Doctor behind vaccine-autism link loses license

By Alice Park


It took nearly six months but the General Medical Council (GMC) in the U.K. has pulled Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.

Wakefield is the researcher who nearly single-handedly fueled parental concerns about the link between vaccines and autism. In 1998, he published a paper in the medical journal Lancet describing eight children who showed signs of autism within days of being inoculated for measles, mumps and rubella. A gastroenterologist by training, Wakefield went on in further studies to suggest that the virus from the vaccine was leading to inflammation in the youngsters’ guts that then impeded normal brain development.

Further investigations by other researchers in the decades since have failed to confirm his claims, and in January, the GMC ruled that Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in conducting the experiments that led to the publication of the paper. According to the BBC, among his alleged acts of misconduct were conducting those studies without ethical approval of the hospital at which he practiced, and paying children at his son’s birthday party for blood samples. He also served as a paid consultant to attorneys of parents who believed their children had been harmed by vaccines.

In February, editors of the Lancet retracted Wakefield’s controversial paper, telling the Guardian “It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false.”

Defending his career on the Today show on Monday, Wakefield, now in the U.S., vowed to appeal the decision and maintained that “there are millions of children out there suffering, and the fact [is] that the vaccines cause autism.” Without a license to practice medicine, and the growing evidence to the contrary, it’s going to harder for him to prove that claim.


Everyone with ASD Is Different. But These 21 Experiences Are Familiar to Many Autism Families

When we talk about autism, we often speak seriously. And it’s no wonder why: autism is a serious disorder that is associated with many strengths but also many challenges. Let’s face it, though: people with and without autism are funny, and we can all get a real riot out of all the universal things we tend to think, say, and do. And everyone with autism may be different, but because it is characterized bydiffering degrees of social struggles, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors, there are plenty of familiar experiences out there that unite people touched by autism and make them say: “That’s so true!”

So to lighten up things a little bit and laugh about our lives, we asked you to finish this sentence: “You might be an autism parent if…” We got so many funny and heartwarming responses, we couldn’t resist sharing these 21 of them with you (number 19 is, without a doubt, my favorite. I’m not ashamed to say I laughed out loud!).

Mother with kids on kitchen

(Note: Posts have been edited for grammar.)


Your son has shirts of all his favorite TV characters but spends most of his time in only underwear… –David W.


You have to stand and wait for a door to close just so your child can open it themselves! –Becky M.


Your child is terrified of noise but is one of the loudest people you’ve ever met! Love him though! –Corrina B. B.

Kid Screams with his Hands on his Eras


Forgetting the iPad is considered an “emergency!” –Miranda W.


Your son’s teacher tells you he corrected her in front of the whole class when she got some facts about the Titanic incorrect! –Michaela L.


Your child loves to eat French fries but won’t eat mashed potatoes even though you explain and show him that it’s French fries, just mashed… –Rebecca F. L.

Mum feeding picky eater


Your child has absolutely no concept of time whatsoever. Freaks out if late for something but moves as slow as molasses. –Robin S. L.


Gently shampooing your toddler’s hair causes the police to think that a murder is going on in your bathroom! –Bonnie S.

Boy taking a bath and crying. Little boy upset in a bathtub, mot


You have an entire conversation that consists of nothing but lines from his favorite movies. –Jeannie P.


Your son can construct the Eiffel Tower out of Legos but never wants to leave the house to see it in person. –Angela C. B.


You’re standing less than three feet away, calling their name, and they ignore you, but when Mickey Mouse comes on the TV upstairs, they race off to watch it. –Belinda S.

Little boy watching cinema on TV


You say things like “Stop licking the porch” or “Quit drinking the pool water.” –Patricia L. B.


Your daughter can tell you in detail the mummification process but can’t tell you why she walked outside. –Melissa L.


Your heart swells with pride because your child has plucked up the courage to say “hi” to a friend you unexpectedly meet when you are out. –Theresa T.

father play son side of the beach


Your five-year-old son spins in the same spot for 20 minutes and doesn’t get dizzy. –Cynthia P.


Your child doesn’t comprehend mockery but is a Master Mocker of all sounds, including car wheels, animals, and electronics. –Janelle A.


