Overlooking Girls with Autism

molecularautism.com

molecularautism.com

We know that for every four boys diagnosed with autism, there is only one girl diagnosed. And while that ratio may imply that autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, it doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the case.

According to a new study, there are significant brain structure and behavior deviations between boys and girls touched by autism. Girls with autism often display symptoms differently—specifically, girls tend to show less repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping, a narrow scope of focus, or even the need for rigid routines are not as prominent.

What this means is that girls with autism could be getting overlooked, or it may make it harder for them to get the right kind of therapy. This type of study could prove extremely helpful in understanding how autism differs between the sexes, leading to better diagnostic criteria and treatment.

Check out more on this study.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

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

 

Some Perspective

Autism AwarenessAs we begin a month dedicated to Autism Awareness, I came across this beautifully written piece by mom-of-four, Mary Hickey. Mary has three sons on the autism spectrum and she writes about how autism has not been a secret in her family – it’s something that has been embraced so that her sons not only get to understand themselves better, but that there’s a community of support surrounding them.

She also shares her perspective on how she discussed autism with her children, which is something many parents struggle with – how, and when, (and if) I discuss my child’s autism diagnosis with them. Mary’s sons came to some awareness on their own at different ages, asking questions – and it was at those moments that she discussed it with them. And for parents that may be facing a similar situation, she shares what those first conversations sounded like:

Many parents feel paralyzed by figuring out how to approach the initial discussion. I kept the first conversation simple, creating space and encouragement for questions and whatever feelings came up. It differed slightly for each boy, but the overall conversation went like this: “Every person has things that are easy for them and things that they are working on. Your brain works in a very special way that is called autism. It means that some things that are hard for other people, like remembering numbers and all the states and capitols, are easy for you. But it also means that some things, like understanding conversations or what people are trying to say, can be hard for you. It is why sometimes noises, smells and the feeling of things bother you too. But it also means that you are amazing for how hard you work to get through it all! There are a lot of strategies we can use to help make the things that are tough a bit easier. There are lots of people in the world with autism and so many of them have done amazing things. Would you like to learn about some of them?”

While this is a story of how one parent helped her children with their own self-awareness, we honor the broader idea of raising awareness for all, and ultimately, understanding and support. We hope the continued efforts of the autism community – and especially now during Autism Awareness month – will help do just that.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Reaction to Jerry Seinfeld’s Self-Diagnosis

NBC News

NBC News

If you’ve spent any time online the last few days, you’re very likely to have come across the news that comedian Jerry Seinfeld speculates he is on the autism spectrum. If you haven’t yet seen/heard it, this all came out of an interview he did with NBC News’s Brian Williams, during which he said:

“I think on a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum. Basic social engagement is really a struggle. I’m very literal, when people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying. But I don’t see it as—as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternative mindset.”

When I first read what he had to say, my initial reaction was–well, that could be possible.  And certainly lots of respect to him to share something that personal.  But then my next thought was – people are going to be mad. And I can definitely understand that too. People may (and did, here for example…) think—just because Jerry Seinfeld struggles with social interaction doesn’t mean he has autism…many people are not comfortable socially, but that doesn’t mean you can just diagnose yourself as being autistic. And like I said, I completely get that perspective.

But what I was happy to see was that, for the most part, the reception of his self-diagnosis was met with positivity. The spectrum is wide and the severity at which autism can impact someone is greatly varied. With as many people being diagnosed with autism today, we can bet that there are many others who may have very high-functioning autism that don’t have an official diagnosis – and are able to get through life without much, or any, real intervention.  And he’s not the first celebrity to recognize himself with autism – others such as Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah also are believed to have autism.

What I really like from this is that he went out there and identified himself with something that often carries stigma.  If nothing else, he was able to bring some awareness and light to the autism discussion and he’s also done much for autism in a charitable fashion as well. And while he, himself, may not represent the majority of those touched by autism and the impairment it can have on their development, if he’s able to use his public status to further raise awareness, then hats off to him.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Will New Diagnostic Criteria Lower Autism Rates?

