What More Can be Done for College Students With Autism?

 

Being a college student with autism can be quite challenging, research shows. In addition to the typical struggles that come with adjusting to the more rigorous but less structured demands of university classes, and the life changes of moving away from home and making new friends, young adults on the autism spectrum (ASD) tend to struggle with deficits in sensory processing, social skills, and executive functioning. While they can take advantage of therapeutic resources and government-mandated accommodations to address these concerns, there is more that can be done, according to BYU professors Mikle South and Jonathan Cox.

Mikle South
Photo by: Cheryl C. Fowers/BYU
Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007
All Rights Reserved

South, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Cox, an associate clinical professor, analyzed two-decades’ worth of patient records from the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center to discover the effectiveness of therapy for autistic students as opposed to their neuro-typical peers. They found that the students with autism generally took twice as long and required significantly more therapy sessions to achieve degrees of improvement comparable to their non-autistic peer. In the United States in general, the graduation rate of college students with autism is 18 percent lower than that of the general population.

In an October 2017 Spectrum article, South and Cox suggest that, while BYU and other universities offer therapy groups and accommodations to bring more of them closer to graduation and farther from their difficulties, some universities have implemented other effective non-therapeutic measures, and there are more that can be taken that are more suited to the specific needs of people on the ASD spectrum.

What Can Be Done

“In large institutions,” say South and Cox, “the [social, mental, and organizational needs of people with autism] can easily be missed by everyone, including the parents of these students.” To address those needs, they suggest that universities offer programs like one provided at Utah Valley University. Passages includes weekly skill-building meetings, recreational and social activities like hikes and movie nights, and regular workshops for families. In addition, they say that universities can consider training aides in executive functioning coaching.

Too, they offer, “It may be possible to create safe spaces— areas with minimal sensory stimulation—for taking exams and other activities. And our data suggest that extending treatment limits for people with autism can lead to substantial improvements in well-being while decreasing costs associated with student failure.”

“Generating the institutional willpower to improve support for students on the spectrum requires advocacy, creativity and flexibility,” they continue. “Administrators and others should take the time to learn about autism and push for change. Autism is not rare; every college has many students with autism who can succeed with a little help.”

What We Know

South and Cox’s suggestions add to the large body of expertise produced by research group Autism Connect, whose purpose is to help everyone see autism as “a collection of disorders where each individual has unique symptoms.” These professors and researchers seek to improve the lives of individuals and families with autism spectrum disorders through research so that new understanding and symptom-specific treatments can be developed. Doctor South focuses his research on the relationship between anxiety and ASD. Using MRI and EEG brain imaging, South and his peers have found that people with ASD may have difficulties understanding their emotions and the safety of situations. These individuals may assume that everything is threatening and adopt anxiety as a default emotion. This anxiety may be a connection between ASD and aggression.

This research can help individuals and families get the help and assistance they need sooner rather than later, helping to decrease distress and isolation among families and individuals who have ASD.

 

 

Tackling Mental Health with a Psychologist and College Quarterback

What do you think of when you hear the words “mental health?” For many people, there’s a stigma attached to depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, or any other form of mental illness, but these illnesses are real, and they are widespread. Luckily, more and more people are raising their voices to talk about their experiences with mental illness. You probably first heard of one such BYU student in September 2015 when he threw a Hail Mary to secure BYU’s victory over Nebraska, featured on ESPN. In an April 2017 Instagram post, “Miracle Mangum,” this year’s starting quarterback Tanner Mangum, spoke out about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

Now, a new CBS Sports video features the quarterback as he discusses more about his mental health. Dr. Michael Larson, a clinical neuropsychologist from FHSS‘s Psychology Department, appears in the video to elaborate on the science of mental illness. “Most mental illness tends to start between the ages of 18 and 24,” Dr. Larson says. It often manifests itself as young adults move away from home and live on their own for the first time.


Dr. Larson also addressed the myths that learning to “toughen up” or realizing “it’s just in your head” will cure mental illness. “The truth is that depression and anxiety have actual changes in the brain that are associated with these mental illnesses,” he explained.

Depression and anxiety may result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and social factors, according to the American Psychological Association. And mental illness may occur if there are problems with the function of a particular brain region or as neurons send messages via neurotransmitters, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Office offers many resources and services to students with mental illnesses, and our Comprehensive Clinic provides counseling and therapy to members of the community dealing with mental illness. The office lets students make appointments with counselors, complete online courses on stress management, and enroll in student development classes, among other things.

