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  • July 28, 2016
  • 03:49 AM
  • 29 views

Autism in adults in the UK continued

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Traolach Brugha and colleagues [1] makes for some blogging fodder today and the suggestion that: "The combined prevalence of autism in adults of all ages in England was 11/1000."Just before going through the Brugha paper it is perhaps appropriate to put it into some context based on other work from this group previously covered on this blog (see here) and the findings again by Brugha and colleagues [2] (a further report on their findings that time around can be seen here).On that last occasion published in 2011, the estimated prevalence of adult autism in the UK - living in the community - was reported on, arriving at a figure of 9.8/1000. That finding was based on data from the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) and whilst important, was not without it's methodological weaknesses including the fact that: "Sampling excluded institutional residents and adults with intellectual disability severe enough to prevent them from participating in the assessment." I'll come back to the 'weakness' issues shortly also with one of the screening instruments in mind...Anyhow, the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2007) once again formed the basis for the recent paper by Brugha added to "a population case-register survey of 290 adults with intellectual disability". Those additional 290 adults have already been discussed in another publication from this group (see here) and were collectively termed the IDCR cohort (Intellectual Disability Case Register study). I have to admit that at first I thought it was the 2014 reincarnation of the APMS that formed the bulk of the data for this latest paper - data from the publication of which is due out soon - but this was not the case as we are told that: "The sample from the first general population study was extended with the inclusion of representative samples of adults with intellectual disability omitted from the earlier survey" i.e. those additional 290 adults included as part of the IDCR study. The value added bit to the latest Brugha paper was the inclusion of adults both living in both private households or in communal care both "sampled from learning disability case registers."The 2-stage screening affair held with the 2007 APMS cohort where the the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) - the AQ20 - was the starting point, followed by the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) (module 4) as and when required. ADOS module 1 was actually the preferred assessment scheme for those IDCR study participants (module 1 "is designed for individuals who do not consistently use phrase speech") and the AQ initial screen did not seem to figure.The results: well, I've already indicated that the estimated prevalence was around 1.1% of the adult population, up from the previous 0.9% estimate. This was based on "14 men and 4 women with autism in the APMS subsample, and 49 men and 40 women with autism in the IDCR subsample." It should be noted that of the original 290 participants interviewed from the IDCR cohort, only 276 were eventually assessed for autism as a consequence of some presenting with quite profound difficulties not conducive to a "confident assessment".The authors report that estimated autism prevalence was higher in those with moderate to profound learning (intellectual) disability and that there was a 'gradient' of autism prevalence by learning disability status. A quote by the authors relays this finding perfectly: "almost two in five adults with moderate to profound intellectual disability had autism." Indeed, the link between autism and learning disability is something that has also been discussed in recent posts (see here) on this blog. Authors also observed that: "Male gender was a strong predictor of autism only in those with no or mild intellectual disability" so highlighting how the gender ratio for autism in those with moderate or profound intellectual disability was nowhere near the traditional 4:1 ratio commonly touted.Although important data filling a very important gap in terms of the estimated adult prevalence of autism here in Blighty, I would like to return to the potential 'weakness' aspect of the last and latest Brugha papers. For those who follow this blog you'll probably know that I have a few issues with one of the primary screening instruments put forward with 'autistic traits' in mind: the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). It's nothing personal when it comes to my growing unease with the instrument but in these days of the 'are you autistic?' pop psychology survey (see here) I'm not convinced that (a) it is all that reliable as an accurate screening measure [3] for autism and (b) that it is specifically 'tuned into autism' at the expense of other possible diagnoses (see here). The fact that the AQ20 was the first stage screener for those potentially requiring subsequent ADOS-ing at least in the APMS 2007 cohort does bring into question exactly how accurate the Brugha findings are in terms of the final estimated prevalence of adult autism among those where learning disability does not feature. Indeed, even the authors in a further relevant publication have even questioned their 2-stage methodology used [4]: "The AQ-20 was only a weak predictor of ADOS-4 cases." Hmm.To reiterate, I don't want to come down to hard on the Brugha findings because they are some of the best data we currently have when it comes to estimates of numbers of cases of adult autism in the UK. The fact that the data - systematically collected on this and the previous testing occasion - seemed to be pointing towards a significant role for learning disability when it comes to autism alongside an increase in cases when this factor is taken into consideration also plays into all those debates about whether autism is truly on the rise (see here) and what further planning and resources are going to be needed in future years. It is however only with time and continued monitoring that we will see what trends become apparent with regards to autism prevalence in adults here in the UK and what more we will see when APMS 2014 finally begins to report...To close, having watched the fantastic film Ant-Man with my brood recently, we're never going to look at Thomas the Tank Engine in quite the same light...----------[1] Brugha TS. et al. Epidemiology of autism in adults across age groups and ability levels. Br J Psychiatry. 2016 Jul 7.[2] Brugha TS. et al. Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the community in England. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 May;68(5):459-65.[3] Ashwood KL. et al. Predicting the diagnosis of autism in adults using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) questionnaire. Psychol Med. 2016 Jun 29:1-10.[4] Brugha TS. et al. Validating two survey methods for ... Read more »

Brugha TS, Spiers N, Bankart J, Cooper SA, McManus S, Scott FJ, Smith J, & Tyrer F. (2016) Epidemiology of autism in adults across age groups and ability levels. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science. PMID: 27388569  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 03:39 PM
  • 49 views

Common brain changes found in children with autism, ADHD and OCD

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

A team of Toronto scientists has found similarities in brain impairments in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The study involved brain imaging of white matter in 200 children with autism, ADHD, OCD or no diagnosis.

... Read more »

  • July 27, 2016
  • 02:38 PM
  • 35 views

Deer Line Up North-South, Whether Relaxing or Running

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



If you're ever lost in a remote European forest, you might be able to get your bearings by finding a herd of roe deer. These animals like to align themselves roughly north-south, whether they're standing still or fleeing danger.

Roe deer are small, reddish or grayish grazers common in Europe and Asia. Petr Obleser, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, and his coauthors studied the behavior of these skittish herbivores to look for evidence that they can sense the earth's mag... Read more »

Obleser, P., Hart, V., Malkemper, E., Begall, S., Holá, M., Painter, M., Červený, J., & Burda, H. (2016) Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 70(8), 1345-1355. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 01:33 PM
  • 42 views

Posttraumatic stress disorder a greater risk in rich countries

by Eva Alisic in Trauma Recovery

One would think that people with few friends and living in poverty are more at risk for PTSD than those with a strong support network and many resources. And that's true.

