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An unwelcome habit

24 Feb

Self-injurious behavior in autism

Self-injurious behaviors (SIB), such as skin picking, head banging, hair pulling, scratching, are frequently seen among individuals with autism. Up to half of autistic people harm themselves, and SIB can be persistent. In a research study, self-injurious behavior persisted in over 44% of such cases during a 10-year period.

The common predictors of SIB are impulsivity and over-activity. Other predictors are stereotyped behavior, problems in social communication and reduced self-control. SIBs may provide a physical outlet for emotional pain. They are observed more often in women with autism as in men with the condition.

Uncontrolled SIB can lead to adverse consequences on educational, work, health and social outcomes. Caregivers and clinicians should be sensitive and observant to their occurrence. SIBs call for help as early as possible, even during the childhood years once they are detected. Interestingly, SIB can be subject to self-restraint indicating that the underlying difficulty in impulse control can be addressed by behavioral modification approaches.


Laverty C et al, Molecular Autism, 2020 Jan 20: 11:8. Persistence and predictors of self-injurious behavior in autism: a ten-year prospective cohort study.-

Maddox BB et al, Autism, May 21 (4) 412-422. 2017. Untended wounds: Non-suicidal self-injury in adults with autism spectrum disorder.

A TEDx Talk from a young woman with autism

15 Dec

Autism: A Quick Trip To My Home Planet, by Monique Botha, TEDxSurrey University.
An outstanding talk by a young woman describing her experiences as an autism, in the process addressing and correcting many myths about autism.


1 Nov

"Science speaks: Autism Realities and Myths"
Autism Updates: From Science and Clinical Practice

Sponsored by the Association for Adults with Autism Philippines and Stepping Stone Learning Center
October 5, 2019, Makati Rotary Club Foundation, Makati, Manila


Autism Updates – a seminar on October 5, 2019, Makati, Philippines

17 Sep

Autism groups hold a seminar on autism science and treatment updates.

Autism, a condition once little known or recognized, has become a frequent, yet still little understood concern of many families. It is neurologically based, behaviorally manifested, and is categorized in the medical literature as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Association for Adults with Autism Philippines (AAAP) and the Stepping Stone Learning Center (SSLC), will jointly sponsor a seminar aimed at extending knowledge on the nature of autism, and best practices for improving the medical and dental health of persons with autism.

The seminar will take place on Saturday, October 5, 2019 at 1-5 p.m., at the Rotary Foundation Building in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati.

Worldwide, autism is estimated to affect 1% to 2% of the population. By this count, the number of persons with autism in the Philippines, with a current population of about 100 million, could be up to two million. Adding the involvement of autism parents and other caregivers, the number of Filipino lives affected by autism would be even more significant.

The reported prevalence rate of autism has been rising in recent years, even termed “epidemic” by some. A widely held explanation among autism experts is that the increase is fueled mainly by improved detection of the autism by families and the medical professions.

Because autism carries traits and behaviors different from the general population, how to manage the condition has long been an enigma, evoking heightened attention in recent years from the scientific and medical communities. This development has resulted in ever increasing knowledge about the nature of autism and appropriate interventions.

The three seminar speakers, all experts in their respective fields and trained and recognized in international circles, will present new knowledge from scientific studies and advances in clinical practice regarding persons with autism. Recent findings from scientific research will be presented by Dr. Lirio Sobrevinas-Covey, Ph.D. She is an autism mom who founded and is current president of AAAP, and is a research scientist and professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York. Dr. Susan Sarabia Reyes, DMD, who consults at the East Avenue Medical Center and the Philippine Heart Center is among a very few dental professionals who perform complex, often surgical procedures, with special needs patients, usually “first-timers” at a dental office. She has been an invited lecturer for the Special Care Dentistry Association-USA of which she is a member. Dr. Jan Harold Sia, M.D. is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician with expertise in the assessment and management of autism. He completed fellowships at the Yale Medical Center in New Haven, where he is board certified in pediatrics. He now practices at the Makati Medical Center and the Manila Doctors Hospital.

Information on ticket payment and other event details are available at:


AAAP is a nonprofit organization devoted to improving living conditions for adults with autism. Stepping Stone is a learning institution for persons with special needs, offering educational programs, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

Genetics: the major force in autism

31 Jul

GENETICS By Far the Biggest Risk Factor in Autism

by Lirio S. Covey, Ph.D.

