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Posts Tagged ‘autism spectrum disorders’

I know exercise is important. But with all our autism-related therapies, there’s no energy left. Advice appreciated.

March 2, 2012 12 comments

Today’s “Got Questions?” answer comes from Michael Rosanoff, M.P.H., Autism Speaks associate director for public health research and scientific review.

As challenging as it may be for anyone to develop and maintain a physically active lifestyle, the challenges can be amplified for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We are constantly reminded how important it is to teach our kids to make healthy life decisions. But sometimes it can feel like an impossible task when they have other special needs and obstacles.

So it may be no surprise to learn that nearly a third of children with ASD are medically obese. The problem appears to increase with age, with obesity affecting over a third of young adults on the spectrum.

Inadequate physical activity is among the primary reasons for these high rates of obesity. But let’s be honest, getting active can be particularly challenging when a child or adult is also struggling with autism-related issues in areas such as self-control, motivation or physical coordination. And the sights, sounds and tactile aspects of team sports can feel overwhelming for someone with sensory integration issues.

But there’s great payoff in finding physical recreation activities that do work for an individual on the autism spectrum.

Did you know that exercise can decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating and self-injurious behaviors? This may be because the highly structured routines and repetitive motions involved in, say, running or swimming can distract from negative self-stimulating and repetitive behaviors. Physical activity can also promote self-esteem and improve mood and attention. For those who can participate in team sports, this type of structured activity can foster social interactions.

This isn’t to say that physical activity can or should replace proven behavioral interventions for ASD. Rather it can enhance their benefits.

For more information on recreational programs and activity tips for children and teens on the autism spectrum, see the physical fitness page in the Health & Wellness section of our website. To learn more about the importance of exercise for individuals with ASD, please see our special science report, “Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism.” And please use the comment section to share your experiences. What works and what doesn’t for you, your child or other loved one?

Roses for Autism

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

The mission of Roses for Autism is to grow independence in the business world through a replicable Autism training and employment program integrated in a successful and sustainable rose business. The vision is to demonstrate a replicable working model for inclusive transitional employment for youth and adults on the Autism Spectrum. In 2011, Autism Speaks awarded $25,000 to Roses for Autism through its Family Services Community Grants program.

Roses for Autism is a unique venture, combining training and employment of people on the autism spectrum with the growth and sale of flowers. This is a business that not only employs people; it employs people who have an unacceptably high level of unemployment. The project location is Pinchbeck’s Rose Farm in Guilford, CT.

Roses for Autism is unique, integrating three businesses in a single enterprise:

  • Employment and training for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Agricultural – Raising flowers in the country’s largest free-standing glass greenhouse
  • Sales – Rooted in autism cause-based marketing

Over the course of the grant period, we have learned:

  • It is not only the lack of job skills, but also the lack of social skills that hamper success in the workplace.
  • It takes time to successfully develop individual strategies for participants and transfer them to general work environments.
  • It is essential to offer other resources to participants outside of employment strategies.
  • Participants gained confidence, school grades improved and participation in the program is having a positive impact on people’s lives.

Demonstrating success:

Incidental reports from families, schools and program staff noted that some participants are reporting and/or exhibiting increased confidence, better grades in school and motivation to be more social. In some instances, participants are forming friendships with peers, staff and/or customers. One unexpected and extremely exciting success is the young man who after being driven back and forth to the program by his mother, learned to navigate public transportation to get to work independently. Desiring still more independence, he recently secured his driver’s license – a goal that was beyond his wildest expectations. He is now working toward saving his money from his job at the rose farm to buy a car.

Roses for Autism currently employs eight individuals on the spectrum that are working in an integrated environment for competitive wages. During 2011, 290,500 roses were sold.

For more information, please visit www.rosesforautism.com!

The grant cycle is officially open on February 17.

To learn about our newly announced RFA for Family Services Community Grants, please visit http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/grants/community-grants

11 Questions Students on the Spectrum Can Ask their College

October 31, 2011 1 comment

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a graduate student at Seton Hall University, and is actively involved with our college program. Autism Speaks U is an initiative designed to support college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

Below are 11 questions students on the autism spectrum can ask their college/university.

