Baby brain scans can predict who is likely to develop autism

A machine-learning algorithm has analysed brain scans of 6-month-old children and predicted with near-certainty whether they will show signs of autism when they reach the age of 2. The finding means we may soon be able to intervene before symptoms appear, although whether that would be desirable is a controversial issue.

“We have been trying to identify autism as early as possible, most importantly before the actual behavioural symptoms of autism appear,” says team member Robert Emerson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Previous work has identified that bundles of nerve fibres in the brain develop differently in infants with older siblings with autism from how they do in infants without this familial risk factor. The changes in these white matter tracts in the brain are visible at 6 months.

For the new study, Emerson and his team did fMRI brain scans of 59 sleeping infants, all of whom were aged 6 months and had older siblings with autism, which means they are more likely to develop autism themselves.

Connecting the dots

The scans collected data from 230 brain regions, showing the 26,335 connections between them. When the team followed-up with the children at the age of 2, 11 had been diagnosed with an autism-like condition. The team used the brain scans from when the babies were 6 months old and behavioural data from when the children were 2 years old to train a machine-learning program to identify any brain connectivity patterns that might be linked to later signs of autism, such as repetitive behaviour, difficulties with language, or problems relating socially to others.

After the training, the program used only the patterns from the 6-month-old brains to predict which of the children would show signs of autism at 2 years old. It correctly identified nine of the 11 who had been diagnosed at that age.

“The study confirms that autism has a biological basis, manifest in the brain before behavioural symptoms appear, and that autism is not due to environmental effects that occur after 6 months, for example, vaccinations,” says Uta Frith of University College London. “This still needs pointing out.”

The goal is to use such a classifier system to identify infants likely to develop autism at an early age. “That is the idea,” says Emerson. “What we desperately need to do is replicate the study first.”

Boosting communication

The ability to predict who will develop behaviours linked to autism raises the prospect of giving training to parents so they can reduce the impact of some less-positive aspects of autism. Emily Jones of Birkbeck, University of London, and her colleagues have studied early interventions in which parents enhance their own responses to an infant’s social communication cues and behaviours. “We have shown that those kinds of interventions can help in reducing symptoms long term, both behaviourally and also in the brain,” says Jones.

About 20 per cent of children with a high familial risk of autism go on to be diagnosed with the condition, but only around 1.5 per cent of the general population have autism. If Emerson’s system can provide a way to predict which high-risk infants might benefit from early interventions, the challenge will be to extend the technique to work for children with a lower likelihood of developing autism.

“Even if the classification works well on the present data set, we don’t know how well it would work with a completely new set,” says Frith, who warns that the machine learning algorithms could lead to false positives.

The idea of intervening before behavioural characteristics appear is a controversial one. Many people consider autism to be a fundamental part of their personality, and although some autistic people have substantial difficulty communicating or forming relationships, some people with autism value traits such as abilities to concentrate, pay attention to detail or see things from a novel perspective. It’s hard to know whether early intervention could disrupt these.

In theory, machine-learning algorithms may be able to identify not just children who are likely to develop autism, but those who are likely to have particular problems, such as difficulties with language. If so, then early intervention therapies could be targeted to those who would benefit from help fostering those specific skills. “That probably could remove some of the controversy,” says Jones.


Woman stepping on man

Borderline Personality Disorder Is Linked To Masochism In Women

Among women, sexual masochism is one of the most common forms of paraphilia. However, its etiology and clinical correlations remained unknown — until now.

A new study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, examined 60 women diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, along with 60 others that suffered from a different personality disorder.

According to researchers, women with BPD were ten times more likely to have masochism traits, compared to women who did not suffer from such personality disorder.

Furthermore, researchers also noted that masochism found in women with BPD fantasized about being whipped, tied up, and spanked.

However, make no mistake: Women who are diagnosed with BPD does not necessarily mean that they have masochism traits.

Instead, researchers suggested that masochistic women suffering from BPD may have been more likely to suffer from childhood sexual abuse, as the data concluded.

In an interview with PsyPost‘s Eric Dolan, Alvaro Frias Ibanez, one of the lead researchers of the study, gave the following statement in regards to the findings.

“Based on my clinical experience, clinicians should address whether borderline patients may have sado-masochistic sexual disorder, specifically in order to avoid forthcoming sexual risk behaviors and also as a manner to treat with trauma-related symptomatology.”

Sexual abuse may play a major role in the comorbidity of both disorders; but more research needs to be done to investigate this link.