The main item on your shopping list is ketchup. –Anne C.

Alimentation Enfant


Your child draws squares on his schoolwork papers and writes, “Put the A here” for his teacher. –Kathleen G. M.


You get overly excited for a random hug, kiss, or sign of affection. –Jes L.


The love you felt when they placed him/her in your arms for the very first time and it is still there 30 years later when they do something on their own and are so proud of it! –Anna T. N.

Mother and son sitting on couch and holding hands



Sensory Processing Disorder And Autism Linked To Decreased White Matter Connectivity In The Brain

sensory processing disorder
Children with sensory processing disorders have decreased connections in specific brain regions, in some ways similar and in other ways distinct from those areas impacted by autism. 

When a child finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, this is called sensory processing disorder (SPD), a neurological condition which often leads to clumsiness, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and even learning issues. In a new study, researchers show how children with sensory processing disorders have decreased connections in specific regions of the brain, in some ways similar and in other ways distinct from the neurological areas impacted by autism. “This study is the first to investigate white matter connectivity of both children with SPD and children with [autism] relative to typically developing children,” note the authors.

More than 90 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) demonstrate unusual sensory behaviors. A child with autism, for example, may over-respond to physical sensation, going so far as to find physical contact and even clothing to be unbearable. However, there are children with similar sensory behaviors, sometimes to a greater degree, who do not meet an ASD diagnosis. “With more than one percent of children in the U.S. diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and reports of five to 16 percent of children having sensory processing difficulties, it’s essential we define the neural underpinnings of these conditions, and identify the areas they overlap and where they are very distinct,” said Dr. Pratik Mukherjee, senior author and a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California, San Francisco.

To explore these conditions, Mukherjee and his colleagues used an advanced brain scan known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which measures the microscopic movement of water molecules as a way to provide information about white matter tracts. White matter is essential for perceiving, thinking and action; it is the site of all the “wiring” that connects different areas of the brain. For the study, the researchers used DTI to examine white matter tracts in16 boys with SPD and 15 boys with autism and then compared the results with those of 23 typically developing boys. All of the boys were between the ages of 8 and 12.

What did the researchers discover? Compared to the typically developing group, both the SPD and autism groups showed decreased connectivity in multiple tracts in the back of the brain — areas that handle basic sensory information. However, only the kids with autism showed impairment in tracts critical to social-emotional processing. Meanwhile, kids with SPD showed less connectivity in areas of the brain which connect the auditory, visual and tactile systems involved in sensory processing.

Going forward, the researchers believe their work could be useful to those who work with children suffering from SPD. Measuring and keeping tabs on a child’s white matter, in a manner similar to how it was done in this study, might help therapists see whether a particular intervention is actually having an effect on brain connectivity.



First Gene Therapy For Rett Syndrome, An Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developed In Oregon: What’s The Next Step For This Medical Breakthrough?

Scientists in Oregon have developed a new gene therapy for Rett Syndrome, the most disabling of the autism spectrum disorders. Field-tested in mice, it is the first therapy to reverse the course of the disorder in a fully symptomatic model, which represents an important step towards clinical application.

Nearly one in 10,000 kids are born each year with Rett syndrome. Neurological and behavioral features, like loss of speech, immobility, and seizures, typically appear after six months of age. The most frequent cause is the mutation of an X chromosome gene called MECP2, which explains why girls are primarily affected by the condition.

“Gene therapy is well suited for this disorder,” explained lead author Dr. Gail Mandel, a Howard Hughes investigator at Oregon Health and Sciences University. “Because MECP2 binds to DNA throughout the genome, there is no single gene currently that we can point to and target with a drug. Therefore the best chance of having a major impact on the disorder is to correct the underlying defect in as many cells throughout the body as possible. Gene therapy allows us to do that.”

In 2007, co-author and British geneticist Adrian Bird discovered that fixing these MECP2 mutations could relieve Rett symptoms in mice, but the genetic trick that he used in his investigation could not be applied to humans.

In the current study, healthy genes were delivered to mutant mice with a microbe called an adeno-associated virus. This virus, which is not harmful to people, has corrected genetic errors in over 100 clinical trials of human disease.

