Category: Psycology

Higher rates of post-natal depression among autistic mothers

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Autistic mothers are more likely to report post-natal depression compared to non-autistic mothers, according to a new study of mothers of autistic children carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

A better understanding of the experiences of autistic mothers during pregnancy and the post-natal period is critical to improving wellbeing. The results are published in Molecular Autism.

The team recruited an advisory panel of autistic mothers with whom they co-developed an anonymous, online survey. After matching, this was completed by 355 autistic and 132 non-autistic mothers, each of whom had at least one autistic child.

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Sixty percent of autistic mothers in the study reported they had experienced post-natal depression. By comparison, only 12% of women in the general population experience post-natal depression. In addition, autistic mothers had more difficulties in multi-tasking, coping with domestic responsibilities, and creating social opportunities for their child.

The study also found that when autistic mothers disclosed their autism diagnosis to a professional, they were not believed the majority of the time. Autistic women felt misunderstood by professionals more frequently during pre- and post-natal appointments and found motherhood an isolating experience. Despite these challenges, autistic mothers reported they were able to act in the best interest of their child, putting their child’s needs first and seeking opportunities to boost their child’s self-confidence.

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Dr Alexa Pohl, who led the study, said: “Autistic mothers face unique challenges during the perinatal period and parenthood. Despite these challenges, an overwhelming majority of autistic mothers reported that parenting overall was a rewarding experience. This research highlights the need for increased awareness of the experiences of motherhood for autistic women and the need for more tailored support.”

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Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, and part of the team, said: “This worryingly high number of autistic mothers who experience post-natal depression means we are failing them and their infants at a critical point in their lives. We now need more research into why the rates are so much higher, whether they are seeking help and not getting it, or if they are not seeking help and for what reasons. A new research priority is to develop autism-relevant screening tools and interventions for post-natal depression in these mothers.”

Monique Blakemore, an autistic advocate and member of the team, said: “This vital study was initiated by the autistic community, who collaborated as equal partners with researchers in the design, dissemination and interpretation of the survey. This is an excellent example of what can be achieved through such partnership.”

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The study was supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC), East of England, at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, the Autism Research Trust, the MRC, the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, and Autistica.

Reference

A comparative study of autistic and nonautistic women’s experience of motherhood by Alexa Pohl, Sarah Crockford, Monique Blakemore, Carrie Allison and Simon Baron-Cohen. Molecular Autism. DOI: 10.1186/s13229-019-0304-2

Minute Movements of Autistic Children and Their Parents Provide Clue to Severity of Disorder

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Researchers measured minute movements as participants repetitively touched a spot on a touch screen.
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Imperceptible variations in movement patterns among individuals with autism spectrum disorder are important indicators of the severity of the disorder in children and adults, according to a report presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in November.

For the first time, researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University report developing a quantitative way to assess these otherwise ignored variations in movement and link those variations to a diagnosis.

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“This is the first time we have been able to explicitly characterize subtypes of severity in autism spectrum disorder,” said Jorge V. José, Ph.D., vice president of research at Indiana University and the James H. Rudy Professor of Physics in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “We also have determined that a pattern exists in the movement variations in some cases between children with autism and their parents, leading us to surmise that genetics plays a role in movement patterns.”

Positional trajectories show the variations in speed and random movement of (from top) low functioning, non-verbal ASD, age 22; high functioning, verbal ASD, age 25; and adult control, age 22.

In a blinded study, José, who also is a professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the IU School of Medicine, and co-principal investigator Elizabeth B. Torres, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University, attached high-sensitivity movement sensors to the arms of study participants to track their micro-movements as they extended and retracted their hand to touch a specific spot on a touch screen.

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Using analytics they developed, Drs. José and Torres, together with Di Wu, a Ph.D. graduate student in José’s lab in the physics department at IU Bloomington, evaluated the local spikes in speed — traditionally considered as noise in the data. The sensors recorded 240 movements per second for the 30 people with autism, eight healthy adults and 21 parents of children with autism tested. The participants were asked to touch a spot on a screen moving continuously about 100 consecutive times.

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“These variations in the hand’s movement speed produced a pattern that clustered in specific regions of a graph that produced metrics we could use — not only in children with autism but in their parents,” Dr. Torres said. “People with autism are known to have problems with sensing their body motions and sensing their body in general. Our earlier research proved that the random patterns of their speed were significant. What we did not expect was to find random, minute speed fluctuations during the intentional action itself, much less identify this form of intentional tremor in some of their parents.”

That finding was part of the report presented by Wu at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience meeting in November attended by more than 32,000 scientists.

“In healthy adults, the minute fluctuations in the speed of their movements, which we call peripheral spikes or p-spikes, normally occur at the onset or at the end of the arm extension exercise,” Wu said. “They show very few p-spikes during the actual action, as the hand speeds up or slows down en route to the target. However, healthy children in the 3-to-5-year-old range have random patterns of p-spikes, as do adults and children with autism spectrum disorder.”

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What this suggests, the researchers said, is that p-spikes normally become more organized with age in typically developing individuals. But, in children and adults with autism, the p-spikes remained random. The researchers tested people with autism between the ages of 3 and 30 and identified an absence of transition that typically developing children undergo after 4 or 5 years of age.

The researchers also tested 14 mothers and seven fathers who have a child with autism. When evaluating the noise from the data produced from the parents, the researchers were surprised to find that some of the parents had random p-spikes clustering in the graph similar to that of their children.

“This finding suggests that genetics may play a role in p-spike patterns,” Wu said. “We will need to further explore this result in other populations with neurodevelopmental disorders of known genetic origins and their family to better understand the surprising findings.”

