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Fundraising That Helps Your Autism Programs, Too!

Beads for a Cause™ designs quality, cause-conscious jewelry that represent charities that are most meaningful to you. Beads like this “I See You” design symbolize a person’s commitment to autism awareness, research, education and inclusion, while a percentage of sales goes directly toward those efforts by The Autism Research Foundation. Use this bead to fundraise for your autism programming, too!

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theautismresearchfoundationFundraising That Helps Your Autism Programs, Too!
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Gaze Shifting Testing for Earlier ASD Diagnosis

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now estimates roughly 1 in 50 school-aged children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This estimated increase in ASD prevalence suggests that steps are being taken to improve diagnosis of the disorder. ASD is not generally diagnosed until after three years of age, yet a recent study published in the American Journal Psychiatry examined the possibility of diagnosing ASD in children as young as seven months old.

This study included fifty-seven “high-risk” infants with an older sibling diagnosed with ASD and forty “low-risk” infants with typically developing older siblings. The infants participated in the study at seven months old and returned for a clinical assessment after their second birthday. This assessment determined which of these children should be diagnosed with ASD. Knowledge of their diagnosis was then used to analyze the study’s data.

The study measured the brain activity and amount of time required for a seven month old infant to shift their gaze during a visual attention task. Researchers compared the eye movements and visual attention of infants later diagnosed with ASDs, to those of a typically developing infant of the same age.

To do so, researchers engaged infants in the Gap/Overlap Task. During the Gap Task, infants sat on their parent’s laps and watched images appear on a monitor. The first image appeared in the center of the screen, attracted the infant’s gaze, and then disappeared. A gap of time passed before a second image appeared on the edge of the screen. Advanced eye tracking equipment captured the infant’s eye movements. These measurements provided researchers with the exact timing of the shift in gaze.

The Overlap Task measured eye-movements as well, but also included a measure of brain activity. During this portion, the image remained in the center of the screen, while a second image appeared at the edge. Eye tracking equipment measured the time it took infants to shift their gaze to the peripheral image. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the researchers also measured the amount of processing occurring in different regions, in the infant’s brain to determine if there were patterns that distinguished the two groups.

Results showed a difference of 25 to 50 milliseconds on average between infants later diagnosed with ASD and their typically developing counterparts.  Researchers believe this delay can be accounted for by differences in the developing neurological circuits of a child’s brain. During this period of early infancy, the brain’s pathways for communication are forming quickly. These pathways influence how the infant interprets and responds to the environment.

Researchers identified the splenium of the corpus callosum as one such pathway that may be related to the difference in gaze shifting. This structure is an important neural connection between the brain’s left and right hemisphere. Results revealed a correlation between large splenium size and the speed with which infants shift their gaze. The ability of an infant to rapidly switch gazes improved with increased size of the splenium in typically developing infants.

However, researchers found no similar correlation in infants later diagnosed with ASD.

Although 25 milliseconds seems brief, this delayed reaction time implies a possible overall difference in the way the infant’s brain is developing. A small delay at this early stage may hint at larger differences in cognitive and social development. Thus, this attention shifting delay may well serve as a precursor to other well-known symptoms of autism. Such symptoms including difficulty making eye contact and coordinating gaze. Research consistently suggests an association between autism and deficits in pursuit eye movement. Further gaze testing research may allow professionals the opportunity to predict the development of these symptoms as opposed for waiting for them to occur.

By detecting neurological differences through research on subtle delays at the infant stage of development, researchers hope to improve ASD diagnosis at an earlier age. Earlier diagnosis will help parents to recognize their infant’s needs and begin working to help their child reach his or her full potential. These potential diagnostic tools such as fMRI might be useful longitudinally as well to chart an individual’s progress during early intervention therapies.

To read more about this study, check out the full article.

