March 2009 Archives

March 30, 2009

Animation and Autism: Discovering the Autism Learning Method

A lot of people are afraid and confused with autistic children.  Why?  Because their learning process is very different from the traditional methods. How so?  That's outlined by this research done at the Yale Child Study Center.Children traditionally learn through imitation.  They track adult movement, and try to duplicate it.  As such, children are able to learn without a lot of formal instruction or clear descriptions of how a process should proceed.  It's actually very convenient for parents, because outside of trying to explain complex situations, children pretty much learn their social interactions on their own.  But that isn't true with autistic children.  Instead of tracking and imitating a process, they are more interested with audio-visual stimulation, such as a sound that accompanies a movement.  By circumventing the traditional or typical learning method for social interaction, they become less social and less verbal.  Think of it as looking at an animation.  Autistic children do not find excitement with a movement that is not accompanied by sound, and so they need both the sound and the action to have their attention captured. So what is a parent to do with an autistic child?  They need to teach the child how to interact in the world socially, and that means working at skills that most children learn through imitation.  Communication is a big step, requiring the parent and care-giver to use alternative methods of communication, such as picture exchanges or sign language.  By adding a tactile action to a verbal communication, autistic children can better pick up the communication skill.  Another is social interaction, like eye contact.  Here you need to add an action to a verbal request.  I've found that tickling my son helps by drawing his attention, and then I will put my face up close to his, touch his nose, and look him in the eye.  He then eventually started to keep eye contact with me, expecting the same action to happen again.  It worked well for my son, and something similar may help your child.  And finally, writing.  While some children can just start to duplicate the writing method by watching a parent, in order to reach your autistic child you need to explain the process of writing to them, or say the letter while helping them write.  My son does well with the letter names, though his Preschool teacher suggested that we try using the same description method that they use, for continuity.  Both ways my son is learning to write his name, and is already starting to learn how to spell.  The best part of the article I read regarding this study was the last phrase: 
"There is nothing in our research that in any way conveys a sense that children [with autism] are any less human, any less deserving of our love and respect, or any less of anything at all. It is that the way they seem to learn about this world is rather different than the strategies used by their peers. By better understanding how they do this, the better we will be able to reach them, and like in any personal relationship, the better they will be able to reach us. ... Their different perspective might give us solutions that others, with the typical mind and brain, might never see."
This is too true!  Autistic children are not stupid because they don't learn the same way other children do.  They are not creatures, subhuman beings that should be approached with fear.  They are people, just like everyone else, but people that learn differently.  It's more work to teach an autistic child, but it's also a lot more fun!

March 27, 2009

Autism Support Bill in the US House: Let's Get It Right!

On Wednesday Representative Kay Granger of Texas introduced the HR 1707:  Helping HANDS for Autism Act of 2009.  Essentially, the bill is designed to provide funding for community outreach programs that will assist parents, caregivers, and adults with Autism find the help and support they need in their community.  The program is quite extensive, and is quite exciting.  Organizations are not limited to the number of grants to which they can apply, though the grants are limited by specific appropriations funding.  The thing that really excites me about this bill, however, is the mentoring aspect for parents and caregivers.  I have long been a believer in the involvement of parents in the education of autistic children.  They generally can help their child do more advanced things, because their child naturally trusts their parents than, say, a clinical psychologist.  The real way to help families with Autism is to provide them with the tools they need, instead of shipping the children off to schools where teachers need to take the place of parents.  Schools are great, but without the reinforcing parental involvement, they can only do so much.  There are a lot of other things that this bill supports, and I would highly recommend all those parents, teachers, and caregivers who work with autistic children and adults to read through, and send your recommendations to your US Representatives.  Let them know that this is really important, it needs to be done right.  I'm going to pester my representative to get involved as best he can, as well as my Senators.  If anyone out there has read the bill and have suggestions, feel free to post them!  I'll send them on to my Representative, if you will send it on to yours.  Let's make sure this Autism Bill doesn't have the teeth cut out of it, and really helps those on the Spectrum.  And finally, I would like to thank Representative Kay Granger and those who have offered to co-sponsor the bill for their courage in addressing Autism.  Just chucking money at the problem doesn't fix it, but having a real plan will definitely be a necessity.  This bill has the feeling of a real plan for those on the Spectrum from their initial, early diagnosis throughout their adult life.

