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Research Builds on Genetic Link to Autism and Schizophrenia

A genetic link between schizophrenia and autism is enabling researchers to study the effectiveness of drugs used to treat both illnesses.

Dr Steve Clapcote from the University of Leeds's Faculty of Biological Sciences will be analysing behaviour displayed by mice with a genetic mutation linked to schizophrenia and autism and seeing how antipsychotic drugs affect their behavioural abnormalities.

"We don't fully understand how the drugs used to treat schizophrenia and some symptoms of autism work," explained Dr Clapcote. "If we can show they can affect mice with this particular genetic mutation, then it gives us a clue to better understand the illnesses and opens up the possibility of more targeted treatments with fewer side effects."

A number of autism and schizophrenia patients have been found to have mutations of neurexin 1a, a protein which helps to form and maintain nerve signals in the brain. Scientists in the USA recently discovered that mice with the same genetic mutation display behavioural abnormalities which are consistent with schizophrenia and autism.

Dr Clapcote is planning to build on these initial findings to provide further evidence for a genetic link to the conditions. He also aims to assess the impact on the mice of antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia and some symptoms of autism.

"The genetic studies so far are suggesting a common cause for both schizophrenia and autism, which is something our studies will help to establish," said Dr Clapcote. "However, these illnesses are complex, involving not only inheritance, but other factors such as environment and experience. It's possible the genetic mutation might create a predisposition, making people more likely to develop autism or schizophrenia."

The mice will be run through a series of tests designed to assess behaviour related to autism and/or schizophrenia: hyperactivity, sensitivity to psychostimulants, attention levels, memory, social interaction and learning. Dr Clapcote will also look at verbal communication -- using bat recorders to 'listen' to the interaction between the mice which takes place beyond the range of human hearing.

"Behaviour is the final output of the nervous system and the means by which autism and schizophrenia are diagnosed, which is why our research focuses on behaviour," said Dr Clapcote. "Schizophrenia and autism patients both display lower levels of verbal communication and we hope to see this mirrored in the mice we're working with."

The two-year project has been funded by a £250,000 grant from the Medical Research Council. If the research proves successful, Dr Clapcote plans to investigate a proposed link between neurexin 1a and nicotine dependence, as a possible explanation for why a large percentage of schizophrenia patients become dependent on tobacco.


Music Training Enhances Brainstem Sensitivity to Speech Sounds, Neuroscientist Says

At a Feb. 20 press briefing held during the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, a Northwestern University neuroscientist argued that music training has profound effects that shape the sensory system and should be a mainstay of K-12 education.

"Playing an instrument may help youngsters better process speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice," says Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern University.

"Cash-strapped school districts are making a mistake when they cut music from the K-12 curriculum," says Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in Northwestern's School of Communication.

Kraus presented her own research and the research of other neuroscientists suggesting music education can be an effective strategy in helping typically developing children as well as children with developmental dyslexia or autism more accurately encode speech.

"People's hearing systems are fine-tuned by the experiences they've had with sound throughout their lives," says Kraus. "Music training is not only beneficial for processing music stimuli. We've found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion."

Researchers in the Kraus lab provided the first concrete evidence that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem's sensitivity to speech sounds. The findings are consistent with other studies they have conducted revealing that anomalies in brainstem sound encoding in some learning disabled children can be improved with auditory training.

The Kraus lab has a unique approach for demonstrating how the nervous system responds to the acoustic properties of speech and music sounds with sub-millisecond precision. The fidelity with which they can access the transformation of the sound waves into brain waves in individual people is a powerful new development.

"The neural enhancements seen in individuals with musical training is not just an amplifying or volume knob effect," says Kraus. "Individuals with music training show a selective fine-tuning of relevant aspects of auditory signals."

By comparing brain responses to predictable versus variable sound sequences, Kraus and her colleagues found that an effective or well-tuned sensory system takes advantage of stimulus regularities, such as the sound patterns that distinguish a teacher's voice from competing sounds in a noisy classroom.

They previously found that the ability of the nervous system to utilize acoustic patterns correlates with reading ability and the ability to hear speech in noise. Now they have discovered that the effectiveness of the nervous system to utilize sound patterns is linked to musical ability.

"Playing music engages the ability to extract relevant patterns, such as the sound of one's own instrument, harmonies and rhythms, from the 'soundscape,'" Kraus says. "Not surprisingly, musicians' nervous systems are more effective at utilizing the patterns in music and speech alike."

Studies in Kraus' laboratory indicate that music -- a high-order cognitive process -- affects automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream. "The brainstem, an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain, is modified by our experience with sound," says Kraus. "Now we know that music can fundamentally shape our subcortical sensory circuitry in ways that may enhance everyday tasks, including reading and listening in noise."

CARD Coloring Contest - Enter Your Child Today!

This year marks the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) 20th anniversary! Throughout this year, CARD will celebrate 20 years of leading the way in the successful treatment of autism with family friendly activities and events throughout the country and overseas. We hope you will join us.

