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Archive for the 'Autism in the News' Category

Autism and Online Role Playing Games

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Games such as Second Life may provide a great opportunity for opening social doors for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  This virtual world allows users to create characters and interact socially with others in an online world.  In a recent article, CNN reports on how this can be beneficial.  Created by an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, Naughty Auties is a world where people with ASD can interact with one another in a more relaxed, less socially intimidating environment.  This sounds like a great solution for teaching social interaction and working on social skills.

This kind of solution for helping teens and adults with ASD may end up causing more harm than good.  In worlds such as Second Life, there are an unfortunate group of people called “griefers” whose sole purpose is to cause harm to others.  These people literally seek out vulnerable people in these online worlds and deliberately disrupt the world and cause harm, just because they can.  In worlds such as Second Life, there is no supervision, there are no limits, and anyone can get in and do whatever they want and say whatever they want.  This opens the doors for griefers and others will the wrong intentions.  For the ASD community, they are especially vulnerable due to their difficulties with understanding subtle social cues and often, language difficulties.

Although I support the idea of providing a virtual world for working on social skills and understanding, I am nervous about an open-ended world where people with disabilities are completely exposed and open to griefers.  Instead, I would like to see something similar that is not open to anyone wanting to join, and that operates in a more controlled space perhaps with computer players (like in the SIMS) or with invite-only people that have been screened.  The other issue to consider is how effective this kind of environment is for increasing skills, with no data collection or research on the effectiveness of doing this for someone with ASD, I would hesitate.  Research is clearly needed on this kind of program, particularly if it is described as an intervention or skill-building program.
In general, I think the idea is great, but people should be aware of the potential risks before jumping into a world with so many risks.

Exciting News in Medical Care

Friday, December 14th, 2007

 NEW YORK, NY (Dec 12, 2007) – Autism Speaks, the nation’s leading autism advocacy organization, today announced its Autism Treatment Network (ATN) would triple in size, expanding from five sites to fifteen sites across the United States and Canada. The ATN is a group of hospitals and medical centers dedicated to improving medical care for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to standardizing the care those individuals receive.

The ATN’s multi-disciplinary approach includes collaboration among specialists in areas including, but not limited to, neurology, developmental pediatrics, child psychiatry, psychology, gastroenterology, genetics, metabolic disorders, and sleep disorders. The network aims to develop common clinical standards for medical care for individuals with ASD and to increase the pool of autism medical specialists through trainee mentorship and outreach to community-based physicians. As part of this effort, families receiving care at the sites can participate in a data registry that tracks children and adolescents receiving ongoing care at participating sites. The information in the database is a crucial part of developing the evidence to create and substantiate these clinical consensus standards.

“It is imperative that all children, no matter where they live, have access to excellent, evidence-based medicine,” said Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. “The continuing expansion and funding of the ATN is a significant step in that direction.”

“This dramatic expansion of the Autism Treatment Network provides real opportunity to improve the quality of health care that children and youth with autism receive, and for more children to receive that care,” said Dr. James Perrin, Director, Clinical Coordinating Center, ATN, and Director, General Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. “Developing common standards of medical care across fifteen sites will allow us to get answers to the questions parents ask about their children’s care much more quickly.”

The participating ATN sites are: University of Arkansas and Arkansas Children’s Hospital (Little Rock, AR); Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program Northern California (San Jose, CA); University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine and The Children’s Hospital (Denver, CO); Kennedy Krieger Institute and Marcus Institute (Baltimore, MD/Atlanta, GA); LADDERS/Mass General Hospital (Boston, MA); University of Missouri (Columbia, MO); Columbia University Medical Center (New York, NY); University of Rochester (Rochester, NY); Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (Cincinnati, OH); Bloorview Kids Rehab, Surrey Place Centre and The Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto, ON, Canada); Oregon Health & Science University (Portland, OR); University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA); Vanderbilt University Medical School (Nashville, TN); Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX); University of Washington (Seattle, WA).