1. As a college student affected by autism, what is one of the main things I need to know?

A big difference between college and high school is that in high school you generally have a structured plan for your accommodations called an “Individualized Education Program.” However, in college that no longer exists, meaning you must advocate to your Disability Support Group on campus to receive your own accommodations

2. What are some accommodations I can receive in my classes?

Individuals on the spectrum receive accommodations only if they register with their Disability Support Group. They will then receive accommodations based on their needs. This can include extended time on tests, tape recorders for classes, individual note takers, etc.

3. Do I have to pay for accommodations?

Under The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, colleges are required to provide all learning disabled individuals with “reasonable accommodations.” However, you should check the guidelines in regards to what is and what is not available on your campus.

4. Will faculty or fellow students be informed that I am on the autism spectrum?

Faculty members are not allowed to disclose any information about a student to others without consent from the student. However, students must register as a “disabled student” to receive accommodations – meaning your disability support group would be aware you have a disability. It is then up to you to inform your instructors.

5.  Is on-campus living for me?

Accommodations can also factor into your living arrangements on campus which will give you opportunities for a safer environment, like a single room. Ask if your resident assistant will be made aware of your living situation, since he/she can be of help in an emergency.

6. Will tutoring be available for my courses?

Most colleges provide tutoring for all students, but it is important to learn about those services early on to see if it is available and if you need additional support.

7. Are there any restrictions on how many courses I can take?

Some disability support groups require you take less courses in your first few semesters of college to make for an easier transition.

8. Is there a club on campus that raises awareness about autism and provides social opportunities for students affected by autism?

Autism Speaks college program, Autism Speaks U, works with students across the county to start chapters that raise awareness and funds. Some also establish mentoring programs for students and youth on the autism spectrum. To see if a chapter exists on your campus, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

9. Will my professors have any previous training in educating individuals affected by autism?

There is no requirement at most college for professors to have education in teaching individuals with learning disabilities. You should be prepared to advocate for yourself when a situation deems itself appropriate to do so.

10. Will I be treated differently by fellow students because I have autism?

Like in any other situation where you are around people, there is the possibility of a lack of awareness on their part in dealing with people with learning disabilities. Therefore, spreading awareness is crucial for you and others affected by autism.

11. Is there anything on campus that focuses on post-college plans for individuals affected by autism?

Many colleges have a career program/center that focuses on helping you network with outside companies. You can also look under the Americans with Disabilities Act for information about job accommodations and workshops.

If you are interested in raising awareness on your college campus visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

What do scientists mean when they talk about ‘environmental factors’ that cause autism?

September 30, 2011 34 comments

This week’s “Got Questions?” response comes from Alycia Halladay, PhD, Autism Speaks’ director of research for environmental science.

Research has taught us that there’s no simple explanation for what causes autism. We know that genes play a role, but they aren’t the whole picture. Environment also matters.

However “environment” can be a tricky term, as pediatrician Perri Klass recently noted in her New York Times column. In autism research, we use the word to refer to pretty much any influence beyond inherited genes—not just exposure to pollutants or other toxic chemicals.

In fact, the environmental factors that research most strongly links to autism are influences such as maternal infection during pregnancy (especially rubella), birth complications (especially those involving oxygen deprivation), and parental age at time of conception (dad as well as mom). Parents who wait less than one year between pregnancies may be at a slightly higher risk for having a child with autism. (Conversely, there is strong evidence that mothers who take prenatal vitamins before conceiving reduce the odds that their children will develop autism.)

Clearly, countless fetuses and babies are exposed to “environmental risk factors” such as these without ever developing autism. But if a child is genetically predisposed to autism, it appears that these influences further increase the risk. For this reason, we say that environmental factors increase the risk of autism rather than cause it.

Research has suggested that many other environmental, or nongenetic, factors may increase the risk for autism. But scientists can’t yet say whether these involve direct (versus coincidental) links. Such factors include a pregnant woman’s exposure to certain chemicals such as pesticides and phthalates (commonly found in plastics) or certain drugs such as terbutaline (used to stop premature labor), valproic acid (to control seizures), and some antipsychotics and mood stabilizers. Of course, in the case of medications, any possible increased risk of autism must be balanced against a woman’s medical needs—which can likewise affect the health of her pregnancy and children.

In addition, most environmental factors associated with autism appear to increase risk only slightly and only in combination with other factors such as genetic predisposition.  So it is difficult, in most cases, to pinpoint any one environmental influence. For these reasons, Autism Speaks continues to fund research on a wide range of environmental risk factors. Importantly, the more we learn about how these influences affect brain development, the better we can help the children, adults and families who are affected by autism.