However, it is a different story when you look at the country-, rather than the individual level. Countries with more resources, such as the USA and the Netherlands, have higher levels of PTSD than countries with fewer resources (e.g. Colombia, South Africa).
... Read more »

  • July 27, 2016
  • 11:30 AM
  • 39 views

Your Cat Would Like Food Puzzle Toys

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

Food puzzles will help satisfy your cat’s hunting instinct, but most cats are missing out.A new paper on food puzzle toys for cats has plenty of ideas to get everyone started on these wonderful enrichment items. The research, led by Mikel Delgado (University of California, Berkeley; Feline Minds), combines a review of the scientific literature on food toys as feline enrichment with practical tips gained from the authors’ work as feline behaviour practitioners.Food puzzles are toys that make your cat do some work to get the food out of them. Maybe they have to stick their paw in and pick pieces of food out, or maybe they roll it around with their nose or paw to make food fall out of the holes. There are many different types of food toys, some of which stay in one place and others that the cat has to move around.“It's a great way to give your cat something to do to keep them busy and get them doing what a predator is supposed to do... Working for their food!!” Mikel Delgado told me. “It's great for their brains and body!“A bonus is that it's really fun to watch your cat play with a food puzzle!”Most cats miss out on food toysA study of enrichment for cats found that only 5% of cats have food toys. An earlier study of how owners play with their cats found just 1% of cats have food toys, and only 0.5% of owners hide food for their cat to find.If your cat is one of those missing out, read on to find out why these feline scientists say you should give food puzzles a try.The benefits of food puzzle toys for catsFood puzzles make cats engage in part of their natural predation sequence – getting food. This has many benefits, according to the report, including encouraging cats to be more active, reducing stress levels, and making them be less demanding of their owners. If your cat is overweight or obese, then food puzzle toys can help cats to lose weight. In some cases, introducing food puzzle toys has also helped to resolve litter tray indiscretions (N.B. If your cat is toileting outside their litter tray, they must see a vet to solve any medical issues first).The report provides several case studies in which food puzzles have been all or part of the solution to feline behaviour problems.For example, a 3 year old neutered male cat was biting his owners, sometimes without warning. This was considered due to frustration. Introducing a combination of food puzzles led to some immediate improvement. Six months later, the aggressive behaviour had completely stopped.Food puzzles are also suitable for multi-cat homes, although each cat should have their own toy.How to get started with food toysWe all know cats can be finicky. You should expect to try several types of food toys in order to find ones your cat loves. Note that’s plural – your aim is to find (or make) several different food puzzles for your cat.Some cats that are used to having food freely available at all times may go on strike when they first find out they are now expected to work for their food. Not eating can be very dangerous for cats, so it’s important to make the toys accessible.Early on, they have to be very easy. You can increase the difficulty later, once your cat has got the hang of it.“Initially, obtaining food from the food puzzle needs to be as easy as obtaining food from the food bowl,” write the scientists. “This means that the cat should have to do very little work for food at first. The puzzle should be filled as much as possible, and should have several, large holes to allow food to fall out easily. The puzzle should roll with little manipulation. For stationary puzzles, cups or reservoirs should be overflowing.”Mixing some treats in with the cat’s regular food at first may help them to be interested in it. For puzzles that move, you can roll it around to show them how it works, and it will also help to present it on a surface where it will move easily (rather than carpet as that will make it harder; your cat can build up to this if you like).To begin with, you should still feed your cat some of their daily food in their bowl. Over time, once your cat has become adept at the food toy, you can reduce the amount in the bowl until they are working for all of their food.Your cat really will like food puzzlesIt seems that every cat can benefit from food toys and there are few, if any, downsides. A common reason they are not more widely used, according to the report, is that cat guardians think their cat will not be interested in them. Reassuringly, they say every cat they have worked with has learned to use food puzzles – even those with special needs. So why not give them a try?Trouble-shooting problemsIf your cat seems to be frustrated with the toy, you may need to make it easier for them. Remember that it should be overflowing with food at the beginning. If your cat is what the report calls a 'slow starter', you can hide a small portion of food somewhere for them to find. If it’s canned food, you can put a spoonful in a cup cake holder or on a little saucer to stop it from marking your furniture.If your cat seems bored, you can always make the toy more difficult (making sure you don’t go too far and make it too difficult). Some toys are adjustable to different difficulty levels. You can also try new toys.The paper also suggests filling a small food toy and putting it inside a larger one, which seems like a fiendish level of difficulty for expert cats.If you have a dog, you will need to think of a way to keep the dog from eating the cat’s food. You could use a pet gate to keep the dog away, or feed the cats in a room the dog doesn’t have access to. You may already be doing this to keep the dog away from the cat’s food bowl anyway. And you can, of course, give your dog their own food enrichment toys.Buy Food Puzzles or Make Them – It’s Your ChoiceThese days, there are lots of food puzzle toys on the market. It’s also very easy to make your own.You can make a very simple toy by cutting a hole in a cardboard tube (e.g. from toilet roll), putting food inside and sealing both ends. Remember to make it a large hole at the beginning so that it’s easy for your cat. The report includes a photo of this and several other purchased and home-made food puzzles.Two of the authors, Mikel Delgado and Ingrid Johnson, have a website that reviews food puzzles for cats. It has plenty of ideas for do-it-yourself toys too and is an excellent resource for anyone interested in providing more enrichment for their feline friend. I love this example that only requires a brown paper bag. One of their reviews features a 15-year old toothless, arthritic, three-legged cat enjoying using a toy called the Dog Tornado by Nina Ottoson. Food puzzles are suitable for all cats.The full paper is open access at the link below. It’s an interesting read and includes photos of food toys, including some DIY options, as well as lots of tips for introducing your cat to food puzzles.Does your cat have food puzzles?Reference... Read more »

Dantas, L., Delgado, M., Johnson, I., & Buffington, C. (2016) Food puzzles for cats: feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. DOI: 10.1177/1098612X16643753  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 03:44 AM
  • 55 views

