Research Update: Brain Development, Mindfulness, Autism, and Educational Engagement

Salk scientists discover previously unknown requirement for brain development Salk researchers are publishing an article this month in Science magazine. Their experiment on mice found that when the thalamus is disconnected from the cortex of the brain during development visual processing was affected. The thalamus is a centrally located area of the brain primarily involved with connecting other areas of the brain involved with sensory processing and movement. It also controls sleep and levels of consciousness. When this area was separated from the cerebral cortex at birth in the mutated mice, differentiation between higher and lower level visual processing areas did not occur. This resulted in deficits in visual perception and other higher level visual tasks. This is new information, as it was previously thought that this differentiation was determined solely through genetics and predisposed to occur. Researcher Dennis O'Leary and his team are planning to continue researching areas of the brain related to autism and other developmental disorders.

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Research Update: Co-morbidity, Yoga, and Environmental Design

Nearly One-Third of Children with Autism Also Have ADHD A new study from Kennedy Krieger Institute researchers found that a significant number of children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They found that 31% of children with an ASD also had significant symptoms for ADHD. This is especially relevant because the new Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM-5) has revised the diagnostic criteria for these conditions, and a dual-diagnosis is now permitted. The researchers also found that the children with this dual-diagnosis tended to have more negative outcomes in regards to cognition, social participation, and activities of daily living, as well as more severe symptoms of ASD.

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Related Services and Recess

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"]Playground Playground (Photo credit: phalinn)[/caption] As the number of children diagnosed as overweight or obese increases, and a growing amount of evidence points to physical activity as a means of managing symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, greater attention is being placed on recess and physical activity. Trends in leisure activities in young children, including video games and other stationary activities, as well as greater emphasis on academic activities in the schools, have resulted in fewer opportunities for movement. There is a wealth of information regarding the benefits of exercise, including the recent report, "Nation's kids need to get more physical." The Institute of Medicine is recommending that physical education become a core subject, and that schools allow daily opportunities for children to be physically active, for at least 60 minutes a day.

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Research Update: Disability and Autism

New Research Suggests Possible Direction for Treatment of Autism This exciting study, completed by researchers at USC-Irvine, and published in Behavioral Neuroscience, looked at the impact of a treatment called sensory-motor or environmental enrichment on the behavior of boys with autism (ages 3-12). The treatment involved twice-daily, parent-led sensory enrichment sessions, where the boys were encouraged to explore and manipulate a variety of sensory stimuli. The materials were low in cost, and addressed the senses of touch, sight, sound, and smell. Benefits were measured in behavior, cognition, and parent report of symptoms. It was interesting because this is considered a new therapy for autism, while being similar in activities to many "sensory diets" that are used in occupational therapy!

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