World Autism Awareness Day 2016: What is autism and what causes the condition?

There are more than 700,000 people in the UK living with autism – which is more than one in 100. World Autism Awareness Day is marked on 2 April to raise awareness of the condition and its impact on individuals and families. On the day, here are key facts, myths and statistics about the lifelong condition.

Although there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, a better understanding of therapies, support and other interventions are available to help adults, children and their parents.

What is autism?

Autism is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, behaviour and interests. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that while autistic people share certain difficulties, the condition will affect individuals differently. Unless the right support is available or given, autism can have a profound and sometimes devastating impact on individuals and their families. The right support can make a huge difference to the lives of people with autism and those around them.

“Autistic people see, hear and feel the world in a different way from other people,” the National Autistic Society (NAS) states. “If you are autistic, you are autistic for life – autism is not an ‘illness’ and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel being autistic as a fundamental aspect of their identity.”

The NAS has recently launched a campaign called Too Much Information, to raise awareness of autism.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Autism is complex and autistic people and their families don’t expect or want people to be experts. But our research shows that when people recognise that someone is autistic, and understand the difficulties they face, they’re more likely to respond with empathy and understanding.”

What causes autism?

The exact causes are unknown, but research suggests a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be involved. The condition is not caused by a person’s upbringing or their social circumstances.

According to the NHS, most researchers believe a child’s genes inherited from their parents could make them more vulnerable to developing autism. Others believe an individual born with a genetic predisposition to autism only develops the condition if they are then exposed to specific environmental triggers, such as certain epilepsy medications.

A number of things have been linked to autism in the past, including the MMR vaccine. Various major studies worldwide have shown no evidence of a link between autism and the vaccine.

Source: ibtimes

Proper iron intake must to save babies from autism

A new study has linked low iron intake with a five-fold greater risk of autism in children if the mother was 35 or older at the time of the child’s birth or if she suffered from metabolic conditions such as obesity, hyper-tension or diabetes. Mothers of children with autism are significantly less likely to report taking iron supplements before and during their pregnancies than mothers of children who are developing normally, the study indicates.

“The association between lower maternal iron intake and increased autism spectrum disorders (ASD) risk was strongest during breastfeeding,” said Rebecca J. Schmidt, an assistant professor from the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis. The study was conducted in mother-child pairs enrolled in the Northern California-based Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study between 2002 and 2009.

The participants included mothers of children with autism and 346 mothers of children with typical development. The researchers examined maternal iron intake among the participants, including vitamins, other nutritional supplements and breakfast cereals during the three months prior to through the end of the women’s pregnancies and breastfeeding.

The mothers’ daily iron intake was examined, including the frequency, dosages and the brands of supplements that they consumed. “Iron deficiency and its resultant anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50 percent of women and their infants,” Schmidt noted.

The research was published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Source: economic times

Genetics play a bigger role than environmental causes for autism

Genetics plays more of a role in the development of autism than environmental causes, according to new research published Sunday in Nature Genetics.

The study found that 52% of autism risk comes from common genes, while only 2.6% are attributed to spontaneous mutations caused by, among other things, environmental factors.

Genetics play a bigger role than environmental causes for autism

“These genetic variations are common enough that most people are likely to have some,” said Joseph Buxbaum, a researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and one of the lead authors on the study. “Each one has a tiny effect on autism risk, and many hundreds or thousands together make a significant risk.”

Using Sweden’s health registry, the researchers compared 3,000 people with autism to 3,000 people without autism to determine the degrees that common and rare genes, as well as spontaneous mutations, contribute to autism risk. The study authors also compared the study’s results with a parallel study of 1.6 million Swedish families that identified specific genetic risk factors.

Buxbaum says the presence of these common genes can only determine the risk of autism, not whether or not the condition will develop. And even though spontaneous mutations only account for a small percentage of autism risk, their effect is significant. “[Individuals] might have all the common variants there as part of their background risk, but it took this initial hit to push them over the edge,” Buxbaum said.

Chris Gunter, an autism researcher at the Marcus Autism Center and professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, says the findings of this study are similar to those reported in other studies.

“There is no one gene for autism,” Gunter said. “Instead there are many different genetic variations which each contribute a little bit to the risk of developing the group of symptoms we diagnose as autism.” She added that we still don’t know exactly how much these different factors contribute to the development of autism.

Once scientists accumulate more data on the autism population, Buxbaum says this new research could help develop a “risk score” – such as the one that exists for heart attacks – that would help patients determine the likelihood of family members developing autism.  “The autism field has changed dramatically,” Buxbaum said. “We now have immense power to find both common and rare and spontaneous mutations in autism. That’s really the exciting part.”

