Friday, November 17, 2017

Is TV Giving Viewers an Accurate Portrayal of Autism?

Or is TV and Hollywood giving us a sugar-coated version of autism which is better suited to what entertainment executives think viewers want to watch? Let’s have a look.

There has been several movies and television shows released lately which have autism as the main theme. Atypical is currently airing on Netflix, and The Good Doctor is airing on the ABC network in the United States. For most people that have children or loved ones affected by autism, television isn’t portraying the accuracy of how life with autism can really be. There are focusing in on one or two character traits which people with autism have while neglecting to pay any attention to the rest of the issues.

For many people that watch television shows and movies, autism has come to represent verbal, higher-skilled, savants at the very end of the autism spectrum. Why? Because they make interesting characters and people like to watch television shows with interesting characters.

The main character in Atypical is Sam. Sam is a typical high school student with typical high school student problems like finding a girlfriend and being popular. Sam also has autism. The one thing not typical about Sam is that he doesn’t attend any special-education classrooms, or attend a special school. In The Good Doctor, Shaun the main character is a brilliant surgeon but doesn’t portray any of the other character traits of most people with autism.

It’s important for everyone to see a more balanced interpretation of autism in television and movies. Less of the savant, and more of the child that sits quietly home alone, or bangs his head because noises upset him. It’s important that people with autism on opposite ends of the scale get accurate representation and don’t fall away to become invisible. The reality of severe autism can be confronting. It isn’t always something nice, or pleasant. By highlighting only one aspect of autism, Hollywood is effectively turning the light away from other people with severe forms of autism. It’s important that awareness is raised across the entire autism spectrum.


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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New Play Takes Closer Look At Autism

The new play “Uncommon Sense” follows the lives of four young adults with various forms of autism, giving viewers an intimate experience with the realities of the autism spectrum.  It is not the first play to every feature autistic characters, but much like “The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Nighttime”, is an early part of what will hopefully become a trend of autism-positive media.
           
Though “Uncommon Sense” has been critically accused of using too much medical jargon and thus running the risk of drowning the emotional message, it does a good job of conveying autism through a neurotypical perspective, especially with regards to things such as sensory overload—sights and sounds that bother the characters with autism are often amplified to bother neurotypical viewers to the same extent.  The play aims to achieve greater understanding of and empathy towards those with autism

Friday, November 3, 2017

Experimental Drugs Rewire Brain Connections in Autism

New research from the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas has identified two potential new treatments for autism spectrum disorder, targeting the impact of a faulty gene on neural communication.

Autism — which is often used as an umbrella term for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — is characterized by repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, and very focused interests.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 68 children in the United States have been diagnosed with ASD.

Treatments for ASD are often focused on addressing the behavioral symptoms and helping people with the disorder to learn better communication strategies. So far, relatively few efforts have targeted the biological causes of autism.

Now, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas are exploring the route of learning more about these biological factors in order to address them directly.

The study, led by Dr. Craig Powell, has identified two potential treatments that could restore the neurotransmission processes affected by the absence of a gene known as KCTD13.

Dr. Powell and team published the results of their research in the journal Nature.

Missing gene 'impairs brain function'


The KCTD13 gene encodes a protein with the same name, and previous studies have linked its expression level with abnormal brain size, arguing that "[b]oth the loss and the gain of [the chromosomal segment that contains this gene] confer a significant risk of autism and developmental delay."

Dr. Powell and colleagues' research, however, revealed that KCTD13 plays an entirely different role: it is not tied not to brain size but to synaptic transmission, or neurotransmission. This is the neurons' ability to transmit information.

"[W]e were quite surprised that the Kctd13 deletion did not result in increased brain size, increased embryonic cell proliferation, and changes in migration," Dr. Powell told Medical News Today, explaining that he and his team were expecting to confirm the results of previous studies.

The researchers also identified drugs that may be able to reverse the faulty connectivity that comes as a result of this gene's deletion.

Dr. Powell and team used mice to investigate what the KCTD13 protein actually does, as well as what role it plays in autism.

In their experiments, they deleted the gene that encoded the protein in mice, and noted that its absence halved the number of synaptic connections in the animals' brains.

The researchers noticed that in the absence of KCTD13, the levels of a protein known as RhoA increase, which impairs synaptic transmission.

In its normal expression, KTCD13 helps to regulate this protein, allowing neurons to communicate freely.

Read the whole story at Medical News Today

Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Grown-Ups Should Know About Children with Autism


Although there are children with autism at almost every school in the country, few non-autistic adults
actually know what that entails.  Upon enrolling her son Zeke in school, Cara Thulin made sure the faculty of her son’s high school knew what to expect. In an open letter to the school, she explained that sometimes people with autism appear as though they are not paying attention or being rude, but in reality, they just have a different way of experiencing the world.  She went on to say that, since Zeke’s senses are stronger than most people’s, his brain focused primarily on protecting him from being overwhelmed instead of on learning social cues.  She hopes that her writing this letter will help both faculty members and students better understand and interact with her son. "If you see this kid, say 'Hi Zeke!' and don't get offended if he doesn't respond," she wrote. "He heard you. And he feels a little more confident now that someone knows his name. Ask if he's doing okay, if he likes class, or if he has any questions. Compliment his band t-shirts. He LOVES Panic! At the Disco. He may answer you. He may stare at the floor. He may run away. But he'll know that you care."  Thulin hopes that her letter will not only help her son, but will benefit other children with autism by giving others a better understanding of their world.