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  • richardmitnick 12:58 pm on January 31, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new test for understanding the specific difficulties faced by people with autism, ASD-autism spectrum disorders, Autism and Theory of Mind, Autism is not one thing,   

    From Caltech: “Autism and Theory of Mind” 

    Caltech Logo

    From Caltech

    01/24/2019

    Emily Velasco
    626-395-6487
    evelasco@caltech.edu

    1
    Credit: iStock

    A new test for understanding the specific difficulties faced by people with autism.

    Suppose you are helping your friend search for their missing phone and while they are looking around another room, you find it behind some cushions. When they return, you seize the opportunity to play a prank on them and pretend the phone is still missing. You are able to envision this prank because you know that their understanding of the world is separate from what you know to be true. This is an example of theory of mind: the ability to understand other people’s beliefs, preferences, and intentions as distinct from one’s own.

    Theory of mind is complex and involves multiple neural processes. A team of researchers has now developed a new test to examine these components and has found that people with autism—a group known to have trouble understanding the thoughts, plans, and point of view of others—have disproportionate difficulties in one particular process. The work may lead to a better understanding of autism itself.

    A paper describing the work appears in the February 4 issue of the journal Current Biology. The study was designed by Damian Stanley (senior and corresponding author), an assistant professor at Adelphi University and visiting associate in psychology at Caltech. The work was conducted in the laboratory of Ralph Adolphs (PhD ’93), Bren Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology; and director and Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair of the Caltech Brain Imaging Center, a center of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech. Graduate student Isabelle Rosenthal is the paper’s first author and Cendri Hutcherson, a faculty member at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, is a co-author.

    “Autism is not one thing,” says Adolphs. “Our task allows researchers to quantitatively deconstruct the components of theory of mind, to see where different people have trouble, and this may reveal to us subtypes of autism.”

    A classic test of theory of mind, often demonstrated in children, involves a closed box of Band-Aids. When asked what is in the box, a child will respond, “Band-Aids.” The box is then opened to reveal that it contains crayons, not Band-Aids. The child is then asked, “If someone else were to come in and see the closed box, what would they think is inside?”

    Children under age 4 will often answer, “crayons,” because they have not yet developed theory of mind. In other words, the child will assume that others will know what the child knows—that the box contains crayons, not Band-Aids. Older children who have theory of mind will reason that another person would see the box’s exterior and wrongly conclude, as they did, that it contains Band-Aids.

    This test is broad and easy. Nearly all high-functioning adults with autism (the population studied by Adolphs and Stanley) have no difficulty passing it, but that unfortunately means that the test reveals little about the constituent processes required for theory of mind and specific points of impairment in individuals taking the test.

    The new test developed by Adolphs and Stanley’s team is much more complex. In the new test, a participant learns about a person who is playing a particular game. The player—let’s call her Sally—has some money and must decide whether to donate it to one of three charities or keep it for herself. Sally has some preferences about which charities she likes and which she does not. She is also switching back and forth between two “environments,” a “reversal” environment in which her actions mostly have the opposite effect (i.e., donating money actually means she gets to keep it), and a “normal” environment, where things mostly go as expected. Sally does not know for sure which environment she is in, so she has to keep track of what happens to her decisions and take this into account when deciding about donating her money.

    The individual actually taking the test watches what Sally does and must learn from her decisions to make inferences about her beliefs and preferences in order to predict her future actions. Does Sally believe she is in a normal or a reversal world? Which charities does she like? Which does she dislike? What will she do?

    While this task is complex and difficult, adults with and without autism can understand it once it has been thoroughly explained and practiced. However, people with autism who took the test failed at one particular part: they could track Sally’s beliefs about the environment and make logical conclusions about her behavior, but they could not learn which charities Sally intended to donate to and when she would keep the money for herself.

    “This task gives us the ability to deconstruct these different components of theory of mind and see that it’s not basic learning or the logical reasoning component that’s impaired in people with autism. What seems to break down is actually the specific ability to take into account someone’s beliefs when you’re interpreting their actions,” says Stanley. “This more detailed understanding of how theory of mind can be impaired, in turn, gives us more purchase on how we could develop treatments in the future.”