Blood glutamate levels in autism meta-analysed

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"The meta-analysis provided evidence for higher blood glutamate levels in ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."That was the research bottom-line reported by Zhen Zheng and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) who surveyed the current peer-reviewed science literature in this area and found something to see based on: "Twelve studies involving 880 participants and 446 incident cases."Drawing on the idea that glutamate is a rather important amino acid that plays a role in various biological processes including that related to the manufacture of GABA (see here), Zheng et al observed higher circulating blood levels of the stuff; a sort-of proxy for what might also be going on with regards to brain levels of glutamate. That "excess glutamate has been shown to be a potent neurotoxin that leads to neuronal cell death and plays a role in the pathophysiology of some neuropsychiatric disorders" is an important point to make as to the potential implications from the Zheng meta-analysis.Zheng et al do mention how important glutamate is for the purposes of GABA production and in particular, how issues with glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) - a key enzyme that converts glutamate into GABA - described in some cases of autism [2] might account for the elevated levels of glutamate yet the generally lower levels of GABA seen in autism (see here). I'd be inclined to agree that this is perhaps one of the more important implications for glutamate in autism; particularly when added to the whole 'glutamate linked to epilepsy' bit knowing how close a relationship autism and epilepsy seem to share (see here).Where next with this research area I hear you ask? Well, I'd like to know a little more not just about glutamate but also another linked amino acid called glutamine. It has already been talked about in the autism research literature a while back (see here) but a lot more follow-up work is required on these two important compounds and what their differing ratio might mean. I'd also like to see more work done on the idea that "the mood stabilizer valproic acid, which exerts neuroprotective effects against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity, is effective in ASD [autism spectrum disorder] with seizures." Yes, I know that valproic acid a.k.a valproate is a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to autism and other offspring developmental issues under certain circumstances (see here) but much like another research story in autism (see here) timing of exposure seems to be a key issue and one wonders whether other unrelated compounds might also exert a similar neuroprotective effect.As to the idea that "blood glutamate levels may serve as a potential biomarker in the diagnosis of ASD" made by Zheng and colleagues, we'll wait and see...----------[1] Zheng Z. et al. Blood Glutamate Levels in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2016 Jul 8;11(7):e0158688.[2] Yip J. et al. Decreased GAD65 mRNA levels in select subpopulations of neurons in the cerebellar dentate nuclei in autism: an in situ hybridization study. Autism Res. 2009 Feb;2(1):50-9.----------Zheng Z, Zhu T, Qu Y, & Mu D (2016). Blood Glutamate Levels in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PloS one, 11 (7) PMID: 27390857... Read more »

  • July 26, 2016
  • 03:41 AM
  • 81 views

Probiotics degrading gluten peptides - part 2

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I going to assume that readers have some background knowledge about probiotics, gut bacteria, bacterial dysbiosis and coeliac disease before reading this post. I'd love to be able to give detailed descriptions of each here but fear that this would turn a short post into a much longer one...So... in a previous post titled: 'Probiotics degrading gluten peptides?' I covered the potentially important suggestion that certain types of bacteria might have the ability to breakdown (degrade) immunogenic gluten peptides. This may be particularly relevant to conditions like coeliac disease where specific peptides derived from gluten are involved in a cascade of biological processes that can and do affect a sizeable proportion of the population.In this part 2 post I'm turning my attention to the findings reported by Alberto Caminero and colleagues [1] who observed that: "Small intestinal bacteria exhibit distinct gluten metabolic patterns in vivo, increasing or reducing gluten peptide immunogenicity." Further that: "This microbe-gluten-host interaction may modulate autoimmune risk in genetically susceptible persons and may underlie the reported association of dysbiosis and CeD [coeliac disease]."How did they arrive at such conclusions? Well, it all started with some bacterial seeding, where "bacteria isolated from the small intestine of CeD patients or healthy controls" was implanted into a germ-free mouse/mice. Said mice were given gluten (gluten gavage) and various measures of gliadin content and the extent of breakdown of gluten proteins were measured. The specific peptides "produced by bacteria used in mouse colonization" were subjected to analysis via one of the gold-standards of analytical chemistry: LC-MS/MS. Said peptides were then evaluated for their immunogenic potential "using peripheral blood mononuclear cells from celiac patients after receiving a 3-day gluten challenge."Results: well I've already mentioned that different types of intestinal bacteria seemed to have different patterns of gluten protein degradation. This is rather important because not 10-15 years ago most people in the know would have suggested that gluten protein degradation is solely under the control of the body's biological systems designed for this purpose. Now it appears, there may be bacterial helping hands also at work. So: "Lactobacillus spp. from the duodenum of non-CeD controls degraded gluten peptides produced by human and Psa [Pseudomonas aeruginosa] proteases, reducing their immunogenicity." But for every 'good guy' there must be a 'bad guy' and in this case Psa assumes that role: "Psa-modified gluten peptides activated gluten-specific T-cells from CeD patients."One still has to be a little cautious about this and other related work as things stand but such results are promising. Not only because more and more the gut microbiome is being implicated in conditions like coeliac disease (see here for example) but also because there may be something that can be done about it [2] and science has the technology to identify other potential gluten-digesting bacteria [3] too. Indeed, alongside a suite of other potential intervention options (see here for example) the management of conditions like coeliac disease by avoidance of dietary gluten may eventually not be the only option. Whether this may also extend to the slightly more grey areas of gluten sensitivity (see here) remains to be seen as does the idea that certain bacteria might also 'work' on accompanying issues such as those linked to gut barrier integrity [4]...----------[1] Caminero A. et al. Duodenal bacteria from patients with celiac disease and healthy subjects distinctly affect gluten breakdown and immunogenicity. Gastroenterology. 2016 Jun 30. pii: S0016-5085(16)34713-8.[2] Duar RM. et al. Identification and characterization of intestinal lactobacilli strains capable of degrading immunotoxic peptides present in gluten. J Appl Microbiol. 2015 Feb;118(2):515-27.[3] Berger M. et al. Rapid isolation of gluten-digesting bacteria from human stool and saliva by using gliadin-containing plates. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2015 Jul;240(7):917-24.[4] Orlando A. et al. Lactobacillus GG restoration of the gliadin induced epithelial barrier disruption: the role of cellular polyamines. BMC Microbiol. 2014 Jan 31;14:19.----------Caminero, A., Galipeau, H., McCarville, J., Johnston, C., Bernier, S., Russell, A., Jury, J., Herran, A., Casqueiro, J., Tye-Din, J., Surette, M., Magarvey, N., Schuppan, D., & Verdu, E. (2016). Duodenal bacteria from patients with celiac disease and healthy subjects distinctly affect gluten breakdown and immunogenicity Gastroenterology DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2016.06.041... Read more »

