5/23 - Latest in Autism News


After 14 Years, Nonverbal Teenager Makes His Feelings About His Autism Known

A nonspeaking 16-year old boy with autism has finally communicated his thoughts through typing a letter.

A nonverbal teenaged boy with autism, whom his parents thought could not understand his surroundings, has dispelled such thoughts with a profound letter. For fourteen years, he had not spoken or made his emotions known.

Gordy Baylinson, 16, recently wrote a letter to Laurie Reyes, a police officer in charge of the Autism Safety Fair for Montgomery County. He called his and others who had autism's daily lives as "a daily game, except not fun, of tug-of-war." Baylinson's father posted the letter and the response from Reyes on Facebook.

Baylinson was able to write a 400-word letter after two one-hour sessions without being coached on what to say. He wrote it all on keyboard using his right index finger, Independent reported.

Meghan Robinson, Baylinson's autism therapist, has been teaching him Rapid Prompting Method, which was made for people with severe autism. From an alphabet board, Baylinson is now using a QWERTY keyboard and an iPad.

"My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear. My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six foot toddler, resists," said Baylinson. Baylinson then named some signs of nonspeaking autism to help police officers identify people who had the same condition as him.

Reyes was able to read the letter and said that she loved reading it. People reported that Reyes had invited Baylinson to a training session for police offers on dealing with individuals with autism in December.

Teenager's Parents Surprised

Baylinson's parents have seen him in a new light. "We had no clue. Every time we would read it, we'd just be like, 'Oh my God. This child was nonspeaking and everyone thought he couldn't do anything. And here he is writing this eloquent, even funny letter, with such empathy," Baylinson's father Evan said via Today.

His letter, according to Baylinson, is not one asking for pity. "I love myself just the way I am, drunken toddler body and all. This letter is, however, a cry for attention, recognition and acceptance," said Baylinson.

What do you think about Gordy's letter?   Please share your thoughts at questions@autismradio.org.

By Elizabeth Anderson,    Parent Herald | May 23, 4:55 AM

5/16 - Latest in Autism News

 A mother's voice may do far more than soothe her child, new research suggests.

When moms spoke, several areas of their children's brains were activated, the researchers reported. These included regions involved in emotion and reward processing, social functions, facial recognition and the detection of what is personally relevant.

But this heightened neurological reaction was reserved for mom alone, and not for other women, the investigators found.

"Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom's voice," study author Daniel Abrams, an instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said in a university news release.

"But surprisingly little is known about how the brain organizes itself around this very important sound source. We didn't realize that a mother's voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems," Abrams added.

Previous studies have shown that children favor their mother's voice, but the underlying mechanism for this preference was unclear.

"Nobody had really looked at the brain circuits that might be engaged," explained senior study author Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. "We wanted to know: Is it just auditory and voice-selective areas that respond differently, or is it more broad in terms of engagement, emotional reactivity and detection of salient stimuli?"

To answer these questions, researchers analyzed the brain scans of children listening to their mother's voices.

The study involved 24 children between the ages of 7 and 12 who were being raised by their biological mothers. All of the children had an IQ of at least 80 and none of the kids had developmental disorders, the researchers noted.

The children's parents answered questions about their child's communication skills, including their ability to interact and relate to others.

The children's mothers were recorded as they said three nonsense words.

"In this age range, where most children have good language skills, we didn't want to use words that had meaning because that would have engaged a whole different set of circuitry in the brain," Menon said.

Two mothers whose children were not involved in the study, and who didn't know any of the participants, were also recorded saying three nonsense words.

As the children listened to clips of the recordings of both their mother and the unfamiliar women, their brains were scanned using MRIs.

The researchers found the children could identify their own mother with 97 percent accuracy, even after listening to recordings less than 1 second long.

Several of the children's brain regions were more engaged by the sound of their mother's voice than by the stranger, the study revealed.

"The extent of the regions that were engaged was really quite surprising," Menon said.

The parts of the brain affected include areas involved in:

  • Hearing,
  • Emotions,
  • Reward processing,
  • Processing information about the self,
  • Perceiving and processing the sight of faces.

"We know that hearing mother's voice can be an important source of emotional comfort to children," Abrams said. "Here, we're showing the biological circuitry underlying that."

Children with stronger connections between these brain regions when they heard their mother's voice also had the strongest social communication abilities, the researchers said.

"This is an important new template for investigating social communication deficits in children with disorders such as autism," Menon said.

"Voice is one of the most important social communication cues," Menon said. "It's exciting to see that the echo of one's mother's voice lives on in so many brain systems."