Visit our Anniversary Site at http://www.centerforautism.com/card-anniversary. Enter your child in the CARD Coloring Contest.

CARD Founder and Executive Director Discusses Autism and Recovery - Live - Today!

Listen with the CARD community - click here !

This Friday, February 12th at 2pm (EST), CARD Founder and Executive Director Doreen Granpeesheh, PhD, BCBA-D will appear on Everyday Autism Miracles with Shannon Penrod, a live, online radio show.

Friday's show features Dr. Granpeesheh's award-winning documentary, RECOVERED : Journeys Through the Autism Spectrum and Back. Dr. Granpeesheh will be joined by CARD's Director of Contracts Bryce Miler who will discuss her personal journey as the mother of one of the four RECOVERED children and what it was like as a parent with a child on the spectrum. Miler will also give advice to parents of children with autism.

This is a show parents and practitioners won't want to miss!
Listen with the CARD community - click here !

Or, visit
http://toginet.com/podcast .
  • Look under February 12, 2010.
  • Click on "Everyday Autism Miracles.

After the show, send us your feedback.

You can share your comments on our CARD Facebook wall at


CARD Research Team Publishes Study on Comparison of Data Collection Methods in a Behavioral Intervention Program

Los Angeles, CA - February 08, 2010 A Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) research study, “Comparison of Data Collection Methods in a Behavioral Intervention Program,” finds that collecting data on all trials versus only the first trial in a block of ten trials during discrete trial teaching show no difference in indication of mastery or maintenance of skills. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) has published the findings in its current issue.

It’s common for ABA providers to collect data on all trials that are conducted with children during their behavioral intervention programs. However, there is a group of ABA providers who have started using what is called a “cold probe” data collection method. This involves collecting data only on the first trial conducted for each of the children’s lessons. The idea is that the first trial is a good test of how the child is doing because it follows a period of no practice and absence of receiving feedback on performance. All decisions about whether the child has mastered skills and has maintained this mastery over time are made based on first trial data.

This study compared whether conclusions regarding mastery and maintenance of skills would differ if decisions were based on only the first trial of data collected versus on all 10 trials of data collected. Eleven children with autism participated in this study. During sessions, data were collected on all trials during teaching sessions which were 10 trials in length. Then, data were graphed as percentage correct based on both the first trial only and also based on all 10 trials. The graphs were then compared to determine when decisions about mastery would be made. The mastery criterion was defined as three consecutive sessions above 80% correct responding (all-trials condition) or three consecutive sessions of 100% correct responding (first-trial condition).

Using the all-trials versus first-trial methods, the mean number of sessions to mastery were 7.45 and 7.77, respectively, indicating little difference between the data collection methods. The mean percentage of correct responding on the target skills during maintenance probes for all children, in the all-trials, versus first-trial methods yielded 95.23% and 97%, respectively. Again, this indicated no differentiation between the data collection methods. In summary, results suggested that there was no difference in terms of the number of sessions in which participant displayed mastery performance and in the percentage of correct responding during maintenance probes using either the all-trials or the first-trial data collection method.

These results differ slightly from those obtained during previous research conducted by Cummings and Carr (2009) who noted that mastery was identified in fewer sessions using the first-trial data collection method. However, it should be mentioned that data collection continued on the remaining nine trials during the first-trial condition in the current investigation (which did not occur in the study by Cummings and Carr). Thus, the current analysis also compared the two data collection procedures within each target skill.

"This additional analysis allowed us to identify that, had the alternative data collection method been used to identify mastery for each target, mastery would have been suggested earlier in more cases when the all-trials method was applied (43% of targets) than when the first-trial method was applied (18% of targets). Thus, the first-trial method was a slightly more conservative measure of length of time to achieve mastery-level performance in the current study. Despite this finding, the current results should be interpreted with caution since they might have been an artifact of using a mastery criterion of greater than 80% during the all-trials condition. Given that this mastery criterion is less stringent than the 100% criterion used for the first-trial condition, it is not surprising that mastery would be suggested sooner in more cases using a lower criterion level,” says CARD Researcher, Adel Najdowski, PhD, BCBA-D.

The above 80% criterion was used in the current investigation because it is a suggested criterion used to evaluate response mastery (Anderson, Taras, & Cannon, 1996). Nevertheless, future research could compare the identification of mastery-level performance using ranges of criterion levels (e.g., comparing mastery at 80%, 90%, and 100% during all trials to 100% during the first trial) to determine the impact of different criterion levels on evidence of mastery. Future research should also evaluate the extent to which data collection on all trials or only a subset of trials decreases time requirements associated with the implementation of discrete trial teaching programs.

The above 80% criterion was used in the current investigation because it is a suggested criterion used to evaluate response mastery (Anderson, Taras, & Cannon, 1996). Nevertheless, future research could compare the identification of mastery-level performance using ranges of criterion levels (e.g., comparing mastery at 80%, 90%, and 100% during all trials to 100% during the first trial) to determine the impact of different criterion levels on evidence of mastery. Future research should also evaluate the extent to which data collection on all trials or only a subset of trials decreases time requirements associated with the implementation of discrete trial teaching programs.

