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Animal Assisted Therapy Approved for ASHA CEUs

Animal Assisted TherapyIn Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) the human-animal bond is utilized to help meet therapeutic goals and reach individuals who are otherwise difficult to engage in verbal therapies. AAT is considered an emerging therapy at this time, and more research is needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of research and case studies that illustrate the considerable therapeutic potential of using animals in therapy. AAT has been associated with improving outcomes in four areas: autism-spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being. This course is designed to provide therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals.

Course #20-62 | 2012 | 30 pages | 20 posttest questions
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Should We Really Worry About Obesity’s Link to Autism?

By Brian Fung

A new study this week linking motherhood obesity to childhood autism tells a seemingly horrible tale: pregnant women who are obese are 67 percent more likely to have a child who suffers from the disorder than her non-obese counterpart. It’s the kind of statistic that people latch on to, and dozens of stories in the media highlighted the stat.

But what can we actually make of such a figure? 67 percent sounds like a big deal. You’re well on your way to doubling your risk, it seems. But without context, it’s hard to gauge how much maternal obesity matters relative to the host of autism risk facts.

Should We Really Worry About Obesity's Link to Autism?While the 67 percent figure is “non-trivial,” according to Dr. William Eaton, a professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins University, maternal obesity isn’t exactly considered a leading risk factor. There are others that raise the risk for childhood autism by roughly the same amount, and still others that cause it to skyrocket.

For example, when a baby comes out of the womb feet-first, “a breech birth,” the child’s risk for autism increases about 63 percent. Babies with an Apgar score — an indicator, from one to ten, of a child’s relative health five minutes after birth — of less than seven are about 89 percent more likely to be autistic, Eaton said.

“There are some studies about autism which have much stronger risk factors,” Eaton added, “with hazard ratios like two or three or four,” that is to say, a 200 or 300 or even 400 percent increase in risk.

Some of these more serious risk factors are simply out of our control. A child born before 35 weeks carries two and a half times the risk for autism. Family mental history can also play a role. If someone in your family suffers from psychosis or a mood disorder, the risk for childhood autism increases two to three times.

So, maternal obesity may be a risk factor for autism, but it’s important to remember that it’s only one among many and not even the strongest link. 

And, Eaton said, separating out obesity, itself, from other linked disorders is a challenge in itself. “Just to show you how complicated things are, obese women could have a higher rate of mood disorder,” he said. “And we wouldn’t know if it was the mood disorder doing the work or the obesity.”

Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/should-we-really-worry-about-obesitys-link-to-autism/255675/

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25% Off Autism CE – Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month

25% off autism continuing education courses during National Autism Awareness MonthIn order to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism, the Autism Society has been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s. The United States recognizes April as a special opportunity for everyone to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.

Professional Development Resources, a proud member of the Autism Society, is offering 25% off all Autism continuing education courses during the month of April to promote education and awareness.

Autism is More Common Than Previously Thought

New research showing one in 88 U.S. children have autism spectrum disorders is focusing national attention on the need for earlier diagnosis and treatment, especially in rural and minority communities.

Figures released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 23% increase in autism spectrum cases from 2006 to 2008, and 78% increase since 2002.

“Clearly, we have a national emergency and clearly, we need a national plan,” said Mark Roithmayr, the president of Autism Speaks. “It’s time for us as a nation to see these numbers for what they truly are, and for us as a nation to commit to doing much more than we’ve done for date.”

Read more: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2012-03-29/CDC-Autism-is-more-common-than-previously-thought/53856542/1

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Parents of Kids with Autism Earn Less

By Rachael Rettner, MyHealthNewsDaily Staff Writer

Parents of Kids with Autism Earn LessAdriana Lara, a mother in Hutto, Texas, is not able to work because her 5-year old son Joshua has autism. Lara must stay home to give Joshua the care he needs, and to drive him to his therapy sessions five days a week.

“It’s just impossible for me to be able to hold a job and do all these things with Josh,” Lara, 31, said. The family depends on the salary of Lara’s husband, a psychologist at a Veteran’s Affairs hospital.

Joshua’s therapies, including speech, music and occupational therapy, cost about $5,000 a month. Eighty-five percent of the cost is currently covered by a government grant, but the grant will run out this summer, and the family’s insurance policy won’t cover Joshua’s therapies, Lara said.

