Unfortunate new risk discovered for people with autism and their siblings

In addition to risks of anxiety, ADHD, mood disorders and other psychiatric issues, people with autism (and their siblings) show increased risk of substance abuse issues.  This information comes from a large scandanavian registry study that included over 26,000 individuals with ASD.  On this week’s podcast I discuss what this means for people with autism and their family members.

Autism and Epilepsy – a brain tissue perspective

On October 14th, the Autism BrainNet hosted it’s first webinar around how brain tissue findings affect people with autism.  First, Shafali Jeste, MD, from UCLA explained what seizures were, how prevalent they were in people with autism, and what the risk factors for them were in ASD.  Next, David Menassa from Oxford University described recent findings in brain tissue which showed how glia cells, or the cells of the brain that support neurons, are affected in ASD and how epilepsy affects these changes.  The introduction of the webinar is missing but only for a few seconds.   Thank you to Drs. Jeste and Menassa for participating in such a great informational event and for everyone that registered.

A focus on the siblings of people with ASD

Two studies recently add to an ever growing literature around undiagnosed siblings of individuals with autism.  While in autism features there is evidence of the “broader autism phenotype” in female siblings, there is no evidence of elevated sensory symptoms in those with a brother or system with autism.  The more we understand about the psychological and psychiatric features of siblings with autism, the more they can be supported to deal not only with their siblings challenges, but with theirs as well.

Parents are interventionists too

Parent training has a number of important uses in autism.  For toddlers, parents help provide intervention strategies in a number of settings allowing skills to be generalized.  In adolescence, parents can help implement behavioral rules that can manage non-compliant behaviors, aggressive, disruptive or impulsive behaviors.  This week, research investigated the role of parent training plus and ADHD medication for ADHD symptoms in autism and the results are promising.  Finally, a review of the new NIH funding in understanding the causes of autism is reviewed.  You can also read this review at the ASF blogsite.

Where are all the girls with autism? Live from the Seaver Center Conference

Hear what you missed if you were unable to attend the Seaver Autism Conference on September 25th!  Dr. David Skuse discusses “where are all the girls with autism”, summarizing evidence that some girls with high verbal IQ and autism might be missed, suggesting genes associated with high IQ may be protective against a diagnosis until adolescence.  Also, ASF grantee Dr. Jennifer Foss-Feig describes how biomarkers can be used to improve personalized medicine.  Finally, a summary and review of the new air pollution systematic review and meta analysis.  Limited evidence does not equal none, and air pollution is a real problem.  Here is a link to the paper:  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0161851.  All in 12 minutes.

The importance if IQ in an autism outcome.

Cognitive ability, measured by intellectual quotient or IQ, has been thought to predict response to intervention, social abilities, adaptive behavior and long term outcome.  Numerous studies have shown that it can influence what is labeled as a good outcome.  However, two studies this week point out how those across the spectrum in cognitive ability still benefit from early intervention and make friends on the playground.  In both studies, there were factors that were more important for outcome than IQ.  So it may be an important factor in outcome, but not the only factor.

Environment or genetics in autism symptomatology? How about both?

This week I am in Minneapolis at an incredibly important meeting of Medical Examiners to pitch them the importance of collecting brain tissue for Autism BrainNet.  While I was here I noticed a new study on the blogs that is important for families to hear about.  It focused on a known environmental exposure in established genetic groups.  The authors of the study, led by Dr. Sara Webb at University of Washington, showed that an environmental exposure can modify symptoms in genetically susceptible narrow subgroups.  This is the sort of research that will better describe how environmental exposures are affecting autism risk.   Thank you to Dr. Sara Webb for your perspectives and interpretation of the data!

Old exposures, new diagnoses and more efficient screening for toddlers

This week, two important studies came out on different topics in autism research.  In the first study, an exposure which has been around for decades, PCB’s, a toxic industrial chemical which has been banned from manufacture or use for the past few decades, was linked to autism.  This dispels the myth that only exposures that have been introduced since the observance in the rise in diagnoses are relevant for study.  First author Kristen Lyall gives her perspective. Here is a website on how to avoid PCBs even though they have been banned.

Second, screening for autism in pediatricians offices has always been challenging.  Patients get 10 minutes at most with their doctor, these doctors have to fit in an hours worth of assessments in this time.  So how can you get them to conduct a screening for autism and add in extra questions?  Kennedy Krieger Institute published on a way that seems to work without sacrificing quality.  Hear more about both on this week’s podcast.

How to read scientific literature

This week, ASF intern Priyanka Shah provides an 8 minute tutorial on the reading and interpretation of scientific literature.  It’s worth the listen.  It goes over what to pull from an abstract, what the different sections tell you about the study, where to get the paper if you can’t find it, and what are the most important parts.  Here are some additional resources:

Resources on finding papers:
Google Scholar: scholar.google.com

New technologies to help people with autism

On request, ASF summer intern Evan Suzman produced this week’s podcast on new technology and how it is being used for good in people with autism.  He looks at Google Glass, wearable biomonitoring devices and a video game that can help teach social skills.  These new technologies can complement those like the iPad which are already in wide use.  This was a topic that many listeners wanted to hear more about.  Some of the technology is still experimental, but promising.