Source: cnn

Do autistics struggle with driving?

Do autistics struggle with driving

In the first pilot study asking adults on the autism spectrum about their experiences with driving, researchers at Drexel University found significant differences in self-reported driving behaviors and perceptions of driving ability in comparison to non-autistic adults. As the population of adults with autism continues growing rapidly, the survey provides a first step toward identifying whether this population has unmet needs for educational supports to empower safe driving – a key element of independent functioning in many people’s lives.

“Previous research in my lab has included extensive research in driving capacity with people who have a variety of conditions such as multiple sclerosis or who had experienced traumatic brain injury,” said study co-author Maria Schultheis, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Drexel. “When we investigate whether and under what circumstances a condition or neurological difference might affect driving ability, as a standard starting point we want to go to individuals and find out from their perspective what problems they are having on the road, in their real-world experience. That question is pivotal to shape and inform the goals of long-term research – and is especially important when we turn to look at a developmental difference like autism, where there has been too little research to establish yet whether widespread driving difficulties exist.”

Only a few previous studies have examined driving ability in individuals with autism, and those studies focused on adolescents and new drivers rather than experienced adult drivers. These studies relied on parent surveys and evaluations of discrete aspects of driving performance. The new Drexel study, published early online this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, used a validated survey that has been extensively used in driving research, and asked adult licensed drivers on the autism spectrum to describe their first-hand, real-world driving experiences.

“We were beginning to see discussion in the research literature that aspects of autism spectrum disorders, such as neurocognitive challenges and social recognition difficulties, could make it likely that members of this population would experience significant challenges with driving,” said the study’s lead author Brian Daly, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences. “But that assumption hadn’t been studied in adult drivers, or based on the experiences of the drivers themselves – so these were the questions we explored.”

In this survey, adults with autism spectrum disorders reported earning their drivers’ licenses at a later age, driving less frequently and putting more restrictions on their own driving behaviors (such as avoiding driving on highways or at night), on average compared to non-autistic adults. The respondents with autism spectrum disorders also reported more traffic violations.

Because this pilot study was relatively small and based on self-reports of 78 ASD respondents and 94 non-ASD comparison participants, Schultheis and Daly noted that the differences they found were open to several possible interpretations. Autistic adults may have reported driving less often and restricting their behaviors out of self-awareness of actual difficulties or deficiencies in their driving. These difficulties and/or reduced driving exposure could also explain the higher rate of reported violations.

Alternatively, it is possible that the respondents on the autism spectrum were more honest in their answers, but no worse at driving than everyone else.

“In driving research, it’s well established that people have a positive bias when reporting their own driving skills,” said Schultheis. “Because the study relied on self-reported answers, we can’t rule out whether the respondents with autism were simply being more descriptive and honest about their difficulties than the control group.”

One intriguing finding that Daly and Schultheis noted was that the difficulties adults with autism reported were not clustered in any specific areas, such as problems related to social processing of other drivers’ or pedestrians’ expected behaviors, or difficulties with neurocognitive aspects of driving such as motion perception and reaction time.

“It suggests that the challenges these individuals are facing are more global than specific,” Daly said.

“This is such an important study,” said Paul Shattuck, PhD, an associate professor and director of the research program area in life course outcomes at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, who was not involved in conducting the study. “Cognitively-able adults on the autism spectrum face many barriers to full participation in society. Facilitating access to transportation options will increase the capacity for these adults to contribute to their communities.”

Daly and Schultheis are continuing to investigate driving behavior in adults with autism through further research, with funding from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, the first autism research center focused on a public health science approach. In the next phase of research, the team is using driving simulation in Schultheis’ lab to objectively capture aspects of actual driving performance in adults on the autism spectrum. Individuals interested in enrolling in these studies should contact

“This is a first step toward identifying, categorizing and quantifying challenges that may exist in this population,” Schultheis said. “What we find will help determine what needs there may be for interventions, from driver education programs to different kinds of training exposures.”

Source: eureka alert

Car Wash Offers Employment to Autistic Young Adults



At the Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Fla., most of the employees have one thing in common: they’ve been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

As young adults they began to age out of the school system, with employment options in short supply. That’s why John D’Eri co-founded Rising Tide Car Wash: to give his son, and others on the autism spectrum, a place to earn a paycheck — and build a community.

D’Eri came up with the idea about two years ago when he was –- what else? — driving through a car wash.

Why not build a business with the prime objective of employing people with autism, he reasoned –- not a charity or a “sheltered workshop” –- but a business with the potential to keep growing.

