Friday, February 25, 2011
Much is known about the associations between a troubled childhood and mental health problems, but little research has examined the affect of a positive childhood. For the first time, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing have analysed the link between a positive adolescence and well-being in midlife.
Using information from 2776 individuals who participated in the 1946 British birth cohort study, the scientists tested associations between having a positive childhood and well-being in adulthood.
A ‘positive’ childhood was based on teacher evaluations of students’ levels of happiness, friendship and energy at the ages of 13 and 15. A student was given a positive point for each of the following four items – whether the child was ‘very popular with other children’, ‘unusually happy and contented’, ‘makes friends extremely easily’ and ‘extremely energetic, never tired’. Teachers also rated conduct problems (restlessness, daydreaming, disobedience, lying, etc) and emotional problems (anxiety, fearfulness, diffidence, avoidance of attention, etc).
The researchers then linked these ratings to the individuals’ mental health, work experience, relationships and social activities several decades later. They found that teenagers rated positively by their teachers were significantly more likely than those who received no positive ratings to have higher levels of well-being later in life, including a higher work satisfaction, more frequent contact with family and friends, and more regular engagement in social and leisure activities.
Happy children were also much less likely than others to develop mental disorders throughout their lives — 60% less likely than young teens that had no positive ratings.
The study not only failed to find a link between being a happy child and an increased likelihood of becoming married, they found that the people who had been happy children were actually more likely to get divorced. One possible factor suggested by the researchers is that happier people have higher self-esteem or self-efficacy and are therefore more willing and able to leave an unhappy marriage.
“The benefits to individuals, families and to society of good mental health, positive relationships and satisfying work are likely to be substantial,” said Professor Felicia Huppert, one of the authors of the paper and Director of the Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge. “The findings support the view that even at this time of great financial hardship, policymakers should prioritise the well-being of our children so they have the best possible start in life.”
A common misconception is that dyslexia only affects children. Not only does it affect adults, it impacts millions of adults. In fact, many famous people have dyslexia. Having dyslexia does not have to hold you back – if you learn how to work with it.
These days there are many adults who have come forward to talk about their dyslexia and share their experiences. In this age of disclosure, it is a welcome sight to see adults who have struggled alone with this challenging brain disorder see that they are not alone and that there are others who face the same challenges.
From Einstein to Tom Cruise, and millions of other adults, dyslexia affects so many. Common symptoms of dyslexia include difficulty with reading or writing, trouble understanding directions, poor spelling, and many other signs.
Often people with dyslexia will simply say that they don’t care for reading – not understanding that it is their brain function that is at fault. Some feel as if they must be stupid, when in fact dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. Many very intelligent people suffer from dyslexia and many successful people have learned to overcome it.
Dyslexia can often lead to more creative thinking, since dylexics can often see the world in a slightly different way than those who rely more on their linear, left-brained thinking. If you think that you, or someone you love, might need adult dyslexia testing, there are simple, private tests to help determine if dyslexia is the root of the problem.
If it is, there are may learning techniques that can make reading and writing much easier – coping with dyslexia is easier when you know you have it. Just knowing that there is a name for the problem, and most importantly, that you are not alone in dealing with it, can make all the difference.
Dyslexia treatment has come a long way in recent years, there are now even colleges for learning disabilities, ensuring that anyone who wants an education can get one. These colleges are set up to allow for extra time to take tests, individualized learning styles and more.
However, any college is required to make allowances for a disability – even a learning disability. This is one reason testing is so important. If your college determines that you do indeed have dyslexia, they are then able to offer certain study aides such as textbooks on audio or increased testing time.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Brains of blind people reading in Braille show activity in same area that lights up when sighted readers read
"The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine," said Amir Amedi of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "A brain area can fulfill a unique function, in this case reading, regardless of what form the sensory input takes."
Unlike other tasks that the brain performs, reading is a recent invention, about 5400 years old. Braille has been in use for less than 200 years. "That's not enough time for evolution to have shaped a brain module dedicated to reading," Amedi explained.
Nevertheless, study coauthor Laurent Cohen showed previously in sighted readers that a very specific part of the brain, known as the visual word form area or VWFA for short, has been co-opted for this purpose. But no one knew what might happen in the brains of blind people who learn to read even though they've had no visual experience at all.
In the new study, Amedi's team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural activity in eight people who had been blind since birth while they read Braille words or nonsense Braille. If the brain were organized around processing sensory information, one might expect that Braille reading would depend on regions dedicated to processing tactile information, Amedi explained. If instead the brain is task oriented, you'd expect to find the peak of activity across the entire brain in the VWFA, right where it occurs in sighted readers, and that is exactly what the researchers found.
Further comparison of brain activity in blind and sighted readers showed that the patterns in the VWFA were indistinguishable between the two groups.
"The main functional properties of the VWFA as identified in the sighted are present as well in the blind, are thus independent of the sensory modality of reading, and even more surprisingly do not require any visual experience," the researchers wrote. "To the best of our judgment, this provides the strongest support so far for the metamodal theory [of brain function]," which suggests that brain regions are defined by the tasks they perform. "Hence, the VWFA should also be referred to as the tactile word form area, or more generally as the (metamodal) word form area."
The researchers suggest that the VWFA is a multisensory integration area that binds simple features into more elaborate shape descriptions, making it ideal for the relatively new task of reading.
"Its specific anatomical location and its strong connectivity to language areas enable it to bridge high-level perceptual word representation and language-related components of reading," they wrote. "It is therefore the most suitable region to be taken over during reading acquisition, even when reading is acquired via touch without prior visual experience."
Amedi said the researchers plan to examine brain activity as people learn to read Braille for the first time, to find out how rapidly this takeover happens. "How does the brain change to process information in words?" he asked. "Is it instantaneous?"
Mice that lack the gene for integrin β3, or ITGB3 — which regulates the levels of serotonin in the blood — groom themselves frequently and show less interest in stranger mice compared with controls, according to a study published in February in Autism Research as part of a special issue on mouse models in autism.
