Children of older men face higher autism risk


BY SARAH GETTY

Metro Jun23,2005OLDER fathers are more likely to parent autistic children, experts warned yesterday. Men aged 40 and over are more than five times more likely to have children who suffer from autism than those born to fathers under 30, they said. However, researchers could not find a link between a mother's age and the disorder.
The findings provide further evidence that men have a 'biological clock' when it comes to producing healthy babies, said Dr Abraham Reichenberg, from the the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. More than 132,000 Jewish children born in Israel during the l980s were assessed for the study. It found that, if the father was aged 15 to 29 when their child was born, the risk of autism was six in every 10,000 children.
But. if the father was aged 30 to 39, then nine in 10,000 children suffered autism (1.5 times higher), going up to 32 in 10,000 (15.4 times higher) for fathers aged 40 to 49.
The risk was even higher among fathers aged 50 and over. Dr Reichenberg said: 'This research adds to our knowledge that men also have a biological clock when it comes to reproducing.Children and people with autism disorders often display problems with language and social interaction, and show repetitive patterns of behaviour.
Autism is becoming more common,affecting 50 in every 10,000 childlren now, a tenfold increase from 20 years ago. Dr Reichenberg said it could he down to several genetic factors, including mutations in sperm-producing cells, or discrepancies in how genes are expressed.
[The Metro Sep5,2006]

Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet has savant syndrome, a very rare type of Asperger's syndrome (high-functioning autism). He can perform complex maths calculations at incredible speeds and holds the European record for reciting pi to the furthest decimal point. Daniel speaks ten languages - learning Icelandic in a week. His biography, Born On A Blue Day, is published by Hodder.

  • Can you explain how you do such complex sums so quickly?
    When I think of a number, I see a shape in my head. Every number up to 10,000 has its own shape, colour and texture. For example, 37 is lumpy like porridge, whereas 89 is very fine, like mist or falling snow. When I multiply numbers together, I think of the two shapes side by side in my head. In between the two shapes there's a space that the two shapes create, almost like a negative space. I visualise that space as a shape and that's the answer to the sum. I can translate that picture.
  • This interview runs on July 17, 2006. What does that look like?
    I'd think of it as very small and as a dark purpley colour. The purple comes from the day of the week, Monday. I was born on a Wednesday, which is where the book's title comes from. Wednesdays are very blue. July is compact, but wavy, and the six from 2006 makes it small. All these influences pool together in my head and show me a new shape or colour.
  • And numbers also help you to understand emotions?
    When adolescence began creeping up on me, I started to develop feelings for people and I wanted to understand them. For the first time, I wanted to be part of the normal world and my love of numbers gave me something I could use as a handle. For sadness, I would think of the number six, which is a very tiny number, like a black dot. When I think of it, it makes me feel sad because there's nothing there, just a hollowness. So I think of myself inside the number six.,crouched inside the darkness and it helps me to have that emotional feeling of sadness that a person is describing to me.
  • You set a European Record by reciting 22,514 digits of the number pi,taking more than 5 hours.Didn't you drift off?
    It was almost a kind of religious experience for me.I did it for the National Society for Epilepsy.I had epilepsy as a child. I gave myself two months to learn pi,spending most days just gorging on the numbers.When I came to recall the sequence,I just visualised a lanscape of numbers. I never felt bored.
  • You're developing your own language,Manti.Why?
    Since childhood,I've often had experiences or feelings that I couldn't find a word for, so I'd invent my own. It's quite common with autistic people - they love to play with words. The word Manti comes from Finnish. It means 'pine tree'. And I've created my own words, such as 'kellokult' which means 'lateness' - it literally translates as 'clock-debt'
  • When did you first realise you were different?
    At primary school. I didn't have any interest in mixing with other children and the feeling was mutual. In a sense, I learned from other children's reactions to me that I was different in some way. Whenever I felt anxious I would count to myself in powers of two. Or I would walk around the playground, which was dotted with trees, and count the leaves. Numbers are very beautiful to me and they're around me all the time, like constant friends.
  • Is savant syndrome a blessing or a curse for you?
    It's a mixed thing. There are many pluses. The downsides are that I can't drive a car, my coordination isn't very good and I find emotions difficult. My childhood was traumatic, too, for me and my parents. I cried constantly as a baby. And later, I would walk up to a wall and bang my head repetitively against it, to relieve the tension.
  • How does it affect your daily life?
    Routine is important to people on the autistic spectrum. I spend a lot of my time at home, running my website and teaching language courses. In the morning, I weight my cereal  - 45g of porridge - and have my breakfast. Then I shower and check my e-mails. People write to me from all over the world about their autistic children and how my story has helped them.They feel a connection to me.What used to be a barrier is now a bridge.
PI

