease loud noises. Like the center did for their entire building, you can move air conditioners, heaters, and all ventilation systems to a place far away from the child’s room and play area to avoid the continuous sounds.
Children with Autism are encouraged to not be exposed to too much natural light, in order to avoid distractions going on outside the windows the light is coming from. Light dimmers can also be a great asset to any room, because children with ASD tend to be sensitive to their lighting being too bright or too dim.
When it comes to textures, it’s whatever your child prefers, but natural textiles are always safe choices, such as rubber and cork.
Designing for your child with ASD is all about their individual needs. Jacques Black, principal of the New York-Presbyterian, said “Each autistic person is very different: it’s a whole spectrum of different conditions.” For more information, check out Fastcodesign.
There has been plenty of speculation and studies looking at the factors that a mother’s health can influence the possibility of her child having Autism, such as diabetes or lack of amino acids. Studies have now began to examine natural factors that could contribute to the possibility of Autism, such as the environment the mother is in before, during, and after her pregnancy.
Pollution has always been viewed as an environmental issue, but research has also proved that it is a medical issue as well. A nested case-control study by Harvard University took place in 2014, focusing on the Nurses’ Health Study II, a group of over 100,000 female nurses, to see how particulate matter could affect the possibility of a woman giving birth to a child on the Autism spectrum.
The case participants were children of the nurses born between 1990 and 2002. The consisted of 245 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and 1,522 without ASD, selected randomly based off of their birth years. The factors that the participants were questioned about were the diameter of monthly averages of pollution they were exposed to before, during, and after their birth.
The study concluded that despite weak evidence of a particulate matter greater than 2.5 effected the possibility of ASD before an after a pregnancy, a PM of 2.5 or more increased the odds of having a child on the Autism spectrum during the mother’s 9 months of pregnancy, especially during the third trimester.
A more recent study on this topic was done by the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. The study was a case control study, as well as population-based, focusing on children living in southwestern Pennsylvania. Pollution exposure for offspring was calculated based off of where the mothers lived before, during, and after their pregnancy.
The study was funded by Heinz Endowments, and Grant Oliphant, the president, said, “ This is increasing and compelling evidence that points to associations between Pittsburgh’s poor air quality and health problems, especially those affecting our children and including issues such as autism spectrum disorder and asthma.”