Autism & Asperger's Changes in DSM 5 - Have your say

Last year a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published. Doctors use the criteria in this manual when they diagnose mental health disorders. The manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

This 5th edition of the DSM includes significant changes in the criteria used to diagnose autism. As part of these changes, Asperger's Syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis. Instead the current manual "combines four independent diagnoses — autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and childhood disintegrative disorder — into a single label of autism spectrum disorder."
The National Institutes for Health (NIH) spends millions of dollars on research related to autism. Because of this investment, the NIH is conducting research on the changes made in the DSM-5. Specifically, the NIH wants "input about the implications of changes in ASD diagnostic criteria for autism research, as well as input into the potential for research to inform concerns and questions related to clinical practice and policy".
If you have information about the changes in the DSM-5 that you would like to share or if you want to learn more about this research click here. The deadline for submissions is May 12.
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©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Babies' and toddlers' addictions to iPads linked to poor motor skills

British teachers are warning parents to limit their children's use of iPads and similar devices. The teachers' claim that the excessive use of tablets by infants and toddlers hurts the development of their motor skills.

“I have spoken to a number of nursery teachers who have concerns over the increasing numbers of young pupils who can swipe a screen but have little or no manipulative skills to play with building blocks or the like, or the pupils who cannot socialise with other pupils but whose parents talk proudly of their ability to use a tablet or smartphone,” said  Colin Kinney, a teacher from Northern Ireland.

Kinney's comments were made at a conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Manchester. At the conference teachers also warned that "some older children were unable to complete traditional pen and paper exams because their memory had been eroded by overexposure to screen-based technology."

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Special needs news highlights 18 April 2014

Here are highlights of some news stories which affect children with special needs.

More college students using ADHD drugs as study aids

"Prescription ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are becoming increasingly popular for overworked and overscheduled college students -- who haven't been diagnosed with ADHD."

Overview of signs of different learning disabilities

UK scientists are studying babies to find out why some people get ADHD

Father of boy with autism writes memoir of the lessons he learned raising a child with autism

New rules in California make it harder for insurance companies to deny coverage for autism services

The financial burden of autism

Special program on the "birds and the bees" developed by professor in Kansas for girls with
special needs

Horse therapy helps children with special needs

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Disney's new disability policy has resulted in a lawsuit

 A group of mothers who have disabled children are suing Disney under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  They allege that Disney's new Disabilitu Access policy does not make proper accomodations for their children with special needs.  They also claim that Disney's new policy discourages families of disabled children to go to Disney's parks. 

 “Until recently, parents of developmentally disabled children universally adored Disney, because of the way Disney caringly accommodated their children,” said attorney Andy Dogali who is representing the families. “No reasonable mind could ever conclude, after investigating these facts and spending extensive time with these families, anything other than Disney willingly abandoned them.”

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Antidepressant use in pregnancy linked to autism in boys

Credit:  By Ⅿeagan from Tulsa, OK, US via Wikimedia Commons
Researchers from Johns Hopkins found a link between the use of certain antidepressants during pregnancy and autism in boys. The class of antidepressants are SSRIs and include Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft .  The study, Prenatal SSRI Use and Offspring With Autism Spectrum Disorder or Developmental Delay, is published in the Journal Pediatrics.

"We found prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorders relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure is during the first trimester," said study co-author Li-Ching Lee, an associate scientist in the department of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.

The researchers did not establish a causal link between the use of SSRIs and autism - meaning they cannot say the use of these antidepressants caused the boys' autism.  They did point out that the use of these medications in pregnancy is sometimes necessary.

Source:  CBS News

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Children with ADHD are being treated with unapproved medications

Antipsychotic medications are used to treat children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) even though these drugs are not approved for the treatment of ADHD.

Researchers found that treatment with antipsychotic medications was particularly high among children in foster care and those without private health insurance, according to a new study from the University of Maryland.  

Researchers examined the use of atypical antipsychotics including risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone, and clozapine.  None of these medications are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of ADHD, yet they were given to children with ADHD.  In addition, children were being treated with these drugs for longer than that in many clinical studies.

"This study adds critical hard data to our understanding of a persistent and unacceptable trend in paediatric psychiatry," Dr Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute in New York City.
"Our poorest, most vulnerable children, lacking access to evidence-based care, are receiving potentially harmful treatment with little oversight. The highlight of [the] paper for any reader should be the simple but necessary recommendations for antipsychotic prescribing and monitoring in these populations," he added.

The study, Atypical Antipsychotic Use Among Medicaid-Insured Children and Adolescents: Duration, Safety, and Monitoring Implications, appears in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

News for parents of children with special needs 19 March 2014

News Highlights 19 March 2014

ADHD Medications linked to Obesity

A recent study from John Hopkins found a link between the use of ADHD medication such as Ritalin and Aderall and obesity.The researchers concluded that a possible side effect of stopping ADHD medications is rapid weight gain. More information on the study can be found here.

Integration of senses delayed in children with autism
Research from Albert Einstein College of Medicine suggests that children with autism develop the ability to integrate multiple senses later than neurotypical children.  This finding may account for why many children with autism are overly sensitive to noise, smell, light etc.  Read more about this here.

Other stories of interest

Chemist says omitting MSG cured daughter's autism

Helping Children with ADHD make friends

Children with Down's Syndrome tell expectant mom what to expect

Could school testing be driving ADHD?

