2/8 - Latest in Autism News

Military spouses say needs for children with autism unmet

The majority of U.S. military spouses say the needs for their children with autism are unmet, according to a Penn State study.

All of the military spouses who participated in the study reported having at least one incident of a need for intervention or service going unmet for their oldest child with autism.

The most common unmet need reported was social skills therapy at 88 percent, followed by behavioral management intervention, speech-language therapy and physical or occupational therapy.

Some of the participants have more than one child with autism. Spouses were connected to all U.S. military branches.

The study, led by Communication and Sciences Disorders doctoral student Jennifer Davis, offers a rare glimpse at the challenges military families face while raising at least one child with autism. Little peer-reviewed research has been conducted in this area.

Military families are especially vulnerable to parenting challenges due to frequent relocation. When military families have children with autism, relocation can have a compounded effect, according to researchers.

Part of the challenge is acclimating to environmental changes, which can be particularly difficult for children with autism. Relocation can also interrupt and hinder access to necessary services and intervention programs.

The 189 families in the sample reported relocating between two and 11 times since the birth of their oldest child with autism.

Most military spouses reported problems accessing the services they felt their child with autism needed. Specifically:

78 percent reported delayed access to intervention services as a result of relocation.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents reported feeling the continuity of services between locations to be lacking.

Roughly 57 percent were dissatisfied with the frequency of interventions and services following relocation.

Additionally, 58 percent of military spouses reported difficulty finding doctors or other medical professionals who were trained to treat their child's disability.

"These families face a lot of challenges at once and experience relocation every two to three years," Davis said. "Science shows that consistency in intervention and educational services is effective and important for children with autism and such consistency appears compromised currently for military families, according to our findings."

Davis also noted that 15 military spouses did not list any family needs, therefore, services in some locations may be adequate for some families.

To address the gap, researchers suggest establishing new programs while improving existing programs to help eliminate some barriers military families face. As part of a solution, researchers suggest telehealth interventions, which have the potential to increase availability and accessibility of services.

In response to the findings, Davis is developing a mentoring program to link military spouses with children with autism and varying levels of relocation experience. This will create a support system for families that may improve their experiences with relocating.

The results of the study were published in the January online edition of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

February 8, 2016,  Jennifer Miller

1/28 - Latest in Autism News

Scientists have pinpointed the cells that are likely to trigger common brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Multiple Sclerosis and intellectual disabilities.

It is the first time researchers have been able to identify the particular cell types that malfunction in a wide range of brain diseases.

Scientists say the findings offer a roadmap for the development of new therapies to target the conditions.

The researchers from the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences used advanced gene analysis techniques to investigate which genes were switched on in specific types of brain cells.

They then compared this information with genes that are known to be linked to each of the most common brain conditions -- Alzheimer's disease, anxiety disorders, autism, intellectual disability, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Their findings reveal that for some conditions, the support cells rather than the neurons that transmit messages in the brain are most likely to be the first affected.

Alzheimer's disease, for example, is characterised by damage to the neurons. Previous efforts to treat the condition have focused on trying to repair this damage.

The study found that a different cell type -- called microglial cells -- are responsible for triggering Alzheimer's and that damage to the neurons is a secondary symptom of disease progression.

Researchers say that developing medicines that target microglial cells could offer hope for treating the illness.

The approach could also be used to find new treatment targets for other diseases that have a genetic basis, the researchers say.

Dr Nathan Skene, who carried out the study with Professor Seth Grant, said: "The brain is the most complex organ made up from a tangle of many cell types and sorting out which of these cells go wrong in disease is of critical importance to developing new medicines."

Professor Seth Grant said: "We are in the midst of scientific revolution where advanced molecular methods are disentangling the Gordian Knot of the brain and completely unexpected new pathways to solving diseases are emerging. There is a pressing need to exploit the remarkable insights from the study."

1/28/16,  Frontiers in Neuroscience.

1/19 - Latest in Autism News

Canyons center helps families cope with various challenges

Parenting doesn't come with a book of instructions on how to help families deal with challenging issues such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and divorce; but the Canyons Family Center can help.

Parenting doesn’t come with a book of instructions on how to help families deal with challenging issues such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and divorce — but the Canyons Family Center can help.

SANDY — Parenting doesn’t come with a book of instructions on how to help families deal with challenging issues such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and divorce — but the Canyons Family Center can help.

The center, 8449 S. 150 West, provides help to parents and families in the Canyons School District by offering counseling, support groups and education classes. All of the center’s services are offered at no charge.