    “This test is very valuable because in reality people learn over time about others’ changing beliefs from watching what they do,” says Rosenthal. “So the task, although complex, in fact tries to approximate what happens in the real world—which is, after all, what we’re ultimately interested in explaining.”

    Funding was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.

    See the full article here .


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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

    Caltech campus


    Caltech campus

     
  • richardmitnick 1:15 pm on November 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ASD-autism spectrum disorders, The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation will combine academic research commercial R&D and business innovations to identify and understand the capabilities of individuals with autism and to enha, , Vanderbilt University launches the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation   

    From Vanderbilt University: “Vanderbilt University launches the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation” 

    Vanderbilt U Bloc

    From Vanderbilt University

    Nov. 8, 2018
    Ryan Underwood

    A $10 million gift from alumna Jennifer R. Frist, BS’93, and husband William R. “Billy” Frist will endow a new center focused on supporting and developing the neurodiverse talents of individuals with autism at Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering.

    The contribution continues the work of a Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) initiative launched last October with seed funding from the university and led by Keivan G. Stassun, Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy and professor of computer science.

    “The pilot program connecting autism, innovation, employment and technology is a perfect example of how the Vanderbilt community can come together to create positive change in the world,” Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “The deep generosity of the Frists will play a vital role in powering new discoveries around this important topic while improving the quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum and creating new opportunities for a host of industries and businesses that will benefit from these individuals’ unique talents and skills.”

    The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation will combine academic research, commercial R&D and business innovations to identify and understand the capabilities of individuals with autism and to enhance the 21st-century workforce through engagement of autistic talent. Vanderbilt engineers, scientists and business scholars, together with autism experts in the clinical and vocational domains, will work with major Nashville employers and national autism organizations to:

    invent and commercialize new technologies
    advance understanding of neurodiverse capabilities related to employment
    disseminate a community-based approach to enhance the bottom line for business and improve quality of life for individuals with autism

    The Frists were drawn to the Vanderbilt project last year as part of a wider effort in the Nashville business community to explore ways to match autistic individuals with employers in search of their unique talents. The couple has a teenage son diagnosed with autism.

    “By focusing on people’s abilities—not disabilities—this center can empower those on the autism spectrum to reach their full potential,” Jennifer Frist said. “Their skills are well-suited for a number of important jobs, especially in a future driven by technology.”

    Billy Frist said the new center gives hope to families who have children with autism. “These children have extraordinary abilities, but too often families worry about their future independence and employment. We believe the work of this center can help change that course for the better,” he said.

    While the Frists are longtime supporters of Vanderbilt Athletics, this is their most significant gift—and the largest gift of its kind at Vanderbilt—to support autism research within the engineering and innovation scope.

    “This center epitomizes the opportunities for cross-campus collaboration at Vanderbilt,” said Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This visionary gift drives our autism research efforts in a way that combines research and engineering innovation while making positive strides in the domain of inclusion and diversity.”

    Neurodevelopmental differences such as autism now affect about 1 in 60 people. At the same time, the workforce needs of the information age require an ever more diverse array of human talent. But businesses have not yet learned how to fully tap the abilities of autistic and other neurodiverse people.

    “If we can understand and leverage the unique capabilities of autistic individuals to fuel innovation in the 21st- century economy, we will have significantly addressed one of the emergent grand challenges of our time,” Stassun said. “As a fellow parent of an autistic son who dreams of someday becoming an engineer, I am honored to lead this center and am deeply grateful to the Frists for their support and partnership.”

    Stassun built his internationally recognized laboratory in astrophysics and data science around a neurodiverse team of students and researchers. He was honored last year with a million-dollar Professor Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to advance the autism and innovation pilot initiative in collaboration with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

    Philippe Fauchet, who holds the Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Dean’s Chair in Engineering, said this is an opportune time to develop a new paradigm designed to tap into the extraordinary capabilities of individuals with autism. “This center will expand Vanderbilt’s work in autism research in a truly novel way, deepening our ability to drive innovation and quality of life through engineering and entrepreneurship.”

    The new center will be housed at Vanderbilt’s Innovation Pavilion, part of the recently opened Engineering and Science Building. The work of the center is underway, and a grand opening is planned for the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was in his 79th year when he decided to make the gift that founded Vanderbilt University in the spring of 1873.