March 25, 2009

Autism and Education: What Parents Really Need to Know

Thus far on my blog I have spent a lot of time analyzing and debating the cause of Autism, the effects, and the research behind them.  This is all fascinating and fun to talk about (at least I hope so, it is for me), but parents out there that find out their child is Autistic are probably screaming:  So what!!  It doesn't change the now, and my child is in need of help.  What can I do as a parent to help my autistic child?I've often asked myself this while searching for something that would help my son.  The problem with searching for help for an autistic child is that the spectrum is so wide, it's hard to find something effective for all.  For that reason, I'm going to qualify the steps that we have outlined in conjunction with my son's Preschool:  My son is very high functioning, but not verbal (yet very vocal!).  So here is what I would recommend for any parent with an autistic child: 
  1. Have Your Child Evaluated:  Chances are you have had your child evaluated, which is how you know that your child has autism.  Remember that while it's possible to recognize one or two behaviors that are "autistic", there are a number of different conditions and syndromes that are very similar to Autism.  It's best if you have your child evaluated by a psychologist that works specifically with children with disabilities.  They are educated and trained to recognize the different spectrums and syndromes, and will be able to make a clinical diagnosis.  
  2. Contact Your Public School District:  Chances are your school district will have at least information on autism services, if they do not offer them.  More often than not, they do offer services, both at the Preschool and K-12 levels.  And before you start going off about how public schools fail our children, most public schools have Special Education teachers that became special ed teachers for a reason:  a member of their family has special needs.  That generally means they are determined to make a difference for special education students.  No, you generally will not find the Football coach teaching Special Ed, so your child's teacher will not be distracted by seasonal events.  
  3. Have A Special Education Team Evaluate Your Child:  Most Special Education teams that I am aware of include the Special Education teacher, a Speech and Language specialist, an Occupational Therapist, and a General Education  specialist.  They work together to evaluate the progress of their students by setting developmental goals for the student and evaluating their progress.  Our son's preschool has this team, each of whom want the best for our son.  They work with us to evaluate his goals, so that we not only know what the goals are, but what the process they will take him through is, and what progress we can expect.  
  4. Participate In Your Child's Education:  This is a general rule for all parents.  Our education system is broken, but not because of teachers.  For the most part, it is because of parents who would rather have someone else worry about their child's education than take that responsibility.  Well, guess what:  As a parent of a special needs child, your responsibility just doubled.  Children with special needs, like Autism, are NOT A WASTE OF RESOURCES!  it angers me when I hear parents complain, and some educators or legislators complain about the money it takes to help an autistic child succeed.  Autism does not make a child dumb, stupid, or instantly resign them to a life of street sweeping.  Autism just means that the child learns differently.  You need to cater to the child's learning process, so that they can succeed.  Get involved, learn what the teachers are doing, and how to continue that learning environment at home.  
Those are the things that I would recommend to any parent that has learned they have an autistic child and wants to know what to do next.  No, magic cures do not exist.  Don't expect autism to just go away, and don't just look from one day to the next even though it's often the simplest thing to do after a long bout of meltdowns and tantrums.  It is your responsibility as a parent to look forward in regards to your child's development.

March 20, 2009

Finally! An iPhone/iPod Touch App for Autistic Kids

The iPhone and iPod Touch have been truly amazing devices.  They allow a level of freedom for people that can't or don't want to use a stylus to still be able to use a mobile device.  They also make it more difficult to lose your stylus.  This means that it can be very useful for children with autism.  The only problem:  there hasn't been a specific app designed for autistic children.  Until now, that is.  I found an app that I hope is the first of many more similar apps to come:  iConverse.  The premise behind iConverse is pretty simple:  You have six icons that provide basic every day actions:  Restroom, Sleep, Drink, Eat, Sick, and Help.  The communication is basic, but it helps those who are unable to communicate verbally, or those who have not yet learned to communicate verbally, to do so.  When pressing on the icon, text covers the icon to indicate the selection, as does a verbal sentence that is played on the device.  You can select either a male or female voice as well.  While it seems simple, it's much needed.  Currently it's available in the Apple App Store for $4.99.  I should note that there is software out there for special devices or the computer that will do the same thing, but has a high cost of over $1,000.  This is ideal, because it's relatively inexpensive for both the device and the software. I'm sort of disappointed, but only in the fact that I didn't develop it first (I've been working on learning Objective C just for something like this).  Well, perhaps I'll build a custom bracer for the iPod Touch for my son's arm, should we need one for him all the time.