How You Can Help Me Turn Darkness Into Light for Friends During Times of Need

I’m currently in my seventh week in a hospital where I’m trying to fix both my body and mind, which have been somewhat cruelly abused by anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can feel quite a lonely place, both physically and mentally, but one of the things I have found that can always lift the fog a little is when the postman comes calling with a handwritten card from someone I care about. 

The power of even the simplest of handwritten messages to penetrate the darkness a little got me to thinking about how great it would be if we could mobilize people to reach out to their friends at difficult times — whether that’s due to mental or physical illness, bereavement or any other issue. Often at these times, as friends, we really want to support but we just don’t know what to say.

And so “Together we can: Cards to Send to Friends Facing Hard Times” was born.

Myself and my friend Caro (the creative genius!) launched it as a Kickstarter campaign with the aim of raising enough money to produce and distribute 3,000 cards that pledgers could send to their loved ones. Each pack of cards will also be supplied with simple suggestions about how to support a friend through difficult times.

And the response has been tremendous! We are hoping to raise £5k in 30 days, which looks hopeful as we hit the £2k mark in under 24 hours. Many people’s pledges are simple and are essentially advance purchases of the cards, whilst others have made a pledge that will enable them to co-create a card with us, have their pet featured or be a VIP at our launch party. We hope that you’d like to support our campaign too and help us reach our £5k target. The cards will ship all over the world, lighting darkness with smiles wherever they go.

We’ve aimed for a mixture of kind, supportive and funny cards so there should be something to suit everyone. If the project continues to capture imaginations, then I hope we will grow the range in response to our network’s suggestions and keep it as an ongoing endeavor and continual fund raiser for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust children and young people’s mental health program (which funds things like our webinar series designed for anyone working with or caring for a young person with a mental health issue) and our weekly mental health podcast.

Please take a look and consider joining those who have already pledged to help turn this dream into a reality and help turn darkness into light for friends during times of need. 



Low-carb or low-fat – or neither?

The world of diet and weight loss can be confusing; is it better to go low-carb or low-fat?

In the tug-o-war between low carb or low fat, which one wins the war-o-weight?

It’s a question various experts are keen to understand. There are two basic arguments around weight-gain or loss. The first is that it doesn’t matter exactly what you eat because a ‘calorie is a calorie’ regardless of where it comes from. The second is that the macronutrient breakdown (fats, proteins, carbs) does matter because they have different effects on the hormones that determine when fatty acids are absorbed by fat cells and when they are released for energy.

Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, designed two studies in an attempt to test both hypotheses.

The food sources of calories matter very much indeed, and nearly everyone would be better off eating less sugar.

The food sources of calories matter very much indeed, and nearly everyone would be better off eating less sugar.

“The argument is that people are consuming too many carbohydrates, which drive up insulin levels in the blood,” Hall told the Centre for Science in the Public Interest last week.

“Insulin causes the body’s fat cells to suck in too many calories, and because calories are trapped in the fat cells, the rest of the body is starving. That makes you hungrier, so you eat more calories.”

Meanwhile, the body, thinking it is starving, “slows down its metabolic rate, so it burns fewer calories”.

Hall’s first study was titled: Do carbs drive you to gain more body fat because they boost levels of the hormone insulin? 

In it,19 participants lived in-house for one week so that the researchers could control what they ate. Their diet cut about 3300 kilojoules of fat or carbs.

“When we cut carbs, daily insulin secretion went down,” says Hall. This was contrary to what they expected.

If the carbohydrate-insulin theory was correct, the carb-cutting should have boosted fat loss “while relieving the internal starvation and therefore causing calorie burning to go up”.

Instead, they burned fewer kilojoules Hall explained.

In the second study, participants ate a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet for one month, before their carb intake was cut to just five per cent, while they “cranked the fat up to 80 per cent, and kept protein and calories constant”.

It again failed to show that cutting carbs sped up weight-loss more than cutting fat.

“The rate of fat loss actually slowed down for the first two weeks, and then picked back up to the normal rate again for the last two weeks,” Hall said, adding:

“If anything, there is a statistically significant greater fat loss and calorie burning on a low-fat diet. But the effects are so small that they’re physiologically meaningless. Sometimes you can’t see any significant difference, and sometimes you can see a few pounds difference that is clinically meaningless.”

In a new meta-analysis of 32 other “controlled feeding” studies, Hall found similar findings.

So ‘calorie is a calorie’ then? Not quite.

Harvard’s David Ludwig, a proponent of the low-carb, high-fat movement, argued there were design flaws in Hall’s research and noted the importance of the type of carb (or fat) we eat.

The carb-insulin problem, he said was the result of “all the fast-digesting, processed carbohydrates that flooded into our diet during the low-fat craze of the last 40 years — white bread, white rice, prepared breakfast cereals, potato products, crackers, cookies, and of course concentrated sugar and sugary beverages”.