    The $1 million that he gave to endow and build the university was the commodore’s only major philanthropy. Methodist Bishop Holland N. McTyeire of Nashville, husband of Amelia Townsend who was a cousin of the commodore’s young second wife Frank Crawford, went to New York for medical treatment early in 1873 and spent time recovering in the Vanderbilt mansion. He won the commodore’s admiration and support for the project of building a university in the South that would “contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country.”

    McTyeire chose the site for the campus, supervised the construction of buildings and personally planted many of the trees that today make Vanderbilt a national arboretum. At the outset, the university consisted of one Main Building (now Kirkland Hall), an astronomical observatory and houses for professors. Landon C. Garland was Vanderbilt’s first chancellor, serving from 1875 to 1893. He advised McTyeire in selecting the faculty, arranged the curriculum and set the policies of the university.

    For the first 40 years of its existence, Vanderbilt was under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The Vanderbilt Board of Trust severed its ties with the church in June 1914 as a result of a dispute with the bishops over who would appoint university trustees.

    kirkland hallFrom the outset, Vanderbilt met two definitions of a university: It offered work in the liberal arts and sciences beyond the baccalaureate degree and it embraced several professional schools in addition to its college. James H. Kirkland, the longest serving chancellor in university history (1893-1937), followed Chancellor Garland. He guided Vanderbilt to rebuild after a fire in 1905 that consumed the main building, which was renamed in Kirkland’s honor, and all its contents. He also navigated the university through the separation from the Methodist Church. Notable advances in graduate studies were made under the third chancellor, Oliver Cromwell Carmichael (1937-46). He also created the Joint University Library, brought about by a coalition of Vanderbilt, Peabody College and Scarritt College.

    Remarkable continuity has characterized the government of Vanderbilt. The original charter, issued in 1872, was amended in 1873 to make the legal name of the corporation “The Vanderbilt University.” The charter has not been altered since.

    The university is self-governing under a Board of Trust that, since the beginning, has elected its own members and officers. The university’s general government is vested in the Board of Trust. The immediate government of the university is committed to the chancellor, who is elected by the Board of Trust.

    The original Vanderbilt campus consisted of 75 acres. By 1960, the campus had spread to about 260 acres of land. When George Peabody College for Teachers merged with Vanderbilt in 1979, about 53 acres were added.

    wyatt centerVanderbilt’s student enrollment tended to double itself each 25 years during the first century of the university’s history: 307 in the fall of 1875; 754 in 1900; 1,377 in 1925; 3,529 in 1950; 7,034 in 1975. In the fall of 1999 the enrollment was 10,127.

    In the planning of Vanderbilt, the assumption seemed to be that it would be an all-male institution. Yet the board never enacted rules prohibiting women. At least one woman attended Vanderbilt classes every year from 1875 on. Most came to classes by courtesy of professors or as special or irregular (non-degree) students. From 1892 to 1901 women at Vanderbilt gained full legal equality except in one respect — access to dorms. In 1894 the faculty and board allowed women to compete for academic prizes. By 1897, four or five women entered with each freshman class. By 1913 the student body contained 78 women, or just more than 20 percent of the academic enrollment.

    National recognition of the university’s status came in 1949 with election of Vanderbilt to membership in the select Association of American Universities. In the 1950s Vanderbilt began to outgrow its provincial roots and to measure its achievements by national standards under the leadership of Chancellor Harvie Branscomb. By its 90th anniversary in 1963, Vanderbilt for the first time ranked in the top 20 private universities in the United States.

    Vanderbilt continued to excel in research, and the number of university buildings more than doubled under the leadership of Chancellors Alexander Heard (1963-1982) and Joe B. Wyatt (1982-2000), only the fifth and sixth chancellors in Vanderbilt’s long and distinguished history. Heard added three schools (Blair, the Owen Graduate School of Management and Peabody College) to the seven already existing and constructed three dozen buildings. During Wyatt’s tenure, Vanderbilt acquired or built one-third of the campus buildings and made great strides in diversity, volunteerism and technology.

