International Travel with Kids: 10 Lessons Learned

By Sarah Ruttan

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the highs and lows of traveling abroad with young kids. While we’re not planning any international trips in the near future, we definitely learned some important lessons on this trip that we’ll take into account when planning future travel. Some of this advice relates to any type of travel with children, but there are special considerations when traveling out of the country.

1. Travel light. We didn’t bring a stroller, opting instead for our trusty Ergo. I almost felt naked getting onto the plane, yet also slightly liberated. The cobble stone streets of colonial Peru wouldn’t have made a stroller any fun, anyway. Depending on your destination, mode of travel, and itinerary, you may be able to leave car seats behind, or rent them for any car rides you’ll take. We planned our trip so that we were primarily traveling by plane or boat and made do without car seats for the short taxi ride from the airport. (Once there, we also found that most taxis didn’t have seat belts or clips, so we wouldn’t have been able to use car seats had we brought them.) We strategically packed a few clothing items that both kids were about to outgrow so that we could leave the clothes and have room for a few souvenirs on the return trip. [This paragraph was edited after posting to emphasize that the car seat decision is really dependent on where you’re traveling and how you plan your trip. It isn’t one to be taken lightly, and Sarah and her husband carefully considered their options before deciding not to bring them. ~Alice]

A word about diapers: We only had one child in diapers and brought just enough with us to last until we knew would be in a city where we could buy more (4 days worth). Diapers are bulky to pack and widely available in most cities, so only bring what you absolutely need.

Photo by Sarah Ruttan.

Photo by Sarah Ruttan.

2. Think about time zones. Sometimes you can’t choose where you travel, but when you do have a choice, consider how many time zones you want to cross with young kids. Jet lag can be brutal for adults, and it’s worse with toddlers who often take several (painful) days to adjust. We didn’t choose Peru because of time zones, but it was definitely a nice perk to only contend with a one-hour adjustment. We’ll likely save crossing the Atlantic or Pacific until our kids are a bit older and able to entertain themselves once we’re home and I want to sleep!

3. Choose an itinerary that will work for your kids at whatever stage they’re in. Continue reading

Stamps in their passport: The highs and lows of travel with children

I’m really excited to welcome my friend Sarah Ruttan as a guest blogger this week. Sarah and I had our first babies 5 weeks apart when we both lived in Tucson, AZ, and we developed a tight bond as we shared the early months of motherhood. Sarah is also an experienced traveler – with and without kids – so I was thrilled that she offered to write about some of her experiences with international travel with young children on Science of Mom. Today, she reflects on why she and her husband choose to travel with their kids and how it has pushed her to the edge of her parenting comfort zone – and maybe beyond. Tomorrow, she shares her best tips for pulling off an international trip with kids. Enjoy, and please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!

Stamps in their passport: The highs and lows of travel with children

By Sarah Ruttan

Our family recently returned from a trip to Peru. It was our first travel adventure outside of the U.S. with both our son (almost 4) and daughter (16 months). My husband was headed to Peru for a training program and we decided to try making the journey together. Before you congratulate me on successfully traveling to another continent with two kids in tow, I have a confession to make: I’m REALLY tired. And the trip – while a good experience – was only sort-of-fun, in the way that many experiences with young kids end up being: great highs, followed by meltdown lows.

I’m a slow learner when it comes to this parenting thing. I should have recognized that hauling two kids to Peru was going to be a lot of work and that we would arrive back home exhausted, barely able to process the experience, wondering if it was worth it. Yet, I needed to do it to know what my limits are when traveling with kids, to know how much is too much and what the right balance of adventure is for us at this point in our lives.

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The author entertains her 16-month-old daughter on a 1.5 hour boat ride on the Amazon River in Peru.

Let’s be honest – there was an element of “We just want to prove that we can still do this” in our trip planning. Of all the things we missed most about life pre-kids, it was travel, and in particular, international travel. My husband and I have traveled to more than 30 countries. Some of those trips were taken as a couple in our pre-kid days, others on our own before meeting each other. I have fond memories of both my solo trips and our later trips together – carrying a backpack and exploring new cities, seeing foreign landscapes from the window of a train or bus, and clumsily navigating menus in languages we didn’t speak. These journeys expanded my view of the world and my place in it. We talked on those trips about what kind of travel we wanted to do when (if) we had kids. Continue reading

Preparing Your Child for a Big Move (Book Giveaway!)

