Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category

Belting out tunes in the shower may not only be music to your ears, but may also treat a variety of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, aphasia and dementia.

Singing has both physical and neurological benefits, according to a CNN article in which Dr. Wendy Magee, International Fellow in Music Therapy at the Institute of Neuropalliative Rehabilitation in London, described music as a “mega-vitamin for the brain” that can improve a host of conditions.

“When neural pathways are damaged for one particular function such as language, musical neural pathways are actually much more complex and much more widespread within the brain,” she told CNN. “Music seems to find re-routed paths and that is why it is such a useful tool in terms of helping people with different kinds of brain damage because it can help to find new pathways in terms of brain functioning.”

Music is effective in treating not just certain medical disorders but also autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), says Dr. Robert Melillo, Co-Founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers and the author of “Disconnected Kids” (Penguin, 2009).

“Music works to stimulate the balance center of the brain and different chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, which we know is deficient in Parkinson’s disease,” Melillo explains. “Music can help stimulate the production of dopamine.”

Music is a powerful tool that is used in treatments of kids with ADHD as well, he says. “Different areas of the brain need to be coordinated from a timing standpoint for the brain to work completely as a whole,” he says. “Music, because it has a rhythm to it, can actually cause the brain to change the speed in different areas so that the timing becomes better.”

Researchers in Finland, according to the CNN piece, showed that listening to music for several hours daily can help stroke victims with their rehabilitation while another study described how stroke patients taught to play the piano or drums made faster progress in their recovery than patients who were treated only with traditional therapy.

Music is used to assist stroke patients by having them sing, rather than say the words as they work to regain speech, explains Ellayne S. Ganzfried, Executive Director of the National Aphasia Association.

The treatment, called melodic intonation therapy (MIT), is used in patients recovering from a stroke or brain injury, she says.

“Music is in the right side of the brain and language is in the left,” Ganzfried explains. “It’s thought that if we stimulate the right side of the brain then the left side of the brain will make the connection as well.”

Music may help those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to the CNN article, because the therapist can use familiar songs to bring out memories in a patient that may have been lost. And music gives joy both to the singer and the listener, says Gary Baker, a member of the Peace of Heart choir. The group has given 1,200 free performances in nursing homes, hospices, homeless shelters and hospitals.

“Our mission is to heal with music, and the reaction of our audiences is often powerful and emotional,” Baker says. “It seems to be part of the psychology of the human brain that music offers healing. And it offers a little bit of pleasure at the same time.”

(Source: CNN Daily News, June 4, 2009)

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Autism (sometimes called “classical autism”) is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.


There are three distinctive behaviors that characterize autism. Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling.

The hallmark feature of autism is impaired social interaction. Parents are usually the first to notice symptoms of autism in their child. As early as infancy, a baby with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. A child with autism may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.

Children with autism may fail to respond to their name and often avoid eye contact with other people. They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can’t understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don’t watch other people’s faces for clues about appropriate behavior. They lack empathy.

Many children with autism engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging. They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me.” Children with autism don’t know how to play interactively with other children. Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking.

Many children with autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation. These unusual reactions may contribute to behavioral symptoms such as a resistance to being cuddled or hugged.

Children with autism appear to have a higher than normal risk for certain co-existing conditions, including fragile X syndrome (which causes mental retardation), tuberous sclerosis (in which tumors grow on the brain), epileptic seizures, Tourette syndrome, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorder. For reasons that are still unclear, about 20 to 30 percent of children with autism develop epilepsy by the time they reach adulthood. While people with schizophrenia may show some autistic-like behavior, their symptoms usually do not appear until the late teens or early adulthood. Most people with schizophrenia also have hallucinations and delusions, which are not found in autism.


Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps. Doctors rely on a core group of behaviors to alert them to the possibility of a diagnosis of autism. These behaviors are:

– Impaired ability to make friends with peers.
– Impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others .
– Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play.
– Stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language.
– Restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus.
– Preoccupation with certain objects or subjects.
– Inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.

Doctors will often use a questionnaire or other screening instrument to gather information about a child’s development and behavior. Some screening instruments rely solely on parent observations; others rely on a combination of parent and doctor observations. If screening instruments indicate the possibility of autism, doctors will ask for a more comprehensive evaluation.

Autism is a complex disorder. A comprehensive evaluation requires a multidisciplinary team including a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and other professionals who diagnose children with ASDs. The team members will conduct a thorough neurological assessment and in-depth cognitive and language testing. Because hearing problems can cause behaviors that could be mistaken for autism, children with delayed speech development should also have their hearing tested. After a thorough evaluation, the team usually meets with parents to explain the results of the evaluation and present the diagnosis.

