Thursday, March 31, 2011

Agile EYE: Israeli answer to dyslexia

Starting with the basic premise that the ability to learn better enhances one's quality of life, Jerusalem-based CogniBeat is launching AgileEye, a new Internet-based software tool to boost reading skills for children and adults with dyslexia and other learning disabilities affecting their reading, writing and spelling skills.

"Humans haven't been reading as long as we've been speaking or hearing, so the brain doesn't have a ‘reading center.' Each task involved in reading is distributed to different parts of the brain," explains CEO Larry Shertz.

For people with dyslexia, it is much harder for the brain to organise all the tasks involved. This is especially true with a complex language such as English, where letters often have varying sounds. 

English-speakers suffer a higher rate of dyslexia - as many as 10 percent to 15% - than do speakers of less complex languages.

Check out the full article here or at CogniBeat - AgileEye

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Testosterone reduces the empathetic responses in Women

Testosterone - Lauded by some and viewed with suspicion by others, few people have a completely neutral view of the hormone that separates boys from girls.

According to the extreme male brain theory of autism, the organising effects of testosterone on the brain in utero, and its ongoing shaping of social behaviors throughout life, explains why men exhibit more aggressive, risk-taking behaviour than women do.

It may also account for the social intelligence deficits of people with autism and the skewed gender ratio of the disorder.

A new study shows that even a little bit of testosterone administered under the tongue can cause a woman to show less empathy — to behave, in other words, more like a man.

This is especially true, researchers say, when a woman has been exposed to higher-than-average levels of testosterone as a fetus.

The 2D:4D Finger Test
One increasingly accepted marker of fetal androgen exposure is the 2D:4D ratio, comparing the length of the index finger to that of the ring finger on the right hand. In women, the ring finger is typically longer than the index finger, whereas in men, or in individuals with high fetal testosterone exposure, the two fingers are of nearly identical length.

Exposure to lower testosterone levels in utero, as inferred by a higher 2D:4D ratio, may protect men from prostate cancer. Researchers have also reported lower 2D:4D ratios in children with autism and in their parents and siblings.

In the study, researchers administered a single 0.5 mg dose of testosterone to 16 young women between 20 and 25 years of age in one session, and a single dose of placebo in a second session 48 hours later. The women experienced a ten-fold increase in blood testosterone levels 15 minutes after intake, with the levels returning to baseline in about an hour and a half.

During that time, the participants took a test of cognitive empathy called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which asks them to infer the emotions expressed in a photograph of a pair of eyes. Interestingly, 75 percent of the women in the study achieved lower scores on the test after testosterone than after placebo.

When the researchers compared the women's 2D:4D ratios, as computed from scans of their right hands, they found something even more interesting: the women with the lowest 2D:4D ratios (highest fetal testosterone exposure) showed the most significant decrease in empathy as measured by the test.

This may not be not a slam-dunk for the extreme male brain theory, but the results jibe with other studies that have found a continuum of social cognition abilities.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dyslexia: Understanding explicit and implicit instruction

When we talk about the teaching methods that work best for children with learning difficulties, we use the term explicit instruction and contrast it with implicit instruction. But what exactly do these terms mean?

Typical classroom teaching exposes children to words and reading materials without pointing out patterns in the reading material and without directing the students toward a specific goal. This is called implicit instruction and children who do not have language-learning problems will easily discover the patterns for themselves. But children who are dyslexic or have other neuro-linguistic challenges will not see the patterns or understand the purpose of the reading materials.

Explicit instruction, on the other hand, will offer the very same materials along with guidance on goals and expectations for the task, as well as examples, practice and feedback. With that additional framework and practice, a child with language-learning problems, such as dyslexia, can keep pace with his or her peers at grade level.

We might say that implicit learning is unconscious or intuitive, while explicit learning is conscious and directed.

The National Reading Panel, which studies the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching children how to read, suggests that explicit instruction can also boost comprehension for all types of learners: “…explicit or formal instruction in the application of comprehension strategies has been shown to be highly effective in enhancing understanding.”

Further information available from American National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Floating Dice: Optical Illusions

It may seem like an impossible construction. In this video, stacked-up dice seem to float on top of each other. They even appear to hover when viewed up close, until a hand appears on camera to reveal the visual trick. Were you fooled by the illusion?

This set-up, recreated by illusion fanatic Rex Young, is a classic devised by legendary illusionist Jerry Andrus. You may be familiar with the effect as it's one example of the hollow mask illusion.