Memory masterworks

Gifted:Artist Stephen Wiltshire,below,draws detailed landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Royal Albert Hall from memory

BY JAYNE ATHERTON

Stephen WiltshireAN ARTIST with a remarkable gift has over come the odds to open his first gallery. Stephen Wiltshire has autism, the condition memorably brought to life by Dustin Hoffman in the Oscar-winning film Rain Man. Like Hoffman's character, he is also a 'savant' trapped in a private world but able to communicate through other means: in his case, art.
His ability to make minutely detailed drawings of landmarks from memory captured the nation 's imagination when he was featured in a BBC documentary 20 years ago. The 32-year-old has drawn famous sights in and Italy but his favourite is the Empire State Building. He said: 'I like high-rise buildings and skyscrapers and I just love New York City. I like the rush-hour and the noise. It's very exciting.' When Mr Wiltshire was just 12, the late Sir Hugh Casson former president of the Royal Academy - described him as 'possibly the best child artist in Britain'. Psychologist Dr Oliver Sacks, who studied his case, called him 'not merely a savant but a prodigy'. More than 40,000 people attended his last public exhibition in 2003 and an original print for sale on his website can cost up to £l,500. His four published books of drawings have all been best-sellers, with one, Floating Cities, reaching No.1. Earlier this year, he was made an MBE for services to art. Today, he opens the Stephen Wiltshire Gallery at the Royal Opera Arcade in Pall Mall, Central London. His latest picture is on display and shows Middlesex Guildhall in the capital, which is being turned into the new Supreme Court. Mr Wiltshire's sister, Annette, said the BBC programme changed his life and helped to raise awareness of autism. 'It enabled him to travel and helped him develop his social skills,' she added 'He still depends on us as a family but he is now able to go out alone.'
[Metro Oct27,2006]

MAN of the arts: Stuart Vallantine has used poetry to oombat a disorder which affects communication skills  [ASN070834a07] Group unlocks doors for poet

by Eve Dugdale

BEING the chief orator at a series of open-air poetry concerts would be a daunting prospect for most people. But imagine having a condition which made communication and social interaction a real difficulty Well that's the reality for Stuart Vallantine, secretary of Stalybridge based writers' group People's Performance. Stuart, 27, suffers from a condition called semantic pragmatic disorder. Likened by some to autism, the condition affects language development. Despite this, Stuart, of Clayton Street, Dukinfield, has led a series of open-air poetry events in the remains of Stalybridge town hall and lectured at a school. 'I felt daunted during the rehearsals when I first started but then I got used to it. I had to learn to block out the outside noise," said Stuart, an internet consultant. "The only poetry I'd done before was when I had to do it at school. Then, in around 2001, I started developing more of an interest. Whenever I had spare time I'd write. Some subject matters have been autobiographical. "Once I started writing I became more confident in expressing myself and found some common currency with other people." Stuart has won acclaim from the National Autistic Societys' chief psychologist, Jenny Ravenhill, who has praised his skills. She said "It can be overwhelming for anyone to stand up in front of a group of people and recite their own words. For someone with a disorder that affects communication and social interaction it could produce real anxiety. By using a structured approach and preparing well for such a recital, people such as Stuart can gain self-confiience and be able to share their talent with the world." For more information on the writers' group, which meets at Stalybridge library phone 01457 766244.
[The Advertiser 15Feb,2007]

