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AQUATIC THERAPY AND AUTISM

AQUATIC THERAPY AND AUTISM

Water has many healing qualities but have you considered aquatic therapy for your autistic child? Clinicians who have studied aquatic therapy reported a substantial increase in swim skills, attention, muscle strength, balance, tolerating touch, initiating/maintaining eye contact and water safety. Studies have also shown that children who exercise at least 20 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week, saw a reduction in hyperactivity, self-harm and injury, aggression, and destructiveness, and repeated self-stimulatory behaviors that are often associated with children on the spectrum. Here are three ways that swimming can act as a form of therapy for children with autism:

1. Water is comforting: Any physical activity in the water can help relax muscles and ease tension. Water reduces body weight and therefore decreases the stress and impact on the body — which is great for children who sometimes feel like their own body is too much to handle. Many children are even able to tolerate touch much better after aquatic therapy.

2. Social Skills: Group swimming can promote social skills. Swimming lessons allow children to interact with their teacher as well as other students/parents in the class building skills that can be used in alternative situations.

3. Improve focus: Simply taking a class can help improve attention span and learning. Being in a learning environment that allows for physical movement will help for future moments in the classroom. Blowing bubbles in the water and learning to regulate their breath can also improve oral articulation.

4. Better Balance: Aquatic therapy helps strengthen muscles, which increases balance and develops better range of motion.

As an added benefit, your child could become a better swimmer who is less at risk near water and it allows for a fun activity with your child. With summer fast approaching, let’s plan for some pool time!

Halloween and Autism

Halloween and Autism

With all the spooky costumes, scary decorations, eerie noises, and an explosion of sugar, Halloween can be overwhelming for any child and particularly for children with special needs.

Here are some tips for a safe and enjoyable Halloween for your child:

1. Select a costume that combines comfort and fun – Let your child practice wearing their costume at home. This gives you time to make any last minute modifications and time for your child to get used to the costume.

2. Prepare – Many children with special needs do better with a schedule or routine. Write a narrative describing what your child will do on Halloween and visually track where you will go. Read the story several times before Halloween so your child has time to get used to the plan.

3. Practice – Practice trick or treating in a familiar environment. Visit friends and family, if possible, even neighbors.

4. Review positive behavior – Review expectations, such as saying, “Trick-or-Treat!” and “Thank you” and not going inside the home.

5. Have a backup plan- In case there is melt down, consider letting siblings (that might want to go longer) go trick or treating with a friend.

6. Gradual change – If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate your home gradually.

7. Remember, Halloween looks different for every child and you know your child best. Happy Halloween!

Autism in the Workplace

Autism in the Workplace

There’s a new frontier in diversity programs focused not on race or gender but on cognitive ability. An increasing number of companies are launching initiatives to find job candidates with autism. Unfortunately, People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disabilities and in the case of neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, the number may be far higher. Employers are now taking a second look at people with autism and seeing not deficits, but a pool of dormant talent.

Social difficulties are one of the hallmarks of autism, making it hard to make it through a traditional hiring process. Roughly 60% of people with autism have average or above average intelligence, yet 85% are unemployed. Employers are now trying to harness that talent by providing a more practical way of assessing a prospective employee’s skills rather than relying on a traditional job interview with requires social communication and eye contact.

Companies like Peak Peformance www.pptcenters.com train and help to place those with autism in the work force. They work in conjunction with employers to provide participants with the specific tools for success in the work force. Employers have also found that there is a lower turnover rate of employees in highly repetitive jobs when jobs are analyzed to properly place with individual talents.
People with autism bring unique strengths to the workforce. Supporting neurodiversity and hiring people with autism because of their differences and not in spite of them benefits both employer and employee.

Medical Marijuana and Autism

Medical Marijuana and Autism

Medical marijuana has been touted to cure everything from pain to cancer, but how about as an autism treatment? There is anecdotal evidence that marijuana’s main non-psychoactive compound — cannabidiol or CBD — helps children in ways no other medication has. Now a first-of-its-kind scientific study is trying to determine if the link is real. A clinical trial is underway in Israel to test the benefits of medicinal marijuana for young people with autism. The study began in January at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The study involves 120 children and young adults, ages 5 to 29, who have mild to severe autism, and it will last through the end of 2018.

