Monday, September 24, 2012

Musical Talent & Public Education

Latest Autism News

Two new studies, one in individuals with Fragile X syndrome and the other a mouse model study may offer some hope.  It is far too early to tell whether these findings are really relevant to the lives of many kids with ASDs, but it worth taking a look.  Berry-Kravis and colleagues, tested arbaclofen, a drug that binds to the GABA-B receptors in the brain, with 63 individuals, ages 6 to 39 diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome.  There is about a 25% overlap between Fragile X and autism.  Half were randomly assigned to arabaclofen and half were given placebos. There was significant improvement in social function in a subgroup of 27 patients with more severe social impairment. There were a few side effects, including hives (13%) and headaches (8%).  Arabaclofen is a close relative of the drug baclofen used for treating spastic muscular disabilities. It is important to bear in mind that the participants were diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome, not autism, though there is considerable overlap in some of the symptoms.  In the other study on genetics and behavior of a mouse model of some forms of autism by Baudouin and collegues.  They found differences in Neuroligin-3 receptors in brain were associated with social behavioral differences in mice.  Neuroligin plays a role in forming synapses in the brain. It is unknown whether the behavioral measures in mice are actually correlated with social behavior in people.  Mutations of Neuroligin are rare in humans and at most would account for a tiny fraction of autism cases.

Baudouin, SJ et. Al. (2012) Shared Synaptic Pathophysiology in Syndromic and Nonsyndromic Rodent Models of Autism. Science. 2012 Sep 13. [Epub ahead of print]
Two other new studies summarized on my Autism Treatment website indicate frequency of gastrointestinal problems are no greater among kids with PDD-NOS than typical peers and that Hyperbaric Oxygen treatment produces no measurable improvements.

Quick Tips

Quick fixes are nearly always illusory. There are no magical mystery cures.  As with any other child, learning new skills and behavior changes among youngsters with autism comes gradually with loving patience and parenting consistency. The psychiatrist Carl Jung said it well, "If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves." Integration of Personality (1939).  Put another way, changing a child's behavior almost always requires changing what we do as parents.

Random Thoughts

There is a connection between musical interest and talent and autism spectrum disorders as noted originally by Leo Kanner as well as in Oliver Sachs’s book, Musicophilia. September 25, 1932 Glenn Gould was born in Toronto, CA, a pianist who became one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century. He is alleged to rarely practice, instead he claimed to “hear the music in his head,” from studying sheet music. He hated performing.  He was prone to behavior most considered very odd, such as cancelling a performance at the last minute and humming while performing, and wearing heavy clothing including gloves during distinctively warm weather. He had numerous rigid, unusual mannerisms and behavior patterns. Though not officially diagnosed, many experts have considered Mr. Gould to having had Asperger disorder.

What I’m Up To

I’m in the final planning stages for a nine day trip to Paris in a few weeks to present workshops to the ÉCLAIR organization [Education Comportementale et Ludique vers une Autonomie et une Intégration Réussie] Training inclusive, for parents and autism professionals, which consists of parents and professionals providing behavioral services to children with autism in France.  I’ll also be meeting with another family organization.  One day-long workshop will focus on Early Behavioral Intervention in Autism, including alternatives and brain changes underlying treatment effectiveness.  Other presentations will include Obsessive Compulsive Behavior in Autism, and Freedom From Meltdowns.

Quote of the Week

During this time of ferocious Republican attacks upon American public education, it is worth remembering how important public education is to children with autism, and that among the very first concerns of our ancestors was public education. The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is the first public school in the United States. Public education was mandatory in the Massachusetts Bay Colony beginning 1638. Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell, January 14, 1818  "A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  [Boyd, Julian P., Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, et al, eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-. 33 vols.]

