Podcast: Lordy Lordy it’s One in Forty

You may have heard the news: The prevalence of autism is 1:40 according to an email survey of parents. However, there’s more information in the study that’s worthy of consideration: The high rate of unmet mental health needs in those with ASD. Learn more on the ASF podcast. Read more about the study.

While diagnosis before 3 years of age is ideal, circumstances may not always allow the earliest identification and diagnosis. This week’s podcast explores two of the reasons why diagnosis is not always possible before age 3. One is a study from Denmark and one is from members of the Baby Siblings Research Consortium.

A new study from the ASF-supported Baby Siblings Research Consortium explains why a few kids with autism do not receive a formal diagnosis until 5 years or later. Read more here.

This week, ASF wants YOUR feedback on a new paper in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, which suggests that the reason there is so much discord in the autism community is that people with autism are just too different and have difficulties understanding each other’s perspective. Is this true? What do you think? Thanks to Becca Lory, CAS, BCCS for sharing! Listen to the podcast here.

Dr. Inna Fishman from San Diego State University explains how findings from brain tissue helps scientists interpret data which studies how brain regions connect to each other and why this is important for understanding autism subgroups. Also, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet examine ADHD diagnosed in adults, and find it is similar to autism. Listen to the podcast here.

This week, Dr. Mark Shen from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains new findings looking at the fluid around the brain. It’s now seen in families even without a family history of ASD, the finding has now been seen in different independent studies, including those at the UC Davis MIND Institute in California, it might be a diagnostic biomarker of ASD, and it also might help explain sleep problems. Hear more on this week’s podcast.

Today, ASF announced that it will be leading the newly-launched Alliance for Genetic Etiologies of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Autism (AGENDA). This alliance is a partnership of research and advocacy organizations focused on improving outcomes of individuals with all forms of autism by fostering a genetics-first approach to autism science. AGENDA will also work to strengthen collaborations among organizations representing genetically-defined disorders associated with autism. As part of its collaborative activities, today AGENDA launched a new online portal that will make it easier for researchers to investigate different forms of autism. Clinicians, basic scientists, industry, and multiple end users of this information were consulted on the development of the portal, which along with contact information to access the data in each registry, can be found here.

This podcast is dedicated to siblings of people with autism who are typically developing. They play an important and beneficial role in development of socialization of those with ASD. But sadly, they also have issues of their own, such as a high rate of issues like anxiety and depression. Those siblings may be genetic carries of a specific mutation and not have an autism diagnosis, but have increased risk for schizophrenia and cognitive disability. Finally, just because they are considered “typically developing” doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges with adaptive behavior. However, they have a very special relationship with their brothers and sisters, and the world needs these strong advocates for the community.

Recently, Clare Harrop from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published two papers which help explain the differences between boys and girls with autism, at least in kids and toddlers. She graciously agreed to talk with ASF about these findings and what it means for better identification and diagnosis of girls with ASD, and where future research is needed, for this week’s podcast. Thank you to Dr. Harrop for this insight and for your work in this area!

This week’s ASF podcast focuses on how co-occuring conditions with autism, like anxiety, depression, and OCD, have changed over time. The increase in these conditions may help in defining different subgroups of autism. Listen on asfpodcast.org or on your favorite podcatcher!

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Allyson Schwartzman at her graduation from Hofstra University School of Education.

By Allyson Schwartzman

When I was graduating from elementary school, someone on the yearbook committee asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I will never forget thinking for a moment and then stating “an autism teacher”. In my yearbook, there is a picture of me and under it says “an autism teacher”. You might be thinking this is a very interesting answer for a young child to give, but I had a good reason behind this answer. My twin brother, Robert, has autism and over our lives, I saw the progress he made with many thanks to his incredible teachers. I thought to myself, I would love to be just like them so I can help other children with autism. As I matured and got older, I realized this autism teacher job I wanted really meant that I wanted to be a special education teacher.

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Allyson Schwartzman’s elementary school yearbook photo.

When I started college at Hofstra University, I was accepted into the School of Education. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education and eventually got a job as a Universal Pre-Kindergarten Teacher in a public school district on Long Island. I had this job for two years while in graduate school for my Master in Early Childhood Special Education and Intervention program, also at Hofstra University. I always knew I wanted to be a special education teacher, however, I had to decide on the age range of students I would work with. I decided to go down this route for my master’s because I fell in love with working with young children. There are so many developmental milestones that a teacher can help young children with disabilities reach. I love teaching and helping children grow their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development through different fun and engaging activities. By being an early childhood special educator, I am able to accomplish these goals with a variety of different students.

After many endless nights of working and studying, I was able to accept my first position this year as an early childhood special education teacher in an integrated preschool. I finally accepted my dream job! I took a job in an integrated preschool setting specifically because I believe in the importance of integration and having students with disabilities learn with and from their peers. All children with disabilities need to be placed in the proper learning environment that works for them, and I am excited to work in this environment.

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Collage of photos with Allyson Schwartzman and her twin brother, Robert.

I am so thankful that my brother Robert has influenced me to go down the path of special education. I am so proud of him and the progress he has made. He drives my dedication to this career choice everyday. It was definitely not an easy road getting here, but I cannot wait to make a difference in the lives of all the students I work with! I can now smile every time I look in my elementary school yearbook because I followed my dream. Now, I am living it.

This week’s podcast begins with a comment on the debate over ABA – helpful or harmful? But the big news this week is an analysis of very early, but very published, data on the use of MDMA, also known as “ecstasy” or “Molly”, in people with autism. Called an “empathogen”, MDMA can elicit feelings of warmth, love, and need to cuddle. However, it has a dark side. MDMA is a neurotoxin. It kills serotonergic brain cells. There is no known safe dose. Researchers studied and found weak evidence that it reduces social anxiety in people with autism. Social anxiety isn’t a core symptom of autism. Thank you to Dr. Larry Scahill of Emory University who provided an expert description of each condition. While ASF will not comment on every negative study out there, this one is worth noting.

When someone offers you MDMA, JUST SAY NO.