A Dartmouth-led research team has identified a non-verbal, neural marker of autism. This marker shows that individuals with autism are slower to dampen neural activity in response to visual signals in the brain. This first-of-its kind marker was found to be independent of intelligence and offers an objective way to potentially diagnose autism in the future. The results are published in Current Biology. “Autism is hard to screen for in children, when the first signs are present. A trained clinician may be able to detect autism at 18-months or even younger; yet, the average age of a diagnosis of autism in the U.S. is about four years old,” explains lead author Caroline Robertson, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth, and director of the Dartmouth Autism Research Initiative. “We need objective, non-invasive screening tools that don’t depend on assessing a child’s behavior. One of the big goals of the field is to develop objective neural markers of autism that can work with non-verbal individuals. This neural marker is just that,” she added. The research revealed that neural data could be used to predict whether or not an individual had autism with 87 percent accuracy. The findings were striking and tracked with clinical measures of autism: participants with a higher level of autism had a slower rate of binocular rivalry, where the brain was slower in switching from one image to the next. The research offers new promise for the way autism is diagnosed. “This visual test may be a non-verbal marker of autism in adults. Our next steps are to learn whether this test could potentially be used to detect autism in pre-verbal children and nonverbal adults and develop it into a screening tool for the condition. In the meantime, this result gives us new insight into the brain in autism, showing that visual regions of the brain are affected,” says Robertson.
Most people might not know that my parents, Denny and Ronnie Maggioli, have had a huge impact on the success of Lighthouse Autism Center, going all the way back to the very beginning, when our first center opened in 2012. When we opened our first center, my family and I lived in Carmel, Indiana and I commuted back and forth for nearly two years. During the week, I lived with my parents and traveled home to Carmel on the weekends. Not only did my parents welcome their grown son back into their home, but they have played a huge role in the design of each center. With an eye for interior design, my mom has picked paint colors to be used inside the centers, creating a bright and warm, and most importantly, non-clinical feel for the children who attend the centers. My Dad has worked as a dedicated handyman, carpenter, painter and fixer of all things for each of our centers since 2012. Simply said, Lighthouse Autism Center would not be what it is today without the time and love put into each center by my parents. As they officially announce their retirement, we could not be more thankful for their impact not only on the centers, but on each of the kiddos who have attended Lighthouse. Thank you for your tremendous work and dedication to Lighthouse Autism Center – we could not have done it without you!
Something as simple as eating out with your child with autism can often be a stressful and anxiety inducing time for a family and child. Children on the autism spectrum can become easily overstimulated by the sounds, lighting, smells, and just the overall chaotic environment and unfamiliarity that restaurants bring. Overstimulation can be very overwhelming and mentally draining. Below, we have outlined some helpful and useful tips for taking your child with autism out to eat.
How to Take Your Autistic Child to a Restaurant
If possible, go at a quiet time of day. Think early dinners around 4:00 or 5:00 pm if your families schedule allows it. Consider a late afternoon lunch if you are going out on the weekends. Early dinners and late lunches tend to be less busy for restaurants and will provide a quieter and less stimulating environment for your child.
Consider allowing the child to use earplugs to mask some of the more unsettling sounds such as people chewing food, high pitched squeals of other children, and the sound of cutlery scraping against plates or tables being bussed or if loud music is being played at the restaurant.
Ask to not be seated next to the kitchen, bathrooms or main entrance to help minimize the number of people that are walking by your table. Additionally, if there are any large parties ask to be seated away from them.
Sit in the corner; this will make it so that there are only two walls that are open to sound.
If possible, ask for a booth instead of a table, this will help provide a more contained environment for your child.
Ask your server to give you a heads up if there will be any singing for a birthday at a table close by so that you can take your child outside for a few moments while they sing.
Should your child get overstimulated take your child outside and let him/her walk around for a few moments or go sit in the car so that they can calm down.
Keep your child’s food simple. Ask in advance about mixed textures and if there is an option to request the item plain. Consider ordering a food item that your child is already familiar with and that you know they will enjoy.
Take breaks if needed. Go to a quiet space or unoccupied bathroom or walk outside for a brief sensory break as needed.
Try to keep your child occupied while at dinner. This can mean coloring, books, scent kit or fidget toys, playing with an iPad, bringing a favorite toy – whatever your child enjoys!
We understand firsthand the struggles that parents and caregivers face when trying to advocate for a child with autism. Believe it or not, children with autism have unlimited possibilities. The degree of success a child with autism will have depends greatly upon early intervention and appropriate educational support.
Parents and providers should never view any challenge that they are presented with as hopeless. Everyone has hurdles to overcome in both collaboration and communication with the people you trust to treat your child, but it worth the effort.
Here, we want to focus on giving you the tools to effectively advocate for your child, specifically when it comes to their education.
Tips for Advocating for Your Autistic Child
Remember, you are your child’s best advocate! Regardless of the school district, schools are limited as to what they can do for your child because of funding and staffing limitations.
Make sure that your child has an IEP. The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a very powerful document, more powerful than most parents realize. IEPs that are well written can drive your child’s educational program as well as provide the documentation that is needed if a situation happens where your child is not making progress.
Be informed and prepared. Learn as much as you can about autism, treatment, and the rights of your child. Many school districts do have funds for parent education. Inquire about parent training and educational opportunities.
Communicate clearly. Make sure you understand what is being communicated to you by the schools. Try to communicate from a non-emotional place during IEP and other parent meetings and clearly state your child’s needs.
IEP meetings can often become heated. Try to remain calm, clearly state your child’s needs, and focus on the present and future rather than the past. Remember, collaboration is key to your child’s success. All parties must remain calm, focused, and remember that the child’s needs are what’s most important.
Ask questions. If unfamiliar terms are being used, do not be afraid to ask questions. You need to understand policies and procedures as well as plans and interventions. The more you know, the less frustration there will be.
Be proactive. Take the time to create a list of objectives and items hat you want to cover in the IEP meeting. This will help the meeting stay on track and ensure you do not forget anything you wanted to discuss.
Know what your rights are. Know what alternative options you may have available to you. Remain confident and stay strong, so that you can passionately and persuasively represent your child.
For additional assistance and resources, contact Lighthouse Autism Center.