Thursday, 22 December 2011

Exceptional autism brains

autism ribbon

As promised, this blog further demonstrates both the complexity of our brain and the relationship between brain and behaviour, this time with reference to Autism Spectrum disorders.

Autism Spectrum disorders (ASD) are pervasive developmental disabilities characterised by marked difficulties with social interaction and communication and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours. As the name implies, the condition is on a continuum, meaning that the range and severity of the difficulties people with an ASD experience can vary widely.

There are a number of subtypes, the most common being autistic disorder and Asperger's disorder. ASDs are reasonably common, with as many as 1 in 110 children affected. They are more prevalent in boys than girls.

While there is no cure, the best possible outcomes are achieved through early intervention (such as social skills training), which is why getting a clear diagnosis is an important first step.

Research on ASDs is in its relatively early stages and there is still a lot of debate surrounding the cause, diagnosis and subtypes. One area of debate surrounds a subtype , sometimes referred to as regressive autism, where children develop normally until a certain age, at which point they not only stop developing in certain areas, but and they lose skills gained (such as the ability to communicate in age-appropriate ways).

The brains of boys with regressive autism are different

A ground-breaking study recently conducted at the MIND Institute at the University of California has found that compared both to children without ASD and to those with a different form of ASD, boys who go on to develop regressive autism show abnormal brain growth as early as four months of age. In "the largest study of brain development in preschoolers with autism to date", involving 180 subjects, it was found that these boys experienced a growth spurt during which their brains grew six percent larger between the ages of four and 19 months. There was no evidence of this occuring in girls.

The data was based on head circumference measurements taken from paediatric visits in infancy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans done at age three. The boys with regressive autism had normal head circumference at birth. This significantly increased by as early as approximately four months and most commonly between four to six months, well before symptoms of ASD became evident.

The important outcome of this study, as noted by the researchers is that "rapid head growth beginning around four-six months of age may be a risk factor for future loss of skills"

The ability to detect possible autism from routine tests at such an early age is invaluable as the importance of early intervention can not be overstated. Neuropsychologists are involved in the diagnosis of ASD and can also assist in developing appropriate interventions. Clinical Psychologists, Psychologists, Speech Therapists and Occupational Therapists are also often involved in interventions for children with ASD and their parents.

Thanks again to Karen Wallace for alerting me to this fascinating article.

On behalf of Jamie Berry and the whole Advanced Neuropsychological team, we wish all our followers, readers and their families a wonderful holiday season. Stay safe!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Our exceptional brain (continued)

As discussed in our earlier blog, Neuro-what-ology, neuropsychology has evolved along with our burgeoning understanding of the human brain. Two recent studies further illuminate the complexity and awesomeness of this vital organ, and the relationship between brain and behaviour.

Studies such as these are vital to the practice of neuropsychology as they help inform assessment practices and treatment programs and assist with interpretation of results.

Also, they make a great dinner party conversation topic!

Thanks to Karen Wallace, Clinical Neuropsychologist, and fellow ANTSer for sniffing out these great articles.

eye brain connection, synaesthesia and the visual cortex

Synaesthesia and the visual cortex

The first study concerns synaesthesia – a condition where people experience a sense separate to the one being stimulated, such as seeing colours while reading words. Dr Devin Terhune and colleagues from the University of Oxford in the UK found that there is a "fundamental" difference between the brains of people with and without synaesthesia.

People with synaesthesia appear to have an overactive visual cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for processing visual information, located in the Occipital lobe at the back of the brain.

Primary Visual Cortex

Over time, this overactivity appears to create changes in the regions of the brain responsible for processing information about letters, colours and numbers during development.

The researchers stimulated the visual cortex of individuals with and without synaesthesia by producing a magnetic field from a coil applied to the scalp. In both cases stimulation resulted in ‘phosphenes’, or flashes of light or other visual images, but those individuals without the condition required three times greater stimulation in order to experience phosphenes.

The researchers hoped that the findings could be used to reduce or eliminate synaesthesia, or even to train those without it to learn digit or word-colour associations, which could be useful when studying mathematics, English or music.

The study was published on November 18, 2011 in Current Biology.

If you’d like to read about the second study, stay tuned...and visit our blog again next week.

If you’d like more information about Advanced Neuropsychological Treatment Services, please visit our website or contact us via our online enquiry form.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

World focuses attention on tragic outcomes of road traffic accidents

The ‘Pinky Ad’ and Road Safety

The ‘Pinky Ad’ and Road Safety Who could forget those ads that ran on Australian television a few years ago about young male drivers – the ones with the pinky finger that targeted risky driving in young males by implying that speeding is linked to an inferiority complex to do with, let’s just say, an aspect of the male anatomy.
While the approach was light-hearted (if a bit sexist!), the subject matter is not. Road accidents are the leading killer of people aged between 15 to 29 years. Globally 1.3 million people die each year on the roads and between 20 and 50 million people sustain non-fatal injuries. It is projected that based on current rates, if no action is taken, road accidents will result in 1.9 million deaths by 2020.
Now the world is collectively sitting up and taking notice.

Global Decade of Action for Road Safety

May 11 marked the beginning of the global Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. The aim of the ‘Decade’ is to prevent death and injury from road traffic events. At least 20 countries, including Australia, are involved in the Decade, their governments having committed to improving safety management and enhancing health and related services.

Road Accidents and Traumatic Brain Injury

The brain and road accidents and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) One of the most tragic outcomes of road accidents is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). TBI is an acquired brain injury caused by physical damage to the brain, either as a result of an external force striking the head or the brain impacting with the skull. The force causes the brain to move within the skull, causing internal damage.
There are different levels of severity raging from mild to extremely severe which are determined by factors including recall of events before and after the incident and level of coma. The more severe the TBI, the poorer the prognosis.
Cognitive and psychological outcomes can include memory difficulties, difficulties with higher level thinking skills (e.g. planning/organisation), slowed speed of information processing, mood and personality change, depression and anxiety.
A 2008 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Research Centre for Injury Studies found that there were more than 22,700 hospitalisations involving TBI in Australia in 2004-05. After falls, transportation use was the second highest external cause of TBI, at 31% of all cases, which represented over 7,000 people.
Nearly 70% of the cases were males, who acquired TBI at more than twice the rate of females. table of TBI road injury

TBI and Clinical Neuropsychology

While the main aim of the Decade is to prevent TBI, another important aim is to improve management of and services for those who experience a TBI. Clinical neuropsychology is critical in the assessment and rehabilitation of TBI. A neuropsychological assessment can provide detailed information on the impact of the TBI on various aspects of cognition (thinking skills) and expert advice regarding the trajectory of brain recovery and remediation/rehabilitation strategies to allow for the best possible outcome.
If you or someone you know has had a TBI and would like more information on our assessment and rehabilitation services, please contact us.
And please slow down on our roads over this holiday period.