May 24, 2008

Music Used To Explore The Autistic Brain's Emotion Processing

14 May 2008 Music has a universal ability to tap into our deepest emotions. Unfortunately, for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), understanding emotions is a very difficult task. Can music help them? Thanks to funding from the GRAMMY Foundation Grant Program, researchers at UCLA are about to find out. Individuals with ASD have trouble recognizing emotions, particularly social emotions conveyed through facial expressions - a frown, a smirk or a smile. This inability can rob a child of the chance to communicate and socialize and often leads to social isolation. In an innovative study led by Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a researcher at the UCLA Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity, music will be used as a tool to explore the ability of children with ASD to identify emotions in musical excerpts and facial expressions. "Music has long been known to touch autistic children," Molnar-Szakacs said. "

Studies from the early days of autism research have already shown us that music provokes engagement and interest in kids with ASD. More recently, such things as musical memory and pitch abilities in children with ASD have been found to be as good as or better than in typically developing children." In addition, he said, researchers have shown that because many children with ASD are naturally interested in music, they respond well to music-based therapy. But no one has ever done a study to see if children with ASD process musical emotions and social emotions in the same way that typically developing children do. In this study, Molnar-Szakacs will use "emotional music" to examine the brain regions involved in emotion processing. "Our hypothesis is that if we are able to engage the brain region involved in emotion processing using emotional music, this will open the doorway for teaching children with ASD to better recognize emotions in social stimuli, such as facial expressions."

The overarching goal of the study, of course, is to gain insights about the causes of autism. Molnar-Szakacs will use neuroimaging - functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI - to look at and compare brain activity in ASD children with brain activity in typically developing kids while both groups are engaged in identifying emotions from faces and musical excerpts.

"The study should help us to better understand how the brain processes emotion in children with autism; that, in turn, will help us develop more optimal interventions," Molnar-Szakacs said. "Importantly, this study will also help us promote the use of music as a powerful tool for studying brain functions, from cognition to creativity." Approximately 15 children with ASD, ranging in age from 10 to 13, will participate in the study, which is being conducted under the auspices of the Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance. The alliance, directed by UCLA's Elizabeth Laugeson, is an innovative partnership between the nonprofit Help Group, which serves children with special needs related to autism, and the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and is dedicated to enhancing and expanding ASD research. The project is also being conducted in collaboration with Katie Overy, co-director of the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. "The hope, of course, is that this work will not only be of scientific value and interest, but most of all, that it will translate into real-life improvements in the quality of the children's lives," Molnar-Szakacs said.

Source: Mark Wheeler University of California - Los Angeles

May 6, 2008

Hit and Miss

We've eased my children off of some meds. I've also cut back on mine (read this post). I had cut my SSNRI completly to nothing, but with a number of added stressors, I've gone back to taking two thirds of the prescribed dose. Fortunatley, I have a doctor who is willing to listen and discuss. I told him to give me the presecription in pills that equal one third the dose so that I can vary timing and amount.

Well, once again, my employer is restructuring and cutting, my wife had outpatient surgery and the demands of missionary pre-field can also be stressing. So, my pain levels had gone way up (happens in the spring anyway), and going back the SSNRI seemed to help.

I originally was prescribed the SSNRI for chronic pain associated with mild fibromyalgia. As always I put in my disclaimer: I'm not a doctor nor healthcare professinal. Don't use this blog to diagnose nor treat illness. This is just my story. Maybe it will give you something to think about.

There are two SSNRIs that I know of that are on the market:

Lyrica is a follow-on drug to Neurontin. A follow-on drug is when a company takes one of their own successful medications and attempts to re-engineer it to reduce side effect or improve efficacy. Neurontin was never approved for fibromyalgia (nor until recently were any drugs), but it was found to help. Doctors have the freedom to prescribe meds "off label".

Neurontin was effective but was found to make people sleapy and dizzy. I have found that Lyrica did not have that effect on me. I took part in a trial to gain FDA approval to use Lyrica for treating fibro, but I didn't like the way it made me feel.

I find the other SSNRI is easier for me to tolerate. Don't take my word as law though. There are whole message boards with people screaming about the nasty side effects of Cymbalta.

Keep in mind that both these drugs have wide application and broad dosing. I know a man who is on 20 mg of Cymbalta a day. My prescibed dose is for 60, but I typically only take 20.

How did these drugs help me? In both cases, I had less pain, but still had some pain. However, on both of them I noticed that I was better able to focus and tune things out. I had less repetative thinking, and my mood was more stable. Both drugs have something of a stimulating effect to varying degrees. I have taken Ritalin off and on throughout my adult life to help deal with major transitions or when I suffered from Chronic fatigue. Yikes, when I changed dosages or stopped, look out mood swings. My son took Stratera for several years. Now that he is home schooling, he is completely off of that. He had some side effects both going on and off of that med. So, for me, the Cymbalta has been just enough of the Ritalin benefit along with changes in diet and life style.

The title of this blog is "Hit and Miss". What I'm pointing to hear is that keep your eyes open for different treatments and new drugs, and be willing to carefully try new things. Always research first, but you may find that you can reduce or eliminate some medications when using other treatments such as diet, excercise, and nutrition. If your doctor won't talk about reducing meds and doesn't want to help with that. Find a doctor who will. You need to be able to safely try new things.

Aspie is with you for life. The drugs you take now might be with you for the rest of your life, but they might not have to be permanent.