NYT: How to Think About the Risk of Autism

A STUDY published last week found that the brains of autistic children show abnormalities that are likely to have arisen before birth, which is consistent with a large body of previous evidence. Yet most media coverage focuses on vaccines, which do not cause autism and are given after birth. How can we help people separate real risks from false rumors?

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of studies linking autism to a wide variety of genetic and environmental factors. Putting these studies in perspective is an enormous challenge. In a database search of more than 34,000 scientific publications mentioning autism since its first description in 1943, over half have come since 2008. Continue reading NYT: How to Think About the Risk of Autism

An Unexpected Discovery in the Brains of Autistic Children

Wired Magazine

Nobody knows what causes autism, a condition that varies so widely in severity that some people on the spectrum achieve enviable fame and success while others require lifelong assistance due to severe problems with communication, cognition, and behavior. Scientists have found countless clues, but so far they don’t quite add up. The genetics is complicated. The neuroscience is conflicted.

Now, a new study adds an intriguing, unexpected, and sure-to-be controversial finding to the mix: It suggests the brains of children with autism contain small patches where the normally ordered arrangement of neurons in the cerebral cortex is disrupted. “We’ve found locations where there appears to be a failure of normal development,” said Eric Courchesne, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego and an author of the study, which appears today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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NPR: Brain Changes Suggest Autism Starts In The Womb


Children who have autism usually don’t get diagnosed before the age of four. But a study published in the current issue of The New England Journal of Medicine suggests the disorder starts well before birth. The findings should bolster efforts to understand how genes control brain development and contribute to autism. NPR’s Jon Hamilton reports.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: About halfway through pregnancy, the brain of a fetus starts to get organized. Eric Courchesne, an autism researcher at UC San Diego, says this process is especially important in the cortex, a thin sheet of cells that’s critical for learning and memory.

ERIC COURCHESNE: This sheet is like a layer cake. There are six layers, one on top of the other. In each layer, there are different types of brain cells.

HAMILTON: Courchesne suspected that these layers might be altered in the brains of children with autism. So he and a team of researchers studied samples of cortex from 22 children who had died. The cortex came from areas known to be associated with the symptoms of autism. Courchesne says some of the samples came from typical children, others from children with the disorder.

COURCHESNE: In autistic cortex, there are patches about five millimeters to 10 millimeters in diameter in which specific cells in specific layers seem to be missing.

HAMILTON: In these patches, Courchesne says, instead of distinct layers, there are disorganized collections of brain cells without clear boundaries. He says this almost certainly means that something went wrong very early in brain development. Continue reading NPR: Brain Changes Suggest Autism Starts In The Womb

Montgomery County Transitioning Adults (MCTrans)

Montgomery County Transitioning Adults (MCTrans) is a grassroots discussion and e-group for families of adults with mild to significant disabilities as they transition from School age entitlements in Maryland to a young adulthood and beyond.

Members are to include the adults with the disability, their families as well as interested professionals working in pre- and post-transitioning services. Purpose is to share information, provide each other support, and work to improve services and outcomes for adults with disabilities in the State of Maryland.

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NYT: Seeking Autism’s Biochemical Roots

The biochemist Ricardo E. Dolmetsch has pioneered a major shift in autism research, largely putting aside behavioral questions to focus on cell biology and biochemistry.

Dr. Dolmetsch, 45, has done most of his work at Stanford. Since our [NYT] interviews — a condensed and edited version of which follows — he has taken a leave to join Novartis, where his mission is to organize an international team to develop autism therapies.

“Pharmaceutical companies have financial and organizational resources permitting you to do things you might not be able to do as an academic,” he said. “I really want to find a drug.”

Q. Did you start out your professional life studying the biochemistry of autism?

A. No. In graduate school and as a postdoc, I’d done basic research on the ion channels on the membranes of cells. By my mid-20s, I had my name on some high-profile papers.

Then, around 2006, my son who was then 4 was diagnosed with autism. We had suspected it. He didn’t talk much, was hyperactive, very moody. He assembled huge towers based on the color spectrum. He did all sorts of things that were very unusual.

