Category: bullying

Bullying children with autism

Photo by Quin Stevenson

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BINGHAMTON, NY – Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to experience bullying than children without ASD and this bullying gets worse with age, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Hannah Morton, a graduate student in the clinical psychology PhD program at Binghamton University, aimed to conceptualize bullying in children with ASD in order to specifically identify different bullying and behavior types. Her research also emphasizes the need to establish better definitions of bullying behaviors.

“This research is important because it contributes to our understanding of how bullying is nuanced,” said Morton. “This variability means it is crucial to establish a definition for bullying and have standard assessments to know when and what types of bullying are occurring.”

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Morton, along with Binghamton psychologists Jennifer Gillis, Richard Mattson and Raymond Romanczyk, focused this study on teachers and parents of children with ASD, and community members without an ASD child. Participants took a survey containing 80 scenarios of interactions between two school-aged children. The scenarios varied from children ages four to fifteen. Sixty-four of these scenarios contained a type of bullying behavior (i.e. physical, verbal, interpersonal and cyber). The participants were randomly presented with 16 scenarios, and were asked to rate the severity of the interaction between the two children, as well as indicate which types of bullying were present.

Results showed that a child’s increased age predicted higher bullying severity ratings. The findings also showed that bullying among older children with ASD is viewed as especially problematic by their parents, and that perceived bullying severity differed according to the type of bullying behavior (i.e., physical, verbal, interpersonal, and cyber). 

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“This paper emphasizes that bullying is a really broad construct,” said Morton. “What any two people might be referring to when they use the term ‘bullying’—regardless if they are parents, teachers, researchers, etc.— likely differs, and perhaps in subtle ways.”

Morton plans to further her research on this topic by focusing specifically on the bullying behaviors that children with ASD experience compared to children without ASD.

This research was conducted through Binghamton University’s Institute for Child Development, which offers early intervention services, speech services and more to children and families in the Binghamton region. 

The paper, “Conceptualizing bullying in children with autism spectrum disorder: Using a mixed model to differentiate behavior types and identify predictors,” was published in Autism.

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Medicinal Cannabis Research

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Researchers will look at how CBD might help remedy schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia, alcohol dependence and anorexia anxiety

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the nation’s oldest research center for scientific inquiry into the safety and efficacy of cannabis, has announced $3 million in research grants to explore new applications of cannabis for a number of novel medical applications.

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The cannabis plant produces a number of compounds called cannabinoids, the most widely known of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its principle psychoactive agent, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has been linked to reduced pain, anxiety and inflammation in previous studies. The five new studies all focus on CBD.

“Within the medical community, there is a lot of interest in the role of medical cannabis and CBD,” said Igor Grant, MD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and CMCR director. “There is a hope that it could be yet another useful agent in some of these conditions, which are difficult to treat or disabling.”

The five grants are funded by California Proposition 64, which was passed on the November 8, 2016 ballot and legalized recreational marijuana in the state. The measure allocated tax revenue for research on potential new drugs, treatment and health and safety programs related to marijuana and medical cannabis.

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This year marks CMCR’s first such funding. All five grants are for proof-of-principle studies that would seek to establish the basis for future research.

Effects of Cannabidiol versus Placebo as an Adjunct to Treatment in Early Psychosis

The $825,000 grant was awarded to Kristin Cadenhead, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues, who will explore whether medical cannabis could serve as an alternative treatment for patients facing early psychosis, a time when traditional treatments, such as antipsychotic medications, are moderately effective but produce debilitating side effects.

Therapeutic Response of Cannabidiol in Rheumatoid Arthritis

The $825,000 grant was awarded to Veena Ranganath, MD, a rheumatologist at UCLA Medical Center. Ranganath’s research focuses on CBD’s use an anti-inflammatory agent, an application she hopes to exploit in treating rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune condition that affects an estimated 1.5 million persons in the United States.

Cannabidol for Sedative/Hypnotic-sparing Management of Insomnia in Adults

The $825,000 grant was awarded to Mariana Cherner, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues, who will investigate whether CBD might be a viable alternative for sleeping pills among patients with chronic sleep disorders.

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“Sleeping pills are moderately safe but they can also be habit-forming and they do have side effects, particularly in older people,” said Grant. “So many people are prescribed sleeping pills so there’s good reason to look for something that might be safer and not have that side effect profile.”

Cannabidiol as a Strategy to Treat Alcohol Dependence

The $300,000 grant was awarded to Giordano de Guglielmo, PhD, assistant adjunct professor in the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and colleagues. This study is the only one of the five using an animal model. It will look at the role CBD might play in reducing alcohol cravings and withdrawal syndromes among alcohol-addicted rats, with findings perhaps applicable to future human research.

The Role of Cannabidiol in Regulating Meal Time Anxiety in Anorexia Nervosa

The $300,000 grant was awarded to Emily Gray, MD, associate clinical professor of psychology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues, who will explore whether CBD can help reduce a core symptom of anorexia — anxiety about food — and whether or not that reduction helps patients also reduce their food aversions overall.

A second round of CMCR grants is scheduled for 2020.

Autism Study Stresses Importance of Communicating with All Infants

Photo by Zoltan Tasi

Language Skills Can Benefit from Parents’ Early Support, Interactions.

University of Texas at Dallas

Dr. Meghan Swanson, assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, is the corresponding author of the study, published online June 28 in Autism Research. It is the first to extend research about the relationship between caregiver speech and infant language development from typically developing children to those with autism. The findings could inform guidelines for earlier action in cases of developmental difficulties.

