Research Explains Sensory Integration Difficulties in Autism

By Rick Nauert PhD


New research confirms that individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have significant sensory deficits that influence social interactions.

Investigators determined the brains of individuals with ASD appear to lack feedback loops that help to process tactile information. This faulty processing results in social challenges.

Belgium researchers explain that many individuals with ASD are over- or undersensitive to sensory information. Some feel overwhelmed by busy environments such as supermarkets, others are less sensitive to pain, or dislike being touched.

Prior research has found that the severity of daily social difficulties of individuals with ASD is strongly related to the extent to which they are sensitive to touch. In fact, the sensory challenges impact function more so visual or auditory sensitivities.

To determine why this is the case, doctoral researcher Eliane Deschrijver and her colleagues investigated how the brain of individuals with and without ASD uses own touch to understand touch sensations in the actions of others.

Prof. Marcel Brass clarifies: We think that the human brain uses the own sense of touch to distinguish one’s self from others.

For example, when I perform an action that leads to a tactile sensation, for instance by making a grasping movement, I expect to feel a tactile sensation that corresponds to this.

If my own touch tells me something else, the tactile sensation will probably belong to the other person, and not to me. The brain can thus effectively understand others by signaling tactile sensations that do not correspond to the own sense of touch.”

In a series of experiments with electro-encephalography (EEG) conducted at Ghent University, the scientists showed that the brain activity of adults with ASD differs from that of adults without ASD while processing touch.

The research showed that the human brain of individuals without ASD indicated very quickly when a tactile sensation does not correspond to the own sense of touch.

This means that the human brain is able to signal that a tactile sensation of a finger that touches a surface does not correspond to own touch.

Investigators discovered a different pattern in the brain of adults with ASD, however.

Their brain signaled to a much lesser extent when the external touch sensation did not correspond to their own touch.

Those individuals that experienced stronger sensory difficulties showed a stronger disturbance of the neural process, while they were also the ones that experienced more severe social difficulties.

“It is to my knowledge the first time that a relationship could be identified between the way individuals with ASD process tactile information in their brain, and their daily social difficulties.

The findings can yield a novel and crucial link between sensory and social difficulties within the autism spectrum”, concludes Eliane Deschrijver.

“These findings primarily lead to a better understanding of the complex disorder, and of associated difficulties. It is yet too early to conclude on the impact on interventions.

If the results can be confirmed in future studies of other groups with ASD, such as (young) children, they could provide a target for optimizing treatment”, explain Dr Wiersema, Deschrijver’s doctoral chair.

Research findings appear in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Source: Ghent University/Alphagalileo


How play impacts language learning in toddlers.


A new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that symbolic play in toddlers, which involves use of the imagination, is more beneficial to language development than functional play like puzzles, blocks or drawing.

The study of 54 infants tracked early language development in relation to the style of play toddlers engaged in with their parents.

Lead researcher Dr Sara Quinn of the ANU Research School of Psychology said the key difference came down to the way parents interacted with their kids.

“Symbolic play involves imagination, like pretending a banana is a telephone,” Dr Quinn said.

“We noticed during this type of play parents asked the children more questions, they also shared attention more often and for longer durations.

“What was really interesting was that not only did parents ask more questions of their children, but they actually ended up in conversations more frequently.

“Over time that the conversational nature of symbolic play proved to be predictive of more advanced language growth.”

The study also observed functional play, which involves the repetitive use of objects – like throwing a ball or stacking blocks. This type of play did not show the same benefits.

“I found some really distinct differences in the way parents and children use language in different types of play,” she said.

“In functional play, we noticed parents used language that directed their child’s behaviour, such as telling them to go and get something, or what an object is.

“Our analysis showed that functional play did not predict higher levels of learning.”

Dr Quinn said that one of the encouraging points to take from the study was that didn’t need to buy any expensive technology to see the benefits.

“This type of play is so important, and it doesn’t require any level of technology. It can be as simple as playing with the pots and pans in the bottom draw.”

Explore further: Interactive play with blocks found to facilitate development of spatial vocabulary

Can iPads Detect Signs Of Autism?

by Michelle Diament


New research suggests that iPad games may offer more than entertainment for kids, potentially serving as a tool to help spot those who are on the autism spectrum. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Tracking children’s movement patterns while they play iPad games may be enough to identify which kids have autism, researchers say.

