A New App May Help With Early Diagnosis of Autism

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A new video analysis tool may help spot early signs of autism. The software, which is currently under development as a tablet application, tracks and records infants’ activity during videotaped autism screening tests.

Results show the program is as effective at spotting behavioral markers of autism as experts giving the test themselves, and the software performs better than non-expert medical clinicians and students in training.

“We’re not trying to replace the experts,” says Jordan Hashemi, a graduate student in computer and electrical engineering at Duke University.

“We’re trying to transfer the knowledge of the relatively few autism experts available into classrooms and homes across the country. We want to give people tools they don’t currently have, because research has shown that early intervention can greatly impact the severity of the symptoms common in autism spectrum disorders.”

Read the full story here.

Photo Credit: Tia/Flickr

Marking World Autism Awareness Day: Sam’s Speech on Bullying

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For years, I have struggled to understand why my son was apparently “emotional,” “aggressive,” “grunting” and many other adjectives and verbs that were used by some of his teachers to describe his behavior. I was summoned to the school on many occasions, (sometimes as soon as I’ve dropped him off) with the request to pick him up, as he’s suspended for bad behavior. Looking at that angelic face, surrounded by curls, with these big teary green eyes with the longest eyelashes you’ve ever seen, I couldn’t help but wonder: What makes him act so differently at school than at home? What was the trigger that had such a strong influence on his normally very gentle character? His elementary school teachers finally agreed with me, after almost three years, in second grade, that they may need to do a functional behavioral analysis, to identify the trigger points and times of the day. And bingo! It was the lunch line! They fixed it by having him take a different route than the other kids, but they never really found out what exactly was happening in the lunch line that was so distressing to Sam. 

Today, almost 6 years after we had these issues, he finally told me what was going on back then. And it wasn’t in a candid one on one conversation, but in an essay he chose to write and present at school as part of his Language Arts public speaking assignment. 

The speech he wrote is focused on bullying.He researched and wrote it for days, and then he also practiced reading it. He asked me to listen to him and told me that he had looked for inspiration to none other than the speeches of Martin Luther King, and JFK. He had watched their videos for hours, until he decided to read his speech to me. (I must confess I could hear the speeches through the door of his room, but decided to wait until he was ready to tell me why he was watching them.)

There is no better day to release it than on the World Autism Awareness Day! Bullying is not exclusively reserved for children on the spectrum, however, it is almost inevitable as kids with these type of social interaction issues, are such easy targets. 

He said, he chose bullying as his topic because he wanted people to know, and “when they know, they won’t do it..” he said.. 

 

Here is Sam’s take on Bullying:

BULLYING: How to Identify and Stop It

There are at least 160,000 students who miss school every day because they are afraid of bullying, intimidation and abuse. This is a statistic from the national education association (NEA). The reason I decided to focus my research on bullying is because I have personally experienced how some children have said hurtful things about me, like how I smell bad or commented how I look. They say it in a way that I don’t see it coming and it makes me want to defend myself and fight back. I try to answer their insults to the best of my ability, and sometimes I feel frustrated, lonely and sad.

My teachers and my mom say I should ignore these remarks and I try, but sometimes it’s very hard. So I decided to use this project at school and let people know what bullying is and how to stop it. In this paper I talk about:

  • what are the signs of being bullied,
  • what are the types of bullying,
  • how to avoid bullies,
  • how often does the problem occur,
  • how to prevent bullying in schools and neighborhoods,
  • how schools should respond to bullying, and
  • cyberbullying: what is it and how to stop it.

The first signs of a child, being bullied are that he or she feels sad, isolated, scared, lonely, has no friends, and is frustrated. My personal experience is that I became agitated, angry, and I was very loud telling the kids, sometimes bad words to hurt them back. But that backfired because then the teachers and my mom thought I was bad and mean. It took me a long time to tell them how I felt.

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The types of bullying are

  • physical,
  • psychological
  • cyber.

I first experienced physical bullying when I was in second grade. A boy from my class used to sneak up behind me in line for lunch and give me a painful wedgie. Another time when I was in sixth grade, a boy used to kick me in my private parts and run away. There were many other instances when I experienced physical bullying. They are too many to mention.. Every time, they [the bullies] did it so fast that no one saw them. I was left with pain and anger. And my anger was very loud. It was so loud, that it got me in trouble and often I ended up in the principal’s office or in time out. Physical bullying can be very painful and scary. No one should have to go through it. I was too confused to tell the teachers or my mom what was happening. I thought I could defend myself.

