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An altered microbiome has been associated with—and thereby either implicitly or explicitly implicated as a partial cause of—a wide range of human maladies. These include immune disorders like celiac disease, asthma, and diabetes; obesity; cancers; psychiatric disorders like depression and Alzheimer’s disease; and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It’s been tied to so many things that Jonathan Eisen felt compelled to start the “Overselling the Microbiome Awards.” He had to compile the list for years, even though he’s an evolutionary biologist who truly acknowledges and understands the vital role our microbiome plays in our health.
The notion that an altered microbiome can be a causative factor in ASD comes from studies with mice, in which transferring gut flora from humans with ASD into mice generated social deficits and behavioral abnormalities in the animals. But evidence in humans had issues, so a group of Australian scientists who shared Eisen’s wariness, led by Jacob Gratten, decided to perform a rigorous test of the idea.
A failure to replicate
The Australian team knew that ASD is often associated with GI symptoms and realized that it is tempting to look for and even assume an intestinal component to the disorder. But they note that the human studies linking an altered microbiome to ASD are pretty weak: they are small, they are biased and fail to consider confounding variables, and they are poorly designed and analyzed. Moreover, the researchers write, “a meta-analysis of human microbiota-associated animal studies has raised concerns that the sheer extent of positive findings is implausible.”
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Addressing the skills gap and strengthening your own security team means bringing in different minds and perspectives — and that starts with embracing neurodiversity. To even have a chance at closing the cybersecurity skills gap, we need people with a variety of different abilities and thought processes. But did you know that there’s an untapped potential in individuals who are neurodivergent?
Neurodiversity can mean different things to different people. It’s a concept that views the spectrum of neurological differences — like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, Tourette’s and other cognitive and developmental disorders — as natural variations of the human brain. In a nutshell, neurodiversity recognizes that brain differences are just that: differences.
I was always aware of the fact that I had a different operating system. It was like growing up on a Mac OS, but made specifically for Windows OS. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed as autistic that I understood why I am the way that I am. My diagnosis gave me a purpose. It’s a purpose I’ve taken with me into the working world, and it’s helped me realize how vital neurodiverse individuals can and will be to the cybersecurity industry.
To even have a chance at closing the cybersecurity skills gap, we need people with a variety of different abilities and thought processes.
There are many inherent traits in people with autism that are well suited for working in cybersecurity. For example, many people with autism are pattern thinkers and are highly detail-oriented. This allows someone in a threat-hunting position to find those subtle differences between malicious and nonmalicious code and catch the threats that automated tools might miss. We also have the ability to hyperfocus, which allows us to concentrate on problem-solving and stick with complex issues that other people may abandon.
Of course, we all have a different set of skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses. But there are some characteristics that — when given the right support and environment — can translate to cybersecurity positively.
This is especially true when autistic adults are interested in technology and cybersecurity. Their interest can complement their attention to detail, which can make for a successful blue team cyber professional. The number and types of cyber threats are constantly changing. Some are obvious to hunt down, and some are much more subtle. Some malware even has the ability to “live off the land” by using already created applications or executables that live natively on a computer. Knowing this information, and knowing what to look for and where to hone in, allows a neurodivergent person to consistently inspect, investigate and hunt down even the most persistent threats.
Embrace the benefits
Instead of focusing on what makes a neurodivergent person “different,” we should embrace the benefits that different minds and viewpoints bring to the field of cybersecurity. Let’s face it: The world is going to need more cybersecurity professionals. Ensuring diversity in these teams includes embracing neurodiversity. Having a blend of unique talents provided by these detail-oriented, rule-bound, logical and independent-thinking individuals is — and will be — a competitive edge in cybersecurity.
Having a career in cybersecurity typically requires logic, discipline, curiosity and the ability to solve problems and find patterns. This is an industry that offers a wide spectrum of positions and career paths for people who are neurodivergent, particularly for roles in threat analysis, threat intelligence and threat hunting.
Neurodiverse minds are usually great at finding the needle in the haystack, the small red flags and minute details that are critical for hunting down and analyzing potential threats. Other strengths include pattern recognition, thinking outside the box, attention to detail, a keen sense of focus, methodical thinking and integrity.
The more diverse your teams are, the more productive, creative and successful they will be. And not only can neurodiverse talent help strengthen cybersecurity, employing different minds and perspectives can also solve communication problems and create a positive impact for both your team and your company.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for Information Security Analysts — one of the common career paths for cybersecurity professionals — is expected to grow 31% by 2029, much higher than the average growth rate of 4% for other occupations. While vital jobs in cybersecurity are going unfilled, millions of smart people who’d be ideally suited for the work remain unemployed.
Taking the first step
It’s time to challenge the assumption that qualified talent equals neurotypicality. There are many steps companies can take to ensure inclusivity and promote belonging in the workplace. Let’s start all the way at the beginning and focus on job postings.
Job postings should be black and white in terms of the information they are asking for and the job requirements. Start by making job postings more inclusive and less constrictive in what is being required. Include a contact email address where an applicant can ask for accommodations, and provide a less traditional approach by providing these accommodations.
Traditional interviews can be a challenge for neurodivergent individuals, and this is often the first hurdle to employment. For example, to ease some candidates’ nerves, you could provide a list of questions that will be asked as a guideline. More importantly, don’t judge someone based on their lack of eye contact.
