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Friday, November 30, 2012

Is Childhood ADHD a Gateway to Smoking in Adulthood?

From TIME Magazine's Healthland Blog

By Alexandra Sifferlin
October 31, 2012

“For a long time, smoking during pregnancy has been associated with a higher risk of ADHD in the offspring. This study shows for the first time that this common link could be genes.”

Children diagnosed with attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are twice as likely to pick up smoking than youngsters without the disorder.

A group of Canadian researchers lead by Dr. Ridha Joober of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal looked at genetic markers among children with ADHD and found a variant previously implicated in increasing the risk for smoking behavior may also increase the risk for ADHD.

According to the study, published on line in Archives of Disease in Childhood, this may explain why people who suffer from ADHD are also much more prone to become addicted to cigarettes.

In addition, says Joober, “This may also explain why children with ADHD are more likely to be born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy. This genetic variant–and there are probably many others–increases the risk for smoking in mothers and the risk for ADHD in their children, suggesting that smoking during pregnancy and ADHD are, at least in part, due to these shared genetic determinants.”

To identify the genetic factors at work, the researchers looked at five variations in DNA sequences–also called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs–in different genes that influence different smoking behaviors, like the number of cigarettes a person smokes a day or the average age when smoking starts.

The team collected DNA from 454 children aged 6 to 12 with confirmed ADHD. The researchers also assessed the children’s behavioral and emotional problems at home and at school through validated behavior tests.

(MORE: ADHD: Why the Youngest Kids in a Class Are Most Likely to Be Diagnosed)

To compare how the genetic variants were being passed on, the team also gathered DNA from the children’s parents and siblings. This also allowed the researchers to pinpoint which variants were most strongly associated with common mental and physical behaviors among the kids with ADHD.

Mothers of the participants also reported whether or not they smoked during pregnancy so the researchers could see if the environmental influence of tobacco played a role. Of the 394 mothers who responded, 171 smoked during pregnancy and 223 did not.

The researchers found that one of the SNPs was strongly associated with the number of cigarettes a person smokes, as well as ADHD behaviors. Children with the variation were more likely to have behavioral problems and struggle with tasks involving more brain power and concentration, things that children with ADHD find more challenging.

Kids were equally likely to inherit the allele if their mothers did or did not smoke during pregnancy, which ruled out environmental smoking exposure as a factor and confirmed the stronger genetic contribution.

(MORE: Can Anesthesia Raise the Risk of ADHD?)

The authors concluded that the allele potentially increases the risk of ADHD and smoking by encouraging behaviors and “cognitive deficits” in the brain that can manifest as ADHD during childhood and thus be a gateway to smoking later.

“For a long time, smoking during pregnancy has been associated with a higher risk of ADHD in the offspring. However, the nature of this association was very much debated and one the hypotheses was that these two [outcomes] are due to common factors that increase smoking in mothers and ADHD in their children. This study shows for the first time that this common link could be genes,” says Joober.

Joober says that while we are still far from using gene therapy to even consider modifying the genetic variant to avoid the tendency toward ADHD and smoking, the results could still help to identify people at a biological risk for developing ADHD and cigarette addiction.

“This genetic information would be crucial, once confirmed and furthered, to develop preventive strategies, especially since smoking in ADHD patients tends to start earlier in life and once initiated, is much more severe and harder to curve down than in the general public,” he says.

In a corresponding editorial, Dr. Miriam Cooper and Professor Anita Thapar from Cardiff University School of Medicine, Wales, UK called the study “an intriguing starting point,” but caution that the findings are only preliminary.

“Although the ļ¬ndings are potentially exciting, the authors are right to be tentative about their conclusions at this stage as there are certain cautions to be exercised when considering the implications,” they wrote.

(MORE: ADHD: A Global Epidemic of Just a Bunch of Fidgety Kids?)

The authors acknowledge that although their study population size was large, the study needs to be replicated before any conclusive links can be made. “The implications for the treatment of ADHD are not clear now. Once we will know the exact role of this variant, it might be possible to target this gene for new drug development,” says Joober.

About Alexandra Sifferlin

Alexandra Sifferlin is a writer and producer for TIME Healthland. She is a graduate from the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. @acsifferlin

My Toxic Couch

From The Huffington Post "Green" Section

By Sarah Janssen
Senior Scientist, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Health Program

November 30, 2012

Have you ever wondered what chemicals might lurk in your couch? I did and so I decided to participate in a study, just published, which analyzed what kinds of flame retardant chemicals are being used in upholstered furniture.

I cut out a one inch square from one of the cushions of my still relatively new couch, wrapped it in foil and then bagged it into a Ziploc before sending it off. I wasn’t sure what would be found, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Now I know – and the news isn’t good.

