Two big autism news stories topped coverage in the past couple of weeks. One was the consortium of researchers in Europe and North America reporting some new clues into the genetic makeup of autism spectrum disorders (read more about it here; this update includes a link to a National Public Radio discussion of the findings). The second was the United States Supreme Court hearing the Winkelman v. Parma case to decide whether parents can represent their disabled kids in federal court, brought by the Ohio parents of an autistic boy. (Read an explanation of the case here; this update includes a link to a transcript of the arguments before the court.)
Here is a rundown of other important and interesting developments:
The New Jersey Legislature is taking up nine bills related to autism services, with an emphasis on funds for research and adult services, The Asbury Park Press reports on March 3. See the newspaper's story here. See more background on what the lawmakers are thinking here.
The New Jersey Department of Education announced Feb. 20 that it was awarding $15 million in state grant money to 55 local school districts "to establish, expand or enhance public school programs and services for students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)." See the state agency's press release here.
The Florida Autism Center of Excellence (FACE), slated to open near Tampa in August, announced Feb. 28 that it has set up an enrollment hot line for parents to get information about entering the new charter school, according to a press release you can see here. FACE received a $700,000 state education department grant last year to help set up the school, which is a project of Educational Services of America, Inc., a non-profit corporation that develops special education schools around the country. FACE won approval from the Hillsborough County, Fla., school board on Feb. 13, the press release states. More background on the project is available here.
A tragedy involving an autistic teenager in upstate New York has led a state lawmaker, to say he would urge reform in the way the state serves people with autism, the Gannett News Service reported on Feb. 23. A 13-year-old boy died after being improperly restrained in a van while two employees of the O.D. Heck Development Center, near Albany, ran errands for 90 minutes. The boy was a resident of the center. The two workers face second-degree manslaughter charges in the incident, the news agency reported. Sen. Thomas Libous, a Binghamton Republican, told the news agency he would file a bill to create an autism division within the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
Researchers from Scotland published a study in the February issue of the journal Science describing their success in reversing the effects of Rett syndrome, a type of autism, in mice. The New York Times on Feb. 20 was one of several news outlets to highlight the study's results. A short and technical abstract of the paper is available here. Key take-away, as described by Times science writer Nicholas Wade: "This is a surprising result for a neurological disease. Biologists generally assume that if the brain does not wire itself correctly at specific stages of development, the deficit can never be corrected." Wade goes on to write: that the treatment for the Rett mice "would not work in people because it involved genetically engineering the mice before conception." Still, he adds, "the finding may encourage new approaches."
Researchers from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey told The Star-Ledger of Newark they believe they found a diagnostic tool that uses urine and blood samples to detect a person's biological risk factors for autism. Read the Feb. 18 article online at NJ.com here. The researchers' tests zero in on how much fatty acids are in a person's blood and urine, and whether a certain gene called GSTM1, is present. Such a test, if successful, potentially would be a big deal because it could yield a method, other than observing and identifying behaviors, for an autism spectrum diagnosis.
Finally, in case you haven't seen it, there's Amanda Baggs, a very articulate video blogger and blogger who posted the video below on YouTube.com that explains, vividly, what her behavior -- that which many people would call atypical, and self-stimulatory -- means to her. This 8-minute video inspired CNN to profile her (see "Living with autism in a world made for others"), and attracted the attention of, among many others, the media consultant and blogger Andy Carvin (the writer of this piece which got my attention).