Time for Gardening: My Garden, and a Mention about the President's Garden

I know this is my second post for the day, but I have been waiting for the weather to get this warm for a while, and I wanted to post about my new garden.  In front of my house (on the North side), I have had a huge section of my front lawn tilled under and covered with bark.  I did this to make the front yard more draught-resistant, but also because the land wasn't good for anything else.  The grass was even dying in that section.  So, after tilling it under and placing down a fabric weed barrier, I covered it with several bags of bark and mulch.  The total space is probably 8 feet by 8 feet with the dead center of it planted in flowers and a small, young apple tree.  There is a lot of space there that has been, until yesterday, going to waste.  This last fall I had made some extensive planting plans for my yard with the determination to have several vegetables and fruits grown for canning and storing this next fall.  I looked at this section of the yard, and decided it was time to use it.  My intention was to plant root vegetables in this section, which requires a very light soil.  Not light as in helium, but light as in more sandy than clay.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of my yard is clay.  So, I placed down six 50 pound bags of play sand, and tilled it in with the dirt.  This made a wonderfully light soil, just perfect for root veggies.  Initially I was only going to plant beets in this area.  Why beets?  Because I love beets!  My grandfather grew up on a sugar beet farm in Wyoming, and has instilled the love of a good sweet-pickled beet in my father, who gave that love to me.  So I planted Red Detroit beets, Golden beets, and an heirloom beet that my parents found.  Of course, this only took up a small portion of the land I had prepared, far less than I had expected.  So I planted some heirloom lemon cucumbers, some watermelon radishes, and my father planted some heirloom white radishes.  Still, there is a good portion that is not being used, so I intend to plant some lettuce along those rows.  In between the farrows and mounds I am going to put the bark back.  This will not only look pretty good, but it will also help retain water during the summer months.  I'm really excited for this section of the yard, and I'm looking forward to planting the rest. I still need to plant my Broom Corn as a barrier (and can be ground into a nice gluten-free flour, like a cake flour), Bloody Butcher sweet corn (nice, dark red corn, and I liked the name), Strawberry Popcorn (looks like a giant strawberry), Cinderella pumpkins, baby sugar pumpkins, baby watermelon (I'm not sure if the seeds are any good, but I'm going to give it a try), dyer's woad (that's an experiment that comes out really well), pole beans (green, yellow, and purple if I can find it), carrots (red, orange, yellow, white, and purple again), and the tomatoes that we have started (Brandywine Pinks).  If I can help it, all the plants will be heirloom, with a couple of exceptions.  I like heirloom plants, because you don't have to keep buying seeds every year.  You can plant from the seeds you retain from the last harvest, much like the old farm tradition.  So not only does it save you about $10.00 in seeds every year (at least for me), but you know what you will be growing.  And the seeds are good for up to 3 years before they start to lose their potency.  Also, I would like to point out that President Obama is also starting a vegetable garden at the White House, with the intention of actually eating the produce.  This is great news, and something that every American should be doing.  Start a garden, whether it be a sizable plot or a couple of flower pots in your house.  You will find that vegetables just don't taste any better than when you grow them yourself.

Deriding the Special Olympics: A Window in our Society

Last night President Obama appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  This was an historic event, as he became the first sitting president to appear on the late night show.  His intention was to continue his campaigning for economic stimulus.  One thing I can say about President Obama, he can campaign well.  He is most comfortable in campaign mode, and seems to prefer that to sitting in the White House all day.  But as part of the "ice breaker" session of jokes and kidding around, President Obama compared his bowling to that of the Special Olympics, in a sarcastic manner.  So much so, that President Obama called the President of the Special Olympics before the show aired to apologize for his remark.  He knew what had happened, but too late.  First, I would like to say that I'm glad he apologized in a timely manner.  It shows that our President isn't too big to admit that he made a mistake.  But the damage had been done.  Those who are least able to defend themselves, those who still look up to the office of the President of the United States as the supreme example of all that is America, heard that remark.  If they didn't hear it that night, they would probably have heard it since as it gets aired on news networks.  Those with special needs know they are different.  They are told they are different in countless ways and by people around them.  Bullies who pick on children and adults with special needs while ordinary people look the other way tell them all they need to know.  People who make snide comments about being "retarded" when they do something stupid...  How do you think that would make a person with special needs that do things like that feel?  I grew up with people who constantly attacked my older brother because he was special needs.  The comments, the mocking laughter, and the bullying.  It was terrible, and I tried to call them on the carpet for it.  Teachers would punish my brother for defending himself, but wouldn't lift a finger to help him.  It was maddening.  I learned just how painful and hurtful our society was then and there.  And now our President, the one that is supposed to be the defender of ALL AMERICANS, not just the people who voted for him, has made those same hurtful comments.  All with the intention of getting a laugh.  Perhaps this will be a good opportunity for our President to start a dialogue about the Special Olympics, and those with special needs.  Perhaps he can help redeem himself by becoming a true advocate.  Perhaps one day he will have someone in his family that has special needs, and will truly understand the perspective that we have.  Perhaps.  But until then:  Mr. President, I'm very disappointed in you.

