10/26 - Latest in Autism News

  • How Autism in Girls May Reveal the Disorder's Secrets

    Think autism and an image of an awkward boy typically emerges, but the way autism strikes girls - or doesn't - may help reveal some of the developmental disorder's frustrating secrets.

    Autism is at least four times more common in boys, but scientists taking a closer look are finding some gender-based surprises: Many girls with autism have social skills that can mask the condition. And some girls do not show symptoms of autism even when they have the same genetic mutations seen in boys with the condition.

    "Autism may not be the same thing in boys and girls," said Kevin Pelphrey, an autism researcher at George Washington University.

    The causes of autism aren't known. Genetic mutations are thought to play a role, and outside factors including older parents and premature birth also have been implicated. But the gender effect is now a hot topic in autism research and one that could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating a condition that affects at least 1 in 68 U.S. children.


    Brain imaging suggests there may be an additional explanation for why many girls with autism have more subtle symptoms than boys, Pelphrey said. Even in girls who clearly have autism, he said, brain regions involved in social behavior that are normally affected are less severely impaired.

    Also, recent studies on autism-linked genes have found that girls can have the same kinds of genetic mutations seen in boys with autism, but not show symptoms. They "even need to have twice as many mutations on average to actually manifest with autism," said Joseph Buxbaum, director of an autism center at Mount Sinai medical school in New York.

    He is among researchers trying to identify a "protective factor" that may explain how some girls at genetic risk remain unaffected - perhaps a protein or other biological marker that could be turned into a drug or other therapy to treat or even prevent autism.

    That possibility is likely a long way off, but Pelphrey said this line of research has prompted excitement among autism scientists.


    Buxbaum is involved in the Autism Sisters Project, which is seeking to enroll hundreds of families with autistic sons but unaffected daughters. The project began last year with the goal of building a big database that scientists can use to look for genetic clues and protective factors. Girls and their families visit the New York lab to give saliva samples for DNA analysis and efforts are underway to expand DNA collection to other sites.

    Evee Bak, 15, hopes her samples will eventually benefit her older brother Tommy. The suburban Philadelphia siblings are just a year apart. They play in a garage band- Evee on drums, Tommy on guitar and vocals. He's a masterful musician, but has trouble reading social cues and doing things that come easy to other teens, like shopping alone or using public transportation.

    Her focus is "taking care of Tommy and making sure he's happy and healthy," Evee said.

    Tommy was diagnosed at age 3, after he stopped using words he'd learned months earlier and showed unusual behavior including repetitively lining up toys instead of playing with them.

    "He's a wonderful person and I don't think that we'd ever want to change him," said his mother, Erin Lopes. But they'd welcome anything that could help him function as independently as possible "because I think that's what he really wants, is to be independent."


    Autism is diagnosed by observing behavior, there's no blood test for it. Some experts say gender-based differences highlight a need to develop different ways to evaluate boys and girls.

    Autism screening, recommended for kids starting at 18 months, uses tools based on research in autistic boys, said Rachel Loftin, clinical director of an autism center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

    One widely used screening questionnaire for parents includes questions like "Does your child play make-believe, make eye contact, seek praise, show interest in other children?" Girls with autism, especially mild cases, often don't show obvious problems in those categories - they're more likely than affected boys to play pretend with toys rather than lining them up by size or shape. Loftin said they're also more likely to show concern for another person's feelings.

    Government data show that all forms of autism, mild to severe, are more common in boys and that the average age at diagnosis is 4 years in boys and girls. But Loftin said anecdotal evidence suggests a two-year lag time in diagnosis for girls, especially those with mild cases. And she suspects many cases are missed or misdiagnosed. That means a delay in early intensive behavior therapy that is the main treatment for autism.

    Some girls manage to camouflage symptoms until pressures to fit in at school become overwhelming, delaying diagnosis until around age 8 or 9, said Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research-funding group which is paying for the Sisters Project.

    The prominent autism advocate, professor and author Temple Grandin wasn't fully verbal until age 4.  "It was obvious something was drastically wrong with me," Grandin said. But she said she learned to adapt, in part because with "1950's parenting" she was faced with intense encouragement to develop social skills and other talents.


    Allison Klein worried about her daughter, Jillian, for three years before the little girl was finally diagnosed with mild autism. Jillian couldn't tolerate loud noises, she grew withdrawn around her preschool classmates and she lagged behind academically. She was labeled anxious, not autistic.

    "She didn't meet the stereotypical behaviors of no eye contact, no communication, hand flapping," Klein said. Teachers and doctors suggested she was just shy and would grow out of it.

    A few months ago, just before Jillian turned 6, Loftin confirmed Klein's concerns.

    Even Pelphrey, the autism researcher, had a similar experience. His daughter, Frances, was diagnosed almost four years after her behavior raised concerns. She didn't walk or talk until she was almost 3 years old. She tried to be "cuddly" and interact with others, but sometimes she did so awkwardly.

    "Nobody really wanted to make the call," Pelphrey said. "Had she been a boy, there would have been much more pressure to look into it."

    October 25, 2015, ABC News, By LINDSEY TANNER

    10/17 - Latest in Autism News

    Less than one month ago, Christopher Cornelius was asked a very simple question, to which he gave a heartbreaking answer.

    The question: Some of my friends are?

    The answer from the 11-year-old New Jersey boy: No one.

    But what a difference a month makes.

    After his dad took a photo of the school assignment and posted it to his Facebook page, it quickly went viral. And thousands stepped up to be Christopher's friend.

