Kyle at age 3, and Kyle today

Kyle’s Treehouse, originally a resource about autism, has evolved into a community, where hundreds of thousands of visitors learn from each other every year. So, join in the conversation and welcome to Kyle’s Treehouse.

Is Autism Really On the Rise?

www.cdc.gov

www.cdc.gov

Two new interesting studies have come out – one focused on the rate of autism and the other on a possible hormone that is linked with social difficulties.

The rate of autism has been continuously increasing over the years, with the latest figures showing that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. The rate increase hasn’t been attributed to anything specifically, and questions are mounting as to what has caused the increase. A new study, however, may have provided an answer – the rate is likely due to a change in the way children are being classified and diagnosed. A team from Penn State University looked at special education enrollment and found that the increase in students designated as having autism could be offset by nearly equal decrease in students diagnosed with other intellectual disabilities often seen along with autism. So conditions that were once likely classified as something else are now being identified as autism, probably due to broader awareness.

Another study showed that children with autism who struggle with “theory of mind” – the social skills that deals with the realization that other people have different perspectives, feelings and experiences – have lower vasopressin levels. Vasopressin is a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure and may play a role in social behavior. There are currently no medications that effectively treat social deficits, so this could prove a target for future focus.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Lessons From Daniel Tiger

Daniel TigerI read this article in the NY Times’ parenting section and started laughing to myself because someone else has made the magical discovery of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – yes, the cartoon tiger that took the helm for Mister Roger’s.

The author talks about how Daniel Tiger – not the thousands of dollars spent on therapy, countless hours of playdates, etc. – but little ole’ Daniel Tiger who should receive credit for her high-functioning autistic son’s newfound ability to connect with others. If you’re reading this – or read the NY Times article – and know Daniel Tiger, then you’ll know why that’s the case. But if you’re new to Daniel Tiger, each program follows Daniel and his friends and covers a specific topic – getting frustrated, sharing your toys, trying new foods, problem-solving, going potty…the list goes on. And not only does it give kids a great visual, each topic has a catchy little song attached to it. We use one of the little jingles – if not several – on a daily basis in our house to remind the kids about something – and they work (ok, for the most part, at least)! For example:

Trying new foods – You got to try new foods ‘cause they might taste good

Going potty – If you have to go potty, stop, and go right away. Then flush, and wash, and be on your way

Taking turns – You can take a turn, and then I’ll get it back

Getting frustrated – When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back, and ask for help

These don’t look like much, but throw a little music on them and they are catchy and easy to remember.

The topics are so relevant to every preschool age child and they really do serve as a great tool to deal with emotions, social lessons, self-care and many other things we work to teach our children.

Lynsey, Community Manger

 

 

 

Latest Diagnostic Tool – Your Nose?

noseSo this is an interesting one…a new study suggests that it may be possible to diagnose autism by giving children a sniff test. Yes, that’s right, the act of smelling may be able to provide tremendous insight.

Why? As covered in the NY Times, most people instinctively alter their breathing when they come in contact with certain smells – they take a big whiff with pleasant smells and limit their breathing with foul smells. However, as discussed in this research, children with autism do not make this natural adjustment. Based on their sniff test, the researchers – who were not told which participants had autism – were able to correctly identify which children did have autism 81% of the time.

Plus, what they also found was that the further removed an autistic child’s sniff response was from the average for ‘typically’ developing children, the more severe the child’s social impairments were.

Looking back on the impact of odors, different smells definitely affected Kyle when he was younger – like smoking and garbage smells. Those smells would actually make him gag or throw up, which made it a bit tricky being out in public – he would either be holding his nose, or commenting on someone smoking, or even throwing up after walking by a smelly trash can or dumpster! (And speaking of gross smells, if Kyle heard someone let off gas, he would giggle uncontrollably – as Jenifer says, it was something!)
Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Extending Some Understanding

birthday party inviteThe child birthday party invitation. It’s a little piece of paper in the mail – or an email to be opened – but it can be an immediate stress inducer. Stress was likely the feeling Tricia Rhynold would have when she opened invites from her son’s classmates. Tricia – mom to seven-year-old Timothy who has nonverbal autism – explains that they’ve received tons of invites over the years, which she appreciates, but she understandably wonders, “if the parents know what would happen if I brought Timothy?  The interruptions…the meltdowns…how I would hate to take the spotlight from the birthday child.” So, she would respectfully decline every invite.

But that all changed with one simple note. Tricia received a party invite with a note from a mom of a child (Carter) in Timothy’s class – and she made it very clear that she truly wanted Timothy to come to the birthday party writing:

Carter sat beside Timothy at school and he always talks about him :) I really hope he can come. We are renting a bounce castle that we can attach a small bounce slide at the bottom. We will also have water balloons and water guns. Maybe Timothy can come earlier in the day if it would be too much with the whole class. Let me know so we can make it work.