  • July 25, 2016
  • 03:37 AM
  • 91 views

Risk of cancer in mums of children with autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I very carefully approach the findings reported by Jennifer Fairthorne and colleagues [1] today detailing "the occurrence of hospital admissions and treatment/services for cancer in mothers of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] with or without ID [intellectual disability] compared with other mothers." Appreciating that families touched by autism probably have enough on their plate without additional talk about the 'big C', I do however think that this kind of research is important if not only as part of the process of 'caring for the carers'.Based on the analysis of various "Western Australian administrative health databases" (something gaining research ascendancy), researchers sought to estimate the odds, sorry hazard ratios, of hospitalisation and/or use of services in relation to cancer when it came to mums of children with autism (with and without learning disability) "compared with other mothers." They concluded that there may be something more to see when it comes to elevated use of cancer services among mothers of children with autism. Mothers of children with autism but not with accompanying learning disability in particular seemed to be a group in need of quite a bit more scientific investigation.Minus any sweeping generalisations nor scaremongering, this is important work. I've kinda touched upon the idea that risk of cancer might be something to look at in first degree relatives of those with autism (see here) before. As per reports such as the one by Erin Ingudomnukul and colleagues [2] the risk is not wildly increased similar to the risk of cancer among people with autism themselves (see here), but certainly enough to start asking more research questions about possible mechanisms and the potential applicability of preferential screening services. Indeed, on the topic of possible mechanisms it might be useful to note the growing interest in the idea that autism genes are not necessarily just genes for autism (see here) and that just outside of structural genetics, there is another branch of science ripe for further dual inquiry [3]...----------[1] Fairthorne JC. et al. Mothers of Children with Autism have Different Rates of Cancer According to the Presence of Intellectual Disability in Their Child. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2016. July 6.[2] Ingudomnukul E. et al. Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions. Horm Behav. 2007 May;51(5):597-604.[3] Latham KE. et al. The epigenetic lorax: gene-environment interactions in human health. Epigenomics. 2012 Aug;4(4):383-402.----------Fairthorne, J., de Klerk, N., Leonard, H., & Whitehouse, A. (2016). Mothers of Children with Autism have Different Rates of Cancer According to the Presence of Intellectual Disability in Their Child Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-016-2847-9... Read more »

  • July 24, 2016
  • 03:29 PM
  • 106 views

Researchers temporarily turn off brain area to better understand function

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Capitalizing on experimental genetic techniques, researchers have demonstrated that temporarily turning off an area of the brain changes patterns of activity across much of the remaining brain. The research suggests that alterations in the functional connectivity of the brain in humans may be used to determine the sites of pathology in complex disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

... Read more »

  • July 23, 2016
  • 05:30 PM
  • 106 views

Brain activity and response to food cues differ in severely obese women

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The brain's reward centers in severely obese women continue to respond to food cues even after they've eaten and are no longer hungry, in contrast to their lean counterparts. The study compared attitudes and the brain activity of 15 severely obese women (those with a body mass index greater than 35) and 15 lean women (those with a BMI under 25).

... Read more »

Puzziferri, N., Zigman, J., Thomas, B., Mihalakos, P., Gallagher, R., Lutter, M., Carmody, T., Lu, H., & Tamminga, C. (2016) Brain imaging demonstrates a reduced neural impact of eating in obesity. Obesity, 24(4), 829-836. DOI: 10.1002/oby.21424  

  • July 23, 2016
  • 04:17 AM
  • 119 views

On probiotics and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Granted, I am taking a slight departure from the material typically discussed on this blog by introducing the paper by Yan Zhang and colleagues [1] who reported the findings of a meta-analysis examining "the efficacy of different probiotic types, doses and treatment durations in IBS [irritable bowel syndrome] patients diagnosed by Rome III criteria via a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs)." The results however - "Probiotics are an effective pharmacological therapy in IBS patients" - were important enough for me to think about discussing, particularly in the context that IBS might not be stand-alone condition (see here) and some recent research in progress [2] (see here for my take) that could illustrate some wider relevance.The Zhang paper is open-access so doesn't need any grand rewriting from me in terms of methods or findings but a few things stick out. First is the fact that quite a few different probiotic preparations have been experimentally examined with IBS in mind. From the 21 studies looked at by Zhang et al, we have some recurring themes including different types of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus for example being included in the preparations. The inclusion of a preparation called VSL#3 also caught me eye in light of some discussions about a potential 'antibiotic brain' recently on this blog (see here) and what might reverse this in mice. Of additional note was the use of an old friend: Saccharomyces boulardii that continues to impress [3].Second, and related to the first point, are the authors conclusions that: "Single probiotics, a low dose, and a short treatment duration were more effective with respect to overall symptom response and QoL [quality of life]." The authors provide some rather interesting forest plots illustrating how the analysed data helped them reach this conclusion; albeit bearing in mind that "the effects of individual probiotic species" were not analysed in the current meta-analysis. In other words, some preparations seem to work pretty well but we don't know enough about which ones used under which circumstances.Finally, I noted that the whilst the use of a placebo was an important eligibility criteria for inclusion in their meta-analysis - "the studies were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared probiotics with placebo" - the authors did not shy away from the fact that: "An appreciable placebo effect was detected in some studies, which may have minimized the effects of probiotics." Placebo effects and IBS is something again, that has been discussed before on this blog (see here) bearing in mind I'm not saying that IBS is 'all in the mind' or anything like that.Set within the context of other recent meta-analyses concluding that: "There were alterations of gut microbiota in IBS patients and it implied that alterations of gut microbiota might be involved in the pathogenesis of IBS" [4] one shouldn't necessarily be surprised that there may have been effects from the use of probiotics in cases of IBS. Assuming that an oral probiotic is able to survive the stomach environment and actually colonise [parts of] the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (if only for a defined amount of time) the cost-effectiveness of this intervention coupled with the low rates of side-effects makes for impressive reading in terms of the treatment of at least some cases of IBS.----------[1] Zhang Y. et al. Effects of probiotic type, dose and treatment duration on irritable bowel syndrome diagnosed by Rome III criteria: a meta-analysis. BMC Gastroenterology. 2016; 16: 62.[2] Santocchi E. et al. Gut to brain interaction in Autism Spectrum Disorders: a randomized controlled trial on the role of probiotics on clinical, biochemical and neurophysiological parameters. BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Jun 4;16:183.[3] Szajewska H. & Kołodziej M. Systematic review with meta-analysis: Saccharomyces boulardii in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2015 Oct;42(7):793-801.[4] Zhuang X. et al. Alterations of gut microbiota in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016 Jun 14.----------Zhang Y, Li L, Guo C, Mu D, Feng B, Zuo X, & Li Y (2016). Effects of probiotic type, dose and treatment duration on irritable bowel syndrome diagnosed by Rome III criteria: a meta-analysis. BMC gastroenterology, 16 (1) PMID: 27296254... Read more »

