#BetterCarer_Talk_22 took place on 19 Feb 2021 via Zoom. The title of the talk was Autism in Women. This session started by looking at the ratio of autistic male to female and showed that the true ratio is more towards 3:1 than 4:1 as widely quoted. The sesson continues to cover the possible reasons that explain the lower number of female autism cases. Reasons such as the extreme male brain theoery of autism and female protective effect were discussed. The aftermath of misdiagnosis and missed-diagnosis were also discussed. Several caregivers shared their experiences of caring for their autistic daughters. The sharings were insightful and were very much appreciated by the community. The session ends with a mention of the lost generation of adults with ASD and highlight the importance to have a coordinated effort across agencies and support from goverment to create a more supportive environment.
#BetterCarer_Talk_21 took place on 29 Jan 2021 via Zoom. The title of the talk was Helping Children with Autism to Cope in School. This session covers the various practical aspects of understanding the challenges and behavioras of children with autism and how caregivers, including educators could help them to cope better in the school environment. During the talk, the caregivers had the opportunities to share their questions and concerns as well as knowing how other caregivers managed their challenges.
#BetterCarer_Talk_20 took place on 18 Dec 2020 via Zoom. The title of the talk was Motor Skills and Autism. This session started with building a common understanding of how ASD was diagnosed. Building on that common knowledge, we covered the basic brain anatomy of motor functions. Based on the differences in the way that the brains were wired, we could account for different behaviours including motor skills abilities. We looked at the evidence that correlate motor skills and autism. Evidence also suggests that cerebellar functioning may be critical in perceptual processing that explains various behaviours commonly seen in ASD individuals. Therefore intervention and activities that might focus in physical coordinated activities are encouraged.
#BetterCarer_Talk_19 took place on 27 Nov 2020 via face to face meeting at Lifelong Learning Institute. The title of the talk was Mindfulness For Caregivers. This session touched on what mindfulness is about and how caregivers could practise it to alleviate stressful or unpleasant situations. Caregivers were brought through short reflective sessions to help them identify negative or unhappy emotions within them and facilitated on how to be self-compassionate. The talk also guided the caregivers on how to focus and tame the wondering mind during mindfulness practice. By introducing break time for the self to practise mindfulness in various aspects of daily life, such as through mindful eating, taking a mindful walk, or through physical exercise, the speaker encouraged caregivers to be more aware of their internal emotional state. Caregivers were also provided with worksheets to help them pen down their emotions and struggles, and guided on how to view these from a different perspective.
#BetterCarer_Talk_18 took place on 20 Nov 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was Autism Spectrum Disorder - A look into the assessment. This session was mainly divided into two parts. The first part we covered the characteristics of ASD. Understanding the characteristics will help to better appreciate the diagnostic process of ASD. In the second part, we went through briefly the ADIR (Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised) and ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) methods of assessments. We emphasized the importance of knowing every ASD child is unique. Based on the 3 dimensions of measurements - Cognitive Skills, Sensory Sensitivities and Motor Skills, we are able to perform good assessment if a child is living with ASD.
#BetterCarer_Talk_17 took place on 23 Oct 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was The Enigma of Regression in ASD. This session touched on the history when regression was first observed more than 100 years ago, and todate, what research studies have learnt about this condition thus far. The journey of studying regression in ASD starts with the ability to identify early onset developmental delays, followed by late onset regression. Caregivers were given a glimpse into the challenges of using retrospective and prospective studies in establishing the onset of regression in children with ASD. Such studies are augmented by the use of medical science such as through analysing brain activity or via genetic sequencing to identify more accurate ways of detecting developmental abnormalities as early as possible. The quest to understanding the causes, the recovery and the interventions are still ongoing. The critical importance of caregiver observations of their child's early development is emphasized.
#BetterCarer_Talk_16 took place on 29 Sept 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was Applied Behavioral Analysis - To do or not to do?. The session started with a discussion on the topic of nature vs nurture. We explored how well intended nurturing intervention could lead to unintended interference. An overview of how ABA was started and its founding principles were discussed. How the ABA techniques might be seen as abusive and outdated were also shared. The session ended with a lively debate and sharing by the community on how beneficial or detrimental were ABA based on their individual's experience.