Youngsters on the spectrum display measurably different movements when using tablets or smartphones, according to newfindings published in the journal Scientific Reports. By analyzing the motor patterns of those with autism compared to typically-developing controls, researchers were able to distinguish the two groups with 93 percent accuracy.

“This is potentially a major breakthrough for early identification of autism, because no stressful and expensive tests by clinicians are needed,” said Jonathan Delafield-Butt of Scottland’s University of Strathclyde who worked on the study. He called the assessment a “cheaper, faster, fun way of testing for autism.”

For the study, kids ages 3 to 6 were asked to play games on touchscreen tablets embedded with movement sensors. Researchers analyzed data gathered from 37 children with autism and 45 typically-developing kids who participated.

They found that those with the developmental disorder used greater force and distributed force differently than the other children in the study.

“The key difference is in the way children with autism move their hands as they touch, swipe and gesture with the iPad during the game,” said Delafield-Butt who worked on the study with researchers at a company that’s looking to create mobile technology for developmental assessments.

While promising, the researchers say that more study is needed to validate their results and better understand the limitations of game-play as an identifier of autism.



ADHD and Depression: What You Need to Know By Peg Rosen


If you think your child with ADHD (also known as ADD) might be showing signs of depression, you’re not alone. A lot of kids with ADHD—about 40 percent, according to one long-term study—struggle with depression at some point.

Researchers know a lot about the overlap between ADHD and depression. Kids diagnosed with ADHD are at a higher risk for depression. And kids diagnosed with depression are at a higher risk for ADHD.

The two conditions can occur at the same time. They can be misdiagnosed for each other too. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD and depression—and how you can help your child.

The Link Between ADHD and Depression

ADHD can create a lot of challenges for kids, and those challenges can lead to depression. Issues with behavior and academics can wear down kids’ self-esteem. ADHD can affect kids socially too. Classmates might tease or exclude them, which can make kids feel isolated or even hopeless.

But some kids with ADHD may also be “pre-wired” for depression. Some of the differences in brain chemistry that can cause attention issues may make some kids more likely to feel helpless or worthless.

Researchers are looking into whether there may be a type of ADHD that is closely coupled with depression. Researchers are also studying adults with depression who aren’t responding to antidepressants. New research suggests that these adults may actually have undetected ADHD.

Signs of Depression in Kids With ADHD

Depression in kids with ADHD can look like depression in any young person. Symptoms might include:

  • Feeling very “down” (or what doctors call a “low mood”)
  • Losing interest in favorite activities
  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Falling grades
  • Not doing homework or attending school
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless or suicidal

Depression can also amp up behaviors associated with ADHD. For example, kids with ADHD who are depressed may start to:

  • Act out more. They may be unusually disruptive in class. They may break things, hit people or vandalize property. Irritability—snapping at people or blowing up over small issues—is also common.
  • Seem particularly inattentive. They may be even more distracted by their low mood or by what’s going on in their head.
  • Become extremely overwhelmed and disorganized. ADHD already makes it hard to stay on track. When kids with ADHD are depressed, life can seem utterly unmanageable and hopeless.
  • Talk about wanting “off” of their meds. Some kids may mistakenly blame their low mood on their ADHD medication. They may even secretly stop taking it, thinking they will feel better.
  • Self-medicate. Tweens or teens with ADHD who are feeling depressed may try to improve their mood by using drugs or alcohol.

Why Depression Can Be Misdiagnosed as ADHD

There’s a lot of overlap between ADHD and depression, but not all kids have both. Sometimes depression can be misdiagnosed as ADHD, and vice versa. The two issues can look similar on the surface. Here are some ways a child with either issue might act, but for different reasons:

  • Has very negative self-esteem. A child with ADHD may not feel good about himself because he can’t keep up with other students, no matter how hard he tries. A depressed child may feel like he’s worthless for no apparent reason.
  • Loses motivation. A child with ADHD may lose motivation because he doesn’t think his efforts make any difference. A depressed child who feels hopeless about life may not do his work because he doesn’t feel there’s any point.
  • Has problems keeping up with school work. A child with ADHD may tune out in school and not learn the material. A depressed student may be distracted by negative feelings or lack of sleep and not be able to focus.
  • Is resistant to going to school. A child with ADHD may loathe the difficulties that await him every day in class. A depressed child may not have the emotional strength to get himself through the day.

Kids who are depressed feel despair and hopelessness. They often have little energy and lose interest in socializing. A dark mood may persist for weeks and even months. If your child is depressed and you think he might have ADHD, too, there are steps you can take to find out.

