Thursday, December 31, 2009

Further Evidence that Parents' smoke damages children

Children who are around smokers face a higher risk of early emphysema when they become nonsmoking adults, perhaps because their lungs never totally recovered from secondhand smoke exposure, new research suggests.

Researchers reached their conclusions after conducting CT scans on 1,781 non-smokers from six communities in the United States. About half of them grew up in homes with at least one smoker.

"We were able to detect a difference on CT scans between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker as a child and those who did not," Gina Lovasi, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, said in a university news release. "Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short-term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs may also persist for decades."

The researchers didn't find a link between childhood exposure to tobacco smoke and lung function. "However, emphysema may be a more sensitive measure of damage compared with lung function in this relatively healthy cohort," Lovasi noted.

The findings are published in the December 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment

Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment

Make Reading Websites and Blogs much easier with this tool from Readability. You can remove the annoying flashing bits around the text, change the text size and greatly improve the clarity of the writing.

Please let me know how this helps you or what problems you have with it

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hearing the Teacher's Voice Clearly above the Noise

Children are genetically predisposed to tune on the voice of their mothers, fathers and key people in their lives. become The majority of school-aged children can quickly focus in on the voice of a teacher, even amid the cacophony of the classroom.

This is all thanks to a smart brain that automatically focuses on relevant, predictable and repeating auditory information, according to new scientific research.

Unfotunately, for children who suffer from developmental dyslexia, the teacher's voice may get lost in the background noise of banging lockers, whispering children, playground screams and scraping chairs.

Developmental Dyslexia
Developmental dyslexia is described as a neurological disorder affecting reading and spelling skills and this is detected in 5 to 10 percent of school aged children. Recent scientific studies suggest that children with this condition have difficulties separating important and relevant auditory information from competing background noise.

Research not only confirms those findings but also presents biological evidence that children who report problems hearing speech mixed in with other noise, also suffer from a measurable neural impairment that adversely affects their ability to make use of regularities in the sound environment.

Pattern Recognition
The ability to detect patterns in speech and to sharpen or fine-tune into these repeating elements, is crucial to hearing speech in the presence of other noise because it allows for superior 'selection' or 'tagging' of voice pitch. This is a vital component when picking out a particular voice within background noise.

Tuning in
The brain has a remarkable ability to tune into select or relevant aspects in the soundscape and this is carried out by an adaptive auditory system that continuously changes its activity based on the demands of context. In short the ear is scanning the sounds it hears for familiar and frequencies and repeated tones. This can be a voice talking or a baby crying but it also works for music.

Recent research
In recent research, good and poor readers were asked to watch a video while the speech sound "da" was presented to them through an earphone in two different sessions, during which the brain's response to these sounds was continuously measured.

In the first session, "da" was repeated over and over and over again (in what the researchers call a repetitive context). In the second, "da" was presented randomly amid other speech sounds (in what the researchers call a variable context). In an additional session, the researchers performed behavioural tests in which the children were asked to repeat sentences that were presented to them amid increasing degrees of noise.

"Even though the children's attention was focused on a movie, the auditory system of the good readers 'tuned in' to the repeatedly presented speech sound context and sharpened the sound's encoding.

Repetition encoding
In contrast, poor readers did not show an improvement in encoding with repetition," said Chandrasekaran, lead author of the study. "We also found that children who had an adaptive auditory system performed better on the behavioural tests that required them to perceive speech in noisy backgrounds."

Helping Poor Readers
The study suggests that in addition to conventional reading and spelling based interventions, poor readers who have difficulties processing information in noisy backgrounds could benefit from the employment of relatively simple strategies. Try placing the child in front of the teacher or using wireless technologies to enhance the sound of a teacher's voice for an individual student.
Enhanced Brain Activity
Interestingly, the researchers found that children who suffer from dyslexia showed enhanced brain activity in the variable condition. This may enable these children to represent their sensory environment in a broader and arguably more creative manner, although at the cost of the ability to exclude irrelevant signals i.e. noise.

It is conceivable that the brain of the children who suffer from Dyslexia, is intuitively trying to interact with all the noises and happenings in the room, which under more controlled and quieter circumstances, would allow the child to be more creative, expressive and innovative.

Separating Noise
"The study brings us closer to understanding sensory processing in children who experience difficulty excluding irrelevant noise. It provides an objective index that can help in the assessment of children with reading problems," Kraus says.

For nearly two decades, Kraus has been trying to determine why some children with good hearing have difficulties learning to read and spell while others do not. Early in her work, because the deficits she was exploring related to the complex processes of reading and writing, Kraus studied how the cortex encoded sounds.

The Cortex is the part of the brain mainly responsible for conscious thinking.

There is a close link between hearing, speaking and reading. It is important to note that the children tested had good hearing, i.e. they are examined by a professional and are able to hear an acceptable range of frequencies. It is nonsense to test children with hearing difficulties and assess them as having learning issues.

Make sure there are no physical conditions that are left undetected and undiagnosed, before looking for more complex answers.

If you have concenrs about any of these issues contact a qualified consultant and you can also conatct me if you have any comments or questions.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Studying Young Minds, to Learn How to Teach Them

For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head. A number of other so called, conventional wisdom, has also been overturned; geometry, reading, language and self-control in class.

The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most preschoolers could perform rudimentary arithmetic, by using a practical example; distributing candies among two or three play animals.

In another study, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11. This is much later than many have previously assumed.

The teaching of basic academic skills has up until now been largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, but it is finally giving way to approaches based on cognitive science.

In several US cities, including Boston, Washington and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain function scientists, to help children overcome dyslexia.

In addition, schools in about a dozen US states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, in an effort to improve concentration and self-control in class.

“Teaching is an ancient craft, and yet we really have had no idea how it affected the developing brain,” said Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard. “Well, that is beginning to change, and for the first time we are seeing the fields of brain science and education work together.”

This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many “brain-based” commercial products on the market. Fortunately, there are others, like an early math program taught in Buffalo schools, that have a track record.

If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

ADHD: The Background and insight into the condition

The term attention deficit is often misleading. In general, the current predominating theories suggest that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), actually have difficulty regulating their attention.

Attention regulation
They have difficulty inhibiting or changing their attention away from nonrelevant stimuli. They have a talent for focusing too intensely on specific stimuli to the exclusion of other things, even if those other things are more relevant.

In one sense, rather than too little attention, many persons with ADHD (ADD) pay too much attention to too many things at once, leading them to have a reduced ability to focus on a particular task, or carry it through to the end.

Clinical Definitions
Three basic forms of ADHD (ADD) are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV), the reference manual for the American Psychiatric Association (APA). These forms are;
  • 1) attentional;
  • 2) hyperactive/impulsive; and
  • 3) combined, which is most frequently a combination of attentional and hyperactive forms.
Neurotransmitter Imbalance
The 6 major tasks of executive function that are most commonly distorted with ADHD (ADD) include;
  • 1) shifting from one mindset or strategy to another (ie, flexibility),
  • 2) organisation (eg, anticipating both needs and problems),
  • 3) planning (eg, goal setting),
  • 4) working memory (ie, receiving, storing, then retrieving information within short-term memory),
  • 5) separating affect from cognition (ie, detaching one's emotions from one's reason), and
  • 6) inhibiting and regulating verbal and motoric action (eg, jumping to conclusions too quickly, difficulty waiting in line in an appropriate fashion).
ADHD (ADD) is not new
Contrary to some media accounts, ADHD (ADD) is not new, it simply went unrecognised and therefore undiagnosed. In the early 1900s, diagnosis emphasised the hyperactivity component. Today, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are the areas of focus.

Children with ADHD may have a greater likelihood for learning difficulties and adults may have anti-social or criminal tendencies. Both are of concern to a caring society.