The foam in my couch contains the toxic flame retardant chemical, chlorinated Tris. And it isn’t just a small amount, because my couch is relatively big and has a lot of cushions. I have OVER A POUND, of this cancer-causing chemical in my living room.

Over 35 years ago, chlorinated Tris was banned from kid’s pajamas because it was linked to cancer. Now it is in my couch, likely in my house dust, and in my body and in everyone in my family.

My couch wasn’t the only one. Out of 102 couches, the study found 85 percent contained toxic or untested flame retardants in the foam and all couches from California, except one purchased in 1989, contained measurable levels of at least one flame retardant chemical.

Chlorinated Tris, the chemical in my couch, was the most frequently found flame retardant chemical in the couches tested. Since the 1970s, chlorinated Tris has been recognized as a mutagen which damages DNA and can cause cancer. Chlorinated Tris is now listed under California’s Prop 65 as a carcinogen.

As of October, 2012, any products containing this chemical have to carry a warning label. In other words, if I was buying my couch today, it would likely carry a warning that loooks like this:

Would you buy a couch with this label? I surely wouldn’t have if I knew then what I know now.

The second most commonly detected flame retardant chemical in this study was pentaBDE, which is recognized as a hormone disrupting chemical that interferes with development of the brain and nervous system and interferes with reproduction. Exposure to this chemical is associated with human health effects like delayed physical development, lower IQ, poorer attention, longer time to pregnancy, and altered levels of sex hormones.

PentaBDE was phased out of use in the U.S. in 2005, but because we hold onto our furniture for many years, many of couches with this chemical are still being used in American households. And PentaBDE is very persistent, so long after the exposure has ended, the chemical can remain in the body.

The third most frequently detected chemical was a proprietary mixture with the trade name of FireMaster 550. This mixture of chemicals appears to be the latest replacement flame retardant chemical in furniture with increasing use in furniture. FireMaster 550 has not been thoroughly tested but there are a number of concerns about it.

One of the ingredients is a brominated form of the phthalate, DEHP, which is a well-recognized hormone disrupting chemical that has been shown to cause genital birth defects and cancer in laboratory animals. A recent study of FM 550 showed that small doses triggered obesity, anxiety and developmental problems in baby rats.

How did a chemical banned in pajamas get in my couch?

Unfortunately, it was only banned from pajamas and no other use. Under the current law, it is perfectly legal for this chemical to be in my couch. In the U.S., chemicals are presumed to be safe until found harmful, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has little power to ban even notoriously deadly chemicals like asbestos. The reason toxic chemicals, like chlorinated Tris, have been allowed to remain on the market thirty years after they were recognized as carcinogens is also because of the failing of TSCA.

New legislation, the Safe Chemicals Act, would update and reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and has been introduced by Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey. The proposed legislation being considered will give EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals, including flame retardants.

Why are Californian’s couches the most polluted?
California has a unique flammability standard, TB 117, which applies to all upholstered furniture sold in the state. Couches sold in California, often contain a label that looks like this:

TB 117 is a performance standard which requires that the foam material withstand an open flame for 12 seconds. Although the standard doesn’t require the use of chemicals, the cheapest way to meet it has been to saturate furniture foam with toxic flame retardant chemicals. Millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are used for just this purpose, every year. And because couches aren’t just made for California, flame retardants were found in nearly all of the couches tested.

The trouble is -- as well-intentioned as the standard may be -- it has never been proven to be effective and as a recent hard-hitting investigative series by the Chicago Tribune revealed, the flame retardant chemical industry worked with the tobacco industry to use deception, lots of money and lies to perpetuate the myth of the efficacy of these chemicals. 

Improved building codes requiring smoke detectors and water sprinklers, self-extinguishing cigarettes, and overall decreased rates of smoking have had a much bigger impact on the fewer number of fires and fire deaths observed over the past few decades

The study found that over 90 percent of couches purchased outside California during the last 7 years contained flame retardants, whether or not they carried a TB 117 label. Nearly two-thirds of couches that didn’t have the TB 117 label were still found to contain toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals. Demonstrating for the first time that we cannot rely on the presence or absence of a TB117 label to tell us if our couch is safe.

The good news is that California is taking steps to update the antiquated TB117 standard that is driving flame retardant use in furniture across the country. Despite past heavy lobbying by chemical producers to preserve TB117, Governor Jerry Brown has called for revisions to the standard that would improve fire safety without toxic flame retardants. If changes are successfully made, it may be possible to buy safe, non-toxic furniture by next summer.

We know that flame retardants don't stay put in our couches but migrate out and attach to our house dust which we either inhale or ingest.

Another study published found over 40 flame retardant chemicals in California household dust, with the most frequently found being -- you guessed it -- chlorinated Tris.