March 19, 2009

The Autism Golden Goose: Exploitation of Families Through Misinformation

I've seen it in the news, I've seen it on the Internet:  Miracle cures for autism by magic stones, pumping vitamins in the body, using special, expensive "treatments" from European herbs.  Books abound with this information, and publishers snap it up.  Why?  Because families with autistic children are at a loss, and are willing to do anything to help their child.  Millions are taken from these families every year, and yet autism remains prevalent in our society.  The children are not cured, and many end up in worse condition because they have had toxic effects from these "treatments".  Still others are exposed to life-threatening illnesses because their parents have refused to vaccinate them in fear of autism.The problem is, you never hear about these families, those that have gone bankrupt because they followed the advice of a celebrity that never finished college because their doctor was unable to give them any definite answers. So who's fault is it?  Who is leading this major scam against families across the world?  Surely someone must take responsibility, but who?  Let me give you the anatomy of the scams that are out there. 
  1. Autism Is Still Not Defined:  Sure, we know the behavior that is associated with the spectrum, but we don't really know what it is.  There are several genetic disorders that can cause autistic behavior, from food allergies to enlarged brains.  Autism is not a biological diagnosis, it's a psychological diagnosis.  Because of this, no one really knows what causes it, just that it exists.  There have been recent advancements in identifying 6 genes that have a direct link between the size and function in the brain and autism, with another 4 that are being researched.  But until the research is complete, parents will not know what biological disorder their autistic child will have, and therefore not know how best to address the disorder.  It all comes down to funding, research focus, and support from the community.  If your local University is involved in an autism study, do all you can to support that study.
  2.  Print Has Power:  By default, people like to believe what they read.  This extends to websites, newspapers, gossip magazines, and flyers on their windshields.  They believe the claim that one can lose 200 pounds in just 3 months if you eat nothing but grapefruit if it comes in a diet book.  As such, if there is a book out there that claims you can cure your autistic child by feeding them nothing but expensive food that is missing one amino acid, people are willing to believe it.  Here there are three culprits:  the writer, for writing such false information, the publisher for not verifying the material, and the reader by not looking for the clinical evidence that supports the claim.  Often times these writers will put an alphabet soup after their name, and as such feel they don't have to provide the clinical evidence to support their claims.  If ever you see a claim that is not supported by actual research, hang on to your wallet and run!
  3. Celebrities Are Treated Like Experts:  People believe celebrities because they play really smart people on stage or screen.  Unfortunately, these people are no better informed than the average person.  They are human, not perfect people as we would perhaps wish they would be.  But people will still repeat a claim by a celebrity as the final authority, even when doctors and specialists decry such theories. First and foremost, the responsibility lies in each of us.  We can't give credence to people who are not experts in the field, just because they were in our favorite movie at one point.  It flies in the face of common sense.  Unfortunately, common sense is not common, and people will believe the Jennifer McCarthy's out there who claim to have cured their autistic child through magic eastern medicine, even when they still have the same behavioral symptoms as before.  My advice to you is, check the clinical research first.  Get real, controlled study results and judge for yourself.  
  4. People Fear Most What They Do Not Understand:  This is huge.  Yes, the unknown, uncontrolled frightens us as people.  We are afraid, because we can't predict what will happen, when, how it happens, and what to do when it does.  Autism is no different, as we do not know exactly what causes all instances of autism, how it happens, and what to do about it.  Because we don't know what it does, we are afraid of it.  Parents would rather subject their children to polio, measles, small pox, rubella (which damages the blood-brain barrier, by the way), and a host of other illnesses that can be terminal, in an attempt to avoid the unknown of autism.  
All I can say to these parents is that I've been there.  When I found out that my son was autistic, I was numb.  I didn't know what to do, because I didn't know anything about it.   I started my research on the Internet, like most parents would, and not with Google Scholar either.  I read all the crack-pot theories, and went along with it because there were testimonials.  The difference is I didn't have the funds to be fleeced, so I didn't go for any of the really expensive garbage out there.  It took a long time to come around, but eventually I started looking at the research.  I had help, colleagues that were involved with neuropsychology, and access to research materials that helped me understand that autism was caused by real, physiological developments instead of garbage theories that were out there to make money by taking precious funds from families that could be investing in their child's development.  As one wise doctor told a friend of mine, Autism is a popular diagnosis right now, but no one knows what causes it and there is no cure. It's true, there is no cure for autism. There is no magic treatment that will cure your children. But you can help educate your child by helping them communicate, learn skills to help them be as independent as possible, and contribute to society as a whole in some way. Work with your State or National governments and have them focus on real, clinical studies to help identify autism early, and demand educational materials to be available for you to help your child.  Don't just rely on any schooling program, no matter how good they are.  Nothing can replace the support parents can give their children.  And to all those out there that would take advantage and fleece the Autism community, we are on to you, and I have one thing to say to you with all the anger, hatred, and feeling of injustice that I can muster: Shame on you.