When viewing a concave mask, most people perceive a convex face. It's our brain's most common interpretation of the visual information since we're so used to seeing people's everted faces.

The late British psychologist Richard Gregory studied the illusion and saw it as evidence for the top-down processing of visual information. Interestingly, a recent study found that people with schizophrenia are immune to the effect, raising the possibility that the illusion could be used as a diagnostic tool.

The dice arrangement was one of our favourite illustrations of this illusion, but we came across a lot of other examples. Have you seen a version of the effect that you find particularly effective? Let us know in the comments below.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Conversation Simulator for Adults with Autism

Simulated interactions in which adults with autism converse with a virtual partner may help them develop better social interaction skills, according to a novel study presented in  Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Click on the picture to download and view the published report.

More than half of individuals diagnosed with autism have normal intellectual capabilities yet struggle in social and work environments because of their severely impaired abilities to interact and converse with others.

Researchers published a report that adults with autism who participated in a prototype conversation simulation program responded positively to the experience, supporting the quality and usefulness of the simulation.

In the article, “Virtual Conversation Partner for Adults with Autism,” the authors describe a simulated environment in which participants with autism who are not otherwise intellectually disabled interact with virtual partners, are given onscreen dialog options, and are scored on their ability to initiate, maintain, and conclude a pleasant conversation on a variety of topics.

“Over the past two decades, simulations have proven effective at helping people with a variety of physical and mental disorders. This new application could make it so many with Autism Spectrum Disorder could function more effectively in the larger world,” says Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCIA, Editor-in-Chief of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, from the Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, CA.

Child obesity growing in developing world: WHO

The number of overweight African children under five has tripled to 13.5 million in 20 years, the UN's health agency said Wednesday, warning of a child obesity problem in developing countries.

Poor diet, low rates of breastfeeding and a sedentary lifestyle were largely to blame for the sharp rise in overweight children in developing nations, the World Health Organisation said.

In Africa the jump was from four million in 1990 to 13.5 million in 2010, an increase from four percent of the total under-five population to 8.5 percent, it said.

In Asia the corresponding gain over the same period was from 3.2 percent to 4.9 percent.

"The reason why children become overweight is because they are becoming more sedentary or less active and the food they have is exceeding their needs," said Francesco Branca, WHO's director of nutrition for health and development.

Children are given high energy food that is low in essential vitamins and minerals but heavy with sugar and fat, he noted.

"What we have seen in developing countries is that the offer of food is moving towards highly refined, industrial food which often have very high content of sugar and fat," Branca said.

The problem was compounded by a trend of lower breastfeeding rates, he said.

Poor nutrition among mothers also often resulted in newborns with a low birth weight of under 2.5 kilogrammes (5.51 pounds) who were vulnerable to becoming overweight later in life, Branca said.

"Often we have the combination of children who have low birth weight who become more easily children who are overweight," he said, adding "children with very low birth weight are less able to handle high energy density food."

The UN health agency issued in January a series of recommendations aimed at cutting child obesity, including a call on governments to ban junk food from schools and playgrounds.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Sense of self

Self-satisfied, self-absorbed, egocentric. It is sometimes disturbing to hear these adjectives being used to describe a child with autism, as they are used in Leo Kanner's groundbreaking paper, published in 1943. Kanner surmised that because children with autism show little interest in other people, they must be overly concerned with themselves.

In fact, individuals with autism struggle with their sense of self, according to a review published in January in Neurocase.

Adults with autism are less likely to remember autobiographical details about their childhood compared with typical controls, according to a 2009 study summarised in the review.

Biologically, this could be the result of less activity in the brain's default network i.e. connections that are active when people are at rest, and believed to be involved in daydreaming and self-reflection. Individuals with autism show weaker connections between regions of the default network.

In another study, people with autism show less activity in one of these regions, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, when replying 'true' or 'false' to statements about both themselves and others. They also show fewer connections between this region and others in the default network.

By contrast, they are able to grasp the concept of their physical selves, and have no problem recognising their own faces or describing their involvement in various activities.

Still, some studies have suggested that children with autism are only able to recognise themselves in mirrors, later in their lives. To put it another way, they are older than typically developing controls before they can identify themselves in mirrors.

Studies have shown that people with autism are just as interested in objects as they are in people. These and other findings suggest that people with autism have a unique way of viewing the world and themselves, one that doesn't fit neatly into the usual labels.

As we understand more about this worldview, we hope judgments like those made by Kanner will become a rarity.