    His father, Bob Cornelius, estimates his son has received between 4,000 to 5,000 letters. So he's started "Christopher's Thank You Campaign" and a GoFundMe page to finance the postage and supplies for the family to respond to people who reached out to them. The goal is to raise $3,000.

    "At this point, we have received thousands upon thousands of letters of support based upon the Facebook post that went viral about two and a half weeks ago," he wrote on the page. "If you recall, my son, Christopher, who is on the autistic spectrum, when asked on a school assignment to list his friends, wrote 'No One.'"

    Though Christopher has received letters from people in all walks of life, "by far, the largest contingent is other children," the father said.

    Bob Cornelius told ABC News, "He loves the letters and presents, and I love that conversations that have happened around dinner tables, in classrooms and in churches all over."

    October 14, 2016, ABC News

    10/10 - Latest in Autism News

    Autism Center robbed two nights in a row

    Alpine Autism Center is having an unlucky streak of events over the past few years. The center was spared during the Waldo Canyon Fire, but last year suffered major flood damage. Now they've been the victim of robberies two nights in a row.

    The Alpine Autism Center is located in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. On Thursday and Friday night the center got robbed, and the thieves left mysterious notes behind.

    "We went through the Waldo Canyon Fire and the building was saved," said Todd McLane, Alpine's Director of Operations. "We had a flood last August --devastated the building. We were displaced for almost seven months. We're still trying to get back on our feet and we just can't get a break. Now we have people coming in the building, stealing the equipment, and the only people they're hurting are really our kids."

    On Friday, Alpine Autism Center staff realized laptops, desktop computers, and iPads were stolen overnight. On Saturday, McLane noticed cash was stolen and office files rummaged through. Police found no source of entry from the first robbery, the second robbery saw the thieves dropping in from the roof.

    "There was an access panel up in the ceiling... they dropped down through a door that apparently was not locked. [They] came through the ceiling right here and dropped down to the floor and got into the building," McLane said. 

    The thieves used a makeshift wood latter to get on the roof, getting away with over $10,000 worth of cash and equipment.

    One of the biggest losses was a collection of iPads with special software to help non-verbal students communicate.

    "The particular information that is on the equipment is lost now, and we're going to have to start over. So even coming into the center on Monday is going to be a setback for us," McLane said.

    McLane said he thinks the thief could be someone that knows the building well. But they didn't just steal, they also left something behind.

    "They left a note on one of the computer monitors," McLane said. "It said 'No hard feelings.'"

    Three notes have been given to police. The third was on a picture removed from the lobby wall and placed in another room.

    "Found in our storage room and it had a note stuck on it," McLane said. "The note said, 'no bad deed undone... sorry.'"

    News 5 is working to get images of the notes left by the thieves. Anyone who may have seen suspicious activity in the Mountain Shadows Neighborhood Thursday or Friday night should contact CSPD.

    Oct 09, 2016 12:48 AM, By Ted Skrobac


    9/26 -Latest in Autism News

    The language of senses

    Sight, touch and hearing are our windows to the world: these sensory channels send a constant flow of information to the brain, which acts to sort out and integrate these signals, allowing us to perceive the world and interact with our environment. But how do these sensory pathways emerge during development?

    Sight, touch and hearing are our windows to the world: these sensory channels send a constant flow of information to the brain, which acts to sort out and integrate these signals, allowing us to perceive the world and interact with our environment. But how do these sensory pathways emerge during development? Do they share a common structure, or, on the contrary, do they emerge independently, each with its specific features? By identifying gene expression signatures common to sight, touch and hearing, neuroscientists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, discovered a sensory "lingua franca" which facilitates the brain's interpretation and integration of sensory input. These results, to be published in Nature, pave the way toward a better understanding of perception and communication disorders.

    The ability to detect and sort various kinds of stimuli is essential to interact with surrounding objects and people, and to communicate correctly. Indeed, social interaction deficits in people living with autism appear to be partly due difficulties in detecting and interpreting sensory signals. But how does the brain interpret and integrate the stimuli sent by our five senses? It is this very question which Denis Jabaudon, Professor at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and his team have addressed. 'We studied the genetic structure of tactile, visual and auditory pathways in mice,' explains Laura Frangeul, the study first author. 'By observing neuronal gene expression in these distinct pathways during development, we detected common patterns, as if an underlying genetic language was bringing them together.'

    A common language with tailored modulations

    The Geneva neuroscientists' results thus reveal that during development, the various sensory pathways initially share a common gene expression structure, which then adapts to the activity of the organ attached to each sense. 'This process only takes a few days in mice but could take up to several months in human beings, whose development is much longer and very sensitive to the environment,' underlines Denis Jabaudon.

    This genetic 'lingua franca' therefore allows the various sensory pathways to be built according to a similar architecture regardless of their very different functions. It is this shared language that allows the brain to accurately interpret stimuli coming from different sources, and to compose a coherent representation of their combined meaning.

    Constant and necessary interactions

    Sharing the same building plan also explains how various pathways can mutually balance out, for example when touch or hearing become highly over-developed in people born blind. This discovery also explains why sensory interferences, including synesthesias and hallucinations, can occur in people suffering from neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism or schizophrenia.

    Denis Jabaudon concludes: 'Our results allow us to better understand how the brain circuits which build our representation of the world assemble during development. We are now able to examine how these findings could be put to use to repair them when they fail.'

    September 26, 2016, by Université de GenèveNote: Content may be edited for style and length.