Lower-than-normal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin have been linked to several psychological disorders, most notably depression. About 30 percent of people with autism show higher levels of serotonin in the blood compared with controls, suggesting that serotonin levels could serve as a biomarker for the disorder.
Mutations in ITGB3 are associated with autism and with changes in blood levels of serotonin, suggesting that this gene could be a link between the two. In the new study, mice missing one or both copies of ITGB3 show changes in two of the three core categories of autism symptoms — repetitive behavior and social interactions.
Unlike control mice, the mutant mice do not show a preference for a new mouse over one they are used to. They are still able to distinguish between different smells, however, suggesting that they can tell the two mice apart.
Mutations in the receptor for oxytocin — a hormone linked to autism and believed to be important for social interaction — can have the same effect.
Mice lacking ITGB3 also groom themselves more when placed in a new cage, but not in their home cage. This is probably not the result of increased anxiety in general, as these mice are just as likely as controls are to enter elevated platforms and roam in an open space.
The results are complicated by the fact that the mice have other symptoms, including problems with blood clotting. Lower levels of ITGB3 are also likely to lead to less serotonin in the blood, not more, contrary to what is seen in autism. However, the results suggest that ITGB3 affects social behavior, which reinforces its potential role in autism.
An infant crying is normal, but how mothers respond can affect a child’s development, says Jennifer C. Ablow, professor of psychology. For years, Ablow has studied the relationship of behaviour and physiological responses such as heart rate and respiration of mothers, both depressed and not, when they respond to their infants’ crying.
A new study — online in advance of publication in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience — provides the first look at brain activity of depressed women responding to recordings of crying infants, either their own or someone else’s. The brains of 22 women were scrutinised using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Non-invasive fMRI, when focused on the brain, measures blood flow changes using a magnetic field and radio frequency pulses, producing detailed images that provide scientists with information about brain activity or help medical staff diagnose disease.
Researchers considered both group differences between women with chronic histories of depression and those with no clinical diagnoses, and more subtle variations in the women’s brain activity related to current levels of depressive symptoms. All were first time mothers whose babies were 18 months old.
“It looks as though depressed mothers are not responding in a more negative way than non-depressed mothers, which has been one hypothesis,” said Heidemarie K. Laurent, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher in Ablow’s lab. “What we saw was really more of a lack of responding in a positive way.”
As a group, brain responses in non-depressed mothers responding to the sound of their own babies’ cries were seen on both sides of the brain’s lateral paralimbic areas and core limbic sub-cortical regions including the striatum, thalamus and midbrain; depressed mothers showed no unique response to their babies. Non-depressed mothers activated much more strongly than depressed mothers in a subcortical cluster involving the striatum — specifically the caudate and nucleus accumbens — and the medial thalamus. These areas are closely associated with the processing of rewards and motivation.
“In this context it was interesting to see that the non-depressed mothers were able to respond to this cry sound as a positive cue,” Laurent said. “Their response was consistent with wanting to approach their infants. Depressed mothers were really lacking in that response. “
In a separate comparison, mothers who self-reported that they were more depressed at the time of their fMRI sessions displayed diminished prefrontal brain activity, particularly in the anterior cingulate cortex, when hearing their own baby’s cries. This brain region, Laurent said, is associated with the abilities to evaluate information and to plan and regulate a response to emotional cues.
The important message of the study, Ablow and Laurent said, is that depression can exert long-lasting effects on mother-infant relationships by blunting the mother’s response to her infant’s emotional cues.
“A mother who is able to process and act upon relevant information will have more sensitive interactions with her infant, which, in turn, will allow the infant to develop its own regulation capacities,” Ablow said. “Some mothers are unable to respond optimally to their infant’s emotional cues. A mother’s emotional response requires a coordination of multiple cortical and sub-cortical systems of the brain. How that plays out has not been well known.”
The findings may suggest new implications for treating depression symptoms in mothers, Laurent said. “Some of these prefrontal problems may be changed more easily by addressing current symptoms, but there may be deeper, longer-lasting deficits at the motivational levels of the brain that will take more time to overcome,” she said.
We regard the findings as a “jumping-off point” to better understand the neurobiology of the mothering brain, said Ablow, co-director of the UO’s Developmental Sociobiology Lab. “In our next study, we plan to follow women from the prenatal period through their first-year of motherhood to get a fuller picture of how these brain responses shape mother-infant relationships during a critical period of their babies’ development.”
Although this work, published February 22 in the online open-access journal BMC Medicine, requires validation and refinement, it suggests a safe, practical way of identifying infants at high risk for developing autism by capturing very early differences in brain organization and function. This would allow parents to begin behavioral interventions one to two years before autism can be diagnosed through traditional behavioral testing.
“Electrical activity produced by the brain has a lot more information than we realized,” says William Bosl, PhD, a neuroinformatics researcher in the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program. “Computer algorithms can pick out patterns in those squiggly lines that the eye can’t see.”
Bosl, Charles A. Nelson, PhD, Research Director of the Developmental Medicine Center at Children’s, and colleagues recorded resting EEG signals from 79 babies 6 to 24 months of age participating in a larger study aimed at finding very early risk markers of autism. Forty-six infants had an older sibling with a confirmed diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD); the other 33 had no family history of ASDs.
As the babies watched a research assistant blowing bubbles, recordings were made via a hairnet-like cap on their scalps, studded with 64 electrodes. When possible, tests were repeated at 6, 9, 12, 18 and 24 months of age.
Bosl then took the EEG brain-wave readings for each electrode and computed their modified multiscale entropy (mMSE) — a measure borrowed from chaos theory that quantifies the degree of randomness in a signal, from which characteristics of whatever is producing the signal can be inferred. In this case, patterns in the brain’s electrical activity give indirect information about how the brain is wired: the density of neurons in each part of the brain, how connections between them are organized, and the balance of short- and long-distance connections.
The investigators looked at the entropy of each EEG channel, which is believed to contain information about the density of neural connections in the brain region near that electrode.
