Unlike typical toddlers, those with autism tend not to share experiences involving sound — dancing to music with their parents, for example, or directing a parent’s attention toward a cat’s meow — according to a new study.
Sharing sounds in this way is a form of joint attention — focusing on something intentionally with another person — which helps young children learn social skills and how to communicate. Joint attention also occurs when, for instance, a parent looks at a toy and names it, and their child follows their gaze to look at it, too. Children typically develop joint attention as toddlers, but autistic children often do not, and a lack of that skill is thought to be one of the earliest signs of autism.
Previous work has focused on visual joint attention, often in the context of a parent trying to get a child to look at their face or at a particular object. The new study examined joint attention elicited by a range of sounds. As with new sights, children with autism are often interested in new sounds, the researchers found, but less interested in sharing them.
This work is one step toward finding out how variations in children’s experiences of sharing sounds might relate to later language development, says lead researcher Lauren Adamson, Regents professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The findings were published in August in Autism Research.
Some past work has led researchers to suspect that atypical face processing lies at the root of autistic children’s joint-attention problems, because joint attention often depends on a child following a parent’s gaze. The new findings point to a deeper cognitive construct involved in atypical joint attention, one that is likely shared by visual and auditory processing, says Peter Mundy, professor of education and psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the work.
“That’s very useful, because we get stuck in a paradigm if we think about it being tied specifically to a behavior rather than a neurocognitive process,” he says.
Adamson and her team examined auditory joint-engagement skills — joint attention coupled with an interaction around a shared experience — in 49 typically developing toddlers, 46 autistic toddlers and 46 non-autistic toddlers with other developmental disabilities, such as developmental language disorder. All of the children were younger than 30 months old.
While each child played with a parent or caregiver, the researchers used hidden speakers to pipe in a series of different sounds: instrumental classical music, birdsong or cats meowing, train or motorcycle sounds and recordings of human speech that included the child’s name.
At first, the researchers instructed parents to ignore the sounds and continue playing, giving them the opportunity to see if the children noticed a sound and attempted to share it, perhaps by looking back and forth between the parent and the sound source, talking to the parent about the sound or looking at the parent and pointing toward the sound source.
For all of the non-human sounds, most toddlers in all of the groups noticed the sounds and then turned or pointed toward their source. Some autistic toddlers noticed the sounds — they stopped playing or their eyes widened, for example — but did not look toward them.
When the children heard the sound of someone speaking, however, a significant difference emerged: The autistic children were less likely than the other two groups to notice or to orient toward the voice, even when it called their name. And only 15 percent tried to share any of the speech sounds, compared with 73 percent of the typical children and 41 percent of those with other developmental disabilities.
For full article, please visit: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/autistic-toddlers-do-not-tune-in-to-sounds-with-others/
Within cells, molecules known as transfer RNAs, or “tRNAs,” play an important but unglamorous workhorse role in keeping the genetic translation process moving along from codes of DNA to functional proteins.
Because they play such a vital role in this translational “housekeeping,” tRNAs are plentiful.
There are hundreds of tRNA genes in mammalian cells and more than enough backup copies, just in case anything goes wrong. Yet because there are so many tRNAs, they’ve been largely overlooked in the search for the roots of disease processes.
University of California San Diego scientists studying tRNAs in mice have now found that a mutation in a tRNA gene called n-Tr20—expressed only in the brain—can disrupt the landscape of the entire cell, leading to a chain reaction altering brain function and behavior.
The new research is described in the journal Neuron.
Study first author Mridu Kapur, a postdoctoral scholar working in Professor Susan Ackerman’s laboratory, says she and her colleagues found that n-Tr20 plays a role in the delicate balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the brain. A disruption in this balance has been implicated in numerous neurological diseases, including epilepsies and autism spectrum disorders.
“tRNAs have generally been overlooked in the hunt for the genetic causes of disease, but recent whole genome sequencing projects have revealed that there are many variations in tRNA sequences in the human population,” said Kapur. “Our study suggests the enormous potential for tRNA variants to contribute to disease outcomes and phenotypic variability.”
