Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Can Asperger's syndrome be caused environmentally?

I don't get the opportunity to write on my blog as often as I would like, but as today is a quiet day at home, I thought I would trawl the keywords by which people are finding my website and see what comes up! A recurring theme recently seems to be the question 'can Asperger's syndrome have an environmental cause?' Of course, in my opinion, the answer has to be yes.

There are many possible causes for Asperger's syndrome of which we are aware and they are as follows.
  1. The genetic explanation. - Although no precise gene has yet been identified as playing a role in the causation of Asperger's, we know from the fact that both Asperger's and other 'autistic spectum' traits' have a tendency to run in families that the expression of specific genes is highly probable. The expression of certain genes probably has the effect of affecting the way in which the developing brain wires itself together. This genetic explanation is only the case for some people who have Asperger's, there are other causes too.
  2. Difficult pregnancy. - There does seem to be a correlation, although a definite causal connection has not been proven. In a high number of pregnancies where the child turned out to have Asperger's, conditions occurred which could have caused damage to the brain of the unborn child. Many Asperger's babies also seem small for their gestational age. The age of the mother also seems a possible factor, with babies with children with Asperger's being more frequently born to older mothers. Again, these adverse factors would possibly cause brain injury or otherwise affect the way in which certain areas of the brain were wired.
  3. Brain injury. - Brain injury can have a myriad of causes itself, from drug abuse, infection, through to good old fashioned perinatal asphyxia; - the list is endless. All these causative factors have one common effect, - they deprive the brain of oxygen. This causes injury and distorts the future development of the brain, so yes, in my opinion brain injury can cause Asperger's syndrome.
The next question is, what can be done to help the individual who has Asperger's syndrome? Well typically, Asperger's syndrome produces some predictable symptoms such as difficulties with communication, socialisation and / or imagination. The individual may also experience some distortions of sensory processing, which might for instance make one or more of his senses hypersensitive, it might make one or more of his senses hyposensitive, or one or more of his senses might produce it's own stimulation. For example, his hearing might become particularly sensitive, or his vision might produce a display similar to that some people experience during a migraine. These sensory distortions can be treated and are treated by Snowdrop and this treatment forms a central feature of many of our programmes. Often it is these distortions of sensory processing which are responsible for the abnormalities in communication, socialisation and imagination as the brain functions via a series of sensory motor loops. If the individual does not perceive the world appropriately, he will not respond to it appropriately. Good sensory perception being essential for the development of all human output functions.
Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop's individually tailored, home based therapy programmes for Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disabilities, should visit the website or email snowdrop_cdc@btinternet.com.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Study finds link between autism and environmental factors

There has recently been a great deal of interest in the genetic causes of autism, so much so that the media are now giving the clear impression to the general public that all autism has genetic roots.  People who read this blog will know how vehemently I have attempted to correct this misconception.  Here we have new evidence that autism has environmental causes too.


 A new study delving into the link between environmental factors and autism found that contact with pollutants from vehicles may be elevating the risk of the neurodevelopmental disorder.



According to researchers, the closer a pregnant mother lived to a highway, the greater was the risk of her child being diagnosed with autism.
Lead author of the study, Heather Volk at the Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles said, “This study isn't saying exposure to air pollution or exposure to traffic causes autism. But it could be one of the factors that are contributing to its increase.”

Study details
In a bid to determine whether proximity to freeways is linked to autism risk, the research team carried out a comparative study of kids who lived in communities around Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.
They collected data of 304 children diagnosed with autism and that of 259 children who were normal healthy babies.
All the children were aged between 24 months to 60 months at the start of the study.
For the purpose of the study, the investigators used prenatal records to examine how close the child’s mother lived to major roads during the first, second and third trimesters of pregnancy and at the time he was born.

Revelations of the study
The researchers found that 10 percent of women were living about 1,000 feet from a freeway at the time of delivery.
The odds of these kids being autistic were 86 percent higher than those living far away from the highway.
The elevated risk of autism persisted even after researchers took into account other factors that may have an impact on the disorder, such as ethnicity, parental education, maternal age, and exposure to tobacco smoke.
“Children born to mothers living within 309 meters (about 1,000 feet) of a freeway appeared to be twice as likely to have autism,” said Heather Volk.
The study is published in the journal 'Environmental Health Perspectives.'
Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop's approach to the treatment of autism should visit our website

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Is sensory overload always displayed with anger?

This is a question I have just answered on 'Netmums' which I found very interesting.

This is a good question and requires a detailed answer. First let’s break the problem down into smaller subcomponents by looking at what sensory overload is, - which structures in the brain are involved and how and why anger might sometimes be part of the equation in some children.

Many children, particularly, but not limited to, children on the autistic spectrum experience what I would term ‘distortions of sensory processing.’ From my own experience in treating children who experience these problems, these distortions fall into five categories.