“We don’t know how we’re going to afford it,” Lara said. While public schools offer autism therapies, Joshua’s school does not offer the type of intensive therapies he needs, Lara said. For instance, the therapies provided by Joshua’s school are not one-on-one, Lara said.

A new study highlights the unique financial burden faced by families of children with autism, like Lara’s. The burden is particularly significant for mothers, the study finds.

On average, mothers of autistic children earn $14,755 less per year than mothers of healthy children, and $7,189 less per year than mothers of children with other health conditions (such as asthma and ADHD) that limit their ability to engage in childhood activities, according to the study.

Despite the fact that they tend to have completed more years of education, mothers of autistic children are 6 percent less likely to be employed, and they work on average 7 hours less weekly than mothers of healthy children, the researchers say.

“We don’t think that autism creates more of a strain on the family per se than other chronic conditions of childhood,” said study researcher David Mandell, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “I think the reason these mothers are leaving the workforce is because the service system for children with autism is so fragmented,” Mandell said.

Health care and workplace policies need to recognize the full impact of autism, and alleviate costs for the families with greatest needs, the researchers concluded, writing in the March 19 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Higher Bills, Lower Salaries

About 1 in 110 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability that can cause language delays, impaired communication skills and social challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study results are based on yearly surveys of U.S. households conducted between 2002 and 2008. The study included 64,349 families with healthy children, 2,921 families of children with other health limitations and 261 families of children with autism.

While fathers’ salaries, by themselves, were not affected by having a child with autism, total family income was, the study showed. On average, families with autistic children earned $17,763 less than families with healthy children, and $10,416 less than families with children with other health limitations.

As Lara’s story shows, having a child with autism may limit the parents’ abilities to work because these children require more care. Finding quality, specialized childcare for autistic children may be difficult and costly, the researchers say.

“A traditional daycare setting really is really not conducive,” for children with autism to thrive, said Carolyn Price, whose 7-year old son has autism. Autistic children are very sensitive to sights and sounds, and may be overwhelmed at a day care, Price said.

When Price’s son was in daycare — before he was diagnosed with autism — he would bite other children because he couldn’t cope with the environment, Price said. In addition, autistic children need one-on-one interaction that is generally not feasible at day care, Price said.

When Price’s son, also named Joshua, was young and had to be at home, she and her husband felt uncomfortable having anyone beside themselves or close friends look after him.

“It’s really challenging when you have a child with special needs, to really turn that responsibility over to someone else and feel like they are getting the best care,” Price said. Price’s husband Joel still works only part time, so he can drive his son to therapy sessions.

Financial Support

Children with autism need to be immersed in their therapies in order to benefit, Price said. Providing therapy one day a week, when a child needs five sessions, won’t have the same impact, Price said.

In 2010, Price and her husband started a non-profit organization called Imagine a Way to provide financial assistance to families with autistic children. The organization focuses trying to provide funds to support for children for two years.

While other nonprofits and government subsidies offer support to families of children with autism, it’s often comes in the form of a little bit at a time, Price said.

“There’s a recognized need for it, I just don’t think there’s a consolidated organization like Autism Speaks, that’s able to do something on a major scale,” Price said. While any source of funding is valuable, “For the magnitude of what these kids need, a little bit is just not enough,” Price said.

Pass it on:  Autism places a significant financial burden on families.

Source: http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/2366-autism-family-financial-burden.html

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Animal Assisted Therapy – New Online Course!

Animal Assisted Therapy

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In Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) the human-animal bond is utilized to help meet therapeutic goals and reach individuals who are otherwise difficult to engage in verbal therapies. AAT is considered an emerging therapy at this time, and more research is needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of research and case studies that illustrate the considerable therapeutic potential of using animals in therapy. AAT has been associated with improving outcomes in four areas: autism-spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being. This course is designed provide therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals.

The author, Lois Jean Brady, MA, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech-language pathologist registered in animal-assisted therapy. She has a very loveable potbelly pig named Buttercup who accompanies her to therapy sessions, where he enhances her work with students on the spectrum. Buttercup has made a lasting impression on students, staff, and caregivers – essentially all who meet him. He has helped some students attain their goals and others just feel safer and more secure in the therapy environment, allowing them to focus their attention on a task. He has heard many students utter their first words, start conversations, or ask questions. He has been combed, brushed, fed, and cared for by many students. Lois has found that having an animal creates an atmosphere of trust that motivates children to expand their skills, strive to do their best, and strengthen the relationship between them and her.