“Many neuroscientists believe that autism reflects a ‘disconnection syndrome,’ by which distributed populations of neurons fail to communicate efficiently with one another,” explains Nelson. “The current paper supports this hypothesis by suggesting that the brains of infants at high risk for developing autism exhibit different patterns of neural connectivity, though the relationship between entropy and the density of neural arbors remains to be explored.” (Neural arbors are projections of neurons that form synapses or connections with other neurons.)
On average, the greatest difference was seen at 9 months of age. The researchers note that at 9 months, babies undergo important changes in their brain function that are critical for the emergence of higher-level social and communication skills — skills often impaired in ASDs.
For reasons that still need to be explored, there was a gender difference: classification accuracy was greatest for girls at 6 months and remained high for boys at 12 and 18 months.
Overall, however, the distinction between the high-risk group and controls was smaller when infants were tested at 12 to 24 months. The authors speculate that the high-risk group may have a genetic vulnerability to autism that can be influenced and sometimes mitigated by environmental factors.
Bosl hopes to follow the high-risk group over time and compare EEG patterns in those who receive an actual ASD diagnosis and who appear to be developing normally — and then compare both groups to the controls.
“With enough data, I’d like to follow each child’s whole trajectory from 6 to 24 months,” Bosl adds. “The trend over time may be more important than a value at any particular age.”
Although EEG testing for autism risk may seem impractical to implement on a wide scale, it is inexpensive, safe, does not require sedation (unlike MRI), takes only minutes to perform and can be done in a doctor’s office. There are already data showing differences in EEG patterns for schizophrenia, major depression and PTSD, Bosl says.
Bosl also has started to collect data from older children 6 to 17 years old, and eventually hopes to have enough subjects to be able to compare EEG patterns for different types of ASDs.
Bone-anchored hearing aids appear helpful in improving hearing and quality of life in children with hearing loss in one or both ears, according to a report in the February issue of Archives of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
“Since its introduction more than 30 years ago, the bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) has become an established treatment option for auditory rehabilitation in patients with chronic conductive or mixed hearing loss,” the authors write as background information in the article. Although the BAHA was most commonly fitted in adults when it was first introduced, it has gradually become a popular option for children with bilateral conductive hearing loss who are too young to undergo alternative surgical options.
Maarten J. F. de Wolf, M.D., and colleagues at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, obtained information about 31 children who were current BAHA users. Data were collected through questionnaires answered by the children and their parents. Eligible children were a minimum of 4 years old at the time of BAHA fitting, and had been using the device for one to four years. Patients with both bilateral hearing loss (16 children) and unilateral hearing loss (15 children) were evaluated.
Questionnaires were composed of four parts measuring the child’s daily use of the BAHA, health-related quality of life immediately following the BAHA fitting, auditory functioning and overall quality of life after using the device over a period of time. In the bilateral hearing loss group, 13 children (81 percent) were using the BAHA for more than eight hours a day, and 12 (75 percent) reported that it was worth the effort. In the unilateral hearing loss group, seven (47 percent) were using their BAHA for more than eight hours a day and six (40 percent) were using it between four and eight hours a day. Ten children (67 percent) in this group felt the device was worth the effort.
In both subgroups, a younger age at the time of the BAHA fitting was associated with greater benefit and a higher quality of life after continued use. Additionally, the BAHA was found to have a large benefit on learning, particularly in the bilateral hearing loss group, underscoring the potential benefit of the device for the education of hearing-impaired children. Although this same benefit was seen in the unilateral hearing loss group, the authors recommend that use of the BAHA in this group, “should be made on an individual basis with the aid of a trial period of at least two weeks, which allows the child to use the BAHA in a variety of settings, particularly the school environment.”
“Overall, BAHA fitting can be considered effective and beneficial in children with bilateral or unilateral hearing loss,” the authors conclude. “ the BAHA was particularly beneficial for a child’s learning, which may be largely due to its beneficial effects in noisy surroundings.”
(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011;137:130-138. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)
Monday, February 21, 2011
Callous-unemotional traits, conduct problems in children can lead to antisocial behavior in pre-teens
The research, presented by Indiana University Bloomington faculty member Nathalie M.G. Fontaine, finds that the emergence of CU traits in childhood is in most cases influenced by genetic factors, especially in boys.
However, environmental factors appear to be more significant for the small number of girls who exhibit high levels of CU traits.
In this first longitudinal study employing a group-based analysis to examine the connection between childhood trajectories of CU traits and conduct problems, researchers found that high levels of both CU traits and conduct problems were associated with negative child and family factors at age 4 and with behavioral problems at age 12.
CU traits, such as a lack of emotion and a lack of empathy or guilt, are exhibited by a small number of children and are associated with persistent conduct problems, which are experienced by 5 percent to 10 percent of children.
"The children with high levels of both CU traits and conduct problems between ages 7 to 12 were likely to present negative predictors and outcomes, including hyperactivity problems and living in a chaotic home environment," said Fontaine, assistant professor of criminal justice in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington. "If we could identify those children early enough, we could help them as well as their families."
The researchers examined data for more than 9,000 twins from the Twins Early Development Study, a data set of twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. Assessments of CU traits and conduct problems were based on teacher questionnaires when the children were 7, 9 and 12. Family-level predictors at age 4 were based on information from parents, and behavioral outcomes at age 12 were based on information from teachers.
Read more here
Careful cleaning of children’s skin wounds key to healing, regardless of antibiotic choice | Science Blog
Researchers originally set out to compare the efficacy of two antibiotics commonly used to treat staph skin infections, randomly giving 191 children either cephalexin, a classic anti-staph antibiotic known to work against the most common strains of the bacterium but not MRSA, or clindamycin, known to work better against the resistant strains. Much to the researchers’ surprise, they said, drug choice didn’t matter: 95 percent of the children in the study recovered completely within a week, regardless of which antibiotic they got.
The finding led the research team to conclude that proper wound care, not antibiotics, may have been the key to healing.