#BetterCarer_Talk_15 took place on 28 August 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was Understanding Individuals with ASD from a Psychological Perspective. We first explored the traits of ASD followed by the related theories. Next we covered ASD and the common co-morbid mental health issues. Lastly, we shared about evidence-based treatments for ASD.
#BetterCarer_Talk_14 took place on 28 July 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was Please understand me - The case of non-verbal ASD. We first explored how we can improve communication by emphasizing three things - (a) understanding ourselves as a character with unique temperament, (b) using body language more effectively, (c) understanding intent through observing behaviors over time. In the second half of the talk, we briefly shared about apraxia of speech and how the use of a new method called AMMT could help enhance the speech output for the minimally verbal ASD individuals.
#BetterCarer_Talk_13 took place on 26 June 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was Will Literacy Skills Help Individuals with ASD to Improve Their Theory of Mind? It kicked off by bringing the community through the relation between theory of mind and narrative processing, and how these are required for children's reading comprehension skills. This was followed by sharing of research studies which showed that reading fiction provides positive correlations to development of social cognition through neural activation of the brain's language regions and the surrounding areas. The session also covered reading activities and the various methods of reading interventions which caregivers and educators might practise with their children/students. Finally, a fun and interactive computer assisted intervention program was shared with the community.
#BetterCarer_Talk_12 took place on 29 May 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was Loneliness - Does it exist in the Autism world. This session started by framing loneliness in the context of not being able to connect socially nor relate emotionally. It went on to challenge the assumptions that individuals with autism are not motivated to connect with others. The audience were able to share their views and ideas in the breakout rooms. The session ended with the emphasis for caregivers to focus more on building relationships that accept the uniqueness in how individuals with autism socialize.
#BetterCarer_Talk_11 took place on 30 April 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was The Genetics of ASD. The session brings caregivers a little closer to understanding how genetics affect the expression of ASD and the associated physiological conditions. It covered knowledge related to genes and ASD and how the associated conditions could be better managed. Some basic genetics terminology were introduced. Topics on male bias in ASD, as well as the association of Fragile X syndrome with ASD were discussed. This was followed by a sharing on family and population statistics on the risk occurrence of ASD based on mutation, hereditary and environmental factors. Finally, the session covered the applications of genetics in diagnostic strategies, and the potential of developing personalized, targeted treatment options for individuals with ASD, along with genetic counselling. The ethical issues surrounding genetic testings were also discussed.
#BetterCarer_Talk_10 took place on 28 March 2020 via online live streaming. The title of the talk was ASD-ADHD Comorbidity - A Paradox?. The session brings carers through the traits and symptoms of ASD and ADHD, how they are different and similar. The co-occurrence of ASD and ADHD can result in masking of behavioural expression, hence leading to misdiagnosis of the condition. The brain development of persons with ASD and/or ADHD at birth are different from neurotypicals. The physical, behavioural and emotional development of a child with ASD and/or ADHD were also discussed. Following this, various modes of interventions were covered, including a discussions on the (in)effectiveness of elimination diets and digital medicine, i.e. the use of closed loop video games to harness the potential of brain plasticity as a form of targeted neural stimulation.
#BetterCarer_Talk_9 took place on 27 Dec 2019. The title of the talk was Language in Autism. We started by looking at how language is uniquely human through the research experiment of Project Nim. We learnt to appreciate the pathways of the brain that are responsible for our receptive language and expressive language abilities. We get to know the evidence that demonstrate the functional and anatomical differences between an ASD child and a neuro-typical child in relation to speech development. We referenced some examples of how we could bridge the gaps in helping children with autism to better express their world and how interventions such as Early Start Denver Model and sign language might better improve their communication abilities.
#BetterCarer_Talk_8 took place on 28 Nov 2019. The title of the talk was Zzz... It's A Sleepy Matter - Sleeping with Autism.
