autismunited.org » Blog http://www.autismunited.org Thu, 17 Jul 2014 00:17:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 News – Halifax camp for kids with autism hopes to expandhttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/halifax-camp-kids-autism-hopes-expand-804159.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/halifax-camp-kids-autism-hopes-expand-804159.html#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 00:12:08 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4159 A summer camp for children with autism in Halifax is hoping to expand, but organizers say it needs more funding first. The Ben James Summer Camp needs a permanent home. Currently, 15 kids come each week. All of the children get their own councillor. ‘We need this, times ten. We need this at March break.

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A summer camp for children with autism in Halifax is hoping to expand, but organizers say it needs more funding first. The Ben James Summer Camp needs a permanent home. Currently, 15 kids come each week. All of the children get their own councillor.

‘We need this, times ten. We need this at March break. We need this at Christmas time.’ – Kerry Houghton

Kids go on day trips to swim in a nearby lake, as well as taking part in bowling and basketball events. Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia, wants a permanent home for the camp. Now, it moves to the cheapest facilities each year. The camp runs on donations. “Just in Halifax, we support sixty children, with twenty families on the waiting list,” she said.

“The list would probably be longer, but families lose hope when you get to number twenty. This camp could definitely serve hundreds of children across the province.” Councillors like Jeremy Conrad give up their summers to work here, despite the low pay. “It’s such a great, positive experience. They are great; they just want to have fun and do great things in the summer and we want to give the best experience at camp for that reason,” he said.

One-on-one is important

Kerry Houghton said it’s perfect for her son Lex. “Just to know he is with a one-on-one person that understands autism and that I know he is going to be safe. It’s not a regular day camp so I know there are professionals,” she said. “We need this, times ten. We need this at March break. We need this at Christmas time. We need it.” Halifax may integrate the camp into other city-run camps. Meanwhile, the camp hopes donations increase.

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Michael Bublé Creates Video 6yr Boy Griffin with Autismhttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/michael-buble-creates-video-young-griffen-autism-804139.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/michael-buble-creates-video-young-griffen-autism-804139.html#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 17:49:31 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4139 Griffin is a 6 year old boy with severe Autism who lives in Calgary, AB. He has a passion for music, and has acquired an incredible love for Mr. Bublé. He asks for ‘Michael Buble’ throughout the day, and his therapists use Mr. Bublé’s videos as rewards for good work. Griffin goes to YouTube several

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Griffin is a 6 year old boy with severe Autism who lives in Calgary, AB. He has a passion for music, and has acquired an incredible love for Mr. Bublé. He asks for ‘Michael Buble’ throughout the day, and his therapists use Mr. Bublé’s videos as rewards for good work.

Griffin goes to YouTube several times a day, types in Bublé, and picks his favorite videos. He sleeps with Buble playing all night, and his therapists and parents have discovered that his music is incredibly calming when Griffin is overwhelmed or needs a sensory break. Mr Bublé’s music, and performances, truly speak to this remarkable little boy and has added so much to his life.

Griffin’s Uncle lee says: “Griffin is my nephew, all he does is dance around and listen to Michael Bublé’, for Christmas we got him a drum set and he freaking loved it! This is so cool, I just want to say thank you to Michael Bublé for doing this for griffin, it meant so much to him and the family. When he watched this he dances around and then blows a kiss to Michael at the end.”

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Why I Choose to Talk About Asperger’s Syndrome – Celina Miller’s Storyhttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/choose-talk-aspergers-syndrome-celina-millers-story-804125.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/choose-talk-aspergers-syndrome-celina-millers-story-804125.html#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:26:06 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4125 My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome nearly five years ago. I made the decision to wait to discuss it with him until he was nearly nine years old, about a year after his diagnosis, and I felt like he’d reached the age when he needed to understand himself better. My goal has always been

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My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome nearly five years ago. I made the decision to wait to discuss it with him until he was nearly nine years old, about a year after his diagnosis, and I felt like he’d reached the age when he needed to understand himself better. My goal has always been to protect his self esteem, give him tools to overcome challenges, and learn what works for him and perhaps why.

Isn’t that we all want? A better understanding of ourselves and a certain self-acceptance. As adults, we’ve learned how to recognize our strengths and understand not our limitations but our passions. We strive to move forward with our assets, whatever they may be. For many of us reading this article, it’s taken decades, perhaps half a lifetime to figure out where we stand with ourselves and find our place in this world. When presented with an exceptionality like an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s often necessary to jump start the process earlier in life. And honestly, what a blessing to begin to truly know oneself as early possible.