So while we wait for the new furniture regulations to be put in place, we can reduce our exposure to these chemicals by reducing our dust exposure:

  • Vacuum often (with an HEPA filter) and wet-mop to reduce build-up of dust in your home.
  • Dust with a damp cloth or a microfiber cloth to avoid kicking up dust particles in the air as you work. For example, don’t use a feather duster as this only releases dust particles into the air.
  • Wash hands frequently, (with plain soap and water!) as hand-to-mouth contact with dust is a major pathway for exposure.

And as for me, no more eating on the couch!

Can a Baby’s Cry Be a Clue to Autism?

From the TIME Magazine's Healthland Blog - Family Matters

By Bonnie Rochman
November 28, 2012

"Scientists at Brown University think it’s possible that infants’ early cries might provide a clue to whether they’re at risk of developing autism."

Researchers have analyzed brain scans and eye movements as harbingers of autism. Now they’re listening to babies’ cries. Scientists at Brown University think it’s possible that infants’ early cries might provide a clue to whether they’re at risk of developing autism, based on a small study they conducted on about 40 babies.

They compared the cries of one group, considered at risk of autism because they had older siblings with the disorder, to a second low-risk group. When the babies were six months old, they were videotaped in order to collect a vocal sampling. At some point during the 45-minute filming, the infants cried.

Researchers isolated the cries and conducted computerized acoustic analysis on the recordings to isolate different frequencies. They also separated out the cries based on whether they were related to pain — if a baby fell in the video, for example, then started wailing — and compared the two groups’ pain-related vocalizations.

MORE: Older Fathers Linked to Kids’ Autism and Schizophrenia Risk

The 21 at-risk babies had higher-pitched cries that were “low in voicing,” which translates into a rougher, less clear sound that could indicate their vocal cords are tenser than infants in the low-risk group. What’s more, the three babies with the highest-pitched cries went on to receive an autism diagnosis, according to the study published in Autism Research.

The findings, however, shouldn’t lead parents to start assessing their babies’ cries, says lead author Stephen Sheinkopf, a psychologist at the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk. “We definitely don’t want parents to be anxiously listening to their babies cry,” says Sheinkopf, who points out that the differences in cries were detected by sophisticated technology and not people. “It’s unclear if the human ear is sensitive enough to detect this.”

MORE: Brain Imaging Could Detect Autism in Infants As Young as Six Months

What is clear is that the findings are intriguing enough to warrant follow-up, particularly since it’s so difficult to find indicators of autism in very young children. In most cases, diagnoses aren’t made before age 2 or so since the classic symptoms of autism — social deficits, difficulty interacting and communicating with others — can be hard to spot before then.

Linking cries with risk of autism is not an association drawn from left field, however; cries, in general, have been correlated with brain development. Babies who are born premature or have suffered birth trauma tend to have higher-pitched cries, while those with Down Syndrome often make weaker, lower-pitched sounds.

Older children with autism often make atypical sounds — more sing-songy, for example— and researchers wondered whether it might be possible to observe unusual sounds in infants at risk of autism. “Cries are clues to what’s going on neurologically, but they hadn’t been looked at in relation to autism,” says Sheinkopf.

MORE: Siblings of Autistic Kids Show Similar Brain Activity

Finding clues in infancy could have a significant impact on children who are affected by autism. “Autism seems to be a disorder that starts subtle and magnifies with age,” says Sheinkopf. Studies consistently show that early intervention with behavioral therapies can help to lessen or even reverse some of the developmental symptoms.

And diagnosing the disorder as early as possible could enable these strategies to begin even sooner.

Bonnie Rochman writes about pregnancy, fertility, parenting — the ups and downs of being a kid and having one — for TIME.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Will Science Be In Attendance At Latest Congressional Autism Hearing?

From Forbes - Pharma & Healthcare

By Emily Willingham
November 21, 2012

NOTE: The hearing discussed takes/took place on Thursday, November 29, 2012. 

After the science (and anti-science)-associated debacles of this past election, you might, as a science consumer, hope that our elected officials would adhere more closely to scientific evidence as they represent and make decisions on behalf of our nation’s taxpayers. When it comes to autism, however, science and evidence often find themselves left out, even in congressional hearings intended to address them.

Will that be happening again on November 29? According to The Hill,

  • "The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is planning a hearing later this month on rising autism rates and the federal government’s response. The panel, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.), has invited witnesses from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Autism Speaks and other advocacy groups."

The brief goes on to say that:
  • "Autism rates are rising quickly. One in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8, the CDC reported in March, a dramatic increase from its previous estimates."

What this brief posting doesn’t say is who has been promoting the meeting and why (those other ‘advocacy groups’), and whom this meeting will leave out.