In another new study, which is yet to be fully published, 699 overweight participants were prescribed either a low-fat diet or a low-carb diet for one year.

They were not told to cut calories, but to eat until they were full. They were however given one other instruction, regardless of which diet they were on: to eat as healthily as they could.

“We told everyone in both groups to eat as little white flour and sugar and as many higher-fibre vegetables as possible,” said lead author, Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

Still, by eating healthily, both groups cut about 2000 kilojoules and, after a year had lost, on average six kilograms.

“We assumed that insulin-resistant people would do better on a low-carb diet – as they did in some earlier studies – but they didn’t,” Gardner said.

He thought that the “healthy” foods may be responsible for the results and was more significant than whether they were low-carb or low-fat.

“In some older studies, when researchers told people to eat less fat, they weren’t particular about which low-fat foods. Coke and white flour and sugar are low-fat,” Gardner said.

In a new article for the New Yorker, Jerome Groopman agrees its not clear-cut.

“The problem with most diet books, and with popular-science books about diet, is that their impact relies on giving us simple answers, shorn of attendant complexities: it’s all about fat, or carbs, or how many meals you eat (the Warrior diet), or combinations of food groups, or intervalic fasting (the 5:2 diet), or nutritional genomics (sticking to the foods your distant ancestors may have eaten, assuming you even know where your folks were during the Paleolithic era). They hold out the hope that, if you just fix one thing, your whole life will be better,” he writes.

And of course, none of it takes into account other factors that influence fat including genetic differences, and microbiome differences, excess intake of anything, sleep deprivation, stress and a sedentary lifestyle.

But, although it may not be clear-cut, it is relatively simple.

“With regard to weight loss, calories count and the relative proportions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate do not matter much (although low-carb diets may help with eating less),” wrote Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and Public Health at New York University, in response to Hall’s study.

“With regard to health, the food sources of calories matter very much indeed, and nearly everyone would be better off eating less sugar – at the very least because sugars provide calories, but no nutrients.”

Groopman adds that while the researchers battle it out, we should keep our sanity.

“What this means for most of us is that common sense should prevail. Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.”



Why Do Girls Show Signs of Autism Later Than Boys?

New research looks at the reasons autistic characteristics show up at a later age in girls, and how that phenomenon affects diagnosis and treatment.

Why do girls seem to develop autism later than boys?

And does this affect the way girls are diagnosed and treated for the condition?

Those are questions being discussed intently at an annual conference in California.

A research team, led by William Mandy, PhD, senior lecturer in clinical psychology at University College London, says it has gained new insights into the different ways that autistic characteristics present themselves in girls during adolescence.

Mandy presented the findings today at the 16th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in San Francisco.

The findings are new, but they echo theories offered by Hans Asperger in 1943 that were never tested. Asperger, a medical theorist, is known for his early work into autism spectrum disorders.

Mandy’s team conducted a longitudinal study, which repeatedly gathered data for the same test subjects over a period of time.

Researchers found that while boys tend to display stable, similar autistic characteristics throughout their adolescence, girls are more likely to see these characteristics ramp up during the teen and preteen years.

The findings could help explain why boys tend to be diagnosed with autism earlier than girls, and also how guidelines for diagnosing autism in children could be biased against girls.

A difficult disorder to pin down

Autism is not the easiest condition to diagnose.

“Unlike some physical health difficulties, we don’t have a biomarker for autism,” Mandy told Healthline. “We don’t have blood tests or brain scans. We can’t actually see autism itself, so instead we do what people do in all mental health disorders, pretty much. We diagnose it not by looking at the thing itself, but by looking at its manifestation, its size, and its symptoms.”

In short, diagnosing autism isn’t quite an exact science. The criteria for diagnosing autism includes a group of observable characteristics and behaviors that the medical community has come to a consensus on as representing autism.

Autism is not a black-and-white thing.
William Mandy, University College London

Generally speaking, these characteristics come down to difficulties in the realm of social communication and flexibility when it comes to things like switching activities and focus. Other autistic characteristics include sensitivity to outside stimuli like bright lights or loud noises.

“Autism is not a black and white thing,” said Mandy. “It’s a dimensional condition. So the people that we label as having autism are really just at the extreme end of a continuum that extends all the way through the population with no clear natural cut point between those that have autism and those that don’t. And what’s become clear from the research is that having autistic traits, even if they’re not at the level where we would conventionally label someone as having a clinical diagnosis of autism, that’s still a risk factor for a range of difficulties. For example, developing social anxiety problems, conduct problems, or anorexia.”

