As we head into one of the final “winter” weekends this season, I wanted to bring readers’ attention back to our foundational issues here on CW: special needs issues. This morning I am presenting you with three articles. The first, by Education Week blogger Nirvi Shah looks at recent data from the U.S. Department of Education regarding children in this country with 504 plans. At present 433,980 students have these special accommodations that allow students with special needs to be brought level with their peers. As we redefine guidelines for conditions such as autism, these numbers are bound to change, and the question is, what effect that change will have on test scores, budgets and children’s learning. Next, I present two medical-based articles from Medical News Today which deal with autism and Asperger’s respectively. We have come a long way in our diagnosis and treatment of these conditions, as evidenced by the number of 504 plans mentions in Shah’s article, which is a great step in helping the millions of children and adults dealing with the disorders. Unlike in the past, we know that parenting strategies certainly do not cause autism symptoms, in fact more and more research is pointing squarely at genetic factors. However, as the second article suggests, we are still discovering the many associated problems, such as depression, that come along with neuro-functional disorders such as those on the autism spectrum. Civil Rights Data Offer Count of 504 Students By Nirvi Shah writing for Education Week’s On Special Education New data collected by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights provides an idea of how many students in the nation's public schools have so-called 504 plans. (Every few years, the agency gathers a huge collection of information from school districts about everything from which courses students are taking to how students who bully classmates are disciplined. Read about some of that here. Another conclusion: Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.) It's been difficult to determine how many students have these plans, which don't provide students with special education services—the kinds of services that help them access the curriculum the way that individualized education programs, or IEPs, work under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Instead, these 504 plans address accommodations that would help the students be on level footing with their unimpaired peers. Some experts have estimated the number in the past. But in the Civil Rights Data Collection from the 2009-10 school year, about 7,000 school districts were asked to report the number of students who have one of these plans. (A similar question was asked the previous time the data was collected, but the new numbers encompass more school districts and a larger proportion of public school students.) This data set shows that 433,980 students across the country have 504 plans. It doesn't break down what they are needed for. And, in and of itself, the number doesn't mean a whole lot. But new guidance from the OCR could expand the number of students who use these plans. However that new guidance didn't outline exactly what services this group of students, growing in number, is entitled to. And students with 504 plans don't have the kind of due process rights as students with disabilities who have IEPs. Untangling the Genetic Roots of Autism From Medical News Today With the "Refrigerator Mother" notion about the cause of autism a distant and discredited memory, scientists are making remarkable progress in untangling the genetic roots of the condition, which affects millions of children and adults, according to an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News. C&EN is the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. In the story, C&EN Associate Editor Lauren K. Wolf points out that most people in the 1960s believed autism resulted from a lack of maternal warmth and emotional attachment. It was a hypothesis popularized by Austrian-born American child psychologist and writer Bruno Bettelheim. Now scientists around the globe are focusing on genes that have been implicated in autism and related conditions, collectively termed "autism spectrum disorders." That research may solve mysteries about autism, which affects 1 in 110 children in the U.S. Among them: what causes autism, why does it affect more boys than girls and what can be done to prevent and treat it? C&EN explains that scientists now have solidly implicated certain genes as being involved in autism. Most of those genes play a role in the transmission of signals through the junctions or "synapses" between nerve cells. Synapses are the territory where one nerve releases a chemical signal that hands off messages to an adjoining nerve. The human brain has an estimated 1,000 trillion synapses, and they are hot spots for miscommunications that underpin neurological disorders like autism. Scientists now are gleaning information on what those genes do, what brain circuits they affect and how the proteins they produce function. In doing so, they are paving the way for future medications for autism spectrum disorders. Young Adults with Asperger Syndrome Frequently Suffer from Depression From Medical News Today Given that almost 70% of young adults with Asperger syndrome have suffered from depression, it is vital that psychiatric care staff are aware of this so that patients are given the right treatment, reveals research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Tove Lugnegård, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, has shown in her thesis that mood disorders and anxiety disorders are very common among young adults with Asperger syndrome. Around 70% of the young adults with Asperger Syndrome in the study reported at least one previous episode of depression, and up to 50 % had had repeated episodes - a remarkable result given that the mean age of the group was just 27 years. Important to prevent depression "The results mean that it's important that psychiatric care staff keep an eye open for the symptoms of depression in young adults with autism spectrum disorders," says Lugnegård. "This goes for both clinics that carry out assessments for autism spectrum disorders, and for general psychiatric care. Depression and anxiety can be more difficult to detect in people with autism spectrum because their facial expressions and body language are often not as easy to read, and because they may have diffi-culties in describing emotions. It's also important to find out more about how to prevent depression among people with autism spectrum." One third also have ADHD Supervised by professor Christopher Gillberg, the thesis also shows that around one third of people with Asperger syndrome also have ADHD, a finding that ties in with previous studies. In addition, the thesis includes some results of a major research study that compared people with Asperger syndrome with those with schizophrenia. The results show that characteristics can be similar: individuals with schizophrenia and individuals with Asperger syndrome both demonstrated high levels of autistic traits according to a self-report questionnaire. Moreover, the ability to interpret social interactions seems to be just as impaired in schizophrenia as in Asperger syndrome. Simlilarity between Asperger and schizophrenia In contrast, none of the 54 people with Asperger syndrome included in the study, had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and just two had had any form of psychotic disorder. "So it would appear that people with schizophrenia and those with Asperger Syndrome are more similar to each other than previously realized, in terms of both autistic traits and social cognitive dis-ability," says Lugnegård.
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