Category: Adolescent

A Calming Space

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Children’s of Alabama Expands Sensory Pathway For Patients With Sensory Sensitivities

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When Sladen Fisher got a bad cut on his earlobe at school, his mother, Jennifer Fisher, worried the sights and sounds of Children’s of Alabama’s Emergency Department would be too stressful for her son. That’s because Sladen has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder.

At the time of the Sladen’s visit, Children’s of Alabama had just launched its Sensory Pathway, designed for patients with conditions such as ADHD, autism and Down syndrome. In 2016, the pathway began as a pilot project in the Emergency Department; however, it has since expanded to One Day Surgery and several inpatient units at Children’s of Alabama, including the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Pulmonary Care Unit and Special Care Unit. Future plans include expansion to ancillary and outpatient services.

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The pathway made a lasting impact on Sladen. Back at school a few weeks later, he presented a report about someone he considers a hero. He chose Children’s of Alabama Child Life Specialist Shelby Smith, who stayed by his side during his visit, explained his treatment in terms he understood and provided him with an iPad and fidget toys for distraction and comfort.

“In his mind, she was a hero, someone who went above and beyond to help him,” Jennifer said. She made what could have been an incredibly difficult situation so amazing. She really was our hero.”The pathway has been equally impactful on Children’s of Alabama, said Michele Kong, M.D. associate professor in pediatric critical care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Pediatrics.

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“The pathway has been so empowering for our providers,” said Kong, who serves on the Sensory Pathway Task Force, also comprised of nurses, informatics specialists and child life specialists. Unit by unit, the task force provides education and training and is developing an online training module. The task force is also working with information technology specialists to flag patients with sensory sensitivities from the point of admission.

“We tailor education and training to suit each unit’s needs because each unit’s workflow and culture is different,” Kong said. “The success of the pathway is a direct reflection of our providers’ passion to learn. There’s buy-in from our providers because they know it’s good for their patients.”

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As a parent, Kong, too, knows how jarring a hospital visit can be for a child with sensory sensitivities. Her oldest son, Abram, was diagnosed with autism at age 4. The diagnosis inspired Kong and her husband, Julian Maha, M.D., to found KultureCity®, a nonprofit that works to “create acceptance and inclusion for all individuals with unique abilities,” according to its mission statement. In 2019, KultureCity was ranked fourth on Fast Company magazine’s list of the most innovative companies in the world. KultureCity not only partners with local organizations in Birmingham, but also with national organizations such as the NBA and NFL.

“We never imagined it would reach this scale,” Kong said. “It impressed on us that there’s a lot of power when a collective group of people have the same belief and passion for change.”

When should a young girl visit a gynecologist?

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According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, girls should have their first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15 years old.

Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

Parents of young teenage girls are probably thinking about how to help them navigate social media, classwork, and their social lives. However, as young teenagers begin to go through puberty, it is also important to help them understand how to manage their changing bodies. Scheduling an appointment with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist is one way to do this.

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According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, girls should have their first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. Pediatric and adolescent gynecology is a subspecialty of gynecology that provides comprehensive care for girls from birth to early adulthood. Pediatric and adolescent gynecologists take special care of the emotional needs of their patients and families while providing the unique care that’s necessary to foster the child’s transition from pediatrics to adult gynecology.

We spoke with pediatric gynecologist Amber Truehart, MD, about other reasons a girl should visit a gynecologist before she becomes an adult.

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Education and Examinations

Patient education is one highlight of building a relationship with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist. During the first visit, the doctor will help reinforce an understanding of healthy body weight and good habits for healthy bones. This is also an opportunity for young patients to learn about basic female hygiene, normal versus abnormal vaginal discharge, and puberty. Additionally, depending on the patient’s individual needs, their physical and emotional development, and medical history, the doctor may perform a basic physical exam, possibly including a breast exam.

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Menstrual Cycle

Most girls get their first period when they are between 10 and 15 years old. So, it’s likely that a young girl is beginning to think about her period around this time. A visit with a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist will help her learn about the menstrual cycle and what is considered normal or abnormal. She can also learn how to manage her cycle, pain relief, and how to deal with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

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Vaccinations

Young girls are able to get the HPV vaccine at their gynecologist’s office. The HPV vaccine helps protect children from developing the human papillomavirus, which can lead to six types of cancers later in life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine, the first at age 11 and then six months later. If the child waits until age 15, they’ll need three doses of the vaccine.

