The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • Debunking Myths About Military Families
    June 13, 2011 Caroline Miller

    Krystel Spell, a mother of two who writes a blog called Army Wife101, has an appealing guest piece on babycenter.com about the stereotypes civilians have about military families. Since the families of the men and women who defend our country deserve not only gratitude from the rest of us but attention to the tremendous stress they are under—emotional and financial—it's worth a look.  Misconceptions she addresses include the myth that military families don't pay taxes and that they pop out kids as fast as possible because the government pays them more for each dependent.

    For those who think these families are swimming in dough, she notes that starting pay for a private is $1467 a month. "Even during deployments," she adds, "service members only receive $575 extra monthly, which in my opinion is not enough to get shot at."

    And she acknowledges the unflattering stereotype that military wive are busy cheating on their husbands while the latter are conveniently deployed in war zones. "The majority of us are loving supportive spouses who are proud of our heroes and who are committed to them and their careers. The last thing most of us would want to do is put the stress of infidelity on them while they’re protecting our country." We might add that if you want to talk about the high divorce rate in military families, you might look at the stress repeat deployments puts on everyone in the family.

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  • Report Casts Doubt on Effectiveness of Autism Screening and Early Intervention
    June 13, 2011 Harry Kimball

    A review of the research on screening and early intervention for autism in young children has produced an unorthodox conclusion: don't do either. The article appears in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which does not seem particularly keen on the association. (Opinions "are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the AAP," a spokeswoman tells Miriam Falco, who wrote up the brouhaha for CNN.) To tell the truth, Falco doesn't seem particularly impartial, either. "The report's authors are cerebral palsy experts at McMaster University in Ontario," she writes, while experts who actually "diagnose, treat, and study children with autism"—my emphasis—"said they were puzzled and concerned by the new report's conclusions." Is this a case of specialists wandering too far outside their comfort zone?

    The AAP suggests screening at 18 and 24 months, meaning that pediatricians go through a simple checklist to determine whether children are developing typically or could be showing signs of a developmental disorder. But "good screening tools and efficacious treatment is lacking," the report states. Autism is a real problem, the authors admit; they just want to "find the children who truly have autism and find ways to help them" that aren't our current interventions, which do "not significantly improve the cognitive outcomes of children."

    Experts south of the border aren't buying it. They point out that any screening tests are often used in conjunction with a doctor's periodic observation of a child for signs and symptoms. And early intervention is effective and proven so, they tell Falco; the Canadian researchers just didn't consider the studies with positive results. This isn't just an academic issue: there is real worry it could unintentionally sabotage families' access to care if insurance companies can point to a paper in a journal that says the interventions don't work.

    "I would hope our debate would lead to an action," one of the authors tells Falco. Let's hope that action is to better educate both the medical establishment and the public about the proven preventative measures and interventions for autism while at the same time striving to make them better—not throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

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  • Do Girls Have a Natural 'Immunity' to Autism? Could Be
    June 10, 2011 Harry Kimball

    Drawing from the same sample population as Child Mind Institute Scientific Research Council member Matthew State (see here), geneticist Michael Wigler has completed a parallel study and made some pretty bold statements about the causes of autism, the gender disparities in diagnosis, and possible related disorders. Wigler and his team undertook an analysis of the 1000 families of the Simons Simplex Collection with an eye towards bolstering what he calls his "unified theory of autism," a theory that hasn't found overwhelming favor in the wider community.

    NeuronWhat is this shocking theory? Wigler has proposed that while autism is, indeed, heritable—passed from parents to children—the great majority of cases of the developmental disorder arise from "de novo," or spontaneous, genetic mutations in the reproductive cells of the parents. Seems unlikely? Stay tuned.

    By studying the genome of the parents, siblings, and the affected child in the Simons Simplex Collection, Wigler has concluded that there are perhaps 300 or more specific places in the genome that, if a mutation occurs, leads to autism. Hence, all that is needed to account for a majority of the cases we see is for a mutation to hit a relatively large target.

    Since mutations occur with equal frequency across gender, Wigler needs to explain why four times as many boys are diagnosed with autism as girls. Here is Wigler's big leap: He concludes that there are many girls with the same mutations as their male counterparts who are not symptomatic. Among those girls who are diagnosed, he notes, the damage done by mutation was much more extensive than the boys.

    So that means that women are "resistant" to symptomatology, but can also be carriers, passing on the mutations to their children through simple hereditary transfer.

    These carrier girls "may encounter difficulties at later stages of their lives that manifest as a different diagnostic category," he told ScienceDaily. It's "most likely to be one with a gender bias opposite that of ASD" like anorexia, he said. This seems to be idle speculation. But backing up a theory of autism with good data, a theory that could lead to prevention and new treatments, is alright in my book. The study is in Neuron.

