Kids with Autism May Have Overload of Brain Connections (Study)

brain synapsesA new study, which is getting a lot of attention, is showing that children with autism may have an oversupply of synapses – which are the connections that allow neurons to send a receive signals –in their brains. With this excess amount of synapses, different brain areas can be affected and overloaded with stimuli. And having such an overload could account for symptoms like extreme sensitivity to noise or social challenges.

This information could help researchers and doctors identify a key cause of autism symptoms – which is good news for a potential treatment. But this would be long down the road – researchers were able to create a similar overloading of synapses among mice and used a drug called rapamycin, which worked well to improve, if not eliminate symptoms, however this drug comes with heavy side effects. But this is an exciting discovery and one that will hopefully be further explored.

Check out this NY Times article for a good breakdown on the study.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Sensory Communication Design

sensory communication device 2You hear a lot about various apps you can get on your iPad, iPhone, etc, that can help serve as a voice for those with autism, particularly for those that are nonverbal. This is a similar idea, but utilizes the benefit of a sensory (tactile) experience – and can be an option for people who have sight difficulties.

Industrial designer Jeffrey Brown created the device after realizing that touch, sound and smell could communicate an idea – and from that, he created a board that includes six cubes covered in various textures. Audio is recorded or downloaded for each cube – such as “I need to go to the bathroom” / “I am hungry” / “I want to play now”—and the user just needs to squeeze a cube for the audio to play.

What an interesting and good idea if this is able to provide a voice to some that currently don’t have that ability right now, which could ultimately help alleviate some of the frustration that comes with communication challenges – and provide some independence and empowerment to the user. Read more here.

Lynsey, Community Manager 

Autism Breakthrough – The Son-Rise Program

Autism Breakthrough Audio
There are so many therapies out there for autism – it can be overwhelming, to say the least. And because autism is so wide-ranging in terms of severity, and, as the saying goes, ‘if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,’ trying to find the right kind of therapy (or combination of therapies, in most cases) can be an endless…mind-numbing…(insert your own word here!)…journey.

You have to do what’s best, and what you think works, for your child, and that is the ultimate idea at Kyle’s Treehouse.  And as many of you may know, what worked for Kyle and the Westphal family was The Son-Rise Program. If you’re not familiar with the program, it was created in the 70’s by Barry Neil Kaufman and Samahria Lyte Kaufman to help their autistic son, Raun. It’s a home-based, parent-led structure that promotes encouragement and excitement and invites you to join your child in their world to ultimately create a bridge leading them back into ours. (From this experience the Kaufmans established The Autism Treatment Center of America, and their son, Raun–who went on to emerge from his autism–is now its Director of Global Education!)

And not only is Raun the Director of Global Education of the organization, he is also an author. Earlier this year he released, Autism Breakthrough, which is a more in-depth look at the program and why it works so well. And now it’s available as an audiobook. If you want to get a flavor for the book, you can actually listen to Chapter 2: “Joining: Entering Your Child’s World” for free – at this link http://www.autismbreakthrough.com/L/Chapter_2/.

It’s definitely worth checking out!

Lynsey, Community Manager

Dealing with Bullies

The View

Although some of Jenny McCarthy’s thoughts on autism (particularly around the cause of autism) have created some controversy, she’s a mom that’s trying to navigate the often bumpy road of autism. The other week on The View, she brought up the topic of bullying, but with a specific twist that parents of autistic children may specifically face. McCarthy’s son, Evan, is being bullied at summer camp – however, he doesn’t know it.

She explains, My son’s main goal is to make as many friends as possible,” McCarthy said, before adding that she got a heartbreaking email from the camp revealing that the kids he believes are his “friends” are actually bullying him.

They’re laughing at him but he laughs too,” she said. “I said, ‘You have to find the kids that like you and are nice to you. Who do you sit next to in the cafeteria?’ And he said, ‘No one. I ask, and they say no.”

She has mixed feelings about it – on one hand, she is relieved that he’s unaware the kids are being mean, but on the other, she is trying to figure out when to teach him about bullying and what he’s actually experiencing.

What would you do? Or, if you’ve gone through something like this, what have you done? Whoopi Goldberg (McCarthy’s co-host) gave her some – what I thought to be good – advice, which was to talk to the other kids’ parents because they may not be aware it’s happening and they could help address the situation. I would also hope that the camp, knowing they’re aware of what’s going on, is doing their part to stop this type of bullying.

If you are faced with bullying, here are some tips shared by Autism File (based on feedback from their own readers) that could help:

  • Find out what your school district’s (or camp’s) policy on bullying is and be prepared to advocate for better if needed.
  • Share social stories with your child that deal with bullying.
  • Consider a volunteer job at your child’s school (or camp) which will give you an opportunity to watch out for any questionable actions or words that might be red flags for bullying.
  • Employ a buddy system by asking a trusted teacher, aide, or even a non-disabled peer to keep an eye out for any negative actions or words directed towards your child.

Read more of their tips here.

Lynsey Community Manager