Adi Aran, the pediatric neurologist leading the study, said nearly all the participants in the study previously took antipsychotics and nearly half responded negatively. Currently, only two medications have been approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the symptoms of autism. Both are antipsychotic drugs that are not always effective and carry serious side effects.

One major concern is the long-term impact of prescribing cannabis to young patients is the possibility of causing harm to the developing brain; although antipsychotic drugs currently prescribed to autistic children are certainly not without serious side effects.

The strain of CBD that is being used in the study led by Dr. Aran is a high CBD strain or ‘clean 98 percent CBD’. Some anecdotal evidence from other families that have used medical marijuana to treat autism symptoms found that the high CBD strains weren’t necessarily working for those with behavioral issues and found greater success with other strains.

Additional studies will have to be approved to be conducted in the United States before medical marijuana will be sanctioned as a treatment for symptoms of autism and Dr. Aran’s study may be the starting point for additional studies in other countries

Sensory Processing Disorder and Temperature

Sensory Processing Disorder and Temperature

Will your child only wear shorts, no matter what the temperature is outside? Or only eat foods that are at certain temperatures? This may be a sign of Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD (formerly known as sensory integration dysfunction).

Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition where sensory signals don’t get organized into the appropriate response. Children and adults with autism frequently suffer from sensory processing whether it is lights, sounds or tastes; temperature regulation may also be an aspect.

The exact cause of Sensory Processing Disorder is not fully understood but many body functions are regulated by neural feedback mechanisms in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls things like body temperature, thirst, hunger and releases many hormones. Researchers have noted a diminished grey matter in the region of the hypothalamus in subjects with autism and the sub-region of the hypothalamus that is altered in the group with autism is also responsible for synthesizing oxytocin and vasopressin. Studies have found lower levels of oxytocin in individuals with autism. Oxytocin is believed to enhance social skills, such as trust and empathy, which may be deficient in autism.
The hot summer months may be difficult for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and he/she may not always choose the best clothing to deal with the heat. Some children will only wear long pants while others hate wearing clothing at all. There are several companies that offer sensory friendly clothing and for the child who will only wear long sleeves and pants, go for natural, breathable fabrics.

It is also important to monitor children with Sensory Processing Disorder to ensure they drink enough liquids. They may not respond to thirst as quickly as a child without the disorder. Track their fluid intake to ward off heat stroke or exhaustion. Also, keep track of the time they spend outside under the sun. Instituting regular shade breaks or taking some time inside can help keep them cool during the worst of the summer heat.

Sensory Integration therapy is another tool to help those with Sensory Processing Disorder. The theory behind Sensory Integration therapy is that specific movement activities such as resistive body work and even brushing of the skin can help a child with sensory problems experience an optimal level of arousal and regulation. This, according to some OTs, can actually “rewire” the brain so that children can appropriately integrate and respond to sensory input, allowing them to understand the stimulus and feel more comfortable.

Being sensitive to those with Sensory Processing Disorder is most helpful as sensory processing issues can put them in a constant state of discomfort. They may be unable to sweat to cool themselves down or may sweat too much for the ambient temperature. It is important to keep in mind that a person with Sensory Processing Disorder does not feel temperature the same way that you do and their discomfort may lead to a sensory overload, shutdown or meltdown.

Does Geography Influence the Rate of Autism?

Does Geography Influence the Rate of Autism?

Researchers have known that there is a strong genetic component to autism but autism is also found in clusters around the country. Certain communities and states have a much higher rate than the rest of the country http://graphics.latimes.com/usmap-autism-rates-state/. Autism rates are highest in the Northeast and on the West Coast and lowest among the Southern and Plains states. For example, a child born in California is several times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than a child in Alabama, but the question is why?