March 13, 2009

Hyperbaric Chamber Treatments and Autism: A Real, Clinical Study

Not too long ago I read a story about a doctor that was giving alternative medicine treatments to autistic children by putting them in a hyperbaric chamber and increasing the pressure and oxygen into their bodies.  Parents and the doctor all claimed that the treatment worked, and significant improvement was seen in all areas of autistic behavior.  Naturally, I was skeptical.  I thought it was another one of those "Autism Cash Cows", meaning a method of milking money from desperate  families that have autistic children.  But today my opinion has changed.  BMC Pediatrics is reporting this study, which was a registered, clinical, double-blind trial of hyperbaric chamber treatments over 4 weeks, 10 sessions (each an hour long, plus pressurization and depressurization time) a week.  They showed significant improvements for those with autistic children, with the highest improvements of those over the age of 5.  It blew me away, because it actually worked, and was proven to work. Now, the real problem is no one knows why it works, or what it does to help autistic children be more social.  That still needs to be determined.  Also, many doctors are still cautioning parents to wait for more studies to support these findings.  I would also agree.  Not only because of the potential dangers of placing your child in a high pressured environment (nausea, seizures, sinus problems, etc.), but also because of the cost of the treatments.  Each treatment runs on average between $140 to $150 a session.  Also, the overall lasting effects was not addressed by the report.  Do the children live now and forever with the knowledge that they need to be in a hyperbaric chamber for at least 2 hours a day?  That's a concern. And finally, the reason I would wait for now is the cost of a hyperbaric chamber for your home.  The going rate of a "portable" chamber is between $12,000 and $16,000, and it is not covered by insurance.  But, perhaps, if this treatment ends up becoming the norm, insurance companies will take the cost of a one-time purchase of a chamber over other potential costs.  Time will tell.

March 12, 2009

Pi Day Passed in the House: March 14th to be Recognized

One of the benefits of having a Representative in Congress on Twitter, is that you get some pretty up to date information quickly.  Today, in the House of Representatives, among other things, they had a vote on the designation of National Pi Day to be March 14th.  While there are so many other important things out there that need attention by our Government, these little things are things that are bipartisan and should be celebrated.  So, everyone out there in the world, Feel free to celebrate National Pi Day on March 14th, 2009!  How do you best celebrate pi day?  You could try having a contest on who can recite the most decimal points from Pi, or you could just simply eat a piece of pie.  It's your choice.  ^_^