    The university grew and changed significantly under its seventh chancellor, Gordon Gee, who served from 2000 to 2007. Vanderbilt led the country in the rate of growth for academic research funding, which increased to more than $450 million and became one of the most selective undergraduate institutions in the country.

    On March 1, 2008, Nicholas S. Zeppos was named Vanderbilt’s eighth chancellor after serving as interim chancellor beginning Aug. 1, 2007. Prior to that, he spent 2002-2008 as Vanderbilt’s provost, overseeing undergraduate, graduate and professional education programs as well as development, alumni relations and research efforts in liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education, business, law and divinity. He first came to Vanderbilt in 1987 as an assistant professor in the law school. In his first five years, Zeppos led the university through the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression, while continuing to attract the best students and faculty from across the country and around the world. Vanderbilt got through the economic crisis notably less scathed than many of its peers and began and remained committed to its much-praised enhanced financial aid policy for all undergraduates during the same timespan. The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons for first-year students opened in 2008 and College Halls, the next phase in the residential education system at Vanderbilt, is on track to open in the fall of 2014. During Zeppos’ first five years, Vanderbilt has drawn robust support from federal funding agencies, and the Medical Center entered into agreements with regional hospitals and health care systems in middle and east Tennessee that will bring Vanderbilt care to patients across the state.

    studentsToday, Vanderbilt University is a private research university of about 6,500 undergraduates and 5,300 graduate and professional students. The university comprises 10 schools, a public policy center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center. Vanderbilt offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education and human development as well as a full range of graduate and professional degrees. The university is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 universities by publications such as U.S. News & World Report, with several programs and disciplines ranking in the top 10.

    Cutting-edge research and liberal arts, combined with strong ties to a distinguished medical center, creates an invigorating atmosphere where students tailor their education to meet their goals and researchers collaborate to solve complex questions affecting our health, culture and society.

    Vanderbilt, an independent, privately supported university, and the separate, non-profit Vanderbilt University Medical Center share a respected name and enjoy close collaboration through education and research. Together, the number of people employed by these two organizations exceeds that of the largest private employer in the Middle Tennessee region.
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  • richardmitnick 4:40 pm on December 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ASD-autism spectrum disorders, Genetic variants linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have been positively selected during human evolution because they also contribute to enhanced cognition a new Yale study suggests, ,   

    From Yale: “Genetic risk of autism spectrum disorder linked to evolutionary brain benefit” 

    Yale University bloc

    Yale University

    February 27, 2017 [Brought back for interest]
    Bill Hathaway

    1
    (© stock.adobe.com) Not a young Dr. Sheldon Cooper?

    Genetic variants linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have been positively selected during human evolution because they also contribute to enhanced cognition, a new Yale study suggests.

    A study based on a genome-wide association study of ASD conducted by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and information regarding evolutionary gene selection showed that inherited variants linked to ASD were found under positive selection in larger numbers than would have been expected by chance.

    The final version of the paper was published Feb. 27 in the journal PLOS Genetics.

    Variants that have a large negative impact on reproductive success are generally eliminated from the population quickly. However, common variants that occur with high frequency but small effect can cumulatively have big impacts on complex inherited traits — both positive and negative. If variants provide a better chance of survival, they are positively selected, or tend to stay in the genome through generations.

    “In this case, we found a strong positive signal that, along with autism spectrum disorder, these variants are also associated with intellectual achievement,” said Renato Polimanti, associate research scientist at Yale School of Medicine and VA Connecticut Health Center in West Haven, and first author of the paper.

    For instance, many of the positively selected variants associated with ASD identified by the researchers were enriched for molecular functions related to creation of new neurons.

    “It might be difficult to imagine why the large number of gene variants that together give rise to traits like ASD are retained in human populations — why aren’t they just eliminated by evolution?” said Joel Gelernter, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, professor of genetics and of neuroscience, and co-author. “The idea is that during evolution these variants that have positive effects on cognitive function were selected, but at a cost — in this case an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders.”

    The work was funded by National Institutes of Health grants and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

    See the full article here .

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    Yale University Campus

    Yale University comprises three major academic components: Yale College (the undergraduate program), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools. In addition, Yale encompasses a wide array of centers and programs, libraries, museums, and administrative support offices. Approximately 11,250 students attend Yale.

     
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