Psychological bullying is even sneakier. Bullies can tell you something in passing or they can laugh at you and then they can say they are just joking with each other. My experiences were very difficult. Since as far back as I can remember, there were always some kids who would call me names, or who wouldn’t want to sit close to me, and laugh, and point, and make faces at me.But It was always very hard to prove, and even harder to stop. I hope that all kids who experience psychological bullying are brave enough to share it with teachers and parents, because that’s what helped me the most.

I don’t know much about cyberbullying because I don’t use technology to communicate with my classmates. From what I read about it, it can be as bad as physical and psychological bullying combined. Bullies can spread bad rumors about you and that can be also used to bully you at school physically and psychologically. So don’t let the bullies win, always talk to an adult and ask for help.  

There are not that many ways to avoid the bullies at school. They could be in your class, or in the lunch room, or even in your own neighborhood, so you would be stuck with them on the bus on your way home. Some of the ways that have worked for me are:

  • Just ignoring what they say
  • Walk away when they start annoying you
  • Surround yourself with friends
  • Stay in touch with a trusted adult – like talk to your teacher or principal. (I like to talk to my vice principal Mr. V! He always has great ideas for me!)

Bulling can happen once in a blue moon or as often as many times during the school day. It doesn’t matter how often it happens, it’s wrong and you shouldn’t be silent about it.

So, how to prevent bullying altogether. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or solution. Educating people about bullying is one way. Schools and neighborhoods can create focus groups and meet weekly to discuss ways of identifying bullying behaviors and bullied students, so that the problem doesn’t get worse. It would be a good idea to also educate students who are being bullied that there is no shame in admitting that your life is miserable because someone is bullying you.  Also teach students that it’s ok to ask for help.

I think schools should respond very quickly to cases of bullying and talk to the parents and students about it. The best way is to probably call an assembly of all students, parents and teachers and let them know what they found out and how they plan to deal with it. Of course no names should be mentioned, but the problem should be discussed immediately.

Cyberbullying is just what it sounds like: bullying on the internet, or through text and email. The cyber bullies send mean messages, post embarrassing photos of someone, kick them out of online groups, spread nasty rumors about the person, and many more.  The best strategy to dealing with cyberbullying is the same as in physical and psychological bullying: ignore and remove yourself from the situation. Next steps is to seek help from someone who is familiar with that technology, and find ways to block the bullies, while preserving what they write for evidence. Most of these cases can end up really badly for the bullies. Unlike the psychological and physical bullying, there is a lot of evidence that they are doing it.

In conclusion, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me overcome my problems with bullying and my reactions to it. I hope that this paper can help someone in their silent fight against bullying.

Thank you for your attention!

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–Sam

Autism looks different in female brains

The results, from brain scans, also suggests that a controversial view of autism, as an extreme version of the male brain, is only half correct
AUTISM seems to cause female, but not male, brains to look more masculine. This suggests that one controversial view of autism, as an extreme version of the male brain, may need rethinking.

Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK, has found that men tend to be better at systematising tasks and females better at empathising ones — though it’s unclear whether these differences are innate. As people with autism tend to be good systematisers and below average empathisers, he has argued that autism may be an extreme version of the male brain, or EMB.

Baron-Cohen’s team used MRI scans to look for differences in the volume of various brain regions in 120 adults, half men, half women, half with autism, half without. Differences between females with and without autism were similar to the differences between ordinary male and female brains, supporting the EMB theory. However, the brains of males with autism were no more male than those without (Brain, doi.org/nff).

“This is unexpected and will lead to a modification of EMB theory,” says Uta Frith at University College London, who was not involved in the research.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Autism looks different in female brain” New Scientist Magazine

Autism, Age, and Social Interactions

Originally posted on The Third Glance:

The original title of this post was “Mental age” and Autism, which really does fit to what I am about to discuss, but since it can be read numerous ways, I changed it so that the title itself was (hopefully) more clear. I also wanted to stress that this is how this applies to ME, and while I would guess that there are people who relate, it is by no means ubiquitous.