Although the repetition of a car wash might seem like a drawback, it’s actually perfect for those on the autism spectrum who gravitate toward repetitive behavior. D’Eri relied on experts in the car wash business and those who employ people with disabilities. Together they spent almost two years testing systems and coming up with a training protocol.

D’Eri is insistent it remain a self-sustaining business — because if it is, that means other people can do it too without having to depend on grants or government red tape. He employs 35 men who have been diagnosed with some form of autism and several who have moved up to manager positions.

Source: nbc news

Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy Increases Autism Risk

Women who take antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy may be at an increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, according to a recent studyResearchers found that children who were exposed to SSRIs the most had the highest incidence of autism.

“We found prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorders relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure is during the first trimester,” study co-author Li-Ching Lee, an associate scientist in the department of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, told Counsel and Heal.

For the study, researchers collected data from 966 mother and child pairs to better understand how SSRIs affect pregnancy outcomes. Of the children studied, 800 were boys. Nearly 500 children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, 154 had some form of developmental delay and 320 had developed typically.

The SSRIs examined in the study were Celexa, Lezapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.

Researchers found that in the autism group, 5.9 percent of the pregnancies were exposed to SSRIs. In the delayed developmental group, 5.2 percent of the pregnancies were exposed to SSRIs. They also found that exposure rate in the typically developing children group was 3.4 percent.

Investigators said that in terms of gender, boys were three times more likely to have autism if they were exposed to the antidepressants during the first trimester.

Given their findings, researchers said they hope expecting mothers consult with their doctors before taking antidepressants during pregnancy.

“It’s a complex decision whether to treat or not treat depression with medications during pregnancy,” Lee said. “There are so many factors to consider. We didn’t intend for our study to be used as a basis for clinical treatment decisions. Women should talk with their doctors about SSRI treatments.”

Source: University herald

Autism Awareness Day: Dearth of doctors to treat the disease

India faces a dearth of doctors and experts to treat autism, the incidence of which is slowly rising, with the illness being considered wrongly by many as mental retardation, experts said.

Moreover, awareness about the neuro-biological disorder is still very low despite the fact that there are more than four million people with autism in the country. Though, there is no official figure, experts said, the figure is growing.

And with just a few to treat this ailment, diagnosis often gets delayed, they added “It may not be wrong to say that there are only a handful of doctors in our country who can provide the right treatment for autism.

“Now with the cases of autism on the rise the need for experts is being acutely felt,” Arun Mukherjee, director of Udaan – a centre for the disabled, told IANS. He said though the situation is improving in metropolitan cities, the situation is still grim. “A lot needs to be done in smaller towns,” Mukherjee added.

Autism affects the functioning of the brain, making it difficult for people afflicted with the disorder to process the information received from various sensory organs. The Indian government only recognised the disorder in 2001.

Autistic individuals exhibit behaviours like spinning, flapping of hands, talking to themselves, constant jumping, attention deficit and hyperactivity. “There is lagging awareness about autism among Indians,” said Usha Verma, principal of Tamana Autism Centre and School of Hope.

“For most of them, it is still a mental illness and that perception has to change. Due to this lack of awareness, parents do not consider it to be important enough for diagnosis,” Verma informed.

Tamana is a special school established in 2003 that caters to autistic children. Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Hospital, said: “The treatment for autism is a multi-disciplinary approach. There is a wide spectrum and children fall in various ranges. So the treatment varies depending on the level of sickness.”

Being a disorder affecting the brain, autism severely affects speech, language, communication and social interaction. Hence there are two major therapies for autistic individuals — speech and occupational therapy.

“A person who has autism often has trouble communicating and interacting with other people; his or her interests, activities, and play skills may be limited. While occupational therapy helps develop these skills, speech therapy can help address a wide range of communication problems,” Parikh informed.

Though, there are treatments for the disorder, for Indian parents getting an accurate diagnosis also pose a hurdle.

Surabhi Verma, director, Sparsh for Children said: “It is only speech delay because of which parents visit paediatricians, where most of the time they assume that the kids are just slow.

“Diagnosing autism becomes a long drawn process and such delays tend to affect treatment process,” Verma infromed. Sparsh trains autistic children and even those with other disability to help them become part of mainstream schools. Experts said that if right therapy for autism is made available early, a child can develop skills better.

“A two-year old child will be able to learn faster. While after three years the learning process takes longer and extra attention as well,” said Verma.

Experts said that the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, does not include autism, but the government plans to cover the condition in the revised act, which has lapsed in parliament.

Autism is now covered under the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999.

“Just adding autism to the Disability Bill is not enough. Government needs to devise new curriculum and start specialisation courses so that the country gets more experts to treat autism,” added Mukherjee.

