A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on March 30 announced that 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, by age 8, reflecting a dramatic increase in diagnoses in the past decade.

The CDC Web site includes not only the full report but also a summary page that provides an overview of the findings on prevalence, risk factors and characteristics, diagnosis, and economic costs.  Some highlights:

  • About 1 in 88 children has been identified with an ASD, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
  • ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
  • ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).
  • Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with an ASD with an average prevalence of about 1%. A recent study in South Korea reported a prevalence of 2.6%.
  • About 1 in 6 children in the U.S. has a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech impairments to serious developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. 

With this news, more parents, educators, and medical professionals may be wondering whether a growing environmental threat could be the source of the problem. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Alan Zarembo, however, gives voice to another perspective. “Autism researchers around the country said the CDC data—including striking geographic and racial variations in the rates and how they have changed—suggest that rising awareness of the disorder, better detection, and improved access to services can explain much of the surge, and perhaps all of it,” according to Zarembo.

One thing is clear: autism spectrum disorders are affecting a growing number of families. Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, sums up the reaction of many in the autism community:  “With the new [CDC] numbers now showing that 1 in 88 children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism—nearly a doubling of the prevalence since the CDC began tracking these numbers—autism can now officially be declared an epidemic in the United States.”

ASDs have touched the lives of many of us at PAR, as well, and we are committed to supporting research and services in our community to help families dealing with autism.  On April 21, PAR staff members will be participating in the 2012 “Walk Now for Autism Speaks: Tampa Bay.” This annual event brings together “Team PAR” with thousands of other local autism supporters to raise funds for autism research.  Last year, PAR was one of the top fundraisers for the Tampa Bay area—a record we hope to top this year!

Imagine this: Twenty years into your career, you decide to move between states. In order to practice in your new state, you simply need to submit documentation from your internship supervisor, previous jobs, and former managers. However, it’s been decades since you saw these people or worked in some of these places – you may not be able to find them, the organizations may not exist anymore, and there is no paper trail to back up your years of experience. Unfortunately, this is happening to many psychologists, making the process of obtaining a license in a new state a daunting task.

Once most psychologists complete the rigorous process of completing internship, passing boards, and applying for state licensure, many never give a second thought to documenting the path they took along the way. Organization like the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards have created credential banks in order to serve as a reliable clearinghouse for this professional information.

These banks provide a way for psychologists to safely store EPPP scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, internship and postdoctoral hours, continuing education information, state licensure information, and more in a secure place. Information stored throughout one’s career is then conveniently located in one archive. While credential banks charge a nominal fee for storing information, proponents believe that saving the hassle is worth the cost.

Have you run into problems documenting your work experience? Would you encourage psychologists early in their career to begin to bank their credentials? How have you kept track of your professional information throughout the years?
According to an eleven-year-long study by a group of Canadian researchers, it appears that the youngest students in a class are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than peers born at other points in the year.

The study, conducted by University of British Columbia researchers and headed up health research analyst Richard Morrow, finds that children born the month of the school’s cut-off date were more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than those born just a month later. After studying nearly 930,000 children in British Columbia, which has a cut-off date for enrollment of December 31, it was found that boys born in December were 30 percent more likely to be given an ADHD diagnosis than those born in January. Girls with December birthdays were 70 percent more likely to receive this diagnosis than those born in January. Furthermore, boys and girls with December birthdays were 41 percent and  77 percent more likely, respectively, to be treated with prescription medication for ADHD than those born the following month.

While researchers believe their analyses show a relative-age effect in the diagnosis and treatment of children age 6-12 years, they warn that these findings raise concerns about the potential for overdiagnosis and overprescribing in the youngest students because the lack of maturity in younger students may be misinterpreted as symptoms of ADHD. ADHD is currently the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder in children.

For more information on this study, visit the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Meetings are a regular part of working life, an opportunity to collaborate, solve a problem, or accomplish a goal. Many of us assume that meetings, while sometimes tedious or dull, are still the best way to bring good ideas to the table. New research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, however, suggests quite the opposite—meetings may, in fact, make us dumber.

The study’s authors assert that the social dynamic that occurs in meetings can have a detrimental effect on our ability to think clearly. “You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,” said co-author Read Montague, in a recent interview with msnbc.com author Linda Carroll.

