Stories about: autism

How Tim Froio became a bionic man

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Tim (far right) five years ago with his father Jon, mother Cheralyn and brothers Jonathan and Brandon

Timothy Froio has spent his life plagued by sudden, unwanted jerky movements.

“As a baby, he’d drift off to sleep in my arms and then jump, as if he felt like he was falling,” says his mother, Cheralyn. “He would jump so much that his body would stiffen.”

At age 2, putting together Legos, Tim struggled with violent tic-like movements in his upper torso, arms, legs, neck and head. “He’d jerk and the Legos would come apart and go all over,” says Cheralyn.

The same thing happened with his beverages: they’d spill in his face and all over. Unable to control his movements, he once jabbed himself in the face with a beef teriyaki skewer. His cups had to have lids, and he couldn’t button his buttons or tie his shoes. Cheralyn had to hold him down to cut his nails.

Kids weren’t kind to Timothy, who is now 21 and also has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Bullies would punch him to make his movements come out. He became very anxious: after the 9/11 attacks, he stopped eating for a week, thinking his food had been poisoned by terrorists.

Yet, against all odds, Timothy is also an artist. By bracing his non-drawing hand against his face, he calms the movements enough to create clean, highly detailed drawings, as shown in this video.

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5 things to know about early screening for autism

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Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)—the expert panel that provides recommendations about preventive services—published a draft recommendation about screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in young children. The recommendation does not support early screening for ASD.

It is currently open for public comment. Many pediatric developmental specialists and researchers are concerned with the conclusions. Drs. Sarah Spence and Carolyn Bridgemohan, co-directors of Boston Children’s Hospital Autism Spectrum Center, offer some insights into the recommendation and the benefits of early screening.

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Chronic and complex: A family embraces their messy, beautiful life

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Lisa Burgess with (clockwise from the top) her husband Mark and sons Ben, Jamie and Dakota. “We always do selfies,” Lisa says. “I make them.”

Dakota Burgess readies to take his place on stage at Ryles Jazz Club alongside his band mates. He paces, grips his saxophone, flips his shaggy blonde hair and paces some more. Twenty-year old Dakota is autistic, as are the other members of the band from Boston Higashi School, a day and residential program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder where Dakota has been a student for 15 years.

Dakota’s parents, his brother Jamie and a handful of friends are all in the audience, cameras and smiles ready. The show is almost starting. His mom, Lisa Burgess, leans over to a friend. “Just wait, they’re really quite good.”

The music starts. The band is good. Great, even. Dakota is nervous but focused and happy. He stays in tune and handles the spotlight like a pro during solos. At the end of the set, he bows and heads off stage.

Watching him high-five with friends, you’d never guess that Dakota was a defiant toddler. Or that he was a fearful 5-year-old. Or that his parents felt they were losing him to frustration and rage before finding Higashi. Or that he has received care at Boston Children’s Hospital for most of his life.

Dakota still struggles with anxiety but has thrived both academically and socially at Higashi and is learning life skills that will help him become more independent. The school’s jazz program and collaboration with Milton Academy has been a huge bonus.

“He keyed into music very early on,” Lisa says. “It’s really what saved him.”

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Dakota playing saxophone with the Boston Higashi School jazz band on April 30, 2015.

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Ask the expert: Can medical marijuana help kids with autism or ADHD?

Dr. Scott Hadland published a review on marijuana and developmental and pediatric conditions.
Dr. Scott Hadland is a general pediatrician and adolescent specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital and recently published a review on marijuana and developmental and pediatric conditions.

Marijuana policy in the United States is changing rapidly, with some states (including every state in New England) legally allowing marijuana to be used for medical reasons. Washington State and Colorado recently voted to allow the recreational use of marijuana, and Massachusetts may hold a similar ballot measure in 2016. It’s no surprise, then, that many parents wonder whether marijuana might have any benefits for certain pediatric conditions, and whether it’s safe for children.

A quick Facebook search shows that a number of groups have cropped up calling for medical marijuana for conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some of these online groups point to studies showing that medical marijuana is helpful in these conditions. Other groups tell compelling stories about a child who was struggling with autism whose behavior was dramatically better after being treated with marijuana.

Before doctors recommend a new treatment, we always make sure that carefully conducted studies have answered two critical questions. First, does the treatment actually work? And second, is it harmful? In essence, we need to be sure that the benefits outweigh the risks.

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