Creativity and Art therapy

The idea that people with Asperger's, autism and dyslexia might be gifted in mathematics or engineering or mechanical pursuits may be difficult to reconcile by many but the suggestion that some people with autism might be creative or artistic should make intuitive sense.

A new study of 'divergent thinking' i.e. the ability to generate a variety of new solutions to a problem, in people with brain damage hints at why some individuals with autism and dyslexia may be highly creative.

Though this is one of the first scientific studies to address the phenomenon of creativity in people with autism, it adds some scientific support to articles in the popular press that posthumously diagnose autism in long-dead thinkers and artists.

A 2004 book, Autism and Creativity, kicked off this trend by alleging that Einstein, Freud, Wittgenstein and the artist Andy Warhol would all probably merit a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism.

Other researchers have made similar claims about Warhol, the composer Bartok, the poet William Butler Yeats and other luminaries.

Some individuals with autism are also credited with 'visionary art,' created by those who have never received formal training and who may suffer from neuro-psychiatric diseases.

Roger Cardinal, who coined the term 'outsider art' in 1972, discussed six case histories of talented visual artists with varying degrees of autism in a 2009 article. Some of their work is highly lauded and hangs in museums today.

In the midst of this, how do we reconcile the 'insistence on sameness' characteristic of autism with the kind of divergent thinking that defines creativity?

In the new study, researchers showed 40 people with lesions in different regions of the brain pictures of 30 circles drawn on a sheet of paper. They gave each participant five minutes to draw as many pictures as they could of meaningful objects incorporating one of the circles.

Participants with damage to the left hemisphere, which is responsible for language processing, turned out to be more creative than healthy controls, producing more pictures in various designs. By contrast, people with damage to the medial prefrontal cortex, a right hemisphere region involved in planning and decision-making, are less creative than healthy controls.

The researchers speculate that the deterioration of language abilities in people with left hemisphere brain damage opens up possibilities of non-linear, divergent thinking i.e. creativity. Though the study did not include individuals with Asperger's or autism, language impairments associated with some forms of the disorder might produce a similar effect.

The experience of a 15-year-old Oklahoma girl diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at age 8 shows that art can also be therapeutic. Before one of her teachers handed her a paintbrush, Amanda had trouble concentrating on her school work and connecting with her peers.

Art helped her focus and express herself, her mother told a reporter. Her paintings are beautiful and received a great deal of positive attention from her parents, teachers and the community at large. "Art was probably the best thing that ever happened to Amanda," her mother said. "It just changed everything about our life."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Extended Parental support in Teenage years

A new study from the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that contrary to popular anxieties about slacker young adults who refuse to grow up, or indulgent parents who stifle their adult children’s development by continuing to support them, there is evidence that parental assistance in early adulthood promotes progress toward autonomy and self-reliance.

Study author Teresa Swartz, “The fact that young people depend so heavily upon their parents well beyond the age when most people from earlier generations had already started families and had dependable jobs has triggered a great deal of public anxiety over whether these trends signal young adult immaturity and stunted development.

The larger social trends in delaying family formation may be one reason for the extended dependence upon parents. Today, the road to adulthood is much longer and more arduous than it was thirty years ago.”

The researchers collected longitudinal data to examine the conditions under which young adults are more likely to receive financial support for living expenses, or to live in the parental home.

Although almost half of the respondents received either money for living expenses or lived with their parents (or both) in their mid-twenties, only 10-15% received financial or housing help when in their early 30s.

The likelihood of receiving financial help decreased 15% each year, and the likelihood of living with parents decreased by 18% each year. Swartz, “These results indicate that young people do eventually become independent of parents as they grow older.”

Beyond the effects of age, young people were more likely to receive help from their parents if they were students or had encountered recent difficulties such as a job loss, a serious illness, or a divorce. Swartz, “Parental aid serves as ‘scaffolding’ to help young people who are working towards financial self-sufficiency and as ‘safety nets’ for those who have experienced serious difficulties.

In an economy that requires advanced education for good jobs, parents are more likely to aid their children when they are students. As the labor market offers fewer opportunities for stable, full-time, well-paid work for the young, parents often fill in when needed.”

The authors find that parental support tapers as young adult children take on adult roles such as earning higher incomes or forming families, regardless of their age. Lead author Teresa Swartz, “Forming intimate partnerships, in the forms of marriage and cohabitation, appears to signal to parents that their children have moved into adulthood and should now be on their own.