Medical Recognition
However, throughout medical history, clinical reports have alluded to disorders involving hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention in conjunction with distractibility and inappropriate arousal patterns. Symptoms we recognise today as being part of ADHD

What is new?
The increased awareness and recognitionof ADHD (ADD). This has prompted new research and therefore greater collaborative efforts and sharing of research findings amongst the clinical community.

The addition of ADHD in the much aclaimed DSM took place in 1980, and this was a clear and positive sign of acceptance and growing interest, which is continuing today.

The future for ADHD sufferers should bring better and more effective treatment, based on greater understanding of this debilitating condition.

Should you have any comments or questions related to anything in this blog, lease contact us and we will be only too happy to respond to you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

6 Things You Need to Childproof

1. The floor.
I heard a child safety expert recommending that you regularly "take a trip around your home on your hands and knees," so you can "see it like a child." She very rightly says that you must check for;

  • concealed paper clips (they hide in all sorts of places),
  • strings, ties, and blind cords hanging at neck level,
  • wood splinters in the hardwood,
  • exposed or unprotected electrical outlets,
  • power cords that can be pulled to bring a lamp down,
  • tablecloths, napkins and stray hanging drapery that can be pulled down,
  • nails, tacks and jagged things in carpet seams,
  • seasonal hazards (pumpkin laanterns, easter eggs, Xmas tree decorations etc.)
  • other (because the list of potential hazards is endless)

Also, best not to let your neighbours catch you doing this too often, they might get the wrong idea about how you spend your days and dressing up in a furry animal costume to do this doesn't help either, believe me.

2. The baby gate.
Never use spring-loaded baby gates at the top of stairs. You know those ones that are simply jammed between the wall and the stair post by a couple of springs and blind faith. They might hold back a crawling baby at ground level, but a determined toddler on his feet will soon push it over and down will come baby, baby gate and all. Wall-mounted gates are essential.

3. The fireplace.
Don't just block access to the fireplace to prevent serious burns and to foil attempts to escape by climbing up the chimney; the next most likely hazard is to the head via the hard, sharp hearthstone in front of the fireplace.

As children transition from crawling to walking to running, they fall a lot and it is essential that there are only soft things to bang their heads on. Fence off any hazards that will damage soft bones. A hearth gate can keep children away from the entire hazardous fireplace area and give you some peace of mind.

4. The television.
More than 15,000 kids are injured or crushed each year by falling furniture and most of those are caused by falling television sets. Children are naturally drawn to the bright lights of a TV. So, secure yours to the wall or the back of your entertainment center, especially those new smart flat-panel TVs, which tip very easily.

At this time of year you may also consider the Xmas tree as a hazard for small children. It is equally attractive to them as the TV and has so many things on it that they can grasp, prior to bringing it down on themselves.

5. The cat.
Cats and children are a constant source of amusement and disasters, sometimes one following on quickly from the other. Scampering and exploring felines can and do, step on toddlers while they are trying to sleep. So, if you own a cat, keep it out of the bedroom, away from the child and invest in a crib tent.

6. Yourself.
Toddlers are programmed to watch, learn and imitate what you do. So, don't let your child see you operate the baby gate, or because they will copy you. Likewise, if they see you step over the gate, they'll try to climb it, too.

Remember: A well-childproofed house is not a good baby-sitter. Constant adult supervision is the only way to prevent injury or at least greatly reduce the likelihood of injury.

10 Things to Consider: Parenting and Nurturing Skills for Parents

Consider the use of eight expert-approved strategies to further nurture an engaging, resourceful, creative, curious, and considerate child.

Boost Your Childs' Brains and Physical Health
Most doctors recommend no TV or screen time for kids under 2 years old, and no more than two hours a day for everyone older.

This includes computers, video games, and DVDs but beware you do not inadvertently undermine this recommendation by putting TVs in the children's bedrooms. "The best place for a TV and a computer is in a space shared by the whole family," says Susan Linn, EdD, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.

Kids between 1 and 14 years whose bedrooms are TV-free have lower rates of obesity. They score higher on standardised testing. They go to sleep at least half an hour earlier each night, fall asleep easier and establish a good sleep pattern.

Build up an Immunity to Consumer Culture
Science has demonstrated a link between increased exposure to ads and increased rates of children consuming high-calorie foods, abusing alcohol, and smoking. "You can work with your child from the age of 4 or 5 to build up resilstance to the consumer culture," says Tim Kasser, PhD, a psychology professor at Knox College in Illinois and a father of two boys, ages 9 and 11.

When his family watches TV, Kasser mutes the commercials while his sons make up their own dialogue. "Now if you ask my children what an ad is, they will reply, 'They want your money!' " he says.

Inspire Your Kids to Be More Active
Making a contract with your 8 to 12-year-old child to watch less television will make him or her more active, according to a study at the University at Buffalo. "Give your kids points for spending time outside," says Leslie Sim, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at the Mayo Clinic. "Then let them exchange those points for special activities with Mom or Dad.

Do not buy them 'stuff' as a reward. Make the reward something that is inexpensive but is going to be truly meaningful to the child. Most kids want a chance to spend time with their parents and to 'do' things with them, that's a big reward for them and it gives everyone great memories to look back on.

Be a Player, get involved
Brain development research shows that infants learn best through human interaction, manipulation of their physical environment, and open-ended, creative play, says Michael Rich, MD, PhD, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Yet a host of commercially produced "educational" video products have been created for parents with babies and toddlers. "Any time spent in front of a screen takes away from more developmentally optimal activities (quality time)," says Dr. Rich.

Make Play Fun
Sim offers these simple tips to enhance play: Don't instruct, don't question, do praise, do imitate, and be enthusiastic and verbal in how you describe the child's play. In fact, fathers have a greater effect than mothers on their children's language development in families with two working parents, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

It doesn't say whether it was a good effect or not but I would definitely discourage the use of 'adult' language around the child. It is clearly detrimental to the development of good vocabulary and social interaction. It's not funny and it's not clever. Buy a parrot if you want to teach something to swear!

Bond at the Dinner Table
Eating in front of the TV is bad and clearly associated with a) a severe dependency or need to spend more time watching TV or b) an inability to break with the habit, or c) a complete breakdown in inter-family communications, according to a study carried out by the University of Washington.

On the other hand, family meals that are taken away from the TV lounge, are associated with smarter, healthier kids, says William Doherty, PhD, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.

To make family meals work, make it an enjoyable experience:

  • Both parents must be commited to doing this,
  • Switch the TV off! - Don't just have it on in another room. That will not do!
  • Involve the children in the preparation and cleanup of meals. Assign them tasks to do,
  • Be prepared for them making a mess in th ekitchen, i.e. spilling milk, breaking the odd cup, covering the cat in flour, etc. Don't make a fuss about it! They're learning,
  • Start and finish meals at the same time. The meal is not over until everything is washed up and cleared away.
  • Use the knives, forks and spoons supplied. Do not eat with your fingers.
  • Don't make food an issue. Don't badger the kids about finishing all their greens,
  • Have a round-the-table discussion or talk. Talk about what happened today and any other topics that the kids enjoy. (This could be one of the father's new roles)
  • Give each child a chance to speak and encourage them to say something.
  • Praise their efforts and value their comments
  • Discourage insults and counter any attacks on each other's self esteem

Show the Love
It may be easier to give your children another hour of Nickelodeon or to buy them the latest Transformers model, than to struggle against it but it is more valuable to both you and them, to give them your time and attention instead.

This can be particularly difficult for single parents but do try. If it is proving too difficult, please contact me directly for more information and support on raising a balanced and well rounded child, as a single parent .

