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Autism News

Two autism research areas, 2017

Wide-ranging research into the many areas of human biology associated with autism produced several themes in Year 2017’s published autism research.  Here are two:

  • Early brain development: several studies showed that brains of infants and even newborns later diagnosed with autism develop differently than do typical babies.

  • Gene therapy: Replacing defective genes is making headway in several non-autism-related conditions in recent times, and in the autism field, several studies this year underscore gene therapy’s potential for reversing various autism-related conditions like Rett syndrome.

 

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

S. Diego, CA — Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have performed a successful test of NitroSynapsin, an experimental new drug, in a mouse model of an autism disorder.  The drug largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the mice.  The scientists are now hopeful that the drug may one day be able to restore a brain electrical signaling imbalance found in virtually all forms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

 

The research was published recently in Nature Communications.

 

New York Transit Museum hosts high-functioning autism program

Brooklyn, NY — Since 2012, a little-known autism program called Subway Sleuths has been operating out of the New York Transit Museum, the Big Apple’s subterranean subway museum located in a former working subway station in downtown Brooklyn.

 

Subway Sleuths was created after museum staff noticed trains’ attraction for children with autism.  Kids with the disorder tend to fixate on intricate details like train schedules or parts.

 

Today, Subway Sleuths consists of several weekly after-school programs each school-year semester.  Playing detail-oriented clue-hunting group games, children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn how better communicate and practice various other social skills.  Each group is led by a museum educator, a speech-language pathologist and a special-education teacher.

 

Brain stimulation restores normal social behavior in mice

Dallas, TX — Brain experiments on mice at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that social impairments in the mice were correctable by using a kind of brain stimulation called neuromodulation.  Awkwardness and other social impairments are a common feature of autism.

 

Research first showed that a specific area of the part of the brain called the cerebellum is related to autism.  Researchers then found a new connection between that part of the cerebellum and the cortex, another part of the brain.  That connection was also shown to be autism-related.

 

Researchers next demonstrated that both mice and humans have that same connection—and that the connection is disrupted in children who have autism.

 

They then disrupted that part of the cerebellum in mice—resulting in autistic behaviors in the mice.  But upon undoing that disruption using neuromodulation, the mice reverted to normal.

 

Researchers are now seeing if neuromodulation would be safe on children with autism.  The brain stimulation technique has already been used to treat schizophrenia.

 

The research was published in the Dec. issue of Nature Neuroscience.

 

Bill would create more oversight of representative payees

Washington, D.C. — Under the recently-introduced Congressional legislation, people legally designated to collect Social Security payments for people with disabilities would be subject to more independent and more effective oversight.

 

The legislation calls for additional reviews of payee performance.  It would require that protection and advocacy groups in each state handle such evaluations on behalf of the Social Security Administration (SSA).

 

The bill would also free parents or spouses living with a person with a disability from having to complete an annual accounting form for representative payees. The bill would also codify a policy barring those with certain criminal convictions from serving as payees.

 

The Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2017 was introduced Dec. 8 in the House of Representatives by Reps. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) and John Larson (D-Conn.).  It was cosponsored by 20 others, including New York’s Rep. Brian Higgins (D-26th Dist.)  It currently has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

 

About 6.2 million individuals or organizations act as representative payees on behalf of some eight million beneficiaries, according to the SSA.

 

Graduation rates for students with disabilities still rising

Washington, D.C. —The National Center for Education Statistics (NCED) says that high school graduation rates for students with disabilities continues its upward trend of recent years.

 

According to figures released in December by the NCED, a division of the federal U.S. Department of Education, 65.5 percent of U.S. high schoolers with disabilities graduated in 2016, the latest year for which data are available.  That’s up from 64.6 percent the year prior, marking the fifth consecutive year that the rate has increased.

 

The improvement for students with disabilities comes as the national graduation rate for all high schoolers reached a record high of 84.1 percent.

 

As in past years, graduation rates for students with disabilities varied widely from state to state, ranging from a low of 29.3 in Nevada to a high of 84.3 percent in Arkansas. Federal officials have indicated that reporting differences may contribute to the variation.