So, we’re moving this summer. At least, we think we are. The deal isn’t done yet, and we’re not even sure of our exact closing date, which is maddening. But probably, by the end of the summer, our little family will move to our first-ever, very-own home, just about a mile away from our current rental.

Talking about a move with Cee has been interesting. She’s been coming to look at houses with us from the beginning, starting in February. We struggled to explain to her why we were spending so much time dragging her through empty houses. We talked about moving to a new house, and she just looked confused. “Why, Mama?” Why, indeed, would we want to leave the only home she likely remembers? (We moved from Arizona to Oregon when she was 7 months.) What could be better than this house, the place of warm memories and celebrated milestones?

Cee thrives on the familiar. Even though we’ll still be living in the same neighborhood and not much else about her life will change, I know this move will be stressful for her. Heck, moving is stressful for everyone. So what can we do to ease the transition? I’ve had this question at the back of my head all summer.

I received the following guest post a couple of weeks back from the folks at Twigtale, a small parent-owned company that makes custom photo books to help kids with transitions. The Twigtale books are really cool, and I encourage you to check them out. Putting together a custom photo book for a big event is the kind of thing I might intend to do for Cee but never get around to, but Twigtale makes it easy with with a template and text written by child development experts. (Cee loves looking at our photo albums, but you know how long those take to put together. I’m still working on our 2012 family photo book!) So, I’m posting this article for those of you who, like us, might be approaching a move and as a sort of shout-out to Twigtale. They’ve also kindly offered to give away any custom photo book (about moving or any other topic they cover) to one Science of Mom reader. See the end of the post for more details!

Moving Guide – Preparing Your Child for a Big Move

By Allison LaTona, MFT

Summer is here, and with the warm weather and sunshine comes a lot of change for families.  The structure of the year gives way to more down time and loose fun.

Kids may be anticipating a new school year, with new teachers and classrooms, or perhaps starting school for the very first time.  Some parents decide to work on potty learning in the summer, as they can take advantage of the warmth outside providing more “naked time” for their children to better listen to their bodies.  And perhaps most stressful of all, you may be moving this summer.

So the burning question is, how to best prepare your young children for the move? Continue reading

SIDS and Bedsharing: A Pediatrician’s Perspective

I’ve been thinking about bedsharing and sleep safety for the last few months. I have devoted an entire chapter of my book to this topic. Not only is it an important question for parents, but it’s an issue with so much complexity — wrinkles and folds of factors like breastfeeding, bonding, instinct, culture, and just plain reality.

I think it is vitally important to understand the relationship between bedsharing behavior and risk of SIDS and accidental deaths. But our ability to tease apart every factor that might impact sleep safety is imperfect; there will always be factors that aren’t quantified in these studies, not to mention the fact that case control studies have some inherent limitations. You’ve probably heard about the study published this week by Carpenter et al. in BMJ. It combines 5 historic case control data sets from Europe, the U.K., and Australasia to specifically look at the risk of bedsharing in breastfed babies in nonsmoking households. It concludes that bedsharing poses an increased risk of SIDS, even in these ideal situations. I think it’s an important study, but it also has some limitations and doesn’t answer all of our questions with certainty. In fact, no study will probably ever do that. (You can read some critiques of the Carpenter study here and here.)

But even if we accept that bedsharing increases a baby’s risk of dying unexpectedly during sleep, we still have to answer the bigger question of how we translate this information to families living in the real, difficult world of infant sleep. Many families value bedsharing as a cultural practice; others choose it because it feels right. Still others bedshare because it is the only way that anyone gets any sleep at night, and we all know that sleep deprivation carries some risk, too, as does falling asleep on a couch with your baby. This is the reality.

Pediatricians face this reality in their clinics every day, when they talk with parents of new babies about sleep. In my book, one of the questions I explore is how pediatricians handle this conversation, given that their professional organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends against bedsharing. Several months ago, I sent some questions to one of my favorite pediatrician bloggers, Dr. Melissa Arca of Confessions of a Dr. Mom. She had initially agreed to a Q&A, but then she didn’t respond with her answers. It was the height of the busy flu season, and I figured that she was just busy. Then, this week, she surprised me with her responses. She had been thinking about bedsharing given the news of this recent study, and she was inspired to restart this conversation. We’ve cross-posted our Q&A on both our blogs. Check out her post for more about her initial hesitancy to address these questions, and please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

Alice: How did sleep look for your two children?