Your children want to spend time with you. They want to have a share in, and be a part of, you and your life. Sadly, if you don't spend time with them now, when they are young, they will not feel the need to spend time with you later in life.

Father's Role
Father's think that this can be a particular problem for fathers, because they are told that their primary role is as a defender and provider. Unfortunately, they have a very narrow definition of what 'providing' means and connect with providing money and stuff.

This thinking is stuck in the medieval age and no longer applies today. It hasn't done for centuries. The truth is, fathers have never been clearly informed or have not truly accepted their new role as a father in the modern world.

Two Parent families
In two parent families, fatherhood involves the provision of guidance, teaching and nurturing in a collaborative and cooperative partnership. Equally sharing and taking half the load, in caring, nurturing and being an active player, in developing the best outcome possible in raising a child.

Follow your children's lead and show them that you are part of their world. Let them know you care. You do this by being involved in everything they do. You show active interest in what they think, in what they are doing or in what they want to do.

Studies show that kids who receive more one-on-one attention from their father as well as their mother, grow up more secure, confident and very socially active.

Free Your Child's Creativity
At age 5, kids prefer timeless toys such as generic dolls, stuffed animals, and cars, yet only two years later, these preferences are replaced with brands such as Dora and SpongeBob, imposed on them by targetting the child in TV marketing and other advertising.

Licensed and branded characters come with a pre-constructed set of parameters and abilities. They stifle the creativity, imagination and encourages a shallow sense of materialism. Child development experts recommend buying only unlicensed, unbranded products and encourage parents to discourage the over-exposure of children to marketing vehicles, such as TV, film, cartoons, etc.

Inundating children with branded stuff fills their heads with inappropriate, unachievable expectations and deprives them of opportunities to look inside themselves and imagine, to create their own imaginary worlds and personalised storylines.

A Strong Sense of Self
Children's Creativity, should be positively re-enforced and encouraged to produce an outward expression in the form of art, music, play acting, etc. Being part of the whole process of imagining, creating and producing, the child develops a really strong sense of purpose and self.

A self that can work with and stimulate the child's own imagination. A self that can not only create something unique, but also direct it, or control it entirely by themself, via their own thought processes.

Would you rather have a child with an active animated personality or a personality whose activities are driven by animations?

Just as your child has entered your world, you now must be prepared to join the child in their world, however they imagine it. Always remember to enjoy your time together and you will be laying down happy memories for the future.

Should you have any questions or comments to make on this article, please send me a message and I will respond as immediate as possible.

Children's Health Magazine and The New American Diet

Children's Health Magazine : Babies : The New American Diet

Exposure to pesticides and other toxins in pregnancy and early childhood can set your baby up for obesity later in life. Here's your stay-safe plan.

Of all the scary things to worry about when you're pregnant, there's one that's probably not on your radar, even though it affects almost every baby born: exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

When we began researching the forthcoming book The New American Diet (Rodale, 2009), we knew that traditional diet advice just wasn't working anymore. Simple principles--eat less fat, choose chicken or fish over beef, eat plenty of vegetables--were based on science from the middle of last century, and the world has changed since then.

From the hidden calories in many processed products to the way our meat and produce are being raised, today's food is very different from what we ate 50 years ago, and traditional diet advice simply doesn't take those factors into consideration.

But the deeper we dug, the more we realized that America's obesity epidemic had a sneaky underlying cause few of us consider in making our nutritional choices: Simply put, we're eating and drinking too many EDCs.

They enter our food chain through pesticides on produce, and through plastics that leach into our food and water. In a recent statement by the Endocrine Society, the largest organization of experts devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology, researchers noted that the rise in the incidence of obesity matches the rise in the use and distribution of EDCs, and concluded that they may be linked to the obesity epidemic.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dyslexia Defined: Divergence in IQ and Reading ability

This graph shows the divergence between IQ and Reading ability in dyslexics.

It also shows that IQ and reading ability track together in typical readers.

Credit: Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, Yale University, Psychological Science.

For health workers, parents and guardians of children who suffer from Dyslexia it has long been known that these children are highly intelligent, despite there learning disorder. Some would say that they are above average in intelligence.

Accomplished People
Contrary to popular belief, some very famous and accomplished people cannot read well. This arguably, unexpected difficulty in reading, in relation to intelligence, education and professional status is called dyslexia.

Recent psychological research at Yale School of Medicine and University of California Davis, have presented new data that may help to explain why some bright and intelligent people struggle to read.

The Journal of Psychological Science
In January 1, 2010, the study will be published in the journal Psychological Science, and it promises to provide a validated definition of dyslexia. "For the first time, we've found empirical evidence that shows the relationship between IQ and reading over time differs for typical compared to dyslexic readers," said Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at Yale School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics, and co-director of the newly formed Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

Cognitive v Reading
Using data from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, an ongoing 12-year study of cognitive and behavioral development in a representative sample of 445 Connecticut schoolchildren, Shaywitz and her team tested each child in reading every year and tested for IQ every other year. They were looking for evidence to show how the dissociation between cognitive ability and reading ability might develop in children.

The researchers found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time but in children who suffer from dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. Thus confirming that a dyslexic child can be both bright and not read well.

Like so many others who are working with children who suffer from Dyslexia, Shaywitz said "I've seen so many children who have a high IQ but are struggling to read. Our findings of an uncoupling between IQ and reading, and the influence of this uncoupling on the developmental trajectory of reading, provide confirmational evidence to support the concept that dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty with reading in children who otherwise have the intelligence to learn to read."

Reading Not automatic
Typical readers learn how to associate letters with a specific sound. "All they have to do is look at the letters and it's automatic," Shaywitz explained. "It's like breathing; you don't have to tell your lungs to take in air. In dyslexia, this process remains manual." Each time a dyslexic sees a word, it's as if they've never seen it before. People with dyslexia have to read slowly, re-read, and sometimes use a marker so they don't lose their place.

A Disparity
"A key characteristic of dyslexia is that the unexpected difficulty refers to a disparity within the person rather than, for example, a relative weakness compared to the general population," said co-author Bennett A. Shaywitz, M.D., the Charles and Helen Schwab Professor in Dyslexia and Learning Development and co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

One in Five
Sally Shaywitz estimates that one in five people are dyslexic and points to many accomplished writers, physicians and attorneys with dyslexia who struggle with the condition in their daily lives. This long list of famous and accomplished people includes Carol Greider, the 2009 Nobel laureate in medicine. She hopes to dispel many of the myths surrounding the condition.

High Performing
"High-performing people who suffer from Dyslexia, are very intelligent, often innovative, lateral thinkers and therefore, great problem-solvers," she said. "The neural signature for dyslexia is seen in children and adults. You cannot run away from or outgrow dyslexia, it is with you for life and you need to learn the best way to deal with that."

Words: Spoken and Written
Shaywitz also stresses that the problem is with both basic spoken and written language. People with dyslexia may need time to retrieve words, so they might not speak or read as fluidly as others.

Stress and Anxiety
An increases in levels of stress and anxiety, can make dealing with the effect of dyslexia worse. The time pressure around standardised tests like the SATs and entrance exams for professional schools, so the need for support and accommodations is key in helping those with the disorder realise their potential, she says.

Don't Panic!
If you do have concerns about a child or an adult who is suffering from Dyslexia consult a qualified consultant. Meantime, feel free to leave your comments about this article and don't hesitate to let me know of your success stories and concerns.

Childhood Addictions: Unacceptable, Abusive and Avoidance Behaviours

A new US survey has found that more and more American teens are participating in abusive and addictive behaviours i.e. smoking pot, abusing pain killers and using illicitly-obtained stimulants prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
15.9 percent of tenth graders reported using marijuana in the last month. The percentage of eighth graders who considered using ecstasy once or twice a dangerous activity decreased from 42.5 percent in 2004 to 26 percent in 2009.