Children with some symptoms of autism, but not enough to be diagnosed with classical autism, are often diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Children with autistic behaviors but well-developed language skills are often diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Children who develop normally and then suddenly deteriorate between the ages of 3 to 10 years and show marked autistic behaviors may be diagnosed with childhood disintegrative disorder. Girls with autistic symptoms may be suffering from Rett syndrome, a sex-linked genetic disorder characterized by social withdrawal, regressed language skills, and hand wringing.


Scientists aren’t certain what causes autism, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder. Studies of people with autism have found irregularities in several regions of the brain. Other studies suggest that people with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain. These abnormalities suggest that autism could result from the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal development caused by defects in genes that control brain growth and that regulate how neurons communicate with each other. While these findings are intriguing, they are preliminary and require further study. The theory that parental practices are responsible for autism has now been disproved. In February 2009 a special federal court ruled that there was no proven link between certain early childhood vaccines and autism that developed in three children.


Recent studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. In families with one autistic child, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately 5 percent, or one in 20. This is greater than the risk for the general population. Researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to this increased susceptibility. In some cases, parents and other relatives of an autistic child show mild impairments in social and communicative skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Evidence also suggests that some emotional disorders, such as manic depression, occur more frequently than average in the families of people with autism.


For many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Children whose language skills regress early in life, usually before the age of 3, appear to be at risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence, some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioral problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment for their child as needed.


There is no cure for autism. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism: impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

Educational/behavioral interventions: Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills. Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with autism often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with an autistic child.

Medications: Doctors often prescribe an antidepressant medication to handle symptoms of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anti-psychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more of the anticonvulsant drugs. Stimulant drugs, such as those used for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), are sometimes used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Other therapies: There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions available for autistic children, but few, if any, are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution before adopting any of these treatments.

(Source: http://www.ninds.nih.gov)

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Three milligrams of melatonin at bedtime can effectively treat sleep problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder, fragile X syndrome, or both, according to a study reported in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“Melatonin can be considered a safe and effective pharmacologic treatment in addition to behavior therapies and sleep hygiene practices for the management of sleep problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome,” the study team concludes.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, derived from the amino acid tryptophan. The hormone is important in regulating circadian rhythms, or the “sleep wake” cycle, and the reproduction cycle in mammals.

Fragile X syndrome is an inherited form of mental impairment resulting from a “fragile,” or broken site, on the X chromosome. The syndrome affects 2 to 5 percent of those with autism spectrum disorder, and symptoms of autism are common in children with fragile X.

Sleep problems are reported in up to 89 percent of children with autism and 77 percent of children with fragile X syndrome, Dr. Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, of the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (M.I.N.D.) Institute at the University of California Davis Health System in Sacramento, and colleagues noted in their report.

In a 4-week study, 18 children, ranging in age from 2 to 15 years, with autistic spectrum disorder and/or fragile X syndrome received either melatonin (3 milligrams) or placebo each night for 2 weeks. The children then “crossed over” to the other treatment group for 2 weeks.

Data from 12 children who completed the study showed that treatment with melatonin was associated with significant improvements in total night sleep durations, sleep latency times and sleep-onset times.

Specifically the average night sleep duration was 21 minutes longer with melatonin than with placebo, the sleep-onset latency was 28 minutes shorter, and the sleep-onset time was 42 minutes earlier.

“Sleep onset problems at the beginning of the night are very troublesome for children and their families,” Goodlin-Jones noted in a prepared statement accompanying the study. “Sometimes children may take one to two hours to fall asleep and often they disrupt the household during this time.”

The results of this study suggest that melatonin is an effective treatment for sleep problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome, a finding that is consistent with previous studies of children with autistic spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities.

(Source: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, April 15, 2009)

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Babies who were later diagnosed with autism played with toys in unusual ways, spinning or rotating them more than other babies, U.S. Researchers reported on Thursday.

Their findings, reported in the Journal Autism, might help doctors and parents identify children at risk of autism and start to help them earlier, the Researchers said.

Babies who went on to develop autism also stared noticeably at objects such as bottles or looked at them out of the corners of their eyes, Sally Ozonoff of the University of California Davis and colleagues found.

“There is an urgent need to develop measures that can pick up early signs of autism, signs present before 24 months,” Ozonoff said in a statement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that all infants be screened for autism before they turn two, and most Pediatricians look for the classic social and communication symptoms.

“The finding that the unusual use of toys is also present early in life means that this behaviour could easily be added to a Parent Check-List or quickly assessed during a visit to a Pediatrician’s office,” Ozonoff said.

“The earlier you treat a child for autism, the more of an impact you can have on that child’s future.”