Has mental illness affected you? How can friends and family members support individuals with mental illness?

Let us know in the comments, and don’t hesitate to share resources or tips.

How can You Help Kids Learn about Healthy Living?

Anatomy AcademyAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 17% of American children are obese. As obesity can lead to a plethora of health problems, the prevalence of it is a serious problem. BYU Neuroscience professor Jonathan Wisco recognized this and founded the Anatomy Academy to combat the nationwide epidemic by teaching children about healthy living.

 

 

 

What is it?


The program recruits BYU students to go visit local fifth and sixth grade classes to teach the kids about healthy living. “You’re teaching all these young kids how to take care of themselves so that they can be healthy in the future, and they won’t have to go to the hospital,” said former BYU student and Academy mentor Janeen Williamson.

Dr. Wisco, in an interview with KBYU Radio’s Top of Mind host Julie Rose, said that some of the activities the mentors and middle schoolers do are:

  • Measuring out the amount of sugar in foods, especially drinks, so that the kids can see how much sugar they’re really consuming
  • Studying a cow heart to gain an increased understanding of how the organ works
  • Playacting as blood cells to better comprehend how the heart functions
  • Inflating cow lungs with a straw

anatomy academyBy having students engage in hands-on activities, Dr. Wisco believes that they will learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. And they seem to be getting the message. A mother of one his students received a call from her son’s camp leader. While on a camping trip, her son would not sit next to the fire because he didn’t want to inhale the smoke. “It was a little extreme, but he clearly got the message,” said Dr. Wisco.

Origins

How did Anatomy Academy begin? While Wisco was employed at UCLA’s medical school, he and other faculty members were “looking for an impactful way to help our medical students translate complicated medical information to a population that’s often ignored. And those are junior high students.” While there are programs and classes for high school students, very little was being done for those in middle school and junior high. Anatomy Academy was introduced to a school in the area, eventually spreading to Utah when Dr. Wisco became a professor at BYU. Since then, it has “just exploded.” Through word of mouth, it has spread to a profusion of states.

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have,” said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Through his Anatomy Academy, he is giving the rising generation invaluable instruction about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

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What tips or healthy recipes have helped you or your kids lead healthier lifestyles?

 

Students: Five Ways to Stay Sharp This Summer

Summer may be for lazy days and having fun with your friends, but that doesn’t mean you should stop learning! Here are 5 ways to stay sharp and have fun this summer!

Find Your Club!

Even though clubs aren’t very active during the Spring and Summer, you can still sort through them at BYU’s clubs’ website and pick which one you want to join in Fall/Winter! Here are some quick links to more information about clubs within our college:

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Courtesy of BYU Refugee Empowerment Club’s Facebook page

Visit the Museum of Peoples and Cultures!

Learn all about ancient and more modern civilizations at this museum. Current exhibits include Piecing Together Paquimé, which features the remnants of the city from A.D. 1200-1450, and Steps in Style, which features shoes from a plethora of cultures and time periods.

mpc
Courtesy of the MPC Facebook page

Hit up the Library!

Here at BYU, we have one of the best libraries ever! It’s full of cool rooms and exhibits and awesome movies and books. So take time this summer to explore the HBLL and find some great books! Highlights of the HBLL include:

hbll
Courtesy of the HBLL Facebook page

Brush up on your Writing Skills

Whether you’re taking classes this summer or not, you can always improve your writing. FHSS’ Writing Lab offers many tools both on-campus and online to help you with that. Take a few moments to brush up on these skills, so you don’t have to do it in the middle of trying to meet a million assignment deadlines:

  • Formatting a paper Turabian style
  • Structuring your paper
  • Writing a conclusion
  • Citing APA style

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Watch YouTube Videos!

Did you know that FHSS has two YouTube channels? Every other week, we post videos about the intricacies of daily life and how to live within them.

What are your summer plans?

New Faculty Member Dr. Derin Cobia Studies Mental Illness and the Brain

Cobia_DerinWhen Derin Cobia first came to BYU as student, he didn’t think he would end up studying the human brain. Through the help of one professor, his life changed directions. Now, thirteen years later, he’s back, and in the same position as his mentor. As his life was enriched, so is Dr. Cobia enriching others: through research that has the potential to aid countless individuals.   

