Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clinic Notes: Yawning and Autism

Most of us yawn during the day. The exact reason is not known, but boredom or a lack of sleep, are likely causes. Some studies have found that a yawn causes a sudden intake of oxygen, increases heart rate, and ventilates the lungs resulting in increased alertness. While the data on why we yawn is not clear it is clear that yawning is contagious. When one person yawns others around him or her are more likely to yawn. But there is one exception. Children with autism do not yawn contagiously. This makes sense to me and other clinicians who work daily with children with autism. Usually, imitation is not common in children with autism, especially those who are low functioning. The fact that children with autism do not yawn when others yawn tells me that yawning contagiously is a learned response.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Clinic Notes: Eye Tracking and Autism

Clinically, I think a lack of eye contact or infrequent and un-sustained eye contact is a good indicator of autism in young children. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine tracked eye movements in toddlers and found that those with autism spent significantly more time looking at geometric patterns than social pictures. The children who spent more than 69% of their time looking at the geometric patterns could be diagnosed with autism. Some of these infants were as young as 14 months. This could turn out to be a useful diagnostic tool.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clinic Notes: Special Education and Autism

Unfortunately, many children with autism are in a Special Education classroom along with children with other diagnoses. Many Special Ed teachers tell me that they don't have time or don't know what to do with the children with autism. This problem can be even more difficult when you have children with autism who are at different places on the spectrum and teachers who are not trained in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for managing behavior and ABA procedures such as Discrete Trial Training (DTT) for teaching skills. In our clinic everyone is well trained in these procedures and this is out primary focus with many of our children. But with some of our children who have trouble focusing there is a variety of software available from companies like Super Duper Inc. for children with autism. Children with autism function best in their visual modality and the animation in the software holds their attention. So Special Ed teachers need to find several computers, old computers will do fine, add a touch screen and some software, (neither are expensive) and they can quickly be in the business of educating children with autism.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Clinic Notes: Too Much Noise in the Brains of Children with Autism

Anyone who is around a child with autism for very long will notice problems in focusing on the relevant aspects of the environment. A recent study by Jeffrey Hutsler, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno provides some answers to why this is so. He examined postmortem tissue samples and found that children with autism have a 20% higher density of synaptic connections in the outer layer of the brain's cortex. The outer layer of the cortex is the last to develop and the connections are formed as the child interacts with the environment. Apparently, the excessive synaptic connections create "noise" making it more difficult for the proper connections to occur. Early interventions with the behavior therapies can help form the appropriate connections between neurons and thereby improve behavior.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Clinic Notes: Plastics, Testosterone, and Autism

A recent study has found that the chemical BPA, found in plastics, including some baby bottles, and cash register receipts raises testosterone levels in men. This is interesting because Simon Baron Cohen of Cambridge University found that high testosterone levels in the amniotic fluid of the womb was related to later autistic behaviors in children. Furthermore, autism is 4-5 times more common in males than females suggesting that high levels of testosterone over masculinities the male brain. Of course, our exposure to plastics has increased over the last several decades so this could be an important etiological variable in the increased number of children with autism.