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Autism News

Modified Alzheimer’s drug may treat some forms of autism

La Jolla, CA — A fusion of two existing drugs alleviates autism-like features in a mouse model of the condition, according to a new study.


The fusion drug, called NitroSynapsin, boosts social interest and alleviates some repetitive behaviors in mice missing one copy of the autism candidate gene MEF2C.


The drug appears to work by tamping down overactive brain signaling; a signaling imbalance that leads to excess neuronal activity may be a unifying feature of autism.


“We have a decent chance of treating many different forms of autism,” says lead researcher Stuart Lipton, co-director of the Neuroscience Translational Center at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.


It’s too soon to say whether the drug is safe and effective in people with these conditions, but the results are promising, experts say.


Bilingual kids with autism may do better

Montreal, Canada — In the first study of its kind, scientists have shown that bilingual children on the autism spectrum can switch mental gears more easily than those only speaking one language.


The comparison study by McGill University researchers builds on growing evidence to suggest that bilingualism enhances executive function, or a set of cognitive processes including attentional control, inhibiting behavior, and working memory.


The improvement in executive function is believed to happen because using two languages means that a person has to switch between mental modes smoothly and quickly.  Over time, with practice, this switching of linguistic systems may limber up overall cognitive performance.


The study was published in the journal Child Development.


Little change in proportion of U.S. kids with autism

Iowa City, IA — A Jan. 2 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that the proportion of U.S. children with autism may be leveling off after steadily climbing for two decades.


As of 2016, according to the report, approximately 2.8 percent of U.S. children from 3 to 17 years old had autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  While that’s up slightly from about 2.2 percent in 2014, the difference is too small to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance, University of Iowa researchers say.


The study also found differences based on race and ethnicity: 1.8 percent of Hispanic children had autism, compared with 2.8 percent of white kids and 2.5 percent of black youth.



Company Patents Autism Diagnosis Method

Burlington, NC — National blood testing laboratory LabCorp has received a U.S. patent on a method for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders.


The method involves taking a tissue or body sample from the patient and then conducting a test to identify variant sequences in the subject’s genetic code, which may signify “the presence or an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.”


Testing can be done on children, according to the patent.  The method is stated to aid in the diagnosis of five autism spectrum disorders: autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett’s disorder and nonspecific pervasive developmental disorders.


Currently, diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders is based almost entirely on behavioral observation. According to the patent, misdiagnosis occurs frequently and, as such, definitive diagnostic testing is needed to identify these disorders.


While the original patent was filed in March 2014, LabCorp was assigned the divisional patent this past December.


Preschoolers with Disabilities Inordinately Suspended: Report

Washington, D.C. — According to a new report by the Center for American Progress, children ages three to five who have disabilities are significantly more likely to be suspended or expelled from preschool or child care programs.


While that demographic represents just 13 percent of the nation’s preschoolers, the report says they account for 75 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.


Those figures come from an analysis of the 2016 federal National Survey of Children’s Health.


According to the report, kids ages three to five with behavioral problems were 43 times likelier to be suspended or expelled than their typically-developing peers.  What’s more, the odds were ten times greater for those with autism and 7.5 times higher for children with developmental delays.


The findings come as the U.S. Department of Education is reportedly considering whether to do away with previous federal guidance designed to prevent children with disabilities and those from minority groups from being disproportionately suspended or expelled.



Young Chicagoans with ASD benefit from improv classes

Chicago, IL — An amusing report in the Chicago Tribune detailed the stage adventures of students at Improv for Autism, a program that provides improvisational theater classes specifically for youths with autism spectrum disorder.


Improv for Autism is an offering of The Second City, an autism services non-profit.

Leaders at The Second City say the fundamentals of improv comedy help improve communication skills, which are often a challenge for those with autism.


“We know (improv) changes people’s lives,” said Kelly Leonard, The Second City’s executive director of insights and applied improvisation.  “We’ve seen it over and over again.”


Some psychologists say they’ve seen therapeutic benefits of improve for some of the challenges associated with autism, the Tribune reported.  They continue to study the effects of improv on the brain and say the gains go beyond entertainment and could open a door to a new area of mental health treatment.


For people with autism, experts say, improv offers an opportunity to practice communication skills—including talking to people and looking them in the eye, and listening and relating to others.