Autism Research

For many people with autism, avoiding eye contact isn't a sign that they don't care – instead, it's a response to a deeply uncomfortable sensation.

Researchers have discovered a part of the brain responsible for helping newborns turn towards familiar faces is abnormally activated among those on the autism spectrum, suggesting therapies that force eye contact could inadvertently be inducing anxiety.

Autism spectrum disorder is a term used to describe a variety of conditions that make communicating and socialising a challenge, and is often accompanied by restricted and repetitive behaviours.

A defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder is a difficulty in making or maintaining eye contact, a behaviour that not only makes social interactions harder, but can lead to miscommunication among cultures where eye contact is taken as a sign of trust and respect.

Those with the condition typically claim it feels "unnatural" or express anxiety over making eye contact, but psychologists have been uncertain if the discomfort is sensory or stems from conflict over the social importance of looking a person in the eye when you communicate.

Previous research suggested the latter, but a team of neurologists from the Massachusetts General Hospital in the US suspected the problem might be over-sensitivity of the parts of the brain responsible for emotional perception.

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More and source: https://www.sciencealert.com/for-those-with-autism-eye-contact-isn-t-just-weird-it-s-distressing

Forcing them to stay still is counterproductive.

Children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are always being told to sit still and concentrate, but new research has revealed that they actually need to move in order to learn.

In fact, small movements such as fidgeting, squirming, leg-swinging, foot-tapping and chair-scuffling may be vital to remembering information and working out complex tasks. The new research contradicts the long-term guidelines for how to deal with children with ADHD, and suggests that incorporating things such as activity balls or treadmill desks to the classroom could help certain students perform better.

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More and source: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/vaccines-and-autism-a-new-scientific-review/

For all those who've declared the autism-vaccine debate over - a new scientific review begs to differ. It considers a host of peer-reviewed, published theories that show possible connections between vaccines and autism.

The article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology is entitled "Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes--A review." The author is Helen Ratajczak, surprisingly herself a former senior scientist at a pharmaceutical firm. Ratajczak did what nobody else apparently has bothered to do: she reviewed the body of published science since autism was first described in 1943. Not just one theory suggested by research such as the role of MMR shots, or the mercury preservative thimerosal; but all of them.

Ratajczak's article states, in part, that "Documented causes of autism include genetic mutations and/or deletions, viral infections, and encephalitis [brain damage] following vaccination [emphasis added]. Therefore, autism is the result of genetic defects and/or inflammation of the brain."

The article goes on to discuss many potential vaccine-related culprits, including the increasing number of vaccines given in a short period of time. "What I have published is highly concentrated on hypersensitivity, Ratajczak told us in an interview, "the body's immune system being thrown out of balance."

University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Brian Strom, who has served on Institute of Medicine panels advising the government on vaccine safety says the prevailing medical opinion is that vaccines are scientifically linked to encephalopathy (brain damage), but not scientifically linked to autism. As for Ratajczak's review, he told us he doesn't find it remarkable. "This is a review of theories. Science is based on facts. To draw conclusions on effects of an exposure on people, you need data on people. The data on people do not support that there is a relationship. As such, any speculation about an explanation for a (non-existing) relationship is irrelevant."

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It's still not known whether people with autism have more or less connections in parts of their brains that normally work in together.

Now a new study suggests the lack of common ground in this area reflects the fact that people with autism have connections that are uniquely their own.

The groundbreaking research could help lead to better diagnosis of autism and improve treatments, the scientists claim.

'It opens up the possibility that there are many altered brain profiles all of which fall under the umbrella of 'autism','' said Dr Marlene Behrmann at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The researchers studied data taken from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) conducted while the participants were at rest.

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Scientists find that the hormone improves sociability in a mouse model of autism.