The fact that clusters are found in certain geographical areas seems to imply a local, environmental cause. Looking at environmental factors is difficult because much of that information is undocumented. One would have to consider air quality, water quality, and energy resources. Several other factors to consider are income levels and ethnicity. One group of researchers compared the rate of male genital malformations with the autism rate with the suggestion that environmental toxins in the area were responsible for the malformation due to the high rate. They found the greater the amount of malformations in boys, the greater the autism rates in the area, suggesting a correlation between environmental factors and autism diagnosis. But then how does one explain the phenomenon of identical twins which have the same genetic and environmental information but one twin has autism and the other does not.

When looking at such correlations, it is important to keep in mind that correlations do not mean causation, particularly when looking at the broader pictures. For example, one cannot assume that just because alcoholism rates are high in a city with high suicide rates that one is causing the other.

The theories on causation and rise of autism rates is complex and as research continues to make strides in the treatment, diagnosis and cure for autism it is important to keep in mind that autism is multi-factorial.

Is There a Connection Between Sugar and Autism?

Is There a Connection Between Sugar and Autism?

Most elementary school teachers will confirm that there is a link between sugar and behavior but now scientists are looking deeper into that correlation.

Researchers at The California Salk Institute observed behaviors in pregnant mice that were fed a diet of high glycemic foods versus a diet of low glycemic foods. The mice in the study were specifically bred to demonstrate symptoms of autism.

High-glycemic foods produce a rapid rise in blood sugar and tend to be rich in simple carbohydrates such as sugar (potatoes, white bread and short-grain rice). Low-glycemic foods don’t produce such a blood-sugar spike. They include foods high in protein (nuts, beans and meat) and complex carbohydrates (whole grains and vegetables). Low-glycemic diets have long been recommended for people with diabetes, to help keep blood sugar on an even level.

Though their diets differed, the two groups of mice consumed the same amount of calories and maintained similar weights. After the pregnancy and the pups were weaned, the groups were maintained on the same diet and researchers tested the behavior and brain development between the two groups.

All the mice in the high-glycemic diet group demonstrated autism-like behaviors. They avoided contact with new mice placed near their chambers. They repeated actions with no apparent purpose and groomed excessively. By contrast, the mice in the low-glycemic group showed an overall reduction in their autism-like behaviors. They spent more time near new mice and less time performing repetitive behaviors such as excessive self-grooming.

Researchers continued to look for the differences between the two groups and found that the mice fed the high-glycemic diet had far lower levels of doublecortin- a protein associated with newly developing neurons. In addition, the mice on the high-glycemic diet showed more evidence of gene activity associated with inflammation and higher numbers of microglia (immune cells in the brain).

There is a great deal of research in support of sugar producing chronic low levels of inflammation and more recent studies have implicated inflammation during pregnancy with an increased risk of autism, although most of these studies focused on inflammation during pregnancy. Some researchers have proposed that the chronic inflammation produced by sugar is why diabetes during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in offspring.

Although much research still needs to be continued, a low-glycemic diet is generally considered healthful. Focus Formulations products address this issue by having very little if any sugar added to their products and they are engineered to address nutritionally deficient needs in autistic children. Autistic children often have nutrient imbalances either due to metabolic deficiencies or limited diets and it is prudent for families to work with a nutritionist for the optimal health of your child.

A Salute to Special Needs Fathers

A Salute to Special Needs Fathers

So much is written on the mother-child bond, but what is a father’s role in this equation? Fathers are also essential to the healthy development of a child and have a great impact on the emotional and intellectual growth of the child. Father’s bring a different style to parenting to the family from communication styles to more active play and help to prepare our children for the reality of the world.

When a family has a special needs child, having two parents is even more essential as each partner looks to the other for support. Parenting stress can not only affect the psychological well being of an individual, but it can also affect the marital relationship between spouses. It is a sad reality that couples of children with special needs face a much higher divorce rate than the rest of the married population and it has been noted that more than 30 percent of fathers of special needs children experience symptoms of depression so severe that they warrant clinical attention.