The researchers found that a loss of n-Tr20, one of the members of a five-gene tRNA family, made mice resistant to seizures. While they note that their initial interest in this area came from the idea that a tRNA mutation could subsequently influence other gene mutations, their results not only confirm their speculations that tRNA mutations can influence other mutations, but indicate that these mutations alone can also alter brain function.
“You can imagine it’s like a seesaw—if you push either way you can have problems,” said Ackerman, a member of the Section of Neurobiology, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Keeping balance of these two opposing forces is essential for normal function. Shifting one way or another can lead to neurological diseases. It’s becoming well accepted in the autism spectrum disorder field that what we are really seeing is an imbalance of excitatory/inhibitory neurotransmission.”
Ackerman says part of the reason tRNAs have been overlooked in disease investigations is because researchers commonly concentrate on mutations in unique genes. A member of a large family such as n-Tr20 typically gets tossed in the genetic garbage can because they are too similar to one other.
“We never knew a mutation in a multi-copy tRNA gene could do anything like this,” said Ackerman. “These findings make you think about people who have diseases with variable symptoms and how much this class of overlooked genes could be playing a role in their disease. So we’re seeing this go from a behavior, such as seizure, all the way to the molecular underpinnings causing them.”
For full article, please visit: https://www.technologynetworks.com/genomics/news/mutation-in-housekeeping-trna-linked-to-autism-339156
SINGAPORE – Teachers in special education (Sped) schools will have more room to progress in their careers through two new tracks in teaching and leadership.
New hires will also go through a contract teaching stint and a longer diploma programme at the National Institute of Education (NIE).
These were some of the plans laid out on Wednesday (Sept 2) by Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling, along with new career and training guidelines, to raise the standards of the Sped teaching profession and make it more attractive.
In a November 2018 review of human resource practices in the Sped teaching sector, the Ministry of Education (MOE) found that existing career frameworks vary across the 19 government-funded Sped schools run by 12 social service agencies.
More than 70 per cent of Sped teachers, and social service agencies, which run the schools, were consulted for their views.
These schools provide customised support for 6,600 students with moderate to severe special needs, such as autism and multiple disabilities.
Since then, there has been a steady rise in the numbers of students with autism spectrum disorder, she added. To cater to increasing enrolment, the MOE intends to set up seven more Sped schools in the next seven years.
The MOE’s study also found that Sped teachers wanted more clearly defined job roles and responsibilities. There are currently about 1,550 teachers across the Sped schools.
“In the years to come, we envisage the Sped profession to be a more attractive career with diverse job opportunities for teachers,” said the MOE on Wednesday.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/more-avenues-for-progression-and-training-for-teachers-in-special-education
Mr Wesley Loh’s call for government intervention to ensure that persons with autism are able to access insurance coverage just like those without disabilities is timely (Govt help needed to tackle insurer bias against autism, Sept 17).
Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), state parties are obliged to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of health insurance.
Singapore ratified the CRPD in July 2013. However, it placed a reservation on Article 25(e) on the basis that Singapore does not mandate private insurance companies to provide insurance for persons with disabilities.
In its initial report to the CRPD Committee in June 2016, the Government stated that it was “looking to incorporate this general principle (of non-discriminatory treatment) in guidelines that private insurers are expected to abide by” in the following two years.
Yet, as Mr Loh’s letter demonstrates, insurance discrimination remains a serious issue in our society, affecting the health and well-being of not only those with autism, but also persons with disabilities in general.
The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) recently called on the Government to remove its reservation on Article 25(e) in its first parallel report to the CRPD Committee. The Government should adopt DPA’s recommendation and take immediate steps to address the problem of insurance discrimination. In addition, such discriminatory practices should be expressly prohibited by legislation.
For full article, please visit: https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/forum-laws-needed-to-end-insurance-bias
Disparities in autism spectrum disorder diagnoses among 8-year-old children in Colorado: Who are we missing?