A massive, rigorous study using multi-generational population data from five countries concluded that inherited genes account for about 80% of the risk for autism. Environmental factors accounted for 20% of the risk.

The entire sample included more than two million (2,001,631) individuals, of whom 22,156 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The data were collected from 5 countries – Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Israel, and Western Australia between January 1998 and December 2011. Subjects were followed up to age 16 years.

Much remains to be known. What are those specific genes and what are those environmental factors, important because they are likely to be modifiable. Research continues to answer those questions.

What can be inferred from the study.

– Genes being the major force, autism is largely present before birth.

– There has been a disproportionate and frequently misguided focus widely spread by media on environmental risk factors, including the false, yet enduring, belief regarding the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, as a cause of autism.

– Recognizing early autism signs is important in order that early interventions, if needed, can be applied as early as possible.

Reference: Dan Bai, Benjamin Hon Kei Yip, Gayle C Windham. “Association of Genetic and Environmental Factors with Autism in a 5-Country Cohort”, online, July 17, 2019, JAMA Psychiatry, 1411, do1:10:1001.


30 Jul


     by Lirio S. Covey, Ph.D.

A large, US-based study found that when hospitalized, adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a nearly 50 percent higher risk of death compared to the general population.

Also found was that this greater risk is about twice higher in women with ASD compared to men with ASD, and three times higher among autistic women compared to women without ASD.

It has been previously reported that autistic persons are at higher risk for illnesses than the general population; these findings suggest that this greater risk extends to mortality outcome from a hospital stay.

The analysis was controlled for potential confounders that affect mortality, including socioeconomic factors and the presence of co-occurring physical or psychiatric illness.

The study used a nationwide inpatient sample, and compared a very large number of autistic persons – 34,237, compared to 102,711 controls.

The precise source of the greater risk remains to be determined since factors that could moderate the increased risk of death, which were not measured, need to be considered. Such factors include lower quality of hospital care for autistic patients as well as the fact that the autistic persons are likely to present to the hospital in more severe states than do non-autistic persons, a condition that applies particularly for autistic women for whom autism is usually recognized at older years. Both of those potentially moderating conditions could increase risk of death, independently of the autism itself.

Importantly, these findings imply the need for more careful and aggressive health care and monitoring of persons with autism, some of whom may be unable to adequately and correctly express their medical symptoms, and improved efforts towards early detection of autism and other health symptoms in order that needed treatment is delivered in timely manner rather than delayed.

Reference: Akobirshoev I, et al. Autism. 2019 “In-hospital mortality among adults with autism spectrum disorder in the United States: A retrospective analysis of US hospital discharge data”


18 Apr


By Lirio S Covey, Ph.D.

The rate of depression was higher in young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than in same-aged persons in the general population.

In a population-based study of young adults conducted in Sweden, the prevalence of depression was significantly higher in those with autism than in the age-comparable general population. By age 27, almost 20% (19.8%) of persons with ASD had received a diagnosis of depression compared to only 6.0% in the general population.

The study data were collected from total population registries, in this case, of children born between January 2001 and December 2011; they were followed up to the age of 27 years.

The prevalence of depression was also higher in non-autistic siblings of the index person with ASD than in the general population, a finding compatible with the putative effect of familial liability, including genetic factors, on risk for ASD. Indicating more than familial liability, that is, factors specific to ASD, the rate of depression was still higher in the index autistic person than in the non-autistic sibling.

Further, within the autistic group, the rate of depression was higher among those without intellectual disability (24%) than in those with intellectual disability (9%). A partial explanation for the difference could be that depressive symptoms were not well-recognized among those with intellectual disability and related conditions.

The researchers also noted that ascertainment of ASD after the onset of depression occurred in as many as half of the ASD individuals possibly because more attention was paid to the depressive symptoms. This delay is clinically relevant in that the masking of ASD symptoms could exacerbate the impairments due to ASD and limit access to interventions known to improve quality of life for persons with ASD.

A further implication of the observed relationship in this study of young adults is that the underlying presence of ASD should be considered when symptoms of depression are reported.


Dheeraj Rai, MRCPsych, PhD; Hein Heuvelman, MSc, PhD; Christina Dalman, MD, PhD; Iryna Culpin, MSc, PhD; Michael Lundberg, MPH; Peter Carpenter, MBChB, FRCPsych; Cecilia Magnusson, MD, PhD. Association Between Autism Spectrum Disorders With or

Without Intellectual Disability and Depression in Young Adulthood. August 31, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.1465

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