Melissa: My first child was a challenge to say the least. He is the one who made me question the safety of bed-sharing in the first place. For the first 6 months of his life, sleep was virtually non-existent (or at least that’s the way it felt to me) because he needed my arms and constant soothing throughout the night. But I was terrified to bedshare. I was literally at the end of my sleep deprivation rope. I had tried everything. And instead of listening to my instincts, I was fighting them. Because I was scared.

I never envisioned myself as a bedsharing parent. As a pediatrician, I was adamantly against it. But it was exactly what my baby needed and we struggled and limped along until I finally realized that.

My second child was a breeze and that’s no lie. She was always (and still is) an “easy sleeper”. She needed her space and showed clear signs of being tired. When she was tired, that was it. I didn’t need to bedshare with her. She slept in her own bassinet next to our bed during her first few months of life before being transitioned to her own room.

They could not have been more different in the sleep department. Same parents. Same environment. Different children.

Alice: As a pediatrician, how did you feel about bedsharing before having children? Did becoming a mother change that?

Melissa: I didn’t think it was safe. At all. I had read the studies and the official recommendations. Back to sleep, crib and/or bassinet in the same room with no hazards such as loose bedding, pillows, etc.

I never thought in a million years I would have become a bedsharing parent. But kids don’t have our same agendas. Continue reading

Baby Meets World: A Conversation with the Author

Yesterday, I posted an excerpt from Nicholas Day’s new book, Baby Meets World. If you missed it, check it out to learn how modern hunter-gatherer societies raise children, and how that task is supported by not just by hard-working mothers but the entire culture. It’s good stuff.

After reading his book, I had lots of questions for author Nicholas Day. Today, I bring you our conversation about his book and on the roles of science, culture, and instinct in parenting.

Alice: Becoming a parent changes all of us. What was it about your particular transition to fatherhood that made you want to research and write this book, to dive into the history and the science of parenting in a way that extended beyond your own reality of parenting?

IMG_4413Nicholas: In a way, I think it was the part of me that wasn’t changed that led to this book: I had stupid questions about babies in the same way I have stupid questions about everything else. (It’s a personality flaw.) I didn’t see why I had to think of babies as simply problems to be solved. Most baby books have what I think of as the leaky faucet approach: if your baby is dripping, we recommend this socket wrench. And there were many, many times when all I wanted was that socket wrench. But I also thought babies were interesting subjects all on their own. I wanted a book that acknowledged that. And I wanted a book that was wide-angled. The study of infancy is highly compartmentalized: the different disciplines don’t talk to each other. The few good books about babies tend to be highly focused: they look at babies through the lens of a cognitive scientist, say, or a developmental psychologist. But there are so many lenses out there! It seemed a shame to only see a baby as like this or like that. There’s so much left outside the frame. So this book tries to show readers the many different versions of a baby that people have seen—and still see today.

It’s strange. You wouldn’t think that babies would be an obscure subject: they are everywhere. (In our highly fertile neighborhood, I sometimes feel like Hitchcock’s The Birds is being reenacted—but this time with babies.)  But they’ve been weirdly neglected. This is sort of hard to believe: any book about babies has to clear the high hurdle of being another damn book about babies. (Right? Like that’s what we need. Also, we totally need more diet books.) But I concluded that we really did need that. Babies are still strangers in our midst.

Alice: Your book focuses on four basic facts of infancy: “suck, smile, touch, toddle.” How did you choose these topics? Why not “eat, sleep, poop, cry,” for example?

Nicholas: I joke about this at the end of the book—that there’s so much going on in infancy I could easily have chosen spitting, shitting, screaming, sharing.

Part of why I went with these topics was that I actually wanted answers about them: I really wanted to know where a smile comes from and what a first smile might mean, for example. But I also thought these subjects had been overlooked. There’s been an enormous amount written on sleep, for very obvious reasons: any new parent is obsessed with sleep. But there’s very little written about smiling or walking. It’s the leaky faucet problem: because a smile can’t be fixed, no one writes about it. Continue reading

What Would the Kung Do? An Anthropological Perspective on Intensive Parenting

Baby Meets World- finalI recently had the pleasure of reading Baby Meets World, a new book by Nicholas Day. (Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book.) Baby Meets World is a mix of history of parenting advice and modern, fascinating science about some of the most fundamental truths of infancy (as the subtitle states: “suck, smile, touch, toddle”). You may have seen the author’s recent blog on Slate, called How Babies Work. I liked the blog, but I like the book more. In a world of conflicting parenting advice, Day’s many examples of how wrong or just plain weird the expert advice has been through the ages is refreshing perspective. And even as this book describes the modern science of infancy – highlighting just how amazing babies are – it cautions us that we can’t understand babies, even in the most empirical way, without putting them in the context of the culture into which they are born.