March 5, 2009

Monosodium Glutamate and Autism Revisited

Those who have been following my discussions on my last post regarding monosodium glutamate and the claimed link between it and autism may know that I have had some pretty spirited comments regarding the subject.  Part of it came from my admitted lack of understanding of what MSG actually does in the body once it was ingested.  A few comments later, I was set right with several clinical studies on the compound, and it's relationship to the nervous system.  So, in light of the new evidence, I thought I would make a new post to outline what I have learned, and what still needs to be proven before I accept MSG as the "smoking gun" in all autism cases.  I would also like to point out that I do not oppose the elimination of MSG as an additive in all it's forms from the food supply.  There are too many people that are adversely effected by this compound (most notably those that suffer with Fragile X Syndrome) to have it as such a general additive.  If you can't make your food taste good naturally, perhaps you shouldn't be selling it.First, it is necessary to understand the glutamate compound.  Glutamate is one of four major components of DNA, as well as being one of the most (if not the most) important neurotransmitter protein in the brain.  Without glutamate in our body, we would die.  That being said, most natural sources of glutamate are found in a bonded form with other proteins, which take longer to introduce into the system.  Common sources are protein foods like meat, eggs, dairy products, traditionally processed foods (like real cheese and tofu), and tomatoes.  The levels of glutamate in these foods are fairly low compared to the additives that are put in our processed and packaged food supply.  The research that I have found shows damage to the brain at the hypothalamus (Olney, ournal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology. 31(3):464-488, July 1972). Another article points out that retina damage occurred in mice when exposed to high doses of MSG (Olney, Annu. Rev. Pharmacol.Toxicol. 1990. 30:47-71). Neither mention other parts of the brain, those that are protected by the blood brain barrier.  It should be noted that Dr. Olney has been key to the banning of monosodium glutamate in baby food back in the 1970's.  His work is groundbreaking, and invaluable in understanding the effects of MSG when ingested in significant quantities.By contrast, patients in an MRI study with autism exhibited increase in gray matter in medial and dorsolateral frontal areas, in the lateral and medial parts of the temporal lobes, in the parietal lobes, cerebellum and claustrum. Patients also showed decrease in frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital white matter (Bonilha, Elsevier Brain and Development, the Official Journal of the Japanese Society of Child Neurology, Received 14 June 2007; received in revised form 25 November 2007; accepted 26 November 2007).  In Dr. Olney's study, only the hypothalamus and retina tissue was impacted in developing infants.  Also, the abnormally developed amygdala and medial temporal lobe have been detected in patients with autism through MRI scans, suggesting a lack of developmental neuronal pruning (or incomplete pruning) as the cause of autism (Howard, NeuroReport:Volume 11(13)11 September 2000p 2931-2935). And the link between the amygdala and autism has also been established (Amaral, Novartis Foundation Symposium 251, “Autism: Neural Basis and Treatment Possibilities”, June 2002).And so the link between increased brain size in multiple regions, reduced or non-existent neuronal pruning, and autism have been made.  Most neuropsychologists that I have known or read about subscribe to this link for most cases of irreversible autism as opposed to allergy autism, but more on that later.  Now genetics step in with recent research on the PTEN and Serotonin Transmitter genes resulting in increased brain growth (Page, PNAS February 10, 2009 vol. 106 no. 6 1989-1994). Each of these genes increase brain size, while a combination of both compound the brain growth.  Also recently announced was a link between brain growth, brain development, gastrointestinal repair, and the MET gene.  It seems that 118 of the 214 families studied had this same genetic link between autism and gastrointestinal disorders (Campbell, A genetic variant that disrupts METtranscription is associated with autism, PNAS 2006 103:16621-16622;  doi:10.1073/pnas.0608027103).  While this could only be conceivably linked to a cause of autism in 30% of all cases, it is another genetic piece of the puzzle.I found a reference to the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and inflamed sensory nerves, or nerves that receive a stimulation of some sort outside of the nervous system (vision, touch, etc.). They do see an increase in NGF within a location irritated by a stimulus in those sensory nerves. The hypothesis is that nerve growth in the brain would be related to an increase of NGF in the system which would be caused by MSG, though they only observed an increase in neuropeptide production when using another stimulus, and MSG was not mentioned in the article (Bradley et al, Int Arch Allergy Immunol 1999;118:150-153). The hypothesis has not been tested, as far as I have been able to determine. So, for summary, we have MRI evidence of increased brain growth across the brain itself, resulting in larger, more dense gray matter within the brain across the board, including those regions protected by the blood brain barrier where ingested or injected glutamate cannot reach once the blood-brain barrier is fully developed (Sahai, Glutamate in the mammalian CNS, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, Volume 240, Number 2 / November, 1990).Of course, the blood-brain barrier is not fully developed until an infant is 6 months of age (Rodier, Developing Brain as a Target of Toxicity, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 103, Supplement 6 (Sep., 1995), pp. 73-76). But that would at least suggest that any exposure to glutamate after 6 months would have no effect on the growth of the brain, even if there were research to prove glutamate caused brain growth instead of brain damage as presented by Dr. Olney's findings.  