The researchers used a special verision of adeno-associated virus – designated “AAV9” – that has the unique property of being able to penetrate the nervous system’s protective coating called the blood brain barrier. Failing to cross the blood brain barrier is the major impediment for most drugs that flop during the early and late stages of clinical development.

Delivering the corrective genetic material with AAV9 to ailing mice improved motor function, tremors, and seizure. This was witnessed despite the fact that only a few cells received the remedy.

“We learned a critical and encouraging point with these experiments – that we don’t have to correct every cell in order to reverse symptoms. Going from 50% to 65% of the cells having a functioning gene resulted in significant improvements,” said co-author Saurabh Garg. Abnormal respiration was one symptom that was not fixed by the gene therapy, which the authors attributed to lower delivery in the brainstem.

The researchers will work towards enhancing the therapy’s distribution, by slightly tweaking the carrier virus, before they attempt clinical trials in humans.

“Gene therapy has had a tumultuous road in the past few decades but is undergoing a renaissance due to recent technological advances. Europe and Asia have gene therapy treatments already in the clinic and it’s likely that the US will follow suit,” said Monica Coenraads, Executive Director of the Rett Syndrome Research Trust and mother of a teenaged daughter with the disorder. “I congratulate the Mandel and Bird labs on today’s publication, which is the third to be generated from the MECP2 Consortium in a short period of time.”



Pregnant Mothers’ Immune Dysfunction Linked to Autism With Intellectual Disability

Autism with intellectual disability is associated with the mother’s immune dysfunction while pregnant, a recent study suggests.

Expecting mothers who have high levels of certain inflammatory proteins, cytokines, and chemokines, which control communication between cells of the immune system, may have significantly greater chances of having a child with autism along with intellectual disability, according to the study conducted by UC Davis Mind Institute.

Researchers studied a large, diverse population by using blood serum samples of mothers in the Kaiser Permanente Early Markers for Autism Study, obtained from the California Department of Public Health.

Of that population, 184 children developed autism and intellectual disability, 188 had developmental disability alone, and 428 were general population control participants.

Women who had delivered their babies between July 2000 and September 2003 participated in the research that was designed to evaluate biomarkers for autism.

“Inflammation during the second trimester in the mothers of children with autism who also have intellectual disability was significantly greater than in mothers of children [with] autism without intellectual disability in our study,” said Judy Van de Water, professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“However, equally significant was that profiles of mothers whose children go on to be diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability differed markedly from those whose children have intellectual disability without autism, as well as from the typically developing general population,” she said.

“Their profiles are distinct from all of the other groups that we studied, based on their cytokine and chemokine profiles,” Van de Water added. “This finding suggests an avenue that we will explore to potentially identify possible markers to separate sub-phenotypes in the autism population.”

Researchers say an increase in inflammatory markers with the autism and intellectual disability group in comparison with other reference groups is striking.

“This really is suggesting that there is a lack of the immune regulation in these moms that is typically associated with a healthy pregnancy,” said Karen L. Jones, an author of the study.

Researchers concluded that variations in the gestational immune environment among mothers of children who have autism with intellectual disability may lead to alterations in the neurodevelopmental course of the developing fetus.

This may eventually result in the altered behavioral phenotype characteristic of children with autism and intellectual disability.

Authors of the study also pointed out that maternal immune activation represents one of various paths that can lead to differences in maternal cytokines, including environmental toxicants such as pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

Mid-gestational maternal levels of cytokine and chemokine proteins might also interact with other possible risk factors, like parental genetics.

About 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Reports of individuals with autism range from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

During 2006–2008, about one in six children in the country had a developmental disability ranging from speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism.

SOURCE: MolecularPsychiatry.


Why Autism Speaks Dropped The Word ‘Cure’ From Its Mission Statement

Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to autism advocacy and science, recently updated its mission statement for the first time since its founding in 2005.

They dropped the word “cure.”