“The good news is that no matter which antibiotic we gave, nearly all skin infections cleared up fully within a week,” says study lead investigator Aaron Chen, M.D., an emergency physician at Hopkins Children’s. “The better news might be that good low-tech wound care, cleaning, draining and keeping the infected area clean, is what truly makes the difference between rapid healing and persistent infection.”
Chen says that proper wound care has always been the cornerstone of skin infection treatment but, the researchers say, in recent years more physicians have started prescribing antibiotics preemptively.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Shown below are four free interactive tools to use as a quick reference. The list is based on several evaluation points, including free use, interactivity, outlay and offline content.
The aim was to show phonemic charts as a reference only, and not to discuss lessons about IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).
The Macmillan Phonetic Chart is available as offline content, as a simple program that comes in two flavours. The first version displays the phonemes in a small window. The second, uses a full screen, which is ideal for presentation (realia) in a class.
After clicking on a phonetic symbol, the sound of the phoneme is played. The written word used or word read after the phoneme (like in Macmilan’s Chart) are more natural than an isolated symbol.
This tool is well rated because of its simplicity and the fact that downloadable versions are available both for MS Windows and Mackintosh.
The chart itself is simple with clearly articulated phonemes. There is good quality content available in the Pronunciation tips.
BBC is a very good provider, with great lessons on English pronunciation. Each of the sounds is explained in a separate lesson, accompanied by video content.
However, the content is only available online. You need to buy the full product if you wish to use it on your offline.
It would be good to mention that the software offers a simple pronunciation quiz and phonetic diagram (both available online). The downsides arethe somewhat strange voice recordings and the not-so-friendly design, which is uncomfortable to the eye.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
More men than women have autism – now we may know why. Sex hormones regulate a gene linked with the condition, making it more likely that males will accumulate testosterone in the dangerous amounts that are thought to lead to autism.
For every female that has autism there are four males. To better understand this sex bias, Valerie Hu at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington DC and colleagues studied a gene implicated in autism called retinoic acid-related orphan receptor-alpha (RORA). This gene controls a molecule that switches many subsequent genes on and off.
Previous research has shown that RORA is important for development of the cerebellum and that the brains of people with autism expressed less of it than normal. Mice that likewise express less RORA than normal display symptoms that resemble autism in humans, such as repetitive behaviours and deficits in spatial learning.
To find out how RORA is affected by hormones, Hu's team bathed human brain cells expressing the gene in either oestradiol – a form of the major female sex hormone oestrogen – or the male sex hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is derived from testosterone. They found that oestradiol enhanced the gene's expression, whereas DHT suppressed it.
The team also discovered that RORA regulates another gene which controls aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to oestrogen. If RORA is under-expressed, then aromatase cannot function properly and testosterone will accumulate.
In a whole organism, this excess testosterone may in turn further repress the expression of RORA, making matters worse.
Elevated levels of testosterone in the womb are thought to contribute to the development of autism. However, if the RORA gene is faulty in a female fetus, it would be less susceptible to a build-up of testosterone because the fetus has higher levels of oestrogen to begin with. What's more, female sex hormones are likely to promote any RORA that is expressed, rather than further repress it.
"For a long time elevated fetal testosterone has been a proposed as risk factor for autism, but the problem is that there has been no molecular explanation," says Hu. "Now we have evidence for a really exacerbating situation. What we have identified is an inhibitory feedback loop. That is what makes this so fascinating."
Brett Abrahams, who studies autism at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says the study is "very cool". He says that the commonness of autism in males is one of the key and unexplored areas of research into the condition.
"Elaborating a means of exploring this question is really to [this team's] credit. They have made an important contribution because although there have been previous attempts to look at relationship between genes known to modulate sex differences and autism, not much has come out of that."
Joseph Buxbaum at the Seaver Autism Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is also impressed by the study, but cautions that there is still limited evidence for the "extreme male brain" hypothesis. Furthermore, he says, the nature of autism varies from person to person: "It is very unlikely there will be a single pathway."
Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017116
Friday, February 11, 2011
The breath sensor, developed by Siemens, measures telltale rise in levels of nitrogen monoxide. NO is produced naturally in the body, and can signal the beginnings of inflammation in the bronchial tubes. If unchecked, the inflammation will constrict the airways and trigger an asthma attack.
"Nitrogen monoxide (in the breath) indicates that the bronchial system is inflamed," says Siemens's Maximilian Fleischer, who helped develop the sensor. "This means there is danger of an upcoming asthma attack."
The sensor can detect levels of NO in the breath as low as 1 part per billion, but the higher the level the more severe the impending attack may be.
When the user breathes into the device's mouthpiece, the air first passes over a potassium permanganate catalyst, which converts any NO present into NO2. The air then flows over a film containing phthalocyanin, a blue dye which binds to the NO2 molecules, so that they stick to the surface of the film. This generates a voltage, which is detected by an underlying transistor. The strength of the voltage depends on the amount of NO2 present, which in turn equates to the NO levels and hence inflammation.
Peter Barnes of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London says: "I think it will work, but it will probably be of most benefit to people with unstable asthma, who have unexpected attacks quite frequently, and they may have to take measurements quite often."
“Generally, students who get a poor start in reading rarely catch up. In fact, second grade is often their last chance to learn to read. If by third grade they read below grade level, students have ‘little chance of ever catching up.’ Thus, early intervention is critical. When early intervention is not provided, struggling readers make little, if any, progress, often resulting in grade retention, which exacerbates their problems. Over the long term, grade retention does not typically increase student performance. It may even damage students’ chances of academic and social success. Clearly, it is one of the most powerful predictors of school dropout. Early intervention—intervention that is focused, intensive, and implemented by knowledgeable, skilled practitioners—is an essential key to preventing grade retention and strengthening students’ academic achievement” (Bowman-Perrott, 2010, p. 1, references omitted).
“Small gaps in reading abilities at the elementary school level often become large ones at the middle and high school levels. The term Matthew effect can describe this phenomenon—students who are behind in reading get further behind, and those who are making gains continue to make gains” (Bowman-Perrott, Herrera, & Murry, 2010, p. 98, references omitted).