Reading Baby Meets World led me to an email conversation with the author, which I’ll post on the blog tomorrow. He also offered to share an excerpt from the book with you. I chose an excerpt from the “Touch” section of the book – my favorite of the four sections. Since it comes near the end of this section, it requires a bit of an introduction to put it in context.

We know touch is important to babies, but Western parenting culture has had a complicated relationship with touch. Just a century ago, parents were barely allowed to visit their children in newborn nurseries or pediatric hospital wards. That history is now, thankfully, behind us, and skin-to-skin contact and baby wearing have become mainstream practices.

Part of the renewed interest in touch over the last fifty years has come from anthropological accounts of hunter-gatherer societies. We figure that maybe we have lost touch with our roots, that maybe we could re-learn the right way to parent from modern hunter-gatherer societies, who presumably parent the way we were meant to.

Day describes some of these modern hunter-gatherers, including the Kung of the Kalahari Desert. Kung infants are carried and held almost constantly. They are breastfed frequently, as often as every fifteen minutes. If they’re not being held by their mothers, they’re being passed around between community members, showered with kisses and constantly entertained. They’re hardly ever set down on the ground to move of their own accord; the Kung believe this impairs motor development.

I’ve read about the Kung before. They’re sometimes held up as an ideal for modern parents in the same conversation that chastises us for relying too much on gadgets like strollers and baby swings. But in this chapter, Day tells us how the culture of the Kung supports this kind of intensive parenting:

“The entire structure of a Kung community supports the (many) demands of Kung parenting. A Kung mother is virtually always around other adults, who take turns holding the child. The situation is the polar opposite of that of many American mothers, who can feel marooned on an island with no one but this ferret-like creature around.”

And this:

“Almost half the time a Kung infant cries out, he is comforted by someone who isn’t his mother or by his mother plus someone else. When the mother responds alone, other people offer to take the child later on. The Kung mother isn’t abandoned with a wailing infant. But despite this shared caretaking, the Kung, as Konner notes, “have often been misrepresented as having almost exclusive maternal care.”

In other words, the Kung practice what we might call intensive parenting, but the mother does not do this alone. She has lots of help. And this is where our excerpt picks up…

Excerpt from Chapter 13: “In Which Touch Gets Perhaps a Little Too Much Power” (from Baby Meets World by Nicholas Day)

It’s worth dwelling on the distinction between exclusive maternal care and alloparenting— the term for when someone who isn’t a parent acts as a parent, as the Kung do when they respond to any crying baby. If the most important messages to get across to a baby— love, security, commitment— are communicated through touch, then the obvious follow- up question is: does it matter who’s doing the touching? The parent or the alloparent?

From the perspective of attachment theory, all child rearing is aimed at the same end: the tight bond between mother and child. There aren’t multiple different strategies toward a successful outcome— there’s only that one. (Bowlby waffled on this a little bit but not much: his hypothetical caregiver was clearly a mother.) The mother is supposed to be doing the touching. This argument wades into the evolutionary past for evidence— the low fat content of human milk, for example, which required infants to nurse frequently, for which they needed a mother right there, all the time. In devising his theory, Bowlby cited the behavior of primates like gorillas and chimpanzees, for whom child care is exclusively maternal— no one else need apply.

But studies of hunter-gatherers like the Kung, the very people you’d expect to be closest to our deep past, have shown that caregiving by someone in addition to the mother is common, even if other people rarely supplant the mother as the primary attachment figure. Continue reading

Guest Post: What the World Looks and Sounds Like to a Newborn Baby

Hi-ResBrinkCover I am delighted to have a guest post from Author Susan Brink today. Susan’s book, The Fourth Trimester: Understanding, Nurturing, and Protecting an Infant Through the First Three Months, was released a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed this book. It is billed as an “operating manual” for newborns, but it read to me more like an “understanding manual.” This is actually more helpful, because if you can understand why your newborn is doing the things she’s doing, you’re on your way to figuring out how you and your baby will survive and thrive in this period. The Fourth Trimester includes chapters on crying, sleeping, feeding, sound, sight, touch, physical development, and stimulation. Each is full of both science (well-cited, I might add) and stories from real parents. The sight and sound chapters were two of my favorites, so I’m happy that Susan chose these topics for her guest post on Science of Mom. Enjoy!

