Asperger’s… What Does it Mean to Me?

If you only buy one book on Aspergers, let this be it.  It is an invaluable workbook which enables you to learn all about your child and your child to learn all about themselves, and what it means to have Aspergers Syndrome or High Functioning Autism.

It is well set out and separated into distinct sections. Each section has information for parents and teachers, and a section to be filled in by the child.

It covers a great many aspects of the child’s life, from styles of learning, schedules and routines, sensory sensitivites, their interests and talents, understanding people and friendships, hopes and fears, thoughts and feelings and much much more. It has simple multi-choice questions and places for your child to write their own answers, as well as easy to understand text for children, explaining many of the issues associated with Aspergers Syndrome.

You can sit down and work through it with your child. It allows you to tailor your child’s home and school life to enable your child to reach their full potential.

Emotions and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

There are a few products on the market designed to help a child with Aspergers or Autism with emotions. The CAT kit developed by Dr Tony Attwood is designed to enable a child to recognise their own emotions and to gain control their emotions and behaviour.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge has developed a program called Mind Reading, which is available as a DVD or CD-ROM, or as an audio book. He explains his research that led to the development of Mind Reading here.

We’d love to hear from you if you have a review of either of these products. You can comment at the bottom of the page or email kidsplorers@gmail.com.

 

No single cause for ASD?

Francesca Happé, Angelica Ronald and Robert Plomin at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, believe that it is time to give up on the search for a single cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder, that many genes could be responsible for separate traits on the autism spectrum. Read their paper here

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Fragile X link?

Neurorocker at en.wikipedia

 

When I started to really dig into the genes behind Aspergers and Autism, it seemed that it isn’t as clear cut as I initially thought. After researching the brain science of Fragile X syndrome (and the FMR1 gene) to establish how it could cause Autism and Aspergers, I discovered that that there isn’t just one gene that causes ASD. It seems there may be a range of genes, all of which seem to have similar effects on the developing brain.

In this post I shall discuss the FMR1 gene that causes Fragile X syndrome and its link to Autism.  Fragile X Syndrome is so called because a small section of the genetic code is “repeated on a fragile area of the X chromosome” (source PubMed Health)

According to the National Fragile X Foundation:

“FXS is the most common known cause of autism or “autistic-like” behaviors [sic]”

“Fragile X syndrome can cause a child to have autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) though not all children with fragile X syndrome have autism or an ASD.

  • FACT: For between 2% and 6% of all children diagnosed with autism, the cause is the Fragile X gene mutation.
  • FACT: Approximately one-third of all children diagnosed with fragile X syndrome also have some degree of autism.
  • FACT: Fragile X syndrome is the most common known single gene cause of autism.”

The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia notes that the symptoms of Fragile X are very similar to those with Autism:

  • “Delay in crawling, walking, or twisting
  • Hand clapping or hand biting
  • Hyperactive or impulsive behavior
  • Mental retardation
  • Speech and language delay
  • Tendency to avoid eye contact”

The reason Fragile X caught my eye is that one of the most common symptoms or signs of Fragile X is the hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli, as outlined by an article in Science Daily:

“New research provides insight into why fragile X syndrome, the most common known cause of autism and mental retardation, is associated with an extreme hypersensitivity to sounds, touch, smells, and visual stimuli that causes sensory overload and results in social withdrawal, hyperarousal, and anxiety. The study, published by Cell Press in the February 11 issue of the journal Neuron, uncovers a previously unknown developmental delay in a critical brain circuit that processes sensory information in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome.”

This is consistent with my view that the majority of symptoms associated with Autism and Aspergers are caused by sensory overload. In response to this article the Shared Attention website notes that: “This seems to support so-called experimental therapies (e.g. sensory integration) that theorize that plasticity in sensory processing can afford lasting positive changes in neurological function and behavioral outcomes. In other words, by using natural interests of the child to harness their attention and engagement, it may be possible to use purposefully engineered activities to modify and naturalize those pathways”.

