A group of researchers at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley have mapped the three-dimensional global connections within the brains of seven adults who have genetic malformations that leave them without the corpus callosum, which connects the left and right sides of the brain.
These “structural connectome” maps, which combine hospital MRIs with the mathematical tool known as network analysis, are described in the upcoming April 15 issue of the journal Neuroimage. They reveal new details about the condition known as agenesis of the corpus callosum, which is one of the top genetic causes of autism. The condition was part of the mysterious brain physiology of Laurence Kim Peek, the remarkable savant portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the 1987 movie “Rain Man.”In the 1987 movie “Rain Man,” Dustin Hoffman, right, played the remarkable savant Laurence Kim Peek, who in real life had the condition known as agenesis of the corpus callosum.
While some people born with agenesis of the corpus callosum are of normal intelligence and do not have any obvious signs of neurologic disease, approximately 40 percent of people with the condition are at high risk for autism. Given this, the work is a step toward finding better ways to image the brains of people with the condition, said Pratik Mukherjee, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at UCSF who was the co-senior author of the research.
Understanding how brain connectivity varies from person to person may help researchers identify imaging biomarkers for autism to help diagnose it and manage care for individuals. Currently autism is diagnosed and assessed based on cognitive tests, such as those involving stacking blocks and looking at pictures on flip cards.
When the press reported that Adam Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome (part of the autism spectrum disorders) and other unspecified personality problems, the autism community swung into action in a way that is totally understandable. The Associated Press’ headline: “Experts: No Link Between Asperger’s, Violence.”
The vast majority of autistic people are not violent. Autistics like Temple Grandin, the professor who helped create humane strategies for the meat industry, remind us that many people with high-functioning also go on to live full, rich lives of value to themselves and others.
Grandin also reminded us that, for austic people, “The principal emotion experienced by autistic people is fear.
If you cannot read people’s social cues, it’s hard to tell who is a threat and who is not. If you live in a world with social rules created by “neurotypicals” that make no sense, anxiety and fear are natural, perhaps inevitable, responses.
But the suggestion that science has demonstrated there is no link at all between autism and aggressive violence is questionable.
Google “autism” and “aggression” and you will suddenly be treated to a counter world the formal autism community claims does not exist: desperate mothers seeking help or respite from the violent behavior of large, aggressive, beloved autistic boys (and a few girls).
In the name of love and absent decent institutions for these troubled young adults, we are permitting a silent epidemic of domestic terrorism against women that we would not tolerate under any other banner.
And there is more, including accounts of research that is all too consonant with the anecdotes found in the article.
When the new guidebook goes into effect in May, a child who has symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, (problems with social interaction and unusual interests or behaviors but less likely to have problems with language or intellectual ability), will no longer be told he has Asperger’s but rather “autism spectrum disorder (ASD).” The same goes for a child meeting the criteria for PDD-NOS or classic autism.
“I’m feeling quite good about the series of recommendations that were made in that area. It will help us diagnose these children in a more consistent way,” said Dr. David J. Kupfer, who chairs the DSM-5 Task Force.
New research has led experts to have a better hand on social and communicative disorders as well as repetitive behaviors, he said.
Over the past few years, the APA has posted possible revisions of criteria, inviting comments from the other researchers and the public.
But these incremental revisions raised concerns among some researchers and advocacy groups who feared the new criteria would result in many children losing their autism diagnosis and much-needed services.
For example, in March, a study presented by Yale autism expert Dr. Fred Volkmar suggested only 60% of those meeting current criteria for autism would still be diagnosed with the disorder under the proposed criteria.
At 18 months, Colton Rose was shy and a little late in walking but seemed to be progressing fine—laughing, smiling, talking. Several months later, however, his mother Angela started to worry. He was talking less and less, didn’t engage with others as much, and hadn’t yet started using a spoon or taking off his own shoes. “He kind of started slipping more and more into his own world,” says Rose, a former marketing and communications manager. Sure enough, shortly after turning 2, Colton was diagnosed with autism. Yet a mere 15 months later, says Rose, “he’s an entirely different child.”
Soon after Colton’s diagnosis, the toddler began intensive treatment through Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, near home. Each week, he receives 35 hours of behavioral therapy, sometimes at home and sometimes at preschool. It breaks tasks like asking for food into steps (point to ice cream, say “ice cream,” request some politely), encourages him to imitate the steps, and reinforces the behaviors with rewards and encouragement. His mother, now a “full-time autism mom,” practices with him for several hours a day herself and has weekly planning sessions with a Nationwide case supervisor and Colton’s team of five aides. The family also meets periodically with a psychologist to track Colton’s developmental progress. And it’s good. In many ways, he’s now “in a total normal category,” says Rose. He’s made impressive gains in social skills and is testing at or above average for speech.
Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2012
About Vaccine denialism:
Vaccine denialism is a trend of mistrust of vaccination that is almost as old as the technique itself. “Anti-vaxxers”, “vaccine deniers”, or “anti-vaccinationists” blame vaccines, or their ingredients, for a range of maladies whose mechanisms are rejected or have not been explained by current scientific research. Some of these maladies can often be childhood illnesses in order to increase the emotive factor of the argument. The ubiquity of vaccination often makes it an easy target for blame.
Vaccine-preventable diseases have been a major cause of illness, death, and disability throughout human history. The advent of the modern vaccine era has changed this significantly; most North Americans and Europeans have little memory of a pre-vaccine era where diseases such as mumps and measles - to say nothing of smallpox or polio — were common and often deadly. In more recent times, there has been much debate in the press and in the doctor’s office regarding vaccine safety — namely what possible side-effect vaccines cause and whether these outweigh the risks of leaving a population without a vaccination program. Vaccines have been alleged to cause all manner of illnesses; autism is a prominent example, as its direct causes are still fairly mysterious and probably very wide-ranging, with no single cause or lifestyle risk-factor being identified. Some prominent Americans have spoken out vociferously about the supposed danger of vaccines.
Hat Tip: Interesting Times
A study of eight child prodigies finds that share some striking characteristics, most notably high levels of autistic traits and an overrepresentation of autism in their close family members
Child prodigies evoke awe, wonder and sometimes jealousy: how can such young children display the kinds of musical or mathematical talents that most adults will never master, even with years of dedicated practice? Lucky for these despairing types, the prevailing wisdom suggests that such comparisons are unfair — prodigies are born, not made (mostly). Practice alone isn’t going to turn out the next 6-year-old Mozart.
So finds a recent study of eight young prodigies, which sought to shed some light on the roots of their talent. The prodigies included in the study [PDF] are all famous (but remain unidentified in the paper), having achieved acclaim and professional status in their fields by the ripe age of 10. Most are musical prodigies; one is an artist and another a math whiz, who developed a new discipline in mathematics and, by age 13, had had a paper accepted for publication in a mathematics journal. Two of the youngsters showed extraordinary skill in two separate fields: one child in music and art (his work now hangs in prestigious galleries the world over), and the other in music and molecular gastronomy (the science behind food preparation — why mayonnaise becomes firm or why a soufflé swells, for example). He became interested in food at age 10 and, by 11, had carried out his first catering event.
All of the prodigies had stories of remarkable early abilities: one infant began speaking at 3 months old and was reading by age 1; two others were reading at age 2. The gastronomist was programming computers at 3. Several children could reproduce complex pieces of music after hearing them just once, at the age most kids are finishing preschool. Many had toured internationally or played Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall well before age 10.
Six of the prodigies were still children at the time of the study, which is slated for publication in the journal Intelligence. The other two participants were grown, aged 19 and 32.
The study found a few key characteristics these youngsters had in common. For one, they all had exceptional working memories — the system that holds information active in the mind, keeping it available for further processing. The capacity of working memory is limited: for numbers, for example, most people can hold seven digits at a time on average; hence, the seven-digit phone number. But prodigies can hold much more, and not only can they remember extraordinarily large numbers, they can also manipulate them and carry out calculations that you or I might have trouble managing with pencil and paper.
[Overheard at dinner parties, buffet tables, and salad bars across America]
“Keen-wah. I don’t really know what it is either, but it’s supposed to be healthy, and it’s gluten-free. Here, try it.”
“Oh, cool. My sister-in-law is gluten-free. I’m thinking maybe I should do that—you know, to help with my IBS.”
For a substance largely unheard of until recent years, gluten—a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other products—seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. And why wouldn’t it be? A gluten-free diet has been touted as a cure for everything from obesity and rashes to autism and migraines. Gluten-free products now command their own keys on menus and sections in grocery stores. Previously exotic grains that lack gluten, like quinoa and amarinth, have become more mainstream. And manufacturers are promoting their gluten-free products. GlutenFreely.com, a “community and e-commerce site” owned by General Mills, provides tools for gluten-free living such as recipes and products, including its own Chex cereal, now in five gluten-free versions. Just last week, Frito-Lay entered the fray, announcing it would begin putting the gluten-free label on many of its already gluten-free products, including varieties of Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos, and Lay’s.