Research is first of its kind

Mandy’s team looked at autistic traits in the general population, rather than limiting itself just to those people who are at the extreme end of the spectrum.

Autistic traits for the same group of children and adolescents was measured at ages 7, 10, 13, and 16.

Boys who showed high levels of autistic traits at age 7 tended to remain consistent over time, demonstrating similar traits at older ages.

Girls, on the other hand, showed a marked increase in levels of autistic social difficulties between the ages of 10 and 16.

Mandy said the findings were surprising, as previous medical wisdom stated that girls and women with autistic traits tended to “camouflage” them as they got older.

“If anything, I expected to see a decline in autistic symptoms in girls over time,” he said. “What’s very interesting is that there was one person who suggested the opposite, and that was Hans Asperger himself. There’s this rather intriguing sentence from this paper he wrote in the 1940s, where he’s wondering why we never see girls with what he would call ‘autistic psychopathologies.’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe it’s because these traits don’t show onset until adolescence with females.’ And nobody tested that idea. So it’s intriguing that that would be what we appear to have found on this occasion.”

Possible diagnostic pitfalls

So, are girls getting short-changed when it comes to autism diagnoses?

“It’s possible — it’s likely, in fact — that our current diagnostic criteria are rather biased toward the male presentation, and biased against the female presentation, said Mandy. “And there’s always been a sort of circular situation, that almost all autism research is done on males, which means that your diagnostic criteria reflects males, which means that you can continue to recruit a predominance of males in your research, and so it goes on.”

Besides this apparent bias, there’s also a strong likelihood that girls with autism present autistic characteristics in ways that are different – and subtler – than what are seen in boys.

One characteristic of autism, that holds true with both sexes, is a strongly focused interest on a particular topic.

Where the sexes often differ, says Mandy, is in the nature of this interest.

“There’s emerging evidence, and this certainly fits with my clinical impression, that girls with autism, their special and focused interests, are a little bit unusual than autistic boys,” he said. “They’re less likely to focus on something technical and specific, and perhaps more likely to focus on the social realm.”

So while a boy with autism might show a preoccupation with something technical like trains or buildings, a girl with autism is more likely to focus on hierarchies or lists of family and friends.

“Often, girls are more likely to be almost stereotypically gender-specific,” said Mandy. “So you meet a lot of autistic girls who are really into animals or horses, or fashion. And those interests, of course, don’t jump out at you as much. If you get a kid who comes along and says, ‘I’m obsessed with the District Line on the London Underground,’ then that looks unusual, and you think autism might be an issue. If you have a girl who says, ‘I’m obsessed with wearing the latest styles,’ that obviously doesn’t seem as unusual, so it’s less likely to alert people to the presence of autism.”

Mandy also points out that the way girls’ autistic traits seem to accelerate between the ages of 10 and 16 mirrors a changing and complex social world.

“I think for girls, there’s a phenomenon where they can be doing fine at primary education,” he explained, “but as the social world starts to become more complex, as they transition over into secondary school and the social demands of the adolescent female social world rapidly accelerate, these girls can really struggle, and people often don’t understand.”

Support always key

While changing guidelines to reflect traits of autism in girls seems like an obvious partial solution, it’s really not that simple.

Because autism exists on a spectrum and, as Mandy tells us, it’s not a black-and-white diagnosis, changing diagnostic guidelines could shift the focus too much.

“I think the way to go is to keep the same fundamental diagnosis,” Mandy said. “Fundamentally, this is about difficulties with social communication, a tendency toward inflexibility, but I do think that people need to be more flexible in thinking in terms of how these manifest and whether the way these manifest in girls and women — especially girls and women with a normal range IQ — is a bit different.”

I think we need better understanding of the early presentation of autism in girls, so we can identify them in a timely way.
William Mandy, University College London

People with autistic traits can thrive, but it’s crucial that their needs are recognized and that they’re placed in an environment where they’re able to excel.

“I think we need better understanding of the early presentation of autism in girls, so we can identify them in a timely way, and for those that need help, we can put that support in place before things start to go wrong in adolescence,” said Mandy. “I think we need to get better clinically at thinking dimensionally, and not just thinking in these black-and-white terms. Trying to understand people in a more subtle way, and thinking about if they have traits or conditions for autism diagnosis, those are important.”

Mandy says that now that his team has gleaned some new insights into autism in girls, they’d like to go more in-depth in order to better understand the condition.