I’ve always had friends who are a little bit older than me. One of my closest friends is a year older (almost exactly) and we’ve been basically inseparable since first grade (for me, 2nd grade for her), despite being in different classrooms, schools, and ultimately, coasts of the continent, we’re still extremely close, thanks to the wonders of the internet. It’s a pattern I’ve seen most of my life. I do not get along with my…

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Braces! Day 2 SUCKS!!! or How to get Homunculus to move out…

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My poor munchkin is now with a metal smile! I did everything possible to persuade him how he will have the most handsome smile and his teeth will be aligned and beautiful.. and he really bought into it the first day… But today (day 2) has been a nightmare! He woke up in the middle of the night, he didn’t eat dinner, he hardly touched his breakfast, he complained and  complained, while I was trying to keep his spirits up and tell him it will get better very soon. 

Not even an hour after I took him to school, as I am driving in a manic 8am traffic jam on a 5 lane freeway (why do they even bother to make 5 lanes… it doesn’t help anything. They even open an extra emergency lane in the morning. Who are they kidding?! Nothing makes this molases move.) But I digress. It doesn’t take much to get me there with traffic. 

So I got the call while I was in the longest stretch between exits. Something like 5 miles until the next exit. And when traffic is trickling down like a clogged sink with dirty dishes in it (yep it’s gross!) and you get a call that your child is crying with real tears and is in excruciating pain, and you can hear his deep voice (he went from a squeaky high pitch we were so concerned about, to a firm bass-bariton in a matter of weeks when he turned 12) in the background… All you can think of is my heart aches with him and I need to be there in this second, and this traffic is holding me back.

I called the office that I will be late, waited (impatiently) in a 50 car line to cross a traffic light on my way back to the school, while still on the phone with him and his wonderful teacher, stopped over by the Orthodontist, Starbucks, and RightAid drugstore to get my supplies! 

I made it about 30 min later (for a distance of 5 miles that’s almost the speed of light in morning traffic) with a grande vanilla bean frapuccino, no whip (just the way he likes it), a bottle of Advil, Orajel, and a mouth rinse. I found him in the most miserable state I’ve seen him a long time, in the nurse’s room. His face was covered in tears. The pain was pouring out of his beautiful eyes. My heart sank. Here comes, I can just feel that wave pouring over me… the GUILT!

“I made him get braces! What’s so wrong with his teeth. Look at my teeth, I had no braces and I turned out ok and people complement me on my teeth. And now, I made my baby suffer! LIke it’s not enough that he needs to cope with all his other Aspie related shortcomings, he needed pain! You are a cruel mother! You should go right back and have these torture instruments removed from his mouth. .. “

Oh yeah, I have mastered this one! I have made a true commitment to daily punishment of myself. You know how I know? Because I have a little helper in this one. Yes. Not a day goes by without that little devil creeping into my head, pulling up a recliner (he always has one handy, go figure!) and a cocktail and just sitting there, basking in the fire glow of my raging guilt-tripping! And because I provide, he’s grown and is developing nicely. I’d say he is soon to be in the 90th percentile and growing. Yeah, I might as well call him my third child. And, oh, I have discovered, that I am so protective of him, that nothing can ever harm him. Anyone dare tell me that I should let him go and never look back – I am not a nice person with them. I find all the reasons (He helps me with the list) of why it has always been and always will be MY FAULT! Oh, yes, he’s there to stay! He’s got the food, he’s got the recliner, he’s got the constant supply of flaming guilty energy to keep him warm… Yes, I am growing my own personal Homunculus! Remember Faust and his Homunculus?

(this is a drawing of mine from some time ago, that I did name Homunculus.. thought it would fit here.)

 

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Yes, except instead of the Philosophy stone, I have no idea, what will my dude help me discover? I have no idea why I’m keeping him so cozy. Well, he is a flatterer, for starters. He knows exactly when to throw me a bone and tell me I am doing the right thing, because I’m being easy (on myself and on my kids) and he’s rewarding me for that. “See?, you are being understanding and patient and supportive..That’s what you should do. You should let things happen, and at the sign of the first resistance, just stop, give in, and let him do it, so he’s not feeling deprived.. because remember, after all, it’s your fault that he is different, and now you have to pay for it. And pay for it you shall. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure of it every single day. I’ll find a little thing for you to feel guilty about so you don’t forget. Yep.” 

