Dr. Raphael Bernier
A researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Institute, in collaboration with researchers from 13 institutions worldwide, has found a genetic identifier for autism that includes physical features and a pattern of symptoms that may eventually allow clinicians to develop targeted treatments or ultimately potentially identify babies who are at risk for autism before they are born.
Dr. Raphael Bernier, clinical director of Seattle Children’s Autism Center and Associate Professor at the University of Washington, discovered that a mutation of the CHD8 gene, in addition to significantly increasing a child’s risk of developing a specific subtype of autism, also causes several unique physical traits.
We had the opportunity to chat with Bernier and ask him how this discovery will impact children and families.
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At 12 years old, Pepper Snider knew something wasn’t quite right. After a bout of Mononucleosis (mono), Snider began feeling a sense of enjoyment from hunger and started to purposely restrict herself. Years later, a comment from an eighth grade classmate would put everything into focus.
“Look at that roll.”
It was the beginning of a very dangerous journey for Snider, one that would take years to diagnose as anorexia nervosa. Now, at 25 years old, Snider is fully recovered and wants others to know they are not alone in their struggle. Her mission is to help build a community of support and let other people know it is okay to ask for help. Read full post »
Many of us remember summer camp fondly – the games you play; the songs you sing; and the friends you make. But children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders don’t always have the chance to participate. Besides missing the fun, they also miss out on opportunities to learn new skills and experience success outside of school.
To address these concerns, Seattle Children’s Hospital has partnered with University of Washington’s Apex Summer Camp, which was created 6 years ago for children with autism. New this year, Seattle Children’s will offer the adjoining Camp Sea STAR for children with ADHD. These joint, evidence-based programs are designed to improve social skills and self-esteem of children with ADHD or autism and their peers or siblings with structured, day camp activities.
“Children with ADHD and autism can’t always go to camp because their behavioral challenges get in the way,” said Dr. Mark Stein, a Seattle Children’s ADHD expert who has been leading camps like this in Chicago for six years. “We use sports and creative exercises to teach them skills like paying attention and following directions.”
“The UW Autism Center created APEX summer camp to provide a fun, summer time experience for children with Autism to build their recreational and social skills,”said Dr. Annette Estes, Director, UW Autism Center. “We are delighted to extend the program to children with ADHD. Partnering with Dr. Stein is a great opportunity to bring together these two groups of children”
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Last year at my son’s high school graduation, I was overcome by a flood of emotion. Not surprising you might say; all moms get choked up when they see their young adult in cap and gown, on the verge of an important life transition. I started thinking back to when Justin was just a preschooler, and then something caught my eye.
A handful of students were sitting closer to the stage, supervised by teachers. While I didn’t know them by name, I knew them. These were some of the students in the special education classroom that I had just visited a few weeks prior, the classroom where Justin’s younger sister, Carrie, would soon be enrolled..
As Justin was starting preschool 14 years ago, Carrie was diagnosed with severe autism. Her preschool years were filled with numerous therapies and interventions all aimed at helping her to be more able. During those early years, I sought out moms whose kids were a bit older, figuring they’d be a few steps ahead of us in navigating this new world of special needs. Read full post »
Parents can be understandably nervous when learning the potential side effects of a medication prescribed to their child, but those risks are often outweighed by the medication’s perceived benefit. Researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital are studying psychiatric medications to make sure the medicines they prescribe do less harm than good.
Robert Hilt, MD, is a child psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who has successfully treated many children with psychiatric medications. Hilt began his medical career as a pediatrician and was initially reluctant towards prescribing psychiatric medications until he observed children benefiting from their use. His concern about the frequency of side effects from such treatments inspired him to lead a new study to measure the frequency and severity of side effects in children and adolescents taking psychiatric medicines.
“Typically, data reported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on medication side effects is based on six to eight week studies using a single drug for a single problem,” Hilt said. “But kids often have multiple conditions and may use several medications for years. We wanted to know how many of those kids were having side effects.”