  • July 22, 2016
  • 03:38 PM
  • 123 views

When it comes to empathy, don't always trust your gut

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Ever feel like someone is hiding something? Or maybe you suddenly feel like you can't trust a co-worker. The feeling may seem logical, but is empathy the result of gut intuition or careful reasoning? Research suggests that, contrary to popular belief, the latter may be more the case.

... Read more »

  • July 22, 2016
  • 11:50 AM
  • 115 views

Altruistic people have more sex

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

People who perform regular altruistic acts like giving blood also tend to have more sex.Viewed through the lens of evolutionary psychology, altruism takes some explaining. In a dog eat dog world, it seems like a risky, indulgent habit. Yet we are only alive today because our distant ancestors were successful at reproducing – and the fact many of us have inherited their altruistic tendencies suggests that being altruistic gave them some kind of survival or reproductive advantage.One idea is that altruism is advantageous because it is often reciprocated. Another is that altruism is a "costly signal" that tells potential sexual partners you would make a good mate – if you've the freedom to be charitable, this suggests you must be capable and resourceful. Supporting this "costly signal" account, plentiful past research has shown that signs of altruism increase both men's and women's attractiveness to the opposite sex.Now an article in the British Journal of Psychology has followed through on this logic to find out whether more altruistic people aren't just more attractive, but actually have more sex. This is an important test because as Steven Arnocky and his colleagues explain, "... it is actual mating outcomes which ultimately contribute to the evolution of particular phenotypes". Stated differently, if the more altruistic of our forebears were not only perceived as more attractive, but also had more sex, this would help explain why many modern humans have inherited the inclination to be altruistic.One of the best indicators we have of whether our more altruistic forebears were likely to have had more sex is to see if, today, more altruistic people continue to have more sex than less altruistic people. That's what Arnocky and his team aimed to discover through two studies involving young adult Canadians.They first asked 192 unmarried women and 105 unmarried men to describe their own altruistic tendencies, such as whether they give money to charity, donate blood, help people across the street and so on. They also asked them questions about their sexual history and their desirability to the opposite sex.Men and women who scored higher on altruism said they were more attractive to, and received more interest from the opposite sex. Men, but not women, who scored higher on altruism also tended to report having had more sexual partners in their lifetime, and also more casual sexual partners specifically. Focusing on just those participants in a current long-term relationship, the more altruistic men and women in this group reported having more sex in their relationship over the last 30 days.Results from Study 1. Green dashed line=male participants; red=female. Figure from Arnocky et al, 2016. Of course this first study was limited by its reliance on participants' descriptions of their own altruism. Perhaps people who have more sex are simply inclined to brag more about being altruistic. To overcome this problem, a second study involving 335 undergrads featured a test of actual altruistic tendencies by giving participants the opportunity to donate to charity their potential $100 winnings for taking part in the study.The participants also answered questions about their sexual history, and this time there were measures of their narcissism and their tendency to give socially desirable answers (this last scale essentially involved participants rating statements about themselves – e.g. "I never regret any decisions" – as true or not, and it was possible to tell from the answers if someone was painting an unrealistically positive image of themselves).Even factoring out the narcissists and higher scorers on the social desirability scale, the second study found that actual altruistic tendencies correlated with having more sex. Among men only, this included having had more sexual partners in the past, and among men and women, having had more casual sex partners in their lifetime, and more sex partners in the past year.The researchers said their findings add to past research on hunter-gatherer tribes that have shown men who hunt and who share more meat among non-relatives also tend to have more sex. The new results also converge with past evidence suggesting that altruistic men and women are seen as more desirable."The present study provides the first empirical evidence that altruism may tangibly benefit mating in humans living in Western industrialised society,"  the researchers said,  "and that sex differences might exist with respect to the utility of altruism for mating, whereby it is a more effective signal for men than for women."One big caveat, acknowledged by the researchers – these results are correlational so it's not clear which way the causal juices are flowing. An alternative interpretation of the results is that having more sex and sexual partners encourages people to feel generous towards others and be more altruistic. We'll have to await longitudinal research that charts people's sexual habits and altruism over time to settle this question, though the idea that altruism leads to more sex is certainly consistent with the past evidence suggesting altruistic behaviour causes increases in a person's desirability._________________________________ Arnocky, S., Piché, T., Albert, G., Ouellette, D., & Barclay, P. (2016). Altruism predicts mat... Read more »

Arnocky, S., Piché, T., Albert, G., Ouellette, D., & Barclay, P. (2016) Altruism predicts mating success in humans. British Journal of Psychology. DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12208  