And it seems that treatment for a child with Fragile X is similar to those with Autism and Aspergers. Source: Medicine.net:

  • Know the learning style of the individual.
  • Develop a consistent daily schedule or routine.
  • Use visual signs (pictures, sign language, logos, words) and concrete examples or materials to present ideas, concepts, steps, etc.
  • Prepare the individual for any changes in routine by explaining them ahead of time, possibly using visual signs.
  • Include functional goals with academic goals; for instance, teaching the individual the names of different pieces of clothing as well as how to dress him/herself.
  • Provide opportunities for the child to be active and move around.
  • Use computers and interactive educational software.
  • Provide a quiet place where the child can retreat and regroup.

So how does the Fragile X gene lead to symptoms similar to Autism?

This from the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

“Normally, the FMR1 gene makes a protein needed for your brain to grow properly. A defect in this gene makes your body produce too little of the protein, or none at all.” The link between the FMR1 gene and the hypersensitivity displayed in Aspergers and Autism has been established (see academic paper)  . The nerve cells in the brain initially grow extra branches, which could explain the hypersensitivity to various sensory stimuli. This could lead to the premature turning off of the “critical period” as discovered by Merzenich. The nerve cells eventually “prune” the branches so that the nerve cells appear normal, but at this stage it could already be too late, as the brain is left with the “undifferentiated brain maps” discovered by Merzenich.

According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia:

“Boys and girls can both be affected, but because boys have only one X chromosome, a single fragile X is likely to affect them more severely. You can have Fragile X syndrome even if your parents do not have it.

Fragile X syndrome can be a cause of autism or related disorders, although not all children with fragile X syndrome have these conditions.”

The symptoms are more likely to be pronounced in boys, girls may only exhibit behaviours such as shyness.

But the FMR1 gene cannot be the only cause of ASD. The main issue with this as an umbrella answer to ASD is that males with Fragile X cannot pass it onto their sons, due to the fact that they only transmit the Y chromosome, and not the X. (source: Autism Help)  But it seems that many boys with Aspergers and Autism have a father who also has it. In addition the IQ of a person with Fragile X Syndrome is highly likely to be below average, although this is not always true for girls. Although the research in this area may be slightly inaccurate, as medicine.net points out:

“Attention disorders, hyperactivity, anxiety, and language processing problems can interfere with test-taking skills and learning. Because many people with Fragile X have these problems, a person with Fragile X may have more capabilities than his or her IQ score suggests”

So the search for the common cause continues…

Academic Papers on Fragile X:

http://www.fragilex.org/pdf/kaufmann-et-al_autismandfragileX.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19441123

On Empathy

THE COMFORT © Marshhawk | Dreamstime.com

 

I was just about to write a post about my views on empathy, and I came across an article that totally supports my view. Before I share it, I would like to talk about my own experiences, having Aspergers myself. I was thinking about whether my ability to feel empathy was due to a coping mechanism I had developed, but I doubted that this was the case and so I thought back upon my early life… Read more of this post

Sensory Overload

GRADUATION? © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

 

Many children with Aspergers may be over- or under-sensitive to certain sensory simuli, for instance sound, cold, touch or light. Over-sensitivity can lead to sensory overload and the Aspie child will do all they can to block out the sensations. This can lead them to be more wary of particular environments or want to avoid social gatherings. This may also cause them to become anxious or angry. Read more of this post

What is Aspergers?

GENIUS © Slobodan Mračina | Dreamstime.com

 

What is Aspergers? Well, I’ll start by saying what Aspergers isn’t. It isn’t a mental illness, it isn’t a disability. The symptoms of Aspergers are many, complex and varied. Aspergers is a different way of thinking and a different way of seeing the world. An Aspergers child has many unique abilities, acute powers of observation and intense ability to focus. Unfortunately Aspergers is often peppered with social and learning disorders that may make school life difficult or even unbearable for the child. But there is no reason, with the right guidance and interventions, that the Aspie child can’t grow up to be a fully functioning and thriving member of society, having successful social and intimate relationships along the way. Read more of this post