Bowman-Perrott, L. (2010). Introduction to grade retention among struggling readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 26, 1-3.
Bowman-Perrott, L. J., Herrera, S., & Murry, K. (2010) Reading difficulties and grade retention: What’s the connection for English Language Learners?, Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 26: 1, 91-107.
“In this era of increased testing and expanding high stakes accountability systems, we need to remember the purpose for assessment. We want our schools to improve, and for this to happen, we have to do better at helping kids learn. Some of the tests teachers administer cannot help them much in this effort. Standardized measures (like those administered by states) and the outcome measures required under the No Child Left Behind law fall into this category. They are designed more to measure student achievement levels than to guide classroom instruction” (Santi, York, Foorman, & Francis, 2010, p. 1).
General Weaknesses of Standardized Reading Tests
But can individually administered standardized tests that compare children to one another—called norm-referenced tests—tell parents and teachers what children can and cannot easily read and what tasks and level of instruction will challenge but not frustrate them? Despite publishers’ claims, generally no. Here are two of many reasons:
- Norm referenced tests usually have children complete tasks that differ greatly from what they’re asked to do in school or in real life situations. Rather than having children spell words, they’re asked to circle the correctly spelled words. Recognizing a word is easier than spelling one. And just because children can recognize the correct spelling of a word does not mean they can reproduce it from memory.
- Norm-referenced tests usually have children complete tasks that are much shorter than those they have to do in school or in real life situations. On a test, children may be asked to answer questions after reading paragraphs that average only 30 or so words. In school, they have to read and comprehend much longer selections, selections that may average several hundred words. In line with this, here’s are some of the concerns and recommendations that Dr. Antonia D’Onofrio and I published about a widely used standardized test that we thought was pretty good: “Like all standardized tests, however, [The Woodcock Johnson-Diagnostic Reading Battery-III (WJ-III-DRB)] should not be used alone. It needs to be supplemented by other quality measures of reading ability, especially measures that more accurately reflect the reading demands placed on students (e.g., the need to comprehend lengthier, more complex reading materials)…. Together with tests that more closely approximate typical reading activities, a knowledgeable, informed examiner—who engages in diagnostic teaching, who observes the subjects in different instructional situations, who is familiar with the local reading curriculum and the skills and orientations of the instructors, who arranges to have the subject’s reading progress carefully monitored—should be able to use the WJ-III-DRB to gather the information needed to help many students improve their reading abilities. … But like a carpenter who needs far more than a hammer to build a house, examiners will need far more than the WJ-III-DRB to fully understand a student’s reading abilities” (Margolis & D’Onofrio, 2007, p. 871)
Instructional Utility of Standardized Reading Tests
One of the most important reasons for testing reading is to determine what the child needs to learn to advance. Here too, standardized tests are generally inadequate. As Carnine and his colleagues wrote:
- An even greater disadvantage of norm-referenced tests is that they provide little information about how to instruct a student. That is, a percentile or grade equivalent score does not really indicate where to place a student in a commercial program or what a student’s skill deficits are. (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1997, p. 43)
The Best Test
So, which test is best? Which are good?
It always depends on your purpose—what questions you want answered. (See chapters 4 and 5 of Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds, www.reading2008.com). Moreover, the value of test scores always depends on the quality of the evaluators:
- Too often examiners forget the dictum that ‘tests don’t diagnose, people do’ and base their diagnoses exclusively on test results, a hazardous enterprise at best. Test results are merely observations, not diagnoses. They specify a performance level at a given time under a particular situation, but they do not tell the examiner why a person performed as he or she did…. The questions concerning the why of test performance are the very essence of diagnosis, and they can be answered only by an insightful, competent test examiner. Test results make useful contributions to a diagnosis, but in the end, practical diagnoses rest on the clinical skills and experience of examiners. Test results are merely aids to clinical judgment. (Hammill & Newcomer, 1997, p. 40)
For information on using reading evaluations to help your child, see chapter 5 of Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds (www.reading2008.com).
Novelty refers to anything new that’s slightly different from what children have previously liked and succeeded on.
If, for example, they enjoyed completing 100-piece puzzles of cartoon characters, let them choose 125-piece puzzles of familiar animals.
If they enjoyed reading articles about current baseball teams, let them choose to read one of several books, with attractive covers, about the history of baseball.
As they routinely achieve success, expand their choices. Instead of puzzles, introduce them to model making. Instead of baseball books, have them listen to stories about the hobbies of famous people; then encourage them to read a book about one of these people.
Which book? Their choice. And if you want to introduce a new concept, arouse children’s curiosity with a new, novel magic trick or two, which illustrates the concept. But be sure the trick and concept are not so removed from their experiences that they’ll get frustrated.
Is there a sound basis for recommending novelty and choice? Clearly, yes. So, if your child is not motivated to read or do other school work, and his program is at the right level of difficulty, but ignores novelty and choice, you might want to share the quotes below with his tutors, teachers, or Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team:
- Novelty. What text features “arouse situational interest and promote text comprehension and recall [?]: personal relevance, novelty, activity level, and comprehensibility.” (Eccles &Wigfield, 2002, p. 115)
- Novelty. People [including children] seek novel situations and situations that challenge their current skill levels or understanding, and then they strive to achieve mastery to conquer the challenge and experience feelings of competence or understanding. (Stipek, 1998, p. 122)
- Choice. Almost all motivation theories suggest . . . choice increases motivation (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002, p. 298).
- Choice. Choice produced an effect size of 0.95 on motivation for reading and 1.20 on reading achievement and comprehension. (Margolis & McCabe, 2004, p. 249; referring to Guthrie & Humenick) [These statistics show that choice can powerfully affect motivation for reading, reading achievement, and comprehension.]
Differentiated Instruction and Teaching Children with Learning Disabilities
By Janet W. Lerner and Frank Kline
Editors of Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal
The US. Department of Education (2008) reports that 87% of students with learning disabilities receive instruction in general education classes. This number includes both students whose educational placement is in the general education classroom for most of the day (52%) and students who are both in a resource room for part of the day and in a general education classroom for the balance of the day (35%).
