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Autism and vitamin D

15 Jan

I was hesitant to blog about this case report in the journal Pediatrics. I decided that it was better for me to write about it and emphasize the limitations, since it seems likely that supplement manufactures and some media will make exaggerated claims. The report:

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder caused by a complex interaction between genetic and environmental risk factors. Among the environmental factors, vitamin D3 (cholecaliferol) seems to play a significant role in the etiology of ASD because this vitamin is important for brain development. Lower concentrations of vitamin D3 may lead to increased brain size, altered brain shape, and enlarged ventricles, which have been observed in patients with ASD. Vitamin D3 is converted into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in the liver. Higher serum concentrations of this steroid may reduce the risk of autism. Importantly, children with ASD are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, possibly due to environmental factors. It has also been suggested that vitamin D3 deficiency may cause ASD symptoms. Here, we report on a 32-month-old boy with ASD and vitamin D3 deficiency. His core symptoms of autism improved significantly after vitamin D3 supplementation. This case suggests that vitamin D3 may play an important role in the etiology of ASD, stressing the importance of clinical assessment of vitamin D3 deficiency and the need for vitamin D3 supplementation in case of deficiency.”

The most important thing to note is that this is a case study, an observation of a single individual. We cannot know if the ASD symptoms would have lessened without vitamin D supplementation. Also, there is certain amount of subjectivity in evaluating ASD symptoms. At best this study is suggestive of an important avenue of research. The claim that vitamin D deficiency is a cause of autism is plausible, but we need randomized double blind research to have confidence in this claim.

Therapy cat for child with autism

8 Oct

From Bored Panda:

thula-therapy-cat-autistic-artist-iris-grace-27

Dyslexia

22 Aug

Matthew Schneps at Scientific American asks if there are cognitive advantages to dyslexia. It appears that people with dyslexia are better at picking out impossible figures than people who do not have the diagnosis.

An impossible figure is a drawing “suggesting a three-dimensional object that could never exist in our experience.” M. C. Escher is the paradigmatic example of impossible figures.

escher_ascending_cropped_1

According to Schneps:

“In one study, we tested professional astrophysicists with and without dyslexia for their abilities to spot the simulated graphical signature in a spectrum characteristic of a black hole. The scientists with dyslexia —perhaps sensitive to the weeds among the flowers— were better at picking out the black holes from the noise, an advantage useful in their careers. Another study in our laboratory compared the abilities of college students with and without dyslexia for memorizing blurry-looking images resembling x-rays. Again, those with dyslexia showed an advantage, an advantage in that can be useful in science or medicine.”

More evidence that we should embrace the concept of neurodiversity.

Cognitive effects of e-readers

26 Jul

Julian Baggini in The Financial Times asks about the cognitive effects of reading books on the screen versus reading them on paper. His main conclusion:

 “Overall, there doesn’t seem to be any convincing evidence that reading on screen or paper is better per se.”

He mentions this interesting paper “E-Readers Are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia.”

The Fat City Workshop: Insight into learning difficulties

18 Dec

My post yesterday reminded me of the Richard  Lavoie’s video How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City WorkshopI show this video to my educational psychology students (mostly future teachers) to give in them insight into the processing difficulties faced by children with learning disabilities.

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