 

 

 

Mental Illness and the Brain

Cobia is focused on mental illness, primarily schizophrenia and dementia, and its causes. He studies what factors lead to symptom variance, and what tools the brain uses to combat these diseases.

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These pictures show the areas of the brain most affected by schizophrenia. The brighter areas are places where the strongest amount of variance in relation to healthy brains occur.

He has found that different people react to the same illnesses in differing ways; some might feel the symptoms very strongly, others might not. The focal point of Dr. Cobia’s research on dementia has been PPA, or Primary Progressive Aphasia. This differs from traditional dementia in that the patient loses their language capabilities, yet remains cognitively sound.

Dr. Cobia’s research and findings possess significant implications. While he himself, not being a medical doctor, cannot produce treatments for mental illness, his studies will assist others in doing so. Other researchers can potentially use his findings to facilitate clinical studies that may eventually result in treatments.

The Importance of a Mentor

Dr. Cobia credits Dr. Erin Bigler, one of our psychology professors, for galvanizing his interest in neuroscience. It was Dr. Bigler who taught him about brain functions and other principles of neurology. About the organ, Dr. Cobia says: “I can’t think of anything more interesting.”

Dr. Cobia was hired as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology recently. He graduated in 2003 with a BS in Psychology, and later obtained a masters and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of St. Louis. He went on to become a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern, and then a neuropsychologist with the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation. While there, he was promoted the positions of Associate Director of Education and Clinical Training and Assistant Professor at the Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He held those jobs concurrently.

Of his return to his alma mater, he says that “BYU feels like home… [It] is my tribe.” More importantly, though, he looks forward mentoring a new generation of scientists and to pay back the university for the education he was given.

 


 

BYU’s Neuroscience Club = Service, Leadership, and Support

Brain

Brigham Young University is full of clubs, programs, and service opportunities that help students get involved with their major, peers, and community. As the Fall 2016 semester approaches, individuals in the Neuroscience Major have the opportunity to join the Neuroscience Club, or NeuroClub for short. With meetings every Tuesday and a group of officers and professors that want to make your experience at BYU the best it can be, there’s no better place for Neuroscience majors to go to find opportunities for service, leadership, and support!

Here’s everything you need to know about the Neuroscience Club:

How it Helps You

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The NeuroClub’s purpose as described by the President Kaitlyn Williams is, “to enhance and broaden neuroscience student’s awareness of practices and applications in the neuroscience field while providing opportunities for service, leadership, and support in their education.” The club focuses on helping students answer: “Where can I go? What can I do? And why is it important?” in regards to their educational and career pursuits.

What it Does

For Fall of 2016, the NeuroClub has big plans for its members! With a focus on careers, each month the club will be hosting 3 activities in which students can learn more about where they can go with a neuroscience degree. These activities include:

  • Guest speakers with a neuroscience background that have chosen various career paths
  • Casual dinner meetings with professors to get to know them as well as have the opportunity to ask them questions
  • Service and Volunteering
  • Tutoring
  • And of course games and other fun activities to build lasting friendships!

Where to Find out More

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To kick off the fun for Fall 2016, check out the club’s opening social on Thursday, September 1 from 12-2pm in the south quad of the SWKT! There will be food, desserts, games with prizes, and so much more. Come out to meet the club officers, find out about upcoming activities, and be there for the big reveal of the club’s NEW t-shirt design! Watch out for NeuroClub officers visiting your classrooms this week and don’t forget to vote! And there’s even more fun planned in 2017 with Brain Week in March.

Why join?

Because membership in it:

  • looks great on applications and resumes
  • builds relationships
  • provides research opportunities
  • provides ideas for career paths
  • provides service opportunities
  • helps you make an impact

Get Involved

The only requirement for membership in the club is that you are a declared Neuroscience major and have a passion for it! So make plans to go to the club’s opening social and then check out the Neuroscience Center, Facebook page, and Website. Still looking for more information? You can always email the club at byuneuroscience@gmail.com

Check out the NeuroClub today!

PAMs: Better Treatment for Alzheimer’s?

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Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in America, and one of the most expensive, costing us 172 billion dollars annually. We know that there is no cure, yet. But is there a way to slow its progression? A new type of substance is being tested for its effectiveness could eventually serve as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases. It’s called a PAM.

What are PAMs?