Ozonoff and colleagues studied 66 1-year-old babies considered at high risk of autism, mostly because they had siblings with autism.

Nine of them were eventually diagnosed with autism, and seven of these spent significantly more time spinning, rotating and looking sideways at objects than the other children.

No one knows what causes autism, which is marked by impaired social interaction and communication and can range from mild symptoms to profound behavioural difficulties and mental retardation.

Autism and related disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome affect an estimated one out of every 150 U.S. children, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Most evidence suggests it is caused by a combination of genetic and early environmental factors – perhaps even before birth. It is usually diagnosed by age 3.

“About a third of parents notice signs before a child’s first birthday,” Ozonoff said.

(Source: Reuters, November 6, 2008)

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Autism is a life long developmental disability that prevents individuals from understanding what they see, hear, and otherwise sense. It is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. This results in severe problems affecting one’s social relationships, communication, and behaviour. Individuals with Autism have to painstakingly learn normal patterns of speech and communication, and appropriate ways to relate to people, objects, and events, in a similar manner to those who had a stroke.


· Inappropriate laughing or giggling.

· No fear for danger.

· Apparent insensitivity to pain.

· May not want to be cuddled.

· Sustained unusual or repetitive play; uneven physical or verbal skills.

· May avoid eye contact.

· May prefer to be alone.

· Difficulty in expressing needs; may use gestures.

· Inappropriate attachments to objects.

· Insistence on sameness.

· Echoes words or phrases.

· Inappropriate response or no response to sound.

· Spins objects on self.

· Difficulty in interaction with others.


Before any active child is said to have ADHD, the clinical term for the significantly hyperactive child, he must show symptoms in 3 basic groups in most settings (e.g. home and school):

1. High Level of Motor Activity

· Always moving about, running

· Can’t sit still

· Fidgeting

2. Poor Concentration Plan

· Can’t pay attention to teachers in kindergarten or school

· Can’t complete assigned work or play activities if it is just for a few minutes

· Easily distracted

3. Impulsive Behaviour

· Needs to satisfy his own wants immediately

· Can’t wait for his turn in games

· Interrupts or intrudes on others

4. Symptoms of ADHD

· Easily distracted by external stimuli

· Difficulty playing quietly

· Interrupts or intrude on others

· Often loses things

· Don’t seem to listen to what is being said to him

· Can’t sustain attention

· Fidgeting/can’t sit still

· High activity level

· Can’t wait for turn

(4) To Parent, Families & Caregivers:

· Recognize the early signs of autism and get kids on the right track early.

· Start thinking about the future… learn to plan through transitions from school years, to teen years and into adulthood.

· Learn the right types of foods, vitamins, interventions available for best success.

· Help facilitate your child’s success in social situations while on the playground and beyond.

· Improve the quality of life for individuals, families and caregivers around autism.

· Plan for the later years and caring for your child/adult with autism.

· Learn about comprehensive, evidence-based information to assist parents, family members, caregivers with interventions.

· Find the resources needed for recovery, advocacy, successful education.

(5) Benefits to educators: aides, assistants, administrators:

· Assist children in behaving in the classroom since society has moved to the model of inclusion in order to manage the entire class.

· Learn educational interventions such as sensory, communication, social skills, and behaviour to ensure greatest success in the classroom.

· Learn why children with autism behave the way they do and what you can do to help them succeed.

· Plan children’s IPP(Individualized Program Plan) in the most current up to date method for the greatest outcome for all concerned.

· Provide strategies to encourage team playing for everyone on the IPP (Individualized Program Plan) team with parents, teachers, assistants and most importantly the person with autism when appropriate.

· Discover how to build effective interventions for all individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

*** *** ***

“I long to accomplish a great & noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks

as if they were great & noble.”

-Helen Keller-

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Jo Moss told the BBC that there needs to be more public awareness and support for ADHD.

Parents need lessons in how to cope with their children’s unruly behaviour, new guidelines on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) say.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) says drugs such as Ritalin should be avoided – and must not be given to the under-fives.

Teachers would also benefit from training to recognise and help children with this condition, it adds.

Any primary school class is likely to have a child with ADHD, experts say.

Most of the estimated 365,000 children in Britain with ADHD receive no treatment at all.

There is an over-reliance on medicines.

Dr Tim Kendall, a Consultant Psychiatrist from Sheffield who helped write the guidelines.

But of those who do, most – about 37,000 – are prescribed stimulants like Ritalin (methylphenidate).

Children with ADHD have extreme difficulty sitting still, learning or concentrating.

At school they may find it hard to keep friends and suffer from bullying because of their behaviour. Looking after affected children can be exhausting for parents.

Parenting Classes

The guidelines, which cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland, say parent training and education programmes should be offered as a first-line treatment for ADHD, both for pre-school and school age children.