Our first conversation about Asperger’s took place in Jim’s psychologist’s office. Our doctor helped my husband and I navigate the discussion and answer questions. The process was painless and uneventful. Once Jim recognized that he had Asperger’s, he simply said “OK” and was ready to leave. It seemed as if it was no big deal to him.

We left the office that day and went about our lives as usual, not detecting a change in Jim’s demeanor. That went on for months; our normal (yet slightly abnormal) lives. Then one day, another conversation started. This one, not as easy.

I’d received a call from Jim’s school. Jim had acted out a bit, nothing too bad, but I needed to be aware so we could discuss. I remember it being a very typical kid situation, really, but with an ASD, we have to learn from each individual experience. Creating appropriate responses from one situation to the next doesn’t come naturally for people with an ASD.

“I know mom, I’m in trouble,” he said as he walked in the door that day from school.

“Well, you’re not necessarily in trouble, but let’s talk about this.” And I asked him why he did what he did and what he was thinking about. Jim responded that he didn’t know why he did it, he just couldn’t help it. He was really embarrassed and sad, and knew his teachers were disappointed. Then he just stared up at the ceiling, definitely in deep thought.

Then it happened, without warning he abruptly burst into tears. “Did I do this because I have Asperger’s?”

I felt dizzy. A knot appeared in my stomach. How should I respond?

“I don’t want to have Asperger’s. Why do I have it? How do I get rid of it?”

Alarm….pull the plug…total plant meltdown….where do I go on from here?! Panic began to set in. Suddenly, the answer came to me.

“I don’t know why you have Asperger’s, Jim, but you’re perfect. You’re exactly as you’re supposed to be. You make mistakes just like everyone else in the world. And do you know how your dad is deaf? Well he has that to work around. And look at him, he’s amazing. Doctors said he’d never speak and only sign; and that he’d have to go to a special school away from his family. But he went to speech therapy, he had special classes; and now he reads lips, speaks well, has a career and family. We’ve all got something, Jim. Nobody’s perfect, but we’re all special.”

As I spoke the words, I’d never realized how wonderful it would be that my husband’s hearing impairment was such an amazing tool that his son could use to compare himself; that this child could look to his father and know that he too could overcome any challenge.

This conversation happened nearly four years ago. Today, Jim and I talk about Asperger’s all the time. He asks what are some of his “things” (symptoms), and in response I ask him what he thinks they are. He tells me a few things he’d like to work on about himself, and I usually say I’ve had to work on the same things about myself. If you ask him about Asperger’s, Jim will say, “I have Asperger’s and I’m awesome.” I love that confidence.

Asperger’s is a situation; a piece of my son. It doesn’t define him, although it certainly affects him. Asperger’s has no bearing on his being…his soul. He’s different, not less. Special, but also the same. Jim is a loving, funny and deeply emotional young man. He’s overcome, and will continue to overcome, many challenges. In our family, we have chosen to talk about ourselves, what’s happening in our life and how we can work to make each day better. My husband is deaf, and there are ways in which we need to set up our life to make it work for us. So for my family, creating conversations about how we can move through life in a productive way, facing challenges— whether they be a hearing impairment, Asperger’s, or the myriad of situations that life inevitably presents us with— we’ve always found it more productive to talk about it.CelinaMiller2

Celina Miller is a writer, advocate, trained yoga instructor, musician, and mother to three — one of whom is affected by Asperger’s syndrome. The former editor-in-chief of YogaMom Magazine volunteers her time with various organizations to help people affected by autism, mental health issues or homelessness. A member of the Board of Directors at Oasis Center for Women and Children, Miller is the co-chair for a multi-million dollar expansion that will provide needed play therapy services and resources to children in need. A volunteer with Autism Speaks, Miller reviews grants and is a committee member for the Alabama Walk Now for Autism Speaks. In this capacity she meets with various organizations to encourage involvement and further raise awareness. You can visit her website and blog at celinamiller.com. Miller lives in Birmingham, AL with her husband and children.

