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Posts Tagged ‘autism treatments’

By Roseann Schaaf, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

schaaf-kids

Courtesy: Roseann Schaaf, PhD

Life is a sensory experience! We touch, hear, feel our muscles, move our bodies, taste, and smell and use vision to take in information from the environment, process and integrate it to act and interact as well as to learn and grow. Upwards of 80% of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience differences in the way they perceive and process sensory information. This impacts the ways in which they participate in functional tasks such as speaking, moving, eating, dressing, interacting with others, playing, learning and working. These sensory features are now part of the diagnosis of autism in the DSM5.

As an occupational therapist and a neuroscientist, my interest in the sensory features of ASD developed from working with children and families who often articulated how decreased sensory perception, integration or sensory sensitivities affected their everyday lives. As we worked together to improve independence and skill in daily life activities, success at school and to foster social engagement, it became clear that we needed to address these sensory differences in order to achieve their desired goals. We used the principles of sensory integration (Ayres, 2005; Bundy, et al, 2001) to target these issues and saw positive results! To share our knowledge and test this approach we received funding to write a manualized protocol (Schaaf & Mailloux, 2015), test its effectiveness, and publish our findings (Schaaf, et al, 2014). This study showed that children with ASD who received the occupational therapy using sensory integration treatment performed significantly better in functional skills and individual goals compared to controls.

schaaf-kids2

Courtesy: Roseann Schaaf, PhD

We are now conducting a larger, more comprehensive study and are seeking families who have a child with ASD aged 6-9.5 years who may want to participate in the study. This study is a collaboration with Thomas Jefferson University and Albert Einstein Medical Center and is located in the Bronx, NY. Children will receive a full diagnostic battery and then be randomized to one of the treatments (Sensory Integration or a behavioral intervention) and will receive 3 one-hour sessions/week for a total of 30 treatments. Parents must be willing to travel to Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1225 Morris Park Avenue, Suite 1-C, Bronx, NY 10461). Participants will receive a total of $250 and a report of the child’s performance and assessment data at the end of the study. Children have a 1/3 chance of being randomized into the “No Treatment” arm of the study but will still receive all assessments and stipends for participation.

The report will indicate whether the child performed below, at, or above average in the last round of the following tests:

  • Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI-II)
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2)
  • Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)
  • Assessment of Motor and Process Skills (AMPS)
  • Evaluation of Social Interaction (ESI)
  • Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC)
  • Restrictive and Repetitive Behaviors Rating Scale Revised (RBS-R)
  • Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory Computer Adaptive Test (PEDI-CAT)
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders Behavioral Inventory
  • Sensory Processing Measure (SPM)

If you know of any families who are interested, please have them contact the study coordinator at 718-862-1817 or sophia.zhou@einstein.yu.edu. Learn more about the lab here and the study here.

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This is a guest post from ASF Science Writer Jerri Sparks Kaiser. Jerri, a parent of four children, one of whom has autism, blogs for ASF from a parent’s perspective about the latest autism research. A former Congressional Press Secretary, Jerri is an experienced science writer and has written specifically about autism for many years. Before her life in PR, she was a trained researcher having earned her B.A. in Psychology at UCLA. She currently lives with her family in New York.

By Jerri Sparks Kaiser

ASD

Photo: jshj

A new study by researchers at Vanderbilt University about giving melatonin to autistic children to help them sleep was published a few weeks ago and it deserves some attention.  Researchers gave 1 mg to 3 mg of melatonin to children with autism ages 3-9 years and noted improved sleep onset.  They are now trying to conduct larger scale studies.

Sleep difficulties have always been a problem for my son Jared.  One of the first things I noticed about his development was that he didn’t sleep very many hours in a row.  In fact, for the first 4 years he only slept 4 ½ hours at a time and after that it was still just 6 hours.  I don’t recall when he finally began sleeping at least 8 hours at a stretch (perhaps it was around age 7) but I know that it didn’t happen without medications prescribed by doctors.  Sleep deprivation was making it difficult for me and my spouse to conduct our daily lives and we resorted to sleeping in shifts. It is estimated that 50-80% of those with ASD are affected by insomnia and that impacts families as well.

I remember sleepily waiting in the elevator at UCLA Medical Center to take Jared to an early pediatrician appointment. He must have been around 10 weeks old.  Beside me in the elevator was another couple with a young infant like my son and we exchanged pleasantries about each baby’s cuteness and then I asked them how they were coping with the lack of sleep.  They smiled at each other and said “She’s already sleeping six hours in a row…”  It was the first of many moments where I sought solace in parents going through the same thing I was going through only to have that hope – that need – dashed.[

Since that time my son has gradually learned to sleep a lot longer, but his sleep is still shallow at times.  The slightest noise can wake him and then he’s up for the day no matter how little sleep he had before he was awakened.  When he is particularly excited about something that’s happening the next day he can’t sleep and will stay awake for 24 hours or more until the anticipated event has occurred.  We are searching for something to help him with this latest symptom, not only for his own health but also for the sake of our family.  Sleep disturbance affects everyone, not just the person experiencing it.  I never thought I’d still be going through sleep deprivation 14 years later.

We did try melatonin for Jared when he was much younger.  I remember it working but as fate would have it, other symptoms, such as running away and behavioral outbursts, took precedence over his sleep supplement and so we had to remove melatonin from his treatment.  The new medications he was placed on took care of his sleep issue until just recently.  This new study makes me wonder if perhaps we could introduce melatonin into his treatment once again and I am going to call his doctor about this.

Recently Jared asked me why he couldn’t sleep.  This is an emerging behavior because Jared is just now beginning to let us into his inner thoughts.  It’s very exciting!  The fact that he’s wondering about his own behaviors is encouraging to me.  I didn’t know what to tell him so I said the only thing a mother can say when she doesn’t have the answer yet: “I don’t know honey, but I’m going to find out and make it all better.”  And I will, someday, somehow.

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