“I think what we need to do now is look at it in a bit more depth. Who are these girls who are apparently not showing autistic traits in childhood, and who are showing them in adolescence?” he said. “And asking questions like, ‘Are these social difficulties actually autistic in nature, or are they arising from something else?’ If they are autistic in nature, what were the early indicators that were being missed by this measure of autistic traits in childhood? So, it’s really about trying to get a more detailed picture so we can properly understand the meaning of this finding.”



11 Little Tips For Spotting Borderline Personality Disorder In Yourself

When struggling with a mental health issue it can be difficult to figure out what, exactly, is going on. While symptoms for things like anxiety and depression are often easy to recognize, this isn’t the case for every disorder. Some are notoriously difficult to identify, like the signs of Borderline Personality Disorder(BPD). And it can make the process of getting a diagnosis incredibly frustrating.

This has a lot to do with the fact BPD was only officially recognized in 1980. Since it’s newer on the scene, it doesn’t have as much research and understanding as anxiety, depression, or even bipolar disorder. BPD also tends to mimic or coincide with other disorders. “In some cases, co-existing mental illnesses may have symptoms that overlap with BPD, making it difficult to distinguish BPD from other mental health illnesses,” says licensed clinical professional counselor Julienne Derichs, LCPC. There is, however, a definition for BPD as well as info on what sets it apart from other issues.

As Derichs says, “Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental disorder manifested by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning.” These mood shifts happen much faster than the ones found in bipolar disorder, and the issues with self-esteem and functioning tend to be more pervasive and longer-lasting than those found in anxiety and depression. Sound familiar? Then read on for more ways to spot BPD.

1. You View People As Either “All Good” Or “All Bad”

If you have BPD, you might notice there’s no middle ground when it comes to how you view friends, family, and partner. “Individuals who suffer with this have unstable interpersonal relationships. They see things as very black and white,” psychologist Dr. Nikki Maritnez tells Bustle. As a result, you might fluctuate between loving your friends and hating them, all within the same day.

2. You Have Trouble Reading Emotions

If you have BPD, then you likely won’t have much in the way of “emotional intelligence.” As Derichs says, “Emotional intelligence is about observing emotions, both your own and those of the people around you, and then using this knowledge to guide your thinking and actions.” Without it, you’re likely to come off as “needy’ or “rude.”

3. You’re All Sorts Of Impulsive  

People with BPD are highly impulsive. As Derichs tells me, you might catch yourself doing risky things like abusing drugs, spending money you don’t have, driving recklessly, or having lots of unsafe sex

4. You Lack A Stable Sense Of “Self”

BPD sufferers tend to lack of a sense of self. As a result, you might always feel “empty,” constantly clinging to others for validation and self-esteem, or changing your life plans on a whim. (Switching careers, moving a lot, etc.) It can be a very lonely feeling, as well as one that causes a lot of problems.

5. You Don’t Always Care About Your Personal Safety

Some people with BPD self harm or put themselves in risky situations, like that aforementioned reckless driving. As Derichs says, any recurring suicidal behaviors or threats can be a sign of the disorder. If you feel suicidal or like you “don’t care” — even for a minute — talk with a doctor ASAP.

6. You’ve Cycled Through Many A Therapist

If you’ve been dealing with these symptoms for a while, you may have already popped on over to a therapist to figure out what the heck is going on in your life. And then maybe another therapist. And then another. As Martinez tells me, BPD patients are notorious for skipping out on appointments because they’re therapist “offended” them or they don’t want to put in the work. It can lead to a cycle of starting therapy and stopping, and constantly looking for someone else to talk to.

7. Your Mood Changes All The Time

Mood swings are often associated with bipolar disorder, but the peaks and valleys of bipolar disorder tend to last weeks or even months. BPD sufferers have mood swings, too, but Derichs tells me yours might change faster, like every few hours or days.

8. Your Relationships Are Always Intense

Think about your relationship history. Do you have intense but very unstable relationships with friends, family, and significant others? If so, this is thanks to the black and white thinking, Derichs tells me. When you’re idolizing people one moment and hating them the next, it can lead to all sorts of relationship issues.

9. You Have Trouble Controlling Your Anger

Anger is a huge problem for those with BPD. Instead of just getting mad, you get mad. And it’s always over something small, too. You blow things out or proportion, read into little “slights,” and then have trouble reeling your emotions back in.

10. You Often Lose Touch With Reality

When super stressed, you might have a sort of “out of body” feeling known as dissociation. As Derichs says, it’ll cause you to feel cut off from yourself or like you’re observing things from outside your body. You might also feel paranoid and catch yourself saying or accusing people of all sorts of wild things.

11. You Have A Huge Fear Of Abandonment  

BPD can cause you to feel clingy, and thus very afraid of real and imagined abandonment, Derichs tells me. You might think you see “signs” someone is going to leave or feel crushed and slighted by little things, like your partner not texting back immediately. It can be very exhausting for all involved.

