The Autism Blog

Autism & Infant Siblings Study

While kids (and their parents) were making Valentine’s Day cards last week, a paper was released in the prestigious journal, Nature that garnered some attention in the media.

The paper reported the results of a very large, longitudinal imaging study of younger infant siblings of children with autism. The study is the result of several years of work by a research network, called Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), which is directed by Joe Piven at University of North Carolina, and includes several scientists around the country, including scientists here in Seattle at the University of Washington.

The scientists first used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of almost 150 infants, 106 of which have an older sibling with ASD. These infant siblings are 20 times more likely to get an ASD diagnosis than a child in the general population. The scientists measured brain volume and surface area using MRI when the children were 6, 12, and 24 months of age and conducted a diagnostic evaluation when the children turned 2 years old.

Of the 106 infant siblings, 15 received an ASD diagnosis at 2 years old. Those that were diagnosed with ASD had brain surface area that grew much faster between 6 and 12 months, then had overall brain volumes that increased faster between 12 and 24 months of age.

Using complicated statistics, called machine learning, they then looked at brain scans collected from additional baby siblings for whom the diagnosis was known. They then looked back at the scans collected from those baby siblings at 6, 12 and 24 months and used these brain growth patterns to classify which infants would have ASD and which would not. The statistical algorithm correctly predicted an ASD diagnosis for 81% of the infant siblings.

The study provides insight into neural changes that seem to be occurring in young children who go on to develop ASD. However, there isn’t any evidence to suggest this pattern of growth applies to all children who develop ASD. So, for parents, it’s important to know that the predictions were based on data from infant siblings of children with ASD. As such, it’s unclear what the implications are for families without a child with ASD already.

Finally, using brain scans as a screening tool for ASD is unlikely to be adopted given the practical challenges of using MRI with infants. In fact, only 1/3 of the infants in the IBIS study were able to complete the brain scans at all 3 ages.

Science moves forward incrementally. This study is an important step. The next step is to more clearly understand this rapid-growth phenomena.

This Month’s Autism 200 Class – Autism Genetics: What Parents Should Know

This month’s Autism 200 Series class  “Autism Genetics: What Parents Should Know” will be held Thursday, February 16, 2017 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.

Over the past decade, there have been major advances in our understanding of autism genetics, and genetic testing is often offered to patients and families. The tests (and sometimes the results) can be overwhelming and confusing. We will review what is known about autism genetics and what kinds of genetic tests are available to families. In addition, we will discuss the pros and cons of genetic testing and what types of results you might expect to receive. Finally, we will highlight research opportunities and exciting advances in genetic testing that are expected to become available in the near future. This class will be led by Heather Mefford, MD, and Jennifer Gerdts, PhD.

Mindful Monday-The Faces We Wear

Remember the line in the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby, “wearing the face that she keeps in the jar by the door”?  I don’t know what Paul had in mind when he wrote that but it makes me think of the different faces we wear depending on the time of day, the people we’re with, and the environment we’re in.

Here’s a mindfulness exercise to help us notice what face we wear when, where and with whom. Pay attention to the face you present in the following situations. Make a mental note or jot down a note about each. You can even use emojis to help capture your face, For example, for those who aren’t early birds, your waking up face might be a grumpy face. If you feel stressed driving to work, a tense face might fit.

Waking up face:

Driving/commuting face:

Arriving at work face:

Arriving home face:

Greeting partner face:

Greeting kids face:

Going to bed face:

Now review your faces and decide if there are any that you want to change, particularly if you often wear that face and it reflects a not-so-happy you. We’re often unaware of the face we present to others. Here’s a chance to notice.

 

 

 

The Autism Blogcast with Jim and Raphe February Edition

News Flash: The February edition of The Autism Blogcast, featuring autism experts Raphael Bernier, PhD and James Mancini, MS, CCC-SLP.

In an effort to keep you up to date on the latest news in research and community happenings, we welcome two of our favorite providers best known as Jim and Raphe, the autism news guys.

These two have too much energy to be contained in written format so our plan is to capture them in 2-5 minute videos that we’ll post the first week of each month. We welcome your questions and comments. Tell us what you think of our dynamic duo!

In this edition of the Blogcast, our reporters discuss research and children who could (in the future) benefit from certain behavioral treatments.  Reporters also highlight important bills from this current legislative session specifically targeting education.

Ask Dr. Emily- Is This Lying?

Welcome to the January edition of Ask Dr. Emily?

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Rastall, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format. We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Rastall will do her best to answer them each month.

Send your questions to theautismblog@seattlechildrens.org.

Q: My 3-year-old son just got a provisional autism diagnosis. I think he is able to “lie” to me. For example, after I put him in his crib he told me he needed to use the bathroom. So I brought him to the bathroom, but he refused to go. All the while, he was smiling and singing and excited to be out of the crib. Another time, he pretended to cough (while smiling) so that I would give him cough syrup (he loves the taste). Is this “lying?” Is it premeditated? What is going on here?

A: This sounds like pretty typical “kid” behavior. Most kids will try about anything to get what they want and/or like. Sometimes that means saying things that aren’t true to get their needs met. They are not meaning to deceive, but rather, they have learned that a certain behavior offers a certain result. Thus, they try the behavior again to see if it will pay off. Let’s say a child in the crib really does need to use the bathroom one night, and while doing so realizes, “Hey, I’m out of my crib!” They are more likely to ask to use the bathroom the next night as a way to get out of the crib.

Here’s another example: A child gets a fever and receives medicine and extra attention, gets to stay home from school, and gets to watch cartoons all day. They may try to convince you later that they are sick in hopes that they might get the same attention and privileges they received before. Who can blame them? I think we can all agree, this is less premeditative than simply reinforced, or learned behavior.

The best thing you can do in these situations is to give as little attention to the behavior as possible. You’ll want to do your own fact-checking and then respond as needed. Redirect and distract to move on to the next thing as soon as possible. Good luck, detective!