According to a new study, the answer could be – yes. As we talked about here, DSM-5 was released last year – which included new diagnostic criteria for autism. Some experts have said that the new criteria set a higher threshold for autism than the previous version (DSM-4).  This may be true.DSM-5 Manual of Mental Disorders

As noted in this article, researchers applied the new symptom checklist to more than 6,000 children who already met the old definitions for autism and related disorders, the study team found that about 19% of kids would not get an autism diagnosis today. The difference between the new and older criteria is that the new criteria use seven diagnostic criteria (versus 12 criteria in the previous edition) and the new version takes historical behavior into consideration along with current behavior.

When the criteria first came out last year, there was already concern from the autism community that the new criteria would potentially impact – even remove — an existing diagnosis – and strip someone of the therapy (at least financially) that was proving beneficial.  (there was also reaction over the fact that Asperger’s is now falling under the general umbrella of autism versus being separated out.)

So is this study supporting those concerns? Although there are professionals in the field that have said parents and caregivers shouldn’t worry that they’ll need to get their children ‘re-diagnosed,” there are some parents out there already saying this exact thing has happened – and they are now fighting to get back the services their children need.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

8 Inspiring Members of the Autism Community

 

IMDb

IMDb

Huffington Post just unveiled a short list of people in the public eye who have spoken out about their Asperger’s and autism diagnosis – helping to shed a positive light on it. Some of those on the list are not surprising – like Temple Grandin (who has professor, advocate and author as three of her many titles) – but most, I think you’llfind, are people you may not have known about. Although you may have recently heard that Daryl Hannah (actress from the movie Splash!) talked about her Asperger’s diagnosis – and singer Susan Boyle was also diagnosed with Asperger’s–you may be surprised to know that Dan Aykroyd– yes, that Dan Aykroyd from SNL, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, and about a million other movies) – has been diagnosed with both Tourette syndrome and Asperger’s. In fact, his Asperger’s actually inspired the movie Ghostbusters – he said that one of his symptoms was an obsession with ghosts and law enforcement and that he “became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the ideal of my film Ghostbusters was born.

Some others include Alexis Wineman – who served as Miss. Montana, the first Miss. America contestant with autism; James Durbin, a past American Idol contestant who found music to be a therapy; and, Heather Kuzmich, a former contestant on America’s Top Model. (Check out the full list and article here.)

Interesting list, and noted that the majority of those listed have an Asperger’s diagnosis. Granted that these members of the autism community are on the more high-functioning side, and recognizing that the spectrum is broad; however, I’m glad that all of these people have come forward to talk about their diagnosis because this can only continue to help increase awareness, and maybe even more acceptance of it as well. Whether it’s talking about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome (and/or continue to deal with), the therapies they’ve found, or even serving as a role model, utilizing their platform to share their experiences is, I’d agree, inspiring.

Lynsey, Community Manager 

Baby’s Gaze May Be An Early Predictor of Autism (study)

Nature JournalA new study is now out (published in Nature) that shows a baby’s gaze—when and how long a baby looks at your eyes—may prove to be an early indicator of autism. Researchers found that children who were found to have autism at age 3 looked less at people’s eyes when they were babies than children who did not develop autism.

As described in this NY Times blog, the study found that babies who later developed autism began spending less time looking at people’s eyes between 2 and 6 months old, and paid less attention to eyes as they grew older.

If this proves to be the case, then it could be the earliest behavioral sign to date of developing autism, and treatment could potentially begin much earlier on.  But researchers are quick to warn that specific technology would be needed to properly track eye movement in babies – and don’t want to create unnecessary concern, noting that if a child isn’t looking them in the eye all the time, it’s not an issue – children look all over the place.

As we all know, early intervention can make a world of difference in the treatment of autism, so this could prove to be a really important finding, helping to bring intervention in as early as possible.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Can A Blood Test Identify Autism?

NBC News

NBC News

That’s the question researchers are trying to determine with a new study underway.

As you know, diagnosing autism can be an especially trying process for parents, which in part can be due to the fact that diagnosis is solely based on behavioral and developmental testing/evaluations. Currently there is no blood test you can take that would clearly identify whether your child is at high risk for autism. But that could change.

A national study is underway at 20 medical sites across the country looking at the accuracy of a blood test for autism.  Researchers are going to see if there’s a specific genetic marker that can be linked to being at risk for having autism.

If they are able to locate such a marker and a blood test becomes an option, it could mean that autism can be diagnosed much earlier on, and treatment can begin sooner, which could be very beneficial to children.

To learn more about the study, check out this video from NBC News, or view study specifics here.

Lynsey, Community Manager