All Articles in the Category ‘General’

Transition to Adulthood-Community Based Housing Options for Adults with Disabilities- This Month’s Autism 200 Class


This month’s Autism 200 Series class “Transition to Adulthood-Community Based Housing Options for Adults with Disabilities” will be held Thursday, June 16, 2016, at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Wright Auditorium from 7 to 8:30 p.m. These classes are designed for parents, teachers and caregivers. The topics associated with the majority of classes are applicable to all age ranges and for a wide variety of children diagnosed with autism. This class will be led by Vicki Isett & Pam Blanton, Community Homes, inc.

Autism Re-examined: Ethical challenges in care, support, research and inclusion


 This year, Seattle Children’s Annual Pediatric Bioethics Conference is focused on autism. It will be held July 22 and 23 at Bell Harbor International Conference Center in Seattle.





Some of the questions to be explored include:

  • How have changes in the way we understand autism over time influenced ethical issues in diagnosis and treatment?
  • How and why do health disparities occur in diagnosis, treatment and support, and what are the impacts? How can we reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities?
  • How can we incorporate knowledge of cross-cultural differences to provide better care for children with autism and their families?
  • What are the ethical challenges in the transition from adolescence to adulthood? How can they be addressed?
  • What are some of the ethical issues in autism research? How can research findings result in more effective care and support for children with autism?


For more information and to register for the conference.


We hope to see you there!

Autism and Folic Acid: Another Association Study




Quiz: Which of the following factors have been identified in association studies as increasing the risk for autism? Mark all that apply.



Rainy climates

Living near a freeway

Use of flea/tick powder

Older moms

Older dads

Close spacing between birth of children

Vitamin D deficiency


Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) use in pregnant women

All of the above

If you marked all of the above, you are correct, but get ready to add one more.

If you were anywhere near a computer or television last week, you’re aware of the buzz surrounding a new study that identifies too much folic acid in pregnant women as a risk factor for developing autism.

Folate is the naturally-occurring form of Vitamin B9 found in leafy green vegetables and other foods and folic acid is the synthetic form of this nutrient important in the role of neural tube development in fetuses. In the late 1990’s in an effort to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, folic acid was added to many processed foods such as flour, cereal, and bread and figured prominently in prenatal vitamins.

This recent study was presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research and has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a professional journal, but it got much attention in the media. Here are links to two of the media reports:

The Atlantic

Concerns About Folate Causing Autism Are Premature

May 12, 2016 By James Hamblin


Why Fears Over Folic Acid and Autism Need to be Properly Understood

May 12, 2016 By Alexandra Sifferlin


Take-Away from this study

The take-away from this (and all association studies) is first to remember that association does not mean causation. This was a small study that has not yet been peer-reviewed so until it has passed through peer review and been published in a scientific journal, we should be curious but cautious. And, even after publication, we want to watch for more rigorous studies to corroborate the findings, before we feel more confident in the finding. If you have any questions about folate/folic acid, ask your health care provider for guidance.

And for more on understanding association studies, we direct you to our own Dr. Gary Stobbe and his blog on the topic.



Free Autism 101 Class-This Thursday

Please join us this Thursday, April 28, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Seattle Children’s Hospital for our free quarterly lecture, Autism 101. Autism 101 is intended for parents and families of children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this free lecture, participants will learn about:

  • Up-to-date, evidence-based information regarding the core deficits of ASD
  • Variability and presentation of behaviors associated with autism
  • Prevalence and etiology (study of the cause of the disorder)
  • Treatments available
  • Resources for families

Read full post »

Autism and the Neuroscience of Mindfulness

If you follow our feature, Mindful Monday, you know that we love sharing stories and tips on how to lessen the stress in your life. To better understand “how mindfulness works”, we went to our researchers and this is what they had to say:

Stress is a common experience among parents of all children, but life can be exceptionally challenging and stressful for parents of a child with autism. Although there are many strategies and therapeutic techniques that are designed to help parents manage stress, one strategy that has received considerable public and scientific support in recent years is mindfulness meditation, a secular form of meditation adapted from Buddhist meditation practices. Mindfulness meditation emphasizes paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judgment and allowing oneself to be present as events occur in the moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Often this is done by focusing on one’s own breathing or bodily sensations without dwelling on thoughts or feelings associated with things outside of the present moment. Although mindfulness takes training and practice, scientific studies of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) interventions have shown that mindfulness practice leads to decreases in parenting stress, anxiety, and depression, and improvements in sleep, well-being, and life satisfaction (Conner & White 2014; Dynkens et al., 2014).