BPD is a tough disorder to deal with, and even more difficult to diagnose and treat. There is hope, though. With treatments like talk therapy — and understanding friends and family — it is possible to feel better.



With autism, tracking devices may ease parents’ minds

n electronic tracking device can calm worried parents who fear their child with autism might wander off and stumble into danger, a new survey shows.

With the device, “parents were more comfortable letting their child spend time with family and friends,” explained lead researcher Dr. Andrew Adesman.

“When there is such a high wandering concern, parents are often not comfortable with their children spending any time outside of their direct supervision,” Adesman said. “But an electronic tracking device provides an additional form of assurance that if something were to happen, the risks could be mitigated.”

A full 96 percent of parents surveyed who said they were using an electronic tracking device claimed it improved their quality of life, Adesman said. He is chief of developmental & behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.

“This is the largest study to date of children with autism who have wandered. It’s also the first study ever to systematically try to capture data from families about their experiences with these devices,” Adesman said.

Parents of children with autism were invited to participate in the survey via autism organizations nationwide, and Adesman’s team culled survey responses from more than 1,300 parents. All were asked specific questions about the severity of their child’s disorder, any previous wandering episodes, and what steps they’d taken to curb this behavior in the past.

Before using a tracking device, 87 percent of the parents said their concerns about wandering colored decisions about their child spending time with others. Only 60 percent of parents said this was the case while using such a device.

According to Adesman, the study tried to assess parental anxiety and stress associated with wandering concerns. The researchers wanted a better understanding of this problem, which Adesman believes has been inaccurately studied to date.

One expert said he was happy to see such a study published.

“I am not in the slightest bit surprised by this research, but I’m really glad it was done,” said Thomas Frazier, chief science officer for Autism Speaks.

The study “establishes something that we’ve suspected for a long time about individuals with autism or developmental disabilities wandering, and the need to track them for many reasons,” Frazier said. “The main one being that if they wander, they can be identified and brought back. But, also for quality-of-life issues, as the paper points out.”

Frazier’s clinical and personal experience helped him understand the increased peace of mind parents might receive from electronic tracking devices. He explained that many children with autism have no sense of boundaries, something he has personally witnessed with his son.

About 10 years ago, Frazier and his wife needed a police dog to find their young son who had wandered into the woods. He believes that scenario could have been avoided with an electronic tracking device.

Adesman said much has changed in the past decade.

“In recent years, there has been an increased appreciation of how common it is for children with autism spectrum disorders or other disorders to wander,” he said.

A recent survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about a quarter of a million children with autism or developmental disorders wander each year, Adesman noted.

“It’s a staggering figure. Sometimes these wandering episodes are benign, or sometimes they have tragic endings such as a drowning, motor vehicle accident or other forms of injury. Wandering is one of the most common causes of death in school-age children with autism, typically because of drowning,” he added.

While Adesman suggested that electronic tracking devices could help parents find their child before a tragedy occurs, there are still several issues parents included in the survey said they faced.

Forty-two percent of parents who do not use these devices avoid them because their child either would not like wearing it or it would not fit. Additionally, 44 percent said the cost of the devices was too high, the findings showed.

Frazier said the tracking devices can cost somewhere around $200, depending on the product and the company selling it.

He added that the devices have changed dramatically over the years. They are no longer bulky, and come in a variety of options that can be worn on the wrist or clipped to clothing. He encourages parents to research styles to determine what would work best for their child.

“For families that don’t have a lot of means, sometimes there are local resources, such as the county board for developmental disabilities or other local groups who are willing to provide a grant or funding,” Frazier recommended. “This is possibly one of the best uses of that funding that you can get.”



How Nature Improves Your Mental Health

I’m Hayley, and I am part of the overwhelmingly high statistic of people who struggle with a mental health problem. I choose my words carefully. I struggle with mental health on a daily basis, sometimes it’s debilitating but it does not own me, I am not my mental health problems and some days are better than others.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and as the core of my business (and life) is about promoting positive wellbeing and emotional health I wanted to share some information, and hopefully inspiration with you.

When I sat there five years ago in the doctor’s surgery being given my diagnosis and prescription for tablets, every part of my body rejected it. I felt a deep instinct to learn more, to work out how I could help myself and how I could get better. I know from the people I work with that many of them also want to feel in control of their own treatment and take more ownership, perhaps that taking drugs does not give them.