Although autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as 2 years of age, many children are not diagnosed with autism until much later. We analyzed data to determine why many of the 8-year-old children who resided in Colorado and were identified as having autism through a review of their health and/or educational records did not have a documented clinical diagnosis of autism and were not eligible for special education services under an autism eligibility. We found that children who did not have a documented clinical diagnosis of autism and were not eligible for special education services under an autism eligibility were more likely to be female, aggressive, and argumentative. They had a poorer quality of information in their records and were less likely to have had a developmental regression, sleep problems, or an autism screener or diagnostic measure in their records. These results suggest that the symptoms characteristic of autism among this group of children may have been attributed to another disorder and that clinicians may be able to recognize autism more readily in children with more functional impairment and those who experience a developmental regression. We also discovered that differences in symptom presentations among children who had a documented clinical diagnosis of autism and/or were eligible for special education services under an autism eligibility were associated with different ages at autism diagnosis.
Researchers from several American universities are collaborating to develop artificial intelligence based software to help people on the autism spectrum find and hold meaningful employment.
The project is a collaboration between experts at Vanderbilt, Yale, Cornell and the Georgia Institute of Technology. It consists of developing multiple pieces of technology, each one aimed at a different aspect of supporting people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the workplace, according to Nilanjan Sarkar, professor of engineering at Vanderbilt University and the leader of the project.
“We realized together that there are some support systems for children with autism in this society, but as soon as they become 18 years old and more, there is a support cliff and the social services are not as much,” Sarkar said.
The project began a year ago with preliminary funding from the National Science Foundation. The NSF initially invested in around 40 projects, but only four — including this one — were chosen to be funded for a longer term of two years.
“We’re very excited to be part of that selection,” said Brian Scassellati, the A. Bartlett Giamatti professor of computer science, mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale. “I think it’s a recognition of how important this problem is and how close we are to being able to help people.”
People on the autism spectrum tend to have strong visual reasoning abilities and often see puzzles differently from how a neurotypical person might see them. Companies find it beneficial to hire people with strong visual and spatial abilities because these skills can be very useful, especially for working in technology, according to Maithilee Kunda, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering at Vanderbilt University.
Kunda leads the effort to develop AI and cognitive modeling that analyzes a person’s visual reasoning abilities. Then, based on the analysis, people are connected with job positions they might excel in. This is done through an assessment consisting of a series of puzzles during which the test-taker wears an eye-tracker and is monitored with cameras. The researchers then use the measurements they take from both the sensors and the test to study the visual thinking process of the test-taker, according to Kunda.
Several years ago, Kunda realized “you can give two people the same set of problems to do and they can both be equally successful solving the problems correctly, but they could be doing it in completely different ways,” she said. “This is like the great mystery of cognitive science. All these things are happening inside your head and we cannot directly measure them.”
Eighty percent of people with ASD are either unemployed or underemployed, according to Sarkar. However, Kunda pointed out that often the issue is not with someone’s job abilities but rather with their social skills.
For full article, please visit: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2020/09/23/yale-researchers-develop-ai-technology-for-adults-with-autism/
The 31-year-old has been with Awwa School for 11 years. The social service agency provides special education to children and teenagers (aged seven to 18) with multiple disabilities and young learners with autism.
There had been challenges, but Ms Shalini is happy doing what she enjoys.
When one of her pupils with global developmental delay refused to participate in an online lesson during the circuit breaker, Ms Shalini spent her days off crafting a personalised learning package just for her.
Knowing that the child, who has cognitive learning difficulties, enjoys playing with puzzles, Ms Shalini customised subsequent online lessons to suit the nine-year-old’s interests, which included activities such as colour sorting.
Ms Shalini also had to juggle both mum and teacher duties while at “work”, a makeshift space anywhere in her two-room flat in Yishun.
For full article, please visit: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/these-educators-feel-fulfilled-teaching-children-special-needs
The fleeting way cats make eye contact may explain why some autistic children develop stronger relationships with pet cats than pet dogs.