There is a difference between MBSR, which emphasizes on the individual, and “mindful parenting”(Duncan et al., 2009). Mindful parenting in part involves applying skills of mindfulness into the parent-child interaction, including listening with full attention, nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child, emotional awareness of self and child, self-regulation in the parenting relationship, and compassion for self and child. Parents are taught to think about and respond to day-to-day situations in a mindful way. For instance, rather than involuntarily reacting out of frustration to a child who is throwing a tantrum, mindfulness training provides parents with strategies to voluntarily acknowledge and let go of automatic feelings before responding to the situation.

Of course, MBSR and mindful parenting can be difficult – mindfulness takes training and practice – but science suggests that mindfulness meditation can lead to less stress and a better sense of well-being because it changes how the brain responds to stress. Stress drastically impacts how the deep parts of our brains function and can even change the structure of brain regions. One of these brain regions, the amygdala, is well known for processing stress and guiding how the body responds. For example, the amygdala may signal other parts of the body to either increase heart rate or release hormones, and the amygdala is part of a brain system that helps us to decide between “flight or fight” in a stressful situation. When a person is under chronic stress, the size of the amygdala increases (i.e., increasing grey matter), which is unhelpful for the stress system because the amygdala becomes overly responsive to negative events.

One theory is that the neurobiological response to stress improves in a stepwise fashion, such that as mindfulness training increases, the brain begins supporting more controlled ways of thinking about and coping with stress (Zeidan, 2015; Zeidan et al., 2011). From a brain perspective, responses to stress invoke two different systems: a “hot” system that is largely automatic and involves sensory and emotional processing (for example, the amygdala), and a “cold” system that involves cognitive processing (for example, the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex). In times of acute or chronic stress, the hot system is often overly responsive compared to the cold system. In order to reduce stress, the goal is to find a better balance between the systems by increasing cognitive control and regulation and reducing sensory and emotional processing. Mindfulness meditation appears to help some people strike that balance by focusing on observing and acknowledging the sensations and reactions of the hot system, then allowing the individual to respond in a controlled manner.

A recent study looked specifically at how different stress reduction interventions change the way the amygdala is connected to other brain regions (Taren et al., 2015). In this randomized clinical trial, adults completed a 3-day intensive training in either mindfulness practices or more general relaxation training. After the intervention, brain changes were only observed for the mindfulness group, such that there were reduced connections between the right amygdala and part of the anterior cingulate cortex that helps regulate emotion, mood, and anxiety. In other words, by using mindfulness practice, the amygdala is no longer overly responsive, but rather more appropriately responsive to stressful or negative events. In addition, the adults who were taught mindfulness techniques exhibited better stress-related health outcomes and were more likely to continue to use the techniques at home following the study.

To learn more about mindfulness training, keep a look out for The Autism Blog’s ongoing Mindful Monday series.


Conner, C. M., & White, S. W. (2014). Stress in mothers of children with autism: Trait mindfulness as a protective factor. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders8(6), 617-624.

Duncan, L. G., Coatsworth, J. D., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). A model of mindful parenting: Implications for parent–child relationships and prevention research. Clinical child and family psychology review, 12(3), 255-270.

Dykens, E. M., Fisher, M. H., Taylor, J. L., Lambert, W., & Miodrag, N. (2014). Reducing distress in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: a randomized trial. Pediatrics134(2), e454-e463.

Kabat-Zinn, J. Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. 1994.

Taren, A. A., Gianaros, P. J., Greco, C. M., Lindsay, E. K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K. W., … & Bursley, J. K. (2015). Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, nsv066.

Zeidan, F. (2015). The Neurobiology of Mindfulness Meditation.


Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., Gordon, N. S., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2011). Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. The Journal of Neuroscience31(14), 5540-5548.