Words of wisdom from H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dr. Temple Grandin, Hannah Gadsby and more.
- Autism (commonly referred to as ASD, autism spectrum disorder) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.
- The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms can be very different in each person. Additionally, these things can also change over time. This is why it's considered a spectrum.
- Many people with ASD gift the world with inventions or new ways of thinking. Judy Singer, for example, is the woman who coined the term "neurodiversity" in the 1990s.
What is autism?
Autism (commonly referred to as ASD, autism spectrum disorder) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the concept that there are many different variations of human functionality and that each and every variation needs to be better understood and respected.
Previously (and in some places, currently), neurological differences such as autism or ADHD were considered medical deficits. They were classified as things that need to be treated and cured.
Neurodiversity is an alternative approach to learning and disability that shifts the focus from treatment and cures to acceptance and accommodation. The neurodiversity movement began in the late 1990s, when sociologist Judy Singer (who is on the autism spectrum), came up with the word to describe conditions such as ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. This ideology recognizes that neurological differences are the result of natural variations to the human genome.
What does it mean to be on the autism spectrum?
The "official" term for the diagnosis is ASD (autism spectrum disorder). While the days where things were viewed as black and white aren't too far behind us, the world is slowly gravitating towards understanding that many things (from mental health conditions to gender) can land on a spectrum. The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms can be very different in each person. Additionally, these things can also change over time. This is why it's considered a spectrum.
There are several people throughout history who have been rumored to be on the autism spectrum, from infamous author Lewis Carroll, to iconic mathematician Isaac Newton. Many people with ASD gift the world with inventions or new ways of thinking. In fact, the first entry on the list is the woman who coined the term "neurodiversity" in the 1990s, Judy Singer.
"I think the concept of Neurodiversity has been world-changing, by giving us a new perspective on humanity, but it needs to mature to the point where we see that human nature is complex, and nature is beautiful but not benign."
- Judy Singer to Autism Awareness
"There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself."
- Hannah Gadsby, Marie Claire
Credit: World Travel & Tourism Council / Flickr
"And I know that the younger generation is doing things that are so ingenious. And for them it's not a matter of a political belief or an environmental stance. It's really just common sense."
- Daryl Hannah, NBC News
"There are enough people in the world who are going to write you off. You don't need to do that to yourself."
- Susan Boyle, "The Woman I Was Born to Be: My Story"
"We float around and we run across each other and we learn about ourselves, and we make mistakes and we do great things. We hurt others, we hurt ourselves, we make others happy and we please ourselves. We can and should forgive ourselves and each other for that."
- Dan Harmon
Dr. Temple Grandin
"When I was younger I was looking for this magic meaning of life. It's very simple now. Making the lives of others better, doing something of lasting value. That's the meaning of life, it's that simple."
- Dr. Temple Grandin, WECapable
"Recognizing and respecting differences in others, and treating everyone like you want them to treat you, will help make our world a better place for everyone."
- Kim Peek, All That's Interesting
"What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"
- H.P. Lovecraft
"I would play with numbers in a way that other kids would play with their friends."
- Daniel Tammet
Sir Anthony Hopkins
Credit: gdcgraphics on Flickr
"My philosophy is: It's none of my business what people say of me and think of me. I am what I am, and I do what I do. I expect nothing and accept everything. And it makes life so much easier."
- Sir Anthony Hopkins
John Elder Robinson
"It does not matter what sixty-six percent of people do in any particular situation. All that matters is what you do."
- John Elder Robinson, "Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers"
This small-scale study may have uncovered a new link between the peripheral nerve system and autism.
- Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism impacts an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States.
- An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system may play a role in autism.
- The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture —more research is needed in this area.
Autism (commonly referred to as ASD, autism spectrum disorder) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism impacts an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States—and because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.
There is not just one type of autism, but many, according to AutismSpeaks.org. Most of these types are influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism is also often accompanied by various sensory sensitivities that can lead the person to experience sensory overload, which you can see a representation of in the video below.
The nerves that sense touch and pain may play a role in autism, new research suggests
An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system (the nerves that control our sense of touch, pain, and other sensations), may play a role in autism.
Study author Sung-Tsang Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., of National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, explains to Science Daily: "More than 70% of people with autism have differences in their sensory perception. For some people, even a light touch can feel unbearable while others may not even notice a cut on their foot. If larger studies can confirm these results, it is possible that further insight into the peripheral nervous system could help us understand how this disorder develops and potentially light the way for treating these distressing sensory symptoms that most people with autism experience."
The study involved 32 men with autism (with an average age of 27). They were compared to 27 men and women (with an average age of 33) who did not have autism or any diseases that would impact their peripheral nerves.