General education teachers are often stymied when instruction designed for the general education student does not meet the needs of students with learning disabilities. These students need a different kind of instruction. Differentiated Instruction is recommended to general education teachers as one method to teach students with learning disabilities and other special learning needs in general education classes (Tomlinson, Brimijoin and Narvaez, 2008; Tomlinson, 2001).
It is interesting to note the many similarities between differentiated instruction and the philosophy and strategies for teaching special education students.
The term differentiated instruction reflects a philosophy of teaching that enables teachers to reach the unique needs of each student, capitalizing on the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Differentiated instruction embodies some of the qualities of special education teaching in the general education classroom.
Advocates of differentiated instruction note that one of the biggest mistakes we make in teaching is to treat everyone equally when it comes to learning. With the recognition that not all students are alike, differentiated instruction applies an approach to teaching and learning that gives students multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas.
Differentiated instruction recognizes that a one-size-fits-all curriculum simply will not work for all children. Children process information differently; some form images, others form words, and others form sentences.
Differentiated instruction takes their individual needs into account with teaching that responds to their personal talents, interests, varying background knowledge, and distinct experiences. In differentiated instruction, the teacher seeks to find the special methods that will be successful for an individual student to help that student learn (Lerner & Johns, 2011; Tomlinson, Brimijoin and Narvaez, 2008; Tomlinson, 2001).
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
“Our findings underscore the argument that–for the most part–attaining and maintaining a high social status likely involves some level of antagonistic behaviour,” said Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Davis.
The study, co-authored by UC Davis sociology professor Diane Felmlee, is published in the February issue of the American Sociological Review. It also finds that those students in the top 2 percent of the school social hierarchy, along with those at the bottom, are the least aggressive.
“The fact that they both have reduced levels of aggression is true, but it can be attributed to quite different things,” Faris said. “The ones at the bottom don’t have the social power or as much capacity to be aggressive whereas, the ones at the top have all that power, but don’t need to use it.”
Students’ popularity was determined by how central they were in their school’s web of friendships. The authors define aggression as behaviour directed toward harming or causing pain to another. It can be physical (hitting, shoving or kicking), verbal (name-calling or threats) or indirect (spreading rumours or simply ostracism).
In general, the study, which followed kids over the course of a school year, finds that increases in social status for both males and females are accompanied by subsequent increases in aggression until a student approaches the top of the social hierarchy.
According to the researchers, adolescents in the top 2 percent of the social hierarchy, where aggression peaks, have an average aggression rate that is 28 percent greater than students at the very bottom and 40 percent greater than students at the very top. Aggression rate is calculated based on the number of classmates a student victimised in the past three months.
“Aggression usually requires some degree of social support, power or influence,” Faris said. “This is mostly because students expect to see each other on a daily basis at school and any act of aggression brings risk of retaliation. Those at the centre of the web of social ties are, we believe, more powerful and may deter retribution.”
Yet, those students at the very top of the social hierarchy, who seemingly possess the most social capacity for aggressiveness–generally aren’t aggressive.
“If an adolescent at the top of the social hierarchy were to act aggressively towards his or her peers, such action could signal insecurity or weakness rather than cement the student’s position,” said Faris. “And, it’s possible that, at the highest level, they may receive more benefits from being pro-social and kind.”
Faris also acknowledged the possibility that kids at the top level are “somehow different” and “not disposed to aggressiveness in the first place.”
The Faris/Felmlee study relies on data from The Context of Adolescent Substance Use survey, a longitudinal survey of adolescents at 19 public schools in three counties in North Carolina that began in the spring of 2002. The Faris/Felmlee study is based on 3,722 eighth-,-ninth- and 10th -grade students who participated during the 2004-5 school year.
While the study focuses on a sample of small-town and rural North Carolina students, Faris expects similar results in bigger cities.
“I would be surprised if kids in New York City or LA were radically different than kids in North Carolina,” Faris said.
As for policy implications of the study, Faris said interventions targeted specifically at aggressive kids or victims miss the point.
“I would start by focusing on the kids who are not involved and work on encouraging them to be less passive or approving of these sorts of antagonistic relationships,” he said. “It’s through these kids who are not involved that the aggressive kids get their power.”
Monday, February 7, 2011
Though, resilience doesn’t come out of nowhere. These people learned somewhere along the way how to deal with problems and find value within life’s difficulties.
Why is resilience important?
Resilience offers protective factors against mental and physical illness, providing a buffer against stress, strain, and anxiety. When it comes to children, helping them understand risk factors in their life and how to face these competently is cruical to raising a confident and self-discplined children.
Resilience in children
A resilient child is able to adapt when faced with adversity and feels competent when solving new problems. They view obstacles as challenges to rise to, instead of stressors to avoid. From a parenting perspective we must show children unconditional love and support, and be a figure to help them grow and learn.
Here are a few building blocks for developing resilience and self-reliance in children.
Problem solving - Having a Growth Mindset
Resilience can be seen through Carol Dweck’s research on school children and their perception of intelligence and ability. Children answered a series of questions and were praised with different comments steering the child’s focus to either intelligence or effort.
“You must be really smart!”
“You must have worked really hard at this!”
The students were then offered a choice of doing a harder or easier assignment. Students who’s feedback was highlighted with hard work were willing to try the more difficult task.
The children who focused on effort were explained to have a growth mindset, where as children which had a focus on the stable nature of intelligence and ability tended to have a fixed mindset.
Someone with a growth mindset knows that learning takes hard work and practice, and is willing to put in the necessary effort to find a solution.
Someone with a fixed mindset on the other hand will assume that how they performed predicts a fixed ability. If they didn’t know the answer to a math problem, this means they aren’t good at math. If they aren’t good at math what’s the use in trying?
We need to help children have a growth mindset by emphasizing hard work, a willingness to try, and the importance of practice.
Responsibility and achievement
Help children to understand that behaviors have consequences and to learn to do things on their own. Don’t solve all their problems or give them the immediate solution. By letting children take an appropriate amount of responsibility they can begin to develop self-confidence and build self-efficacy through gradual success.
