The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • 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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  • ADHD Diagnosis, Treatment Different Around the World
    June 3, 2011 Psychiatric News

    Scientific Research Council member Stephen Hinshaw, PhD was lead author of a recent report on the differing diagnoses and treatments of ADHD around the world.  The report stemmed from a meeting of 18 international leaders in developmental psychopathology research representing nine countries. Due to the different practices of diagnosing ADHD, the prevalence of the disorder varies greatly from country to country.  Treatment ranged from practically non-existent to suggesting physical exercise as an alternative to medication. The biggest struggle that nearly all nine countries saw was the ability to provide proper care to those with ADHD.

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  • Prenatal Vitamins May Lower Autism Risk
    June 2, 2011 Web MD

    New research shows that women who take prenatal vitamins may be able to reduce the risk that their children will develop autism. Study researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute says, "For the women who didn't take prenatal vitamins, there was about a 60% higher risk of having a child with autism." Women with high-risk genetic makeup benefit even more from taking prenatal vitamins according to the study.

    Know More:  Breakthroughs in Treatment for Autism

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