As an editor at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, I became aware of this meeting before it officially made the calendar of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and our editorial team had immediate concerns.

The initial conduit for this information was a website that primarily promotes the idea that mercury or vaccines or both cause autism and that children with autism are vaccine injured. As someone commented on The Hill brief, “This hearing was planned by those who believe autism is caused by environmental agents and nothing is being done about it.”

I can’t objectively confirm the assertion that a Congressional committee meeting was somehow planned by an outside group with that belief, but I can confirm that two groups with agendas focused on the mercury-vaccine-autism causation chain have taken a high profile in promoting this meeting and urging their followers to attend.

One way these groups try to spur their followers into action is by highlighting that 1 in 88 number, the most recent that the CDC has reported as autism prevalence among 8-year-olds in the US. The Hill brief calls this a “dramatic increase” from previous estimates, but the previous estimate from 2009 was 1 in 110, for an increase from 0.9% to 1.1%.

As I have detailed elsewhere, an abundance of evidence suggests that much of this uptick is the result of corrected misdiagnoses, re-calibrated diagnostic criteria, and greater awareness and that 1% is emerging as a fairly steady value in populations worldwide. That does not, however, keep organizations from inaccurately using the word “epidemic” to describe autism in the United States.

According to The Hill, invitations to the Committee meeting say that the intention is to discuss how the feds are responding to the recent rise in autism diagnoses and allocating government resources for autism, in addition to reviewing treatment options for autistic people. What the roster of purported invitees does not seem to include is autistic people themselves or their advocacy organizations.

Because the editorial team of The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, including me, has concerns that a diversionary agenda involving the debunked mercury-vaccine-autism association might dominate the proceedings, we have publicized the meeting ourselves in the hope that people with a broad range of perspectives and experience can attend. [Disclosure: I played a role in confirming that the meeting was taking place and in devising a conduit for those who cannot attend to fax their comments to the Committee, including approving the sample fax letter available at that link.]

"Given the stark evidence of how vaccines save lives, any hearing with a Congressional imprimatur should especially involve careful, science-based consideration of public health issues."

As the parent of an autistic child and as a scientist, I’m concerned that a meeting with an agenda not grounded in science will harm not only autistic people who have no voice in the proceedings but also general public health by again raising the specter of “vaccines cause autism” in the public consciousness. Given the stark evidence of how vaccines save lives, any hearing with a Congressional imprimatur should especially involve careful, science-based consideration of public health issues.

I also believe that support in the form of appropriate educational, employment, and therapeutic access for autistic people is important. The federal government devotes considerable resources to autism in the United States, including authorizing $1 billion for autism biomedical and treatment research in 2011. We also already have a federal committee to synthesize and publicize autism-related information and engage in strategic planning for addressing autism-related supports.

Would more support be a boon to autistic people and their families, especially if it targeted existing needs? Yes. But I do not understand how a Congressional committee meeting not focused on those needs would suddenly generate any useful insights or practical effects in a hastily organized proceeding with invitees who don’t represent the entire spectrum of the autism community. Soon-to-retire Rep. Dan Burton, the man responsible for the ‘circus-like‘ vaccines-autism committee proceeding in 2000 that featured one Andrew J. Wakefield, remains on this Congressional committee.

Given that in 2007, when the purported vaccines-autism link was already disintegrating, Burton argued that families of autistic children should be compensated for “vaccine injury” through the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, I don’t have terribly high hopes that science will be in attendance at this latest meeting, either.

Study: Fitter Kids May Make Better Grades

From via Yahoo News

By Serena Gordon
August 4, 2012

"The more physically fit kids were, the higher their scores."

Middle school students who are physically fit are likely to score higher on standardized tests measuring reading and math abilities, a new study has found.

And, the scores went up in correlation with levels of fitness, the findings showed.

"The more physically fit kids were, the higher their scores," said the study's lead author, Dr. Trent Petrie, director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton.

"Parents should encourage their kids to be physically active. There are some real cognitive and academic benefits that come from physical fitness," Petrie said.

Results of the study are scheduled to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Orlando, FL.

The study included more than 1,200 middle school students from five schools in a suburban area of Texas, with 561 boys and 650 girls.

About 57 percent of the children were white, and nearly one-quarter were Mexican American. Nine percent were black and about 2 percent were of Asian descent.

The school district provided the researchers with information on the children's race, age, grade level and whether they qualified for the free school lunch program, which was an indicator of the family's socioeconomic status. The schools also provided scores to the tests, which were given between one and four months after the researchers had assessed the children's levels of fitness.

Fitness tests were administered during physical education classes to determine the youngsters' heart and lung health (cardiorespiratory fitness), as well as their body mass index (BMI), an indicator of how much body fat a person has. The children also filled out questionnaires that helped the researchers determine factors such as self-esteem and social support.

