11/28 -Latest in Autism News

No association between mother flu in pregnancy and increased child autism risk

A study of more than 196,000 children found no association between a mother having an influenza infection anytime during pregnancy and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in children, according to a new study published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

The study by Ousseny Zerbo, Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Oakland, and coauthors included 196,929 children born in the health system from 2000 through 2010 at a gestational age of at least 24 weeks.

Within the group, there were 1,400 mothers (0.7 percent) diagnosed with influenza and 45,231 mothers (23 percent) who received an influenza vaccination during pregnancy. There were 3,101 children (1.6 percent) diagnosed with ASD.

The authors report no association between increased risk of ASD and influenza vaccination during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. There was a suggestion of increased risk of ASD with maternal vaccination in the first trimester but the authors explain the finding was likely due to chance because it was not statistically significant after adjusting for multiple comparisons.

The study cannot establish causality and has several limitations, including ASD status determined by diagnoses on medical records and not validated by standardized clinical assessment for all cases. Also, the authors could not control for other possible unmeasured mitigating factors.

"We found no association between ASD risk and influenza infection during pregnancy or influenza vaccination during the second to third trimester of pregnancy. However, there was a suggestion of increased ASD risk among children whose mothers received influenza vaccinations early in pregnancy, although the association was insignificant after statistical correction for multiple comparisons. While we do not advocate changes in vaccine policy or practice, we believe that additional studies are warranted to further evaluate any potential associations between first-trimester maternal influenza vaccinationand autism," the study concludes.

AMA Pediatr. Published online November 28, 2016

11/21 - Latest in Autism News

Vitamin D supplementation improved symptoms of autism in a recent trial.

Studies have shown an association between the risk of autism spectrum disorder and vitamin D insufficiency. In this latest study, 109 children with autism spectrum disorder were randomized to receive four months of vitamin D3 supplementation or a placebo.

"Autism symptoms -- such as hyperactivity, social withdrawal, and others -- improved significantly following vitamin D3 supplementation but not after receiving placebo," said Dr. Khaled Saad, lead author of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatrystudy.

November 21, 2016, Science Daily, Materials provided by WileyNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

11/14 - Latest in Autism News

Smartphone app for early autism detection being developed by UB undergrad

Engineering professor Wenyao Xu (left) and undergraduate Kun Woo Cho show a smartphone with the autism tracking software they are developing. The purple blotches show where a child looks. This photo indicates no autism spectrum disorder. Photo: Douglas Levere.

“This technology fills the gap between someone suffering from autism to diagnosis and treatment.”

What if someone invented a smartphone app that could help detect autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children as young as 2 years old? Could it lead to earlier detection and therefore better treatment?

A study co-authored by a UB undergraduate and presented at the IEEE Wireless Health conference at the National Institutes of Health last month could provide the answer. It involves the creation of an app for cell phones, tablets or computers that tracks eye movement to determine, in less than a minute, if a child is showing signs of autism spectrum disorder.

Early detection is important

Early detection of autism can dramatically improve the benefits of treatment, but often the disability is not suspected until a child enters school.

“The brain continues to grow and develop after birth. The earlier the diagnosis, the better. Then we can inform families and begin therapies that will improve symptoms and outcome,” says Michelle Hartley-McAndrew, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Hartley-McAndrew, medical director of the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, is a co-author of the study.

“Although it’s never too late to start therapy, research demonstrates the earlier we diagnose, the better our outcomes,” adds co-author Kathy Ralabate Doody, assistant professor in the Department of Exceptional Education at SUNY Buffalo State. “We offer many educational interventions to help children with autism reach the same developmental milestones met by children with typical development.”

Young author, strong team

The principal author is Kun Woo Cho, an undergraduate majoring in computer science and engineering. She worked with her research advisor Wenyao Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “This is an ongoing study on how to analyze ASD by monitoring gaze patterns. I used the Wasserstein metric, designed the system protocol and visual stimuli using social scenes. This is teamwork and I learned from my adviser and graduate students in the lab,” Cho says. “On all the research work, we are working together.”