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Sex Talks

Let’s face it — it may be difficult for a young girl to talk to a parent about sex. Yet, it’s important that she have an avenue for these conversations. Getting her in front of an expert she trusts will help her get accurate information and learn about sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and pregnancy prevention. She can also talk with her gynecologist about safe and healthy intimate relationships, LGBTQ topics and having sex for the first time.

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Special Assessments

For girls and young women who need complex gynecologic care, forming a doctor-patient relationship connects them with an expert who is poised to provide a full range of specialized services. Pediatric and adolescent gynecologists are trained to care for the intricate needs of children and teens who have physical or mental disabilities, congenital gynecologic abnormalities (present since birth), and underlying chronic health problems.

Autistic Young Adults

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Autistic Young Adults Missing Out on Much-Needed Services

What happens to young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) once they graduate high school and are no longer entitled to services?

“National, state and local policy makers have been working hard to meet the needs of the growing numbers of young children identified as having an ASD,” says Paul Shattuck, PhD, professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. “However, there has been no effort of a corresponding magnitude to plan for ensuring continuity of supports and services as these children age into adulthood.”

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In a first-of-its-kind study, Shattuck looked at rates of service use among young adults with an ASD during their first few years after leaving high school. He found that 39.1 percent of these youths received no speech therapy, mental health, medical diagnostics or case management services.

Shattuck also found that the odds of not receiving any services were more than three times higher for African-American young adults compared with white young adults and more than five times higher for those with incomes of $25,000 or less relative to those with incomes over $75,000.

In his study, published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Shattuck looked at medical, mental health, speech therapy and case management services.

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He found that overall rates of service use were 23.5 percent for medical services, 35 percent for mental health services, 41.9 percent for case management and 9.1 percent for speech therapy.

This compares with service use while in high school: 46.2 percent received mental health services, 46.9 percent had medical services, 74.6 percent were getting speech therapy and 63.6 percent had a case manager.

Shattuck says that the years immediately following the age at which students typically exit from high school are pivotal for all youths.

“A positive transition creates a solid foundation for an adaptive adult life course and a negative transition can set the stage for a pathway fraught with developmental, health and social difficulties,” he says.

“Youths with ASDs are especially vulnerable during this period because of their challenges with communication and social interaction, greater reliance on others for aid and high rates of health and mental health problems.”

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Shattuck notes that there is a dearth of nationally representative data on the prevalence and correlates of service use among young adults with ASDs.

“Basic descriptive data on the prevalence and patterns of service use are necessary for planning by policy makers and administrators,” Shattuck says. “Knowledge of service use can help identify underserved populations and plan targeted services.

“Estimates of service use and correlates will help clinicians, service providers and family members be more informed and better prepared as they try to help teens with ASDs navigate the transition from adolescence to young adulthood,” he says.

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Data for this report came from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a 10-year study conducted from 2000-2010 by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education that followed more than 11,000 youths enrolled in special education as they aged into adulthood.

The study included 920 youths enrolled in the special education autism category at the start of data collection in May 2001.

The study’s co-authors are Mary Wagner, PhD, principal scientist in the Center for Education and Human Services at SRI International, and Sarah Narendorf, Paul Sterzing and Melissa Hensley of Washington University in St. Louis.

Black Teens Face Racial Discrimination Multiple Times Daily

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Teens in study experience anti-black microaggressions most frequently online, according to Rutgers researcher

Black teenagers experience daily racial discrimination, most frequently online, which can lead to negative mental health effects, according to a Rutgers researcher.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, examined how often black teens experience racial discrimination each day – either personally or vicariously and online or offline.

The researchers surveyed 101 black youth between ages 13 and 17 from predominantly black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., each day for two weeks about their experiences with racial discrimination and measured changes in their depressive symptoms across that period. The teens reported more than 5,600 experiences of racial discrimination in total – an average of more than five experiences per day.

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“This research reflects what researchers and activists have asserted for years: Black adolescents are forced to face antiblack microaggressions on a daily basis. Importantly, this study expands the research on the many ways that discrimination happens, whether it is being teased by peers, asked to speak for their racial group in class or seeing a racist post on social media,” said lead author Devin English, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Public Health.