Positive Alosteric Modulators (PAMs) offer a new kind of solution to an old problem: aging brains with weakening inter-cellular communication. PAMs may help strengthen communication at weakening synapses within the brain. And they would do so in a unique way.

BYU PhD neurology student Doris Jackson provides a simple analogy to explain how PAMs function. “The receptor on a neuron is like a door. And a substance called an agonist is like the key that opens the door; while an antagonist locks the door, or blocks the neurotransmitters.” This opening and closing of doors is how cells communicate. If you have a neurologically degenerative disease like Alzheimers, you have unhealthy connections between neurons, meaning the “doors” have moved farther apart, making it more difficult for signals to pass through. “A lot of pharmacological drugs just add more agonists to the system (i.e. more keys that open the door),” says Jackson. “So more doors are opening; even when they’re not normally supposed to open.” PAMs, however, do not act as a key. They don’t open doors, rather, they open them wider, or keep them open longer.

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“When we use PAMs,” says Jackson, “We’re keeping the normal opening and closing of the doors the same. All of that is functioning normally, but we allow a greater response to occur.” So PAMs may allow for a more natural, and potentially more effective treatment for ailments in the brain. 

 

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PAMS and the Bigger Picture of Alzheimer’s Research

PAMs have shown lots of potential for becoming a part of Alzheimer’s treatment medications in the future, although studies are still in the preliminary stages. They are also being used to differentiate between different subtypes of receptors—which may lead to the creation of medications with less severe side effects.

Jackson, along with Marcel Killpack Hall, a lead researcher on a student team studying PAMs at BYU, presented their findings at our recent Mary-Lou Fulton Mentored Research Conference, taking first place in the division of Neuroscience.

“Currently,” says the Alzheimer’s Association, “there are five FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs that treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s—temporarily helping memory and thinking problems in about half of the people who take them. But these medications do not treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s. In contrast, many of the new drugs in development aim to modify the disease process itself, by impacting one or more of the many wide-ranging brain changes that Alzheimer’s causes.”

The possible implications of this Jackson and Hall’s mentored research are exciting to consider, especially in light of the increased body and momentum of research into predicting and treating Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Have you or anyone you know been affected by Alzheimer’s? What do you think about this research?

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Your Brain During Brain Awareness Week March 14-20

What do you know about your brain?

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This week is Brain Awareness Week, and BYU’s Neuroscience Club  wants to help you  learn all about your brain, and touch some sheep brains.

Brain FHE

To kick off the week, all BYU Students and families are invited to attend a special Family Home Evening event. Come learn about your nervous system from Dr. Brown and Dr. Kirwan. They will provide presentations on neuro-anatomy, sensation, and perception that people of all ages can understand. Get there early because last time we ran out of seats!

When: Monday, March 14 @ 7pm

Where: SWKT 250

Learn more about this event here.

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Impaired Basketball @ WILK Booth

Come to the WILK any day this week for lunch and shoot a basketball while wearing drunk goggles!

Good luck.

When: Monday-Friday: 11am-1pm

Where: WILK Terrace

Touch Sheep Brains!

That’s right. You heard us.

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The Neuroscience club is asking for volunteers to help teach K-12 children across the valley about the brain throughout the week. To do so, they’ll be using sheep brains. Join them, and YOU’LL be using sheep brains.

You do NOT need any prior knowledge of the brain to participate – the club will teach you everything you need to know.  To volunteer, you can sign up on this google doc.

BYU Neuroscience Video Competition

BYU’s Neuroscience video competition

Opens: Friday Feb 26, 2016

Closes: Friday April 1, 2016 @ 11:59pm

All current BYU students are invited to participate

Rules will be identical to the SfN Video Competition rules

Except:  

  1. Email byuneuroclub@gmail.comwith the subject Video Competition Submission with an unlisted link to your video on Youtube
  2. Must include “BYU Neuroscience Video Competition” in the subject line
  3. Video must abide by the Honor Code to enter

Prizes will  be awarded for first, second and third place videos 

Prizes will be Visa prepaid gift cards

1st place: $150

2nd place: $100

3rd place: $50


Submissions will be judged by BYU Neuroscience faculty.

The winners will be announced at the BYU Neuroscience Club closing activity on April 7, 2016.

*All submissions shall become the property of the college of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, and may be used in club, department, or college communication channels.


Here are a few video examples to get your brain going:

Neuroscience & Emotions

The Neuroscience of Love

What is a Synapse?

Best of luck!