A new language-skills study that included infants later diagnosed with autism suggests that all children can benefit from exposure to more speech from their caregivers.

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“You can diagnose autism at 24 months at the earliest; most people are diagnosed much later. Early intervention, from birth to age 3, has shown to be effective at supporting development in various cohorts of children,” said Swanson, who joined the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences in January as the director of the Infant Neurodevelopment & Language Research Lab, known as the Baby Brain Lab.

She said there has been a push to identify autism earlier or demonstrate that the same techniques that help most children develop language skills also benefit those eventually diagnosed with autism.

The study involved 96 babies, 60 of whom had an older sibling with autism. Swanson said that this “baby-sibling” research design was necessary.

“How do you study autism in infancy when you can’t diagnose it until the kids are age 2 at least?” she asked. “The answer relies on the fact that autism tends to run in families. These younger siblings have about a 20% chance of being diagnosed eventually with autism.”

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Indeed, 14 children from the high-risk subset of 60 were diagnosed with autism at 24 months.

The study results directly tied the number of words an infant hears, as well as the conversational turns he or she takes, to the performance on the 24-month language evaluation — both for typical children and those with autism.

“One conclusion we’ve come to is that parents should be persistent in talking with their babies even if they aren’t getting responses,” Swanson said.

Swanson emphasized how important large, longitudinal studies — tracking the same individuals across an extended period — like this one are in her field.

“You have to follow the same children for years to learn anything conclusive about development,” she said. “You can’t simply shift from a group of 2-year-olds to a different group of 3-year-olds and so on.”

Correcting the misunderstanding of parents’ influence in autism has been a gradual fight against outdated conceptions, Swanson said.

“When parents receive an autism diagnosis for a child, some might wonder, ‘What could I have done differently?’” she said. “There is no scientific backing for them to think in these terms. But there is a dark history in autism where parents were wrongly blamed, which reinforced these thoughts. To do research involving mothers as we have, you must approach that topic with sensitivity but also firmly reinforce that the logic that parenting style can cause autism is flawed.”

The children’s interactions with caregivers were recorded over two days — once at nine months and again at 15 months — via a LENA (Language Environment Analysis) audio recorder. The children’s language skills were then assessed at 24 months.

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“The LENA software counts conversational turns anytime an adult vocalizes and the infant responds, or vice versa,” Swanson said. “The definition is not related to the content of the speech, just that the conversation partner responds. We believe that responding to infants when they talk supports infant development, regardless of eventual autism diagnosis.”

The project was undertaken by the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) network, a consortium of eight universities in the United States and Canada funded by the National Institutes of Health as an Autism Center of Excellence. Before joining UT Dallas, Swanson was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of IBIS’ study sites. The other study sites are Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

Dr. Joseph Piven, the IBIS network’s principal investigator, is the director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC-Chapel Hill. For parents, the results should highlight the long-term effect of initiating conversations from an early age, he said.

“Talking to your kids makes a big difference,” Piven said. “Any impact on early language skills will almost certainly have an impact on a wide range of later abilities in school-age children and significantly enhance their probability of success.”

Swanson said the most important takeaway from this work is that parents can make a significant difference in language development, even in children who are eventually diagnosed with autism.

“Parents can be amazing agents of change in their infants’ lives from as early as 9 months old,” she said. “If we teach parents how to provide their children with a rich communication environment, it helps support their children’s development. I find that incredibly hopeful — the power that parents have to be these positive role models.”

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In addition to UT Dallas and the IBIS study sites, researchers from Temple University, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, McGill University and the University of Alberta contributed to this study. The Simons Foundation also supported the research.

Bullying Worsens Sleep and Depression

BUFFALO, N.Y.

Teens who experience cyber bullying are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, which in turn raises levels of depression, found a University at Buffalo study.

Although research has examined the relationship between online bullying and depression, the UB study is one of few to explore the connection between cyber victimization and sleep quality.

The study surveyed more than 800 adolescents for sleep quality, cyber aggression and depression.

The research will be presented by Misol Kwon, first author and doctoral student in the UB School of Nursing, at SLEEP 2019, the 33rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio, Texas from June 8-12.

“Cyber victimization on the internet and social media is a unique form of peer victimization and an emerging mental health concern among teens who are digital natives,” said Kwon. “Understanding these associations supports the need to provide sleep hygiene education and risk prevention and interventions to mistreated kids who show signs and symptoms of depression.”

Nearly one third of teens have experienced symptoms of depression, which, in addition to changes in sleep pattern, include persistent irritability, anger and social withdrawal, according to the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health.

And nearly 15 percent of U.S. high school students report being bullied electronically, says Kwon. At severe levels, depression may lead to disrupted school performance, harmed relationships or suicide.

The risks of allowing depression to worsen highlight the need for researchers and clinicians to understand and target sleep quality and other risk factors that have the potential to exacerbate the disorder.

The research was supported by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the National Institutes of Health awarded to Jennifer Livingston, PhD, principal investigator and associate professor in the UB School of Nursing.

Additional UB School of Nursing investigators include Suzanne Dickerson, DNS, professor and chair of the Department of Biobehavioral Health and Clinical Sciences; and Eunhee Park, PhD, assistant professor. Young Seo, doctoral candidate in the UB Graduate School of Education, is also an investigator.