Citations:

NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human D. “Gaze Shifting Delay Has Potential To Diagnose Autism At 7 Months.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 27 Mar. 2013. Web. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/258189.php>

Takarae, Y., Minshew, N., Luna, B., Krisky, C. & Sweeney, J. Pursuit Eye Movement Deficits in Autism. Brain: A Journal of Neurology 127, 2584–2594 (2004).

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10 Reasons to Donate

Hi Friends,
Our online community has asked our staff to provide ten (10) reasons for why people should donate to The Autism Research Foundation this holiday season. Is it cliche to say that the hardest part of this challenge was narrowing down our reasons to such a short list? Well, it was!
Here is our cheat sheet for why you should consider giving a gift to a charity that gives all year-round:
  1. The Autism Research Foundation is the first medically-accredited autism research charity in the world. Our longevity proves we have stood the test of time as a trusted authority in the field.
  2. Dr. Margaret Bauman spearheads our research. She is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Society for Autism Research among an impressive 92-page curriculum vitae. It’s single-spaced! (And you can read it here.)
  3. We believe donations should pass through us, not to us. Whether you donate to research or a conference — or anything in between — your donation makes an immediate impact on the community we serve.
  4. Our charity operates entirely on volunteers. Between internships and returning helpers, our community donates their time and talent repeatedly each year — even as they move onto full-time careers elsewhere. That’s a testament to our mission and its why we can keep our overhead costs so low.
  5. We admit that we do not know it all, but we are so motivated to try! An autism diagnosis lasts a lifetime, and with it comes a lifetime of experiences that really do make the day-to-day tasks harder. We research to help you make better sense of the autism experience, and we aren’t too proud to say that there’s a long way to go, but you’ve got a friend in us and we are happy to help you along the way.
  6. Every staff member of The Autism Research Foundation is required to spend time in an autism clinic and an autism inclusion program: speaking with the people who live with autism everyday and building relationships with the parents/caregivers who help them navigate that different life. When you speak to a TARF staff member, you can be sure that they have a closer understanding of what you’re going through first-hand. 
  7. You can make donations in tribute to someone you value — check a gift (or ten!) off your list! We will send anyone — your best friend, child’s teacher, neighbor, therapist, or the President — a card letting him/her know you were thinking of them.
  8. We believe in a whole-person, whole-body understanding of autism: that you need to invest time in getting to know the person who happens to have autism first, before getting to know their autism characteristics.
  9. Every year, we host The Autism Research Consortium to encourage collaborative work across all healthcare and science disciplines. We share our information with an exclusive, small, and trusted network of professionals who are genuinely committed to helping families over raising illegitimate dollars from big corporate sponsors. Truthfully, we’d rather be poor and be able to sleep at night with a free conscience.
  10. Our doors are open to you. Anytime. We never turn families away from services for an inability to pay and we encourage supporters to walk-through our lab and learn what their donations, volunteer hours, and passion contribute to every day.

Follow The Autism Research Foundation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest to learn all of the ways our charity gives you reasons to give. Thank you for considering us!

Love,

Courtney and the TARF staff

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Children with ASD more attracted to screen-based media

It is not uncommon for parents to worry about their child/teen’s excessive fascination with technology.  To be honest, the amount of time I spend glued to my computer on a weekly basis is probably a bit worrisome to anyone who walks by me in the study lounge. However, a recent study at the University of Missouri (MU) led to the conclusion that children and teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) use screen-based media, such as television or video games, more often than their peers and are more likely to develop problematic video game habits.

MU researchers studied screen-based media use among 202 children and adolescents with ASDs, as well as 127 of their typically developing siblings. Those with ASDs spent more time playing exclusive video games and less time on interactive social media websites, such as Facebook or Twitter. They also spent more time watching TV and playing video games than participating in physical or social activities. The typically developing siblings spent more time engaged in non-screen activities.