  • July 22, 2016
  • 03:01 AM
  • 114 views

Surgery for "chronic idiopathic constipation" and autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I can't profess to be an expert on the techniques called sigmoidectomy and appendicostomy so won't even try and pretend that I am. From what I gather from Dr Google, the latter is a surgical technique generally performed to "help deliver enemas more easily" to relieve constipation, whilst the former involves the surgical removal of some or all of the sigmoid colon. Both are only generally indicated when traditional methods of treating constipation for example, fail.The reason I'm briefly talking about sigmoidectomy and appendicostomy today revolves around the paper by Luis De La Torre and colleagues [1] who following a review of 8 cases of "chronic idiopathic constipation complicated by megarectosigmoid and fecal incontinence" reported that half of their small cohort "have autism" whilst all "had severe social problems." They reported that after their surgery "all patients were having daily bowel movements without fecal accidents."For regular readers I probably don't have to stress the substantial weight of peer-reviewed scientific evidence suggesting that functional bowel issues are over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism. For any newcomers straying onto this blog (a dangerous thing indeed!) I might direct you to one of my more recent entries on this important comorbidity (see here) and how despite some headline fails (see here) preferential screening for bowel issues should really follow an autism diagnosis. Add it to the list of screening potentially indicated...The observations made by De La Torre et al represent the extreme of tackling functional constipation as and when it appears and how such a bowel issue can not only wreck quality of life but also potentially put someone in a life-threatening situation (yes, it has sadly happened and with autism mentioned). Nobody likes the idea of surgically removing parts of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract nor 'creating a pathway from belly button to the large intestine' in any patient, less so when that patient may have autism and potentially other comorbidity leaving open significant debate on issues such as informed consent. But, given the current lack of knowledge about the hows and whys of constipation when it occurs alongside autism, I think we are going to see more and more extreme cases such as this in both the clinical and research domains.The onus therefore is on putting any prejudice aside when the words 'bowel' and 'autism' are strung together in the same sentence (see here) and making some real scientific strides into the mechanisms potentially involved in such over-representation. People diagnosed with autism and suffering some often quite terrible bowel issues deserve so much more than just further health inequality...----------[1] De La Torre L. et al. Primary sigmoidectomy and appendicostomy for chronic idiopathic constipation. Pediatr Surg Int. 2016 Jul 2.----------De La Torre L, Cogley K, Calisto J, Nace G, & Correa C (2016). Primary sigmoidectomy and appendicostomy for chronic idiopathic constipation. Pediatric surgery international PMID: 27372298... Read more »

De La Torre L, Cogley K, Calisto J, Nace G, & Correa C. (2016) Primary sigmoidectomy and appendicostomy for chronic idiopathic constipation. Pediatric surgery international. PMID: 27372298  

  • July 21, 2016
  • 08:49 AM
  • 120 views

We're more prone to unintentionally plagiarise from others the same sex as us

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Look at some of the most high-profile plagiarism scandals, such as Joe Biden's supposed borrowing from Neil Kinnock, novelist Kaavya Viswanathan's "unintentional" plagiarism of Megan McCafferty and Meg Cabot, science writer Jonah Lehrer's lifting words from this blog, and this week, Melania Trump's echoing of phrases used previously by Michelle Obama (though a speech-writer has taken the blame for this).Notice a pattern?In each case, the alleged plagiarists copied others of the same sex. This is anecdotal of course and there are exceptions to the rule – for instance Viswanathan is also alleged to have copied from Salman Rushdie. And yet, maybe there is a psychological phenomenon at work here, especially in instances of unintentional plagiarism – known technically as cryptomnesia – where the plagiarist believes at a conscious level that their words are original, not remembering their true provenance.For a new study in the journal Memory, Timothy Hollins and his colleagues asked dozens of participants to attend the psych lab and, in pairs, to generate words fitting different subject categories such as Articles of Clothing, Fruit, or Four-Footed Animals. Crucially, some participants did this in same-sex pairs and others in opposite-sex pairs. A week later the participants were recalled to the lab where some of them had to recall just the ideas they'd produced, some had to recall just their partner's ideas, while others attempted to recall both their own and their partner's ideas at the same time under two separate lists.When asked to recall just their own ideas, or just their partner's, participants were more likely to make errors when their partner was the same sex as them – that is, mistakenly claiming their partner's ideas as their own, or more commonly, their own ideas as their partner's. Presumably having a partner of the same sex made it easier to confuse in memory whose ideas were whose. However, this effect of partner similarity was not present for those participants who were asked to recall separate lists of their own and their partner's ideas at the same time, showing that the confusing effect of partner similarity on memory was surmountable when given a more explicit prompt to make the distinction.In further, similar experiments with more participants, the researchers looked to see what effect it made at the recall stage whether a participant's partner was present or not. This time, the results showed that participants were more likely to mistakenly recall their partner's memories as their own when their partner was absent, but again only when asked to recall just their own memories, not when asked to list separately their own and their partner's memories. Presumably the presence of a partner made it easier (and more important) to remember whose ideas were whose, although this memory aid had no noticeable benefit when participants were prompted more explicitly to distinguish idea ownership through making separate lists. Admittedly, these interesting studies are far removed from plagiarism in the real world. As the researchers themselves noted: "Real world interactions, unlike our experiments, rarely involve people taking turns to generate solutions in the knowledge that their memory will be tested later. Additionally, our participants may not have been particularly motivated to claim ownership of generation of a category member in the way that they may care about the genesis of an original scientific idea, a business idea, or a creative output."Nonetheless, the findings highlight an important, basic memory phenomenon that may play out in the real world – it seems we probably are more likely to confuse our ideas with those of another person when we and they are more similar.Helpfully, there is also a real-world lesson here in the further finding that partner similarity made no difference to memory mistakes when participants were asked to explicitly recall both their own and partner's ideas at the same time.As the researchers explained: "When we attempt to reconstruct our memories of past conversations, or of conferences we have attended, the best way to avoid social influences on our source errors is to try to simultaneously recall the contributions from both partners, rather than trying to recall just one source. However, in so doing, we should be aware that we are likely to be attributing our ideas to them than claiming their ideas as our own. But then, as children we are taught that giving is better than receiving."_________________________________ Hollins, T., Lange, N., Dennis, I., & Longmore, C. (2016). Social influences on unconscious plagiarism and anti-plagiarism Memory, 24 (7), 884-902 DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2015.1059857 --further reading--By what age do children recognise that plagiarism is wrong?Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.Our free weekly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!
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  • July 21, 2016
  • 02:59 AM
  • 123 views

