(Photo: USAG Humphries)
Collaborative playgroup model proves effective in teaching children with autism skills needed to engage in symbolic play, interact with peers
It’s an often-agonizing challenge facing any parent of a child with autism: How can I help my son or daughter socialize with his or her typically developing peers? The solution, SF State’s Pamela Wolfberg found, may lie in a different type of playgroup that focuses on collaborative rather than adult-directed activities.
A new study shows that “Integrated Play Groups,” or IPGs, developed by Wolfberg over several years, are effective in teaching children with autism the skills they need to interact with their peers and engage in symbolic play such as pretending. In IPGs, adults help children with autism and their typically developing peers engage in playful activities of mutual interest, but do not direct the play themselves. That sets them apart from more traditional interventions, according to Wolfberg, a professor of special education and communicative disorders.
Human geneticists have discovered that a region of the genome associated with autism contains genetic variation that evolved in the last 250,000 years, after the divergence of humans from ancient hominids, and likely plays an important role in disease.
Researchers at the University of Washington analyzed the genomes of 2,551 humans, 86 apes, one Neanderthal, and one Denisovan. They closely examined a region of human chromosome 16 known as 16p11.2, a region prone to genetic changes in which segments of DNA are deleted or duplicated, one of the most common genetic causes of autism, schizophrenia, and other conditions. The geneticists found that certain segments of DNA in this region are repeated a variable number of times in different people and may also be associated with disease.
Restrictive behaviors can appear before puberty
Researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital are warning parents that difficult eaters could have underlying psychological issues, as they have found that restrictive behaviours can appear before puberty. “Many researchers believe that bulimia only appears at adolescence, but our studies indicate that the problem can arises much earlier. It is possible that it is currently under-diagnosed due to a lack of awareness and investigation,” explained clinical psychologist and Professor Dominique Meilleur, who led the study. The findings, presented yesterday evening at the Eating Disorders Association of Canada conference in Vancouver, raise questions about the way eating disorders develop and are diagnosed.
Among the negative feelings that can plague a teen’s psyche is a perception of “invalidation,” or a lack of acceptance. A new study by Brown University and Butler Hospital researchers suggests that independent of other known risk factors, measuring teens’ sense of invalidation by family members or peers can help predict whether they will try to harm themselves or even attempt suicide.
In some cases, as with peers, that sense of invalidation could come from being bullied, but it could also be more subtle. In the case of family, for example, a teen who is gay may feel a strong degree of invalidation if he or she perceives that parents would either disapprove or be disappointed upon finding out, said study lead author Shirley Yen, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
(Photo: Casey Fleser)
A new Oregon State University study of children with autism found that they are more sedentary than their typically-developing peers, averaging 50 minutes less a day of moderate physical activity and 70 minutes more each day sitting.
The small study of 29 children, some with autism and some without, showed that children with autism perform as well as their typical peers on fitness assessments such as body mass index, aerobic fitness levels and flexibility. The results warrant expanding the study to a larger group of children, said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
“These kids, compared to their peers, are similarly fit,” MacDonald said. “That’s really exciting, because it means those underlying fitness abilities are there.”
Nutritional supplements may not be the answer to treating ADHD, according to a new analysis from the Yale Child Study Center.
Michael Bloch, a professor at the Center, recently published a summary of existing studies on the efficacy of various alternate treatments for ADHD, such as omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, zinc, iron and herbal supplements. Although there are many pharmaceutical medications available to treat ADHD — most commonly, stimulant medications such Ritalin and Adderall — some individuals choose to forego traditional pharmacotherapies because of the side effects or their doubts over these medications’ long-term efficacy. The analysis revealed that polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids seemed to improve ADHD symptoms, and melatonin was effective in treating chronic insomnia, one of the symptoms commonly associated with ADHD. However, many of the other supplement treatments commonly used in the United States do not demonstrate significant benefits, and may even have harmful side effects.
Dickson, who is a practicing physician, said that while he does not discourage the use of nutritional supplements for the treatment of ADHD, in his clinic he has not found them to be as effective as traditional medication.
Some experts are more optimistic regarding the efficacy of nutritional supplements.