WHAT THE WORLD LOOKS AND SOUNDS LIKE TO A NEWBORN BABY

By Susan Brink

Imagine yourself in Paris, and you don’t speak French. Pretend for a moment that you’re from rural America, have never seen a big city much less the elegant capitol of France, and you’re trying to cross the Champs-Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe. You dare not step into traffic, you can’t read the street signs, and you cannot understand what people are trying to tell you. Sights and sounds overwhelm you. Nothing makes sense.

That’s something to think about when wondering what the world looks and sounds like to a newborn baby. But there’s more. Dr. Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berekley, adds two elements to the confusing mix: love and caffeine. “You want to know what it’s like to be a baby?” says Gopnik. “It’s like being in love for the first time in Paris after four double espressos. It’s fantastic. It’s a wonderful state to be in. And very likely, you’ll wake up at three a.m….crying.”

We look into a newborn baby’s eyes and wonder what he sees. We watch her reactions and wonder what she hears. But now we’ve got a wealth of recent research into what newborns see and hear that adds scientific chops to what parents have been imagining for ages. Continue reading

Guest Post: A Parent’s Experience with Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Lucky us, we have another guest post today! This comes at a good time for me, because Cee was sick and home from childcare for most of last week, which was coincidentally the first week of teaching this term for me. It’s incredible how much 4 days of a sick kid can set you back. I’m still catching up on my teaching responsibilities and book project schedule, so I’m happy to have a few stellar writers standing in for me on the blog this week.
David Ozab is a local writer and father. We met last year at the only bakery in town that has both flaky croissants and a sandbox. A few months ago, I posted a review of a book about language development, Beyond Baby Talk. This caught David’s attention, because he has had a personal experience with his daughter’s language delay caused by Childhood Apraxia of Speech, a condition affecting somewhere between 1 and 10 kids per 1000. He is writing a book about it, and he shares some of his experience here for us.
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A Parent’s Experience with Childhood Apraxia of Speech

By David Ozab

“Don’t worry, she’ll catch up.”

I heard that sentence from so many parents around Anna’s second birthday. We were worried about her speech; she was talking all the time but we could barely understand her while kids her age and younger spoke clearly. “Don’t worry she’ll catch up,” people would say. I said the same thing to myself. I figured it would just happen. Her speech was like an out-of-focus photograph. Sooner or later, I thought, it would snap into focus.

My wife Julia wasn’t buying it. She thought something was wrong, and she was right. Continue reading

10 Tips for Transition to Child Care (From a mom who got it all wrong)

I’m excited to host a guest post by blogger Jessica Smock, an educator, mom, and almost-finished PhD student. Jessica has only been blogging at School of Smock since the new year, and she’s already turned out a ton of thought-provoking and informative posts about education and parenting. Today, she writes about her son’s transition to child care. It’s a sort of confession, because as you’ll learn, it didn’t go so well. The upshot is that she turned her experience into a useful guide for parents approaching this transition. Enjoy her post, and please feel free to add your own experiences and advice in the comments below.

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10 Tips for Transition to Child Care (From a mom who got it all wrong)

By Jessica Smock

I thought I had done my all of my homework, as a diligent parent, researcher and educator.

As a new parent, it can be a tough, long process finding the right child care for your child. You have to think about what your needs are: a small, intimate, home-like environment or a fully-accredited, educationally focused child care center; location (at home, close to home or work); your budget; your schedule… Next, you have to do your research, using friends, family, or a local or national referral agency, to identify providers that meet your needs and have openings. And then you should visit facilities and talk with the providers, asking them questions about their curriculum, sick child policy, discipline philosophy, caregiver experience and training, feeding and nap schedules. Finally, you sometimes just have to use your parental instincts, going with your gut about whether a provider will match your family’s parenting style and your kid’s temperament.

I had done all this before my son started a fantastic preschool program.  So why was my son’s transition to day care a complete disaster?boydaycare photo

My son had started off when he was six months old with a few different babysitters that came to my home a few times a week while I wrote and worked on my dissertation. He did well with this and loved playing with his young, energetic babysitters, but it wasn’t meeting my needs. I couldn’t concentrate in our small house with the constant chaos and noise that surrounds a baby. So I started looking into child care centers in my new city. I thought I was more than capable of doing this. I was a teacher and curriculum coordinator for more than a decade, with a Master’s and nearly a doctorate in the education field. I had worked as a research fellow for a social research nonprofit in Cambridge, where my major responsibility was helping to write a research report of high-performing child care facilities in Massachusetts. I had interviewed dozens of providers across the state and country, as well as state education heads and early childhood researchers from Harvard and other local universities, and helped to create a framework for evaluating child care providers.