The people with autism completed questionnaires on their sensory symptoms. All of the participants then had tests of their sensory nerves, including skin biopsies to look for damage to the small fibers of their nerves. Then, another test was administered, where heat pulses were applied to the skin so researchers could look at the electrical signals produced by the nerves to see how they responded to the heat.
53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density.
The results of the skin biopsy tests showed 53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density, while all of the people in the control group (participants without autism) had levels in the normal range.
"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," said Hsieh.
The response to touch differed among people with autism according to whether or not they had nerve fiber damage.
According to the results, people who had undamaged nerves were more likely to say they disliked being touched and were uncomfortable with some textures, while people with nerve fiber damage were more likely to say that they preferred going barefoot and could be unaware that they had gotten scratched or bruised.
"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," Hsieh explained in his interview.
The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture—more research is needed in this area.
These tiny fish are helping scientists understand how the human brain processes sound.
- Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by changes in a gene that scientists call the "fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1)" gene. People who have FXS or autism often struggle with sensitivity to sound.
- According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain.
- Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information.
Associate professor Ethan Scott and Dr. Lena Constantin recently carried out a study using zebrafish that carry the same genetic mutations as humans with "Fragile X" syndrome and autism. During their research, they discovered the neural networks and pathways that produce hypersensitivities to sound in both zebrafish and humans.
What is Fragile X syndrome?
Fragile X syndrome (commonly referred to as FXS) is a genetic disorder caused by changes in a gene that scientists call the "fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1)" gene. This gene typically makes a protein called fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) that's needed for typical brain development. The brains of people with FXS do not make this protein, and if it is there, it's abnormal.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. People with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in different ways than most other people. A current diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that were previously diagnosed separately such as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome.
By disrupting a specific gene in Zebrafish, we're able to better understand the same disruption of that gene in humans with FXS or autism.
Credit: slowmotiongli on Adobe Stock
"Loud noises often cause sensory overload and anxiety in people with autism and Fragile X syndrome -- sensitivity to sound is common to both conditions," Dr. Constantin explained to Science Daily.
How do zebrafish relate to humans with autism?
According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain.
The thalamus, according to Dr. Constantin, works as a control center, relaying sensory information from around the body to different parts of the brain. The hindbrain then coordinates different behavioral responses. Using the different sound tests, the team was able to study the whole brain of the zebrafish larvae under microscopes and see the activity of each brain cell individually.
According to Dr. Constantin, the research team recorded the brain activity of zebrafish larvae while showing them movies or exposing them to bursts of sound. The movies stimulated movement, a reaction to the visual stimuli that was the same for fish with the Fragile X mutation and those without. However, when the fish were given a burst of white noise, there was a dramatic difference in the brain activity of the fish with the Fragile X mutation.
After seeing how the noise radically affected the fish brain, the team designed a range of 12 different volumes of sound and found the Fragile X model fish could hear much quieter volumes than the control fish.
"The fish with Fragile X mutations had more connections between different regions of their brain and their responses to the sounds were more plentiful in the hindbrain and thalamus," said Dr. Constantin.
Essentially, the fish with Fragile X mutation had more connections between the regions of their brain and so their responses to the sounds were more notable.
Understanding how this gene disruption works in zebrafish will give us a better understanding of sound hypersensitivity in humans with FXS or autism.
"How our neural pathways develop and respond to the stimulation of our senses gives us insights into which parts of the brain are used and how sensory information is processed," Dr. Constantin said.
Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information.
"We hope that by discovering fundamental information about how the brain processes sound, we will gain further insights into the sensory challenges faced by people with Fragile X syndrome and autism."
"Such studies will lead to a better understanding of brain development in both autistic and typical individuals."
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
- Although a diagnosis of autism can typically be made around the age of 2, the average age for diagnosis in the United States is after 4 years old.
- A new study shows that the atypical development of autism in human brain cells starts at the very earliest stages of brain organization, which can happen as early as the third week of pregnancy.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. According to the CDC, a diagnosis of autism now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately (autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asberger syndrome). These conditions are now wrapped into the ASD diagnosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 months and at 24 months, yet only about half of primary care practitioners in the United States screen for autism. Although a diagnosis of autism can typically be made around the age of 2, the average age for diagnosis in the United States is more than 4 years old.
Nerve cells in the autistic brain differ before birth, new research finds
The study was performed by scientists at King's College London and Cambridge University.
The study used induced pluripotent stem cells to recreate the development of each sample in the womb.
The researchers isolated hair samples from nine autistic people and six typical people. By treating the cells with an array of growth factors, the scientists were able to drive the hair cells to become nerve cells (or neurons), much like those found in either the cortex or the midbrain region.