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Autism Study – Link to Autism and Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancyhttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/autism-study-link-autism-pesticide-exposure-pregnancy-804123.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/autism-study-link-autism-pesticide-exposure-pregnancy-804123.html#comments Sun, 29 Jun 2014 16:10:27 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4123 A new study from California has found that children with an autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have mothers who lived close to fields treated with certain pesticides during pregnancy. Proximity to agricultural pesticides in pregnancy was also linked to other types of developmental delay among children. “Ours is the third study to specifically

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A new study from California has found that children with an autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have mothers who lived close to fields treated with certain pesticides during pregnancy.

Proximity to agricultural pesticides in pregnancy was also linked to other types of developmental delay among children.

“Ours is the third study to specifically link autism spectrum disorders to pesticide exposure, whereas more papers have demonstrated links with developmental delay,” said lead author Janie F. Shelton, from the University of California, Davis.

There needs to be more research before scientists can say that pesticides cause autism, she said. But pesticides all affect signalling between cells in the nervous system, she added, so a direct link is plausible.

California is one of only a few states in the U.S. where agricultural pesticide use is rigorously reported and mapped. For the new study, the researchers used those maps to track exposures during pregnancy for the mothers of 970 children.

The children included 486 with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 168 with a developmental delay and 316 with typical development. Developmental delay, in which children take extra time to reach communication, social or motor skills milestones, affects about 4 per cent of U.S. kids, the authors write. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 68 children has an ASD, also marked by deficits in social interaction and language.

In the new study, about a third of mothers had lived within a mile of fields treated with pesticides, most commonly organophosphates. Children of mothers exposed to organophosphates were 60 per cent more likely to have an ASD than children of non-exposed mothers, the authors report in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Autism risk was also increased with exposure to pyrethroid insecticides, as was the risk for developmental delay. Carbamate pesticides were linked to developmental delay but not ASDs.

For some pesticides, exposure seemed to be most important just before conception and in the third trimester, but for others it didn’t seem to matter when during pregnancy women were exposed.

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan speculated that pesticides drifted from crops through the air. The new study did not measure airborne pesticide levels, however. Landrigan directs the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and was not involved in the new study.

“One lesson or message for parents is to minimize or eliminate use of pesticides in their own homes,” Landrigan said.

News Source – The Globe and Mail

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Costs for Autism Care: Lifetime Cost Study Being Donehttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/adding-costs-lifetime-autism-care-804119.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/adding-costs-lifetime-autism-care-804119.html#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 16:05:42 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4119 One in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism varies greatly in its severity, but can affect an individual’s ability to interact socially, learn, speak, and work. New research puts a lifetime price tag on autism care at $2.4 million.

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One in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism varies greatly in its severity, but can affect an individual’s ability to interact socially, learn, speak, and work.

New research puts a lifetime price tag on autism care at $2.4 million. That’s how much it costs to care for a person with autism who also has an intellectual disability.

University of Pennsylvania researchers found that when no intellectual disability is involved, the lifetime cost is $1.4 million.

Adding up and analyzing any and all costs associated with caring for people with autism, researchers found special education services drive costs the most. Lost parental wages are another major factor because parents stay home to care for their kids.

David Mandell heads the University of Pennsylvania Center for Mental Health Policy and Services research, and led this study.

He says putting a price tag on care could lead to new approaches in treatment and care. “It means that we get under the hood of what causes these costs, and that we begin to think about how we come up with policies that provide more effective and efficient services for individuals with autism and their families.” he said.

For example, work places could be more supportive of employees who have children with autism, Mandell said. And employment opportunities for individuals who have the disorder are also important, he said.

News Source – News Works.org

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News — Air Pollution Linked to Autism and Schizophreniahttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/news-air-pollution-linked-autism-schizophrenia-804105.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/news-air-pollution-linked-autism-schizophrenia-804105.html#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 18:32:08 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4105 A new study has revealed that exposure to air pollution damages the brain of developing mice, affecting the same area of the brain that is known to play a role in autism and schizophrenia in humans. Researchers from the University of Rochester in the US found that when mice were regularly exposed to fine particle

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Young-mother-with-kids-looking-at-chimneys-pollutingA new study has revealed that exposure to air pollution damages the brain of developing mice, affecting the same area of the brain that is known to play a role in autism and schizophrenia in humans.

Researchers from the University of Rochester in the US found that when mice were regularly exposed to fine particle pollution in the first two weeks of their life, they developed a range of brain abnormalities which are consistent with patterns seen in humans suffering from schizophrenia and autism. These harmful effects were mainly observed in the male mice; a finding that corresponds to the fact that boys and men are more likely to be diagnosed with both of these disorders.