"... for both boys and girls, higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness predicted better scores on both the math and reading tests." 

After accounting for factors such as age, sex, family income and self-esteem, the researchers found that for both boys and girls, higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness predicted better scores on both the math and reading tests.

For boys, perceived social support also seemed to boost their reading scores, the investigators found.

In girls, while being physically fit predicted higher reading scores, so too did a higher BMI -- which indicates more body fat. "We were a little surprised by this finding," Petrie said.

"It was not as strong an association as the one with physical fitness," he added. The authors suspect it may have something to do with girls this age entering puberty, which may be related to a higher BMI and slightly higher cognitive (brain) development. He said he plans to look for this relationship again in larger studies to see if it was a chance finding, or if the association holds up.

"...we can say that there is a strong and predictive relationship between physical fitness and academic performance."

"While we can't say 100 percent that physical fitness causes better academic performance, we can say that there is a strong and predictive relationship between physical fitness and academic performance," Petrie said.

"It's hard to tease apart the exact reason for this association," said Becky Hashim, an attending clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Montefiore, in New York City.

"It may be that the children are getting more oxygen. When the heart and lungs are working at a higher capacity, it may allow the brain to work at peak performance. Children who are less fit may be sleepier during school," she noted. "I personally feel that there's probably a strong relationship between the confidence you get from being able to do something physical well and academic performance."

Whatever the reason behind this association may be, "there's certainly no harm in pushing physical fitness," Hashim added.

"Physical fitness may make you feel better, give you more confidence and improve your performance across the board," she said.

"Physically fit kids are happier, have higher self-esteem, tend to have better relationships, and now we're beginning to see, there also seem to be benefits cognitively and academically." 

Petrie agreed. "Physically fit kids are happier, have higher self-esteem, tend to have better relationships, and now we're beginning to see, there also seem to be benefits cognitively and academically. Our study sends a strong warning to policymakers to reconsider the utility of physical education classes for kids," he said.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More Information

Read more about keeping kids active at the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Control Of Gene Activity Altered By Acute Stress


By Catharine Paddock, Ph.D.
August 20, 2012

"Epigenetic changes may well be an important link between stress and chronic diseases."

Acute stress alters the methylation of DNA and thus, the activity of certain genes. This is reported by researchers at the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum and colleagues from Basel, Trier and London for the first time, in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

"The results provide evidence how stress could be related to a higher risk of mental or physical illness", says Prof. Dr. Gunther Meinlschmidt from the Clinic of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the LWL University Hospital of the RUB.

The team looked at gene segments which are relevant to biological stress regulation.

Epigenetics - The "Second Code" Regulates Gene Activity

Our genetic material, the DNA, provides the construction manual for the proteins that our bodies need. Which proteins a cell produces depends on the cell type and its environment. Epigenetic information determines which genes are read, acting quasi as a biological switch.

An example of such a switch is provided by methyl (CH3) groups that attach to specific sections of the DNA and can remain there for a long time - even when the cell divides.

Previous studies have shown that stressful experiences and psychological trauma in early life are associated with long-term altered DNA methylation. Whether the DNA methylation also changes after acute psychosocial stress, was, however, previously unknown.

Two Genes Tested

To clarify this issue, the research group examined two genes in particular: the gene for the oxytocin receptor, i.e. the docking site for the neurotransmitter Oxytocin, which is known as the "trust hormone" or "anti-stress hormone"; and the gene for the nerve growth factor Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is mainly responsible for the development and cross-linking of brain cells.

The researchers tested 76 people who had to participate in a fictitious job interview and solve arithmetic problems under observation - a proven means for inducing acute stress in an experiment. For the analysis of the DNA methylation, they took blood samples from the subjects before the test as well as ten and ninety minutes afterwards.

DNA Methylation Changes Under Acute Psychosocial Stress

Stress had no effect on the methylation of the BDNF gene. In a section of the oxytocin receptor gene, however, methylation already increased within the first ten minutes of the stressful situation. This suggests that the cells formed less oxytocin receptors.

Ninety minutes after the stress test, the methylation dropped below the original level before the test. This suggests that the receptor production was excessively stimulated.

Possible Link between Stress and Disease

Stress increases the risk of physical or mental illness. The stress-related costs in Germany alone amount to many billions of Euros every year. In recent years, there have been indications that epigenetic processes are involved in the development of various chronic diseases such as cancer or depression. (Editor's Note: also autism)

"Epigenetic changes may well be an important link between stress and chronic diseases," says Professor Meinlschmidt, head of research in the Department of Psychobiology, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy at the LWL University Hospital. "We hope to identify more complex epigenetic stress patterns in future, to be able to determine the associated risk of disease. This could provide information on new approaches to treatment and prevention".
From Autism NOW - The National Autism Resource and Information Center

August 24, 2012

NOTE: Simply click on the highlighted, italicized part of each headline to view the associated website or document.