I realised that between the panic, extreme fear and catastrophizing thoughts that my life had become, I felt calmer in certain situations. Taking my dog for a walk helped me feel normal, having a picnic in the garden made me smile, digging my allotment focused my thoughts and I love the buzz you get from skiing or clifftop blustery walks. There was a theme in all my happiness. It was all outdoors. Being in nature made me feel better, manage my thoughts and lighten my load.

Fast forward five years, a lot of reading, training, qualifications and learning later and I now run a business which uses nature as inspiration to help people feel better.

I’m an ecotherapist and am found running outdoor coaching sessions whilst hiking with a client, running outdoor team building days with companies in Yorkshire, toasting marshmallows on my retreats and building dens on my ecotherapy workshops!

But why nature?!

I believe that nature can heal us. Every single one of us. Of course people also need medication, therapies, good nutrition and other holistic therapies to help them along the way but I believe nature is absolutely essential to our emotional health. There is loads of research on the benefits of being in nature and loads of ways that you can connect with nature.

Here’s what happens when you step outside:

1. Breathe Easy – The most obvious benefit but not one to be overlooked. Breathing fresh air not only improves our circulatory system and our respiratory system, but all that oxygen also helps improve our energy levels, makes us more alert, and sharpens our concentration.

2. Creativity – Being out in nature actually causes our brain functions to shift. We spend most of our life glued to screens, but nature causes something called ‘soft fascination’ to kick in. This happens when our brain realises it can drop the intense focus it usually needs, relax and become more curious. Our eyes adjust and they send calmer, softer signals to the brain. Being in that state of mind helps us to be more creative due to the natural stimulus demanding less. Creativity creates new ideas, inspires better ways of working and helps people to relax.

3. Focus and Productivity – Studies from the University of Michigan have shown that nature is scientifically proven to improve our ability to focus and be productive! Being deeply immersed in nature e.g. in a forest or at the beach has significantly more benefits than a town-based walk or a view of a cityscape.

4. Healing – Being in nature actually helps us to heal both physically and emotionally. Professor Roger Ulrich from a University in Texas did a study based on recovery from surgery in hospital. He monitored people’s rates of recovery and how nature would affect that. He found that depending on where people’s beds were placed greatly impacting on rates of recovery and that those with a view of nature (compared with a view of the ward or a wall) recovered much quicker.

5. Stress – Now the biggest reason for absence from work according to the Health and Safety Executive. Well, nature can help there too! Research published in the Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine journal has shown that being in nature, specifically in forests, reduces the cortisol levels in our brain (our stress hormone) and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. With 12% of staff absence due to mental health problems this is something we can no longer ignore.

6. Fun! – Of course being outside is fun! It’s a natural playground, it creates childlike wonder. When was the last time you toasted a marshmallow! We do it EVERY DAY on my team away days! Having fun is actually a fundamental key to happiness. How does building dens, swinging on ropes and making kazoos in the woods sound!? A whole load of endorphins (feel good hormones) flood the brain helping you feel lighter and more relaxed.

Nature helps us be creative, resilient, inspired, relaxed, excited, engaged. I work therapeutically outdoors so you can experience all of that whilst working on boosting your self-belief, healing negative doubts, increasing your confidence and getting unstuck too. I work with people who feel stressed out and burnt out and I also work with people who have goals and ambitions and want to live their life with sparkle and zest.




Cannabinoid Combo Therapy Ended Teen’s Bowel Disease Symptoms, Study Reports

A 13-year-old boy whose Crohn’s disease and colitis had failed to respond to standard treatments became symptom-free with a combo therapy that included cannabinoids, the cannabinoid therapy maker Vitality Biopharma reported.

The study is one of the first to show that cannabinoids can eliminate inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms in a child or young adult resistant to other therapies, the company said. The research, “Induction of Remission in Drug-Resistant Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease with Cannabinoid Therapy,” has yet to be published in a medical journal.

The boy received medical cannabis under California’s Compassionate Use Act. Vitality played no role in the treatment, according to a press release.

The boy was diagnosed at age 9 with Crohn’s disease and mild-to-moderate colitis, and was hospitalized on several occasions. He had a poor appetite, which led to weight loss and stunted growth, and failed to respond to conventional IBD treatments.

Although he did respond initially to the TNF-α inhibitor Remicade (infliximab), it failed to help after a few weeks. “Temporary symptomatic benefit was observed, but quickly dissipated,” the researchers reported.

His level of calprotectin — a sign of bowel disease in children — rose again despite treatment throughout 2015. Improvements in calprotectin level suggest disease-modifying activity as well as symptom relief, the researchers noted.

In February 2016, the boy started taking a combination of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) three times a day. The 3-mg doses of each therapy turned him around, researchers said.