Luckily, all food that infants eat up to and past age 6 months has had MSG removed thanks to the work of Dr. Olney.References to the Chromosome 11 and neurexin1 changes and their relationship with autism have also been brought up in arguments in the dangers of MSG. It is interesting, but keep in mind that glutamate is the most prevalent neurotransmitter in the brain. So a gene that effects neurotransmissions can effect the levels of glutamate in the brain as it is being transmitted. This still doesn't link the ingestion of glutamate to increased brain growth. This actually is more likely to be linked with Fragile X Syndrome. Fragile X Syndrome has a unique property that does not allow a neuron to "turn off" their synaptic firings, which cause an overload, and as such causes autistic-like behavior. Glutamate is the transmitter, so if increased glutamate is released by the neuron is causes the neuron to overload, causing damage (not brain growth). So that would be another issue entirely (still worthy of note, however, and reason enough to pursue reduced usage of MSG in the food supply). Another argument made to link MSG to autism is the observed decrease of autism-like symptoms when patients remove gluten or cassein from their diet.  This actually refers to the ingestion of propionic acid, which then cause autism-like symptoms. This acid can be produced by a bacteria which ingests gluten and cassein that resides in the gut. The results of injecting this acid directly into the brain caused inflammatory processes, and as such caused autism-like behavior. It is also important to note that propionic acid is a simple fatty acid, and not a form of glutamate.Now propionic acid in most vertebrates is carboxylated to D-methylmalonyl-CoA, which is isomerised to L-methylmalonyl-CoA. A vitamin B12-dependent enzyme catalyzes rearrangement of L-methylmalonyl-CoA to succinyl-CoA. The inability to process propionic acid could be a cause of what I like to call "allergy autism" or autistic behavior due to an allergic reaction. It would also require propionic acid to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier as a lipid soluble substance. That could be possible, as I don't have enough knowledge of the properties of propionic acid, so I cannot disprove the hypothesis.  But it results in a temporary state, and the patient recovers once the propionic acid is no longer in contact with the brain.Also, with regards to the blood-brain barrier permeability: it is possible to have a damaged blood-brain barrier and make it more permeable. Common causes are infant rubella, heavy metal exposures, and exposure to alcohol for the developing brain (Rodier, Developing Brain as a Target of Toxicity, Environ Health Perspect 1 03(Suppl 6):73-76 (1995)). Though proper hydration can stem or reverse the increased permeability within the blood-brain barrier (McCall et al, Monosodium glutamate neurotoxicity, hyperosmolarity, and blood-brain barrier dysfunction, Neurobehav Toxicol. 1979 Winter;1(4):279-83). So the problem I have is finding that clinical link between glutamate exposure at an early age and the increased brain growth.  So again my request still stands: Is there any clinical evidence that supports neuron growth in the brain (and not sensory neuron growth) as a direct response to increased glutamate exposure? That is the missing piece of the puzzle that I need in order to support the theory of MSG as the cause of autism. As stated earlier, according to Olney’s research, MSG only seems to cause damage to the hypothalamus and retina tissue. No increase in neuron growth or decrease in neuronal pruning has been recorded as far as I can find in the stacks.So my findings are thus:  MSG is bad, and for many people it can be disruptive to their lives.  It should be removed from the food supply in all it's forms.  This also means that food processing companies will need to actually work to make their food both tasty and safe.  Now there is a concept.  Thank goodness I'm working on my urban farming project to do just that:  make food that tastes better without additives.But other than general health hazards, there is no concrete link between ingesting MSG and the development of autism.  The only time children could possibly be exposed to MSG past the blood-brain barrier would be before they are 6 months old when the barrier is not yet fully developed, and Dr. Olney has already seen to their protection since the 1970's.  It just seems to me that genetics remains the best answer, providing the most concrete clinical results.As always, I welcome any clinical studies or rebuttals that are backed with clinical research!  I love to learn new things.