Abusive Activities
It isn’t just drugs our kids are addicted to. Kids are now playing a very dangerous and abusive game called “the choking game”. This “game” is an abusive activity that involves them choking one another or using improvised nooses to cut off the essential oxygen supply to the brain, just long enough to feel “high” and not long enough to black out, hopefully.
Self Harm
Teens are also using sugary drinks and food as a drug. This comfort eating is causing obesity rates to soar. These are simply avoidance and coping strategies that children are using to avoid facing what's happening in their lives and in the world today. It's like saying that anything will do to get them away from reality.
Obesity in children has the effect of excluding a child from normal competitive activities, not just sports but social activities involving interactivity and relationships between the sexes. This is a more 'comfortable' place for the child to inhabit and once established, it is very difficult to leave.
Positive re-enforcement
Obesity in children can be induced by parents trying to deminstrate their love in an inappropriate way and because the food is provided by a loving, comforting person, the child associates the food with love and comfort. It is this positive re-enforcement that is difficult to overcome.

Technology abuse
Marijuana, pain medication, stimulants, the choking game or fast food are not necessarily the biggest “drugs” to which kids are addicted. They are using their iPods, DSIs, YouTube, reality TV and the modern cult of 'celebrity' as escapism.

They are doing this to shut down their minds, avoid dealing with their feelings and emotions. They have come to substitute these unpredictable and complex emotions with the simpler on/off “high” of being lead by technology and have become voyeurs to other people's distress and emotions, displayed to them on a screen, and categorised as 'entertainment.'

At What Cost?
The price that humanity will pay for raising a generation of substance, technology and artificially stimulated emotion addicts, is probably incalculable. We can certainly expect that teenagers using pot, painkillers, choking each other for kicks, etc will be unable to resolve their emotional and psychological issues, in this way.

Consequently, they face an increased rate not only of repetative substance dependence, underpinned by depression and anxiety and associated physiological disorders, e.g. hypertension, cardiac disease, malignancy, etc.

Puberty and Sex
Unresolved emotional conflicts during puberty lead to greater risk taking in sexual exploration and intercourse becomes the 'perceived' answer. After all that's what the glossy magazines, films, pop stars and popular personalities advocate.

If our young people turn to sex to resolve issues, we can expect higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, over the next ten years. We have to anticipate more violence from both sexes, because our young people are evolving into adults with little or no real experience or guidance as to how they manage their emotions, including anger, envy and jealousy.

Avoidance of Disruptive Interruptions
There is also a higher likelihood of repeatedly turning to street drugs, to try to contain or avoid the uncomfortable feelings and emotions that arise everyday and in normal human interaction.

Their psyche is broadcasting emotional shockwaves that their immature brains do not understand and cannot, or do not want to, deal with. Therefore it grasps at a familiar avoidance tactic. The drug induced solution turns off or turns down, the level of consciousness and therefore the need to deal with this disruptive 'interruption.'

Life-threatening events
If the distraction becomes a life-threatening event, as in the 'choking' game, then the brain is forced to re-calculate it's priorities. The internal alarm systems trigger and the more dominant and instinctive reactions that are pre-programmed to sustain the life of any human, take over. They stabalises and normalises the body's physiological functions.

The release of adrenalin and nor-adrenalin during these traumatic events create a 'high' feeling, as well as dispelling and discarding any 'non'essential' thoughts, emotions and activities. The troubled thought have been extinguished but only for a limited space of time and is has been done at a huge cost to the body.

There are better ways to resolve troubled thoughts. Ways that are more effective and not only less damaging but also more beneficial and soothing to the psyche.

Muffled Senses
All of this activity can be reduced to the simple adage that you need to get 'high' to enjoy life and to fully participate in life's great adventure. We need to be intoxicated in some, less cognitive and have a more distorted or muffled sense of our present reality. This comes from the 'brand' and 'lifestyle' marketing that our children are faced with all day every day. They have grown up with it, you, as parents have not.

Don't Panic!
I believe there is still hope for our children and that hope is in the parents' hands. Your role, as a parent or guardian, is to show them the pleasure and joy that can exist in being with other people, interacting in a playful non-threatening way, listening to the experiences of their elders or people from other countries.

Show them the benefit of cooperation and collaborative play, the value of each link in the chain of events that leads to a succesful outcome and the resolution of troubling issues. The pessimistic view is too painful to endorse and with effort, it can be changed from this point on. As their parents or guardians, take the lead and break their addiction in a positive, loving and supportive way.

You are invited to share your experiences, successes and concerns with me here. Please post a comment.

What is dyspraxia? How does it impair development?

Developmental dyspraxia is an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement. It is an immaturity in the way that the brain processes information, which results in messages not being properly or fully transmitted.

It can create a clumsy child that is more uncoordinated, slower to walk and develop good motor and hand to eye skills.

The term dyspraxia comes from the word praxis, which means 'doing, acting'. (The largest DIY retail hardware outlet is named Praxis.) Dyspraxia affects the planning of what to do and how to do it. It is associated with problems of perception, language and thought.

Dyspraxia is thought to affect up to ten per cent of the population but like many disorders the child may experience only minor disorder. Unfortunately, some children will experience severe symptoms but they are only two per cent.

Males v Females
Males are four times more likely to be affected than females. Dyspraxia sometimes runs in families and like other developmental disorders, the child may experience other related conditions. If you are concerned then simply seek the advice of a qualified consultant.

Name magic
Other names for dyspraxia include Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), Perceptuo-Motor Dysfunction, and Motor Learning Difficulties. It used to be known as Minimal Brain Damage and Clumsy Child Syndrome.

Statistically, it is likely that there is one child in every class of 30 children. We need to raise the awareness of this debilitating condition and make sure that everyone understands and knows how best to help this significant minority.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Being Santa at a Childrens' Hospice is the best and worst job ever

A Santa Claus volunteer leans in for a girl who just received a candy cane at a hospice care center. John Scheuch, Santa-America's executive director, says these kids sometimes ask difficult questions.

"I visited a 6-year-old who asked Santa, 'What is it going to be like when I die?' After a gulp and a deep breath I said, 'I don't really know, but I do know you will not be hurting or in pain anymore and that can only be more pleasant.' Then we spoke of other things."

By Christmas Day, a career Santa can name the top 10 toys for girls and boys in a heartbeat. He has sat smiling patiently, swathed in red velvet on his gilded throne, and listened to countless children whisper their innermost desires.A volunteer hospice Santa hears a different sort of wish list. Sometimes, the children he visits don't want to talk. Others ask questions no one feels brave enough to answer.

ON THE WEB: More information at

The non-profit national volunteer service organization known as Santa-America has 175 hospice-trained Santas, scattered over more than 40 states, who visit terminally ill children or youngsters who are grieving because of the loss or impending loss of a parent.

The Santas are an elite and bearded group from all backgrounds: Some are retired, others work at jobs that range from salesmen to psychologists. Before visiting a home or hospital, they memorize names of family members and pets; they undergo a rigorous background check and receive ongoing instruction in grief, bereavement, symptom management and spirituality.

"First and foremost, you have to remember that these are children, and you have to go in treating them like children," says John Scheuch, Santa-America's executive director. "I have visited babies who are only weeks old, and, on Christmas morning, it's clear that some won't survive.

There are others who are realizing where they are and what is going to happen and they are wrestling with that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Autism: Baby Tracking Products and a DIY Autism Screening

Tracking your baby's developmental progress or 'stats' is the next new thing to hit the US and along with that comes the inevitable collection of 'products' that can help you do this.