"Considering the results of this study combined with the results reported by Cummings and Carr (2009), it appears as though first-trial data collection might be a promising option for assessing behavior change during DTI. However, additional research is needed to evaluate the utility of this data collection procedure," adds Najdowski.

Questions regarding this study should be directed to Dr. Jonathan Tarbox, CARD Director of Research at j.tarbox@centerforautism.com or 818.345.2345.

About the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD):

CARD is committed to science as the most objective and reliable approach to evaluating treatment for autism. CARD’s mission is to conduct empirical research on the assessment and treatment of autism and to disseminate CARD’s research findings and derived technology through publication and education of professionals and the public. While the primary focus of CARD’s research is ABA-based methods of assessment and treatment, CARD’s overall approach to research includes any topic which may hold promise for producing information that could improve the lives of individuals with autism.

In addition, CARD maintains a reputation as one of the world’s largest and most experienced organizations effectively treating children with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS, and related disorders. Following the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), CARD develops individualized treatment plans for children worldwide.

For more information about CARD, visit www.centerforautism.com .

For more information about the CARD Research department, visit

Book Review: Squirmy Wormy: How I Learned to Help Myself by Lynda Farrington Wilson

By Gavin Bollard | Blogcritics Books

It’s not often that I see a book which comfortably sits across several age groups and brings useful and different information to each. Squirmy Wormy is such a book.

Squirmy Wormy is a picture book which deals with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. As someone with Aspergers Syndrome and two children on the autism spectrum, the book was of particular interest to me.

Squirmy Wormy is a quick and easy read. The story itself is a mere 18 pages with about five lines of new text on each page plus a little repetition which is great fun for reading aloud. It’s easy reading for average young readers and even for struggling readers in grades three and four.

What makes Squirmy Wormy so different from your average picture book though is that apart from having a generally non-linear story from which you can simply read one or two relevant pages without having to read the entire story, is that it offers a great deal of advice for parents but more importantly, for children. One of the main aims of this book is to encourage children to help themselves.

Taking a child’s point of view, it’s easy to see the advice for given situations. For example; one page reads, “Sometimes I just get upset and confused and I just don’t know what else to do but scream or cry.” The advice follows on quickly: “But I just close my eyes, take a deep breath and think of something that makes me happy.”

There’s also a reassurance of normality: “It’s okay when I feel upset. I will feel better soon.”

Other pages suggest breaks for the child and even provide some interesting ideas for parents to implement. Best of all, a child who is reading the book may begin to implement or recommend their own therapy for a given problem.

The illustrations in the book are all bright and colorful. They’re also very easy for children to relate to. There’s a lot of detail in the illustrations and my children had great fun pointing out various bits and pieces.

I read the book aloud to both of my children and they stayed attentive throughout. Best of all, it provided me with some great ideas and opened some enlightening discussion topics with them. It was interesting to be able to point to pages and ask them, “do you feel like that?”.

I’d recommend Squirmy Wormy to all parents of children on the autism spectrum, with SPD or even with non-autistic conditions such as learning difficulties and ADHD. There are a lot great ideas in it which are suitable for a much broader range of children.

Professionals working with special needs children really need to grab a copy, too. If nothing else, it’s the kind of book that they should have in their waiting rooms.

Source: http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-squirmy-wormy-how-i/

Claire Danes as the Autistic Temple Grandin

By Monika Bartyzel | Cinematical

When Claire Danes made an iconic name for herself, it was as the awkward and lovable Angela Chase in My So-Called Life — the girl who struggled to be cool, but gained friendship and even the heart of Jordan Catalano for the parts of herself she couldn’t mask in “coolness.” Since then, however, it hasn’t been the easiest road. She had a brief cinematic explosion with Romeo + Juliet, and taken on every kind of role from retro television remakes to action thrillers and indies, but never with the same success. And, for the most part, roles that just seemed simple and acted, rather than dynamic and lived.

Now she’s stretching the barriers. She’s got a made-for-TV movie on the way called Temple Grandin, starring alongside Julia Ormond, David Strathairn, and Catherine O’Hara, which will air on HBO on February 6. (We mentioned here back in ‘08.) But the big shock — she plays a famous autistic woman. Temple Grandin grew up in the Northeast, got a Ph.D. in animal science, is now an advocate for autism, a bestselling author, a strong voice in the world of animal welfare (she designed curved corrals for animals led to slaughter), and the inventor of the hug machine, which you may have heard about.

Watching Danes as Grandin in the new trailer, which you can see after the jump … I don’t know. She’s certainly trying to embody Grandin’s unique presence, but it looks too mimicked and forced. (But maybe that’s just because of the scenes they chose?) After the trailer you can see a long talk with Grandin for comparison. (It’s an hour, but head to about the 9-10 minute mark to hear her talk about her talk about her favorite movies.)

Claire Danes stars in the new HBO Original Movie, “Temple Grandin.” The movie premieres Saturday, February 6 only on HBO.

Source: http://www.cinematical.com/2010/01/10/