(1). Sensory under-amplification. – This is where not enough of the sensory message from the outside world gets through to the level of cortical processing.

(2). Narrow sensory tuning. – This is where the child ‘masks’ outside stimuli too efficiently, so that he over-focuses his attention on one stimulus, or he has difficulty in moving his attention from that focus to other features of the environment.

(3). Internal sensory tuning. - This is where the child’s own sensory system in producing stimuli, to which the child’s sensory attention in directed. We see such stimuli in the visual display of the migraine sufferer, or in tinnitus, or in paraesthesia, (pins and needles feelings in our limbs).

(4). Wide sensory tuning. – This is where the child cannot mask background stimuli efficiently and every sight, sound and tactile experience is competing for attention simultaneously, resulting in sensory overload.

(5). Sensory over-amplification. – This is where the sub cortical structures of the brain are over-exciting the relevant part of the sensory cortex, resulting in the child experiencing incoming sensory information as much too bright, too loud and or, too painful to touch. This is another type of sensory overload.





What neurological structures are responsible for causing these problems?

Well, we know that the ascending reticular activating system is responsible for directing our sensory attention. There you are sitting quietly engrossed in a book and there is a knock at the door, or a loud lorry passes outside; - it is your reticular system which alerts you to this and redirects your sensory attention, or in the case of smaller noises or sights, or tactile experiences, decides that they are of no consequence and masks them. Consequently your attention remains on your book. It is a failure of function in this structure which is responsible for numbers 2, 3, and 4 on our list. So this structure could be responsible for one aspect of sensory overload, - the ‘wide sensory tuning’ on our list.

There is another structure called the thalamus. The sensory thalamus acts as a ‘sensory switchboard,’ directing incoming sensory information to the cortex for further processing. When the information has been appropriately directed, the thalamus then acts to ‘excite’ that particular area of cortex, to sort of ‘wake it up.’ If the thalamus is not functioning properly, then this ‘excitation’ process can go wrong, so that the thalamus is under-excited (sensory under-amplification), in which case the child is undersensitive to the particular, or indeed all incoming sensory information. If the thalamus over-excites the cortex, we see a child who is in another form of sensory overload.



Why should anger come into the situation?

Human beings are emotional beings. We process everything we perceive emotionally. There is a small part of our brain called the amygdala, which ensures that we attach a sort of ‘emotional tag’ to everything we perceive. This can be seen in me when I think about my mother – in – law, I feel a very negative emotion and yet when I think about a nice juicy steak I feel a different emotion altogether. The amygdala has very strong connections to the thalamus, which as we have discussed has a role along with the reticular formation in the way we perceive the outside world. However, it does not have to be anger which is displayed. Depending upon which connections between the amygdal an thalamus are affected, children can display a range of emotions. For instance, I treat one child who has auditory overload issues who dissolves into paroxyms of hysterical laughter when he is having a sensory meltdown. It varies.



Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop's treatment programmes for sensory overload should visit our website or email snowdrop_cdc@btinternet.com

Friday, 3 December 2010

Sleep Deficits Could Trigger ADHD

A useful and interesting piece of research, which again we will attempt to incorporate into Snowdrop's treatment schedule in some way.
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From the University of Helsinki.

A provocative new Finnish study suggests that children’s short sleep duration even without sleeping difficulties increases the risk for behavioral symptoms of ADHD. 

During the recent decades, sleep duration has decreased in many countries; in the United States a third of children are estimated to suffer from inadequate sleep. It has been hypothesized that sleep deprivation may manifest in children as behavioral symptoms rather than as tiredness, but few studies have investigated this hypothesis. 

The researchers at the University of Helsinki and National Institute of Health and Welfare, Finland, examined whether decreased sleep leads to behavioral problems similar to those exhibited by children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


280 healthy children (146 girls and 134 boys) participated in the study. The researchers tracked the children’s sleep using parental reporting as well as actigraphs, or devices worn on the wrist to monitor sleep.  The children whose average sleep duration as measured by actigraphs was shorter than 7.7 hours had a higher hyperactivity and impulsivity score and a higher ADHD total score, but similar inattention score than those sleeping for a longer time. 


In multivariate statistical models, short sleep duration remained a statistically significant predictor of hyperactivity and impulsivity, and sleeping difficulties were associated with hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. There were no significant interactions between short sleep and sleeping difficulties. 


“We were able to show that short sleep duration and sleeping difficulties are related to behavioral symptoms of ADHD, and we also showed that short sleep, per se, increases behavioral symptoms, regardless of the presence of sleeping difficulties”, says researcher Juulia Paavonen, MD, PhD. 
“The findings suggest that maintaining adequate sleep schedules among children is likely to be important in preventing behavioral symptoms. However, even though inadequate sleep seems to have potential to impair behavior and performance, intervention studies are needed to confirm the causality,” Paavonen continues. 

Source: University of Helsinki