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Autism Immunity, Whip Worms and More Mischief

Latest Autism News

You probably read or heard about the lead Op Ed article in the New York Times a week or two ago by Velasquez-Manoff claiming there is strong evidence autism is an immune disorder. Not so much.  There is actually very little evidence to support this idea despite many, many years of efforts by many researchers to find a clear connection. The author is an environmental activist journalist with no background in autism or immune disorders. He is trying to sell a book which will probably be a real hit with the anti-immunization crowd.  He makes all kinds of unsubstantiated claims, such as there is no autism in Cambodia, apparently due to endemic whip worms, and that 1/3 of cases of autism are caused by intrauterine infections. Yet one more magical mystery cure.  Shoddy science journalism.  See http://www. for my commentary “More Autism Mischief:  From Auto-Immune Disorder Whip Worms.”

I just learned that my book, Dr. Thompson’s Straight Talk on Autism has been translated into Portuguese an is being published in Brazil by Papirus Editora under the mixed title, “Straight Talk Dr. Thompson sobre o Autismo.” Apparently “straight talk” has no Portuguese equivalent. Many thanks to my Publisher Paul H. Brookes and my Brazilian colleagues!  Here’s the link to the English version

Quick Tips

It’s important to decide upon a strategy for your child’s intervention, make a commitment to stick with it.  Evidence shows the best predictors of positive outcomes of early behavioral intervention are partially child and partially parent characteristics.  Children with some speech, imitation and social interest, and parents who have made a clear commitment to an approach for their child and persist, tend to yield the best child outcomes. (Grindle, Koshov, 2009)

Random Thoughts

Every time a phony cure for autism is proposed and is exposed for what it is, phony, it feeds the misimpression that very little is actually known about autism and that little progress has been made.  In 1972 psychiatrist William C. Dement conducted a follow up study showing that only 1-2% of a large group of children with autism grow up to function within the typical range without treatment, putting forever an end to the idea children “outgrow” autism with good parenting.  Because of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention, which has grown out of applied behavior analysis research, about half of young children with autism diagnoses now are able to function in or near the typical range after 2-3 years of treatment.  Compared with the rate of progress in finding the causes and effective treatments for cancer and heart disease, progress has been made far more rapidly in understanding and treating autism.

What I'm Up To

Logan Hall, University of New Mexico
I just returned from a visit the Psychology Department at the University of New Mexico in Aluqueque, where I presented the Frank A. Logan Quad-L Award lecture “Autism Early Intervention and Brain Development.”  The audience seemed to find my thoughts about the causes and treatment of autism thought provoking, and some even found them compelling.  I met some terrific honors undergraduate and grad students, and wonderful faculty members, Randi Fink, Derek Hendry, Karin Butler, Kevin Vowles and Ronald Yeo, all doing fascinating work from spousal abuse, to mechanisms underlying alcoholism, to pain management and genetics of schizophrenia.  An unexpected “side-benefit” of my visit was that I Iearned Black bears come down from the nearby Sandia Mountains this time of year to begin fattening up for the winter.  One was captured near a mall in nearby Santa Fe a week or so ago.  When I was out and about in Albuqueque, I admit, kept a slightly wary eye out for the big fellas, just in case they had a hankering for a midwestern psychologist.  Thanks to all for a great visit. 

Quote of the Week: 

C. S. Pierce, the first experimental psychologist and philosopher, who was born Sept 10, 1839 said it concisely, “There is one thing even more vital to science than intelligent methods; and that is, the sincere desire to find out the truth, whatever it may be.”
Pragmatism as a Principle and Method of Right Thinking (1997), 266.

Grindle, Corinna F.Kovshoff, HannaHastings, Richard P. and Remington, Bob (2009) Parents’ experiences of home-based applied behavior analysis programs for young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders39(1)42-56(doi:10.1007/s10803-008-0597-z)
Grindle, C.F.Kovshoff, H.Hastings, R. and Remington, R.E. (2009) Parents experiences of home-based applied behaviour analysis programs for young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders39(doi:10.1007/s10803-008-0597-z)