Can I just say at this point that good parenting is not about 'products'. It's about loving, nurturing, supporting and being involved and a positive force, in the child's day to day development.

Ok, I'm sorry. I just had to add that in, and now back to our story. We were talking about the number of baby tracking products, available to new parents and I am particularly interested in one that claims to address Autism.

Some baby-tracking products do more than track kids’ schedules or how they play with toys: One new device assesses language ability and calculates risk of autism and developmental delay.

The digital recorder was developed by the nonprofit LENA Foundation as an autism research tool. Now, for about $200, parents can buy their own LENA Language and Autism Screen.

After recording at least 12 hours of speech, parents mail the device and some questionnaires about their kid’s behaviour to LENA, and get a full report back of their child’s language ability, including an autism risk score and a calculation of developmental age.

“A lot of times parents may suspect something is wrong,” said LENA spokeswoman Mia Moe. “But there aren’t a lot of great automatic screening tools that they have access to.”

Parents can bring up concerns at their child’s yearly checkup, Moe says, but 15 minutes with a pediatrician is often inadequate to diagnose a problem or get a referral to a specialist.

“A lot of times they say, ‘Let’s just wait and see,’ and then children end up getting these diagnoses at age 5 or even later,” Moe said. But early intervention programs can be very effective, so it makes sense for parents to want to detect problems early.

But not everyone thinks home screening is the answer. Although devices like LENA can be very useful for research or professional assessment, marketing the tools to parents isn’t appropriate, says University of Rochester developmental psychologist Lucia French.

“Certainly, keep an eye on your kid and make sure they’re doing better in everything today than they were yesterday,” French said. “But to do a formal screening and then worry that your child isn’t quite normal yet, that’s going way too far for parents’ knowledge level.”

We’ve been very succesful in convincing parents that the early years of a child are critical to long-term brain development. Unfortunately, it has also created a marketing wave that preys on the parent’s vulnerabilities and concerns.

If anyone out there has any experience of these devices, can you please let me know your opinion of them. Did they work for you? Were they easy to use? What was good or bad about them?

I suggest that parents have a good healthy toybox with a reasonable variety of toys. Electronic toys aside, don't forget; wooden blocks, rubber balls, dressing-up toys, even a piece of paper and crayons are wonderful as a learning environment, when sprinkled with the tender loving care of a parent's attention.

Your Opinion Required: Firstborn children are 25% less trusting and reciprocating

Popular (mis)conceptions say that 'First-born children are more likely to achieve greatness', but recent research claims that if this is true, then it comes at a price. Scientists say that the only-child and the first-born child is more likely to be less trusting, and have a less generous or a less cooperative disposition.

Previous Research
Previous studies would lead us to believe that firstborns are generally smarter than their younger siblings and perhaps more likely to become leaders, while younger brood-members tend to be more rebellious. It would be interesting to know if you have found this to be proven, in the real world.

Recent Research

To see if trust in adults might also be affected by birth order, Alexandre Courtiol at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences in Montpellier, France, paired 510 students with anonymous partners to play a finance-based game.

It is a standard game used to shows a umber of things:

  • the level of trust a person has in other people,
  • their willingness to take part in collaborative and cooperative behaviour and
  • the level of risk they are willing to take.
It can also be used to try and understand the level of 'greed' a person has but that's a much more intangible trait that needs other coroborating data.

The Rules of the Game
Both players were given 30 monetary units and told that whatever they had left at the end of the game would be converted into real cash. Player A was told to give any sum of money to player B, with the knowledge that this would be tripled for player B's pot. Player B then had the option of giving any sum of money back to player A.

The Results
The selfish decision would have been for neither player to give any money away, but less than 1 in 10 participants played this way. The more money player A gave away, the more trusting they were judged to be and the more money player B tended to return, showing reciprocity.

On average, an only-child or the eldest of a number of sibling, gave 25 per cent less "money" than non-firstborns or only children, whether they were in role A or B. Courtiol interprets this as meaning firstborns were 25 per cent less trusting and reciprocating (Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.09.016).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pregnant women develop emotion-reading superpowers - life - 14 December 2009 - New Scientist

Pregnant women develop emotion-reading superpowers - life - 14 December 2009 - New Scientist

RAGING hormones during pregnancy prompt mood swings, but may also lead to a heightened ability to recognise threatening or aggressive faces. This may have evolved because it makes future mothers hyper-vigilant, yet it could also make them more vulnerable to anxiety.

Dr Sally Ride - America's first woman in space

Dr. Sally Ride continues to encourage children to increase their awareness of Maths and Science in a world that has adopted technology as a provider of entertainment and communications.

Click on the picture to read more of her comments.

Autism - Children with autism 'have problem with self-awareness'

It is well known that children suffering from Autism struggle in social situations. Scientists have produced evidence that self-awareness is a big problem for people with autism.

Sophisticated scans showed the brains of people with autism are less active when engaged in self-reflective thought. The findings provide a neurological insight into why people with autism tend to struggle in social situations.

The study, by the University of Cambridge, appears in the Oxford neurological journal Brain.

Navigating social interactions with others requires keeping track of the
relationship between oneself and others - Michael Lombardo, University of Cambridge,
Autism has long been considered a condition of extreme egocentrism.

But research has shown the problem is children with the condition have trouble thinking about, and making sense of, themselves.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance scans (MRI) to measure brain activity in 66 male volunteers, half of whom had been diagnosed as being within the autistic spectrum.

The volunteers were asked to make judgements either about their own thoughts, opinions, preferences, or physical characteristics, or about someone else's, in this case the Queen.

By scanning the volunteers' brains as they responded to these questions, the researchers were able to visualise differences in brain activity between those with and without autism.

They were particularly interested in part of the brain called the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex (vMPFC) - known to be active when people think about themselves.

The researchers found this area of the brain was more active when typical volunteers were asked questions about themselves compared with when they were thinking about the Queen.

However, in autism this brain region responded equally, irrespective of whether they were thinking about themselves or the Queen.

Researcher Michael Lombardo said the study showed that the autistic brain struggled to to process information about the self.

He said: "Navigating social interactions with others requires keeping track of the relationship between oneself and others.

"In some social situations it is important to notice that 'I am similar to you', while in other situations it might be important to notice that 'I am different to you'.

"The atypical way the autistic brain treats self-relevant information as equivalent to information about others could derail a child's social development, particularly in understanding how they relate to the social world around them."

Dr. Gina Gómez de la Cuesta, of the National Autistic Society, described the study as "interesting". "We know many children with autism do want to interact with others and make friends but they have difficulty recognising or understanding other people's thoughts and feelings.

"This research has shown that children with autism may also have difficulty understanding their own thoughts and feelings and the brain mechanisms underlying this."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Morphological Awareness: Recognition of parts of Words

In our last blog we discussed Orthographics. Continuing on our voyage of discovery in the land of sounds, letters and words, we would like to introduce you to the term Morphology as it is used in language and learning.

Morphology is the identification, analysis and description of the structure of words. While words are generally accepted as being the smallest units of syntax in a language, it is clear that in most languages, words can be related to other words by rules.

Words contain other smaller words that lend them greater meaning, a 'root' that connects them together in a structure or wordy relationship. One that you can easily build on. In this way, morphology is the study of patterns of word formation within and across languages

Learning the basic Rules
As an example, children recognise that the words - dog, dogs and dog catcher - are closely related and refer to things that involve the animal 'dog'. At an early age children learn to recognise these constructs and relationships, and build up a knowledge of the rules of word formation.

The parent and teacher can help them to learn that 'dog' is to 'dog catcher' as 'dish' is to 'dishwasher'. On a more complex level, the rules understood by the child, reflect specific patterns in the way words are formed from smaller units and how those smaller units interact in writing. Provide them with plenty of opportunites to re-enforce this knowledge.