Helping children gain mastery from experiences plants the seed for ambition, motivation, and learning.
A few suggestions to help children gain mastery:
- Help children explore the what? how? and why? of their experiences
- Encourage and invite them to contribute by trying new things they can do
- Celebrate when you see success
- Always show respect when helping to learn lessons
Help children to understand that things don’t always go as planned. Being flexible and able to change is an important characteristic of resilience.
When a child is going through a life transition or big change, this can be a great learning opportunity to show how change can be dealt with and perceived in a positive way.
Help children to:
- Gain a perception of personal control over the environment.
- Try something new and understand there are many ways to solve a problem.
- Recognize that different environment require different behavior.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Much of the focus was on hand-held touch technologies, with everyone trying to compete with the ipad, but there were also some other interesting products which may not have made such a big "splash".
The BRITE Blog will contain news and reviews of these products over the next few weeks.
Dr. Mick Donegan who has been involved in research in this area for over six years summed up how far the technology had moved forward and gave several examples of users who had benefitted. Other practitioners including Janet Scott from SCTCI in Glasgow gave key advice on how, why and when to consider eye gaze technology for individuals.
There will be a chance to find out more about this exciting area and to try some eye gaze systems at a BRITE seminar entitled Computer Access for Students with Profound and Complex Needs which takes place in March 2011. To book onto the seminar click here or ring 0131 535 4756.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
When a Southpaw shakes hands, his left eye and the right portion of his brain are working hard to process the other individual, suggests a new study. The research helps to explain why hand and limb preferences exist across numerous species.
The predisposition, as it turns out, are tied to ocular dominance, or the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye over the other, according to the study, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters.
Ocular dominance, in turn, is driven by cerebral lateralization, which refers to how information processing is divided and coordinated between the brain's left and right hemispheres.
In recent U.S. history, the majority of presidents have been left-handed (Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, William Clinton and Barack Obama), but scientists haven't yet found a link between hand preference and an individual's abilities.
"At this stage we have no reason to think that left- or right-brained animals are superior or analyze information differently, except that it's the mirror image," co-author Culum Brown told Discovery News.
Brown, director of Advanced Biology at Macquarie University, and colleague Maria Magat studied the phenomenon in Australian parrots. These birds, like humans, have a tendency to use either their right or left limb more than the other.
The researchers recorded the eye and foot preferences of the parrots while the birds investigated small pieces of fruit and brightly colored wooden blocks. The majority of the birds showed a clear tendency to investigate the objects using either their left or right eye.
This eye preference was found to directly correspond to the foot that each parrot used to manipulate the food or block. If one of the birds focused on the fruit with its right eye, for example, then it would tend to use its right foot to grasp and move around the food. This provides a better view in front of the preferred eye.
Since the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere control's the body's right side, the eye and limb preferences also reveal which side of the individual's brain dominates, at least during visual investigations.
Genetics, combined with personal experience, likely help to control cerebral lateralization. Sulpher crested cockatoos are all left footed, and prior research on these birds found that they start off experimenting with both feet, but eventually settle on the left.
Read More: Hand Preference in Humans, Animals Explained : Discovery News
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
While we doze, our brain busily squirrels away memories. But not just any memories – it turns out that during sleep the brain specifically preserves nuggets of thought it previously tagged as important.
Jan Born of the University of Tübingen in Germany and his colleagues asked 191 adults to perform different memory tasks, such as learning word-pairs. Half were told to expect a test on the task 9 hours later, while the others were told they would have a different kind of task. During the interval some members of each group were allowed to sleep.
Participants who went to bed anticipating a post-nap quiz recalled 12 per cent more word pairs than those who slept with no expectation of a test. Furthermore, those anticipating a test also experienced more slow-wave sleep, known to be linked to memory consolidation.
By itself sleep did not significantly improve memory – participants who were not anticipating a test performed just as badly as one another regardless of whether or not they'd had a nap before the exam.
The results improve our understanding of sleep, says Born. "There is an active memory process during sleep that selects certain memories and puts them in long-term storage."
The study is "very convincing", says Penny Lewis, who studies memory and sleep at the University of Manchester, UK. "It looks like if you tell someone something is important, it gets enhanced more."
Journal reference: Journal of Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.3575-10.2011
Whatever the cause, biting is not a pleasant or socially acceptable behaviour and a child who bites is likely to be excluded and find him/herself alone and lonely.
Thankfully, there are many things that parents can and must do to tackle biting among their children.
Discover the true Cause of Biting
There are many reasons that children may begin to bite others. The first is a physical need. Young children may be teething, particularly getting molars, which causes pain in their gums and they find relief in gnawing on items – even others’ arms and legs!
The second is curiosity. They may also simply be interested in what others taste or feel like and have decided to investigate with their mouths.
The third is simply repeating the behaviour of others. Older children may be imitating a new friend who bites and they have decided to join in this new activity.
The arguably most concerning cause is aggression through frustration. This aggression is behavioural and because they can not verbalise, they act out through biting.
Of course, biting is a good way of getting what all children crave, attention. Some children bite because they quickly realise that it brings them attention and they figure that even negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Discipline Biters Immediately
It doesn't matter if children are biting as a way of getting attention, they won’t enjoy an interruption to their activities to be disciplined.
Parents who are dealing with a biter should call attention to the behaviour immediately by strongly advising children “No biting!”
If the child does not stop biting others the phrase should be repeated and the child immediately removed from the activity. At this point sending the child to the Naughty Step or Time Out is a good idea as it gives the child time to think about what (s)he has done.
Before being allowed back to their activities, children should issue an apology to the bitten child, and/or their parents, and be able to say to their own parent or carer what they did wrong and what they will or won’t do in the future.
Even if biting occurs frequently, you need to discipline a child and remove them each time the behaviour occurs, rather than save up discipline for later when the message of why (s)he is being disciplined could become confused or forgotten.