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may play a role in autism, as well as in other neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Exposure to fine particle air pollution was found to cause inflammation in the brains of the young mice, damaging the development of white matter. The lateral ventricles, cavities in the brain which are filled with cerebrospinal fluid and protect the brain from trauma, were found to be enlarged to up to three times their normal size, filling up the free space in the underdeveloped brains. This dilation of the ventricles has previously been linked to autism and schizophrenia in humans. In addition, after breathing the contaminated air, the male mice exhibited a high level of glutamate in the brain, a neurotransmitter found to be abnormally high in individuals suffering from these same two conditions.

The air pollution created in the lab by Cory-Slechta and her colleagues matches the level typically present during rush hour in a medium-sized US city. The mice were exposed to the impure air for four hours a day during four days of their first week of life, followed by a further four days during the second week after birth. Developmentally, these timings correspond to the period just before and just after birth in human babies.

The study focused on the ultrafine particles in polluted air, believed by the researchers to be more detrimental to health than their larger counterparts, which can be filtered out by the nose and lungs. Although most previous research on the adverse health effects of pollution has focused on the consequences for the respiratory system and heart function, earlier studies have linked airborne pollutants to other neurodevelopmental problems, including cognitive decline and depression.

The new findings correspond with a recent study by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, in which children who spent their first year of life in areas with high levels of air pollution were found to be three times as likely to develop autism than those starting out in cleaner surroundings. Currently, an estimated one per cent of people in the UK could be affected by a disorder on the autistic spectrum. The prevalence of autism is growing, and researchers are keen to understand the reasons behind what some describe as an “autism epidemic”. Earlier this month a report emerged linking the condition to higher levels of testosterone in the womb. Schizophrenia affects a similar number of people, and, like autism, its causes are far from being fully understood.

According to Cory-Slechta, her discovery does not necessarily mean that pollution is responsible for causing autism or schizophrenia. “I never use the word ’causes,’” she told USA Today. “I try to make people understand it’s the interaction of all these risk factors in your life, over your lifespan, that come together.”

However, she does believe that changes in regulation should be considered: “I think these findings are going to raise new questions about whether the current regulatory standards for air quality are sufficient to protect our children”.

Source – The Independent (UK)

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Treating ADHD Without Medicationshttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/treating-adhd-without-medications-803015.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/treating-adhd-without-medications-803015.html#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 13:18:13 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/blog/?p=3015 As the numbers behind ADHD continue to grow, so does the demand for treating without the use of ADHD medications. Behavioural and developmental disorders have been on the rise throughout the United States rapidly, with one in every six children diagnosed. Autism, ADHD and various other learning disabilities seen everywhere, and as the numbers continue

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As the numbers behind ADHD continue to grow, so does the demand for treating without the use of ADHD medications. Behavioural and developmental disorders have been on the rise throughout the United States rapidly, with one in every six children diagnosed. Autism, ADHD and various other learning disabilities seen everywhere, and as the numbers continue to grow so does demand for solutions and support.

There are a lot of cases where ADHD medications are not working the way parents thought and the side effects are preventing a lot of families from using these medications. Some families are going completely without while others are using multi-treatment approaches, but in the end having the ability to treat ADHD without the reliance on medication is beneficial for many.

Minimizing ADHD Symptoms Without Medicinal Support

There are several different ways families are going from using ADHD medications to going a more natural route for minimizing ADHD symptoms. Please remember, we always recommend talking with your pediatrician before making any changes to your child’s diet/routine/health.

Sensory Integration

Those who struggle with ADHD generally have some sort of Sensory Integration Dysfunction. There are instances this is not the case but numbers continue to grow with the amount of cases. Sensory Integration Dysfunction, also known as Sensory Processing Disoder (SPD) struggle with sensory input and are unable to process the way others may.

By offering children an environment that has the necessary levels of stimulation; children are able to cope with SPD more easily and able to regain control if necessary. This is an environment that will change with each individual child and may take time to get it just right for your child.

Green Play 

Studies have been done and shown that children with ADHD show improved function and less ADHD symptoms when exposed to natural settings such as woods, parks and fields.

Having a green play setting to be able to participate in such activities as walking, gardening, sports and other outdoor activities will minimize your child’s ADHD symptoms and allow for regular outdoor fun.