These induced pluripotent stem cells (referred to as IPSCs) retain the genetic identity of the person from which they came, and the cells restart their development as it would have happened in the womb. This provides a look into that person's brain development.
At various stages, the researchers examined the developing cells' appearance and sequenced their RNA to see which genes the cells were expressing. On day 9 of the study, developing neurons from typical people formed "neural rosettes" (an intricate, dandelion-like shape indicative of typically developing neurons). Cells from autistic people formed smaller rosettes (or did not form any rosettes at all), and key developmental genes were expressed at lower levels.
Days 21 and 35 of the study showed cells from typical and autistic people differed significantly in a number of ways, proving that the makeup of neurons in the cortex differs in the autistic and typically developing brains.
John Krystal, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of Biological Psychiatry, explains: "The emergence of differences associated with autism in these nerve cells shows that these differences arise very early in life."
Along with the variations, there were some things that proved similar.
Additionally, cells directed to develop as midbrain neurons (a brain region that's not implicated in autism dysfunction) showed only negligible differences between typical and autistic individuals. The similarities are just as important as the differences, as they mark how the autistic brain and typical brain develop uniquely from the earliest stages of growth.
"The use of iPSCs allows us to examine more precisely the differences in cell fates and gene pathways that occur in neural cells from autistic and typical individuals. These findings will hopefully contribute to our understanding of why there is such diversity in brain development," said Dr. Dr. Deepak Srivastava, who supervised the study.
The intention of this study is not to find ways to "cure" autism, but to better understand the key genetic components that contribute to it.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D., Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge and the study's co-lead, added that "some people may be worried that basic research into differences in the autistic and typical brain prenatally may be intended to 'prevent,' 'eradicate,' or 'cure' autism. This is not our motivation, and we are outspoken in our values in standing up against eugenics and in valuing neurodiversity. Such studies will lead to a better understanding of brain development in both autistic and typical individuals."
While the benefits of music therapy are well known, more in-depth research explores how music benefits children with autism.
- Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.
- According to a 2004 study, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, and reduce their anxiety and improve body awareness.
- Various music therapy activities and tools can be used to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.
Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.
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Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of our brain rather than just one. Theoretically, a therapist could use a song or instrument to support cognitive activity that helps children with autism build self-awareness and improve their relationships with others.
Music encourages communicative and social behaviors.
According to Nurse Journal, "...if we look closely at the way that a band works, it is obvious that the instruments must all interact with one another, but the player only needs to interact with the instrument at first."
This can be particularly difficult for children dealing with autism, but by introducing an instrument to their therapy, they may first bond with the object itself and then open up to interacting with others through the use of their instrument.
Music also encourages a better understanding of words and actions.
For children with autism, listening to a song about brushing their teeth could help them learn how to do this activity. Autism can create barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together may help the child feel comfortable singing or expressing themselves in front of others. According to research, dancing exercises in songs also help stimulate the sensory systems, allowing the children to enhance their fine motor skills.
The positive impact of music goes beyond social interactions, helping children develop better motor skills and body awareness.
According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Music Therapy, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, increase communication attempts (vocalizations/verbalizations/gestures), reduce their anxiety, and improve body awareness. A more recent 2018 study showed similar results.
How music therapy works
"All people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music."
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Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.
According to Positive Psychology, some of the major health benefits of music therapy include:
- Reduces anxiety and physical symptoms of stress
- Helps to manage Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease
- Reduces depression and other symptoms (in the elderly population)
- Reduces symptoms of psychological disorders
- Improves self-expression and communication
The Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy.
This approach to music therapy interventions was developed through the 1950s-1970s by Paul Nordoff (an American composer and pianist) and Clive Robins (a teacher of children with special needs). According to Positive Psychology, this is an approach designed to harness every person's potential for engagement through active, communicative, and expressive music-making.
This approach emphasizes the importance of music-making in developing skills, a sense of self, and a capacity for social interactions. Nordoff and Robins both believed that all people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music. Due to Robins' history with teaching children, this specific approach is well known for its work with children and adults who have learning disabilities or difficulties.
Relaxation music therapy.
Research has proven music aids in muscle relaxation. This can enable you to easily release some of the tension in your body, and when you do this, your mind also relaxes. While this is particularly useful for adults, it can also be beneficial for children. Music can be used as stress relief when a child with autism begins to feel overwhelmed in a new situation. Positive Psychology also explains that music therapy for children can also aid in offering a rhythmic structure for relaxation and breathing.
Music therapy for children.
What does music therapy look like for young children? Music therapy will vary based on each individual child's needs and abilities. For some, it can mean learning to play a musical instrument and for others, it can be singing or learning new activities through songs. Various music therapy activities and tools can be used (discussed and decided upon by both parents and therapists) to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.