In the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of college-student volunteers as they took an IQ test. Next, the students were divided into groups with similar IQs and given a second test. Each time they answered a question during the second round of testing, they were given feedback about their performance compared to others in the group. Although the volunteers were well matched in terms of initial IQ scores, scores dropped dramatically when students were receiving constant feedback about their performance relative to others in their group.

According to lead author Kenneth Kishida, constant reminders of status were stimulating parts of the brain involving fear, anxiety, and emotional response—and this was causing the students to perform poorly on the test. In the context of a meeting, such negative feelings can be triggered by a sense that others in the group are smarter or better prepared—even when they aren’t. According to Kishida, the perception alone can stifle our best thinking.

What do you think? Do meetings help or hinder intelligence and creativity? Leave a comment and join the conversation!
Though society rewards extroverts for their outgoing, social behaviors, a new book by psychologist Elaine Aron, Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person, brings to light the often-overlooked benefits to being an introvert.

Many people confuse being introverted with being shy, but Aron finds that this actually overlooks many of the important characteristics that distinguish these temperaments – shy people fear judgment, introverts simply prefer environments with less stimulation. Introversion can be seen in children as young as four months of age, as they tend to be more sensitive to their environments and more careful around unique stimuli.

Though extroverts can win people over with their gregarious and friendly behaviors, studies show that introverts tend to get better grades than extroverts, win more academic awards, and show a greater depth of knowledge of academic subjects. Yet, introverts do not have higher IQ scores than their more social counterparts.

Furthermore, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania management professor Adam Grant makes a case that those hiring should look again at introverts. His study found that introverted leaders tend to be better managers than extroverts are because they encourage others instead of trying to advance their own agendas. When employees are proactive, an introverted leader can aid the team in earning higher profits. Extroverted leaders, however, can be more threatened by employee proactivity as they prefer to be the center of attention. Once an extroverted leader responds in a less receptive way, employees become discouraged, less willing to share ideas, and less willing to work hard.

In financial matters, extroverts are more likely to take risks and underestimate the size of the risk they are taking. Furthermore, extroverts respond better to praise than punishment, but do not learn new tasks well, while introverts, if punished, learn from their mistakes.

Though introverts may have many unnoticed traits, they still need their extrovert counterparts to truly thrive. Aron notes that successful partnerships arise when introverts and extroverts work together – like the charismatic Steve Jobs and introvert co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions concerning introverts? Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? How do you think those traits help or harm you?
The Concussion Recognition & Response™: Coach and Parent Version (CRR) from PAR has been nominated for the prestigious Appy Award!  One of three finalists in the medical category, the CRR is an app for mobile phones and tablets that allows parents and coaches to quickly check for the signs and symptoms of a concussion when a young athlete is injured on the playing field.

The Appy Awards will be held on March 19, 2012, in San Francisco.  Finalists this year include well-known apps and brands including Mint, HBO, MLB At Bat, Home Depot, The Daily, Flipboard, Telenav and Ask.com, and growing upstarts like Westfield Malls, Viggle, Wine Road, iCookBook and SlideShark.  Along with PAR’s CRR, the other nominees in the medical category are drchrono, an electronic health record (EHR) platform for physicians, and WebMD, a mobile version of the popular health information Web site.

Since its inception, the Appy Awards have been designed to include all devices and platforms, and finalists are carefully chosen by the Executive Jury from hundreds of thousands of eligible apps. This year’s Jury includes fifteen veterans from three industries: software development, advertising and marketing, and technology publishing.  To learn more about the Appy Awards, and to view the full lineup of categories and finalists, visit http://AppyAwards.net.
You don’t have to be Hamlet to wax poetic on the wonders of sleep, but several new studies are giving us more insight into your nightly snooze. Although you may think sleep is just a way for your body to rest and recharge, the following researchers are showing that there is so much more to it.

Sleep deprivation may increase hunger

According to a presentation given at the American Heart Association’s annual conference, people tend to consume more calories on the day after they’ve had less sleep. Researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, found that women consumed, on average, 329 more calories when sleep deprived; men consumed 263 more. In addition to eating more calories, individuals also tended to consume foods with a higher fat and protein content than they did when they had adequate amounts of sleep. Though it may seem that participants were looking for quick sources of energy, if could also be that sleep impairs one’s ability to make healthy food choices.

Dreaming about a task may be beneficial to learning

Scientists are finding more evidence that dreaming about a particular task may be associated with better performance in that particular activity. Researchers are finding that dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing, and retaining the information we learn during the day. Harvard researchers found that college students who dreamt about a computer maze task they encountered during the day showed a tenfold improvement in their ability to navigate the maze than did those who did not dream about the maze.