May 16, 2016, HealthDay News

5/11 - Latest in Autism News

Autistic student leaves prom in tears after sister denied entry
CLARKSVILLE — Prom was supposed to be a special night for Jayce Wisenhunt, a special-needs student at Montgomery Central High School. But instead of dancing and laughter, he fled in tears after his date — his 24-year-old sister, Jessica Helling — was turned away Saturday night.

Now his father is speaking out, saying Montgomery Central humiliated his child, who has been bullied his whole life, and urging others to spread the word on social media.

"To be humiliated like he was ... is totally unacceptable," Tone Wisenhunt wrote on Facebook. "So please, everyone that is my friend, if you're a true friend, and love my son, spread the word of what Montgomery Central High School did to my little boy."

But Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools spokeswoman Elise Shelton said no one meant to hurt Jayce's feelings or make him feel singled out. Students were given a list of rules ahead of time and were told they could not bring any guest over age 20. That age limit had been 21 in the past.

Students also were required to submit names of their dates if they were not students at the school by May 4, and those between 18 and 20 would have to pass a background check by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, which provides school resource officers.

In Jayce's case, that wasn't done, and he didn't even sign up to attend, Shelton said.

"We didn't have information that this particular student was even attending prom because they didn't RSVP," she said.

She said a teacher texted a parent the Tuesday before prom to ask if he would be going but did not receive a yes or no answer. Instead Jayce showed up with his older sister, and Principal Christy Houston said he could stay but the sister would have to leave.

"I'm sorry this has taken on such a negative tone for the school and principal," Shelton said. "Mrs. Houston is a caring administrator who does so much for all the students. She did invite the student and his sister to have their photo taken since they had both dressed up. And she felt that the sister was OK when she explained that students could not bring guests over 20 years old, and the student's classmates and teachers would be there to provide him with any support."

She said the principal didn't see anyone in tears, and if she had, she would have talked to them more.

Jayce has autism and takes part in an off-campus job training program to help students transition to work, said family friend Michelle Gordon.

May 10, 2016, USA Today




5/10 - Latest in Autism News

Mouse model of autism offers insights to human patients, potential drug targets

A new mouse model of a genetically-linked type of autism reveals more about the role of genes in the disorder and the underlying brain changes associated with autism's social and learning problems.

Scientists at Duke Health who developed the new model also discovered that targeting a brain receptor in mice with this type of autism could ease repetitive behaviors and improve learning in some animals.

Their report, published May 10 in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that among more than a dozen different lines of mice developed around the world to mirror autism caused by mutations to the SHANK3 gene, Duke researchers are the first to create a mouse in which that gene has been completely eliminated.

The total "knockout" of the gene makes the model more effective for studying SHANK3-related autism and Phelan-McDermid syndrome in humans, many of whom are missing the gene completely, said senior author Yong-hui Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of pediatrics and neurobiology

"This is an important first step in understanding the process of the disorder in humans," Jiang said. "For many families affected by autism, this is something that could provide hope and potentially lead to a treatment."

SHANK3 is essential to the function of synapses in the brain and communication between neurons.

Jiang said autism researchers worldwide could use the mouse model to study ways to compensate for the gene and improve symptoms in people with autism spectrum disorders and Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, a more profound developmental condition caused by mutations to SHANK3 and other genes in chromosome 22.

Over the past five years, researchers observed abnormal brain activity in the SHANK3 knockout mice when compared to controls. The knockout mice would vocalize less, groom obsessively to the point of losing fur, fail to heed the established social hierarchy in groups, and were often unable to locate their own homes, wandering into strangers' nests.

"Some of the repetitive behaviors, inability to read social cues, and restricted interests copy many of the symptoms we see in people with autism," said co-lead author Alexandra Bey, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at the Duke University School of Medicine. Scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Fudan University in Shanghai also contributed to the report.

In one experiment, mice were placed in a box with numerous holes and paths to explore. Curious control mice roamed while knockout mice often stuck to a small area and repeated the same routes.

"This replicates what see in many children with autism," Bey said. "In children, perseveration is a behavior such as playing with the same toy over and over again in the same way, and not exploring new ways to interact with it."

As they studied brain activity in the knockout mice, the researchers also found prominent changes in a receptor in the brain known as mGluR5 and other proteins that support the function of neurons and synapses, said co-lead author Xiaoming Wang, M.D., Ph.D., senior research associate in Duke's department of pediatrics. The team tested two chemical compounds that target the mGluR5 receptor and found they could actually relieve the animals of some of their repetitive habits or enhance their learning.

"The regulation of this receptor is complex and gives rise to other behavioral challenges, but this is a clue for further research," Wang said. "In the future, it's possible that a similar class of drug could be tried on humans. We are interested to see our study help others around the world better understand this gene and how it affects synapses and hope the model can be generalized to other autism genes."

May 10, 2016, Duke University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.