More Complex Words
Unfortunately not all words have a straghtforward relationship between speaking and spelling. For example; who, niece, although, etc. These are words that do not sound the same as they are spelled. There are additional rules and relationships to be learned and that's OK, as long as you are aware of that and make it known to the children.

Prefixes and Suffixes
many words that we use have standard beginnings (prefix) and some have standard endings (suffix), to convey meaning and to show a 'change' to the 'root' meaning.

Prefixes e.g. un, dis, over, etc. are all part of a consistent and regular rule that governs them and their effect on the 'root' of the word. Spend time with your child exploring the different un-, dis- and over-, words.

Show how they change the meaning of the 'root' word e.g. unable means to be not able, disentangle means to undo an entanglement, overtime means to work beyond your official hours of work.

Even in trying to translate and expand the meaning of the chosen words you will find that you have to use a lot more words to ensure that the listener understands your explanation. Thus, proving the value of using prefixes and other shortened terms to convey meaning and understanding quickly and clearly.

Morphological Awareness
What we have been discussing here is already raising your morphological awareness. You are recognising how the use of prefixes and suffixes affects the 'root' word and how they convey different meanings or can create some subtle variations of the same meaning, i.e. variations based on an established rule.

Your part in this is to work with the children and to raise their Morphological Awareness, not in an advanced linguistic and complex way but in a pleasant and fun way. Show them how big words are constructed from smaller words and explain to them the rules that govern prefixes and suffixes.

Word Games
A great way of doing this is by cutting out words from a magazine or with word cards. An ideal game for this is Scrabble but I realise that this is not as popular as it used to be, which is a shame. However you decide to do this, it is all about spending quality time with your children and at the same time making it easy for them to learn something new.

Orthography: the relationship between written symbols and sounds

In our previous 2 blogs we discussed briefly the sounds of letters and the sounds found inside words; 'Print Awareness' and 'Phonics and Phonemics'.

Taking this a step forward, we would like to introduce you to another term that is often used in describing language and one that has a big part to play in the detection of Dyslexia and the difficulties a child may have in learning to read and spell in a specific language; Orthography.

Orthographies are writing systems, the relationship between the words we speak and how we write that down. Conversely, it is how we interpret and speak the words and letters that we see written on a page.

Orthography in Languages
It may surprise you to learn that the orthography of some languages are easier to interpret and learn than others. The complexity of a language's orthography, or writing system, can be a significant contributing factor to the difficulties experienced by readers who suffer from Dyslexia.

Symbols in Language
Languages such as Chinese have very simple orthographies because it has a pictorial languagee. Their written language is based on symbols that represent a picture of the word. Dyslexia is unknown in China.

The difference in the complexity of language and it's symbols versus sound interpretation is best described as the depth of the Orthography.

Shallow orthographies
Shallow Orthographies have a more straightforward, one-to-one relationship between sounds (graphemes) and letters (phonemes), and the spelling of words is very consistent. Italian and Finnish, which are examples of shallow orthographies and consequently, children and new readers, have very little trouble learning to decode words and match them to their sounds.

As a result, children who wish to learn to read in those languages, do so relatively quickly and with greater ease. Most readers who suffer from Dyslexia and are learning to read in a shallow orthography, learn to decode words with relative ease. Unfortunately, they can experience more difficulty with reading fluency and comprehension.

The hallmark symptom of dyslexia in a shallow orthography is the speed of rapid automatised naming (RAN - the speed of recalling and naming an object, word or letter once it is recognised).

Deep Orthographies
Unfortunately, one of the languages considered to be 'deep' is English, as well as Arabic, for example. They do not have a one-to-one correspondence between sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) that are intended to represent those sounds. As a result, children learn to read more slowly and with the potential for introducing more difficulties.

Overcoming this difficulty
Research has shown that the symptoms of Dyslexia in a deep orthography are a deficit in phonological awareness and difficulty in reading at the word level. For these readers who suffer from Dyslexia, learning to decode words may take a long time but the good news is, that once some level of decoding has been overcome, many of these readers have relatively fewer problems with fluency and comprehension. This is the opposite of the 'shallow' orthographies.

Comparative Studies
Studies between German and English have shown that the greater depth of English orthography had a "marked adverse effect on reading skills" among dyslexic children.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dyslexia: Hearing helps and Listening aids

Following on from our previous blog on 'Print Awareness' we would like to look at Listening and Hearing in the developing child.

Before we, or our children can speak and read properly we first have to be able to listen and understand what we are hearing.

Professional Speech Therapists will always insist that a full spectrum of hearing test are carried out on a child, before they take them on as a 'patient' or client.

This makes perfect sense, because in the early stages of speech we mimic and repeat what we hear and if we do not hear sounds clearly or there is a loss of some tones and frequencies then we will not be able to respond correctly. It may sound OK to the speaker but not to the listener.

Phonemic Awareness
It is essential that your child's hearing is in good working order, so that they can;

  • hear and begin to recognise sounds in words (Phonemics)
  • begin to match letters and letter sequences to sounds (Phonics)
Nursery Rhymes
There is a very good reason why nursery rhymes were written, repeated and have stood the test of time. It's because they have a very important purpose in helping a child develop a sense of language, in a simple, fun and therefore, acceptable way.

Children need to be able to detect and repeat simple rhymes in words and sentences, to allow them to develop good language skills. Nursery rhymes are essential in encouraging the child's development of phonemic awareness and as a consequence they also develop good phonic skills.

Sing along
So, make it easy for your children to sing along with nursery rhymes and simple rhyming songs. Sing with them and set aside a time in the day to share this activity with your child. It doesn't have to be a formal arrangement, it can simply be in the car on the way to the supermarket, in the shopping mall , when your both 'busy' in the garden or cleaning house.

Music and sounds
Make sure you have musical toys in your child's extensive and colourful collection of toys. Encourage your child to make the noise the toy makes e.g. a bell (Ding!), a car horn (Beep, beep!), a train (Woo, woo or Chuff, chuff), etc. Are they good at it?

This way you will be able to discover how talented your child is in the sound and music department but you may also be able to detect what frequencies they can and cannot hear.

Ear Infections
Be careful with ear infections in small children, they can lead to difficulties in hearing later on in development and therefore in speech and language development. Do not tolerate ear infections and be insistant with you doctor that your child needs speedy and appropriate treatment.

Don't over react but also don't allow yourself to be fobbed off or dismissed by a taciturn or off-hand remark that 'It'll go away itself!' or 'It's normal for kids. Just leave it!' No, get it treated. Otherwise your child's hearing and future development may be affected.

Hearing is essential in the development of speech and reading skills. Encourage your child to listen carefully and to sing and make appropriate sounds in response to your prompting.

Don't panic! If you have any concerns about your child's hearing or speaking skills, consult a qualified consultant for their opinion and they will be able to provide re-assurance, pertinent comment and specialist observations.

Dyslexia: Print Awareness in pre-school children

We are not born with the inate or genetic knowledge of how books, paragraphs and sentences are constructed, nor are we aware how print is formatted, in our language or our part of the world. We have to learn this from a teacher or preferably, from a parent.

In the West, we start reading a piece of text from the top left of the page and move along the line from left to right, finishing at the bottom left. Can you remember who showed or taught you that? Was it your parents or an older sibling or did you have to wait until you went to school to discover this?

First School day
Unfortunately, a large proportion of the population turn up on their first day at school not knowing some of these basic things. Things, that would not only make their school days so much easier and more enjoyable, but it would also make for early detection of reading and learning issues.