Source: Zee news

Autism and intellectual disability incidence linked with environmental factors

An analysis of 100 million US medical records reveals that autism and intellectual disability (ID) rates are correlated at the county level with incidence of genital malformations in newborn males, an indicator of possible congenital exposure to harmful environmental factors such as pesticides. Autism rates — after adjustment for gender, ethnic, socioeconomic and geopolitical factors — jump by 283 percent for every one percent increase in frequency of malformations in a county. Intellectual disability rates increase 94 percent. Slight increases in autism and ID rates are also seen in wealthier and more urban counties.

The study, published by scientists from the University of Chicago March 13 in PLOS Computational Biology, confirms the dramatic effect of diagnostic standards. Incidence rates for Autism and ID on a per-person basis decrease by roughly 99 percent in states with stronger regulations on diagnosis of these disorders.

“Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country,” said study author Andrey Rzhetsky, PhD, professor of genetic medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago. “This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong.”

Although autism and intellectual disability have genetic components, environmental causes are thought to play a role. To identify potential environmental links, Rzhetsky and his team analyzed an insurance claims dataset that covered nearly one third of the US population. They used congenital malformations of the reproductive system in males as an indicator of parental exposure to toxins.

Male fetuses are particularly sensitive to toxins such as environmental lead, sex hormone analogs, medications and other synthetic molecules. Parental exposure to these toxins is thought explain a large portion of congenital reproductive malformations, such as micropenis, hypospadias (urethra on underside of the penis), undescended testicles and others.

The researchers created a statistical baseline frequency of autism and ID across the country. They then looked at the actual rates of these disorders, county-by-county. Deviations from the baseline are interpreted as resulting from local causes. Factors such as age, ethnicity, socioeconomic groups and geopolitical statuses were analyzed and corrected for.

The team found that every one percent increase in malformations in a county was associated with a 283 percent increase in autism and 94 percent increase in ID in that same county. Almost all areas with higher rates of autism also had higher rates of ID, which the researchers believe corroborates the presence of environmental factors. In addition, they found that male children with autism are almost six times more likely to have congenital genital malformations. Female incidence was linked with increased malformation rates, but weakly so. A county-by-county map of autism and ID incidence above or below the predicted baseline for the entire US is included in the study.

Non-reproductive congenital malformations and viral infections in males were also associated with double digit increases in autism and ID rates. Additionally, income appeared to have a weak effect — every additional $1,000 of income above county average was correlated with around a three percent increase in autism and ID rates. An increased percentage of urban population in a county also showed a weak increase in rates.

The most striking negative effect was state regulation. State-mandated diagnosis of autism by a clinician for consideration in special education was linked with around a whopping 99 percent decrease in the rate of incidence for autism and ID. Certain ethnic backgrounds, such as pacific islanders had significantly lower risk for both diseases.

While the effect of vaccines was not analyzed as part of this study, Rzhetsky notes that the geographic clustering of autism and ID rates is evidence that if vaccines have a role, it’s a very weak one as vaccinations are given uniformly across the US.

Rzhetsky acknowledges there are potential confounders to the study, for example ease of access to data could differ between counties or uneven genetic distribution, beyond the factors they controlled for, could have an effect. The team anticipates future studies could leverage data from the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources to identify links between specific environmental causes and increased rates of autism and ID.

“We interpret the results of this study as a strong environmental signal,” Rzhetsky said. “For future genetic studies we may have to take into account where data were collected, because it’s possible that you can get two identical kids in two different counties and one would have autism and the other would not.”

Source: escience news


Gene Study Offers Clues to Why Autism Strikes More Males

why girls are less likely than boys to have an autism spectrum disorder.

It turns out that girls tend not to develop autism when only mild genetic abnormalities exist, the researchers said. But when they are diagnosed with the disorder, they are more likely to have more extreme genetic mutations than boys who show the same symptoms.

“Girls tolerate neurodevelopmental mutations more than boys do. This is really what the study shows,” said study author Sebastien Jacquemont, an assistant professor of genetic medicine at the University Hospital of Lausanne, in Switzerland.

“To push a girl over the threshold for autism or any of these neurodevelopmental disorders, it takes more of these mutations,” Jacquemont added. “It’s about resilience to genetic insult.”

The dilemma is that the researchers don’t really know why this is so. “It’s more of an observation at a molecular level,” Jacquemont noted.

In the study, the Swiss researchers collaborated with scientists from the University of Washington School of Medicine to analyze about 16,000 DNA samples and sequencing data sets from people with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders.