Although family formation is largely understood as a ‘choice’ today and not viewed as essential for achieving adult status, it does appear that parents and/or adult children themselves interpret family formation as an indicator that adult self-sufficiency is appropriate.”

The findings provide evidence that families are adaptive and responsive to family members needs and troubles, and that parents are more likely to support adult children, even those who are older, to help them get through hard times and to help them attain self-sufficiency.

The instability and rapid pace of change during early adulthood may make young adulthood a particularly vulnerable period necessitating a safety net more frequently than other stages in life.

Full paper available here

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vision Impaired Josh soldiers on with wooden toys

TOY soldiers lovingly made by a devoted dad are helping a little boy with sight problems.

Josh New had struggled to read and write as he found it difficult to focus on the words on a page.

The six-year-old, of Whitley Bay, had struggled to keep up with his classmates at Appletree Gardens First School in Monkseaton until he was diagnosed with binocular instability.

The youngster’s parents were so concerned that their son was lacking in concentration and complained of “words flying off the page” that Josh was taken to Keyes Opticians in Gosforth, Newcastle, where it was discovered he had the disorder.

To help his son improve his eye muscle co-ordination, his dad Sean spent time making a row of wooden soldier pegs – all of different colours, faces and heights – that Josh focuses on for at least five minutes a day.

That, combined with regular eye exercises supplied by optician Andrew Keyes, has enabled Josh’s vision to improve dramatically. He is now enjoying his reading and his writing is much better.

Sean, 40, said: “It is important that Josh focuses on something each day and because he is only young I decided to make the wooden peg soldiers for him to look at as I thought it would be fun.

“The reaction I received from Josh was great. He does his exercises and makes sure he focuses on the soldiers. Josh has coped well with his condition and is making great progress.”
Josh with his mam Joanne and dad Sean

Binocular instability is often linked to dyslexia and Josh, who has three brothers – twins Alfie and Toby, seven-months, and Jamie, 17 – will undergo tests to see if he has the condition.

The youngster is known to also have visual stress.

His mam Joanne, 37, who works with children with special needs, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to see a huge change in Josh. His reading has come on in leaps and bounds.

Josh soldiering on thanks to wooden toys - Chronicle News - News - ChronicleLive

Bionic eye restores sight in the blind: Approved for European market

Eric Selby likes his bionic eye. When the glasses are on his face, he can see. Sort of.

He can only see shapes in white, grey and black. But Selby is one of the first in the world to have an implant in his right eye. So how does he feel about his artificial retina?

But Selby told his local newspaper: “This might not be a life-changing experience for me but if it can help kids in the future then I think it’s worth it.” Selby travels to London frequently to participate in the clinical trial he enrolled in.

The company behind the bionic eye, California-based Second Sight, got a green light to bring its retinal prosthesis treatment to the European Market.

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System takes in video images from a camera.

It’s easy to wear, the patient’s glasses are made with an attached camera. The signals are then transmitted via pulses sent to the implant in the eye, where the signal is read by the retina’s working cells.

Now, the vision isn’t 20/20 or anything, but images in the form of shapes and light/dark can be sent from the chip to the brain’s optic nerve thanks to 60 electrodes that pick up some differences.

According to the company, the 30 blind patients participating in the implant study could see “large letters, locate the position of objects and the best could read short words.”

In case you are still wondering how the system works, the BBC described how the bionic eye system worked for patients at one of ten clinical trial locations around the world. Okay, so what about FDA approval? Well, that’s still pending.

For now, this bionic eye can only help people with retinitis pigmentosa. That’s a start for the field of synthetic sight…giving the blind a chance to see again. Perhaps, this bionic eye system will offer long-term solutions for patients with other types of advanced retinal degenerative diseases in the future.

Unfortunately, the whole system isn’t cheap though, according to The Australian. The implant, glasses, camera and battery will set a patient back $100,000… and the surgery could cost as much as $15,000.

Other companies in the space include German-based Retina Implant and Bionic Vision Australia.

A Bionic Eye Comes to Market [Technology Review]

Video: Bionic eye gives partial sight to blind [CBS]

Benlysta® - A Breakthrough in Lupus Treatment

Scientific advances at The Scripps Research Institute were key to laying the foundation for the new drug Benlysta® (belimumab), approved today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Benlysta®, which treats the most common type of lupus, is the first in a new class of pharmaceuticals that prevents the body from attacking its own critical tissues.

“I am deeply gratified that our scientific findings have proven so valuable to drug discovery,” said Richard A. Lerner, MD, president of Scripps Research. “This development underlines the importance of basic academic science in laying important groundwork for life-saving medical advances.”