There are a lot of amazing people in this world who are kind and understanding – we hope you’ve got some of them in your life. It’s hard to remember that kindness sometimes when you’re overwhelmed or maybe feeling a little stuck. In Tricia’s case, it took someone else – a complete stranger – to extend an offer with Timothy’s needs in mind that would make all the difference. As Tricia said on her blog, The Book of Timothy, “I don’t know this Mom or even this child personally. I want to. Desperately….The Mom is everything I strive to be.” Agree.

Lynsey, Community Manager

TED2015: Steve Silberman

TED.com

TED.com

Over the years, autism rates have been increasing and today we’re now estimating that 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with autism. With the prevalence of autism on the rise, we are left to wonder – why are the rates increasing so steeply over the years? Are there really that many more people with autism today than there was 20 or 30 years ago?

This is the question Steve Silberman set out to answer – and this led him down a very interesting path back through the history of autism. He uncovered a series of events that have all led up to where we are today. With a new book coming out called NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Silberman shared some of his research findings at this year’s TED. Check out his TED Talk.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Honest Co. Funding Autism Research

honest.com

honest.com

You may know actress Jessica Alba from movies such as Fantastic Four or Valentine’s Day, but she is also the co-founder of The Honest Company, a very successful, three-year-old consumer goods company that offers non-toxic household products. As covered in Forbes, Jessica had spent time in D.C. trying to lobby for the overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which allows for 80,000 chemicals to remain in household products untested. Frustrated by this process, she felt she could make more of a difference by selling an alternative to chemical-filled products.

Now, The Honest Company has 120 products and is planning to spend $3 million on social impact initiatives in 2015. Some of that money is going towards sponsorship of a lab at NY’s Mount Sinai Hospital – it will house an ultra-clean room where a team can research links between household chemicals and autism. They will do this by testing the baby teeth of children with autism and comparing them with those of children without autism. By looking at their baby teeth, the team can examine exposures to chemicals that can happen as early as the third or fourth month of pregnancy as the teeth were forming. This research follows the publication of research last year by the University of Chicago that showed exposure to certain toxins during fetal development affects the incidence of autism and intellectual disability.

Read more about The Honest Company’s research funding.

Lynsey, Community Manager 

Field Day Fun

Another amazing example of how peer support can make all the difference! Check out this video of Preston Lillis, a 5th grader in Grandville, Michigan, who has Asperger’s, get cheered on by his classmates during their annual Field Day. As shared here,  Preston’s parents said Field Day usually made him anxious, so much so that last year Preston was so stressed it caused a migraine and he had to miss the event. So this year his teachers and classmates came up with a plan to let Preston win and make it a fun experience for him.

And it looks like it worked! It’s the little things and times of thoughtfulness that can really make a lasting impact.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Mom’s Thank You to JetBlue

nottheformerthings.com

nottheformerthings.com (Shawna and her son)

Traveling with your children on a plane can be an extremely stress-inducing thing—for both you and your child. There are many sensory “unfriendly” barriers your child will have to hurdle – loud noises, weird smells, wearing a seatbelt, crowding, etc., etc. – and then for you, you’re trying to anticipate it all. It can be tough. Plus, on top of that, you hope that people and the airline will show compassion and care as you try to navigate through all of the obstacles.

If you’ve looked online lately, you may have seen some unfavorable attention being placed on United Airlines after a mom claims she and her family were removed from one of their flights in response to an exchange with crew about a special food request for her daughter who has autism (read more). And I think sometimes it’s easier to share, thanks to the Internet, when you have a bad or negative experience. However, it’s important to remember that many people who have special needs or require certain accommodations travel every day and often have wonderful experiences. And it’s nice to call those out too.

So this all leads me to a mom named Shawna who wrote a “thank you” note to JetBlue and shared in on her blog. In it, she describes how she and her son, who has high-functioning autism, travel often and she knows how complicated it can be. Her son has a particularly tough time in the boarding area with its loud announcements and large crowds. It was the first time she was flying JetBlue and not only was it easy to note her son’s special needs when booking the ticket online, the great service continued throughout their trip – JetBlue boarded Shawna and her son before the announcements began, gave them seats away from the bathrooms (so they wouldn’t have to deal with the potential smells), and were friendly from start to finish. (You can read the full note on her blog).

Kudos to JetBlue for going the extra mile and having practices in place that can make traveling a bit smoother – it really does make the difference.

Lynsey, Community Manager