When reading to a child, the parent or nurturing adult can easily demonstrate by pointing, where they are starting to read and by continuing to follow the text with their finger, as they read the words. Thus, a non-reading child will become 'familiar' with this method of examining and following text, even if they are still unable to recognise the words they are looking at.

Print Awareness
A child who is experiencing dyslexia may have difficulties in this exercise of following text, even after being shown where to start and how to follow the words. The parent or adult needs to persist with this exercise to be sure that this is indeed an issue and not just a lack of interest or concentration by the child.

Bedtime Stories
Bedtime stories are a great opportunity to share this knowledge with your child and it is also an important piece of 'quality time' that you will spend with your child and one which they will cherish forever.

If you do share bedtime story reading with your child, do so in a position that the child can see you pointing to the text and following it with your finger. After a few sessions you should allow your child to point to the words and follow along as you read. This will show you their level of 'print awarenss', or not.

Do forgive them if they get sleepy during these periods and lose their concentration. Remember, it should be a pleasant and enjoyable experience for you both. One that leads to a restful night's sleep for the child, as well as a low key learning activity.

Print awareness is essential in the development of reading skills. Encourage your child to watch carefully when you point and read words and text, then ask them to do it with your help.

Don't panic! If you have any concerns about your child's print awareness or reading skills, consult a qualified consultant for their opinion and they will be able to provide re-assurance, pertinent comment and specialist observations.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Speech Therapy and Autism: Behaviour and Criteria

A child going to undergo speech therapy with the diagnosis of autism has to pass a criteria of characteristics. Here are the main criteria for a child to be diagnosed.

Criteria 1: Social Interaction
The child has to have a verifiable social interaction impairment. This impairment should be manifested by at least two of following behaviours:

1.Non-verbal behaviours like quirky body posture, eye stare/gaze, facial expressions and others.
2.Failure to develop peer relationships that are appropriate for their development age like making friends or relating to other children through sheer disinterest. The lack of emotional reciprocity falls in this category.

3.Lacking the will to share emotions and thoughts. The child doesn’t usually point to objects of interest and it is up to others to read or understand what the child is interested in.

Criteria 2: Communication
The child has a communication impairment with one of the following conditions:

1.Delay or total lack of spoken language development. This includes lack of expressive language, like hand gestures and facial expressions.

2.Where the child has adequate speech, they cannot initiate a conversation or even sustain one with other people.

3.Repetitive or stereotyped use of language, commonly known as idiosyncratic language, this is where what the child keeps saying is meaningless whether the word(s) exist or not.

4.Lack of imaginative or make-believe play. Play is a major distinction for children with autism. Their play is not influenced with social signals and social adaptations from the surrounding. Since play is a major factor in language development, this is important.

Criteria 3: Repetitive And Stereotype Behaviour Patterns
Autistic children manifest repetitive behaviour, and this criteria is judged by having at least one of the following conditions.

1.An encompassing preoccupation with one or more restricted patterns of interest that seem abnormal, like focusing on a trivial object e.g. a rotating fan all day long.

2.An abnormal affection for repetitive routines and rituals. These may be normal routines with a bunch of alternatives but the child always follows the same routine and is agitated by other options or possibilities, many times to the point of throwing tantrums .

3.Repetitive body mannerisms like finger twisting or complex body postures.

4.Preoccupation with small object like screws, buttons or other miniature details.

Autistic diagonsis is standardised and the above are the criteria needed to issue a positive diagnosis.

All speech therapist that deal with autistic children require that any autistic child be properly diagnosed as autistic, before they can start speech therapy sessions.

As you may expect, these sessions tend to be even more specialised, with totally different goals and timeframes compared to sessions for non autistic toddlers.

50 Things Parent Say to their Kids

Friday, December 4, 2009

Autism: Examining the Unsettling effect of a Stare or Fixed Gaze of eyes

They may seem a little unsettling but the staring eyes of this female avatar were designed to grab your gaze and hold it, and also to obligingly follow where you look. By performing these actions with people placed inside a brain scanner, she has helped to demonstrate that guiding the gazes of others activates different brain areas than following.

This could help unravel the brain activity underlying the process of "joint attention", thought to be key to complex, human social interactions. It could also offer insights into why social interactions can break down for people with autism.

Joint Attention
Joint attention – the ability and motivation to both guide and follow someone else's gaze – develops early in infants. It is considered necessary for complex social interactions, the learning of language and co-operation. For example, an eye signal from one person to another can indicate a potential meal, mate or menace.

In people with autism, joint attention seems to be abnormal, which may underpin some of the social difficulties they experience. Previously researchers have studied brain activity in people watching a video designed to engender a feeling of joint attention in the viewer. The new study is the first to separate out the processes of following and initiating joint attention.

Watch me watch her
Psychiatrist Leonhard Schilbach at the University of Cologne in Germany and his colleagues developed an avatar that can hold someone's gaze and an infrared camera that tracks the eye movement of someone watching the avatar. The system was set up inside an MRI scanner.

Then the team asked 21 healthy volunteers to use their eyes to guide the avatar's gaze towards a grey box projected on a computer screen, or to follow the avatar's gaze, while inside the scanner. The camera allows the researchers to determine when the volunteers are following the avatar's gaze and when the avatar is following theirs.

The real-time fMRI scans revealed that when the volunteers successfully got the avatar to follow their gaze, brain areas involved in reward and motivation were activated. When they followed the avatar's gaze, a different area of the brain, known to be involved in imagining what other people are thinking, was active. "It's kind of surprising that sharing something as basic as a grey square is something we enjoy," says Schilbach.

Get engaged
The finding is novel, says autism researcher Peter Mundy at the University of California, Davis, because previous studies of joint attention have not distinguished between initiating and responding.

It points to the possibility that differences in motivation to initiate joint attention "may be involved in the early social impairments of autism", he says.

Mundy adds that interactive avatars will be helpful in other areas of social psychology by allowing us to simulate social interactions and observe the neural systems they involve. "Our method is progress in the direction of studying things which stem from being engaged with another person," agrees Schilbach.

His team now plans to study the brains of people with autism as they interact with the avatar.

Journal reference: Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21401

Make Books Come to Life - Tell Stories

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fathers suffering from postpartum depression.

Fathers suffering from postpartum depression. It’s a topic not usually discussed publicly, but doctors are saying the problem is more widespread than you would think.

The birth of a child is supposed to be a happy time for a new father but suddenly a screaming baby, sleepless nights and coming second in your wife's affections, makes him feel confused, helpless and out of control.

It changes their role in life and affects their sense of themselves.

“I think new fathers have indeed suffered depression for a long time, but that the equality of gender in our society now makes it a little easier to speak about,” said Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist.

There are even Web sites dedicated to the topic, which address the symptoms, treatments and support groups.

“In my own practice, I have treated many men with postpartum depression who see the birth of their children as heralding major changes in their lives, including higher levels of responsibility and commitment, which can provoke anxiety,” Ablow wrote. “Others fear that they will lose the affection of their wives as attention is (appropriately) diverted from them to their children.”

History of Depression
Men who have a history of depression are at an increased risk of developing postpartum depression, as are men whose partners are also depressed.

Like most cases of depression, symptoms include low mood, tearfulness, decreased energy, low self-esteem, impaired sleep and/or appetite and thoughts of suicide, Ablow said.

While postpartum depression in fathers usually occurs within four weeks of the baby’s delivery, Ablow said he has seen some cases develop after the three-month mark.

If you suspect your baby's father is suffering from postpartum depression, be supportive, Ablow advised. Remind him that his feelings are only temporary and they won’t last forever. Urge him to go to counseling, as psychotherapy is often an effective means of treatment.