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The experiences reported in the study, which ranged from teasing about physical appearance to overt discrimination, mainly occurred online and led to short-term increases in depressive symptoms. Examples of discrimination included teasing by peers about wearing their hair natural, seeing jokes about their race online and witnessing a family member or friend being treated poorly due to their race or ethnicity.

“Racial teasing is important because it is one of the most common ways adolescents communicate about race,” English noted. “Critically, young people and adults, such as teachers, often see this teasing as harmless and choose not to address it. Our results, however, show several types of racial teasing are harmful for black adolescents.”

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“Although public discourse can indirectly or directly blame health inequities on black youth, our study provides evidence that racial discrimination in society is a fundamental cause of these health inequities,” he continued. “Knowing this, people in positions of power such as clinicians, school administrators and policy makers have a responsibility to consider discrimination as a critical aspect of the daily experience and health of black teens. Racial discrimination prevention should be a public health imperative.”

Children of abused mothers

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Photo by Jen Theodore

50% more likely to have low IQ

Children of women who reported domestic violence in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life are almost 50% more likely to have a low IQ at age 8, research finds.

In the study by University of Manchester epidemiologists, 13% of children whose mothers did not experience domestic violence had an IQ of below 90 at 8 years of age.

If their mothers experienced physical violence from their partner either in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life, the figure rises to 22.8%.

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The team led by Dr Kathryn Abel from The University of Manchester show the chance of a low IQ rises to 34.6% if the mother was repeatedly exposed to domestic violence.

That means children with mothers who repeatedly suffer domestic violence during pregnancy and the first six years of their child’s life are almost three times more likely to have a low IQ at 8 years of age, find researchers.

Low IQ is defined as an IQ score less than 90, where a normal IQ is considered to be 100.

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The study examined the link between domestic violence – also called Intimate partner violence (IPV) – and child intelligence at 8 year’s old, using 3,997 mother child pairs from The University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council, is published in Wellcome Open Research.

ALSPAC follows children from pregnancy, and measures emotional and physical domestic violence – also known as intimate partner violence – from pregnancy until eight years of age.

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The intelligence of the children was measured at eight years using the Weschler standardised IQ test.

Dr Abel said: “We already know that 1 in 4 women age 16 and over in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that their children are at greater risk of physical, social and behavioural problems.

“We also know that intelligence in childhood is strongly linked with doing well in adulthood, though there has been little evidence about the risk of low IQ for these children.

“While we cannot conclude that IPV causes low IQ, these findings demonstrate domestic violence has a measurable link, by mid-childhood, independent of other risk factors for low IQ.”

17.6% of the mothers in the study reported emotional violence and 6.8% reported physical violence.

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The findings are independent of other risk factors for low IQ such as alcohol and tobacco use in pregnancy, maternal depression, low maternal education and financial hardship around the child’s birth.

There is some disagreement on whether the IQ test is a complete measure of intelligence, as it only considers verbal and non-verbal intelligence

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However, it is regarded as useful by many experts because a high IQ has been demonstrated in many countries and cultures to associate with a broad range of improved social and health outcomes.

Dr Hein Heuvelman, from The University of Bristol added: “Exposure to domestic violence is common for children in the UK and an important and often overlooked risk factor in their life chances.

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“So knowing the extent to which these already vulnerable children are further affected is a powerful argument for more, better and earlier intervention.

“Current support for women experiencing domestic violence is inadequate in some areas and absent in others.

“Early intervention with these families protects children from harm, but it may also prioritise their future development.”

Increase Social Media Likability

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Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies have lower perceived likability

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A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed.

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Maybe you think your Facebook posts are hilarious. Or you might think that Instagram selfie of you at the beach is picture-perfect. And that clever Tweet? You nailed it! But what do other people – your “friends,” “followers” and anyone else who might stumble across your profile – think of you based on your social media presence? Do they really like you?

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A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, number of selfies, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed. The experimental study generated 873 decision responses from 72 experienced social media users who were asked to look at differing social media profiles and posts and then assess the likeability of the social media user.