Sensory processing issues are present throughout the autism spectrum

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I want to make an initial point about the paper by Corentin Gonthier and colleagues [1] and their research findings titled: 'Sensory Processing in Low-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Distinct Sensory Profiles and Their Relationships with Behavioral Dysfunction', I'm not a great fan of the use of the term 'functioning' when it comes to autism. Yes, I know what message it's trying to convey in terms of 'severity' of autism and/or accompanying learning (intellectual) disability and/or the level of day-to-day adaptive skills a person possesses with the aim of providing some indication of how 'able' or 'disabled' they are. My issue, and indeed I'm not the only one with a bee in their bonnet about this, are that the terms 'low functioning' and 'high functioning' rarely provide an accurate portrayal of the cumulative aspects of a person. One example of this can be seen in the quite depressing statistics when it comes to employment and autism, and how even those 'high-functioning' people on the spectrum, sometimes with above average intellect, are much less likely to be employed than their peers. High-functioning does not always mean 'can-function' in real life (even those with seemingly impressive skills) and importantly, tends to take little account of how comorbid issues such as anxiety can be so utterly disabling for a person.I digress. The Gonthier study set about asking an important question about an important group: do the various sensory processing issues quite commonly reported in those on the more able side of the autism spectrum also extend to those peoples with more profound difficulties? Based on data "collected for a representative sample of inpatients in autism care centers (N = 148) and a non-clinical control group" researchers concluded that yes, sensory dysfunction is "highly prevalent in low-functioning adults with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]" but no, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' profile for this population. Indeed, that lack of a universal profile in the cohort studied pretty much mirrors what has been noted in  the 'more able' autism phenotype.One other detail mentioned in the Gonthier findings also caught my eye in that sensory dysfunction "predicts specific patterns of behavioral disorders" at least in this cohort. This is an intriguing suggestion that potentially amongst the myriad of issues falling under the heading of 'challenging behaviours' for example, there may be a role for sensory processing issues too. It does kinda make sense that sensory issues could invoke some of those so-called challenging behaviours allied to other research looking, for example, at how pain might manifest among some of those on the autism spectrum (see here). It also makes for an even stronger case that screening for the presence of ophthalmic issues as one potential source/complication of those sensory issues should be more widely indicated irrespective of where someone lies on the autism spectrum (see here) (and whatever description you use of their place on the spectrum).But a lot more research is required on the topic of sensory processing issues, and indeed, covering the entire autism spectrum in line with other writings [2] ...----------[1] Gonthier C. et al. Sensory Processing in Low-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Distinct Sensory Profiles and Their Relationships with Behavioral Dysfunction. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Jun 30.[2] Tager-Flusberg H. et al. Conducting research with minimally verbal participants with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2016 Jun 26. pii: 1362361316654605.----------Gonthier C, Longuépée L, & Bouvard M (2016). Sensory Processing in Low-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Distinct Sensory Profiles and Their Relationships with Behavioral Dysfunction. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 27364513... Read more »

  • July 20, 2016
  • 04:02 PM
  • 137 views

How our brain puts the world in order

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The world around is complex and changing constantly. To put it in order, we devise categories into which we sort new concepts. To do this we apply different strategies. A team of researchers wanted to find out which areas of the brain regulate these strategies. The results of their study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) show that there are indeed particular brain areas, which become active when a certain strategy of categorisation is applied.

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  • July 20, 2016
  • 11:45 AM
  • 112 views

Behaviour Problems in Guide Dogs

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

The behavioural reasons why guide dogs sometimes end their working lives early, and what it means for pet dogs.A study by Geoffrey Caron-Lormier (University of Nottingham) et al looks at twenty years of data from Guide Dogs (UK). During this time, 7,770 working guide dogs, who had worked with blind or partially sighted people, were withdrawn from service. By far the most common reason was retirement, which applied to 6,465 dogs (83%). The authors looked at the reasons why other dogs were withdrawn from working.Most of the dogs are bred specifically to be guide dogs, although some came from breeders. The most common breeds are Labrador and Golden Retriever x Labrador. They go through a five-stage training process before being matched with a blind or partially sighted person when they are about 2 years old.There were three main behavioural reasons why guide dogs were withdrawn from service: environmental anxiety, training issues (a lack of willingness to work or confidence), and fear and aggression. Other reasons included chasing, attentiveness, social behaviour, excitability and distraction. Dogs would only have been withdrawn if these problems were serious enough to stop them from working; whenever possible, training was used to try and solve the problem.When dogs were withdrawn because of behaviour issues, it had a substantial impact on the length of their working life. The normal working life of a guide dog is 3097 days. The dogs withdrawn from service for behavioural reasons lost between 1,580 – 2,286 days of work.There were differences in the age at which these problems typically appeared. Younger dogs were more likely to be withdrawn because of fear and aggression problems; half of the dogs withdrawn from service for this reason were under three and a half years old (i.e. with less than two years of work under their belt). Training issues (willingness to work) seemed to occur at an older age, with dogs typically just over six years old.Reproduced frorm Caron-Lormier et al (2016) under Creative Commons LicenceThe researchers say, “The results of the current study provide evidence for age-associated risks of developing behavioural problems serious enough to stop a guide dog from working. Moreover, they allude to their being different trajectories for developing different types of behavioural issues.”It’s interesting to think that different behaviour problems may develop at different ages in dogs. We actually know little about the development of such problems and so, even though this study is of guide dogs, the results may also help us understand something about pet dogs. Of course, guide dogs have had very specific upbringing and training, and only the best dogs make it into service, so behaviour problems are far less likely in this group than in pet dogs.Fear and aggression and chasing were more of a problem in male dogs (all of the dogs were neutered/spayed since they were guide dogs). Of the breeds and crossbreeds, Labrador Retrievers were the least likely to be withdrawn from service due to a behavioural issue. Fear and aggression was most likely to be a problem for German Shepherd Dogs.The authors say, “Based on these results Labradors were suggested to be more suitable to being a guide dog than German Shepherds.”The study does not look at the reasons why behaviour problems developed. We know that dog attacks on guide dogs can have serious consequences, but there are likely many reasons why the dogs in this study developed problems.The authors say that further research into the age of development of behaviour problems in dogs may help in designing interventions or programs to reduce the likelihood of dogs being surrendered to shelters.If your dog has behaviour problems, seek help from an appropriately qualified professional.ReferenceCaron-Lormier, G., Harvey, N., England, G., & Asher, L. (2016). Using the incidence and impact of behavioural conditions in guide dogs to investigate patterns in undesirable behaviour in dogs Scientific Reports, 6 DOI: 10.1038/srep23860Photos:  LauraVI  and Heroc (Shutterstock.com)... Read more »

