Autism Research Review – November 2012

CC BY-SA by Egan Snow

CC BY-SA by Egan Snow

Autistic? Likely to be a child prodigy too!

On 9th November, a study of 8 child prodigies revealed astounding links between autism and prodigies in the journal Intelligence. 3 out of the 8 prodigies were diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As compared to the control group peers, the study group had higher scores on tests of autistic traits.

To top it all, at least half of the prodigious children had at least one family member or a first degree/second degree relative who had previously been diagnosed with autism. Joanne Ruthsatz, the lead author and assistant Prof. of Psychology at the Ohio State University, stated that their research suggested that the child prodigies were for some unknown reason, not manifesting the deficits that are commonly associated with autism. All the children had more than 99 percentile on their working memory scores along with high general intelligence and exceptional attention to details.

The child prodigies were compared to autistic savants but lacking tell-tale features of autism. The research concluded that the prodigies might have moderated autism that paradoxically enables their unique talents.

 

Air pollution during infancy might lead to increased risk of autism

A shocking research conducted by the Children’s Hospital, LA and University of Southern California revealed on 26th November, 2012 that traffic-related pollution during infancy and pregnancy leads to a 200% risk of autism. If the source of air pollution was regional (high in nitrogen dioxide content) and contained small particulate matter (less than 2.5 & 10 microns), then the risk of autism persists even where the pregnant mother resided away from a busy street.

279 infants were examined during the research. Using parameters like distance from roads, direction of winds, air quality monitors etc, the team concluded that irrespective of the source of pollution, whether from roads or railways, exposure to air pollution during the first year of life increased the chances of autism over two-fold.

 

Incredulous technology: Autistics can now communicate

Topcliffe Primary School situated in Birmingham is redefining use of medical technology by helping its autistic children where they lack most- communication. Topcliffe is one of the four British schools that took part in the ECHOES research program. With 30 autistic participants having various grades of autism, the school participated in the research that aimed at exploring the use of technology in making classroom teaching easier.

The program which was a joint venture of Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) had invited universities from all across UK. The ECHOES is a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) initiative. Using large multi-touch screens, virtual characters and interactive software, children learn to explore and manipulate their environment. With the aid of Andy, the friendly semi-autonomous virtual character, autistic children were found to be engaged actively in specific activities that showed tremendous improvements in their communication and social skills.

Research showed that autistic kids find technology and computers safer for interaction. The ECHOES emerged as a winner and was used even for non-autistic children. It may help in further assessment of a child’s strengths and weaknesses and ways to address them.

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