Benlysta®, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Human Genome Sciences, is the first new drug treatment for lupus in 50 years.

Short-Circuiting the Cycle of Lupus
Benlysta® was approved for systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic, life-threatening inflammatory disease affecting the joints, skin, kidneys, blood, heart, and lungs. It is often simply referred to as “lupus” (although there are other types of lupus, including one that affects solely the skin).

Estimates of the number of Americans affected by sytemic lupus erythematosus range from 161,000 to 1.5 million, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Lupus can occur at any age, but first appears largely in 15- to 40-year-olds, the majority of whom are women.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which occurs when a person’s body produces an immune response against its own tissues instead of solely attacking foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and other toxins.

Symptoms can include debilitating fatigue, painful and swollen joints, fever, skin rash, and kidney problems.

The disease can also lead to arthritis, kidney failure, heart and lung inflammation, central nervous system abnormalities, inflammation of the blood vessels, and blood disorders.

Benlysta® (itself a type of immune molecule) acts by targeting a specific protein called B-lymphocyte stimulator, or BLyS, involved in stimulating the “autoantibodies” causing lupus and certain other autoimmune disorders.

Benlysta® is the first approved drug that disables BLyS, thus preventing the immune system’s destructive attacks against the body.

The Foundation
In the 1980s the therapeutic potential of antibodies — which recognize a wide range of foreign pathogens, then alert the immune system to the presence of the invaders — was widely recognized, as they are an important part of the body’s natural system for fighting illness.

But tapping that potential had proven difficult. Researchers at the time were working mainly with short snippets of antibodies and testing their effects through a slow and painstaking petri-dish process.

But Lerner led a Scripps Research team that made two critical advances to transform the field, ultimately leading to the discovery and development of drugs such as Benlysta®.

The researchers first developed a method of combining different pieces of antibodies isolated from human or animal cells into proteins long enough to encompass natural antibodies’ most critical portions — the parts actually binding to and neutralizing infectious agents or otherwise unwanted material.

The scientists dubbed this technique “repertoire cloning,” because it allowed them to build libraries of compounds that encompassed the full repertoire of a natural immune system.

This was a game-changing development.

Eliminating the Petri-Dish Bottleneck
But even with an expansive repertoire, putting it to use was a separate problem. It was a second key Scripps Research discovery that helped eliminate the petri-dish bottleneck.

In 1991, Lerner and his colleagues pioneered a technique for employing phage display to facilitate large “combinatorial antibody libraries” to find human antibodies that could be used therapeutically.

Combinatorial antibody libraries allow human antibodies to be identified directly by searching among billions of antibody variants taken from human blood samples to find those that bind to a particular target — such as BLyS — involved in a particular disease.

In this technique, the scientists hijack the inner workings of phages (viruses that attack bacteria). By inserting genetic sequences encoding active portions of antibodies, the researchers are able to make phages displaying on their surfaces the antibody of interest.

These antibody-displaying phage particles can then be tested en masse for their ability to bind to molecules of interest. Successful binders can then be purified and identified as a target for additional research.

With the British Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Scripps Research licensed the inventions to Cambridge Antibody Technology (now part of AstraZeneca) to facilitate exploitation of the technology for creation of new medicines.

In 1999, Cambridge Antibody Technology partnered with Human Genome Sciences, which entered into a co-development and commercialization agreement with GlaxoSmithKline in 2006.

While much technology has changed over the decades, variations of combinatorial antibody libraries are still a mainstay of drug discovery research. Commercialized throughout the 1990s, the promise of this method is now beginning to be realized — today with Benlysta®, tomorrow, Lerner predicts, with other life-saving drugs.

About The Scripps Research Institute
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world’s largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations.

Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and vaccine development, as well as for its insights into autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious disease.

Headquartered in La Jolla, California, the institute also includes a campus in Jupiter, Florida, where scientists focus on drug discovery and technology development in addition to basic biomedical science.

Scripps Research currently employs about 3,000 scientists, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students on its two campuses. The institute’s graduate program, which awards Ph.D. degrees in biology and chemistry, is ranked among the top ten such programs in the nation.

For more information, see

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Boy toddlers need extra help dealing with negative emotions | Science Blog

The way you react to your two-year-old’s temper tantrums or clinginess may lead to anxiety, withdrawal and behavior problems down the road, and the effect is more pronounced if the child is a boy who often displays such negative emotions as anger and social fearfulness, reports a new University of Illinois study.