Gary NumanThe 1980s electro pioneer Gary Numan enjoyed massive international success with hits Cars and Are 'Friends' Electric? He flew around the world in a two-seater plane and drifted out of fashion until a tribute album revived his fortunes in the late 1990s. He is about to embark on a short British tour. Numan appears in Sky One's The Race reality show from tonight.
  • What will you be doing in this racing show?
    We're taught to drive cars quickty, ha ha. I've heard there's a monster truck around, so that'll be good if it happens. I've been going to racing tracks for fun for years, having a whizz around, so to be taught how to do it properly every day for a week is just fantastic.
  • How many cars have you owned in your life?
    I've lost count. I've had a couple of great ones - a Ferrari Boxer in the 1980s and a TVR Cerbera. Both were so quick it was almost silly having them on the roads. I've got a pick-up truck now but my wife's pregnant again so I'll be getting a people carrier. I can't believe it.
  • What's the flashest vehicle you've owned?
    I had a twin-engine aeroplane in the early 1980s, which was pretty flash. The last plane I had was aWWII Harvard. It still had the original gun button on it. You could get one other person in it but my wife, Gemma, didn't like it - she got sick. I bought it because I wanted to get into doing aerial acrobatics at arr shows but I sold it after we had our second baby.
  • You think you've got Asperger syndrome - why is that?
    It was suggested I had it when I was younger but no one knew much about it then. I've read a lot about it since and I fulfil some of the diagnostic criteria but not others. I probably only have a mild form. It means you're unable to interact socially in a way that is generally acceptable. For example, if people came over for dinner and I saw a magazine I hadn't read, I'd pick it up, sit in the comer and read it - which I now know is wrong. You also don't readily understand facial expressions. You don't communicate in the sarne way.
  • What impact has it had on your songwriting?
    All my early songs were that teenage angst stuff about being misunderstood by the world but, unlike most teenagers, I really was being misunderstood, ha ha. I was also on quite heavy prescription drugs for a year when I was 16, which didn't help the situation.
  • Why have your fans, the Numanoids, stuck by you so loyally over the years?
    I can't really speak for them but an aspect of Asperger is you have obsessive tendencies and I have an obsessive focus when it comes to pushing forward with my music. I don't get crushed by disappointment. I don't do this for the acclaim, luckily - I got f**k all for the frrst 20 years - I do it because I love it. I've had bad record sales and reviews, my career was f**ked in the early 1990s - no doubt about it - but it's fuel to the fire, as far as I'm concerned. I've been dropped by more labels than most people have heard of. Maybe that's why I've got a following, I haven't given up. I've done some all right songs, too.
  • You're a bit Gothy these days. Do you have crucifixes and stuffed animals about the house?
    I'm not Gothic but I've got a stuffed Alaskan timber wolf under the stairs. I'm opposed to hunting but I saw some kids poking it in a shop when I was on an American tour. It was so undignified for such a wonderful animal. I bought it and wanted to build a tundra setting in my house with a big mural of the Arctic behind it to give it a dignified end. It's under the stairs now. We used to keep it at the top of the stairs where you could only see its head. Visitors would go to use the toilet, then you'd hear them scream. It cracked me up every time.
  • You have a happy family life now. Does it make writing doom-laden, angsty songs more difficult?
    No. Because of Asperger, I see the world as a hostile place. When kids come along, rather than making it; more cuddly, it makes you worry even more. You've got this big, hostile world and now I worry about how to keep my kids safe from it while not freaking them out. It feeds into my style of songwriting completely.

    Interview: ANDREW WILLIAMS Metro 6/11/06

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR....GARY NUMAN

Ageing gracefully: Electro -pop pioneer Gary Numan celebrates his 50th birthday on Saturday [Metro March5,2008]

Electro-pop icon Gary Numan marks 30 years in the music business with a reissue of his second album with Tubeway Army Replicas, and a 5-date tour during which he is playing the album in its entirety.
  • Will you play the album straight through, or can we expect surprises?
    We're doing the album and all the associated B-sides. Some we've never played before. I don't want to do the songs as they are on the record aosolutely faithfully because technology's different, and we can make them sound better.
  • Do you listen to your older albums often?
    I've probably not sat down and listened to Replicas in full since it came out. I probably don't even have a copy, but my wife's got a pretty good collection because she's always been a fan.Every time I get an album back she gets a shrink-wrapped copy of it and puts it away, and I'm not aliowed to go near it.
  • Are you lining up more classic album shows, or concentrating on new stuff?
    New stuff. I have this chip on my shoulder about nostalgia. For a long time I was called an 1980s pop star, so I'd hardly play any early stuff. But it dawned on me that it's like I'm sticking two fingers op at my fan base. It I can go out once every two or three years and do all the songs from one particular album, it's sort of like striking a bargain with the fans.
  • What did you make of Sugababes' Freak Like Me, which sampled Are 'Friends' Electric?
    I loved it. I was really proud that people thought it sounded really modern; probably prouder than when Are 'Friends' Flectric? got to No.1.
  • It's your 5Oth birthday on Saturday. Will it be part of the performance? Oh, It'll be a celebration. I'm 50, I'm still here. I'm quite pleased with myself. I've got no intention of hiding it.
    Louis Pattison

Sat. Academy 1,Oxford Road,Greater Manchester 7.30pm, £19. sold out, returns only.
Tel: 275 2930. www.numan.co.uk Wednesday, Match 5, 2008 www.metro.co.uk

Clues to autism

DUPLICATIONS or deletions of portions of the genome may cause many - if not most - cases of autism. Such errors can alter the number of copies of particular genes in the regions affected. These copy-number variations are 10 times as common in autistic children as in other children. A team led by Jonathan Sebat of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York, examined 118 families that have one autistic child and 99 families with children who are not autistic. Ten per cent of the autistic children, but only 1 per cent of the other children, had copy-number variants in their genomes that didn't appear in their parents (Science, DOI: 10.1126/ science.1138659). The copy-number variants tend to affect different genes in each autistic child. This suggests that autism is not caused by a simple genetic defect.
[New Scientist 24 Mar 07]

WHAT IS IT?