The programmes teach parents how to create a structured home environment, encourage attentiveness and concentration, and manage misbehaviour better.

Drugs remain a first option for children over five and young people with severe ADHD, say the guidelines, but only as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes psychological and behavioural interventions.

Dr Tim Kendall, a Consultant Psychiatrist from Sheffield who is joint Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health and helped draw up the guidelines, said: “There is an over-reliance on medicines.

ADHD symptoms
Easily distracted
Difficulty remaining seated when required
Difficulty awaiting turn in group situations
Difficulty following instructions
Difficulty in playing quietly
Often shift from one incomplete activity to another
Often interrupts others
Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering the consequences

“Quite commonly, people tend to revert to offering methylphenidate or atomoxetene. When they do that it’s not always because there’s a good balance of risk and benefits. It’s because the child has got what appears to be ADHD and that’s what’s available.

“Its easier to prescribe a drug when other options like parent training programmes are not available.”

Dr Kendall said it was important to diagnose ADHD correctly, rather than label all bad behaviour as ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD persist in all settings – both at school and at home – and cause real impairment.

Andrea Bilbow, Chief Executive of the ADHD charity ADDISS, welcomed the NICE recommendations but questioned how helpful the parent training programmes would be to parents.

“Parenting Programmes are extremely important, but they need to be specific for ADHD.”

“The ones that NICE are recommending were designed for the parents of children with conduct disorder, which is completely different from ADHD,” she said.

The Scottish InterCollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) is rewriting its guidelines on ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment and will take the NICE Guidelines into consideration.

Their new guidance will come out in the first half of 2009.

(Source:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/7630926.stm – Published 23/09/2008)

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Jacqui Jackson has not had a proper night’s sleep for years.


She is the mother of seven children, ranging from nine to 23 years old, four of whom have some form of autism.


Jacqui, whose story was featured in a TV documentary, is used to going for nights without any sleep at all. On other nights she cat naps for two or three hours at a time.


“Physically it does take its toll,” she says. “It gets you down and it affects how you work.


“I am doing a PHD into sensory issues in autistic children and I find it very hard to write my thesis when I am so tired.




“We have tried everything to improve the children’s sleep patterns, from drugs to homeopathy and massage. I have tried everything I can.”


“One thing that did have a slight effect was melatonin, but nothing worked well or for long.”


Luke, aged 18 has Aspergers Syndrome and has erratic sleep patterns.  When he was younger he slept during the day, even now his sleeping is fitful.


Ben, who is aged nine and autistic, has still not slept for a full night.


Joe, aged 13 has ADHD and sleeps soundly once asleep, but Jacqui said it takes a lot of time to get him to drop off.


And Matthew, who is 23, who has milder autism, had and still has problems sleeping.


“I am not superwoman, but I can go on with two or three hours a night, sometimes without any sleep at all. But they need 24-hour care.


“They have food allergies, and without somebody watching them they will go rampaging around the kitchen.”


“We have alarms on all the doors and on the medicine cabinets,” she said.


“We live in a bungalow and the boys sleep downstairs and the three girls upstairs.


“They have locks on their doors and because of all the noise they can now sleep through anything.”




Although Jacqui’s family’s situation is so severe, studies have shown that of the 500,000 people on the autistic spectrum in the UK most have some sort of sleep problems.


Over a third of them suffer from serious sleep problems that are debilitating for their families, partners and carers.


Now Research Autism has set up a forum to get parents, carers and experts together to try and share experiences and see if they can find solutions.


The first meeting was held this month and there are hopes to have similar meetings twice a year. 


“They are hoping to help offer practical solutions for different sleep patterns,” Jacqui explained.


Richard Mills, Director of Research for the National Autistic Society and Research Autism, said solving sleep problems was vital to promote well-being.


“We are talking about people having only three or four hours sleep a night.


“Others can be awake at night and asleep during the day, some go without sleep for days and others sleep so much they can not be roused.”


“What we are trying to do with this forum is to bring people together with people who might be able to help them.”


He said it was vital to remember that the problem also affected adults with autism as well as children.


“This could be people in their 40s and 50s who have had these problems all their lives and have not got better.”


“No one thing seems to be effective for everyone, but what we are hoping to do is to look at the problem in its entirety.”




He said it was important that the problem was tackled urgently.


“After all sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture by some regimes,” he said.


Jacqui Jackson said she was not expecting the forum to come up with an immediate solution to her family’s sleep problems, but she did hope to be able to share her tips on sleep management in the hope of helping others.


“I can tell them about a myriad of things that might work for them. What is not working for my boys could work for other people.”


(Source:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/4950668.stm.  Published 28 April 2008.)


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