Those lab co-workers and study co-authors are Feng Lin, research scientist, and Chen Song and Xiaowei Xu, students in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Eye-tracking measurements

The app tracks eye movements of a child looking at pictures of social scenes — for example, those with multiple people. The eye movements of someone with ASD are often different from those of a person without autism. In the study, the app had an accuracy rating of 93.96 percent.

“Right now it is a prototype. We have to consider if other neurological conditions are included, like ADD, how that will affect the outcome,” Cho says.

The study, entitled “Gaze-Wasserstein: A Quantitative Screening Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was one of the top-ranked papers at the flagship Wireless Health conference this year, Wenyao Xu says.

Social scenes elicit different gaze patterns

Autism spectrum disorder affects 1-2 people per 1,000 worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with ASD.

“The beauty of the mobile app is that it can be used by parents at home to assess the risk of whether a child may have ASD,” Xu says. “This can allow families to seek therapy sooner and improve the benefits of treatment.”

The study found that photos of social scenes evoke the most dramatic differences in eye movement between children with and without ASD. The eye-tracking patterns of children with ASD looking at the photos are scattered, versus a more focused pattern of children without ASD.

“We speculate that it is due to their lack of ability to interpret and understand the relationship depicted in the social scene,” Cho says.

Using the app takes up to 54 seconds, which makes it less intrusive than other tests and valuable with children with short attention spans, Cho says.

The study included 32 children ranging in age from 2 to 10. Half of the children had been previously diagnosed with autism in accordance with DSM-V diagnostic criteria. The other half did not have ASD.

Further research will include expanding the study to another 300 to 400 children, which is about the annual enrollment for new evaluations at the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Leading to a product

Xu calls the research “highly interdisciplinary” because of the need for computer technology, psychology for stimuli selection and medical expertise for the application of autism screening.

“This technology fills the gap between someone suffering from autism to diagnosis and treatment,” Xu says.

Hartley-McAndrew says a lot of research is going into the use of technology to help in detecting autism. “We still don’t have a completely objective measure to diagnose ASD. The diagnosis is based on expert judgment. There are tests considered the ‘gold standards,’ but they still are somewhat subjective,” she explains.

One benefit of the technology is that parents could use it at home to determine if there is a need for clinical examination. And, she says, the technology crosses cultural lines and language is not a barrier.

“Nowadays, most people have a smartphone,” she notes.

By GROVE POTTER, November 14, 2016

11/7 - Latest in Autism News

Automated assessment of early autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder is usually diagnosed in early childhood, but genetic detection of this brain disorder could mean more timely interventions that improve life for the patient and their carers. Research published in the International Journal of Data Mining and Bioinformatics, suggests that machine learning might be used to analyze genetic data that points to an ASD diagnosis before symptoms become obvious.

 

Fuad Alkoot of PAAET in Kuwait, and Abdullah Alqallaf of Kuwait University, Kuwait, explain that unlike other conditions, such as cancer, little heed has been taken to the possibility of early genetic detection of autism. This is despite the fact that an early diagnosis could be very useful to parents and carers. The team has now developed a four-stage computerized neural network system for testing simplified genetic data. The system traces between 150 and 500 features present on different chromosomes and known to be associated with ASD when certain genetic patterns are present.

The team points out that symptoms in ASD increase as the child gets older and so earlier diagnosis can offer the opportunity of treatment that might ameliorate some problems associated with the condition. At present, diagnosis relies only on expert assessment by a medical specialist. However, ambiguous symptoms in the early stages may well preclude a definitive diagnosis. In contrast, the inclusion of genetic characteristics strongly correlated with ASD in the diagnostic process might offer a stronger diagnosis or putatively rule out autism in a given case. This approach could also have implications for a better understanding of how ASD arises, particularly as current theory suggests a mixture of genetic and environmental factors are involved.

"The implementation of such a system will lead to early intervention and enable us to detect if a subject has the potential to develop autism using the subjects' gene data, even before any behavioural symptoms start to appear," the team reports.

November 3, 2016, Inderscience