But then something miraculous happened. Just as I was about to tell Sam “Ok Baby, let’s just go to the doctor and have these removed.. ” I was touching his forehead and cheeks lightly to make him feel better, as he was drinking his smoothie, when he looked up at me and said: “Ok Mom, I think I can do it! I am a big boy! Link would do it!”  (Link is the one who he identifies with from Zelda.. – video games people! learn your video games!)

My mouth was still open, ready to say what Homunculus wanted me to say, but Sam, a.k.a. Link just shut him up! I couldn’t believe it! And I knew it, that at this moment, Homunculus just realized, it ain’t gonna be that comfy any more in that head… So, I think he’s packing now.. I’ll keep you posted! 

Meanwhile, after Sam finished his smoothie, I applied the orajel, gave him an Advil and a big hug, and he just took off, because “I have a big art project to finish! Gotta run!” he said. 

As for me, I doubt there will be a greater accomplishment anywhere else in my life today. I don’t think anything else can top that. 

Even the traffic is now somehow a much needed slow down in the rapids, that is my world. 

 

I figure if Tom Cruise can pull off braces, then we can too! 

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Grow Out Of It, Will You?

When they say it’s World Autism Awareness Day, does that mean, everyone is now sufficiently aware? April 2nd, 2008, the UN announced that this would be THE day to learn more about autism. It was a big to-do. I was a producer at a major international TV network and we were going to cover this day, wall to wall! Programing was rich with actual autistic and Aspergers children and adults, experts, book authors, doctors, parents. I was thrilled to see so much attention as well as new information pouring out of the TV screen. I was so proud to have been an instrumental part in making this happen. Then, a year later, April 2nd came and went, and there was absolutely no mention of it. 

Stories have been coming and going, experts have agreed to disagree that vaccines are to blame partially for the increasing number of autism cases, children have miraculously “healed” while others have been accused of cold blooded murder

And on that note, I would like to point out to the media, that autism is NOT a mental disease! Had it been mental illness, there would have been a pill invented that would cure the aforementioned disorder… such pill is not invented as of yet, so would the media kindly cease the use of Mental Disease in connection with Autism and Aspergers !…. 

In a flurry of contradicting opinions, painful experiences and a myriad of “cures” or lack thereof, I can’t help but ask: what good has come of having a world autism awareness day? What has changed because the Empire State Building or some other building in Dubai, have been lit blue on April the 2nd, or that a woman has decided to keep her blue lights on a whole month in honor of autism? Do the stories in media, blogs, videos, films about it, changed anything.

Ummm NO, and paradoxically, the rate of autism diagnosis among school aged children has jumped in the last years. 

According to a CDC study:  Children aged 6–17 in 2011–2012 were born in 1994–200 (approximately) and would have been about ages 2–13 in 2007 when the previous NSCH was conducted. The estimated prevalence of parent-reported ASD for that birth cohort in 2007 was 1.16%.

Clearly, the awareness is now here. Loud and clear, we know that autism is prevalent. More children will be diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder this year, than with AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined! 

Unfortunately, the awareness has done nothing to make the disorder more socially accepted. While some neurotypical children are completely and totally accepting of their ASD peers, parents  of neurotypical children continue to be “protective” of their children and either discourage, or find a more politically correct form of avoidance of children on the spectrum. And later, when the neurotypical children become neurotypical adults and neurotypical parents of other neurotypical kids, they will do the same – prevent and avoid contact with anyone who’s slightly different than their child…  Until, one day, they find out, their child’s quirky habits and lack of eye contact, are just that – autism!

As a result of this social lack of acceptance, the ASD children’s social ineptness is exacerbated, and their social inadequateness, magnified by the rules and punishments imposed in the public (and private) school system.

This may go against the grain of many “autism friendly” private schools and their supporters, but my personal experience with a number of them, is that not only are they poorly equipped to meet the special needs of their already struggling students, but they are also not helpful when it comes to counseling and creating effective and comprehensive IEPs (individualized educational plans) and BIPs (behavior intervention plans).  