“There are many studies of individuals’ self-perception through social media use. We are turning that around and looking at the audience’s perspective,” said the study’s lead author, Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

The study shows that “perceived likability” – a combination of perceived friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – differed among men and women. Individual cue patterns confirmed several commonly held assumptions while combinations of social cues produced more intriguing findings, Bradley said. Researchers found:

  • Social media users who amass a larger number of friends and garner high numbers of likes on their posts have a higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who are considered physically attractive have higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies – photos featuring only themselves – have lower perceived likability
  • Males tend to value attractiveness more than females in assessing likability
  • Females tend to base perceived likability on numbers of followers, likes and percentage of selfies
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Overall, the number of followers and likes are twice as important as attractiveness in predicting likeability, Bradley said. Alternatively, social media users with a higher percentage of selfies are considered 1.5 times less likeable by outside observers.   

Researchers found that users who were rated “low in attractiveness” gained more likability points, per se, if they had a large number of followers and likes. When social media users are viewed as “higher in attractiveness,” a change in the followers and likes from low to high increases perceived likeability by 20 percent. In contrast, for social media users who are perceived as lower in attractiveness, the difference in rated likeability between low and high followers and likes is 64 percent.

“In other words, numbers of followers and likes may be used by an observer to ‘make up’ for more obvious indicators like attractiveness when assessing likability,” the researchers wrote. “Most observers suggest that attractive people are likable due to associated attributes like social ease and confidence. A less attractive person with a high number of followers and likes suggest that other features – perhaps friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – are the source of their social network, which also increase perceptions of likability.”

As for selfies? The researchers found that observers use their experience with cues regarding selfies to evaluate whether an authentic or manufactured self is presented.

“Too many selfies suggest the page owner is overly narcissistic and not a good friend candidate,” said study co-author James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

Likability diminished even when other social media status cues of followers or attractiveness were high.

“We hypothesized and found that a high percentage of selfies is a cue that may indicate less reciprocity and group benefit, focusing narcissistically on oneself relative to others,” the researchers wrote.

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ABOUT THE STUDY

The study, “Experimental Evidence of Observed Social Media Status Cues on Perceived Likability,” is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Authors are Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; and Preston W. Bradley, student, Live Oak Classical School, Waco, Texas.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit http://www.baylor.edu/businessand follow on Twitter at twitter.com/Baylor_Business.

A vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws

Credit: Florida Atlantic University
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Bill Nelson Edges Ahead of Rick Scott in U.S. Senate Race

In the wake of a mass shooting that took the lives of 17 students and teachers at a South Florida high school, a vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws, including a ban on assault-style rifles, universal background checks and raising the minimum age for gun purchasers, according to a statewide survey by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI).

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On the political front, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has lost ground to Sen. Bill Nelson in a U.S. Senate race hypothetical matchup. Although Scott has not officially declared his candidacy for the seat currently held by Nelson, the latest poll shows Nelson with a two-point lead over Scott, 40 to 38 percent. A poll FAU BEPI conducted at the beginning of February showed Scott leading Nelson by 10 points.

“The bad news for Scott is his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes 44 percent of voters less likely to vote for him and only 26 percent more likely,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI. “A deeper dive into these numbers also finds Independents less likely to vote for Scott, 43 to 17 percent, because of his NRA rating.”

Additionally, Floridians disapprove of U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the recent mass shooting 49 to 34 percent. Republicans approve 62 to 20 percent, while Democrats disapprove 73 to 16 percent, and Independents disapprove 53 to 23 percent.

Seven out of 10 voters want stricter gun laws while only 11 percent said laws should be less strict and 19 percent said laws should be left as is. A majority of voters of every party affiliation want stricter gun laws, with Democrats most in support at 84 percent, followed by Independents at 69 percent and Republicans at 55 percent.

Universal background checks for all gun buyers are supported by 87 percent of voters, and there is no statistical difference based on party affiliation. Nearly 4 of 5 voters (78 percent) support raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, while 69 percent support a ban on assault-style rifles, with 23 percent opposed. A proposal to arm teachers is opposed by 56 percent of voters and supported by only 31 percent, with Democrats opposing by a 74 to 16 percent margin, Independents opposing 57 to 26 percent and Republicans supporting the proposal 53 to 37 percent.

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“Gun control may turn out to be a pivotal issue in the midterm elections and could well be the difference in a close race for the Senate between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson,” said Kevin Wagner, Ph.D., professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative. “While large majorities of Floridians support background checks and an increase in the age requirement, it is not at all clear that there is sufficient support for these measures in the Florida legislature. As we are already late in the session, it will take a serious push by Gov. Scott to pass any of these reforms this year.”

