Month: October 2013

Autism And Motor Skills Correlate To Improved Adaptive Behaviors

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Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders often face greater challenges finding the best learning therapies for their child. A new study looks at children with autism who have better fine motor skills and if having those skills improves learning development. The researchers found that the participants with higher levels of fine motor skills did indeed display stronger daily living skills including better social and communication abilities.

Autistic children with better gross motor skills tended to have stronger daily living skills as well.

Results of the study suggests that helping children with autism develop stronger fine motor skills may improve their adaptive behavior skills as well.

Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable such functions as writing, grasping small objects, and fastening clothing. They involve strength, control and dexterity.

Gross motor skills refer to movements that involve large muscle groups and are generally more broad and energetic than fine motor movements. These may include walking, kicking, jumping, and climbing stairs.

The study, led by Megan MacDonald, PhD, of the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences at Oregon State University, looked at whether autistic children’s motor skills were related to their adaptive behavior skills.

Researchers studied 233 children, aged 1 to 4, who had varying diagnoses of developmental delays or disorders.

Among these children, 172 had autism spectrum disorder, 22 had pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and 39 had developmental delays that were not related to autism.

The researchers assessed the children’s development with an instrument that measures their gross motor skills, fine motor skills, visual reception (nonverbal problem solving), receptive language (comprehending/listening/understanding language) and expressive language (expressing one’s self through language).

Then the researchers used a different test to assess the children’s adaptive behavior skills, which included overall behavior, daily living skills, communication skills and adaptive social skills.

The children’s age, non-verbal problem-solving skills and the severity of their disorder were taken into account.

The researchers found that the children’s levels of fine motor skills predicted how well they scored on all the sections of the adaptive behavior skills assessment.

In addition, the children’s motor skills predicted how well the children did with daily living skills.

The children who had weaker fine or gross motor skills also had greater difficulties with adaptive behavior skills.

“The fine and gross motor skills are significantly related to adaptive behavior skills in young children with autism spectrum disorder,” the researchers wrote.

“Motor skills need to be considered and included in early intervention programming,” they wrote.

Glen Elliott, MD, PhD, a clinical professor at the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, offered his perspectives on the study’s findings.

“This study nicely demonstrates that, on average, children with autism show a correlation between fine- and gross-motor skills and a range of daily living skills and adaptive behaviors,” Dr. Elliott said.

“The authors imply that this may suggest the value of emphasizing early intervention on motor skills along with other areas of deficits,” he said.

“However, it is possible that they are confounding correlation with causation: that is, their observations might equally reflect some other factor, such as overall developmental delays that result in both delayed motor skills and delayed adaptive behaviors,” Dr. Elliott suggested.

“Still, given the increasing evidence of the importance of early interventions in help maximize ultimate outcomes in children with autism, research to explore the usefulness of interventions focusing on motor skills well might be merited,” he said.

This study was published in the November issue of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.


Meet The Gallucci Family

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October 8, 2013

Bruno Gallucci plays rock-paper-scissors with his sons John, 8, left, and Joseph, 10, at their home in Burgettstown. Bruno, who has four sons, stays at home to care for them.
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By Mark Roth / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jennifer Gallucci had been afraid to find out, but last month, she finally got her answer: Her 2-year-old son, Jude, does not show any signs of autism.

It was a small but important victory.


Jennifer Gallucci with her youngest son, 2-year-old Jude, who does not show any signs of autism.

Mrs. Gallucci and her husband, Bruno, who live in the tiny community of Burgettstown in Washington County, already have two sons with different forms of autism, as well as an older son with an ADHD diagnosis.

The Galluccis have four sons, two of whom have an Autism Spectrum diagnosis. They are awaiting definitive results on a third. (Video by Julia Rendleman; 10/7/2013).

Click on this link for video:


It’s not that their lives would have been shattered by having another child with autism, they said, but in a schedule already packed with therapy sessions, visiting aides and special diets, the conclusion by a psychologist at the Autism Center of Pittsburgh was a relief.

The examination showed that Jude has a speech delay but otherwise is “neurologically typical,” Mrs. Gallucci said. The psychologist “said he didn’t see anything indicating autism, and I said, ‘I like that. Let’s go home.’ ”

Joseph Gallucci, 10, and brother John, 8, play soccer at their home in Burgettstown. Joseph is low-functioning autistic while John has Asperger's syndrome, described as a form of high-functioning autism.

Her son Joe, 10, has moderate autism, and only began to speak in full sentences this year. Her next youngest, 8-year-old John, has Asperger’s syndrome, a higher-functioning form of autism, and also has some problems with aggression.

Because of that history, it made sense for the Galluccis to enroll Jude at the University of Pittsburgh’s Infant Communication Lab, which is part of a national network of centers studying children who have an older sibling with autism.

In 2011, the Pitt center and several others published a study that showed that nearly 20 percent of those younger children ended up with autism themselves — far higher than the estimated 1.1 percent rate in the general population.