“Psychotherapy is very effective in treating postpartum depression in men because the issues are so often tied to their own suboptimal experiences with their dads and their misgivings about marriage and commitment,” Ablow said. “Medications, including SSRIs, can also be very helpful.”

Women should try to include the new dads into the new ritual of mother-child bonding. He may feel withdrawn from the child, and encouraging him to spend time with the new baby may be helpful. Also, scheduling some time for romance — maybe a “date night” — can’t hurt either

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Could Autism and Schizophrenia be Genetic?

Autism and schizophrenia may be two sides of the same coin, suggests a review of genetic data associated with the conditions. The finding could help design complementary treatments for the two disorders.

Though autism was originally described as a form of schizophrenia a century ago, evidence for a link has remained equivocal. One theory puts the conditions at opposite ends of a developmental spectrum.

To investigate, Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and colleagues gathered data on all known genetic variants associated with each condition, then looked for patterns of co-occurrence.

The researchers found four regions in the genome which dramatically affect the risk of autism or schizophrenia. Called "copy-number variants", these are stretches of DNA with seemingly accidental duplications or deletions. Crespi's team found that the presence of a particular variant – a duplication, say – was often associated with autism while the opposite variation – a deletion of the genetic material – was linked to schizophrenia.

The results fit with other evidence that autism may be caused by overdevelopment of specific brain regions and schizophrenia by underdevelopment, says Crespi.

If they are indeed opposites, work on one disorder may inform work on its counterpart, he says.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906080106

Adaptive and Maladaptive Behaviour Assessments

Clinical and psychological assesments of our children are more commonplace now than they have ever been. This is because early intervention and recognition of detrimental conditions can be very successful in preventing further deterioration of the child's learning potential and ability to enjoy a full and happy life.

Adaptive behaviour assessments are very popular in the United States and their rise in popularity is owed largely to their usefulness and accuracy to psychologists and educators.

Adaptive Behaviour Assessments
The issue for parents and children with Adaptive Behaviour Assessments is that it sounds scary and even if we have been given a very full explanation, we are not always so sure what's happening.

Let's have a look at 2 of the terms used in this assessment and try to dissipate the mystery behind them and make themn less scary.

Adaptive Behaviours
Adaptive behaviours are simply the everyday skills you need in living today; walking, talking, getting dressed, going to school, going to work, preparing a meal, cleaning the house, etc. They are skills that a person learns in the process of 'adapting to' his or her everyday surroundings.

Adaptive behaviours are for the most part learned or developmental, so they are very much to do with how we are growing and learning things as we grow. It is about how we are developing as a child.

So, from that, it is possible to describe or rate, a person's adaptive behaviour as an age-equivalent score. An 'average' five-year-old, is such a child existed, would be expected to have an adaptive behavior score similar to that of other five-year-olds.

Maladaptive Behaviours
This is the other side of the coin. Maladaptive behaviours are more often called 'behaviour problems', because they are behaviours that interfere with the child's learning, development and their everyday activities.

Positive or good adaptive behaviour and a lack of behaviour problems promote independence at home, at school, and in the community.

Negative or Maladaptive Behaviours are much more difficult to quantify than the more positive adaptive behaviors, because they are not about learning and developing, in a positive way. Negative behaviours express themselves differently and are often dependent on opportunity, circumstances, the presence or otherwise of adults or other people.

Part of any observation and assessment will need to determine if their is a particular triger point or person that sets off the behaviour. Negative behaviours may of course simply vary from moment-to-moment, day-to-day and from setting-to-setting.

The good news. Behaviour problems do not increase or decrease steadily with age. Nevertheless a qualified person can measure the levels of behaviour, consistantly and reliably, which is useful in detecting any and every, positive change in the child's behaviour and encouraging it.

Measuring Mental Development
One of the reasons you would measure adaptive and maladaptive behaviours is for diagnosis and for planning a program that promotes positive change. The diagnosis of mental develpment, for example, requires deficits in both cognitive ability and adaptive behavior, occurring before the age of 18.

By the age of 18 the 'child' is an adult, set in their ways and can determine their own future. This is why early intervention and support is so important.

Determining Type of Support
The outcome of an Adaptive behaviour assessment will also be used to determine the type and amount of special assistance that people with disabilities may need, if any. This assistance might be in the form of home-based support services for infants and children and their families, special education and vocational training for young people, and supported work or special living arrangements such as personal care attendants, group homes, or nursing homes for adults.

Early assessments
Adaptive behaviour assessments are most often used in preschool and special education programs for determining eligibility, for program planning, and for assessing outcomes.

Remember in all this that the parent has the biggest responsibility and the most emotional role to play in supporting the child. To be able to do the best you can for your child, you must be feeling confident, positive and fully aware of what's happening. So, ask plenty of 'what, how, why?...' questions and take the most positive outcome from this and build on it.

I wish you every possible success!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Study: Autism treatment works in kids as young as 18 months -

Study: Autism treatment works in kids as young as 18 months -

CHICAGO (AP) — The first rigorous study of behaviour treatment in autistic children as young as 18 months found two years of therapy can vastly improve symptoms, often resulting in a milder diagnosis.

The study was small — just 48 children evaluated at the University of Washington— but the results were so encouraging it has been expanded to several other sites, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the advocacy group Autism Speaks. Dawson, a former University of Washington professor, led the research team.

Early autism treatment has been getting more attention, but it remains controversial because there's scant rigorous evidence showing it really works. The study is thus "a landmark of great import," said Tony Charman, an autism education specialist at the Institute of Education in London.

There's also a growing emphasis on diagnosing autism at the earliest possible age, and the study shows that can pay off with early, effective treatment, said Laura Schreibman, an autism researcher at the University of California at San Diego.

The National Institute of Mental Health funded the study, which was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

Children aged 18 months to 30 months were randomly assigned to receive behavior treatment called the Early Start Denver model from therapists and parents, or they were referred to others for less comprehensive care.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Asperger's syndrome: Extradition a breach of Human Rights?

Gary McKinnon will be extradited to the United States on computer hacking charges

Computer hacker Gary McKinnon could be sent to the US within weeks after the Home Secretary refused to block his extradition.

Alan Johnson finally dashed hopes that the Government would intervene in the case, insisting there was no evidence that the extradition would breach Mr McKinnon's human rights.

Mr McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, said ministers should "hang their heads in shame" for the "barbaric" decision.

His legal team is to apply for a judicial review within days, but Ms Sharp warned that if that was not granted then her son could be extradited by Christmas.

Mr McKinnon, who has Asperger's syndrome, faces up to 60 years in jail for hacking into Pentagon computers soon after the 9/11 terror attacks. He says he was looking for evidence of UFOs.

He and his family, who have led a high-profile campaign to block the extradition, were given hope last month when Mr Johnson agreed to study new medical evidence. The Home Secretary's deliberations came after the High Court refused the 43-year-old permission to appeal to the Supreme Court against his removal.

But Mr Johnson said in a statement: "I have carefully considered the representations in the case of Gary McKinnon. I am clear that the information is not materially different from that placed before the High Court earlier this year and does not demonstrate that sending Mr McKinnon to the United States would breach his human rights.

"As the courts have affirmed, I have no general discretion. If Mr McKinnon's human rights would be breached, I must stop the extradition. If they would not be breached, the extradition must go ahead."

Mr McKinnon's family say that his health has deteriorated significantly under the pressure of the pending extradition and fears about how he will be treated by the US authorities. There are fears that he may even commit suicide.

Ms Sharp said: "To force a peaceful, vulnerable, misguided UFO fanatic like Gary thousands of miles away from his much-needed support network is barbaric. This is a cruel and miserable decision. If the severity of Gary's medical condition isn't sufficient to prevent his extradition, I can't imagine what is. God help others facing a similar fate. I'm so upset and angry."