individuals

health

Autistic individuals may have a hard time wearing a face mask. Here’s how experts help.

Health experts widely recommend wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of diseases, including COVID-19. Although there are reports of people who defy mask requirements, there are also people who may be struggling with face masks for physical reasons. Adults and children on the autism spectrum may have difficulty wearing masks.

People with autism may have sensory issues that can either be hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity, meaning overactive and underactive, respectively. Face masks can pose a problem for people with hypersensitivity because they may be unable to tolerate having something on their face or the material of the mask itself activates the touch senses to a point that is intolerable.

This could potentially lead to complications or confrontations in public spaces if masks are required. There are reports of families going shopping and who were asked to leave the store, a special needs student not being able to attend classes and a mother and a 5 year old were taken off a flight because of masks.

Changing America spoke to experts at Firefly Autism, a nonprofit that provides services to adults and children with autism in Colorado. “The very first thing to always remember when we’re talking about individuals with autism is every single person is completely different,” says Amanda Kelly, who is the Home-Based Programs Director at Firefly Autism. “It’s very hard to say broadly one type of mask is better than another because everybody is entirely individual and completely different.”


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An initial assessment could help understand what part of wearing a mask is difficult and why. It would also help set a baseline. For example, you can determine if the person can tolerate touching a mask, putting it on and wearing it for a few seconds.

A parent could introduce masks of varying styles and materials and see what the child chooses. Then, they could practice wearing the mask for short intervals. “We always want to make sure that we’re being very very clear with our expectations and explaining everything ahead of time,” says Kelly.

“Then the idea really is to just try and very strategically build tolerance,” says Kelly. “It might be very very small increments of time the person will tolerate having the mask on.” She suggests giving positive reinforcement along the way. Sesame Street made a video for children with autism to help them practice wearing a mask.

After tolerance has been built up, then you can begin practicing. For example, you can take a short trip to a public space with low stakes, like going to a drive through to get an ice cream. Eventually, they

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medicine

Keck Medicine of USC enrolling individuals in phase 3 clinical trial to treat mild Alzheimer’s disease using deep brain stimulation

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IMAGE: Darrin Lee, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon with Keck Medicine of USC and the principal investigator of the site’s clinical trial
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Credit: Image courtesy of Ricardo Carrasco III of Keck Medicine of USC

LOS ANGELES — An estimated 5.5 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

Keck Medicine of USC is enrolling individuals in an international phase 3 clinical trial to examine the safety and effectiveness of deep brain stimulation to treat Alzheimer’s. The study uses electrical impulses to stimulate the region of the brain known as the fornix, which is associated with memory and learning.

“Deep brain stimulation has successfully treated conditions such as Parkinson’s disease by improving motor skills, and we are now investigating if this therapy can stabilize or improve cognitive function,” says Darrin Lee, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon with Keck Medicine of USC and the site’s principal investigator of the study. “Based on the results of earlier phases of this clinical trial, the treatment offers a potential benefit for patients with mild Alzheimer’s.”

This randomized, double-blind study will last four years. Subjects will first take a standardized assessment test for Alzheimer’s to be used as a baseline measure of cognitive ability throughout the study.

Next, researchers will implant electrodes into subjects’ brains that connect to a battery pack, similar to a heart pacemaker, placed underneath the collarbone.

For the first year of the study, subjects will be given either low-frequency stimulation to the brain, high-frequency stimulation or a placebo — no stimulation.

“For those with Alzheimer’s disease, certain parts of the brain become atrophied,” Lee says. “We are testing to see if stimulating the brain’s fornix can reawaken brain activity in this area and stop the progression of the disease.”

During the first year, subjects will be given subsequent cognitive tests to check if their memory or learning skills have held steady or improved. At the end of the year, study researchers will examine data to determine which level of stimulation had the most impact on these skills.

For the next three years of the trial, all subjects in the study will receive what researchers have determined is the optimal frequency of deep brain stimulation, even those originally receiving the placebo. Patients will continue to be given cognitive assessments throughout the four-year period.

To qualify for the trial, patients must be 65 or older, have been diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s and take Alzheimer’s medication, and have a caregiver or family member who can accompany them to doctor visits.

The clinical trial involves approximately 200 patients at some 20 sites in the United States, Canada and Germany. Keck Medicine plans to enroll 8-15 patients.

The trial is sponsored by Functional Neuromodulation, Inc.

Those interested in enrolling in the clinical trial with Keck Medicine can contact Amanda Romano at [email protected] or 213-393-5640.

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Keck Medicine co-investigators of the trial include psychiatrist Carlos Manuel Figueroa, MD, and neurologist Elizabeth Joe, MD.

Deep brain stimulation has been

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