Mutant mice that exhibit many of the characteristics of human autism spectrum disorders, including social deficiency, have more interactions with fellow mice when given a dose of oxytocin, according to a report published today (January 21) inScience Translational Medicine. The beneficial effect was also apparent when the mice’s own oxytocin production was increased—which may be important for translating such a treatment to humans.

“It’s very exciting. They created a mouse model of autism . . . that had social deficits, and they found that if they gave oxytocin, it would rescue those social deficits,” said Larry Young who studies social neuroscience at Emory University and was not involved in the work.

The model mouse lacks a functional gene for contactin-associated protein-like 2 (Cntnp2). In humans, mutation of this gene causes cortical dysplasia and focal epilepsy (CDFE) syndrome; at least 70 percent of CDFE patients also display symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Importantly, the characteristics of the mice—including their deficiencies in social behavior—are highly similar to those of humans with the CNTNP2 mutation.

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Each autistics' brain is distinct; non-autistics' brains are remarkably uniform.

The New York Times Magazine recently ran a cover article about mapping the connectome, all of the connections that link all of the neurons in someone's brain. Many of these connections are formed and reinforced as a result of our experiences, and their sum total constitutes everything about our personalities: the memories we've formed, the skills we've learned, the passions that drive us.

There is even data suggesting that some neurological disorders are in fact "connectopathies," characterized by either aberrant connections or an unusual extent of connections among neurons. Some studies have found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with decreased functional connectivity in the brain, but other experiments have foundincreasedconnectivity in autistic brains. A new study may have reconciled these contradictory findings. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel determined that brain regions with high interconnectivity in controls have reduced connectivity in ASD, and regions with lower connectivity in controls have elevated connectivity in people with ASD.

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Story by Pat Bailey, video and photos by Joe Proudman

Just a few hours after its birth, the long-legged brown foal stands in its stall, appearing on first glance to be sound, sturdy and healthy. But something is very wrong with this newborn horse.

The foal seems detached, stumbles towards people and doesn’t seem to recognize its mother or have any interest in nursing. It even tries to climb into the corner feeder.

The bizarre symptoms are characteristic of a syndrome that has puzzled horse owners and veterinarians for a century. But recently, UC Davis researchers have discovered a surprising clue to the syndrome and intriguing similarities to childhood autism in humans.

Resembles children with autism

“The behavioral abnormalities in these foals seem to resemble some of the symptoms in children with autism,” said John Madigan, a UC Davis veterinary professor and an expert in equine neonatal health.

“There are thousands of potential causes for autism, but the one thing that all autistic children have in common is that they are detached,” said Isaac Pessah, a professor of molecular biosciencesat the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicineand a faculty member of the UC Davis MIND Institute, who investigates environmental factors that may play a role in the development of autism in children.

Pessah, Madigan and other researchers in veterinary and human medicine recently formed a joint research group and secured funding to investigate whether abnormal levels of neurosteroids — a group of chemicals that modulate perception — may play a role in both disorders.

They hope their efforts will help prevent and treat the disorder in foals and advance the search for the causes of autism, which affects more than 3 million individuals in the United States.

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More and source: http://ucdavis.edu/ucdavis-today/2015/february/03-foals.html

New research from Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA. During the tests they learned that that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

According to the Telegraph, Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: ”From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

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Autism was first identified in the era of psychoanalysis, when professionals looked closely at relationships to explain disability and mental illness. Childhood "autistic withdrawal" was thought to be an emotional and relational problem.

Parents were blamed for their children's autism because psychoanalysts thought cold, detached parenting must be the cause of their extreme withdrawal from the social world. Some parents were seen to interact with their children in ways that were interpreted as demanding and emotionally distant, rather than supportive and warm.

But the predominant psychoanalytic view has gradually been replaced with a biomedical approach to understanding autism.

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The Long Ride Home

The long awaited sequel of the Horse Boy.

 

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Research: Jenny

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This section is created and supported by Jenny Lockwood. Jenny is our research assistant. She has a first from Edinburgh and a Masters in Education Psychology at UT Austin.

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