The study suggests that autism has a strong inherited component, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility that some families might have experienced a common environmental exposure.

Joe Gallucci, 10, stretches his arms above his head as he works on balance during a horse-riding therapy session at Horse 'N Soul in Washington County.

As with Jill Escher in California (see related story), Mrs. Gallucci’s mother took fertility drugs when she was pregnant with Jennifer. But whether that has anything to do with her children’s autism, or whether her grandfathers being coal miners might explain it, she doesn’t know.

“Now all of a sudden autism is snowballing, and what is it?” asked Mr. Gallucci, a plumber who is currently a stay-at-home dad. “Is it toxicity in everything nowadays? Is it vaccinations? Is it food, water? There are so many different variables it’s mind-boggling.”

Even if the driving force for the Gallucci family’s autism is genetic, scientists do not yet have the ability to pinpoint a specific set of genes that are at fault in most cases of the disorder. Scott Selleck, a geneticist at Penn State University, said there are many different forms of autism, and hundreds of genes have been implicated.

“One could make the argument that to talk about a single entity called autism is a bit of a misnomer,” he said. “It is quite likely that autism is a disorder that has 2,000 genes, so what do we call it now?”

The Galluccis see that variation within their own family.

Therapist Brian Danna with Behavioral Dynamics Inc. plays a learning card game with 10-year-old Joseph Galluci, left, and his brother John, 8. The game helps the boys, who are both on the autism spectrum, to improve their nonverbal communication.

After their oldest son, James, 13, was born, Mrs. Gallucci remembered how active and verbal he was. So when Joe was born three years later, her first impression was that in contrast to James, “Joe didn’t need constant attention and he hit all of his milestones except for his speech, and I just figured he was quiet. And after Jim talking so much I was happy he was quiet.”

In preschool, though, it was obvious Joe had behavior probleMrs. School officials recommended Mrs. Gallucci take him to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and “at that point I was angry, and I thought, ‘I’ll take him just to prove you’re wrong.’ ”

After testing Joe, Mrs. Gallucci said, “the doctor left the room, and she came back in and handed me a book and said, ‘Your child’s autistic,’ and that was it. I shut down right then. I had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t think I’d even seen ‘Rain Man’ [the 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman as an autistic man] at that point.

“Then I cried about it for two to three months.”

Soon, her pain turned to anger again, and she vowed that “if you’re going to give my child a label, and he’s going to be stereotyped and looked down upon, then I’m going to make sure he’s going to get all the good things that come with it.”

That meant signing up for therapy appointments, special school programs and enrichment activities, a jam-packed life that only became more crowded after John was born in 2005 and eventually got his own autism diagnosis.

Unlike Joe, who still speaks haltingly and has just begun to read, John is articulate, high-energy and fascinated by computer games, especially his favorite, Minecraft. He also has behavior problems at school, Mrs. Gallucci said.

“He’s much better in school during structured time; during unstructured time is when I get the phone calls. John has done many, many things in school. John is the bully; he doesn’t get bullied. John has started food fights. John has thrown wet paper towels all over the bathrooMrs. John is very loud in the halls. Just mischievous stuff, but now it’s getting to be a big deal.”

The Galluccis found out a couple of years ago that John has a rare genetic duplication on part of his 17th chromosome, one that has been associated with intellectual delays and autism.

Both boys get in-home visits from therapeutic support staff, known as TSS aides, who spend time helping with daily activities, and from behavioral specialist consultant aides, who can help write treatment plans and go with them to doctors’ appointments, as well as from specialized therapists. Altogether, these visits, paid for by Medical Assistance, take up about 11 hours a week.

Joseph Gallucci, 10, lets out his energy by bouncing on a large rubber ball, something he does often. The bouncing is part of his self-stimulation routine, activity common in persons with autism.

The Galluccis also have enrolled both boys in numerous outside prograMrs. One of the best, she said, has been the equine therapy sessions Joe has participated in at Horses with Hope, a riding program for special needs children based in South Park and Washington, Pa.

“Within two months of starting there,” Mrs. Gallucci said, “Joe was flying through his occupational therapies. His balance increased, his throwing aim, everything just went through the roof. When he’s on the horse, he can be having a very bad week, but something about that horse walking calms him down and he’s good to go.”

Besides managing the family’s schedule, Mrs. Gallucci works at an office involved in land purchases for shale gas development. Mr. Gallucci, who recently went back to school for training in cybersecurity, is still looking for work.

What does the future hold?

“I want to see all four of my children with college-educated jobs, living in their own houses with their own wives and children and driving their own cars,” Mrs. Gallucci said without hesitation. “I’m pushing for that. The only one I worry about getting to that goal is Joe. Will he get there? I don’t know — but I’m hoping for that.

“Because eventually I’m going to die. Either Joe’s going to stand on his own two feet, or one of his brothers will have to help him, and what are their wives going to say? Are they going to want to deal with that? I don’t know.”

In the meantime, the Galluccis said, they make sure the boys are well cared for and not in the least hidden away.

