Brain signals improve the efficacy of behavioral interventions

Biomarkers can help distinguish different types of features but this week they were used to predict who would respond to Pivotal Response Training, or PRT.  Researchers, led by Pam Ventral at Yale looked at how the brain responded to a social or non social situation as well as baseline features on standardized measures.  Remarkably, these brain signatures were better at standard behavioral assessments at determining who would respond most positively to PRT.  This study has enormous implications for personalized medicine approach and demonstrates how early studies in biomarkers many years ago have paid off for those with autism.

Breaking down aggression in autism

You asked – our summer intern Priyanka Shah delivered!  This week’s podcast is one on a topic suggested by listeners.  She describes the risk factors and treatments for aggressive behaviors in autism.  Priyanka looked at research and listened to clinicians who have experience treating aggressive behaviors in autism.   In this podcast, description of Functional Behavioral Analysis plus pharmacological treatments are provided.

Here are some additional resources:

Aggression Study by Kanne & Mazurek (2011):
More information about behavior assessments:
Simple FBA Chart Example:

Treatments for social reward in autism: inject it, snort it, or possibly smoke it.

This week saw two new studies on the “love hormone” called oxytocin.  In the first, the IV drip for oxytocin is replaced by a nasal spray.  The results are mild and focused on one type of symptom, but exciting and promising nonetheless.  The second study investigated how oxytocin works in the brain and shows how it interacts with a chemical called anandamide in a region activated by sex, drugs and food.  This may explain why people find social reward pleasurable.  It lays the groundwork for other compounds which may enhance social reward, but more studies are needed.   Finally, a short recap last week’s podcast where High Risk Baby Siblings researchers are finding that the range of possible issues that kids at risk have isn’t focused just on autism symptoms.

A traditional strategy in autism intervention may be hurting not helping.

Two interesting studies this week.  The first from researchers studying a learning strategy called repetition.  As it turns out, it may impair the ability for people with autism to generalize what they learn into new situations, like learning that a golden retriever is a dog and a beagle is also a dog.  Also, researchers in Australia comb the autism literature to determine what the financial costs and benefits of supportive employment are and discover that getting people with autism employed is good for the soul and good for the economy.  That study is open access and can be found here:

Sex differences in autism symptoms, and anxiety and depression too

Dr. Katherine Gotham from Vanderbilt University graciously joins us to talk about changes in anxiety and depression in females and males with autism across time and why these findings have consequences for diagnosis and treatment of not just autism but co-occuring conditions.  Also, males and females with autism have differences in brain structure that may explain some symptoms of autism.  You may have read the story in the media but hear the breakdown on this week’s podcast.