Rosy Chu interviews Lois and Buttercup on KTVU Bay Area People: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9ypo0GzPkUs

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Posted by on March 6, 2012 in General

 

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Brain Imaging Could Detect Autism Risk in Infants as Young as 6 Months

By ALICE PARK | @aliceparkny

Early intervention may help curb some of the more severe symptoms of autism. The question is, How do we identify at-risk children early enough?

Researchers say they may soon be able to identify babies at high risk of autism as early as 6 months old.

Currently, clinicians can’t diagnose autism until toddlers are about 2, when the first behavioral and language symptoms of the developmental disorder become noticeable. There is a push to identify at-risk babies earlier, though, since early intervention may be critical for halting abnormal development and preventing the most troublesome behavioral outcomes associated with autism. But while scientists are developing more sophisticated screening tests that rely on brain-imaging techniques or eye-tracking technologies that monitor an infant’s gaze to pick up early autistic signs, there is still no reliable way to diagnose the condition in younger infants.

Brain Imaging Could Detect Autism Risk in Infants as Young as 6 MonthsNow, reporting in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers say that they may finally have a tool that will select out the highest-risk infants at just 6 months old. The innovative test, known as fractional anisotropy, measures the density of white matter, the part of brain that is rich in nerve fibers and makes up the major neural pathways that connect various regions of the brain. Specifically, the technology measures the diffusion of water through nerve-fiber tracts to gauge the density of myelin, the substance that insulates the sometimes long fibers that connect one nerve cell to another; the density of myelin serves as a rough stand-in for the density of neural connections in the brain.

The scientists, recruited 92 children from the Infant Brain Imaging Study Network, which includes four clinical sites around the country. All the infants were considered to be at higher risk of developing autism because they each had at least one older sibling affected by the disorder.

The researchers monitored the children’s brain and behavior development. At 6, 12 and 24 months, the scientists measured the density of the babies’ nerve fibers in the brain, and then tracked them to see who would end up being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 2 and who did not.

Children who were eventually diagnosed with ASDs were more likely to show thicker, denser nerve-fiber readings at 6 months, compared with normally developing children. But by the time the infants were 2, the situation was reversed: the ASD toddlers had thinner white matter than those who did not develop autism.

“The findings suggest that early on, there is something different going on in children who develop ASDs,” says Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks who is also a professor of psychiatry at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a co-author of the paper. “Very early on, before the emergence of behavioral symptoms, these neural networks that connect different brain regions are not developing normally.”

Among the 15 nerve-fiber tracts in the brain that linked various regions together, 12 showed aberrant growth patterns in the 6-month old babies who developed ASDs compared with those who didn’t. This suggests, says Dawson, that “there is a more global change in development of these tracts implicated in autism, and that functional connectivity, or the establishment of neural networks is clearly implicated in these findings.”

That means that whatever biological processes are driving autism, they aren’t limited to one region of the brain. And that makes sense, since the disorder’s hallmark behavioral symptoms involve language and social interactions, which require exquisite coordination of several different brain areas.

Dawson and her colleagues stress, however, that their results do not necessarily suggest that the explosion of white matter at 6 months and its subsequent drop-off cause the abnormal development that leads to autism. For now, it’s just an intriguing potential marker for the disorder, one that may help doctors identify infants at highest risk of developing autism early on. Because the study involved only children with a family history of ASD, the next step will be to compare these infants with those whose families are not affected. (There is evidence that even unaffected siblings of autistic children have similar brain changes to those of their autistic brothers and sisters, and may even exhibit subtle symptoms of the disorder.)

A better understanding of how the autistic brain works could, of course, help scientists develop better therapies to treat the disorder. Better interventions could even help prevent ASDs from progressing to more advanced stages that keep children and adults from becoming functioning members of society.