The session started off by introducing neurotransmitters and the roles they play in the brain in sleep regulation of the circadian rhythm. The correlation between the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic sleep cycle, including the NREM and REM sleep stages, were explained. Next, the possible multifactorial causes of the high prevalence of sleep disturbances in children with autism were covered. This included an explanation on the various types of sleep disorders, manifestations, clinical study methods, and possible measures or interventions used to improve the conditions. The impact of sleep disturbances on a child's behaviour and on the caregiver were also touched on. The session moved on to discuss sleep management through the use of behavioural techniques based on learning theory to improve behaviours. Lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical exercise and sleep hygiene also play a part in alleviating sleep problems. The talk concluded with a small segment on alternative options in sleep management though the use of pharmacotherapy, vitamins, minerals, and traditional botanicals.
#BetterCarer_Talk_7 took place on 31 Oct 2019. The title of the talk was Brain Gut Connection - What it says about using supplements to treat Autism?. We started by looking at the roles of the neuro-transmitters and the excitatory and inhibitory functions they play in passing on the neuro-electrical signals between the synapses. We relate this back to the food intake that contains compounds such as the Amino Acids which are the essential components of the neuro-transmitters. Through that, we looked at the dietary intake and supplements and how the lack of strong evidence imply that we should not rely too much on supplements to help manage autism. Subsequently, we looked at the importance of good microbes in helping us to achieve better cognitive abilities. Lastly we touched on the autonomic nervous system and emphasise the importance of the vagus nerves in the parasympathetic nervous system and the advance results of vagus nerves stimulation to potentially help manage autism.
#BetterCarer_Talk_6 took place on 26 Sept 2019. The title of the talk was Essential Oils for Autism - Myth or Truth? We first looked at how the receptors in olfactory received the molecules and translate the information to the various parts of the brain bypassing the blood brain barrier. We gained an understanding of how critically important it is for us to know what we put across different types of smell to our loved ones, especially as a form of therapy. We surveyed the essential oils usage patterns of the audience in regards to their beliefs and practices. We then covered the basics of how to verify the robustness of an intervention claim via the PASTA approach. We concluded the session by looking at some of the exciting discoveries and interventions that might eventually really really really help solve the challenges faced by the autism communities. (READ: Essential Oils = Weak Evidence)
#BetterCarer_Talk_5 took place on 23 Aug 2019. The title of the talk was Theory of Mind Explained!. We started by explaining the key elements in theory of mind (ToM), namely the desire, intention, and beliefs of others. We looked at the evolution of ToM from chimpanzee to how individual brain develops the ToM abilities today. We conclude with a critical view of how we could combine context based ToM learning and exercises that promote cerebellar activities to arrive at a more effective intervention to possibly enhance social cognition.
#BetterCarer_Talk_4 took place on 20 July 2019. The title of the talk was Neurodiversity - What it means to be different. We started the session with a look at a neurological condition called Synesthesia and use it as a case in point to illustrate the cross-talks/cross-wiring of the brains that would result in abilities of individuals being different from the normal population. Expanding on that topic we looked at social interaction challenges of ASD and how being aware of context blindness should help in bringing the diverse groups of people closer together. We also briefly touched on the ethics and criminal justice questions that are related to neurodiversity.
#BetterCarer_Talk_3 took place on 26 June 2019. The title of the talk was Demystifying Neurofeedback. During the session, we looked at how the activities of a single neuron cell was captured and demonstrated to be ground breaking in our understanding of our human visual system. We extrapolated that and explored the complexity of the entire brain network and how challenging it is to monitor and even develop stimuli for proper intervention through neurofeedback. We briefly looked at the work done elsewhere and discussed on other brain related questions. In conclusion, to apply neurofeedback in solving ASD or any mental disorder/disabilities remain a highly challenging task. (READ: Neurofeedback = Weak Evidence)
#BetterCarer_Talk_2 took place on 30 March 2019. The title of the talk was Understanding kids' behavior - What does the brain science tell us. The session covered the basics of brain sciences that were related to our behaviors. Audience learnt about our brains' limitations and potentials as applied in altering behaviors under different circumstances including shaping children with autism spectrum disorders towards a desired goal.
#BetterCarer_Talk_1 took place on 23 Feb 2019. The title of the talk was Human Brain Development. The session introduced human brain development of a child from birth until the brain is fully developed. It touched on some relevant facts of developmental disorder including Austism Spectrum Disorders.
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