Autism - its not all about genetics

Gender Identity Issues Linked to Autism, ADHD

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Helping your child with special needs transition to a new school

Credit: Lee Cannon on Flickr
Children change schools several times throughout their lives. These changes can make kids nervous or anxious. For children with special needs, these changes are particularly stressful. Parents can take steps to reduce their children’s anxieties. Here are some tips to help make the transitions go smoothly and reduce your children’s anxieties.

Make a transition plan
The development of a transition plan should involve parents, staff from the children’s current schools and staff from the children’s new schools. Children should be included or at least consulted about the transition plan. The transition plan should include:
  • Several visits to the new school. Each visit should have a specific purpose. For example, during one visit children can learn the physical layout of the facilities including restrooms, lockers, cafeteria, gym, bus pick up/drop off area etc. During another visit, give children the opportunity to sit in on a class or two. During additional visits, children should meet teachers, school staff and other students.
  • A meeting(s) between parents and the staff from each school to review the child’s particular needs and what techniques, strategies or accommodations helped your child as well as what didn’t work. There should also be a discussion about the type of supports your child will need in the new school.
  • Getting a sample timetable or schedule from the new school so your child can see what a typical day is like
  • Getting or obtaining a map of the school to review with your child.
Educate the school staff and teachers
When your children start new schools, you need to educate their teachers about their special needs. One of the best ways to do this is to write a short memo including the following information:
  • Your children’s diagnoses
  • A description of each diagnosis
  • An outline of particular problems your children have in school and solutions that have worked in the past
  • Copies of any medical reports that recommend accommodations
  • Copies of any medical reports or articles that you think would help teachers understand your children
Check out these photos for a sample information sheet.
Find out if your children’s new school has a buddy or mentor system. If the school doesn’t have a buddy system, ask if another student can show your children around during their first few weeks.
Finally, talk to your children about any worries or concerns they may have. Once you know their worries, you can take steps to alleviate them.
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Children’s nightmares can lead to psychosis

Children who suffer from nightmares and night terrors have an increased risk of developing delusions,hallucinations and other psychotic episodes, according to research published February 28. Although many children have nightmares, when the nightmares continue into adolescence the risk of psychosis increases, report researchers from the University of Warwick in the U.K.
Credit:  Crimfants on Flickr
"We certainly don't want to worry parents with this news; three in every four children experience nightmares at this young age. However, nightmares over a prolonged period or bouts of night terrors that persist into adolescence can be an early indicator of something more significant in later life,” said researcher Dieter Wolke, Ph.D.
Details of the childhood sleep and nightmares research
Researchers examined data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children(ALSPAC), based in England. The group included over 6,700 children and involved multiple assessments.
The children in the group who had persistent nightmares between ages 2 and 9 were more likely to experience psychosis at age 12. The frequency of the nightmares influenced the risk of psychosis. The risk of psychosis increased by 16 percent for children with one period of nightmares. The risk increased to 56 percent for children with three or more periods of frequent nightmares.
Helen Fisher, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors, offers this tip for parents:
"The best advice is to try to maintain a lifestyle that promotes healthy sleep hygiene for your child, by creating an environment that allows for the best possible quality of sleep. Diet is a key part of this, such as avoiding sugary drinks before bed, but at that young age we'd always recommend removing any affecting stimuli from the bedroom – be it television, video games or otherwise. That's the most practical change you can make."
Psychosis explained
Medline Plus defines psychosis as a “loss of contact with reality” including delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are “false beliefs about what is taking place or who one is.” Hallucinations are ”seeing or hearing things that aren't there.”
Psychosis is common in young adults. About three of every hundred young adults have a psychotic episode according to the Yale School of Medicine. Early diagnosis and treatment of psychosis leads to better recovery.
Additional information
More information on Psychosis is available from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Massachusetts General Hospital.
WebMD, the Cleveland Clinic and the American Academy of Pediatrics have more information on children and sleep.

This article was originally published by me on

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

News Headlines 8 March 2014: ADHD & Child Abuse, Happy Dyslexics, Autism & Siblings and More!

Here's what's making news today:

Study Links Child Abuse and ADHD
A Canadian study found that nearly one-third of adults with ADHD had suffered physical abuse as children.  "This strong association between abuse and ADD/ADHD was not explained by differences in demographic characteristics or other early adversities experienced by those who had been abused," said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto's. "Even after adjusting for several potential mediating factors, including age, race, gender, parental divorce, parental addictions, and long-term parental unemployment, those who reported being physically abused before age 18 had seven times greater odds of having ADD/ADHD."

Richard Branson is glad he had dyslexia
The entrepreneur from Virgin Airlines explains that he is glad he has dyslexia because: "What I learnt is to concentrate on the things I was good at, do my best at the other stuff, but really excel at the things I could do. Since I've left school, dyslexia's actually helped me. I've surrounded myself with wonderful people and become a delegator."

Younger siblings of kids with autism should be 

watched for potential problems

A new study finds that half of the young siblings of children with autism develop autism or another developmental/behavioral delay. " This research should give parents and clinicians hope that clinical symptoms of atypical development can be picked up earlier so that we can perhaps reduce some of the difficulties that these families often face by intervening later," said Professor Sally Ozonoff of the MIND Institute.

Other interesting articles:

What does Autism Speaks do to help find children with autism who go missing?

Henry Winkler has written a series of books to help children diagnosed with dyslexia

Reaching my autistic son through Disney

Ontario failing children with autism

Kinect offers new hope for children with autism

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action