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Abilify Effective Against Behavioral Symptoms of ASD

By Chelsea Toledo, M.A. on February 27, 2019

Background: While no standardized treatment exists to treat the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a range of therapeutic strategies may be employed, depending on the specifics of a particular ASD case. Because of the overlap between ASD and certain mental health conditions, some research has focused on the possibility of treating ASD with existing pharmaceutical therapies.

 

What’s New: A recent review compiled evidence from a series of clinical studies and trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of the drug aripiprazole in treating people with ASD. Aripiprazole, manufactured by Otsuka under the brand name Abilify, is an antipsychotic drug commonly used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, and major depression. In recent years, aripiprazole was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat irritability in children and adolescents with ASD.

 

Combining the results from three studies evaluating results in 408 participants between 1995 and 2017, the researchers found:

 

  • Aripiprazole was safe and well-tolerated among the study participants.
  • Aripiprazole was effective in treating behavioral ASD symptoms, including irritability, hyperactivity, noncompliance, and repetitive movements.
  • Aripiprazole was not effective in treating lethargy or social withdrawal in participants with ASD.

 

Why it’s important: This article suggests that aripiprazole may be an effective treatment strategy for some people with behavioral issues related to ASD. Future research on a larger sample of individuals could clarify the best contexts for leveraging aripiprazole.


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Study Sheds Light on Development of Neurons in ASD

By Chelsea Toledo, M.A. on January 14, 2019

Background: Stem cells are cells that have the potential to grow into many of the body’s different cell types during the process of development. To better understand development, scientists often rely on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are adult cells that have been reprogrammed to emulate embryonic stem cells. This allows scientists to model the development of diseases and other conditions outside of the body.

 

What’s New: A recent study explored the development of brain cells, or neurons, derived from iPSCs taken from people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as compared to those from their typically developing peers. The researchers took skin cell samples from 8 people with ASD and 5 people without ASD between the ages of 6 and 19. They transformed those cells into iPSCs, from which they coaxed neuronal cells.

 

In observing the development of the neuronal cells, the researchers found key differences in the cells that came from people with ASD, including:

 

  • The cells grew to a bigger size with more complex branches.
  • Networks of the cells behaved differently, with certain brain development processes beginning earlier.
  • Those brain processes involved genes that have been associated with ASD.

 

Why it’s important: This study sheds light on the early development of ASD. Future studies could refine strategies for earlier diagnosis.

 

Image: Neuronal cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences/National Institutes of Health)


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Different Posture Control an Early Feature of ASD

By Chelsea Toledo, M.A. on November 29, 2018

Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized mainly by differences in communication and social behavior. However, motor delays and differences have also been observed in children with ASD. To date, studying these differences has proven difficult, with requirements for labor-intensive coding subject to human error.

 

What’s New: A recent study suggests that computer technology could be leveraged to gather more precise measurements of body movements by people with ASD. The researchers measured the degree to which children were able to control their posture, an indicator of neurological and muscular stability.

 

Focusing on 104 children between the ages of 16 and 31 months, the researchers found:

 

  • The 22 children who were ultimately diagnosed with ASD moved their heads at much higher rates than their typically developing peers when presented with a stimulus, such as a program on a screen.

 

  • These atypical movements appeared to be the result of a lack of muscular control, as opposed to being distracted.

 

Why it’s important: This article suggests that children with ASD exhibit differences in the control of their posture beginning in very early childhood. Computer technology can provide precise measurements of these patterned differences, providing a possible biomarker for ASD.


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What strategies work for parents of children with ASD?

By Chelsea Toledo, M.A. on October 30, 2018

Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often presents with behavioral issues in children that can be challenging for parents to manage. These include irritability, non-compliance, defiance, and anxiety. These issues tend to be more severe in children with ASD than in those with typical development or those with intellectual disability.

 

What’s New: Researchers recently conducted a meta-synthesis, combining findings from 69 qualitative studies on strategies leveraged by parents of children with ASD who demonstrated “problem behaviors.” After summarizing these findings, they organized parental strategies into nine categories:

 

  • Accommodating the child
  • Modifying the environment
  • Providing structure, routine, and occupation
  • Supervision and monitoring
  • Managing non-compliance with everyday tasks and activities
  • Responding to problem behavior
  • Managing distress
  • Maintaining safety
  • Analyzing and planning

 

Their analysis revealed that parents of children with ASD had to leverage a greater number of strategies to pre-empt and address their children’s behavior than other parents. They also found that the strategies used by parents of children with ASD were more complex than those leveraged by other parents.

 

Why it’s important: This analysis suggests that parents of children with ASD tailor their approaches to manage specific differences in children with ASD – such as sensory sensitivities or rigidities in routine. Future research could formalize these strategies to aid parents raising children with ASD.


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Teens with ASD “Compensate” for Better Social Skills

By Chelsea Toledo, M.A. on October 10, 2018

Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by differences in communication and social behavior. Research has suggested that people with ASD experience deficits in theory of mind – the ability to attribute emotions, beliefs, intents, desires and other mental states to themselves and to others – and that these deficits underlie the social differences perceived among people with ASD. However,  people with ASD vary widely in their social abilities. Are there any factor(s) that compensate for impairments in social skills?

 

What’s New: A recent study set out to determine patterns explaining why some young people with ASD seem to have better social skills than others. In total, 136 participants with ASD between the ages of 10 and 15 – chosen from those already enrolled in the Social Relationships Study in the UK – participated in the study, which involved a series of tasks and questionnaires.

 

The researchers identified two major groups of interest in this study:

  • Low compensators, who had low scores on both the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Theory of Mind assessment.
  • High compensators, who had high scores on the ADOS in spite of low scores on the Theory of Mind assessment.

High compensators had higher IQ and better executive functioning (i.e., self-control), as compared to low compensators. High compensators also had higher levels of anxiety than their low compensating peers.

 

Why it’s important: This article suggests that – contrary to popular belief – people with good social skills don’t have a milder form of ASD. Rather, they are compensating with their other strengths. The impacts of this compensation, including anxiety, merit further study.


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Small Study Shows Promising Results for 3i Play Therapy

By Chelsea Toledo, M.A. on October 2, 2018

Background: While no standardized treatments exist for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), treatment strategies have been devised which vary based on the type and severity of symptom presentation. Relatively few studies have assessed potential changes in outcomes among children with ASD who undergo play therapy.

 

What’s New: A recent study evaluated a type of play therapy called 3i, which stands for “interactive, intensive, and individual.” The researchers administered the therapy – which consisted of sensory games (Phase I), symbolic play (Phase II), and interactive play with peers (Phase III) – to 20 French children between the ages of 2 and 14 over the course of 24 months.

 

The researchers found:

  • At the end of 24 months, participants showed significant behavioral and developmental improvement as measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) and Nidel Imitation Scale;
  • Communication also improved among the participants, with the assessed age of communication increasing by 34%;
  • Improvements in the VABS socialization score – which increased 83%, on average – occurred more dramatically among participants who had spent the most time doing the 3i regimen.

 

Why it’s important: This article suggests that 3i play therapy could improve developmental and behavioral outcomes in children with ASD. Future research could demonstrate which children show the most improvement using this technique, informing caregivers’ and clinicians’ decisions around therapy.


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