This may seem odd for an organization founded on the goal of finding a cure for autism spectrum disorder. But “the organization grew to believe that autism is something to be worked with for promoting fulfilling and productive lives of people on the spectrum – rather than something that has to be done to,” board of directors member Stephen Shore told The Huffington Post.

The nonprofit’s mission statement now says it is dedicated to support and advocacy for individuals living with ASD, increasing awareness and acceptance of the disorder and working to advance research into its causes.

According to Shore, a clinical assistant professor at the Ammon School of Education at Adelphi University, the biggest change from the old mission statement is a new emphasis on supporting individuals with ASD throughout their lifetime.

The update underscores a purposeful advancement in how we perceive family members, friends and coworkers who live on the autism spectrum. It is not a mental illness meant to be “struggled” through, but rather a neurological difference that can be prepared for and ultimately appreciated.

“Autism is here to stay and may be considered a part of the diversity of the human gene pool,” Shore said. Through early intervention, people on the autism spectrum can be enabled to be the very best they can be –- with autism.

Through this lens, Shore says, people on the autism spectrum can be appreciated for who they are and for the contributions they make to society. This is evident in efforts by companies such as Microsoft and SAP, which actively recruit employees with autism for their skills in information technology.

Autism Speaks has also been trying to more fully involve individuals with ASD for years. Shore, who has autism and consults around the world for successfully transitioning those on the spectrum into adulthood, delivered the opening keynote address at Autism Speak’s international conference in 2013.

“Having a diverse group of workers and not being scared or put off by someone who has a diagnosis is the best way we learn about difference,” Connie Kasari, founder of UCLA’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment, told The Huffington Post earlier this year.

This is great news for American children: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in every 68 kids is diagnosed with ASD. While most children are diagnosed after age four, it is possible to diagnose even before age two. And the earlier the better: Research shows that an early diagnosis significantly improves cognitive skills and functioning at a higher level later in life.

SOURCE: huffingtonpost


Gifted children with Asperger’s Syndrome

Similarities Between Asperger Children and Gifted Children

There seem to be at least seven characteristics common to gifted children and to children with AS. These commonalities have not been verified in any controlled studies, but are pulled from the shared literature and clinical experience. For instance, verbal fluency or precocity is common to both, and both may have excellent memories (Clark, 1992; Frith, 1991; Levy, 1988; Silverman, 1993). Both may evidence a fascination with letters or numbers and enjoy memorizing factual information at an early age. Both may demonstrate an absorbing interest in a specialized topic and may acquire vast amounts of factual information about it (Clark; Gallagher, 1985; Klin & Volkmar, 1995). They may annoy peers with their limitless talk about their interests. They may ask endless questions or give such lengthy and elaborately specific responses to questions that it seems they are unable to stop. One gifted AS child known to the author, when asked who Christopher Columbus was, responded with a dozen sentences detailing his genealogy.

Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli is also not uncommon in both groups of children. Parents of gifted and AS children alike often can tell stories of their child’s adamant refusal to wear certain kinds of materials, to eat foods of a certain texture, to recoil or run at the sound of noises they find particularly abrasive, or to refuse some kinds of touch.

Proposed Characteristics to Differentiate Ordinary Gifted Children from Gifted Children with Asperger’s Syndrome

Differentiating Characteristic Ordinary Gifted Gifted with Asperger’s Syndrome
Speech Patterns Normal, but may have language of older child Pedantic, seamless speech
Response to Routines May passively resist, but will often go along Very low tolerance for change, agitation, aggression
Disturbance of Attention If disturbance exists, it is usually external Disturbance is internal
Humor Engages in socially reciprocal humor Can do word play, but typically doesn’t understand humor that requires social reciprocity
Motor Clumsiness Not characteristic of most gifted children 50-90 % of Asperger children manifest
Inappropriate Affect Not a characteristic Nearly always observed
Insight Insight usually good Usually remarkably absent
Stereotypy Not a characteristic May be present


Distinguishing Normal Giftedness From Asperger’s Syndrome
Several similarities between gifted children and children with AS have been noted. Some of the distinguishing criteria are listed in Table 1. One distinguishing characteristic may be found in speech patterns. AS children, like ordinary gifted children, can evidence fluent speech that seems characterized by original and analytic thinking. Although both groups of children can be highly verbal, AS children are typically pedantic, while normal gifted children are not. Frith (1991) suggested a distinction may be made by the seamlessness of the speech. AS individuals may demonstrate seamless mixtures of knowledge and personal accounts in their written or oral responses to questions. They run on and on, blending content, personal reflections, and autobiographical illustrations. They do so perhaps because they are not aware of the purpose of the questions.