A bankruptcy judge has ruled in favor of a Maryland resident who claimed she could not repay her student loans because her Asperger’s syndrome prevents her from holding a job.
Carol Todd, who attended the University of Baltimore School of Law in the 1990s before dropping out, successfully made the case that her disability prevented her from repaying the nearly $340,000 she owed in student loans.
In order to relinquish the debt, Todd had to prove she would suffer “undue hardship” if forced to repay her student loans—a condition that is extremely difficult to demonstrate. In deciding in Todd’s favor, Judge Robert Gordon, a bankruptcy judge for the District of Maryland, acknowledged Asperger’s—an autistic spectrum disorder that is typified by problems with social interaction—as a disability that could prevent Todd from repaying her loans.
“To expect Ms. Todd to ever break the grip of autism and meaningfully channel her energies toward tasks that are not in some way either dictated, or circumscribed, by the demands of her disorder would be to dream the impossible dream,” Gordon wrote in his judgment.
A new study suggests obesity during pregnancy may raise the risk of autism, a developmental disorder that affects one in 88 American children.
The study of more than 1,000 children in California found the risk of autism and other developmental delays was 60 percent higher among those born to mothers who were obese, hypertensive or diabetic.
“The prevalence of obesity and diabetes among U.S. women of childbearing age is 34 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively,” the study authors wrote in their report published today in the journal Pediatrics. “Our findings raise concerns that these maternal conditions may be associated with neurodevelopmental problems in children and therefore could have serious public health implications.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder, up from one in 110 in 2006. Obesity is also on the rise, affecting more than one-third of U.S. adults.
“It’s hard to say if they’re linked,” said study author Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences at the University of California at Davis. “It might be there’s some environmental factor that contributes both to the obesity epidemic and to the rise in autism cases. Or it could be the increase in obesity is, in fact, contributing to the increase in autism. But it’s certainly not going to account for all of it.”
Hertz-Picciotto and colleagues have also linked autism to poor maternal nutrition, antidepressant use and closely spaced pregnancies.
“The goal of our research program is to try to find the modifiable risk factors,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “You can’t control your genetics. … But assuming our study is replicated, you would really want to figure out whether lowering weight and controlling diabetes during pregnancy through physical exercise and diet or more medical means could change the risk of a child developing autism.”
How obesity and diabetes during pregnancy might predispose the developing fetus autism is unclear, but theories include overexposure to glucose, insulin and inflammation.
“This study doesn’t tell you anything about the origin of autism. What it does tell you are things associated with autism,” said Dr. Susan Hyman, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We would not advocate treating the hypothetical causes of autism, but we would recommend women of childbearing years to eat healthy and exercise and take care of themselves, not only for the fetus but so they can see their children grow up.”
One child doesn’t talk, rocks rhythmically back and forth and stares at clothes spinning in the dryer. Another has no trouble talking but is obsessed with trains, methodically naming every station in his state.
Autistic kids like these hate change, but a big one is looming.
For the first time in nearly two decades, experts want to rewrite the definition of autism. Some parents fear that if the definition is narrowed, their children may lose out on special therapies.
For years, different autism-related labels have been used, the best known being Asperger’s disorder. The doctors working on the new definition want to eliminate separate terms like that one and lump them all into an “autism spectrum disorder” category.
Some specialists contend the proposal will exclude as many as 40 percent of kids now considered autistic. Parents of mildly affected children worry their kids will be left out and lose access to academic and behavioral services — and any chance of a normal life.
But doctors on the American Psychiatric Association panel that has proposed the changes say none of that would happen.
They maintain the revision is needed to dump confusing labels and clarify that autism can involve a range of symptoms from mild to severe. They say it will be easier to diagnose kids and ensure that those with true autism receive the same diagnosis.
With new government data last week suggesting more kids than ever in the U.S. — 1 in 88 — have autism, the new definition may help clarify whether the rising numbers reflect a true increase in autism or overdiagnosis by doctors.
There is no definitive test for autism. The diagnosis that has been used for at least 18 years covers children who once were called mentally retarded, as well as some who might have merely been considered quirky or odd. Today, some children diagnosed with autism may no longer fit the definition when they mature.
“We’re wanting to use this opportunity to get this diagnosis right,” said Dr. Bryan King, a member of the revision panel and director of the autism center at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
The revision is among dozens of changes proposed for an update of the psychiatric association’s reference manual, widely used for diagnosing mental illnesses. The more than 10,000 comments the group has received for the update mostly involve the autism proposal, with concerns voiced by doctors, researchers, families and advocacy groups. A spokeswoman declined to say whether most support or oppose the autism revision.