Tag Archives: Learning Disabilities

The Stars Like Grains Of Sand

There’s a very good chance, if the doctor to whom I’ve been talking for the last little while, that autism and autism spectrum disorders like learning disabilities and Asperger’s Syndrome aren’t caused only by genetic factors.

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Picture courtesy of autism.lovetoknow.com

Dr. Robert Melillo, founder of the  Brain Balance Achievement Centers, an internationally recognized expert on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and author of the recent book,  Autism: The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders–and What Parents Can Do Now, stressed that people with an ASD must have a genetic predisposition. That is, the genes that can cause ASDs are there in the person’s body, but it’s a whole host of environmental factors that actually triggers the disease process.

One very important environmental trigger, he said, is stress in parents. Not just job-stress, but a more pervasive stressed caused by constant activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system, or the flight or fight response. This stress, he said, not only causes inflammation in the parents’ bodies, which certainly isn’t good, but it also can change how their genes work without changing the actual genetic code.

When our bran and body are active and we’re healthy, our brain inhibits our fight or flight system in our body, what’s called the sympathetic nervous system,” he said. “If our body is working correctly, the stress levels go down. It lets us sleep better and eat better and we keep our stress response very low.”

The problem with that stress response, Melillo said, is that it can produce hormones which interacts with already extant genes, which then can cause a diminished cognitive response.

“If the adult has increased stress hormones, which can mask the effect of the gene for brain activiey, it doesn’t affect you much since the adult brain is already mostly already formed,” he said. “But if you pass that along in a turned-off position to your child, it will have a major impact.”

That, Melillo said, is from where the increase in ASD diagnoses is coming, a stressed-out population constantly teetering on the verge of flight or fight.

Sounds pretty horrible, actually. Still, all that bit is really some pretty good news. Which is that, if one of the major causes of ASD manifestation is parental stress and other environmental factors making an impact on the parents, there is every possibility that ASDs can be, if not cured, then severely ameliorated, Melillo said.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book is that most people are completely unaware that you can prevent it,” he said, speaking about his first book on the subject, Disconnected Kids: The Groundbreaking Brain Balance Program for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders.

So there are things parents can do to reduce the risk of having an ASD child, as well as, according to Dr. Melillo, reduce the impact of an ASD on a child already on the spectrum. Still, I wondered, are there certain types of people who might be more inclined than others to having a child on the spectrum?

As it turns out, yes, there are. And I’ll be back on Tuesday with out last post on Dr. Melillo and autism to tell you dudes about it.

 

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A Universe Of Worlds, Each Separate And Alone

To look at a child with severe autism from the outside, is to see a child fully immersed in a world that can be shared by no one else. It is a world of one, a universe of one. No matter how many people surround and love the child, there can be no response.

Across a gulf of infinite space, the child’s mind drifts alone, unconnected, unreachable.

Or is it?

According to Dr. Robert Melillo, founder of the  Brain Balance Achievement Centers, an internationally recognized expert on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and author of the recent book,  Autism: The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders–and What Parents Can Do Now, it is completely possible to cross that gulf and bring connections to that child’s isolated mind.

“There’s nothing preventing change. There’s nothing damaging his brain (if he has an ASD). So, why can’t he get better?”

I sat down with Dr. Melillo recently and asked him about this. Well, I sat down at my desk and he was at his desk and we were both talking on the phone. But we were sitting down. It counts.

Before we get any further, let’s define a few things. It’ll make for a slightly easier discussion later on. Autism isn’t a binary disorder. That is, it’s not a question of you either have it or you don’t. Unlike pregnancy, you can have a little bit of autism. That’s the reason for the Autism Spectrum Disorder bit up above.

Think of it as a sliding scale. On one end, you’ve got your completely neurotypical individual who performs within the norms on all tests. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a person with very severe autism, a person who might exhibit symptoms like complete withdrawal, rocking back and forth, head banging on walls, everything most laymen think about when they consider autism.

Those are the outliers, though, dudes. Most of the people on the spectrum (which is what it’s called these days) are somewhere in the middle. Think of it as a classic bell-shaped curve with neurotypical on one end and completely withdrawn autism on the other.  Included on the spectrum are disorders such as Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder, Specific Learning Disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome and others.

So, you see, saying someone has autism just doesn’t work. For a diagnosis to do any good, you’ve got to do a lot more testing and find out where on the spectrum that patient is, what kind of symptoms present and the rest. It is, as you might guess, a delicate task that involves a lot of work. And, to make it even more difficult, we don’t know what causes ASDs. We think there’s a genetic disposition and, probably, environmental triggers, but we don’t know.

Despite the difficulty in correctly placing people with ASD on the spectrum, we’ve seen an amazingly steep growth curve in the number of diagnosed cases in just the last decade.

“People think that autism’s cause is purely genetic,” Melillo said, asking how, if the cause is genetic are we suddenly experiencing such an upsurge in cases? “There is no such thing as a genetic epidemic. But look at the prevalence of autism. We’ve gone from one in 10,000 to one in 50, as of last week.”

Now, when something like this shows up in such huge numbers, my first thought is that it’s not an actual increase in cases, but, rather, doctors simply are doing a better job of recognizing and diagnosing the disorder. Melillo, though, said that just doesn’t cover what he’s been seeing.

Melillo said that is one of the reasons he wrote his first book. “People are completely unaware that you can prevent it.”

We’ll talk more about that one tomorrow.

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22 And 45

Now we’re talking, dudes.

Barry and I sat down at Park Road Books yesterday with the best of intentions. We’d brought along some cheese and fruit and crackers, as well as some cold drinks and ice.

Oh, and a couple of very nice pens.

On the way in, we talked to Sherri, who set us up in the back of the store right next to the kiddie books. To me, that was the perfect place because, when there was a lull in visitors, I planned to get in a little browsing.

I didn’t get much browsing time, though. All you wonderful dudes and dudettes who showed up at Park Road Books to buy a copy of A Dude’s Guide to Babies and get it signed by Barry and me were absolutely wonderful. Sherri said the store ordered 40 copies of the book and expected to sell, maybe six or so on a relatively good day.

Instead, we managed to talk people into walking away with 22 copies of the book. We truly can’t thank you enough, dudes and dudettes. You’re wonderful!

Now, once you’ve read the book, head over to amazon.com and leave a review. Good or bad, we want to hear from you.

Again, thanks to the wonderful folks at Park Road Books and Sellers Publishing for setting this up.

On to the second number.

That number is one near and dear to the heart of my young Hyper Lad. It’s the number of school days left in the school year. Poor little dude.

He’s not looking forward to today’s resumption of school. He’s feeling a little pressure. Things are getting rather hard for him, almost as if he’s hitting some sort of wall. Which sounds very, very familiar.

His brother, Sarcasmo, hit the wall near the middle of his junior year in high school. Zippy the College Boy hit the wall in the middle of eighth grade. That wall, in case you didn’t know, is something most kids who have diagnosed learning disabilities hit at some point or other.

The wall is the point at which the young dude’s native intelligence and hard work aren’t enough to overcome the difficulties posed by the learning disability. Things go from being difficult to being hard. It’s never fun to see, but I’m glad it’s something we did notice.

Now that we know it’s there, we can start to work out ways to make sure and get Hyper Lad to work with or around that learning disability. It’s not going to be fun, but it is doable.

It’s always better to face your shortcomings and find a way to deal with them, rather than ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away. A hard lesson, but one well worth learning.

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