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  • Study: Mental Health Is Top Concern for Youth
    June 9, 2011 Web MD

    A sturdy, healthy, and carefree childhood is increasingly a myth: a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the three main causes of disability in individuals ages 10 through 24 worldwide to be neuropsychiatric disorders, unintentional injuries, and infectious and parasitic diseases. Researches used disability adjusted life-years (DALYS) to compute their results, which estimate how many years of life are lost due to both premature deaths and disabilities related to these specific causes. They found that, for the age range, neuropsychiatric disorders contribute to 45% of years lost due to disability; unintentional injuries contributed 12%, infectious and parasitic diseases 10%. The report comes as no surprise to mental health experts. "Increasingly, we are starting to realize the onset of about half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14," says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The report spells out a need to target new prevention strategies at teens and young adults.

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  • Autism linked to hundreds of genetic mutations
    June 9, 2011 Los Angeles Times

    Researchers have historically been puzzled by cases of autism in individuals with no family history, but recently published findings are shedding light on the genetic landscape of the disorder. In a study led by Dr. Matthew W. State, associate professor at Yale and incoming co-chair of the Child Mind Institute's Scientific Research Council, researchers compared DNA between children with autism and their non-affected parents and siblings. They discovered that autism is correlated with spontaneous duplications and deletions of regions of DNA; this is especially true in the region of chromosome No. 7, where deletions or duplications have been shown to alter social personality in both directions. "There has to be some biological factor that is playing a key role in defining social behavior," Dr. State told the Los Angeles Times. "If we can understand the underlying biology of autism, we'll be able to do a far better job of treating it."

    Know more: Read other articles from CMI about autism.

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  • Brain Calisthenics for Abstract Ideas
    June 8, 2011 New York Times

    What is the value of intuition and gut instinct in education? Can a child with an eye for fashion or wordplay apply this to her formal education? A new study explores an approach to learning that can deepen a person's grasp of principles and knowledge. "Perceptual learning" is a form of education that relies on a bottom-up ability of pattern-recognition. Rather than the traditional "top-down" instruction that teaches rules and then assigns problems, perceptual learning hones instinct and the ability to quickly grasp the type of problem one is facing. This can be valuable for creative problem-solving, as well as real-life situations that require resilience and intuition. Scientists and teachers are still pondering the implications this new concept could have for children's educations.

    Know More:  Read other articles from CMI about school issues.

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  • Hoarding, hand-washing and obsessive checking: Which of these is not like the others?
    June 7, 2011 Los Angeles Times

    Are obsessive-compulsive disorder behaviors genetic? Are they even manifestations of the same disorder? A recent study explored the question of nature and nurture in various obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms like hand-washing, rituals, checking, and hoarding behavior to determine whether or not they share the same origin. If not, perhaps they need to be treated differently. Using the UK twin registry, researchers found that the genetic origin of OCD was strongest with hand-washing, whereas hoarding behavior appears to have a different origin or environmental cue, and may actually qualify as its own separate disorder.

    Know More:  OCD: It's Like a Bully in Your Brain

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  • Adapting a Show for Children With Autism
    June 7, 2011 New York Times

    Shows adapted for children with autism are few and far between, but Paper Mill Playhouse recently brought tears to a mother's eyes with their new commitment to special "sensory-friendly" shows. "Stone Soup and Other Stories," a children's show to be presented on June 11, is adapted to be more literal, more lighted, and less loud, with other activities designed to make children comfortable during the performance. Executive director of Autism New Jersey, Linda Meyer, said, "For those parents, having Paper Mill listen to them and respond was just such a gift, because this is going to be an opportunity for them to come out and enjoy something with their entire families."

    Know More:  Wretches & Jabberers: Autism Advocacy on the Road

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  • A Disabled Boy’s Death, and a System in Disarray
    June 6, 2011 New York Times

    Concerned parents everywhere should read the New York Times expose on the deplorable conditions of several New York state institutions housing the developmentally disabled. Reporter Danny Hakim focuses particularly on the gross negligence of the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center where one resident, a 13-year-old boy named Jonathan Carey, was tragically smothered to death in 2007.

    According to Hakim, "Those who run [these institutions] have tolerated physical and psychological abuse, knowingly hired unqualified workers, ignored complaints by whistle-blowers and failed to credibly investigate cases of abuse and neglect, according to a review by The New York Times of thousands of state records and court documents, along with interviews of current and former employees."

    The lack of good treatment options for older or more challenging children with autism and other psychiatric disorders cause many parents like Jonathan's to fight to get their children into these very institutions, where they hope to provide their children with the care that was impossible at home. To learn about the true state of some of these institutions is heartbreaking.

    Know More:  A Boy's Death Is a System's Disgrace

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  • Child Mind Institute in the New York Times
    June 3, 2011 New York Times

    CMI's President Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, is being featured right now in the New York Times. Read the story online here, or turn to page 10 in the Style section of your Sunday paper.

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