The investigators also analyzed genetic data from almost 800 families affected by autism for the study, which was released online Feb. 27 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The researchers analyzed copy-number variants (CNVs), which are individual variations in the number of copies of a particular gene. They also looked at single-nucleotide variants (SNVs), which are DNA sequence variations affecting a single nucleotide. Nucleotides are the basic building blocks of DNA.

The study found that females diagnosed with any neurodevelopmental disorder, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and intellectual disability, had more harmful CNVs than males who were diagnosed with the same disorder. Females with autism also had more harmful SNVs than males with the condition.

“There’s a well-known disparity when it comes to developmental disorders between boys and girls, and it’s been puzzling,” Jacquemont said. “And there have been quite a bit of papers trying to investigate this bias that we’ve seen in the clinic.”

The study authors pointed out that autism affects four boys for every one girl. The ratio increases to seven-to-one when looking at high-functioning autism cases.

It’s an interesting study, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.

“It’s not an easy study to read, but certainly the take-away suggests it tries to lend further support to the assumption that the ratio of males to females [who have autism] is affected by genetic vulnerabilities — that it has a genetic underpinning,” Adesman said.

What do the findings mean for parents and patients?

Adesman said there are no immediate benefits, but the knowledge can help direct future research.

“This isn’t going to lead to a breakthrough in treatment, but from a clinical standpoint it may help researchers and academics understand why it is that developmental disorders seem to be more common in boys than girls,” he noted.

The new research also reinforces that genetic differences — or vulnerabilities — aren’t limited to sex chromosomes, Adesman added.

“The presumption has been, ‘Well gee, boys have a Y chromosome and girls don’t, so are there problems with the Y chromosome that explain it?'” Adesman noted.

“The bottom line is that there are a lot of different genetic abnormalities and atypicalities that result in developmental disorders in children and adults,” Adesman explained. “Women seem to be a little more resilient in terms of being able to have minor abnormalities without having a developmental problem.”

Source: health

Challenge at Work May Ease Adults’ Autism Symptoms

For adults with autism, having the chance to work somewhat independently may lead to a reduction in symptoms of the disorder, a new study suggests.

The research puts new emphasis on the potential for adults with autism to develop and improve over their lifetimes, said study author Julie Lounds Taylor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.

“We have assumed it’s really hard to budge autism symptoms in adulthood. Drugs are targeted to problems like acting out, for example,” she said. “But this study suggests that these adults need a place where they’re intellectually stimulated, and then we’ll see a reduction in symptoms.”

The challenge is to find the right fit between a person’s abilities and interests and a specific job, she explained.

“How independent can they be and what are the risks of failure? We have to be careful. You’re talking about a huge range of people with autism,” Taylor said. “I’ve seen people who can manage pretty high-level jobs, like computer programming or being in the military, while others have more [mental] challenges, but can still work a job in the community with support.”

Autism spectrum disorders are a class of neurodevelopmental disorders defined by difficulties with social functioning and communication, according to the researchers. Symptoms include restricted interests, repetitive behaviors and difficulty with social interactions.

The study findings were reported online recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Increasing the level of independence in adults with autism isn’t necessarily difficult to do, Taylor said. “We found behavior changes any time you could bump [them] up to doing something a little more independent,” she said. “As they get more independent, you see more benefit.”

Yet understanding what makes a good fit is a huge challenge, she said. “Insight is one of the characteristics people with autism typically may not have, so we will probably need the person’s perspective and then gather information from families, looking at what’s available, and incorporating all of that together,” Taylor explained.

About 50 percent of adults with autism spend their time in sheltered settings, and a minority work in the community, according to Taylor. Most have trouble holding steady jobs, she added.

For the study, the researchers tracked the behavioral development and activities of 153 people with autism spectrum disorder over a five-year period. Their average age was about 30.

The data came from a larger study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which followed 400 families with adolescents with autism over 10 years. Data were collected at two different points in time almost six years apart. Data came from the primary caregiver — 150 were mothers and three were fathers.

The researchers found that having greater vocational independence and engagement was related to reduction in autism symptoms and maladaptive behaviors. It was also associated with improvements in daily life activities.

An expert in autism spectrum disorders who was not involved in the study said the results were not surprising.

“This study suggests that, as with nondisabled individuals, a more positive work experience can have many important associated benefits downstream,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.

If the research can be replicated, Adesman said it suggests greater emphasis needs to be given to helping adults with autism spectrum disorder find as independent and engaging a work environment as possible.

Taylor said the key point for parents of adults with autism spectrum disorder is to understand the value of getting the best possible vocational placement for their son or daughter and advocating for it.

“If it’s a terrible fit, in ability or in what interests them, it won’t work out,” she said. “But a job can have lasting behavioral impact across the lifespan.”

Source: Web md