Parents should also not attempt to show children what they are doing to others by biting the children themselves. Not only does this rarely teach a child not to bite but it also reinforces the behaviour.
Apply some Basic Rules
When children bite others they often don’t realise that they are causing physical pain. Parents should explain this to children in simple language, for example by saying “It hurts David when you bite him” or “Stephie doesn’t like it when you bite her”.
Parents should also take this opportunity to explain the Basic Rules to children – that they should treat others in the same way that they would like to be treated – and remind children that this applies to everything in life.
Making this a family motto and reminding children of it whenever they misbehave will help them learn what is appropriate and what is not.
Children may begin to bite others for all sorts of reasons. Parents who are living with a biter should remember to discipline their child immediately when they bite others. Most children grow out of a biting phase on their own, but asking a GP’s opinion is advised if parents become concerned about this behaviour.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Dads who still haven’t given up video games now have some justification to keep on playing — if they have a daughter.
Researchers from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life conducted a study on video games and children between 11 and 16 years old. They found that girls who played video games with a parent enjoyed a number of advantages. Those girls behaved better, felt more connected to their families and had stronger mental health. Professor Sarah Coyne is the lead author of the study, which appears Feb. 1 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“The surprising part about this for me is that girls don’t play video games as much as boys,” Coyne said. “But they did spend about the same amount of time co-playing with a parent as boys did.”
The findings come with one important caveat: The games had to be age-appropriate. If the game was rated M for mature, it weakened the statistical relationship between co-playing and family connectedness.
The study involved 287 families with an adolescent child. Mario Kart, Mario Brothers, Wii Sports, Rock Band and Guitar Hero topped the list of games played most often by girls. Call of Duty, Wii Sports and Halo ranked 1, 2 and 3 among boys.
For boys, playing with a parent was not a statistically significant factor for any of the outcomes the researchers measured (positive behavior, aggression, family connection, mental health). Yet for girls, playing with a parent accounted for as much as 20 percent of the variation on those measured outcomes.
Coyne and her co-author Laura Padilla-Walker offer two possible explanations for what’s behind the gender differences.
“We’re guessing it’s a daddy-daughter thing, because not a lot of moms said yes when we asked them if they played video games,” Padilla-Walker said. “Co-playing is probably an indicator of larger levels of involvement.”
It’s also possible that the time boys play with parents doesn’t stand out as much because they spend far more time playing with friends. The researchers plan to explore the basis of these gender differences in more detail as they continue working on this project.
Padilla-Walker remembers the outcry from gamers two years ago when this study linked frequent video game playing to poor relationships with friends and family. Though she has a Ph.D. and expertise in analyzing statistical pathways, her most effective response to those critics is rooted in common sense.
“If you spend huge amounts of time absorbed in any activity, it’s going to affect your relationships,” Padilla-Walker said.
And that brings us to some practical parenting advice illustrated by the new study on playing video games with kids.
“Any face-to-face time you have with your child can be a positive thing, especially if the activity is something the child is interested in,” Padilla-Walker said.
Pediatric obesity has increased overwhelmingly over the last 20 years, with recent data suggesting that as many as 33 percent of American children are overweight and 17 percent obese. Obese children are at increased risk of becoming obese adults, thus making them susceptible to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The study sample included 795 children aged 0 to 18 years old, described as normal weight or overweight and who had tonsillectomy or adenotonsillectomy surgery. In 47.7 percent of patients, the primary reason for surgery was sleep-disordered breathing. The first group included three studies involving 127 children, whose body mass index (BMI) increased by 5.5-8.2%. The second group included three studies involving 419 patients, in whom the standardized weight scores increased in 46-100% patients. The third group included three studies with 249 patients, in whom 50 — 75% of the patients gained weight after adenoidectomy. Each study was designed with different definitions of overweight and a range of follow-up periods
“There may have been a variety of proposed mechanisms for the weight gain following adenoidectomy,” writes author Anita Jeyakumar, MD. “Children with chronic tonsillitis may have dysphagia or odynophagia that may lead to a reduced calorie intake. When the diseased tonsils are removed, the child then is able to consume additional calories. Parents may also feel impelled to over-feed their child when recovering from chronic illness or surgery, further adding to caloric intake and weight gain.”
Based on these findings, the authors recommend that dietary and lifestyle advice be given to parents whose children are undergoing tonsillectomy. Growth monitoring after surgery is key to ensure that catch-up growth occurs within healthy limits.
January’s edition of the journal featured a supplement on tonsillectomies, “Clinical Practice Guideline: Tonsillectomy in Children,” which has been mentioned in several news outlets. You can view that guideline here, http://www.entnet.org/Practice/clinicalPracticeguidelines.cfm.
Professor Eileen Munro also wants to strip Ofsted of the power to evaluate reports into the deaths of abused or neglected children.
And the regulator should scrap making pre-planned checks on children's services in favour of unannounced visits, the review found.
Prof Munro's report also stresses the importance of having a management and inspection process that monitors whether children are getting the help they need, rather than being a "tick-box exercise".
She said: "Everyone in the profession can think of meetings and forms that don't actually make a child safer.
"Whilst some regulation is needed, we need to reduce it to a small, manageable size.
"Professionals should be spending more time with children, asking how they feel, whether they understand why the social worker is involved in their family, and finding out what they want to happen.
"Placing a timescale on completing a form puts pressure on professionals which can distract from making decent quality judgments."
Her second interim report found that experienced social workers should be kept on the front line to supervise more junior staff.
It also stressed the importance of giving health, police and family support professionals easier access to social work advice when they have concerns about abuse and neglect.
The Munro Review of Child Protection was created following a number of high-profile cases in recent years that have highlighted failings in the protection of young people.
Baby P died aged 17 months in August 2007 having sustained more than 50 injuries at the hands of his abusive mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.
Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Professor Munro has identified areas where professionals' time is being wasted and children's needs are not being properly identified.
"I welcome her approach to getting help to the neediest children and families as early as possible, and recognising that child protection is not just the responsibility of social workers."
Prof Munro will submit her final report in April.