A second difference lies in how they respond to routines or structure. Although both are sometimes described as resistant to routine at home or school, ordinary gifted children are not nearly as rigid about routines as some AS children are. Also, gifted children, as a rule, do not have the kinds of difficulties coping with change that AS children have. AS children can have great difficulty with the lockstep scheduling and routine of traditional classrooms, and they may refuse to cooperate with common learning tasks of school. Gifted children may express displeasure about routines and may passively resist them, but they are not as likely to panic or become aggressive as are AS children. Although both the gifted and the Asperger learner may complain about schedules and procedures, the latter is more likely to become obsessive about it (Barron & Barron, 1992; Clark, 1992; Klin & Volkmar, 1995).

There is also a difference in the whimsical behaviors that characterize AS children and some gifted children. Margaret Dewey (1992) wrote of the differences between autistic eccentricity and “garden variety eccentricity.” Her observations may be useful to those trying to draw a line between normal gifted behaviors and AS behaviors. She noted that the normal eccentric person is aware that others will regard his or her eccentric behaviors as odd, while the individual with AS is not aware. People with AS often have no sense that they have done anything out of the ordinary. This obliviousness to social conventions is a trademark of the disorder. Several writers trace this obliviousness to the lack of a “theory of mind” (Atwood, 1998).

source: davidsongifted


Mom Creates Autism Law Enforcement Response Training for Police Officers


As a former police officer and mother to a child on the autism spectrum, Stephanie Cooper knows how important it is for police officers to be able to recognize autism. To help ensure safer interactions between the police and people with autism, Cooper started Autism Law Enforcement Response Training (ALERT), a training program for police officers that provides officers with sensory kits designed to help autistic people.

“People with autism have communication issues, and law enforcement officers need to be aware that their typical approach when responding to a call or an emergency situation with someone with autism spectrum disorder may not work,” Cooper told The Mighty. “By the police being aware of people with autism it helps ensure the safety of not only the person diagnosed with ASD, but the police on the scene as well.”

Cooper created ALERT after watching a police officer interact with her son, who’s on the spectrum. “When the officer arrived [my son] was having a sensory overload,” Cooper recalled. “The officer luckily understood about autism and helped me keep David calm while we filed the report. But it got me thinking what would have happened if the officer did not know about autism.”

Cooper asked the officer if his department had any autism training programs, but it did not. Wanting to ensure more positive interactions between law enforcement and people with autism, Cooper began researching autism training programs for police. “I realized even though there are some training programs out there for the police that there are still not enough training programs available to assist every law enforcement agency,” she said. “So I offered to train my local police agency, and it all started from there.”

As part of ALERT’s “Autism 101” training, Cooper trains officers how to recognize a person who has autism, what behaviors they may exhibit, what types of calls may be received and tips for how to interact with a person on the spectrum.

“Officers [should] know that an autistic person may flee when approached by an officer, and fail to respond to an order to stop,” Cooper said. “Officers should not interpret any of these actions regarding an individual with autism as a reason for increased force. Officers [need] to take their time when dealing with an individual with autism, to allow for delayed responses, to speak slowly and clearly to an individual with ASD and to be aware that autistic individuals react to their environment.”

Once they’ve completed “Autism 101,” officers receive a kit filled with items designed to help people with autism, such as visual communication cards and a variety of calming sensory items.

So far ALERT has provided training and more than 100 kits to law enforcement agencies in Cooper’s home state of Florida. In December, Cooper will be training the Hammond police department and the Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s office in Louisiana, and handing out 200 autism sensory kits.

Beyond Florida and Louisiana, Cooper is working on expanding ALERT into a nationwide initiative, with the goal of training and giving kits to law enforcement agencies in every state.

source: themighty