The ATN began as a collaboration between the Northwest Autism Foundation in Oregon and Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston. In 2005, the network was established with five founding sites that came together to establish multi-disciplinary practices for the evaluation and treatment of the underlying medical conditions associated with ASD. These sites currently provide services to approximately 2,000 new cases of ASD each year, and all have taken critical steps to broaden the services available to all children in these centers. The Autism Treatment Network merged with Cure Autism Now in 2006. In February 2007, Cure Autism Now merged with Autism Speaks.

To find out more about the Autism Treatment Network, or to get connected to a site in your area, visit www.autismspeaks.org/science/programs/atn/index.php or email: atn@autismspeaks.org.

The above article is reprinted with permission and can be found in its entirety at http://www.autismspeaks.org/press/atn_network_expanded.php

Top Autism Treatments

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

In a recent About: Autism Spectrum Disorders posting, the top 10 treatment approaches for autism were listed along with helpful links for each of these approaches.  The top 10 were determined by popularity, research, and most effective overall.

The top 10 listed were:100_0152.JPG

1) Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

2) Speech Therapy

3) Occupational Therapy

4) Social Skills TherapyB and Trish.jpg

5) Physical Therapy

6) Play Therapy

7) Behavior Therapy/Positive Behavior Support

8) Developmental TherapiesEl 1.jpg

9) Visually-based Therapies

10) Biomedical Therapies

I would like to see a similar list, in order, of those that are the most research-based and have evidence of effectiveness with the largest number of children with autism.  Organizations such as the National Autism Center are dedicated to coming up with good ways to make these kinds of lists and to develop rankings for treatment approaches which will be based on research and effectiveness for ASD.  This project is called the National Standards Project and the expert panel and conceptual reviewers include a prestigious group of autism researchers including several of our TeachTown science advisory board members including Dr. Ilene Schwartz, Dr. William Frea, and Dr. Aubyn Stahmer.

J computer.jpgI would also like to see more studies on technology and which programs are effective and which ones are not.  It won’t be long before Computer-Assisted Instruction is added to the list above, I just hope that developers, and perhaps more importantly, university researchers continue to conduct the necessary research to keep improving these programs.

**Please see comments from the author of the ABOUT blog, she makes some excellent comments and I completely agree with her!**

TeachTown Receives Federal Funding for Autism Software Development

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

teachtown cloud background.JPGWith the success of our first program, TeachTown: Basics, we were getting very antsy to start our next product to help school-age children with autism.  We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Department of Education Stepping Stones Technology grant to develop our next product and to do the initial research to help make this product effective, appropriate, and of the highest quality.  Stayed tuned for further updates about this upcoming product, we are anticipating using the new program with children starting in 2008!

To read more about our exciting news, check out the press release at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=69034

Continue checking back to this site and the TeachTown website for announcements and opportunities to participate in our research and development process.

Autism Awareness Month, 2007

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

000_19_Bill_painting.pngAutism Awareness Month was established in 1972 by the Autism Society of America, since then, we are seeeing more and more awareness every year.  When I started my career in 1993, most people I talked to had not heard of autism, or if they had, they had only seen Rainman and thought that all people with autism were savants. 

This year is probably the most productive I have seen in getting the word out about autism!  It is unfortunate though that so many people still do not know about autism, and I have parents tell me all the time, even now, that their child with autism was told to be “fine” by their pediatrician only to find out a few months later that their child has autism and that they have missed out on months (or years) of intervention.

2005_11Nov.jpgI am encouraged by the increase in media attention that autism is receiving, and I was thrilled to see that Oprah FINALLY did a show about it, which included the most active group in the media, Autism SpeaksThe View also did a show about autism, as have many news shows this month.  Jenny McCarthy will also appear on The View on May 3rd to talk about her story and her son Evan.

Many magazines, including Discover, have published articles about autism this month and Oxford University Press released 2 very helpful blog postings regarding autism:

Stress and Coping: http://blog.oup.com/2007/04/stress_coping/

Helping Children With Autism Learn: http://blog.oup.com/2007/04/children_autism/
Awareness is the first step and it is nice to see that more and more people are talking about autism, but, it is my hope that we will start to see more and more people talking about solutions for children today! 

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