Support groups provide a safe environment to bond and share experiences with others that are sharing your same struggle and while there are many support groups for mothers of special needs children, there is only a small number of support groups focused on fathers. Attending a support group or even starting your own can be an empowering tool to help fathers feel like they have a community of support and provide a source of strategizing and gaining support for challenges.

So what can we do to help our special needs children? Parents report feeling closer to their children when they focus on positive behaviors that their child engages in and providing positive reinforcement rather than focus on negative behaviors. These parents are often more likely to act in ways that encourage those positive behaviors to occur again. It is also important to remember that special needs children are beautifully unique and it is important to focus on your child’s strengths and positive behaviors and help to promote these qualities and strengths. So on Father’s Day, we want to say thank you to all of the fathers that hung in through the tough times and are still hanging in there….you are greatly appreciated.

Can People on the Spectrum Communicate Better with Animals?

Can People on the Spectrum Communicate Better with Animals?

“I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.”

Are dogs more sensitive to human nature or do they simply perceive the world in a different manner such as those with autism? In the book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, by Temple Grandin, Grandin examines the surprising similarities between an animal’s mind and an autistic mind. Autism is a neurological disorder with various theories on causation. Scientists who study autism believe that the disorder is caused by under development of certain brain circuits, and over development of other brain circuits. The imbalance of the nervous system results in the common symptoms you see in autism such as speech delays, sound and texture sensitivities and developmental delays. Grandin observes that people with autism, ‘are closer to animals than normal people are.’ Grandin contributes the differences between typical human mentality and animal mentality, not as a matter of IQ but as a matter of perception and emotion.

Grandin, autistic herself, states that she has no language based thoughts; all of her thoughts are in pictures. Since animals do not have verbal language and many children with autism are non-verbal, memories and thoughts are stored as pictures, sounds, or other sensory impressions. Sensory-based information by its very nature is more detailed than word-based memories; therefore animals may understand intentions, emotions, images, or thoughts behind the words, even if the words themselves aren’t totally understood. You may also observe an animal “sensing” something way before a human and can even be trained to alert others to seizures and illness. Primarily, animals and people with autism are visual thinkers; while most people use a combination of verbal and visual skills for communication.

We would all love to communicate better with our pets and that communication strengthens our bond with them. Grandin, who is an expert in animal behavior, claims that her autism helps her understand and empathize with animals. Grandin is also a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, an advocate in the autism community and an activist for the humane treatment of animals.

Find out more about theories on autism and treatments at: www.focusformulations.com

How Will Your Autistic Child Look as an Adult?

How Will Your Autistic Child Look as an Adult?

You may feel frustrated right now that your child is not hitting the milestones that you see other children reaching. Will my child ever sleep through the night? Will my child ever speak? Will my child make connections with other peers? Rest assured that your child will not be the same down the road as he/she is today. Age two is vastly different from age 12 and age 12 is very different from 24.

We all grow and change with maturity and autism does not prevent a child from developing and changing over time; they simply may not do it as quickly as a neurotypical child. Autism involves several developmental delays; delay does not mean it will not happen but simply not on the “normal” developmental time frame.

Developmental delays in verbal communication can be especially frustrating. The National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities states that 25 to 30 percent of children diagnosed with autism will speak some words by 12 to 18 months. However, those children may have a diminished capacity for, or lose the ability altogether, to communicate verbally. Nearly 40 percent of children diagnosed will never be able to speak at all. The remaining percentage of children may be able to communicate verbally at a much later age. Keep in mind that verbal challenges seen at age 3 will look very different at age 15 and will also look very different as an adult.

Connecting socially is also important and we want our children to connect with peers. Children with autism often times do not have the social skills to make connections and developmental delays can compound the problem. Children with autism are often socially and emotionally at a much younger age than their peers. At a young age this divide can be huge but as they age this gap gets smaller.

Be patient, being in the “waiting room” is never easy but continue to relish your child’s victories and continue to encourage and support them.