“The patient and family reported almost immediate symptomatic improvement, with increased appetite and body weight, reduced inflammatory scores, and induction of remission,” the study reported.

Importantly, the combo treatment ended his Crohn’s after just a month, researchers said. The key evidence was that his calprotectin scores dropped from 2,000 μg/g to 86 μg/g.

A marker of inflammation known as the C-reactive protein level fell to zero, researchers added. Doctors began reducing his Remicade and ended it altogether in January 2017.

At that point, the patients was “in complete remission, with no Crohn’s disease symptoms, and has been in clinical remission for more than a year,” the team wrote.

Researchers said that to their knowledge it was the first case of fecal calprotectin levels correlating “well with the presence of endoscopic lesions” and with decreased calprotectin levels correlating “with healing of the gut mucosal lining in both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Based on these findings, we expect that treatment of local gut inflammation with cannabinoids may not only resolve symptoms of IBD but also achieve disease modification by inducing and maintaining remission.”

The team plans to submit the report for publication, perhaps with additional case studies of the combo treatment.



Rheumatoid Arthritis Deaths Have Decreased

While disability rates among people with RA have risen slightly, mortality rates are declining for the first time in years.

Many study findings about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sound negative, but patients with the disease are now getting some encouraging news.

A study published last month on the progress and advancements in RA treatment and management revealed that for the first time in years the mortality rate among people with RA has decreased.

Researchers also noted that people with the disease experience much less disability than in decades past.


The mortality numbers

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that RA was listed as the underlying cause of death in 8,428 cases in 2011.

That was a decrease from 9,281 deaths in 1987.

The age-standardized mortality rate of RA declined by 3 percent annually from 1987 to 2011.

But people with RA still have a higher mortality rate than the general population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that early treatment — within six months of diagnosis — is ideal to help curb aggressive disease activity or early deaths from RA.

What is working?

Researchers are now trying to ascertain which specific approaches have helped bring down the RA mortality rate.

In general, it seems that the long-term outlook for people with RA is improving — but only with early treatment. This was evidenced in a study following a group of people with RA for 20 years.

Early treatment means getting the right diagnosis and “catching” the RA early in the progression of the disease.

There are some mixed opinions within the rheumatology community about what the first line of defense is in RA treatment, but the general consensus is that a more aggressive approach in the earlier stages is best.

This research emphasizes the importance of early treatment and the long-term benefits of early treatment.
Suzanne Verstappen, University of Manchester

People with lower disease activity tended to fare better long term.

But, overall, while people with RA reported a lower disease activity early on, disability rates did tend to rise in people with RA seven years after diagnosis.

The disability reported was moderate but still better than compared with previous decades.

A press release about these discoveries noted that “patients who received treatment within the first six months had a lower risk of death than those who did not receive treatment, after controlling for disease severity.”

“This research emphasizes the importance of early treatment and the long-term benefits of early treatment,” said Suzanne Verstappen, PhD, a senior research fellow at the University of Manchester, and a lead researcher on these study, said in a press statement. “In the early 1990s, when this study started, only 30 percent of patients received early treatment, but this number has increased significantly in the last decade. It’s expected that in the next 10 years, newly diagnosed patients will have a better future with respect to functional ability, less severe disease activity, and improved quality of life.”

Issues associated with survival

In the past, there was a higher RA mortality rate due to complications such as lung and heart issues associated with severe RA disease activity.

Other people succumbed to fatal infections from RA medications, or other unique complications associated with RA and its comorbidities.

The higher survival rate is welcome news for people with RA, but there are issues related to living longer with the disease.

“Although increased survival with rheumatoid arthritis is great news, it might lead to a greater share of our aging population having the disease and in need of health services. This needs to be accounted for in healthcare planning,” said study lead author Aliasghar Kiadaliri, PhD, of Lund University in Sweden, in a statement to the press.

I would love to live a longer and healthier life even with having a serious illness like RA.
Jacqueline Dickson, living with rheumatoid arthritis

People with RA, though, still look at this news as a positive thing.

“With so much bad news regarding the healthcare bill and funding for NIH research being cut and just the difficulties of RA in general, it is nice to get good news for once. I would love to live a longer and healthier life even with having a serious illness like RA,” said Jacqueline Dickson of North Carolina.

“I am only 23 and was just recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis,” added Michelle Herbert of Nevada. “I wondered if it would affect my life expectancy, and told my doctor that I’d try whatever she suggested to make sure my disease didn’t progress too badly. It’s good to know that aggressive treatment early in the disease is seen as a positive, but I just hope my doctors caught it in time because I had so many years of pain.”