Eyes hold clues for treating severe autism more effectively

Vocabulary tests for individuals with the severest forms of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, are notoriously inaccurate. They commonly ask the test-taker to point to an illustration after hearing a spoken word, measuring the ability to understand and perform a task as much as word knowledge.

The implications are significant. Poor assessments result not only in teaching strategies that are ineffective but also make researchers wary, leading to a shortage of research on individuals with Level 3 ASD, the diagnosis given to the most severe forms of autism, that could help improve their quality of life.

That’s according to Emily Coderre, lead author of a new study in the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology and a faculty member in the University of Vermont’s Department of Communication Science and Disorders.

In the new study, Coderre and colleagues at Johns Hopkins Medicine demonstrate that assessment tools capturing implicit signs of word knowledge like eye movement among those with Level 3 ASD — tools that have rarely been used with this group — offer the potential to be more accurate than traditional behavioral assessments, closely matching the reports of parents and caregivers, the current “gold standard” for determining an individual’s vocabulary knowledge.

“Children and adults with severe ASD often score much lower than they should on traditional language assessments,” Coderre said. “They may not understand the instructions or be unable to point to a picture after hearing the spoken word. Or they may be frightened by the equipment or simply not care to participate. The new study points the way toward a much better approach.”

Three implicit measures of word knowledge

To assess vocabulary knowledge among five adults with Level 3 ASD, researchers in the study used what are called implicit measures of word knowledge.

In one test researchers used a technique called eye movement monitoring. After hearing a spoken word, which matched one of four illustrations on a computer screen, the researchers tracked the subjects’ eye movements. If their eyes quickly chose the matching visual and stayed with it, that signaled knowledge of the word. If the eyes flitted from one object to the next, it demonstrated the word was probably not known.

In a second test called pupillary dilation, subjects again heard a spoken word and were shown four visuals. If the pupils dilated, that signaled cognitive effort, and the probability that the word was not known. If pupils did not dilate, that likely demonstrated knowledge of the word.

In a third test, researchers used electroencephalography to measure brain activity in the research subjects. Subjects heard a word and were shown an image that either matched or did not match it. Earlier research has shown there are typical brain patterns for congruent and incongruent pairs of words and images, enabling the researchers to infer whether the word was known based on these electrical signatures.

The three measures had varying degrees of accuracy with each of the five research subjects. Although the researchers concluded that these implicit measures show promise in providing estimates of vocabulary knowledge, this variability suggests that these assessments should be tailored to each individual.

An earlier study by the research team offered further validation of the research findings. That study found that the three implicit measures were highly accurate in assessing word knowledge among a group of adults who did not have ASD.

Better interventions, more knowledge

Given the small research sample, the research findings are preliminary. But their potential implications are significant, Coderre said.

Implicit measures of vocabulary could result in more effective interventions that are tailored to the true language knowledge of the individual.

“Language is often one of the areas where individuals with autism struggle, especially at the more severe end of the spectrum, where a large percentage have little to no functional language,” Coderre said. “Anything we can do to improve their language outcomes will improve their quality of life.”

The new tools could also result in more research into those with severe ASD, she said, not only in language acquisition but in other areas of cognition.

Nonverbal intelligence testing often relies on visual clues, for instance, she said. Subjects might be shown an image of a puzzle with a missing piece and be asked to find the piece among several options, a task well suited to the EM and PD testing.

“These techniques could very well be extended to other domains,” Coderre said.

That could help address a challenge in the field — the huge lack of literature on individuals with Level 3 ASD.

“There’s so much focus on the milder end of the spectrum, the people who are more functionally verbal, that people on the more severe end of the spectrum tend to be overlooked,” Coderre said.

“With measures like these, we can do not only more interventions-based research, but also work with this population in general, so we can better understand how their strengths and weaknesses are similar to or different from other individuals on the spectrum. The more understanding we have, the more help we can offer.”

It’s a new year, and many of us are looking to make positive changes in our lives.

The best way to do that is not by making resolutions, but by creating habits that will stick for the long term. If you want to run a marathon, form the habit of running. If you want to write a novel, form the writing habit. If you want to be more mindful, form the habit of meditation.

Of course, that’s easier said than done — just form new habits, no problem! So, in this guide, I’m going to lay out the key steps to forming the habits that will change your life.

Steps to Creating a Habit

Pick a positive habit. I recommend you find new, positive habits to form, rather than starting with quitting a bad habit. If you want to quit eating junk food … focus instead on creating the habit of eating more vegetables. Good positive habits to start with: meditation, reading, writing, exercise, eating vegetables, journaling, flossing.

One habit at a time. We all have a list of a dozen habits we’d like to change — and all right now! But in my experience, the more habits you do at once, the less likely your chances of success. Even one habit at a time takes focus and energy! Trust me on this: doing one habit at a time is the best strategy, by far, for any but the best habit masters.

Small steps are successful. People underestimate the importance of this, but along with one habit at a time, it’s probably the most important thing you can do to ensure success. Start really small. Meditate for 2 minutes a day the first week (increase by 2-3 minutes a week only if you’re consistent the previous week). Start running for 5-10 minutes a day, not 30 minutes. Eat a small serving of vegetables for one meal, don’t try to change your entire diet at once. Start as small as you can and increase in small steps, only as long as you stay consistent. Small steps allow your mind to adjust gradually and are the best method by far.