Starting in January, the center will launch a six-week series of specialty classes aimed at helping parents and children tackle life’s challenges and relieve stress.

The following specialty classes will take place starting Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

• Superheroes children’s group: A class for students in third through sixth grades who are diagnosed with high-functioning autism or autism spectrum disorders. Each session provides practice of one social skill through group activities.

• Relax and manage your stress: A class designed to teach specific and helpful strategies to manage stress and practice mindfulness.

• Effective parenting: A class for parents and caregivers, designed to give parents positive parenting strategies that have been proved successful.

• Autism spectrum disorder parenting supports:This support group will give parents strategies to deal with a child diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder.

The following specialty classes will take place starting Wednesday, Jan. 20, from 6:30-8:30 p.m.:

• Banana splits, a divorce class for kids: A class for students in third through sixth grades to help aid students in coping with the changes that come from divorce.

• Parenting the ADHD child: A class for families struggling with parenting children with ADHD.

More information on specialty classes, as well as regularly scheduled three-week classes regarding anger management, truancy and early development, can be found on the Canyons Family Center web page at canyonsdistrict.org/component/k2/item/374-family-center. To register for a class, call 801-826-8190.

January 15, 2015

1/13 - Latest in Autism News

Untapped region in brain cell offers goldmine of drug targets for new autism treatments

Discovery could shed light on how genetic mutations lead to the disease

Studies have linked mutations in the gene Rbfox1 to a higher risk of autism.

UCLA scientists have discovered that an overlooked region in brain cells houses a motherlode of mutated genes previously tied to autism. Recently published in Neuron, the finding could provide fresh drug targets and lead to new therapies for the disorder, which affects one in 68 children in the United States.

“Our discovery will shed new light on how genetic mutations lead to autism,” said principal investigator Dr. Kelsey Martin, interim dean and a professor of biological chemistry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Before we can develop an effective therapy to target a gene, we must first understand how the gene operates in the cell.”

The UCLA team focused on a gene called Rbfox1, which regulates how the cell makes proteins — the molecular workhorses that perform essential tasks in cells. Proteins also help shape the body’s tissues and organs, like the brain.

“Identifying a gene’s function is critical for molecular medicine,” said coauthor Daniel Geschwind, the Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and a professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCLA. “My colleagues discovered that Rbfox1 has an entirely new function that other scientists had overlooked.”

Earlier studies by Geschwind and others have linked mutations in Rbfox1 to an increased risk for autism, which makes Rbfox1 an especially important gene to study.  To better understand how Rbfox1 functions, Martin teamed up with UCLA molecular geneticist Douglas Black. The two blended a cell biology approach with powerful DNA-sequencing technology to reveal the identities of the genes controlled by Rbfox1.

“Our results turned up an exciting new set of genetic connections,” said Black, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. “We found that where Rbfox1 was located in the cell determined what genes it influenced.”

First author Ji-Ann Lee, a researcher in Martin’s lab, compared Rbfox1’s function in the cell’s nucleus, or command center, to its function in the cytoplasm, the gel-like fluid that surrounds the cell’s nucleus.

“Scientists used to think that Rbfox1 worked primarily in the nucleus to allow genes to make multiple proteins. We were surprised to see that Rbfox1 also controls more than 100 genes in the cytoplasm,” Lee said. “A majority of these genes encode proteins critical to the brain’s development and have been tied to autism risk.”

Furthermore, the genes controlled by Rbfox1 in the cell’s nucleus were completely different from those it controlled in the cell’s cytoplasm.

The UCLA team’s separation of these two functions revealed that the genes targeted by RBfox1 in the cell’s cytoplasm were highly enriched in proteins vital to the developing brain. Autism risk increases when these genes go awry.

“While some experts have hinted at the role of cytoplasmic gene control by Rbfox1 in autism risk, no one has systematically explored it in nerve cells before,” said Martin, who is also a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “Our study is the first to discover that dozens of autism risk genes have special functions in the cytoplasm and share common pathways in regulating the brain cells.”

To pinpoint new drug targets, the researchers’ next step will be to learn how Rbfox1 controls genes in the cytoplasm.

“This is a fundamental discovery that poses significant treatment implications,” Geschwind  concluded. “Because so many genes are linked to autism risk, identifying common pathways where these genes overlap will greatly simplify our ability to develop new treatments.”

The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. UCLA scientists Andrey Damianov, Chia-Ho Lin, Mariana Fontes, Neelroop Parkshak and Erik Anderson also contributed to the research.

January 11, 2016, Elaine Schmidt