The survey also found that 27 percent of voters have either been a victim of gun violence themselves or know someone who has. Among African American voters this number jumps to 51 percent, while only 22 percent of whites and 24 percent of Hispanics have had this experience. Younger voters are also more likely to have been a victim or know a victim of gun violence, with 36 percent of voter’s age 18-34, 30 percent of age 35-54, 23 percent of age 55-74 and 9 percent of those over 75.

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When asked what they believe is the major contributor to mass shootings, the availability of guns came in first with nearly 4 of 10 voters (39 percent), while 24 percent selected a lack of mental healthcare. Violent themes on TV and video games came in third at 18 percent, while 14 percent said it’s something else. One-third of Republicans (33 percent) said the lack of mental healthcare was a major contributor of gun violence, while availability of guns was ranked as the major contributor by Democrats (56 percent) and Independents (42 percent).

More than 4 of 10 (41 percent) of voters in the survey own a gun. Republicans (52 percent) are more likely to own a gun than Democrats (36 percent) and Independents (33 percent).

“Independent voters are closer to the Democrats than the Republicans on some of these gun control issues in our poll. That could be a problem for Republicans in the fall,” Wagner said.

The survey, which polled 800 Florida registered voters Feb. 23-25, was conducted using an online sample supplied by Survey Sampling International using online questionnaires and via an automated telephone platform (IVR) using registered voter lists supplied by Aristotle, Inc. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points. Responses for the entire sample were weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the Florida population. The polling results and full cross-tabulations are available at www.business.fau.edu/bepi.

– FAU –

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About FAU BEPI: The Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative conducts surveys on business, economic, political and social issues with a focus on Hispanic attitudes and opinions at regional, state and national levels via planned monthly national surveys. The initiative subscribes to the American Association of Public Opinion Research and is a resource for public and private organizations, academic research and media outlets. In addition, the initiative is designed to contribute to the educational mission of the University by providing students with valuable opportunities to enhance their educational experience by designing and carrying out public opinion research.

About Florida Atlantic University Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

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.

Autistic Adolescents Want to Learn to Drive

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Photo by Alex Jumper

Specialized driving instructors stress life skill development, parent-supervised practice, and individualized training to enhance learning and independence

Autistic adolescents need the support of their parents or guardians to prioritize independence so that they are prepared for learning to drive, according to a study of specialized driving instructors who have worked specifically with young autistic drivers. These findings were compiled by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and recently published in the journal Autism in Adulthood.

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Driving instructors also emphasized the need to develop and refine best practices to guide assessment and delivery of highly individualized instruction for autistic adolescents. 

The study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention, Center for Autism Research, and Division of Emergency Medicine, as well as the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), as part of a five-year study aimed at understanding mobility issues for autistic adolescents funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is the first paper published as part of the study.

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“Through our interviews with specialized driving instructors, we learned they believe parents are a critical partner in preparing for and undertaking independent driving,” said Rachel K. Myers, PhD, lead author of the study and scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “Instructors recommend that parents help their children develop independent life skills, including the use of alternative forms of transportation such as bicycling or mass transit, and to practice pre-driving skills, such as navigation, before undertaking on-road driving lessons.”

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Driving instructors are an important resource for families, especially for those with autistic adolescents learning to drive. However, because not much is known about the specific experience of teaching autistic adolescents how to drive, this limits the ability to provide adolescents and families with proper guidance preparing for the learning-to-drive process. To help bridge this gap, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with specialized driving instructors who had experience working with autistic adolescents and young adults. This is the first study to examine the process and experience of driving instructors who provide behind-the-wheel training specifically for this population.

The study revealed a set of common themes that underscored the importance of parents of autistic adolescents in preparation for the learning-to-drive process, with driving instructors viewing parents as essential partners in supporting their efforts in teaching driving skills and promoting independence. Participating instructors said parents can support and prioritize independence by encouraging their autistic adolescents to develop life skills, such as mowing the lawn, cooking, and taking public transportation, before learning to drive.

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Although the driving instructors identified a need to develop and refine best practices for assessment and instruction, they recognized that specific approaches must be tailored to meet the unique needs of each autistic adolescent driver, reflecting the spectrum that affects each adolescent differently. Other suggestions from the instructors involved in this study included using of state-level vocational rehabilitation services to provide financial support for instruction, identifying and promoting prerequisite life skills prior to undertaking driving, parent-supervised driving instruction in partnership with professional driving instruction, and tailoring instruction to address the particular needs of learner drivers.