Kids who have ADHD but are not depressed tend to show signs of frustration and evenanger about the challenges they’re facing. They may struggle to get along with peers but still crave the chance to socialize.

ADHD and Suicide

Many teens have suicidal thoughts. It’s rare for teens to act on these thoughts. But parents of depressed kids with ADHD need to be especially vigilant.

That’s because kids with ADHD are more impulsive than kids who don’t have ADHD. Kids with ADHD may be more likely to act “in the moment” when they are feeling down or hopeless. They may not be able to step back and see the bigger picture.

A 2010 study found that teens who were diagnosed at a young age with ADHD were twice as likely to make a suicide attempt than peers who did not have ADHD. That’s why parents of kids with ADHD must take any talk of hopelessness, despair or suicide very seriously and take immediate steps to find help.

If you’re worried your child may be thinking about harming himself, don’t leave him alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or call your child’s doctor or mental health professional.

Medication for ADHD and Depression

If your child with ADHD is diagnosed with depression, he may benefit from takingantidepressant medication. Some primary care providers prescribe these drugs. But it’s wise to consult a specialist.

A psychiatrist or a psychopharmacologist will know which antidepressant medications are best suited for a child with attention issues. If your child is already taking ADHD medication, a specialist will be best equipped to coordinate and choose his drugs.

Many people take ADHD medication as well as antidepressants. With the right approach, this can be done safely and effectively. Antidepressant medication is most effective when combined with talk therapy.

How You Can Help

Your role is key when it comes to recognizing depressed behavior. If you suspect your child with ADHD has depression, there’s a lot you can do to help. Here’s how:

Pay attention to changes in your child’s mood and behavior. Look for changes in eating and sleeping patterns. Take notes on what you’re seeing. Your notes can help you and your child’s doctor figure out whether changes in appetite are due to ADHD medication or to depression.

Talk to your child’s teachers. Do they think he’s been less attentive or acting out more than usual? Are they saying that he seems sad or tired all the time or is not interacting with others? Are his grades falling? These kinds of comments are good reasons to request a meeting with your child’s resource teacher or the school psychologist.

Seek medical help and counseling. Your child’s pediatrician is a good first step. Or speak with the psychologist at school. Research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy—a type of counseling that is goal-oriented and focused on problem solving—is particularly effective for kids with ADHD.

Be on the lookout for anxiety. Depression often goes hand in hand with anxiety. Sowatch for signs of that, too. As with ADHD and depression, medication and talk therapy can help with anxiety.

Provide structure and support at home. Depressed kids with ADHD may have even more trouble getting started on tasks or finishing them. Acknowledge out loud that he seems to be struggling more than usual. Bring structure to his day and brainstorm ways you can help him with certain tasks.

Go outside together. When you’re feeling really down, it can be hard to get out of bed or off the couch. Try to carve out time for things that don’t involve chores or homework. Offer to go for a walk, grab lunch together, or head out to a movie.

With the right care and support, kids with ADHD and depression can manage these conditions and continue to thrive. Being the caregiver for a child with multiple issues can be stressful, so remember to take care of yourself too. Finding an online community or joining a local support group can be a big help.

Download: Cell Phone Contracts for Kids With ADHD By Amanda Morin


Giving your child with ADHD a cell phone can be risky. Kids with ADHD can be impulsive or distractible. They may have trouble with time management. Having a cell phone contract is a good way to manage some of the challenges these issues may create. It can also help you make sure you and your child both know your responsibilities for the phone.

What Is a Cell Phone Contract?

A cell phone contract is an agreement that outlines what you and your child will do to make sure she takes care of her cell phone and uses it responsibly. These contracts also address specific ADHD-related challenges.

For example, if your child is impulsive, the contract may limit how much she can spend on apps. If she has trouble with time management, the contract can set “phone-free” hours. If she’s easily distracted, she might agree to put her phone away during class or mealtimes.

How Can a Cell Phone Contract Help Your Child With ADHD?

Knowing if your child is ready to have a cell phone is already tough. When your child has ADHD, there are additional things to consider. A cell phone contract can help you and your child identify how her ADHD symptoms cause issues with her phone. It can also help her develop good habits for using her cell phone.