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Drs. José and Torres said the p-spike patterns are useful in determining severity of the disorder.

“Normally, children get more coordinated as they age, but we found that the young children with autism and the adults with autism all produced random p-spikes showing that they do not transition as they develop,” Dr. José said. “We also found a correlation between the randomness of the p-spikes and the severity of the autism disorder. Among those with autism, the more random their p-spikes, the lower spoken language ability they had overall.”

This research was funded by National Science Foundation Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation Type I (Idea), grant number 0941587 — “A novel quantitative framework to study lack of social interactions in Autism Spectrum Disorders” — and by the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism, grant number CAUT14APL018 — “New objective autism inventory to quantify peripheral plasticity during standard ADOS-2 social exchange.”

Thanksgiving on tap: Best beverage pairings for a fantastic feast

Photo by Suzy Brooks

The Cornell Craft Beverage Institute offers scientific guidance to breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries throughout New York.

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As preparations begin for the Thanksgiving holiday, experts from the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute offer beverage pairings for the food feast, as well as delicious drinks for cooking, watching football and even those sometimes-challenging conversations with family.

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Brewing expert Kaylyn Kirkpatrick supervises the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute’s Hops Analysis Lab and brewery pilot plant, scheduled to open in early 2020. She helps brewers across New York state test ingredient quality. Kirkpatrick offers beer pairings for the upcoming holiday.

Bio: https://foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/people/kaylyn-kirkpatrick/Kirkpatrick says:

“While you’re cooking and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the background, opt for a German Kristalweizen, a South German-style sparkling clear wheat beer. It’s similar to a hefeweizen but without the haze and palate fullness.

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“A gose, another German-style beer, would be great paired with smoked turkey and stuffing. This wheat beer has a lemon-like sour characteristic from the souring organism lactobacillus and is slightly salty from the water formulation.

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“A Belgian dark strong ale is an excellent pairing with pecan pie and other desserts, delivering a strong malt character with rich aromatic notes of dark fruit from extended aging and perfumey alcohol.”



Associate professor of enology Anna Katharine Mansfield works with New York state wineries and focuses on practical challenges facing small, local wineries. She also conducts research that aims to answer pressing questions facing the wine industry as a whole. Mansfield offers regional wine and spirit pairings for sipping during Thanksgiving.

Bio: https://foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/people/anna-mansfield/“A Finger Lakes rosé of cabernet franc will go beautifully with the traditional turkey dinner.

“For post-prandial sipping, or for making warming cocktails, one of the several applejacks produced in the Hudson Valley would be a great choice. Applejack was one of the first American spirits, after all!



Christopher Gerling, an enologist and craft-beverage expert, is the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute’s expert who handles wine, cider and spirits. Recently he’s been spending his time working on fermentation formulations with New York state cideries. Gerling suggest cider pairings for holiday festivities. 

Bio: https://foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/people/christopher-gerling/

“For watching football, parades, or unpleasant family conversations, New York state ciders made from culinary apples will fit the bill. Found in cans or 12 oz. bottles, these ciders come in a variety of sweetness levels and seasonal flavors and make for a great gluten-free match with appetizers.

“For pairing with a turkey dinner, ciders made from traditional cider apples can work with just about any food. Often found in 750 ml bottles (like wine), these ciders can stand up to sauces, casseroles and a variety of veggies. Classic high-tannin ciders are also exceptionally enjoyable with cheeses.

“For pumpkin and apple pie, a pommeau will make any special occasion memorable. Made with a combination of apple brandy and apple juice, pommeau can be easier to enjoy than brandy and is far rarer than port.”Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

The Happiness in the Workplace

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Photo by Ian Stauffer

If you want a better business, make sure your employees are happy. If you want to be a more successful employee, make sure not to neglect your own happiness.

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That’s the advice of Raj Raghunathan, professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Raghunathan studies happiness and shares his insights in both his in-person classes at McCombs and in his award-winning online Coursera class that has been taken by more than 260,000 people in 196 countries since it launched in 2015.

Now, Raghunathan is offering a new online class aimed at making workplaces better for employers, employees, clients and customers. Happier Employees and Return on Investment, an open-access four-week course offered by McCombs through edX, is now open for enrollment.

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The course explores five critical issues: why happiness at work matters; what the five most important determinants of happiness at work are; what holds people back from feeling happy and fulfilled at work; what people can do to enhance their own happiness levels at work; and what they can do to enhance the happiness of coworkers.

“When employees are happy on the job, they are more productive for their company and earn more for themselves, said Raghunathan. “They take fewer sick days, are more collegial, perform better in teams, are more creative and objective, and make better decisions.”

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There are no prerequisites for the course. It is open to anyone who wishes to register. The online video lectures can be started and stopped on whatever timeline is convenient for each student. And the course is supported by an interactive website with resources, exercises and communication portals.

“We spend so much of our lives at work,” said Raghunathan. “It makes sense for us to do everything we can to maximize how happy we are in our jobs.”

This is the first online course that McCombs is offering in collaboration with edX, with a number of others soon to be launched.

Raghunathan is the Zale Centennial Professor of Business at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York TimesFortune, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Fast Company. He writes about happiness and leadership in a blog for Psychology Today called Sapient Nature. His book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? was published in 2016 and has been translated into 13 languages. His TED Talk has been viewed by more than 17 million people worldwide.

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For more information about Raghunathan’s work, read these McCombs Big Ideas feature stories or view the McCombs video Top Five Ways to Be Happier at Work.

For more information, contact Molly Dannenmaier at molly.dannenmaier@mccombs.utexas.edu or 512-232-6779.