I didn’t think at all about what happened after I chose the program. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Twinkle Light Model of Autism and the Brain

By Nathalia Holt

Little wisps of blonde hair peek through before Eleanor’s head pops up from behind the chair. She gives me a big smile, a wave, and then runs off, yelling ‘bye-bye’ at the top of her little lungs. Eleanor is our first child, she’s twenty-months-old, constantly oscillating between feisty and willful, silly and sweet. At this age it’s almost as if you can see the neurons connecting in her brain, each new experience bringing the world closer to her tiny baby fingers. As a scientist and nervous first time mom, I know that twenty months is not only a critical age in development but also the best time to catch the early symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

A decade ago, diagnosing a child younger than three with autism was unheard of. In the years since, several studies have shown us that when autism is caught sooner, before two years old, and is accompanied by early therapy, the outcome is better. Children receiving early therapy not only have significantly higher IQs, but their everyday skills, like brushing teeth and having dinner with their family, are improved. These findings have led to a push in early intervention. After a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics last year, many pediatricians use an autism questionnaire at the twelve-month check-up. The idea being, the sooner the disease is spotted, the sooner it can be treated, and the better the ultimate outcome.

This year the CDC reported a shocking increased prevalence in autism. The number of children being diagnosed is up 78% since 2002. This statistic has sparked fiery debate. Once centered on the debunked role of vaccines, today we have new questions to argue about. Is increased prevalence the result of increased awareness? Better screening? An unknown environmental contributor? Does a genetic basis exist?

There are a few things we do know about the cause of autism. Autism tends to run in families. Supported by the Autism Genome Project, hundreds of patients have had their genomes screened. The findings have been remarkable; certain mutated genes are highly associated with the disease, seemingly passed down across generations. These genes encode synaptic proteins, proteins that bridge neurons and are critical to the collective electrical signaling of the nervous system. Think of these networks like a strand of twinkle lights. When the wires connecting the bulbs together begin to fray, the entire strand stops working properly, blinking in and out. Intriguingly, these genes are implicated in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. However, this research has been seriously hampered by the lack of an animal model for autism. After all, what kinds of experiments are safe to do in children?

Researchers at several universities have addressed this by knocking out the function of these genes in mice. They then painstakingly followed their behavior, tracking their social interaction and communication. They found that mice with the mutated version of these genes displayed hyperactivity, repetitive grooming and abnormal vocal and social behavior, in essence, the classic symptoms of autism. For the first time, a clear physiological mechanism for autism has been uncovered.

Building on this, research published in Nature this past June, shows that there may be a way to improve the social behavior of these genetically impaired mice. By stimulating the proteins lost in autism-associated genes, researchers were able to rescue the function of a signaling molecule on the surface of neurons that is critical to memory and learning. This treatment lifted the telltale signs of autism, resulting in mice with normal social interaction.

This month, new research, pursuing innovative, early therapies for autism was published in Nature. Researchers treated a mouse model of Dravet’s syndrome, characterized by impaired learning and autism spectrum behavior, with a drug called clonazepam. Treatment with this drug completely rescued the social behavior of the mice by repairing communication between genetically impaired neurons. This exciting work is the latest chapter in a new trend in studies that highlight the genetic foundation behind some autism disorders as well as the potential for new childhood therapies.

Autism is complex; this type of treatment may or may not result in a viable future therapy. Yet this work has the potential to usher in a new wave of autism therapy, one in which we are able to map genetics to brain function, where children receive personalized therapy specific to their genetic make-up. We’re not there yet, but as I fret over my toddler’s building social skills, I’m hopeful about the future of autism.

Nathalia Holt, Ph.D. is an HIV fellow at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard University. Nathalia is interested in how the individual experiences of patients and physicians influence medical research. She is currently writing on her first book, THE TWO BERLIN PATIENTS, exploring the personal stories behind two of the most influential HIV cases and the future of the epidemic, to be published by Dutton/Penguin. Nathalia lives in Boston, MA with her husband and baby daughter. Follow her blog and on twitter @nathaliaholt.