People also are turning to green play spaces to have positive influence on activities that may not always been liked such as reading and homework. By doing these activities in the green space children are showing better focus and control; and less ADHD symptoms.

Behavior Management

One of the most commonly used strategies is behavior management and is in most cases the first thing families try when minimizing ADHD symptoms. A child’s environment is restructured and modified for the child, catering to their stress levels and other symptoms seen with ADHD.

Behavior management assists a child in making sense of the world and helps them understand cause and effect; having the ability to predict behavior consequences.

Healthy Diet & Exercise Routines

As with any child whether struggling with ADHD or other abilities, having a healthy diet and exercise routine can have many positive effects on a child. There are a lot of diets now designed to assist those with ADHD symptoms including:

  • Feingold Diet
  • Gluten Free Casein Free Diets (GFCF)

It has also been shown that incorporating Omega 3 fatty acids into a diet can help minimize ADHD symptoms. There are many natural supplements available for increasing daily Omega 3 fatty acids intake. Combine a healthy diet with regular exercise and good sleeping routines, and you’ll soon see a rapid decrease in ADHD symptoms.

Overall, there are a lot of new methods being used to help minimize symptoms of ADHD. Every child will be different with what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t give up on things quickly as your child also needs time to adjust too. Have patience and remember, you are their biggest support!

 

 

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News – Gene Network Involved in Autism, ADHD, Schizophreniahttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/news-gene-network-involved-autism-adhd-schizophrenia-804101.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/news-gene-network-involved-autism-adhd-schizophrenia-804101.html#comments Sun, 08 Jun 2014 14:46:13 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4101 Researchers have discovered several gene networks involved in autism. One was also found to affect some patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia — raising the possibility that all three neurological disorders could be treated in a similar way. “Neurodevelopmental disorders are extremely heterogeneous, both clinically and genetically,” said study leader Hakon Hakonarson, M.D., Ph.D., director of

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Researchers have discovered several gene networks involved in autism. One was also found to affect some patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia — raising the possibility that all three neurological disorders could be treated in a similar way.

“Neurodevelopmental disorders are extremely heterogeneous, both clinically and genetically,” said study leader Hakon Hakonarson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“However, the common biological patterns we are finding across disease categories strongly imply that focusing on underlying molecular defects may bring us closer to devising therapies.”

Research findings, based on a large analysis of DNA from thousands of patients, may one day provide new targets for autism drugs.

The study, published in Nature Communications, pulls from gene data from CHOP’s genome center as well as from the Autism Genome Project and the AGRE Consortium, both part of the organization Autism Speaks.

The research is a genome-wide association study comparing more than 6,700 patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) to over 12,500 control subjects. It was one of the largest studies of copy number variations (CNVs) in autism ever conducted. CNVs are deletions or duplications of DNA sequences.

The researchers previously reported that 10 percent or more of ADHD patients have CNVs in genes along the glutamate receptor metabotropic (GRM) pathway, while other studies have found GRM gene defects in schizophrenia as well.

Based on their findings, Hakonarson is planning a clinical trial in selected ADHD patients of a drug that activates the GRM pathway.

“If drugs affecting this pathway prove successful in this subset of patients with ADHD, we may then test these drugs in autism patients with similar gene variants,” he said.

In ASDs and other complex neurodevelopmental disorders, common gene variants often have very small individual effects, while very rare gene variants have stronger effects.

“Even though our own study was large, it captures only about 20 percent of genes causing ASDs,” said Hakonarson, who added that still larger studies are needed to further investigate the genetic underpinnings of autism.

“However, strong animal data support an important role for the glutamate receptor pathway in socially impaired behaviors modeling ASDs. Because the GRM pathway seems to be a major driver in three diseases – autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia – there is a compelling rationale for investigating treatment strategies focused on this pathway.”

News Source – Psych Central 

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Summer Camps Benefit Youths of all Abilitieshttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/summer-camps-benefit-youths-abilities-804089.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/summer-camps-benefit-youths-abilities-804089.html#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 09:43:43 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4089 Over the past decade there has been a continued growth in summer camps that cater to the needs and requirements of all abilities. The camps are geared for you with physical or cognitive disabilities are offered through camps all across the US and Canada. The camps are held to benefit teens and preteens with diabetes,

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Over the past decade there has been a continued growth in summer camps that cater to the needs and requirements of all abilities. The camps are geared for you with physical or cognitive disabilities are offered through camps all across the US and Canada.