Want to learn more about the research Autism Speaks is funding? On our Science Grant Search page, you can browse studies by topic and location. Finally, if you or your child is affected by autism, please consider participating in one of our clinical studies. Thanks, and please keep sending us your questions.

What is mitochondrial disease? How often does it occur in individuals with ASD? Are their effective treatments?

November 9, 2010 8 comments

“Got Questions?” is a new weekly feature on our blog to address the desire for scientific understanding in our community.  We received over 3000 responses when we asked what science questions were on your mind. We answered a few here and the Autism Speaks Science staff will address the other themes we received in this weekly post.

Cell with LabelsMitochondrial disease is caused by an error in the functioning of mitochondria, which are essential energy-producing compartments of nearly every cell in the body. Certain mutations can cause the mitochondria to function inefficiently. These mutations can be within the mitochondria itself, with its own small circle of DNA, or within the nucleus where the rest of the cell’s DNA resides. Over 1500 genes carry some part of the recipe for the optimal functioning of mitochondria. This means that there are many ways for mitochondria to function imperfectly but there are also complex means available to mask a deficit by altering some of the other protein interactions.

Mitochondria are responsible for the process of oxidative phosphorylation that turns nutrients into energy through a series of stages involving complexes of enzymes. A break at any particular stage results in an atypical balance of metabolites in affected body tissues and fluids.

Most people consider mitochondrial disease to be one of a growing number of disorders caused by a defined set of mutations and presenting with a set of characteristics that typically involve three or more organ systems. However, mitochondrial disorders are often diagnosed when no mutation is found despite observations of metabolic signatures of mitochondrial dysfunction. The symptoms may also be more mild.

We do not have a firm estimate of mitochondrial disease in ASD. However, if we use the broader definition of mitochondrial disorder then according to a population-based study in Portugal, there may be as many as 4% of the ASD population affected. Autism Speaks’ research is addressing this and related questions through a grant to Cecilia Giulivi, Ph.D. at UC Davis and also through a collaborative research project at UC Irvine and UC San Diego.

There is currently no cure for mitochondrial disease or disorder. There are, however, treatments and practices that can improve the quality of life and slow the progression of the disease. The most effective treatments are for specific symptoms that tend to accompany mitochondrial dysfunction such as seizures treated with anti-convulsants. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress and extreme temperature avoidance are among the common recommendations. Some dietary and supplement regimes have anecdotal support but there is a need for empirical studies to test the efficacy of these therapies.

For more information, please visit the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF) website. Also, read our report on a joint Autism Speaks’ supported symposium at the annual UMDF meeting.

IACC Services Workshop: Building a Seamless System of Quality Services & Supports Across the Lifespan

November 5, 2010 1 comment

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will hold an IACC services workshop, “Building a Seamless System of Quality Services & Supports Across the Lifespan” on Monday, November 8 in Rockville, Md. The meeting is free and open to public and will also be available as a live videocast.

The workshop will focus on policy issues related to the system of services and supports for people with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Visit the IACC website for more details.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – The ASD Video Glossary

July 6, 2010 1 comment

Social reciprocity, joint attention, sensory defensiveness, hand flapping, and echolalia.

These are just a few of the terms which may sound foreign to a parent who suspects his child may have autism. And even when you look up a word, it is hard to visualize the concept. What exactly does hand flapping look like? What does echolalia sound like?

Autism Speaks, together with First Signs and Florida State University, developed a web-based video glossary to help parents and professionals learn more about the early warning signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The glossary contains over a hundred video clips and is available free of charge, to help parents of children suspected of or recently diagnosed with autism better understand some of the words and terms they might hear used in association with ASD. Whether you are a parent, family member, friend, physician, clinician, childcare provider, or educator, it can help you see the subtle differences between typical and delayed development in young children and spot the early red flags for ASD. Video clips are used to show examples of terms such as echolalia and hand flapping. In many cases, side-by-side video clips show behaviors that are typical in contrast with those that are red flags for ASD. All of the children featured in the ASD Video Glossary as having red flags for ASD are, in fact, diagnosed with ASD.

If you suspect autism or are in the process of obtaining a diagnosis, I highly recommend you utilize the video glossary, which can be found here: http://www.autismspeaks.org/video/glossary.php.

Please note: the ASD Video Glossary is not a diagnostic tool.

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