In the light of the latest depressing statistic that one in 50 children is on the spectrum, what is a parent to do? You have three choices: public, private or homeschool. I have tried all three. There is no panacea, there is no one straight and definitive answer, because it will always depend on the PEOPLE who work with your child. Homeschool is of course entirely dependent on the parent. One would think, this is perfect. The parent can create the perfect program, teach it to the child in a perfect way… Not so much…

Have you noticed how even parents of neurotypical children complain how the kids don’t come with instruction booklets, and they have no idea if they are doing the right thing with their children.

Well imagine how a parent of a special needs child feels.

First of all, there is the guilt trip. No matter what religion you are or not, it is inevitable that your conscience will whisper in your ear night and day, that it must be something that you did, or didn’t do that contributed to your child being that way. 

Then come the different stages of acceptance. Speech is delayed, so you attribute it to various factors, from too many languages spoken in the household, to a stressful situation, or a dog barked too loudly close to the baby, and he got scared.. . Then you sort of start to see the signs, but you refuse to look at them, and more importantly, refuse to label your child. I mean WHO wants that?! It’s AUTISM, it’s not LICE! You can’t just shampoo it off, wish it away.. NO. It will stay with you, and your child and your family your whole life! 

Then it slowly starts to sink in, and the permanent heavy feeling settles in, that your child may never have a life on his/her own, may never have a family of his/her own, and the worst fear of all parents:

When you die… your child…no matter how grown up he/she is, will have NO ONE to take care of him/her! 

This is probably the most terrifying fear of all… You feel so helpless in the face of time and this.. this.. whatever this “condition” is, that deters you from actually meeting your child!

I saw “The Notebook” the other day. Hadn’t seen it when it came out. Unfortunately, the descriptions cable gives, have usually little to do with what the movie is about. Her Alzheimer’s onset in many ways reminded me of what Aspergers is about. Except Alzheimers takes away someone you already knew. They had these glimpses of her real self, tiny increments of time, when she was “back” and could talk normally and recognized her husband. Well my son recognizes me, and everyone around him. He remembers everything he’s ever seen or read. We have long conversations about his interests and characters he plays with, or music he’s learned or listened…So in that regard, we are lucky. He has memory for all of us put together.  But will I ever have a conversation with him about how he feels about something? Will he ever grow out of it???

It’s a beast of a “condition” I must say… It is unpredictable as the March weather we have right now. There are some months, when he “outgrows” certain traits in leaps and bounds! He’s interested in cool things, he knows everything there is to know about the American Presidents, the planets and galaxies and stars, and most recently about guitar, guitar players since the 50s and their biographies. These are the times he usually excels in school, and has a mild and friendly demeanor and is extraordinarily engaged. 

These however are followed by periods of irritable disposition, lack of interest in anything school related, resistance to doing things he didn’t mind before – like writing his homework on his own, reading aloud in class. 

This outgrowing thing, is sort of a tango that we keep dancing during the years – two steps forward, one step back. 

My favorite is when friends who have no children on the spectrum, or any children what so ever, are quick to offer advice on how I shouldn’t give in and spoil him with satisfying his wishes or spending time with him when he asks. And I am yet to find the most polite way of telling them to go …… themselves. One doesn’t necessarily want to burn bridges, but if the “awareness” we’ve created in the past five years is still not effective, then it’s time for a different campaign.

That’s why I am attaching a blog post by someone who is going through this every day. Read their experience and spread the word.

It’s not only about acknowledging the problem and making people aware, it’s about looking for a solution, each and every day! 

And in the meantime, teach people to be tolerant, accepting and welcoming differences of any kind! 

 

Savant, a new type of artist

Always acknowledge and appreciate amazing Aspies!
Aleksander Vinter a.k.a. Savant, the Norwegian composer/musician/producer is on the spectrum, yet he creates music since he was 4! He transformed classical pieces, video game music, black metal and house, into a distinct style that music industry experts are trying to fit into dub step, electro house, glitch-hop, trap, and moombahcore.
He’s unique, multifaceted, prolific and obviously very humble!
At only 24, he just released his 9th album since 2009! He should be way more famous than he is.
Psyched that he’s making his first US trip and first stop in the ATL! Can’t wait! Shout out to Savant!

Savant – Mother Earth (Original Mix)
Savant’s track “Mother Earth” off of his December ‘Alchemist’ LP. Beautiful electro house tune, very similar synthwork to Mord Fustang. Enjoy!

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