What in the World is Going On! (May 2012)

May 2012

By Maureen Bennie

Member,

Autism Calgary Community

Director,

Autism Awareness Centre Inc.

 

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) released their autism prevalence numbers on March 29th. The new statistic for autism diagnosis is 1 in 88 the USA. This is a significant increase from the last report of 1 in 110. These numbers will more than likely shift again once the new DSM V is released in 2013. Since the release of these numbers, the media has responded with reports of possible causes for autism. The public wants answers as to why autism occurs, but nothing definitive has been discovered yet. To read the CDC’s report in its entirety, click here.

Dennis P. Wall, one of the lead researchers on the project at Harvard Medical School, is part of a team developing a new web-based diagnostic procedure to identify autism more quickly; an advance that they hope will allow clinicians to provide better care to their patients.

A child’s behavior can be affected when being observed in an artificial clinical setting. Wall’s method requires parents to answer seven targeted questions and to record a home video of the child that is then examined by an analyst. According to Wall, the home environment is a more natural setting for the child, and videotaping enables families who live in rural areas or may not have easy access to clinical facilities to receive a diagnosis more quickly. The diagnostic period is a stressful time for families often involving waiting lists, travel time, and many observations at a clinic.

Wall used the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange’s database, one of the largest data sets of autism-related behaviors and genetic information, to generate his questionnaire. This test is not meant for parents to self-diagnose their child, but rather is intended to be used to support clinicians in their practice. To read more, click here.

This past month, the Globe and Mail featured an article about the struggle parents face finding appropriate care for their adult children with intellectual disabilities. The housing crisis follows the closure of institutions that cared for them from cradle to grave. As a result of these closures, parents across the country caring for their aging intellectually disabled children are faced with the daunting tasks of trying to piece together housing and care-giving, and the huge costs involved in long-term care that is only partly offset by government. To be born with an intellectual disability is to be sentenced to a life of poverty: 73 per cent of working-age adults with an intellectual disability who live on their own live in poverty.

The Registered Disability Savings Plan is helping to change the poverty statistics, but we still need to look at how to increase supported living options. While there are some opportunities available across Canada, there are too many people chasing too few placements. We’ve done a good job with early intervention schemes; it’s now time to turn our focus towards the future of these children as they reach adulthood. To read this article, click here.

Dr. Peter Szatmari, professor and the head of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, recently wrote an excellent article about the way the autism manifests differently in girls and boys. Girls with autism tend to have greater learning disabilities and more problems academically than boys. The symptoms of autism often appear as extreme shyness in girls, masking that they may not be responsive to social cues. While special interests are common for both sexes, girls may focus on more neurotypical peer interests such as ponies, dolls, drawing, and princesses.

Girls with ASD engage in fewer repetitive behaviors and may be less sensory irritable. They may have a different life experience than boys because they tend to be less bullied and blend in more readily with their peer group, sharing similar interests.

Dr. Szatmari also discusses the discrepancy in sex ratio. The new CDC report says the ratio of boys to girls on the spectrum is 5 to 1. This is higher than what has been reported in past studies. To read this article in its entirety, click here.

Finding employment opportunities for those with ASD is challenging. In Connecticut, Tom Pinchbeck turned his ailing family rose farm into a workplace for adults with autism. Pinchbeck’s college friend, Jim Lyman, was looking for a way to address the very real problem that many young adults with autism, including his own son, Eli, face – how to transition successfully into adulthood as they grow beyond the cut-off age of built-in state benefits and supports. The two joined forces and created Roses for Autism. Roses for Autism not only provides individuals on the autism spectrum the chance to learn the skills necessary to maintain meaningful employment, but also serves as a model that can be replicated anywhere to develop unique opportunities for them as a whole new competitive workforce.

Working often makes adults with developmental disorders happier and more satisfied with their lives, says Dr. Max Wiznitzer of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. It gives them a sense of purpose, and they usually do a good job, he says. They’re often very focused. To read more about this unique work opportunity, click here.

Education and Informatics researchers from the University of Edinburgh have collaborated to develop a new iPad App that could help children with autism as young as 18 months improve their socializing skills. FindMe is a simple game that challenges children to find an onscreen character in different scenarios. Using the iPad’s touch screen, players simply tap the character to move onto the next, more complex level. As the game progresses, children must contend with more distractions on screen. The game is designed to encourage players to focus on other people and their needs, which people with autism find difficult.

To appeal to children of various nationalities the onscreen character speaks French, German, and English in both British and American accents.

FindMe is available for free download now from Apple’s App Store. To read more about this app and the research behind it, click here.

Dennis Debbaud, father of a son with autism and professional investigator and law enforcement trainer, has a great website called Autism Risk and Safety Management. His informative website covers important aspects of safety, justice and responding to an autism emergency. Dennis has great articles and videos available for download. This important topic is often explored as a reactionary measure after an incident has occurred. Preparation is the key to avoiding dangerous situations and trouble with the law.

Paula Kluth, inclusive educator, writes a great daily blog on aspects of positive and meaningful inclusion. She writes about differentiating curriculum, literacy, books, music, recess and dozens of other topics. Her posts link to great websites and resources. Check out Paula’s blog here.

Educator Rebecca Moyes has published a new book entitled Visual Techniques for Teaching Social Skills . Social skills instruction for K-8th grade children on the autism spectrum requires an emphasis on visuals, or “show-teaching” techniques, rather than language-based instruction. This book fulfils that need, consisting of easy-to-use, step-by-step lesson plans with a wealth of visual tools and aids for teaching children with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. These K-8 lesson plans, featuring explicit IEP goals, can be incorporated into both General Education and Special Education classrooms and offer both individual and small group instruction.

Temple Grandin has written another excellent new book Different…Not Less: Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment. Temple presents the personal success stories of fourteen unique individuals that illustrate the extraordinary potential of those on the autism spectrum.

One of Temple’s primary missions is to help people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and ADHD tap into their hidden abilities. Temple chose these contributors, from a wide variety of different skill sets, to show how it can be done. Each individual tells their own story, in their own words, about their lives, relationships, and eventual careers.The contributors also share how they dealt with issues they confronted while growing up, such as bullying, making eye contact, and honing social skills.

In one of her recent talks, speaker/author Brenda Smith Myles introduced the website product Animal Agentz. Dr. Mark Jones of the UK developed Animal Agentz based on his own research as a PhD student. His focus was CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for stress & pain reduction teamed with computer science for children. The 5 Animal Agentz characters (fish, dog, cat, monkey, and lion) teach relaxation and coping skills. The Animal Agentz skills are similar to techniques that sports persons use when dealing with upcoming events. There is a fee associated with using this product, but it is another tool to reduce stress and anxiety through animated characters which appeal to children with ASD.

These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for May 2012.

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Autism Calgary does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person for people with autism or autism related conditions. It does, however, endeavour to inform because it believes in the right to have access to the information available and to make individual choices.

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