The camps are held to benefit teens and preteens with diabetes, autism or limited vision, as well as camps for youths with amputations and spinal injuries have been scheduled throughout the summer.

There is even instances of camps that allow siblings and riding camps for all abilities scheduled throughout the summer months.

Why Summer Camp Could Benefit Your Child

Summer camps have shown to help children with the development of self esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through activities such as sports, recreation and educational programs. Youth are given the opportunity to try new things in an environment that is designed for them.

If you are hoping to send your child of all abilities to summer camp this year we highly recommend it! Many camps offer all ability camps that you may not even know about. Simply contact your local camp to learn more.

Inclusion Summer Camps for All Abilities

The following are some of the summer camps we know of that offer inclusion programs for those on the spectrum and of all abilities:

If you know of any other camps please submit them in the comments below!

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Sick Kids scientists figure out formula for predicting autismhttp://www.autismunited.org/blog/sick-kids-scientists-figure-formula-predicting-autism-804085.html http://www.autismunited.org/blog/sick-kids-scientists-figure-formula-predicting-autism-804085.html#comments Sat, 31 May 2014 16:26:57 +0000 http://www.autismunited.org/?p=4085 Researchers have found a way to predict autism at a younger age, which will enable critical interventions to occur much earlier in a child’s life. A year-long study at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is the first to sort through variations within genes and invent a new technique for identifying which genetic variations

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autism25nw1Researchers have found a way to predict autism at a younger age, which will enable critical interventions to occur much earlier in a child’s life.

A year-long study at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is the first to sort through variations within genes and invent a new technique for identifying which genetic variations are most likely to cause autism.

By looking at all the available genetic data on autism – the genomes of 3,000 North American and European families – the scientists figured out a formula for calculating the genetic probability that a person has autism spectrum disorder.

The genes that contain variations that lead to autism are turned on during prenatal development. “We’ve stumbled upon the core group of genes that is necessary for human cognition,” said Stephen Scherer, senior scientist at Sick Kids Hospital and lead author of the study published Sunday in Nature Genetics.

Because the findings suggest that autism genes are active early in the development of the brain, they will help address the clinical demand for a diagnostic test for very young children.

As many as one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, most after the age of four, but the sooner the intervention, the better the outcome for these kids.

Everyone has genetic variations, called mutations among scientists, but researchers have had difficulty determining which variations lead to autism. To overcome this obstacle, the autism research community compiled a list of autism risk genes, or genes that exist in many unrelated people with autism but that don’t generally exist in people without autism. There are so many possible variations within these listed genes that, unless an identical and known variation is found, it’s impossible to know what impact this variation will have with respect to autism. Current genetic diagnostic testing considers around 100 genes but we don’t know exactly what autism symptoms these genes are associated with.

For example, SHANK3 is a gene that is often involved in autism testing. If there is a mutation in one area of the gene, it will cause autism – but if a mutation occurs in another area of the same gene, it won’t.

“That’s the big enigma in the field,” Dr. Scherer said.

To try to solve the problem, they started looking for patterns in known autism risk genes. “We didn’t look at the gene as an entire unit,” he said. They focused on exons, the protein-coding parts of genes.

“It’s those segments of genes that are turned on very early in brain development and are very highly evolutionarily conserved – those are almost always found to be involved in autism,” he said.

“We’re going to try to develop this into a tool that clinicians that use – and that will happen in the next year,” said Dr. Scherer.

The findings are already attracting interest from other researchers like Lineagen, a research-based genetic diagnostic company based in Salt Lake City.

“We are very interested in talking to Sick Kids and Dr. Scherer about incorporating his findings into our current diagnostic testing,” said Lineagen president Michael Paul.

“[Dr. Scherer is] one of the pre-eminent researchers in the autism genetics field,” said Dr. Robert Ring, chief science officer at Autism Speaks.

Dr. Ring says there are no medicines for the core symptoms of autism, which are repetitive behaviour and difficulty with social interactions and communication. Two antipsychotic drugs, originally developed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are sometimes used to treat associated symptoms of autism. “The good news for families here is the activity in this area [drug development] is growing every day,” says Dr. Ring.

Dr. Scherer’s findings open up a novel biological landscape of targets for drug developers looking to treat autism symptoms.

A similar research approach could be used to discover genes that cause other conditions involving cognition, like schizophrenia or intellectual disability, but autism had the advantage because of the large amount of existing genetic data.

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