Given the signs, why did you wait that long to seek a diagnosis?

I’m from Latin America [Cali, Colombia], and my Latin thing was, “This is the way boys are.” But he would just scream for hours and hours, uncontrollable. He didn’t sleep. We didn’t understand it. After a while, his teachers said, “You probably ought to have him seen.” So we went to a psychiatrist and neurologist and ultimately we got differing diagnoses.

This is how child psychiatry is: It is diagnosis by questionnaire. If you go to a different specialists, you get different answers.

Autism, it turns out, is a whole bunch of diseases, clumped into one big group. After many confusing months, we finally heard “autism.” My response immediately was: “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to help him.”

It turned out, however, that there weren’t many medical things to be done. There are behavioral approaches which can improve things, though none are a cure. Once we understood this, I started really changing the direction of my lab to things more directed towards autism and neurodevelopmental diseases. These include childhood epilepsy, fragile X syndrome and schizophrenia. Continue reading NYT: Seeking Autism’s Biochemical Roots

ArtStream’s mission is to create artistic opportunities for individuals in communities traditionally under-served by the arts.

ArtStream is a regional organization based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area whose mission is to create artistic opportunities for individuals in communities traditionally underserved by the arts.

We are a consortium of compassionate, professional, experienced artists who wish to serve the needs of our clients. Our goal is to reach out to members in various groups such as persons with disabilities, seniors, people with short or long term illnesses and their families or caregivers, immigrants, veterans, people who are grieving, and students and teachers.

Our purpose is to inspire and help heal through various art forms such as theatre, puppetry, visual arts, multimedia, music, and dance. This is accomplished through interactive workshops and productions, on-going classes, seminars, performances, and training.


Ivymount for Music for Autism on March 22

Interactive Autism-Friendly Musical Concert at Ivymount on Saturday, March 22

Join families from around the Washington DC metropolitan area at Ivymount School on Saturday, March 22nd at 11:00am for an fun and sensory friendly Music for Autism Concert! Ivymount is the host site for this national program that provides interactive concerts featuring world-class musicians designed especially for individuals with Autism and sensory issues, and their families.

The March 22nd concert will feature National Symphony Orchestra Violinist, Marisa Regni and Trombonist Barry Hearn from the US Army Ceremonial Band.

The Ivymount School
11614 Seven Locks Road
Rockville, MD 20854

Legend of Blarnia and The Vegas Way

ArtStream OnStage, in partnership with Educational Theatre Center (ETC), is proud to present the 2014 Arlington Inclusive Theatre Companies in The Legend of Blarnia and The Vegas Way.

March 27-29 and April 3-5 at Gunston Theatre One in Arlington, VA.

Try your luck in two different “magical” lands!

Registration Formview flyer (pdf)

Inclusive Theatre Companies are directed by trained theatre professionals and feature actors who have intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities, or are on the Autism Spectrum. An original script is developed during the rehearsal process through improvisation techniques. A play is scripted and then blocked, memorized by the actors, and performed for the public. The final production is designed to showcase each actor’s unique talents.


NYT Opinion: Saving a Future for Those With Disabilities

Back in the old days, when Congress did crazy things like pass legislation, a sensible bill like the ABLE Act might have sailed to the president’s desk. But today, even with a long list of positives — it’s a good idea, solves a pressing problem and has lots of bipartisan support — it’s not a slam dunk, because there’s always a way in Washington to squelch good ideas, especially those that involve tweaking the tax code and spending a little money. Continue reading NYT Opinion: Saving a Future for Those With Disabilities

Music for Autism – Orchestrating Stronger Lives

Music for Autism is enhancing quality of life and raising public awareness through autism-friendly, interactive concerts developed specifically for individuals with autism and their families. The concerts, held in the United States and the United Kingdom, feature professional musicians, including Tony Award winners, Grammy-nominated classical artists, and Pulitzer Prize winners. To ensure equal access for all, every Music for Autism concert is fully subsidized. Families note that the concerts help fill a major psychosocial void, enabling them to enjoy enriching activities that are inclusive and to experience the joy and power of music as a family.