Antidepressant use during pregnancy does not increase the risk of autism but does increase the risk of ADHD

Women who use antidepressants during pregnancy do not increase their risk
Credit:  Greyerbaby on Pixabay
of having a child with autism, according to a study published 26 August 2014. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) studied data on over 6,000 children and their mothers.  They concluded that although the risk of autism was higher among women who took antidepressants during pregnancy, the increased risk was due to the mothers' underlying disease of depression.

The results of the MGH study are consistent with a Danish study published in 2013.  Danish researchers found no significant link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and an increased risk of having a child with autism. Danish investigators acknowledged there was an "association" between antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism, but attributed this to the mother's mental health disorder and not the medication. 

"We know that untreated depression can pose serious health risks to both a mother and child, so it's important that women being treated with antidepressants who become pregnant, or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, know that these medications will not increase their child's risk of autism," says Roy Perlis, MD, MSc, senior author of the MGH study. "There are a range of options – medication and non-medication – for treating depression and anxiety in pregnancy," says Perlis. "But if antidepressants are needed, I hope parents can feel reassured about their safety."
Credit:  Greyerbaby on Pixabay

As part of this study, researchers investigated a possible link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They reviewed data on nearly 8,000 children and their mothers.  Researchers determined that the risk of having a child with ADHD was increased significantly when the mother took antidepressants during pregnancy.

More information about pregnancy and antidepressant usage is available from the Office on Women's Health and the Mayo Clinic.

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SPECIAL NEEDS NEWS - Autism & Injuries, Down Syndrome & Alzheimer's and Police Encounters with Autistic People - 26 August 2014

Autism may lower risk of childhood injuries

Many children with autism have motor skills problems that cause them to fall and appear "clumsy".  Despite these problems, children with autism are at a decreased risk of childhood injury when compared to their peers. A study in Academic Pediatrics reports a decreased risk of 11 percent. The decreased risk may be attributed to kids with autism engaging in fewer high risk activities than their peers.  More information is available from SFARI

People with Down's Syndrome helping Alzheimer Research

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are testing a drug for Alzheimer's on a group of people with Down Syndrome.  People with Down Syndrome are perfect for this research because "by the age of 40, 100 percent of all individuals with Down syndrome have the pathology of Alzheimer's in their brain," Dr Michael Rafii of UCSD says. More information is available from NPR.

Police encounters with people who have autism

Credit:  Highway Patrol Images on Flickr
The events in Ferguson, Missouri triggered many news reports of police dealings with members of the public.  People with autism are seven times more likely to have an interaction with police than others with cognitive disorders. 

It is important that police officers and people with autism understand each other. The US Justice Department is working on a training program for police officers.  Parents must make sure their children know how to act when they meet police officers. Teaching children with special needs about police explains what parents can do.  More information on this issue is available from NPR

Researchers discover extra brain connections in children with autism

Credit:  National Institute on Aging

New research shows that children with autism have too many synapses or connections in their brains. A synapse acts a bridge between cells called neurons. The synapse is used to send information between the neurons. Having too many synapses results in poor communication between the cells and researchers think autism symptoms, such as sensitivity to sound, result from these communication problems.

As children grow, their brains prune or pare down the number of synapses. This research found a malfunction of this pruning process in children with autism. This malfunction leaves too many synapses in parts of the brain.

“Impairments that we see in autism seem to be partly due to different parts of the brain talking too much to each other,” said Ralph-Axel Müller, a neuroscientist at San Diego State University. “You need to lose connections in order to develop a fine-tuned system of brain networks, because if all parts of the brain talk to all parts of the brain, all you get is noise.”
Researchers able to remove extra brain connections in mice
In this study, researchers replicated autism symptoms in mice. Then, researchers were able to reduce the number of synapses in the mice by giving them a drug called rapamycin. The mice displayed less autistic behaviors after receiving rapamycin. Although researchers believe these findings are significant, they caution against expecting a treatment in the near future.
“The pruning problem seems to happen later in development than one might think,” Dr. Eric Klann, professor of neural science at New York University, said. “It suggests that if you could intervene in that process that it could be beneficial for social behavior.”

