Autism Research: 27, 2015 Week in Review

Research

Debunked autism therapies still persist. A study investigates why

A new study published by researchers from the Emory Health Sciences University questions why treatment fads of autism that have long been debunked as non-scientific or unhelpful continue to persist amidst the general population. Lead author Scott Lilienfeld understands that parents be hopeful about something, anything helping out their child, but being hopeful is different from being correct, he explains. Therapies like gluten-free diet, hyperbaric oxygen, casein-free diet, chelation therapy, antifungal interventions, sheep-stem-cell injections, magnetic shoe inserts and many other such fads have come and gone in the past two decades. The desperation of parents and teachers alike to help the children might be driving them to such therapies for scientists fail to communicate the latest in research to the masses probably, the study observes. The study focused on how Facilitated Communication or FC was debunked yet persists in being used by parents and teachers alike in parts of the US.

Journal Reference: Scott O. Lilienfeld, Julia Marshall, James T. Todd, Howard C. Shane. The persistence of fad interventions in the face of negative scientific evidence: Facilitated communication for autism as a case example. Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1080/17489539.2014.976332

New therapy based on emotion recognition shows benefits in “High Functioning” Autism

A unique therapy developed by researchers from the Institute for Autism Research at the Canisius College has shown to benefit children with high-functioning autism. the study published this week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders was led by Marcus Thomeer. The team developed a software called Mind Reading that recognizes facial emotions and gave the children an opportunity to practice the emotions with the staff, having the advantage of reinforcement when the emotions were correctly identified and reciprocated by the child. The study helped reduce social impairment symptoms in the study group and lead to lesser rating of autism from the parents too. The team is hopeful that the software can be further fine tuned to be made widely available to schools and therapists to help children on the spectrum.

Journal Reference: Marcus L. Thomeer, Rachael A. Smith, Christopher Lopata, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial of Mind Reading and In Vivo Rehearsal for High-Functioning Children with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2374-0

Researchers question the utility of oxytocin in autism therapy

Oxytocin has been at the heart of many a debate and studies as far as autism is concerned. The opinions are divided as to whether this ‘love hormone’ can actually help reduce the hallmark symptom of autism i.e. social isolation. Researchers Larry Young and Catherine Barrette from the Emory University, Atlanta questioned the utility of oxytocin, given data from contrasting studies. Published in the journal Science, the findings of the duo are a perspective piece on the therapy that is being widely researched to formulate a nasal spray to help treat autism. The only way it can be confirmed is by doing studies simultaneously in humans and animals.

Journal reference: Young L and Barrette C. Can oxytocin treat autism? Science 20 February 2015: Vol. 347 no. 6224 pp. 825-826. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa8120

Link between vitamin D, serotonin, omega-3 fatty acids and autism discovered

Researchers from the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Dr. Patrick and his team, have found that vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids improved behavior as well cognitive function in children with developmental disorders. Published in the journal FASEB, the findings of the study explain possible mechanisms as to why these two vital nutrients might be associated with the brain. The researchers hypothesize that vitamin D is vital for production of serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan, and serotonin itself is vital to the developing brain. Serotonin affects mood, impulsiveness, social behavior, aggressiveness etc. which are affected in autism, ADHD , etc.

Journal Reference: Rhonda P. Patrick And Bruce N. Ames. Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. FASEB Journal, February 2015 DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-268342