“We don’t have a lot,” Bruno said, “but these kids are all fed very well, they play, they are in their community. Right now, we live for them.”

“We don’t have time to sit around and say ‘Oh, autism is so horrible’ and you should feel bad for me,” Mrs. Gallucci added. “I know a lot of people who do that, who sit and cry about how horrible everything is.

“OK, yeah, it’s bad — let’s move on from that.”

The Timeliness Of An Autistic Trait

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There is a saying in the autistic community, “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Some autistic quirks and characteristics, are harder to pin down than others. What is true for one person, is not for the next.

The autistic relationship with time and schedules is one of those characteristics. As with many things, it can be something obsessed about, or completely overlooked as unimportant.

Time can mean scheduling. This is important if you have a child that lives by the clock.

A time delay or change of plans can be the trigger for a major meltdown.

Other people with autism can get so involved inspecial interests that they completely lose track of time. They may forget to eat or be up well past midnight working on a project.

For some autistics, time, itself, becomes an obsession. They may actually wait outside of an event, for several minutes, to arrive exactly on time.

For social events in general, some autistic people like to arrive early, when few people are present to gradually acclimate to the environment. Others like to arrive late and disappear anonymously into the crowd.

It seems that each autistic person has their own relationship with time. Like all relationships, it has its challenges.

It can be an abusive slave-driver, or a friendly co-worker.

In the case of the late-night meal skipper, it can be neglected and ignored until it is too late.

Autistic time is flexible, and sometimes, non-existent.

Perhaps this is why so many on the spectrum are fans of the “Dr. Who” television series.

He has special interests, a handy way to escape an unpleasant environment, and a unique and creative experience of time.

He’s probably an Aspie.

Sleep? What’s Sleep??

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Kids With Autism Often Have Trouble Sleeping, Study Shows

TUESDAY, Oct. 1 (HealthDay News) — Many children with autism have poorer sleep quality than other youngsters until they reach their teens, a new study reveals.

According to one expert, the findings won’t come as a surprise to many parents of children with autism.

“This study further documents what has long been reported and suspected: that children with an autism spectrum disorder have more sleep problems than do their peers,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 14,000 children born in 1991-1992 in England. Parents provided information about the children’s sleep habits from when they were aged 6 months to about 11.5 years.

Of the children in the study, 86 were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by the time they were 11 years old. The final study analysis was based on 39 children with an autism spectrum disorder and about 7,000 children without autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by difficulties in social interactions and communications. Autism spectrum disorders encompass a wide range from mild to severe.

Before 2.5 years of age, there was no difference in sleeping patterns between the two groups of children. But after that point, children with autism tended to sleep less in total, with the greatest difference (43 minutes) persisting until about 11.5 years of age, according to the study published online Sept. 23 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Although the gap in total sleep narrowed after that age, children with autism still slept about 20 fewer minutes per day than other children until they reached their teens. The sleep differences were still evident even after the researchers accounted for other important factors, such as being born prematurely, having a low birth weight, mother’s education level, and social and economic status.

The sleep differences between children with autism and other youngsters appeared to be due to frequent bouts of waking during the night. Children with autism were much more likely than other children to wake three or more times a night, and this difference became even greater as the children grew older, the study authors noted.

By the time the children in the study were between 6 and 7 years old, more than 10 percent of those with autism were waking three times a night, compared with 0.5 percent of those without autism, the investigators found.

It’s unclear how this poor sleep quality affects children with autism, but prior research has suggested that sleep loss may affect brain development, according to study author Joanna Humphreys of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues in England. If that’s true, then these children may benefit from even a small, consistent increase in the amount of sleep they get, the authors concluded in a journal news release.

For his part, Adesman suggested more research is needed on whether sleep issues might take a toll on these children’s behaviors.

“Although children with an autism spectrum disorder often have behavior problems, and sleep problems are clearly associated with behavior problems in some children, this study did not examine whether there were more behavior problems in those children with an autism spectrum disorder who had sleep problems,” he noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

Is Obamacare What The Doctor Ordered For Kids With Autism?

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by Areva Martin, via the Huffington Post

On Oct. 1, our nation’s health care system will experience significant changes — changes that many are still debating and questioning. While Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wasted his constituents’ time grandstanding in hopes of thwarting implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions of deserving Americans are preparing to have greater access to affordable health care — access they never had before.

Despite the political wrangling over the ACA, commonly referred to as Obamacare, undeniably it is a game changer. An estimated 14 million people will access health care through a system of exchanges run by states and the federal government. Most people signing up for health care will get subsidies based on income and family size.

This means low-income families, including those with disabilities and special needs, will have more health care insurance and program options. Rather than traditionally depending on emergency rooms as primary care providers and straining over-burdened health care centers around the country, these families will be able to purchase low-cost health care coverage and access much needed wellness and rehabilitative programs thereby alleviating excessive hospital visits. Through several states’ exchanges, premiums will cost as low as $100.

Read the full article here: