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US Autism & Asperger Association
July 6, 2010

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Gene regulating human brain development identified

Military Families File Lawsuit

Taekwondo helped girl shed shyness, find confidence

Autism's generation gap, a lesson re-learned

Prosser teen banking on Vineopoly

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Gene regulating human brain development identified

by Terry Devitt

With more than 100 billion neurons and billions of other specialized cells, the human brain is a marvel of nature. It is the organ that makes people unique.

Now, writing in the journal Cell Stem Cell (July 1, 2010), a team of scientists from the UW-Madison has identified a single gene that seems to be a master regulator of human brain development, guiding undifferentiated stem cells down tightly defined pathways to becoming all of the many types of cells that make up the brain. The new finding is important because it reveals the main genetic factor responsible for instructing cells at the earliest stages of embryonic development to become the cells of the brain and spinal cord. Identifying the gene — known as Pax6 — is a first critical step toward routinely forging customized brain cells in the lab.

""This gives us a precise and efficient way to guide stem cells to specific types of neural cells," says Xiaoqing Zhang. "We can activate this factor and convert stem cells to a particular fate."

What's more, the work contrasts with findings from animal models such as the mouse and zebrafish, pillars of developmental biology, and thus helps cement the importance of the models being developed from human embryonic stem cells.

The new work, conducted in the Waisman Center laboratory of UW-Madison neuroscientist Su-Chun Zhang, reveals the pervasive influence of Pax6 on the neuroectoderm, a structure that arises early in embryonic development and that churns out the two primary forms of brain cells — neurons and glial cells — and the hundreds of cell subtypes that make up the human brain.

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Military Families File Lawsuit Against Department of Defense for Refusing to Pay for Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy for Children with Autism

WASHINGTON, July 6 -- /PRNewswire/ -- Military families having children with autism have filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Defense, alleging that the DoD and its health benefits division, TRICARE, have wrongfully refused to provide insurance coverage for applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA). ABA therapy is known to be extremely effective in treating children with autism if given at an early stage of development. It is scientifically validated and includes positive reinforcements and individual goal setting, to achieve dramatic behavior modification. ABA therapy allows children with autism the opportunity to reach maximum potential and the hope of becoming independent in their adult lives. With virtual unanimity, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and mental health professionals regard ABA therapy to be the most effective treatment for autism. Yet, the DoD refuses to afford this therapy to autistic children of military families.

"The thousands of military families that we represent deserve health care coverage comparable to what is being offered by private insurers. These military families give us so much to be thankful for in this country – our freedom and our safety. Our military should not also be asked to sacrifice proper health care for their children in order to serve their country."

The lawsuit contends that the military health benefits division, TRICARE, at the direction of the DoD, incorrectly characterizes ABA therapy as "special education" and thereby improperly excludes ABA therapy from the health care available to members of the military. The families refute this position and demonstrate in their Complaint that many prestigious individuals and organizations, including the United States Army, the Army and Marine Corps Autism Task Force, the Executive Director of the National Autism Center, the Acting Surgeon General of the United States Army, and United States Air Force Major Ella B. Kundu, Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, agree that ABA therapy is not "special education."

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Taekwondo helped girl shed shyness, find confidence

Nancy Churnin

The Karate Kid , the Jaden Smith- Jackie Chan remake of the 1984 hit film of the same name, is the story of how martial arts can turn a young boy's life around, building his respect for himself and others as it prepares him to face the bullies that torment him.

"He says that often kids on the autism spectrum flourish in his classes because he offers a structured environment with a lot of repetition.

Kristy Anderson of Flower Mound wants everyone to know that martial arts can turn a young girl's life around, too. Anderson's daughter, Jacquelyn, displayed signs of autism at 18 months. At age 3, her diagnosis was sensory integrated disorder; she could not speak and was so sensitive to sounds that she would go to school wearing earplugs.

Kids at school teased and bullied her. At one point, a shove at the playground led to a fractured shoulder blade. Anderson tried everything she could think of to help her daughter fit in, including signing her up for team sports and music lessons. But the breakthrough came when Jacquelyn, then 4, joined a friend in karate class.

Click here for more information on Taekwondo helped girl shed shyness, find confidence.


Autism's generation gap, a lesson re-learned

by Steven Higgs

MOUNT VERNON, IND. -- Every conversation I've had with parents of autistic Americans has been riddled with salient moments, when essential truths are revealed about this extraordinarily complex developmental disorder. "Ah ha!" moments, so to speak. Such was the case with my July 2 conversation with Lisa Roach, who lives just outside the Ohio River town of Mount Vernon, Ind.

"More than one in four children in the Metropolitan School District of Mount Vernon -- 26.1 percent -- received special education services during the 2008-09 school year.

I had driven to the Posey County capital with Bloomington Alternative intern Megan Erbacher, who had grown up just down the road and has been friends with Roach's daughter Chelsea since childhood. Stan and Lisa Roach's oldest, 26-year-old Travis, has Asperger's Disorder, which is commonly known as "high-functioning autism." While his symptoms had been evident for years, Travis wasn't diagnosed until he was 8. At that time, Lisa learned her son was the first autistic child in the Mount Vernon school system.

"In terms of negative reactions to Travis, Lisa casts the tale in generational terms. "There's a couple adults at McDonalds that's had problems with his talking," she says. But Chelsea and Megan's generation -- both are college seniors -- has grown up with the nationwide epidemics of autism and developmental disabilities, such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities.

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Prosser teen banking on Vineopoly


PROSSER, WA-- James Weisz of Prosser might struggle daily with symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, but that didn't stop him from drawing from his right brain to come up with a creative idea for a board game.

He came up with a wine theme for the Townopoly program, a national fundraising project sponsored by Pride Distributors in Missouri.

"...he also designed the computer graphics for the individual wine properties and for the game's cover.

The project launches with someone coming up with a theme based on the Monopoly game and then selling 40 spaces on the board to businesses at a cost of $175 to $600.

Weisz, 18, knew about the project because his high school came up with a themed game three years ago called Prosseropoly, he said. The project helped pay for a student trip to Washington, D.C.

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US Autism & Asperger Association 2010 World Conference & Expo
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