  • July 20, 2016
  • 06:39 AM
  • 100 views

There's a simple trick to reduce your mind wandering while studying

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

It happens to all of us – we're meant to be focused on the page in the book, but our mind is turned inwards thinking about other stuff (Must remember to charge my phone, What time did I say I'd meet Sarah?) Thankfully a new study in Memory and Cognition identifies a straightforward way to reduce how much your mind wanders off topic when you're studying. You just need to ensure the materials you're learning are in your sweet spot – not too easy and not too difficult.For one experiment, Judy Xu and Janet Metcalfe tested the ability of 26 students to translate 179 different English words into Spanish. For any that the students got wrong, they were asked to say whether they were close to learning the word or miles off. Based on this, the researchers created a tailor-made list of word pairs for each participant – some already mastered, some unknown but not far off being learned (psychologists call this the "region of proximal learning"), and finally some difficult word pairs that were far from being learned.Next, the students spent time studying the easy, medium and difficult word pairs, and periodically they were given an onscreen prompt that asked them whether they were on-task or mind wandering (which they admitted to doing on about one third of the prompts). Finally, the students were tested on the word pairs they'd just studied. As the researchers predicted, the students mind wandered more while studying more difficult word pairs, compared with medium difficulty, and there was a trend for them to mind wander more during study of easy word pairs. Moreover, the final test showed that the students showed superior learning of word pairs for which they'd been on-task rather than mind wandering during the study phase.A final experiment showed how these effects vary with a person's mastery of the material. Dozens more students were tested twice on easy, medium and difficult English-Spanish word pairs after two successive sessions of study. Poorer performers on the tests showed greater mind wandering when studying the more difficult pairs, while the stronger performers mind wandered more while studying the easier items.The researchers said their findings suggest there is a "delicate balance" to be struck to find the right level of learning difficulty to reduce mind wandering (and so increase learning), and that the sweet spot depends on the difficulty of the materials and the expertise of the learner. You could try doing some basic self-testing alone or with a friend to try to find study material that's in your sweet spot. Concluding, the researchers said: "Our results suggest that students may sometimes mind wander not because of an inherent lack of motivation or an inability to learn, but rather because the difficulty of the to-be-learned materials is inappropriate."_________________________________ Xu, J., & Metcalfe, J. (2016). Studying in the region of proximal learning reduces mind wandering Memory & Cognition, 44 (5), 681-695 DOI: 10.3758/s13421-016-0589-8 Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.Our free weekly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!

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  • July 20, 2016
  • 02:55 AM
  • 122 views

Autism 'disclosure cards' and negative judgements?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I have to say that I initially felt slightly uncomfortable reading the study results published by Jillian Austin and colleagues [1] providing "preliminary validation for the use of autism disclosure cards in buffering negative judgment." Uncomfortable because, despite the fact that it is human nature for people to stop, stare and perhaps question something when it seems 'out of the ordinary', the idea that when children with autism specifically 'misbehave' in a public place their parents need to somehow justify their child's behaviour to a staring crowd of strangers seems a trifle unfair.As is the experience of most parents, whether their child is diagnosed or not with autism or anything else, children are not always 'little angels' every time they are out and about ("no, it is not appropriate to start a public conversation about farting when one 'catches a whiff' of something in the shopping centre"). Most parents can usually get away with a nervous smile to any interested on-lookers (or nosey parkers) and that really should be the end of it. Of course, for some children under some circumstances, behaviour can sometimes go beyond just tantrums and onward can raise a few eyebrows but...Austin et al started with the premise that parents of children with autism are "increasingly using disclosure cards to reduce negative perceptions" when out and about with their children to make "an invisible diagnosis apparent". They devised an experiment using "vignettes of a parent-child interaction in which the child was misbehaving and investigated the efficacy on 160 parents' perceptions." Disclosure cards were provided to some of the parent participants all of whom had at least one child aged between 6-12 years. Various factors covering "Maternal Skill Deficit and Negative Reaction" and "Sympathy for Mother" were analysed as a function of receipt of disclosure cards or not."Those who received the disclosure card reported significantly lower Maternal Skill Deficit and Negative Reaction to the Dyad and no difference in Sympathy for the Mother." In other words, making an 'invisible' diagnosis more visible seemed to have an effect in terms of views around 'it must the parent's fault that their child is behaving that way' (negative judgement) but did little when it came to empathising with the mother's position in that situation.Austin and colleagues discuss how the 'invisibility' of autism and frames of reference - "people will evaluate and compare individuals to some perceived norm or standard" - in this case, so-called typically developing children, may be driving forces underlying those negative judgements from others about children on the spectrum and their parents. I can't quibble with this line of thought or what impact it might have on children and their parents (and other significant others). But it strikes me that in these days of increased numbers of children being diagnosed with autism (see here) - indeed the numbers just keep on growing - and accompanying high-profile campaigns to raise awareness about autism, movement towards the idea that every parent has to 'identify' their child as being on the autism spectrum as and when they, pardon my French, 'fart the wrong way' seems to place too much emphasis on the child and parent and not enough on their fellow citizens and their own understanding and reactions.OK, I get that people have busy lives and that outside of media depictions (see here), most people wouldn't typically ask 'could it be autism?' when a child has a 'meltdown' in a public spot. I also get that under some circumstances, making particular groups of people aware of a person's autism might be a good thing as per contact with law enforcement agencies for example. The question however of whether strangers really need to be given quite sensitive information about a person and 'their diagnosis' just because they (the stranger) 'can't deal with a particular situation' strikes me as being more than a little one-sided...----------[1] Austin JE. et al. Influencing Perception About Children with Autism and their Parents Using Disclosure Cards. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 May 30.----------Austin JE, Zinke VL, & Davies WH (2016). Influencing Perception About Children with Autism and their Parents Using Disclosure Cards. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 27241346... Read more »

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