Using the Sample Cell Phone Contracts

You can use these contracts as they are, or you might use them as a guide to create a contract that meets your child’s unique needs. It’s a good idea to regularly review the contract with your child to make sure it’s working. Also keep in mind that if your child needs to use assistive technology on her phone, the contract may have to account for that.


ADHD Medication Rebound: What You Need to Know


At a Glance

  • Kids who take stimulant medication for ADHD sometimes have “rebound” reactions when their medication wears off.
  • When their medication leaves the system too quickly, it can cause ADHD symptoms to briefly flare up.
  • Fine-tuning the medication can prevent medication rebound.

Your family has just sat down to dinner. Out of nowhere, your child with ADHD becomes very grumpy and edgy. She complains about her food and other things. She’s restless, and can’t sit still at the table. Soon she’s up walking around.

This isn’t the first time she’s behaved this way, however. In fact, it happens almost every day at about the same time. What’s going on?

If your child’s stimulant medication for ADHD is wearing off, that could well be the cause. When ADHD symptoms flare up at the time you’d expect the medication to be wearing off, you may be seeing a “medication rebound.”

Here’s what you need to know about medication rebound, and how you can stop it.

What Rebound Is

Rebound is the brain’s reaction when a stimulant medication drops off too fast as it’s wearing off. When the medication leaves the system too quickly, it may cause ADHD symptoms to briefly return with a vengeance.

The good news is that this intense reaction usually lasts for only about an hour or so. The even better news is that an adjustment in medication can almost always prevent the problem.

Why Rebound Occurs

Rebound is directly linked to a child’s metabolism and how fast her body processes a stimulant medicine. The rate at which the medication wears off isn’t the same for all kids.

For some, a long-acting (“all day”) stimulant medicine may work for 10 hours. For others, that same medication may last only for six.

Stimulant medication is fast acting. It enters the bloodstream and starts working within 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the type. As the medicine is released, it enters the bloodstream. Then, it’s filtered through the kidneys or liver and gradually eliminated from the body. Usually most of it’s cleared out by later in the same day.

These medications are designed to wear off evenly. But in some kids, the medication moves through the filtering process very quickly. And that causes a steep drop-off in medicine level as it wears off.

That’s when a rebound typically happens. Instead of your child’s ADHD symptoms just reappearing when the medicine is all gone, they’ll flare up suddenly as the medication is wearing off. And for a brief time, they’ll be more intense than they usually are when she isn’t on the medication.

During a rebound your child might be a bit more impulsive, hyperactive or emotional than usual. Or she may be very serious or sad and withdrawn when she normally isn’t.

This rebound reaction typically lasts about an hour or so until the medicine has completely worn off. Then you’re likely to see a return of your child’s usual symptoms.

How to Tell If It’s Rebound

Many kids experience some side effects when they first start taking stimulant medication. They may have stomach pain or headaches, or they may have a decrease in appetite. Those side effects usually clear up within a few weeks as the body adjusts to the medicine.

Sometimes a child will show a different set of symptoms, however. She may become:

  • Extremely wired
  • Very irritable
  • Tired, sad and subdued

The reason for those symptoms depends on when they start and end.

In some cases the symptoms appear during the time the medication is supposed to be active. They begin soon after a child takes a dose and last for a few hours. And they subside only as the medication wears off.

When that happens, it may be a sign that the dose is too high and needs fine-tuning. It may also be a sign that the medicine isn’t right for that child.

In other cases, the exaggerated symptoms appear when the medicine is wearing off. Until then, the child is fine and the medicine is working well.

When symptoms appear toward the end like that, it’s usually not because the dose is too high. It’s more often because the level of medication is dropping off too fast—a rebound effect. That also requires an adjustment in medication.

How to Stop and Prevent Medication Rebound

When you see rebound symptoms repeatedly over a number of days, it’s a good idea to speak with your child’s doctor. He may prescribe a “booster” to eliminate them.

A “booster” is usually a small dose of an immediate-release version of the same stimulant medicine your child takes. Kids take it shortly before their regular medication is set to wear off (which is right before the rebound typically hits.)

The addition of a small amount of medication usually makes the drop-off more gradual. And that keeps the rebound reaction from happening.

To help your doctor understand the problem, it’s important to observe patterns in your child’s behavior. Take notes on what her symptoms are, when they appear and when they end. Bring these with you when you speak to the doctor. It will help him come up with the best solution for adjusting the medication to prevent continuing medication rebound.

Understood is not paid by or affiliated with any pharmaceutical company.