Website - University of Missouri: Roadmap to the Future: Transitioning into Adulthood with ASD

This is a website dedicated to the topic of transition into post-secondary experiences for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It provides information and resources on life skill areas for education, employment, community living, and health and safety. An overall coverage of the transition process is also provided.

The site is organized to help parents, professionals and self-advocates easily find the information they are seeking. It also addresses varied age groups and things that can be done to prepare for transition at each stage of life. The site includes links to relevant resources and videos that supplement information provided.

College Program - The Kennesaw State University: Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth

The Kennesaw State University Academy for Inclusive Learning is a unique two year certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities an inclusive college experience. This is an inclusive program focused on balancing academics, wellness and employability.

Website - JobTIPS

JobTIPS is a free web-based curriculum designed to help individuals explore career interests, and then seek, obtain, and successfully maintain employment. JobTIPS is designed for direct use by individuals with ASD and other learning differences. However, this program (including all of the printables, assessments, and videos) is also suitable for delivery by educators, family members, clinicians, mentors, and job coaches. It offers over 400 free printables to promote practice and retention of key concepts, and provides 180 video modeling sets to clearly define targeted skills.

Website - National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities: Transition Planning

This webpage focuses on transition planning, an important topic for youth with disabilities, their families, and IEP teams. NICHCY has devoted an entire section of its website to the subject, including articles written for students, school personnel and parents. It focuses on what IDEA requires in the IEP for transition-aged students.

Website - Project Access: High School Transition Program for Students with Disabilities

The purpose of Project Access, from Howard Community College, is to improve the delivery and outcomes of postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities. Project Access is designed to significantly facilitate the transition of high school students with disabilities into postsecondary education, to increase the success rate and retention of freshman students with disabilities at Howard Community College, and to improve career counseling and job placement services for students with disabilities.

Website - Resources for Disabilities

This government website contains information and tools that can be used to help create, maintain, and strengthen effective youth programs. There is a page on the website that provides resources for youth with disabilities. These resources include articles, tools and guides, programs, technical assistance and other publications.

Research - Supervising Employees with Autism

In this study, the supervisors of 14 successfully employed individuals with autism were interviewed. These interviews, along with worksite observations, were used to examine their supervisory practices and perceptions of employees with autism. The findings indicated that the supervisor’s overall assessment of the job performance of the employees was extremely positive. This article also identifies supervisory accommodation strategies that were commonly associated with successful supervision.

Hagner, D., & Cooney, B. F. (2005). “I do that for everybody”: Supervising employees with autism. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 20(2), 91-97.

Guide - Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals

This guide (a free download HERE), produced for vocational rehabilitation professionals and employment services providers, contains information about how the features of people with ASD and the needs of the workplace interact. It offers a detailed description of autism spectrum disorders and discusses initial interview considerations, career planning, and possible job accommodations.

Standifer, S. (2009). Adult autism and employment: A guide for vocational rehabilitation professionals. Columbia Missouri: University of Missouri

Guide - College Planning for Students with Disabilities

This booklet (a free download HERE)explains the process of preparing for and beginning college. It is written for youth and young adults with disabilities, and refers to many important and specific issues. The beginning sections refer to things to do starting in high school and provides advice on how to use the IEP process to move personal goals forward. Later sections refer to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, both of which take on increased importance as students leave high school and enter college.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Depiction of Autism and Why it Matters

From Healthy Living

By Ariane Zurcher - Author of the Blog Emma's Hope Book
June 2, 2012

We are inundated with disturbing imagery depicting autism in the media. Perhaps one of the most famous was a video made by a well-known organization several years ago.

It was a montage of a number of parents expressing their distress and the difficulties they face while raising an autistic child. Their children were almost always present as the parents spoke. The camera cut to those same children in full meltdown, stimming or sitting alone in a playground in stark contrast to their neurotypical peers who were running, shouting and laughing, while playing with one another.

At one point a parent discussed how, for a brief moment she allowed herself the fantasy of driving off the George Washington Bridge with her autistic child in the backseat.

No one disputes raising a child can be challenging, and raising a nonverbal child all the more so, but that is not the entire story. As someone who once devoured anything on the subject of autism through the lens of ignorance and as a result was paralyzed with the fear these depictions induced, I am aware of the underlying emotional manipulation that is often so obviously being employed.

It is propaganda, whether intentional or not, biased, deeply prejudiced and intended to create fear. And it is doing tremendous damage to autistics and to all of our autistic children who will soon grow up to be autistic adults.