More medications can mean more side effects
Parents across the country, whose children were prescribed psychiatric medications, completed an online survey for Hilt’s study reporting potential drug effects including increased appetite, sedation, insomnia, stomachache or headache. Most participants – 84 percent – reported their children had some side effects. The number of effects, and overall severity of them, increased with the number of psychiatric medications the children were taking. Read full post »
It is fascinating to watch an infant, who cannot yet talk or walk, play games on a tablet computer. But many parents wonder, should children so young be playing with these devices? Despite previous recommendations that children under age 2 should not use any media, a Seattle Children’s Research Institute expert now says children may benefit from playing with age-appropriate apps for 30 to 60 minutes each day.
In 2011, Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, was part of a panel of experts who supported a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discouraging the use of media by children under 2 years old. But in a new opinion essay, Christakis says that statement should be updated to address new technologies – specifically, the iPad and other tablet computers.
“The AAP statement was in press before iPads existed,” Christakis says. “It treats all screens the same, but there are a lot of theoretical reasons to believe tablet computers are quite different and prior research on traditional media doesn’t apply.”
While he still believes young children should not watch television, Christakis says tablets may be harmless, or even beneficial to infants. Given most parents are ignoring the AAP’s recommendation and 90 percent of children under age 2 watch video screens regularly, Christakis says tablets with interactive apps could be a better alternative. Read full post »
From left: Christina, Lance and Justin Hughes.
As a child, Christina Hughes had trouble paying attention in school. She was criticized for her outbursts in the classroom and constantly forgot her homework. Doctors diagnosed her with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), but her symptoms were never relieved by therapy. Her academics and social life suffered.
“It was always hard for me to make friends, and the ones I did make weren’t the best influence,” Hughes says.
Thirty years later, Hughes is raising two sons with similar behavioral challenges. Justin, 9, is especially impulsive and emotional. Two years ago, he had a fit and began punching himself in the face. He has been bullied and suspended from school for fighting.
Justin was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2012. Read full post »
Depression occurs in up to 14 percent of kids ages 13 to 17 and can lead to risky sexual behaviors, substance abuse or even suicide. Unfortunately, few teens utilize mental health services that can help manage depression symptoms. But a study by Seattle Children’s Research Institute suggests parents play a strong role in helping teens receive mental health care.
To find out why some depressed adolescents get help from mental health services and others do not, Seattle Children’s researchers studied 113 teens who screened positive for depression within non-profit health system Group Health. Despite the fact that all of the patients had insurance and access to mental health care, just 52 percent used mental health services. Read full post »
AJ Hwangbo was a happy-go-lucky 6-year-old without a worry in the world until mid-November when he developed a life-threatening heart condition. While specialists at Seattle Children’s Hospital helped AJ heal physically, the young boy struggled to bounce back emotionally. But, AJ’s joyful spirit returned after hospital staff arranged for him to meet his hero – local artist Macklemore.
“The luckiest or unluckiest boy”
Before he became ill, AJ’s mom Yoo-Lee Yea said he was an especially social first-grader and a frequent jokester. But on the morning of Nov. 12 he was quieter than usual. Later that day AJ threw up at school and by the evening he had a high fever. AJ’s primary care doctor said he likely had a virus and should feel better in a few days. Read full post »
At every moment of every day, the human brain processes a constant, and natural, barrage of stimuli. At multiple levels, including below consciousness, our brains constantly filter through these competing stimuli to prioritize those that help us respond, begin a task, take steps toward a larger goal and behave in socially appropriate ways.
For people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), something is amiss in the brain pathways that filter through these competing impulses. Those affected with this neurological condition have difficulty sorting out relevant stimuli from non-relevant stimuli, and may respond impulsively or not respond when a quick response is required. In the classroom, children with ADHD have difficulty focusing on school or homework, sustaining their attention for things they are not interested in, and some (especially younger children) have difficulty sitting still.
Between 9 percent and 11 percent of school-aged children (4 to 17 years of age) in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD – about 13 percent of boys and 5.5 percent of girls.
Though people with ADHD can be very successful in life, without proper diagnosis and treatment, this condition can have serious consequences, like:
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