The Research Road 2012-2013
This was a year of bringing the researches together to provide hope to families & professionals.
In September 2012 I introduced Dr. Ruth O’Hara to our community so she could talk about her research in the area of Autism & Sleep. Dr. O’Hara is an Associate Professor, Associate Director, Sierra-Pacific Mental Illness Education & Clinical Center (MIRECC) Director, National Fellowship Program Advanced Psychiatry & Psychology, Department of Psychiatry & Behavior Services, Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. O’Hara announced that 44% of children with ASD suffer from sleep initiation, 31% from sleep maintenance & 30 with early morning awakening. Dr. O’Hara let us know that Iron deficiency can cause sleep problems. Epilepsy, reflux & sinus problems can also affect sleeping. She said inadequate sleep hygiene, excessive light, noise or temperature of a room can affect sleeping. She said there could be a Melatonin deficiency, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome affecting sleep. She encouraged families to connect to the sleep clinic at the hospital and get involved with the research study.
October 2012 brought Dr. Grace Gengoux, Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Her topic was Naturalistic Behavioral Strategies for Promoting Language & Social Development. She gave an overview of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT). This strategy focuses on the relationship with the child, taking their lead and occurring in natural settings. Learning must be motiving she suggests. She reminds us that our kiddos with ASD are hard to motivate and they will engage faster if they are interested and it is meaningful or their choice. She stresses that Natural Reinforces promote generalization of the skill. She strongly supports our kiddos learning how to initiate & use cooperative activities where others must participate & have a role. She feels the parents make the best therapist two work with their child & so training them is key.
In November 2012 Dr. Peter Clive Mundy did his first appearance at the series. Dr. Mundy was working on a first volume manual entitled Autism for Educators. His work on establishing joint attention with kiddos on the spectrum is being worked on at the MIND Institute & is a joint venture with Stanford & University of Southern California in his SAV-Lab. When a child cannot follow a reference and share information with another, their learning will be impaired as well as their social engagement and communication.
January 2013 kicked off the New Year with Dr. Lisa Crone from Kaiser Permanente’s Genetic & Environmental Research Department. Dr. Crone’s Twin Study is a federally funded autism study. She described the project of looking at pre & perinatal methylation in the mother & father & child & the changes in DNA. Her study hopes to identify Biologic markers in genetics & environmental exposure. Another study will be looking at over 1200 mothers of children with autism at the start of a new pregnancy and follow them & the new baby through 36 months. She described the work of the Autism Treatment Network collaborating & being able to look at large samples & drawing better conclusions.
The February 2013 “Combining the Senses to Make the World Whole: Multi-Sensory Integration Deficits in ASD” was presented by Dr. Clifford Saron, Associate Research Scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind & Brain. Dr. Saron first demonstrated how combining sensory information helps most of us detect & discriminate incoming information but so with the ASD population. There is known that people on the spectrum have challenges integrating sensory information & thus have challenges responding to their environment. Where typical people have a greater chance of identify something in their environment with cross sensory information (visual & auditory) this is not true for people on the spectrum. One may confuse the other. Dr. Saron suggested we create environments conducive to learning for our kiddos on the spectrum and remember their processing is different & must be understood & accommodated. He also believes strongly in having our kiddos engage in meditation to help sensory arousal and focus.
The April 2013 lecture with Dr. Robert Hendren, the Vice Chair of Psychiatry, Director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at UCSF, “Combining Clinical Evidence with Innovated Research brought some great information to families. Dr. Hendren really helped us to expand our vision of treatments. He invited us to realize that there will be different treatments at different levels. We must look at DNA, RNA, Cells, Physiological processes, Neuromodulators, Brain structure & Cognition& develop different interventions at each level. There may be biomedical treatments looking at immune & inflammation issues, Mitochrondrial function, Methylation, Oxidative Stress & Neurotransmitter production. He wanted us to know that UCSF & MIND were looking at Vitamin D, Omega3, Pancreatic digestive Enzymes & Methyl B12 treatments. He discussed studies on Memantine (Namenda) for socialization and N-Acdetylcystein (NAC) for irritability and Oxytocin for socialization. He discussed the use of Melatonin for sleep challenges. Dr. Hendren supports an integrative approach to ASD (Medical, Ancillary (Speech & Occupational Therapy), Behavioral, Pharmacology & Biomedical)
We ended the series in May 2013 with Dr. Elysa Marco from the UCSF Autism & Neurodevelopmental Center, Director of Research UCSF Department of Neurology, Psychiatry and Pediatrics and Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Neurology. Her topic was Sensory Processing in ASD & other Neurodevelopmental Disorders: From Scanner to School. Dr. Marco has been leading incredible research in the area of sensory processing & integration in clients with autism. It is clear that her research may indicate that the sensory processing challenges in these children cause many of their communication and social interaction challenges. Not only is her research indicating our kiddos hear, see, feel differently than their typical peers but when stimuli is presented simultaneously the integration is different. In order for our kiddos to learn and integrate their sensory processing challenges have to be considered. Classrooms, work spaces and homes will need to adapt for their success.