These types of imagery perpetuate the marginalization and unfortunate stereotyping of people on the spectrum. In using the images of autistic children it negates and ignores the effect these depictions have on those same children 10 or 15 years from now, when they grow up to be autistic adults.

Sadly, it is not just any one organization engaged in this kind of negativity and bias. News programs routinely air shows about "savants" who are seen as fascinating curiosities or programs about the tragedy and horrors of autism, citing statistics and the growing numbers, with shrinking resources available.

For those who do not have an autistic person in their life or have never met one, these depictions are what you base your perceptions and assumptions on. Just as when I was first told my daughter, Emma, was autistic, my mind latched onto the image of Dustin Hoffman rocking back and forth while muttering in his role as Raymond Babbitt in the movie "Rain Man."

Emma is as dissimilar to Raymond Babbitt as I am. But at the time of Emma's diagnosis, I knew of no other autistic person, so this was who I immediately thought of and then felt confused as to how my daughter could possibly be autistic. Many years later, when I met Temple Grandin at a lecture she gave, I again found myself looking for similarities. There were few.

Over the years I have read about and met countless autistic children, teens and adults. While some share one or two behavioral similarities to Emma, I have yet to see any where I think "Oh, that's what Emma will certainly be like in 15 or 20 years." Comparing Emma to adults on the spectrum is something I have been doing for years without realizing it.

This is not something I do with my eldest child, Nic. In fact, it never occurs to me to compare him to adults. I know and trust that Nic will continue to mature and grow up to be the responsible, kind, thoughtful, intelligent human being that he is already showing himself to be. Why do I not do this with my daughter?

Clearly, this is where my work lies. It's a double standard that I hold, one for my neurotypical son and another for my autistic daughter. Here is where using the word neuromajority really is appropriate and more accurate. Nic is in the neuromajority, and therefore I assume things about his future that I cannot know any more than I can predict my daughter's. But because he is in the neuromajority I am able to lull myself into a state of calm, thinking that I know, or feel that the chances are at least better than good that he will grow to be the person I can see him becoming now.

Emma's future remains a giant question mark, and so I fall easily into fearful thinking. The single most important thing to effect my thinking regarding my daughter has been communicating with autistic adults. There are a number of them I particularly like and admire, whom I reach out to and are kind enough to take the time out of their busy lives to communicate with me. 

I do not assume Emma will grow up to be like any of them, but in communicating with them I am given tremendous hope, because unlike the media coverage of autism and autistic people, they do not live their lives from one dramatic sound bite to another. They are complicated, interesting, intelligent people studying, working and living their lives.

As a result, the frightening portrayals the media seems so enamored with are softened, and I am able to be logical in my thinking when confronted with those images and now even choose to avoid those programs. I do not need these depictions to compete with the very real autistic person in my life who struggles, yes, but who also progresses, is funny and happy, smart and kind and loving, sensitive and unique, who will continue to progress and mature to become a young woman with all of those qualities and more.

Contact with these kind autistics has taught me more than any specialist, article, book or news show. These people with their writing and blogs have opened my mind to the very real possibilities that exist for my daughter. This gives me hope. I fall easily into fearful thinking, but I was capable of that long before Emma came into my life.

About Ariane Zurcher

Ariane Zurcher began documenting her daughter’s journey through a childhood of autism in 2010. Her writing has been published in such magazines as Allure, XIst Century Magazine, Options, Elle, Aspen Magazine, The Aspen Times and on numerous blogs.

An award-winning jewelry designer and winner of both the coveted 2009 Rising Star Award in Fine Jewelry and the 2010 AGTA Spectrum Award for Business/Day Wear, Zurcher was trained in the fine arts. A graduate of Parson’s School of Design, with graduate work in creative writing, she began her career in the world of fashion, freelancing for design houses in London and New York, along with a stint at Elle Magazine.


For a list of some blogs by autistic adults go to: Emma's Hope Book

For more by Ariane Zurcher, click here.

For more on autism, click here.

Ten Obscure or Overlooked Aspects of IDEA


By Doug Goldberg
August 23, 2012

1.)  Medical Services can be paid for by the School District if they are for diagnostic or evaluation purposes.  As defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act: “Medical Services are services provided by a licensed physician to determine a child’s medically-related disability that results in the child’s need for special education and related services.”

2.)  The Child Find mandate requires all children with disabilities residing in the State, including children with disabilities who are homeless or wards of the State, and children with disabilities attending private schools, regardless of the severity of their disability, and who are in need of special education and related services, to be identified, located, and evaluated.

The mandate also includes children who are suspected of having disabilities and in need of special education, even though they are advancing from grade to grade.

3.)  The School District must take steps to provide children with an IEP an equal opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities.