To promote an inclusive and belonging culture of neurodiversity in the workplace, the workplace should be more supportive of different needs. It is vital to ensure employees at all levels have the knowledge and understanding on how to empower a diverse team and create an open and inclusive workplace. This starts with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training for all employees. Companies should also consider changing their communication style. Neurodiverse individuals communicate differently and not altering the way you communicate could lead to a disconnect in the workplace.
My advice to other neurodivergent and/or autistic adults looking to break into the cybersecurity field is to continue your learning, connect with cybersecurity professionals for networking purposes and never give up. The more we push for awareness and inclusion in all aspects of all companies — small and large — the more opportunities there will be for success.
Heaven knows what will happen to the mental health of children who’ve gone through this past year but if there’s one thing we need right now it’s mental health provision for young people that can scale. And as much as some of us can’t bear the thought of another video call, a UK startup reckons it’s come up with the magic formula for online therapy for children.
Now, Healios has raised a £7 million ($10M) Series A round to expand its platform across the UK. If the roll-out is successful, the startup is looking at expanding internationally. The round was led by InHealth Ventures with participation from existing investors AlbionVC.
Healios will use the funding to expand its AI, machine learning, and data science expertise, as well as add to the team. Healios says its platform digitises the clinical pathway, enabling children, adults, and their family members to use clinical services at home.
According to UK government statistics, one in eight (12.8%) five to 19-year-olds in the UK have a mental health disorder but two-thirds are unable to access NHS care because of soaring demands. And the Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse.
Launched in 2013, Healios says it has now worked with 65% of NHS Mental Health Trusts, with 70,000 specialized clinical sessions delivered, which is a high success rate for a startup, considering how hard it is to get NHS approval.
The online, family-focused therapy program for young people zeros in on psychosis and schizophrenia. Healios says that studies have shown involving family members from the start can reduce suicide by as much as 90%. It also covers anxiety, low mood, autism and ADHD, as well as support to their families.
Unlike some startups in the area of mental health, Healios is not a marketplace of advisers but is an end-to-end provider of these services.
InHealth Ventures and InHealth Group Chair, Richard Bradford, will be joining the Healios board, alongside Cat McDonald of AlbionVC.
Rich Andrews, Founder, and CEO of Healios, said: “This funding will help us reach more families in need and enable us to develop further sector-leading interventions and therapies. By bringing together clinical experts and giving them the tools to reach their patients regardless of where they are, we are closing the access gap which has plagued mental health provision for far too long.”
Andrews also told me: “A young person will have an initial mental health assessment with us. If needed, we’ll make a diagnosis and then they’ll move on to other interventions with us, so this is a seamless experience.”
Dr Ben Evans, Managing Director of InHealth Ventures, said: “Healios is a standard-bearer for healthcare innovation. They bring together clinical excellence with digital expertise, working in partnership with the NHS to address a critical, but complex area of care delivery. Healios’ work to date speaks for itself; their holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment has had a substantive impact on clinical outcomes and patient experience.”
Cat McDonald, Investor at AlbionVC, added: “Covid has engendered a pace of innovation previously unseen in healthcare. In particular, we have seen that remote care not only works, but often works much better than traditional alternatives. The option to receive care remotely, at home and in a family-centric setting is the strong preference of most kids suffering from poor mental health.”
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With one in 54 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the US, the issue of how to treat patients diagnosed with the condition has become almost as acute as the prevalence of the condition itself.
That’s one reason why Jia Jia Ye and the team at the healthcare startup studio Redesign Health, were able to raise $15.6 million in a recent round of funding for the new startup, Springtide Child Development.
A longtime executive in the healthcare industry with previous stints at OneMedical and Oscar, Ye and Redesign Health’s team began talking two years ago about potential business ideas. The group settled on autism care because of what they saw as the clear need in the market, Ye said.
“Why this immediately clicked is that the supply and demand imbalance was super clear,” Ye said.
Simply put, Springtide combines the concierge medical business model with early childcare and education businesses like Sylvan Learning to offer autism care through specialists and a team of registered behavioral technicians.
To ensure that as many people as possible can use Springtide’s services the company takes both private insurance and Medicaid.
So far, the company has one clinic set up in Connecticut providing both remote and in-person services, and it plans to launch several sites throughout the Northeast on the back of its $15.6 million in financing.
Joining Ye in designing the company’s facilities and treatment services is Dr. Tiva Pierce, who previously worked at Constellation Health Services, which provides behavioral and physical healthcare through schools.
Like many companies which had an in-person services model, Springtide had to pivot to delivering remote care as soon as the pandemic lockdowns hit the Northeast.
The company charges Medicad $46 per hour and commercial payers will be charged between $50 and $60 per hour, but the company’s services will only cost families their typical co-pay and deductible.
Taking Medicaid was a priority, Ye said, to increase access for more people who need it.
Already, the families in the US spend about $17 billion on ABA therapy, according to Ye. And the overall spending on autism related issues is $68 billion, she said.
The financing, which came from Deerfield Management and Optum Ventures, will be used to expand the company’s footprint and staff, which currently numbers roughly 30 employees.
“The rapidly growing autism care market is highly fragmented and uncoordinated, which creates significant challenges for children and their families who deserve to have access to care that is consistently of exceptional quality,” said Julian Harris, M.D., Partner at Deerfield. “Springtide offers an interdisciplinary, in-center care experience with a tech-enabled wrap-around for families who want their children to get all of their care in one setting. With an emphasis on outcomes measurement, we hope that Springtide can serve as a platform for care and research, ultimately establishing the gold standard in this field.”
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