A further study examined 169 adolescent boys with ASD. Findings showed a correlation between problematic video game addiction, and oppositional behaviors, such as refusing directions and engaging in arguments. This study does not imply causation; therefore results do not prove that video games are the cause of oppositional behavior. It may just be that video games provide a distraction from stresses these individuals experience.

Researchers questioned why children with ASD experience increased attraction to video games. Possible explanations include the idea that video games offer visually engaging experiences, which do not require face-to-face communication or social interaction, which can be more stressful or uncertain. Figuring out why these children are so attracted to screen-based technology may allow researchers to develop therapies that are similarly engaging. Some researchers have begun to investigate how to incorporate therapy in a virtual environment to teach skills that could translate into actual social reactions. An example of one such study is taking place at UC Davis Medical Center. By creating a virtual reality for participants, researchers are able to track gazing and eye movements, as well as create mock situations with faces appearing on the computer screen. These virtual reality methods provide participants with practice making appropriate eye contact in a more comfortable situation. For more information on the virtual reality studies at UC Davis, visit the full article.

Until further research determines a way to translate this visual attraction into a more beneficial screen-based experience, researchers at MU warn parents against allowing children with ASD to spend too much time glued to the screen. Parents should encourage their children to participate in more social or physical activities (which can be easier said than done). This article by Autism Digest offers helpful tips in considering what sport may be most appropriate for your child. The Autism Research Foundation offers several programs, such as Athletes 4 Autism andArt 4 Autism, to provide opportunities for children to get off the couch and explore their talents!

Check out the full article to learn more about this study.

Citations:

University of Missouri-Columbia. “Children and Teens With Autism More Likely to Become Preoccupied With Video Games.” ScienceDaily. 17 Apr. 2013. Web.

Virtual Reality: An Intervention for Autism. (2010). <http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2010-2011/09/20100916_MIND_virtual-autism.html>

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Batman Saved More Than Bedtime

When we moved our family almost 3000 miles away from their cousins, I knew the separation would be hard.

My girls and my sister’s boys have grown up together since birth. They love Lilly for who she is and have never seen her as any different than that. After a horrific trip home this past summer, I soon realized flying across country with my autistic angel just might not be in the cards for awhile.

How was I going to keep the connection going?

My angel loves watching pictures and videos of the boys, but never asks for them or does more than a whine and then kiss on the phone. I just had to keep the faith to talk to both my daughters equally about their boys in California, show pictures, tell stories. One of the difficult aspects of autism is not knowing what their minds are absorbing. I know my Lilly is extremely bright, but it’s never easy or normal to not receive answers to questions we try to ask her.

A couple weeks ago, I was blessed with a sneak peek inside her precious mind. Every day around noon the doorbell rings, and I prompt Lilly to go answer it. It is always one of her amazing therapists arriving for her in-home ABA therapy. On this day, she pranced through the hallway, long legs and tip-toes as always, but cried when she opened the door. To my complete and utter amazement, she whined, “No Miss __.” “Dane! Dane!”

There it was. More than a year from moving away, she asked for her adoring cousin. I immediately jumped on FaceTime with my sister so Lilly could see his face, but more importantly so my nephew knew she was here, asking for him. I ran into the kitchen, grabbed his proud soccer picture from the fridge and put it in her therapy room. My gut told me to keep the momentum going. I felt this strong urge to hold onto this seemingly unimaginable moment forever.

batmanmaskShe has not asked for him since, but found a Batman mask given to her by the boys on our trip home. Lilly had regressed on that trip — humming constantly, little to no language, wandering — and the only thing that seemed to calm her was the mask. It acted as a comfort, an escape: heartbreaking and adorable wrapped in the same breath.

Of course my generous and loving nephews let her keep it.

Lately, and, honestly, most of her life, Lilly’s bedtime routine has been a nightmare to say the least. So last night, when she insisted on bringing the hard plastic mask to bed, I didn’t flinch. Anything to calm her and not cause aggression and a meltdown, I figured.