Detecting the first signs of autism, perhaps even in infants younger than 6 months, may be an important part of that effort as well. Studies show, for example, that toddlers on the road to autism who are engaged in language and social-skills therapy can improve their cognitive development and IQ score by as much as 17 points. “One can imagine a day [when], if a baby is suspected of being at risk of developing autism, one could use a biomarker test like this one to identify infants who should perhaps receive early stimulation in language and social development so they can improve their outcomes,” says Dawson. That’s the goal, and tests like these can bring us one step closer toward achieving it.

Source: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/17/brain-imaging-could-detect-autism-risk-in-infants-as-young-as-6-months/#ixzz1medl8dGi

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The Joint Statement of the Autism Society and Autistic Self Advocacy Network on the DSM-5 and Autism

The Joint Statement of the Autism Society and Autistic Self Advocacy Network on the DSM-5 and Autism  As two national organizations committed to working to empower the autism and Autistic communities today and into the future, the Autism Society of America and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network issue the following joint statement regarding the definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder within the DSM-5.

The autism spectrum is broad and diverse, including individuals with a wide range of functional needs, strengths and challenges. The DSM-5’s criteria for the new, unified autism spectrum disorder diagnosis must be able to reflect that diversity and range of experience.

Over the course of the last 60 years, the definition of autism has evolved and expanded to reflect growing scientific and societal understanding of the condition. That expansion has resulted in improved societal understanding of the experiences of individuals on the autism spectrum and their family members. It has also led to the development of innovative service-provision, treatment and support strategies whose continued existence is imperative to improving the life experiences of individuals and families. As the DSM-5’s final release approaches and the autism and Autistic communities prepare for a unified diagnosis of ASD encompassing the broad range of different autism experiences, it is important for us to keep a few basic priorities in mind.

One of the key principles of the medical profession has always been, “First, do no harm.” As such, it is essential that the DSM-5’s criteria are structured in such a way as to ensure that those who have or would have qualified for a diagnosis under the DSM-IV maintain access to an ASD diagnosis. Contrary to assertions that ASD is over diagnosed, evidence suggests that the opposite is the case – namely, that racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, adults and individuals from rural and low-income communities face challenges in accessing diagnosis, even where they clearly fit criteria under the DSM-IV. Furthermore, additional effort is needed to ensure that the criteria for ASD in the DSM-5 are culturally competent and accessible to under-represented groups. Addressing the needs of marginalized communities has been a consistent problem with the  DSM-IV.

Individuals receive a diagnosis for a wide variety of reasons. Evidence from research and practice supports the idea that enhancing access to diagnosis can result in substantial improvements in quality of life and more competent forms of service-provision and mental health treatment. This is particularly true for individuals receiving diagnosis later in life, who may have managed to discover coping strategies and other adaptive mechanisms which serve to mask traits of ASD prior to a diagnosis. Frequently, individuals who are diagnosed in adolescence or adulthood report that receiving a diagnosis results in improvements in the provision of existing services and mental health treatment, a conceptual framework that helps explain past experiences, greater self-understanding and informal support as well as an awareness of additional, previously unknown service options.

Some have criticized the idea of maintaining the existing, broad autism spectrum, stating that doing so takes limited resources away from those most in need. We contend that this is a misleading argument – no publicly funded resource is accessible to autistic adults and children solely on the basis of a diagnosis. Furthermore, while the fact that an individual has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not in and of itself provide access to any type of service-provision or funding, a diagnosis can be a useful contributing factor in assisting those who meet other functional eligibility criteria in accessing necessary supports, reasonable accommodations and legal protections. As such, we encourage the DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Working Group to interpret the definition of autism spectrum disorder broadly, so as to ensure that all of those who can benefit from an ASD diagnosis have the ability to do so.

The Autism Society and Autistic Self Advocacy Network encourage other organizations and groups to join with us in forming a national coalition aimed at working on issues related to definition of the autism spectrum within the DSM-5. Community engagement and representation within the DSM-5 process itself is a critical component of ensuring accurate, scientific and research-validated diagnostic criteria. Furthermore, our community must work both before and after the finalization of the DSM-5 to conduct effective outreach and training on how to appropriately identify and diagnose all those on the autism spectrum, regardless of age, background or status in other under-represented groups.

P.S. The Autism Society will continue to share its thoughts and feelings about keeping the community inclusive as more information about the revisions is known.  In the meantime, we strongly encourage people to get involved in the discussion.

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