Asperger Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder first  identified in 1944 by Dr. Hans Asperger. It affects social and communication skills and forms part of the autistic spectrum. It can manifest itself in a mild or a severe form and individuals with the disorder can exhibit a variety of characteristics. People with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with change and therefore prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and usually have a special interest that absorbs them to the point where it dominates their time and conversations. People with AS do not see the world the way others do and consequently their behaviour may appear odd or even eccentric but to them, it isn't.

They may experience sensory sensitivity such as, touch, taste, noises and smells, to the extent that ordinary sensations can be unbearably intense.

Understanding emotions in themselves and others is extremely hard for them and can increase their feelings of anxiety and stress. Literal interpretation can also cause problems with understanding others and can at times totally bemuse them.

However people with AS have a normal IQ level and in some cases show exceptional talent and skill in a specific area.

Be aware of the following behaviour:

  • Obsessive desire for the preservation of sameness
  • Naive, inappropriate one-sided interaction
  • Lack of empathy
  • Pedantic repetitive speech
  • Poor non-verbal communication
  • Clumsy and ill-coordinated movements and odd postures
  • Inability to interact with peers
  • Lack of desire to interact with peers
  • Lack of appreciation of social clues
  • Socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviour
  • Limited use of gestures
  • Inappropriate expression
  • Peculiar stiff gaze
  • Hypersensitivity to stimuli.
  • Intense absorption in a certain subject
  • Relationship to objects
  • May be a slow and deliberate worker
  • Unusual precision

HOW MAY IT AFFECT MY STUDENTS?

Due to the student with AS having a lack of understanding of how to behave in relation to others, socially and emotionally, and their inability to form relationships with their peers, it may result in the student becoming isolated within the classroom. It is therefore important for the other students in the class to be aware of the behavioural traits associated with Asperger's so that they understand why friendly overtures may not be reciprocated. It should also be stressed that, due to the nature of the condition, this behaviour is not meant personally in any way whatsoever. It should also be mentioned that the student with AS may, from time to time, need to leave the classroom and go to a quiet room in order to be able to cope with processing and absorbing the information received in the lesson. It should also be pointed out that the student with AS does not realize that he/she is behaving differently from the rest of the group. As far as the student is concerned their behaviour is perfectly normal to them and they may feel that it is the other students who are behaving strangely.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP STUDENTS WITH AS?

DO

  • Keep to a routine. Try and avoid last minute room changes or staffing changes.
  • Give step by step instructions.
  • Put lesson objectives on the board at the beginning of the lesson.
  • Provide a list of these objectives.
  • Only have one person talking at any one time in lessons.
  • Give the student time to analyse and think.
  • Let the student know what to expect and what is expected of them.
  • Let the student work in a pair rather than a group.
  • Use colour/shape coding.
  • Let the student have access to a quiet room/space.
  • Be aware of lighting. Use natural bulbs instead of fluorescent bulbs.
  • Be aware of noise distraction.
  • Have a flexible approach with teaching learning strategies.
  • Have a non-confrontational style.
  • Allow the use of-a tape recorder so that instructions can be followed more easily.

DON'T

  • Be misled by an apparent lack of ability due to communication difficulties.
  • Assume that the student understands what is recognised by people without AS, as "normal" speech patterns.
  • Forget that the student does not have a recognised perception of reality to help them understand everyday life.
  • Ignore the signs that a student may be experiencing pressure overload. This can manifest itself as "rocking" motions or talking too much or too little.
  • Assume that the student is deliberately being rude. It is simply part of the condition.
  • Forget that the use of metaphors will almost always lead to a misunderstanding by the student.
  • Forget that structure to the day is important in order to bring out the student's full potential.
  • Rely on the student having understood everything that has been covered in the lesson.

REMEMBER

AS can manifest itself in several different ways and in varying degrees of severity. AS can also overlap with other conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, EBD and ADD/ADHD. Staff are not expected to be experts in dealing with the student who has this condition and Additional Support staff are always willing to assist by providing extra support for the student and/or more in-depth information about the condition.

See Also: HORIZON:The Woman who thinks like a cow


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