This must be accomplished by providing the appropriate support in the form of supplementary aids and services which allows the child “to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum in accordance with subclause (I), and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities.”

4.) “Nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities may include counseling services, athletics, transportation, health services, interest recreational activities, special groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, and employment of students, including both employment by the public agency and assistance in making outside employment available.” (Authority: 20 U. S. C.1412(a)(1))

5.)  “The State must ensure that each public agency takes steps to ensure that its children with disabilities have available to them the variety of educational programs and services available to nondisabled children in the area served by the agency, including art, music, industrial arts, consumer and homemaking education, and vocational education.” (Authority: 20 U. S. C.1412(a)(2), 1413(a)(1))

6.)  The School District must ensure that hearing aids worn in school by children with hearing impairments, including deafness, are functioning properly. The School District must ensure that the external components of surgically-implanted medical devices are functioning properly.

7.)  The child/student, when appropriate, is a member of the IEP Team. The student is not only the recipient of the IEP; they are also an integral member of the IEP team. The student should be involved as much as possible in the creation and implementation of the IEP. Without their buy in, especially in middle school and high school, the less effective the IEP will be.

It takes some additional planning to involve the student, but it's well worth the additional time to make sure they are willing to put in the necessary effort to implement the IEP.

8.)  Children with disabilities parentally-placed in private schools can be eligible for services plans. A services plan is not an IEP. IEPs are more comprehensive than services plans developed for parentally-placed private school students with disabilities designated to receive services. 

This is because parentally-placed children do not have an individual entitlement to any or all of the services that they would receive if enrolled in a public school.

9.)  The United States Department of Education is responsible for awarding at least one grant in each state to establish a Parent Training and Information Center. According to the Parent Technical Assistance Center Network, Parent Centers help families to:
  • better understand their children’s disabilities and educational, developmental, and transitional needs;
  • communicate more effectively with special education, early intervention, and related professionals
  • understand their rights and responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law;
  • obtain appropriate services for their children through participation in the individualized education program (IEP) and individualized family service plan (IFSP) decision making process;
  • resolve disagreements and understand the benefits of alternative methods of dispute resolution;
  • connect with other local, state, and national resources that assist children with disabilities.
10.) The most important part of IDEA is found in the Congressional findings and purposes section. It is section 1400 of IDEA, and I recommend everyone spend a few minutes reading it. If you don’t read it in its entirety, the first part states that the purpose of IDEA is: “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

IDEA is very much about preparation for life, not just getting through school. Sometimes we all have a hard time remembering that.

Parenting Style Has Big Impact On Kids With Disabilities


By Michelle Diament
November 16, 2012

“In households where positive parenting is applied, the symptoms and severity of the child’s disability are more likely to decrease over time.”

The approach that parents take with their children who have developmental disabilities is directly tied to how cooperative and independent they become, new research suggests.

In an analysis of existing studies looking at the influence of parenting on children with special needs, researchers found that when moms and dads employed so-called positive parenting, their kids exhibited greater independence, better language skills, stronger emotional expression and social interaction as well as improved temperament.

“In households where positive parenting is applied, the symptoms and severity of the child’s disability are more likely to decrease over time,” said Tim Smith of Brigham Young University, who worked on the study, which was published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities this month.

“Research has consistently shown that the earlier and more consistently positive parenting is provided, the greater the child’s development,” he said.

Smith and his colleagues identified three main approaches to parenting. Permissive moms and dads are accepting and not demanding, while authoritarian parents are more controlling of their kids. Positive parents fall in the middle, striking a balance by allowing their child self-will while also maintaining expectations of discipline.

Despite the clear benefits observed from the balanced approach, researchers said that taking the middle road can be especially challenging when a child has a disability.

"...there needs to be a balance. A child with a disability should not be subject to different rules in a family, nor be the center of a family.”

“When you think of parenting a child with a developmental disability, it might be more intuitive to be authoritarian and assume that the child can’t figure out things alone.

On the other hand, with a child who has autism, it may seem easier and less contentious to be more permissive with the child and thereby avoid conflict,” said Tina Dyches of Brigham Young University, who also worked on the review. “But there needs to be a balance. A child with a disability should not be subject to different rules in a family, nor be the center of a family.”

The findings from the analysis are among the first to assess the role of parenting style specifically in kids with developmental disabilities, researchers said.

Thousands of studies exist examining parenting of typically developing children, but researchers behind the new review say they found just 14 studies between 1990 and 2008 focusing on those with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.

Despite the small body of research, however, the benefits of positive parenting are clear for children with all types of developmental disabilities no matter their age, the study found.

Researchers said their findings highlight the importance of promoting effective parenting skills as part of early intervention services.