March 4, 2009

Gastrointestinal Problems and Autism: A Genetic Link for Some

USA Today posted this article regarding the link with brain development, gastrointestinal repair, autism, and the gene MET.  It seems that in 118 of 214 cases, the MET gene variation was identical for those with both autism and gastrointestinal problems.  This could account for nearly 30% of autistic patients who also suffer from gastrointestinal problems, and about 10% of non-autistic people.  While this is great news, it is not by any means the smoking gun for the cause of autism, but it is a piece of the puzzle as it effects brain development and connections within the brain after development.  As many have posted in my comments in other posts, many autistic children suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, as well as seizures, and a number of other health problems.  Some of these disorders can be associated with life in and of itself.  Just because you have cancer doesn't mean you can't die of a heart attack.  The same is true with autism.  Just because you are autistic doesn't mean you can't have allergies, poor vision, diabetes, or other disorders.  But this research specifically linked gastrointestinal disorders with brain development.  That's huge.  What I really found interesting about this report is that USA Today was not touting it as the smoking gun, but rather said right off the bat that it does not account for all instances of autism.  This, to my mind at least, is ground-breaking journalism.  After reading article after article regarding "cures" for autism by treating another disorder like Fragile X Syndrome, it's nice to see the admission that a discovery is not the end all beat all in the quest to learn about the most diverse spectrum that is Autism.

March 3, 2009

Wanted: Graphic Artist Instructor for Drawing with Technology Class

Hello again!  Claire just passed on another contract instructor position they are looking for this summer: 

Graphic Art I-Drawing with Technology (Age 10-12 & 13-16)

Want to see the art of the future? Look no further than your computer. This interactive course teaches you how to use technology like scanners and software like PhotoShop and Illustrator to create your own art. Enhance hand drawn works or design entirely on the computer -- it's up to you. You will even learn how to modify photographs of your friends and family (picture your best friend with elf ears and bug eyes.) Graphic artists use computers to create company logos, CD covers and even framed images hanging in local art galleries -- what will you create? 

YETEC 050-001 • MTWThF, Jun 15-19 • 9:00 am-12:00 pm LOCATION: Annex 2169, Campus • SLC

NOTE: This section is for ages 10-12.

YETEC 050-002 • MTWThF, Jun 29-Jul 2 • 9:00 AM-12:00 PMLOCATION: Annex 2169, Campus • SLC

NOTE: This section is for age 13-16.


Graphic Art II-Drawing with Technology (Age 10-16)

 You love drawing with a computer. You have taken Graphic Art or have used Photoshop and Illustrator at home. But, you are having too much fun to end it now! In this three-day extension course get further questions answered and hone your skills to realize what professional quality work you can do using Photoshop and Illustrator. Explore more advanced features including time-saving shortcuts, color-based selections and correction. Learn how to modify your own drawings, designs, and photographs. Expand your computer creativity to the max! 


 YETEC 051-001 • MTWTh, Jul20-Jul 23 • 1:00-4:00 PMLOCATION: Annex 2169, Campus • SLC

NOTE: Prerequisite: Beginning Graphic Art - Drawing with Technology or previous experience with Photoshop and Illustrator.NOTE: This section is for age 12-15

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Claire Turner at cturner at aoce dot utah dot edu.

Need for Dark Basic Trainer this Summer

Hello All!  Our Youth program here at the University of Utah is looking for a contract instructor to teach Dark Basic to youth ages 13 to 17.  Here is the description: 

Video Game Programming I with Dark Basic (Age 13-17)

If you've always wanted to create your own video games and never knew how, this class is for you, even if you've never programmed before! DarkBasic is an introductory-level computer programming language that focuses on basic concepts and 2D games. Learn the fundamentals of computer programming, such as bitmaps, sprites, input devices, sound effects, music, and movies. Course cost includes a DarkBasic book with a CD-ROM trial version of the language compiler.

YETEC 115-001 • MTWThF, Jul 27-31 • 1:00-4:00 PMLOCATION: Annex 2169, Campus • SLC 

YETEC 115-002 • MTWThF, Aug 3-7 • 1:00-4:00 PMLOCATION: Annex 2169, Campus • SLC

Video Game Programming II with Dark Basic (Age 13-17)

Expand your video game programming skills. This advanced class will focus more on game planning, code management, and 3D games. Learn the more challenging aspects of programming and use your imagination to create a variety of fantastic games.

YETEC 116-001 • MTWThF, Aug 10-14 • 1:00-4:00 PMLOCATION: Annex 2169, Campus • SLC

If you have any questions, please contact Claire Turner at cturner at aoce dot utah dot edu.  She can let you know what they are looking for, which book they are using, and how much the contract instructor pay would be. 

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