“What these specialized driving instructors told us about the disconnect between driving and other life skills was surprising,” said Benjamin E. Yerys, PhD, study author and psychologist at the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Some parents may not let their autistic adolescents use a stovetop oven, but are asking if their teens are ready to drive. Whether or not their children decide to drive, parents should encourage greater independence by encouraging them to get around on their own. Traveling independently by driving or other modes of transportation is key to continuing their education, working, and staying connected with friends and family.”

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Obtaining a driver’s license is a major milestone in the transition to adulthood. This milestone increases the independence and mobility of adolescents, which can potentially lead to improved access to educational, occupational training, social, and community engagement opportunities. According to previous CHOP research, nearly one-third of autistic adolescents obtain a driver’s license by the time they are 21 years old, which may improve their ability to transition into independent adulthood.

Resources for families to help their teens with ASD transition to adulthood are available at The Center for Autism Research at CHOP and TeenDriverSource.org.

This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health awards R01HD079398 and R01HD096221.

Myers et al, “Teaching Autistic Adolescents and Young Adults to Drive: Perspectives of Specialized Driving Instructors.” Autism in Adulthood, online May 22, 2019. doi.org/10.1089/aut.2018.0054.

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About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 564-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit http://www.chop.edu

Parents Left in the Cold When It Comes to Kids with Autism

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First-line health professionals must vastly improve their communication and engagement with parents if they are to help address the growing prevalence of autism among children, say researchers from the University of South Australia.

Undertaking a meta-synthesis of 22 international studies, researchers consolidated the voices of 1178 parents advocating for their children with autism, finding that parents feel ignored and dismissed by medical practitioners as they navigate initial concerns for their child, further investigations, and finally, a formal diagnosis of autism.

Researchers say that medical practitioners need to adopt a family-focused approach to ensure that parents’ concerns, perspectives and observations are taken seriously so that their child has appropriate and timely access to early intervention services.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a persistent developmental disorder characterised by social difficulties, restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour, and impaired communication skills. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, with early signs often evident from early childhood.

Autism is one of the most prevalent developmental conditions among children, with one in 70 people in Australia on the spectrum, an estimated 40 per cent increase over the past four years. Internationally, statistics are higher with one in 59 children on the spectrum.

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UniSA lead researcher, Dr Kobie Boshoff, says the parent advocacy role is critical and must be taken more seriously by medical practitioners.

“Parents are natural advocates for their child, making them an invaluable source of information when it comes to complex diagnoses for invisible disabilities like autism,” Dr Boshoff says.

“Yet parents are increasingly finding the diagnosis process overly stressful and complicated.

“In this study, parents commonly reported their concerns for their child were not being heard or taken seriously by medical professionals. They said they felt confused, stressed and frustrated at the lack of support and understanding.

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“They also reported lengthy delays in receiving a diagnosis for their child, as well as a variety of unsatisfactory explanations as alternatives to autism. As access to early intervention services is essential for improving the development outcomes of children with autism, this too is unacceptable.”

Dr Boshoff says first-line medical professionals and service providers must recognise both the role of parents as advocates for their child, and the importance of the parent-practitioner role, which can significantly impact future relationships with other professionals.

She says to build trust medical practitioners must reassess the way they talk and engage with parents.

“First line health professionals and diagnostic services must ensure emotional support is provided to parents throughout the diagnosis process, engaging parents as partners and taking their concerns seriously,” Dr Boshoff says.

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“Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental condition. A positive experience in the early stages of diagnosis can deliver better relationships with future professionals, and most importantly, secure better outcomes for the children.”

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Media: Annabel Mansfield: office +61 8 8302 0351 | mobile: +61 417 717 504 email: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au Lead Researcher: Dr Kobie Boshoff office: +61 8 830 21089 | kobie.boshoff@unisa.edu.au

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Dr Kobie Boshoff will also be presenting this topic at the Healthy Development Adelaide event ‘Research and Developments in Autism: A SA Perspective.’ On Wednesday 30 October 2019, rom 5:30pm – 8:00pm. This is a free event open to everyone.