The “less intrusive glance” of cats, compared to the “long gazes” that dogs make, might align better with autistic children’s “social needs,” says Marine Grandgeorge at the University of Rennes in France.
“Cats don’t hold a stare but tend to look away after short bouts of eye contact, and it’s possible that this feels more comfortable for …
For full article, please visit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2254308-some-autistic-children-may-prefer-cats-as-they-dont-hold-eye-contact/
Five years after “Sesame Street” put its focus on autism, new research suggests the show’s materials are helping to change minds among parents of kids with and without the developmental disorder.
The venerable children’s television show introduced a character with autism and a collection of online materials with information about the condition and resources for families in 2015.
Looking at the “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” website made a difference for parents, whether or not they were personally affected by the developmental disability, according to findings published late last month in the journal Autism.
Researchers assessed levels of implicit bias toward children with autism in 473 parents of kids on the spectrum and 707 parents of those without the developmental disorder. The evaluations, which examined attitudes and knowledge about autism, parenting confidence, strain and stigma, were conducted before and after the parents reviewed the “See Amazing” website.
The study found that parents of children with autism had less bias toward kids on the spectrum than the other moms and dads before looking at the website. After reviewing the materials, however, bias reduced among the parents of children without autism and the two groups of parents had comparable levels.
Meanwhile, many parents of children with autism showed better attitudes and more knowledge about the developmental disorder after spending time on the website, which helped them feel more empowered.
For full article, please visit: https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2020/09/08/sesame-street-changing-attitudes-autism/28902/
About 0.7 percent of children in China aged 6 to 12 have autism, suggests the largest study of the country’s autism prevalence to date. And in Greece, 1.15 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds have the condition, according to the first estimate for that country.
Both figures fall within the range of autism prevalence estimates reported for children in other nations. The studies also show that autism is about four times as common in boys as it is in girls in both countries, a ratio in line with studiesof children in the United States and elsewhere.
A 2019 study of 45,036 children in three Chinese cities came up with a slightly higher estimate of about 1 percent. But the new work includes almost three times as many children, from eight cities, and may better represent China’s population, the researchers say. It also provides the first data on the prevalence of co-occurring conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“It’s a very strong starting point, and it’s a step up for China compared to what was there before,” says Eric Fombonne, professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, who helped design the study, a collaboration among researchers across five provinces and three municipalities — groups that often compete for government research funding. “These epidemiological studies are behemoths, very difficult to do.”
Still, the new studies may underestimate the actual number of children with autism in China and Greece.
Autism prevalence research in both countries is in early stages compared with prevalence research in other countries, says Mayada Elsabbagh, assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who was not involved in either study. Instead of true prevalence, the new estimates in China and Greece likely reflect levels of community awareness, the quality of services and the availability of diagnostic tools, she says.
Fombonne and his colleagues used government records to identify 125,806 eligible children ages 6 to 12 living in eight Chinese cities, chosen as a representative sample of the country. To screen the children for autism, the team distributed a questionnaire they had developed, called the Modified Chinese Autism Spectrum Rating Scale (MC-ASRS), to parents and teachers.
The MC-ASRS screen flagged 37,500 children. After group interviews with the children, the team offered diagnostic evaluations to 1,135 of them; about 20 percent of the children’s families declined. The team also evaluated children attending special education schools, who they assumed were more likely to be autistic.
Of the 1,079 of children evaluated for autism, 363 met criteria for the condition. Forty-three percent of the children had not been previously diagnosed, and more than 90 percent of these children attended mainstream schools. By assuming that the prevalence numbers for children from nonresponsive families would be roughly the same as those for the rest of the participants, the researchers estimated an overall prevalence of 1 in 143.
This figure falls on the lower end of the range reported for other countries, suggesting that more children remain to be identified in the region, Elsabbagh says. “It’s nevertheless a very useful tool to get kind of a screenshot of the current situation of autism in China, and certainly a useful estimate in terms of informing policy and services.”
For full article, please visit: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/autism-prevalence-estimates-for-china-greece-align-with-global-patterns/