Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recent research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that Autism Spectrum Disorders result from a mis-wiring of connections in the developing brain, leading to improper information flow. Specifically, the route between the eye's retina and the visual area of the brain might be deficient. Researchers at the Children's Hospital in Boston included patients in their study with a rare disorder known as Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). Autism Spectrum Disorders affect about 25 to 50 of TSC patients. The finding in this study might also explain why people with TSC have seizures and intellectual disabilities. TSC causes benign tumors throughout the body, including the brain. But patients with TSC may have autism, epilepsy or intellectual disabilities even in the absence of these growths. Now, researchers provide evidence that changes in one of the TSC's causative genes may prevent growing nerve fibers from finding their proper destinations in the developing brain. Researchers believe their findings may have general relevance for the organization of the developing brain. Scientists speculate that in autism, wiring may be abnormal in the areas of the brain involved in social cognition.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

New study to be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, shows that while genetics play a key role in children's initial reading skills, the environment plays an important role in reading growth over time. The study participants were 314 Ohio twins participating in the Western Reserve Reading Project, including both identical twins and same-sex fraternal twins. The twins began the study when they were in kindergarten or first grade and were assessed annually for two years. The twins were given a 90-minute battery of reading-based measures, including tasks measuring word and letter identification, the ability to sound out words, and the speed at which children could name a series of letters. The findings showed that when children start out reading, both genetics and environment play a role in readings skills, depending on the skills assessed. For word and letter identification, genetics explained about one-third of the test results, while environment explained two-thirds. For vocabulary and sound awareness, it was equally split between genetics and environment. For the speed tests, it was three-quarters genetic. But when the researchers measured growth in reading skills, environment became much more important. The results of this study give further evidence that children can make gains in reading during their early school years, above and beyond the important genetic factors that influence differences in reading.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

New study, to be published in the journal, Autism Research, suggests children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders process sound and language slower than children without Autism. Autistic Spectrum Disorders affect as many as one percent of U.S. children. Researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia compared 25 children ages 10 to 17 with Autism to age-matched typically developing children. The children with Autism had an average delay of 11 milliseconds (about 1/100 of a second) in their brain responses to sounds, compared to the control children. Among the group with Autism, the delays were similar, whether or not the children had language impairments. The researchers indicated that more work needs to be done before this can become a standard tool, but this pattern of delayed brain response may be refined into the first imaging marker for Autism. Psychologists and other caregivers typically rely on clinical judgments, such as behavioral observations, often not until a child reaches school age. If researchers can develop imaging results into standardized diagnostic tests, they may be able to diagnose Autism as early as infancy, allowing earlier intervention and treatment.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

New study, to be published in the January 1, 2010 issue of the journal Psychological Science, illustrates the gap between intelligence and reading difficulty in children with Dyslexia. Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., professor at the Yale School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics, and co-director of the newly formed Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, used data from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, an ongoing 12-year study of cognitive and behavioral development in a sample of 445 Connecticut schoolchildren. Shaywitz and her team tested each child in reading every year and tested for IQ every other year. The researchers found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time. But in children with Dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. This explains why a child with Dyslexia can be both bright and not read well. These findings provide evidence to support the concept that Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty with reading in children who otherwise have the intelligence to read.