Set up reminders. The thing that trips people up in the beginning is remembering to do the habit. Don’t let yourself forget! Set up visual reminders around where you want to remember (ex: in the kitchen, for the veggies habit, or a note on your bathroom mirror for flossing), along with digital reminders on your phone and calendar.

Set up accountability. How will you hold yourself to this habit change when you feel like quitting? Accountability. Join a community or small team to hold yourself accountable.

Find reward in the doing. You won’t stick to any change for long if you really hate doing it. Instead, find some pleasure in the doing of the habit. For example, if you go running, don’t think of it as torture, but as a way to enjoy the outdoors, to feel your body moving, to feel alive. Bring mindfulness to each moment of doing the habit and find gratitude and joy as you do it. The habit will become the reward, and you’ll look forward to this nice oasis of mindfulness.

Try to be as consistent as possible. The more consistent you are, the better. Resist putting off the habit and make it your policy to just get started when you have said you’ll do it, rather than indulging in the old pattern of, “I’ll do it later.” That’s an old habit that you want to retrain by doing it immediately.

Review & adjust regularly. I like to review how I did with my habits at the end of each day, before I sleep. It helps me get better and better at habits. But at the minimum, review once a week (and do a check-in with your accountability team) and adjust as needed. For example, if you forgot to do the habit, adjust by creating new reminders. If you aren’t consistent, maybe set up a challenge with your team so that you pay them $10 each day you miss (for example). Adjusting each week means you’ll get better and better at doing this habit. If you fall down, keep coming back.

First-Aid Treatment for Eye Injuries

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Accidents can happen anytime, especially involving kids. They can get into all sorts of things, believing they are invincible. More often than breaking their bones, kids suffer eye injuries that can leave them seriously hurt.

The impact of eye injuries on kids, or anyone for that matter, is tremendous. The sense of sight is very important during childhood development, when children start to recognize and relate to the world around them. An eye injury can deal a great blow on the rest of your childs life.

Similar to suffering injuries in other areas of the body, there are first-aid treatments that can be administered to those who suffer an eye injury. But remember, these only bridge the gap until professional help is found. Applying first aid reduces the risk of further damage. However, caution is advised. The one who administers the treatment should at least have experience applying first aid or have the confidence to follow first-aid instructions.

Causes of Eye Injuries and Treatments

Children are very curious. Many are fearless when it comes to exploring their environment on their own. They try to taste and feel all that comes their way. This is one reason why anything that should not be ingested, should be placed on a shelf, out of reach.

Chemical Exposure

Cleaning solutions such as detergent liquids and floor polish should be out of children’s reach. These expose children and their eyes to chemicals that are very harsh and life threatening when consumed. When your kids eye(s) are exposed to chemicals, do the following:

  • Avoid rubbing the eyes.
  • Immediately wash out the eye with lots of water. Use whatever is closest from a sink, shower or other source. Make sure this water is not exposed to dirty elements, which could worsen the injury.
  • Call for medical help while you are doing this or after 15 to 20 minutes of continuous flushing.
  • Don’t put a bandage over the eye. Gently cover it with a soft cloth, but don’t apply too much pressure.

Eye Injury From Physical Activity

Kids often play rough and hurt themselves in the process. They end up with bruises and black eyes, which can throb. This could feel like the eye is popping out of the socket and leave your child hurting for days. When this happens, you should:

  • Apply a cold compress, but don’t put pressure on the eye.
  • Have your child take over-the-counter pain-relief medications. But make sure your child does not have allergic reactions and a history of taking these medications.
  • Ask your child if his or her eye hurts. If pain is present, this requires immediate medical attention, especially when there is visible bruising, bleeding or a change in vision.

Foreign Particle in Eye

Playing in the sandbox can be fun, but it can also be a cause for concern when tiny particles blow in the wind and into your kid’s eyes. When this occurs, remember to:

  • Avoid rubbing the affected eye. Doing so will only embed the particles deeper and may cause a serious eye infection.
  • Pull your kid’s upper lid down, and ask him or her to blink repeatedly.
  • Rinse with eyewash, if particle is still present.
  • If rinsing doesn’t help, ask your child to close his or her eye, bandage it lightly and see a doctor.

Make sure to consult an eye doctor if your child sustains an eye injury. Anything that harms the eye can be life altering, and you should not take chances. Call the experts at Goodrich Optical 517-393-2660.

There are several ways you can observe the solar Eclipse on August 21st for yourself. The easiest and safest is to project the Eclipse by building your own pinhole camera.

Projecting the Solar Eclipse

You can easily and safely observe the Solar Eclipse by projecting it through a tiny hole onto a white sheet of paper. This simple device is called a “pinhole camera.”

1. With a pin, punch a hole in the center of one of your piece of paper.

2. Go outside, hold the paper up and aim the hole at the Eclipse. (Don’t look at the Eclipse, either through the hole or in any other way! )

3. Now, find the image of the Eclipse that comes through the hole.

4. Move your other piece of paper back and forth until the image rests on the paper and is in focus (i.e., has a nice, crisp edge).

What you are seeing is not just a dot of light coming through the hole, but an actual image of the Solar Eclipse.

Experiment by making your hole larger or smaller. What happens to the image? What happens when you punch two holes in the piece of paper? Try bending your paper so the images from the two holes lie on top of each other. What do you think would happen if you punched a thousand holes in your paper, and you could bend your paper so all the images lined up on top of each other? In fact, optical telescopes can be thought of as a collection of millions of “pinhole” images all focused together in one place!

You can make your pinhole camera fancier by adding devices to hold up your piece of paper, or a screen to project your Eclipse image onto.

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