As if she was recalling a memory, my sweet girl slid the mask on, smiled one of her room-lighting, angelic grins, and peacefully closed her eyes. My heart sang: confident that this one simple toy is serving as a link, a physical connection to recall her memory of time spent with her boys.

Most people wear a mask to keep the world out, but Lilly wears hers to let the world in. I bet Batman never knew he had the ability to save a little girl like this.

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The Importance of Donations

Diana and her sistersAs an older sister to two incredible, beautiful, amazing girls with autism, I am extremely grateful for the amount of support from donors that help keep The Autism Research Foundation running. Since I was able to speak and to think on my own, I’ve known that my most important role in life would be to be my sisters’ voice.

They’re unable to thank you and to let you know the level of gratitude my family and I have for any and all donations that bring life to an organization that devotes their time and energy to bettering the lives of those on the autism spectrum, but I am.

I’m able to say that research on causes and cures continues to grow because of funding from donations of all amounts.

I’m able to say that children with autism are getting involved in sports and other typical activities because of the generosity of strangers.

I’m able to say that increased knowledge throughout the world about autism has become available thanks to the love that comes from those who care about talking about it.

I’m able to say that families who thought they could never support their child with autism have new hopes and dreams created by the efforts made by a few good people.

I’m able to say that new therapies and interventions have been discovered that have brought comfort to those living with autism because of the money raised in support of brain-based research by organizations like The Autism Research Foundation.

What I can’t put into words is the amount of love that families like mine have for donors. They are what keep our hopes alive, our dreams for my sisters big, and our lives in motion.

There is nothing that I’m able to say that could describe the feeling I get when thinking about there someday being a cure-all because people that I don’t know care about my sisters enough to give generously to research efforts.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

To make more contributions in support of families like mine, donate here.

theautismresearchfoundationThe Importance of Donations
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1:50 School-Age Children Diagnosed with ASDs

Review by Jerry Skefos
Research Coordinator
The Autism Research Foundation

On March 20th, 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a National Health Statistics Report, which estimates a significant increase in the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in a representative sample of the United States (taken from approximately 100,000 random telephone surveys). This 2011-2012 phone survey was an update to a prior survey taken in 2007, which had a similar number of participants.

The shocking report delivered by this recent survey states that the estimate of ASD diagnoses has now significantly increased to approximately 2% of U.S. school-aged children (ages 6-17 years), from the prior 2007 estimate of 1.16%, which amounts to approximately 400,000 additional children with ASD.

Over the last decade, many have become alarmed by the possibility that increases in the prevalence of ASDs are due largely to environmental factors (such as chemical exposures, including airborne and food borne teratogens, as well as vaccines). A handful of environmental chemicals have been analyzed for their association with ASD diagnosesand inspected biologically to determine their propensity for impacting brain development, but it is important to note that the majority of chemicals that could potentially contribute to autism have not been studied yet. 

It is for this reason that one must use caution when assessing the significance of any particular chemical’s association with ASDs until more expansive studies are done to compare a large number of these chemicals. Such a study is difficult and highly expensive to design and execute, and it will likely be a number of years before it will be possible to assess the relative contribution of environmental chemicals to Autism Spectrum Disorders, let alone pinpoint which chemicals might increase ASD prevalence in the population overall.

The moral of the story: As of today, no individual chemical has been found to significantly contribute to the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

More relevant to the March 20th report, it appears that the majority of diagnoses were of children that were previously undiagnosed: milder cases that had evaded detection prior to 2007 when the previous phone survey was performed. Indeed, half as many “severe” cases were identified, but significantly more “mild ASD” cases were reported. It is for this reason that it is believed that the presence of ASD itself has not significantly increased in recent years, but much more cases are being diagnosed by health care professionals.

Thus, the significant increase in health care providers’ awareness of ASDs, the availability of more sensitive screening measures, and the availability of ASD services in the community are believed to have fueled the recent increased estimate of ASD prevalence.

