Monthly Archives: March 2012

Autism spectrum disorders hit historically high level

Heather Rudow March 30, 2012

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), making it more common than ever before.

This rise, according to information released by the CDC, marks a 23-percent increase since the previous report in 2009 — and a 78-percent increase since the first report in 2007. Part of the increase, the CDC release explains, is “due to the way children are identified, diagnosed and served in their local communities, although exactly how much is due to these factors in unknown.”

Other findings from the report include:

  • The number of children identified with ASDs varied widely across the 14 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network sites, from 1 in 47 (21.2 per 1,000) to 1 in 210 (4.8 per 1,000).
  • ASDs are almost five times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).
  • The largest increases over time were among Hispanic children (110 percent) and black children (91 percent). The CDC suspects that some of this increase is due to greater awareness and better identification among these groups. However, the report says, this finding explains only part of the increase over time, as more children are being identified in all groups.
  • There were increases over time among children without intellectual disability (those having IQ scores above 70), although there were also increases in the estimated prevalence of ASDs at all levels of intellectual ability.
  • More children are being diagnosed at earlier ages — a growing number of them by age 3. Still, most children are not diagnosed until after they reach age 4, even though early identification and intervention can help a child access services and learn new skills. Through the program Learn the Signs. Act Early, the CDC provides free tools to help parents track their child’s development and free resources for doctors and educators. The CDC is also working with states and communities to improve early identification.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Documentary aims to spread the word about school bullying

Heather Rudow

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

The documentary “Bully” opens in select theaters across the country this weekend, with the aim of shedding light on just how real the bullying situation is in our nation today.

The film’s website starkly notes that more than 13 million American kids will be bullied this year and that 3 million students are absent from school each month because they feel unsafe. The movie follows three students who suffer verbal and physical harassment from their peers, as well as the parents of two other targets who completed suicide as a result of bullying.

“One of the things this film raises is, families are struggling and looking at how do we talk to our kids about this?” Director Lee Hirsch told NPR in an interview. “How do we help our kids on this?”

The Motion Picture Association of America originally tagged the documentary with an NC-17 rating due to some of the unsavory language used by the bullies, but it is entering theaters with no rating. Children under 17 can be admitted to theaters as long as they have a note from from their parents.

The documentary also marks the launch of The Bully Project, an organization that, according to its website, will be a “collaborative effort that brings together partner organizations that share a commitment to ending bullying and ultimately transforming society.”

Check your local listings for “Bully” in your area, and visit its website for more information.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Despite bans, pro-eating disorder pages are still finding their way to social media sites

Heather Rudow March 29, 2012

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Social media sites have the ability to empower us, to make us feel depressed and also to perpetuate eating disorders among users. “Pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) blogs on websites such as Tumblr and Pinterest are popular ways for people suffering from these eating disorders to band together and make these typically private disorders a community activity. And, as CBS News reports, despite social media sites outright banning blogs with this type of content, these pages are still cropping up.

Andrea Vazzana, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychiatry at New York University, told CBS that even though evidence shows that looking even once at pro-ana or pro-mia pages can raise a person’s level of body dissatisfaction, they’re not likely to cause an eating disorder. However, for those are already suffering from an eating disorder, it is a deadly combination.

“A lot of times people with eating disorders use these sites as a means of seeking support,” Vazzana said.

Tumblr tried to rectify the situation on its site in February by announcing the adoption of a no “self-harm” policy and by pledging to shut down promoting eating disorders. Pinterest reacted similarly in March, CBS reports, by updating its terms of use to include banning material that “creates a risk of harm, emotional distress, death disability, disfigurement or physical or mental illness to any person.”

However, a quick tag search of either of these sites shows that it is going to take more than policy adoptions to rid these social networking sites of these pages once and for all.

“They are still finding a way with all these regulations,” Vazzana said. “Even with all the regulations, Tumblr and Pinterest may try, but they’ll get the sites back running under a different ISP.”

Read the rest of the article

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Positive thoughts could fight off depression

Heather Rudow


When you are feeling depressed, it might seem easier said than done to simply think happier thoughts. But early findings from an ongoing Stanford University study suggest that it might be possible to rewire one’s brain to fight off negative thoughts.

The study involves girls between the ages of 10 and 14 whose mothers are or have been depressed; previous research shows that these girls have a significantly higher risk of developing depression than those without a family history.

One of the two studies involved using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see how the girls’ brains react to disturbing images, such as photos of accidents:

“The brains of people who are depressed or at risk of becoming depressed overreact to negative experiences. Their bodies respond with increased heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol production and other physical indicators of stress. A depressive episode may not be far behind. During the fMRI … the researchers watch how much blood flows to each part of the brain. They pay particular attention to the amygdala region.”

According to study leader Ian Gotlib, “Everybody activates the amygdala to some extent when they see a negative picture. We have found that depressed adults and children at risk for depression activate it a lot more. And that can impair their day-to-day functioning.”

The girls watch their brain activity on a graph while they are undergoing the fMRI, and the researchers then ask the girls to try to dull the response by thinking about positive experiences instead.

“They see a line and we say to them, ‘We’d like you to make it lower,'” Gotlib said. “Many of us would think it’s impossible — how can we change the level of activation in a particular part of our brain without affecting the level of activation in another part of our brain?”

However, the researchers found that most of the girls are successful.

“Most of the girls are self-satisfied,” said researcher Paul Hamilton. “They’re happy but they also come across as a little amazed they were able to do it. … But, in fact, the brain is a very dynamic organ. We’re happy we’ve been able to give them a potentially adaptive strategy to cope.”

Source: Stanford University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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Effects on 9/11 mental health workers often overlooked

Heather Rudow March 28, 2012

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Research has concluded that survivors and firefighters who were on the scene during the 9/11 attacks are still dealing with mental and physical ramifications from the traumatic event. But a new study in Clinical Social Work Journal reveals that 9/11 disaster mental health workers are also experiencing ongoing problems but that this group tends to be overlooked.

According to researchers, some people can suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through “secondary exposure to the trauma histories of others,” also known as secondary traumatic stress — and disaster mental health workers are at a high risk of being vulnerable to this:

“Not only are they exposed to the stressors and psychic pains experienced by their clients, they carry the professional burden of being expected to remain open and available to their clients on an emotional level. In the case of 9/11, these clinicians were also exposed to the same disaster as those they were helping.”

For the study, which researchers were hoping would lead to a better understanding of the effects of indirect exposure to terrorism, researcher Mary Pulido conducted one-on-one interviews with 26 mental health workers who had done 9/11-related therapeutic work with clients. The mental health workers were asked what impact these clients and their issues had, as well as what types of supports were available to them through their jobs for dealing with 9/11-related stress:

“The clinicians’ experiences differed based on the type of client: Some dealt directly with family members who had lost loved ones, others dealt with people who fled the burning towers, and some worked with individuals considered indirectly exposed, but who were still fearful and symptomatic. Thirty months after the attacks, secondary traumatic stress levels were high among clinicians who provided care to victims of 9/11. The clinicians being interviewed were themselves surprised at the intensity of these stress levels. In addition, they described availability of supervision and agency support as ‘weak,’ but said peer support was helpful.”

Said Pulido, “For many professionals, these interviews, conducted several years after the attacks, served as the first time they had discussed their 9/11 work and the stresses they encountered. This factor alone speaks volumes for the lack of support that they received while providing such intense clinical support for their clients. These findings need to be integrated into training and practice.”

Source: Medical Xpress

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at

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