Your social life may have an impact on your sleep schedule

Information collected at the University of Chicago found that people who report higher levels of loneliness also tend to report more sleep fragmentation. Those who feel more connected to others tend to get a better night’s sleep.

 

Sleep seems to have a positive impact on so many aspects of life. In what other settings have you noticed sleep’s influence on an individual’s functioning?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), and partners from all across the healthcare spectrum are working together this month to spread the word about traumatic brain injury prevention, recognition, and response. PAR is proud to join these advocates in recognizing March as National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. Concussion is one of the most common forms of brain injury.

The CDC estimates that 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI, including concussions, each year. Of those individuals, 52,000 die, 275,000 are hospitalized, and 1.4 million are treated and released from an emergency department.

“Since anyone can sustain a brain injury at any time, it is important for everyone to have access to comprehensive rehabilitation and ongoing disease management,” says Dr. Brent Masel, national medical director for BIAA. “Doing so eases medical complications, permanent disability, family dysfunction, job loss, homelessness, impoverishment, medical indigence, suicide and involvement with the criminal or juvenile justice system.”

Good sources of information about TBI signs and symptoms include the CDC’s Traumatic Brain Injury Web site, as well as their “Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports” program.  The BIAA “Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone” awareness campaign site is another excellent resource for understanding and disseminating information about brain injury.

PAR recognizes the importance of brain injury awareness.  To help address this problem, we have partnered with concussion experts from the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC and the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC Chapel Hill to produce two new apps designed to help parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and medical professionals recognize and respond to potential concussions.  The Concussion Recognition & Response™: Parent and Coach Version and the Concussion Assessment & Response™: Sport Version are easy-to-use, inexpensive downloads for Apple® or Android™ smartphones, tablets, and other devices.  Click on the links to learn more—and help spread the word about National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

 

 

 

 
According to a new study conducted at Princeton University, many survivors of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina are still struggling with poor mental health even today, years after the storm.

Lead researcher Christina Paxson and her team began this project in 2003 as a study of low-income adults enrolled in community college. They used sites around the country for their research, three of those sites were located in New Orleans. Their original questionnaire asked participants for their opinions on topics related to education, income, families, and health.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, the researchers decided to continue to track the New Orleans-based participants because the type of information they had was very rare in disaster studies, as they already knew much about the individual’s mental and physical health. In most disaster studies, researchers are never able to determine if the participants are suffering because of the disaster or because they already had underlying conditions that would have led to poor mental health even before the disaster hit.

With data collected one year before, 7-19 months after, and 43-54 months post-Katrina, they found that although symptoms of posttraumatic stress and psychological distress declined over time, these symptoms were still high 43-54 months after the storm. They also found that damage to the home was an especially important predictor of chronic posttraumatic stress symptoms, with and without symptoms of psychological distress. Those individuals with higher earnings and better social support reported better outcomes in the long run, but results indicate that mental health issues still remain a concern for hurricane survivors.

Even four years after the storm, researchers found that about a third of participants still reported high levels of posttraumatic stress and about 30 percent reported suffering from psychological distress.

According to Paxson, “I think the lesson for treatment of mental health conditions is don’t think it’s over after a year. It isn’t.”

To read more about the study, see January’s issue of Social Science & Medicine.

What do you find most beneficial in working with survivors of traumatic events?
The National Defense Authorization Act recently passed by Congress omitted a key requirement, possibly making it easier for active-duty military personnel and veterans to receive mental health care.

Previously, mental health practitioners were required to be licensed in the state in which care was being administered. The removal of this provision means that military personnel and vets located anywhere in the US may be able to receive counseling through video teleconference technology from a mental health professional  located elsewhere.

A previous exemption allowed cross-state counseling only if both practitioner and patient were located on federal property, but the new law permits care to be provided at any location, including from a civilian location or even inside a patient’s home.

Limitations still exist, however. The delivery of care via telehealth into service members’ homes is not currently authorized under Tricare policy.

Nearly 20% of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD or major depression, according to a Rand Corporation study. And telehealth is a hot topic within the military—last year, the Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology launched an online educational tool that enables combat veterans to learn more about PTSD within a “second life”-type environment.

How do you feel about using telehealth technology to deliver PTSD therapy? What other changes must be made to make this type of counseling more accessible? Weigh in—we’d love to hear what you think.