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©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Attitudes about disabled people improve after therapists simulate being disabled

Credit:  David Amsler on Flickr
In an effort to better prepare students for their interactions with disabled people, Prof Cynthia Colwell of the University of Kansas asked her students to pretend they had either:

  •  one-arm amputation
  •  lower-limb paralysis requiring a  wheelchair
  •  a hearing impairment
  •  a visual impairment

Each "disabled" student had another student act as their aide. The pair then spent 30 minutes interacting in a public place such as a restaurant or store. Initially, the students were reluctant to pretend they had disabilities because they thought it would be offensive to people with real disabilities. In addition, the students didn't think they would learn anything new from the simulation experience.
Credit:  National Parks Service

After completing the exercise the students described the experience as enlightening.  In addition, they said the exercise increased their empathy toward people with disabilities.

"Without fail, all of them came back and said, 'That was really cool'," Colwell said. "They don't necessarily like the experience, but they said, 'This will help me working with a student or client with a disability.'"

More information on Cowells study is on Phys.Org.

The study "Simulating disabilities as a tool for altering individual perceptions of working with children with special needs" is published in the International Journal of Music.


Attitudes toward individuals with disabilities improve after simulating disability

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©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Eye movement objective test to diagnose ADHD

Eye movement key to diagnosing ADHD

Credit:  Alex Grech on Flickr
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders diagnosed in children.  Because there isn't a simple test to diagnose ADHD, misdiagnosis is also common.

Now researchers from Tel Aviv University believe they have discovered an objective indicator for ADHD - involuntary eye movements.  Using an eye tracking system, researchers studied the eye movements of 22 people with ADHD and 22 people without the disorder. The participants' involuntary eye movements were tracked as they underwent a computer test called the Test of Variables of Attention, or TOVA. The participants with ADHD took the test twice - once without ADHD medication and then again with methlyphenidate.
Credit:  Dr Junge on Wikimedia Commons

Following the testing researchers saw a direct link between ADHD and the "inability to suppress eye movement in the anticipation of visual stimuli." They also noted that after participants with ADHD took methlyphenidate,their performance was similar to participants without the disorder.

"We had two objectives going into this research," said researcher Dr. Moshe Fried. "The first was to provide a new diagnostic tool for ADHD, and the second was to test whether ADHD medication really works — and we found that it does. There was a significant difference between the two groups, and between the two sets of tests taken by ADHD participants un-medicated and later medicated."

The study, "ADHD subjects fail to suppress eye blinks and microsaccades while anticipating visual stimuli but recover with medication," is published in the journal Vision Research.


ADHD subjects fail to suppress eye blinks and microsaccades while anticipating visual stimuli but recover with medication

Involuntary Eye Movement a Foolproof Indication for ADHD Diagnosis

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SPECIAL NEEDS NEWS - 19 August 2014 -Dogs & Autism, ADHD & Heart Problems and Autism & the Brain's Switchboard

Dog trained to read visual clues from nonverbal children with autism

Drake, a golden retriever, is trained to respond to cues on flashcards. This method allows nonverbal children with autism to communicate with Drake. Children can use flashcards to have Drake come, sit or even go for a walk with them.  Drake is working at the Comprehensive Autism Center in California.  He was trained by Good Dog Autism Companions.

ADHD medications increase the risk of heart problems

A Danish study of over 700,000 children found the risk of heart problems
Credit:  Microsoft
doubled for children taking medication for ADHD. The risk rose from .5 percent to almost 1 percent for children on ADHD medication.  

"The result is worrying. It shows that clinicians need to be aware of the risk of heart ailments when they prescribe medicine to ADHD patients," said study leader Søren Dalsgaard. He added "I was surprised that the increased risk of heart problems was so high and that the risk did not only apply to children, who were already susceptible to heart ailments."

One criticism of the study is the lack of a definition of heart problems.

More information on this study is available from Science Nordic.

The study "Cardiovascular Safety of Stimulants in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study" is published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

Researchers discover switchboard in the brain that may lead to autism treatments

Credit:  Microsoft
Researchers discovered a layer of cells within the brain that controls the flow of information from the body to the cerebral cortex - a processing center within the brain.  This layer of cells or so called switchboard is the thalamic reticular nucleus or TRN.  Using a mouse model, scientists were able to monitor the activity from the TRN.  In addition, they were able to manipulate 
the signals sent from the TRN.  

This research may help people with autism as researchers know problems with this "switchboard" are responsible for at least some symptoms of the disorder.

"Now we may have a handle on how this tiny part of the brain exerts tremendous control over our thoughts and perceptions," said Michael Halassa, M.D., Ph.D., a lead investigator of the study. "These results may be a gateway into understanding the circuitry that underlies neuropsychiatric disorders."

Although the research was done on mice, researchers believe people have the same brain circuitry.  

The study "State-dependent architecture of thalamic reticular sub-networks" is published in the journal Cell.

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action