Therefore — at this time — environmental factors are not implicated as a major contributor to the recent increases in estimated ASD prevalence. It appears from the data that more individuals on the autism spectrum are being identified and receiving services, which is a testament to the hard work of autism awareness campaigns. There is a long road ahead in terms of further improving early diagnosis, and setting up an infrastructure to finance and develop the early-intervention programs and similarly important services that can improve the development of those with ASD.

The philosophy of a multidisciplinary approach to autism research, diagnosis and treatment services is the hallmark of The Autism Research Foundation — Learn what you can do to help TARF make these programs available.

The March 20th report indicated that the majority of new diagnoses were of males rather than females, which tells us that it is more important to investigate the physiological differences between males and females diagnosed with autism now than ever before. The question still remains as to whether the diagnostic criteria are biased towards a more masculine presentation of ASD symptoms, and/or what risk factors may affect male brain development differently to increase ASD risk in males.

Further analyses of the 2011-2012 telephone survey data used in the March 20th report are being developed. The investigators will analyze the contribution factors of healthcare systems and sociodemographics to the prevalence of autism.

The take-home message of the March 20th report is that autism is indeed more prevalent than prior thought, and as it is crucial to detect the disorder as early as possible to improve the efficacy of early intervention strategies, all children believed to be at-risk for autism (or believed to be showing early signs of autism) should be closely monitored to lower the occurrence of missed diagnoses. Furthermore, the most recent epidemiological data does not support an increased contribution of environmental causes to ASD prevalence in recent years, but further research is still required to determine what environmental chemicals may have an impact on autism risk.

Click here for a link to the original article.

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Science Media Director: Lindsay

Hi! I'm Lindsay Rosen, your Science Blogger at The Autism Research Foundation.

Hello,

I’m Lindsay Rosen, your Science Media Director at The Autism Research Foundation.

My name is Lindsay Rosen. I graduated this spring from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.  During my time at Miami I’ve worked at the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-CARD).

Through UM-CARD, I’ve participated in research on parent-child relationships. We examined general comments and direct requests made by parents to determine the most effective way to evoke reactions from children with autism. I also spent time with children and teens diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders outside of the lab, working as a camp counselor at UM-NSU Explorers Camp, and assisting with monthly “Teen Time” events.

Through both efforts in the autism community, I have formed meaningful relationships and grown to care for the children I work with. These children are such kindhearted and loving kids, yet they are often misunderstood. My passion lies in improving the lives of these awesome individuals and I believe the best way to do so is by increasing autism awareness and education. I am excited to provide valuable education in my weekly blogs to help make people aware while also improving general autism knowledge.

I applied to intern at The Autism Research Foundation (TARF) because of their impressive awareness campaigns and cutting-edge research. The Foundation’s dedication to the cause is admirable and I am proud to be a part of the team. I moved to Boston after graduation to assist with TARF’s inclusion programs, awareness campaigns, and research. To read more about what TARF offers, click here: http://theautismresearchfoundation.org/inclusion-programs/

In addition, I will be writing an Autism Science Blog for TARF’s website. This blog will present the newest and most important science to the public in an understandable way that describes the science appropriately.  Flashy scientific discoveries are often promoted by the media in a manner that leads to misinformation in the autism community. I hope to counteract some of this confusion by providing easy-to-understand interpretations of these theories. With all of the existing autism information out there, it’s not an easy job, but I am confident I can be a great support for families of all circumstances: whether you’re navigating a new diagnosis or you are a seasoned parent of someone with an ASD.

My experiences have led me to view autism not as a disorder, but as a unique lifestyle that we should all make an effort to understand and appreciate, rather than ignore and chastise. I believe my work with The Autism Research Foundation will allow me to do just that and I feel truly privileged to be working with a dedicated staff of individuals equally passionate about this cause.

Looking forward to developing an understanding of autism with you,

Lindsay

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