“Young children, especially boys, may need their parents’ help working through angry or fearful emotions. If you punish toddlers for their anger and frustration or act as if their fears are silly or shameful, they may internalize those negative emotions, and that may lead to behavior problems as they get older,” said Nancy McElwain, a U of I associate professor of human development.

McElwain and lead author Jennifer Engle examined data gleaned from observations of 107 children who were part of a larger study of children’s social and emotional development and parent-child relationships.

When the children were 33 months old, mothers and fathers were asked how often their child had displayed anger or social fearfulness in the last month. The parents were also asked how they would respond to the child’s negative emotions in several hypothetical situations.

“We investigated two types of parental reactions to children’s negative emotions. One type of reaction was to minimize their child’s emotions; for example, a parent might say, ‘Stop behaving like a baby.’ Another type of reaction was punishing the child for these emotions. A parent might send the child to his room for crying or being upset, or take away a toy or a privilege,” Engle said.

When children reached 39 months, parents answered questionnaires about their child’s current behaviour problems.

Moms and dads who were apt to punish their kids for their fears and frustrations were more likely to have children who were anxious and withdrawn at the time of the second assessment. And the effect was especially pronounced for boys who had been identified as having a high incidence of negative emotions at 33 months, she said.

“When parents punish their toddlers for becoming angry or scared, children learn to hide their emotions instead of showing them. These children may become increasingly anxious when they have these feelings because they know they’ll face negative consequences,” Engle said.

The researchers are intrigued with the finding that little boys were especially affected when they’re not supported during times of fear or frustration.

“In our culture, boys are discouraged from expressing their emotions. If you add parental punishment to these cultural expectations, the outcome for boys who often experience negative emotions may be especially detrimental,” Engle said.

According to the researchers, parents play an important role in helping children learn how to regulate and express their emotions. This study, which gathered responses from both mothers and fathers, adds to a growing body of work that suggests that both parents are important in this process, McElwain said.

“When children are upset, it’s better if you can talk with them and help them work through their emotions rather than sending them to their room to work through their feelings on their own. Young children, especially little boys who are prone to feeling negative emotions intensely, need your comfort and support when their emotions threaten to overwhelm them,” Engle said.

Right-handers, but not left-handers, are biased to select their dominant hand

The vast majority of humans — over 90% — prefer to use their right hand for most skilled tasks. For decades, researchers have been trying to understand why this asymmetry exists. Why, with our two cerebral hemispheres and motor cortices, are we not equally skilled with both hands? A study from the University of Aberdeen in the UK, published in the April 2011 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex, suggests that the explanation may stem from actions that require us to use both hands at the same time, which may bias right-handers toward choosing their right hands.

Gavin Buckingham, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and his PhD supervisor Dr. David Carey, asked left- and right-handed participants to reach first toward a pair of targets with both hands at the same time and, immediately afterwards, toward a new single target with only their closest hand.

Just before they began the reach, subjects were given a short vibratory pulse on one of their hands, giving them a clue about where the new target would appear, and hence which hand should perform this second portion of the reach. On a small proportion of trials, the pulse was given to the wrong hand, which meant that subjects had to restrain the reach with this incorrectly-cued hand in order to make the reach with the correct hand.

The right-handed subjects had far greater trouble dealing with this incorrect cue when it was given to their right hands, making more mistakes and taking longer to successfully inhibit the reaches, almost as if the right hand was already pre-selected to carry on during the bimanual reach. The left-handed subjects showed no such asymmetries, suggesting that they are less inherently biased to select one hand over the other.

These findings build on a series of studies from the same researchers which have indicated that right-handers have their attention largely directed at their right hands during bimanual tasks. “One explanation for these data is that hand choice is related to hemispheric specialisation for speech and language” says Dr Carey. “Many left-handed people have “right-handed” brains, which weakens the typical bias towards choosing their dominant left hand.”

The cerebellum provides clues to the nature of human intelligence

Research suggests that intelligence in humans is controlled by the part of the brain known as the ‘cortex’, and most theories of age-related cognitive decline focus on cortical dysfunction.

However, a new study of Scottish older adults, reported in the April 2011 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex, suggests that grey matter volume in the ‘cerebellum’ at the back of the brain predicts cognitive ability, and keeping those cerebellar networks active may be the key to keeping cognitive decline at bay.

The study looked at 228 older adults living independently in the Aberdeen area, who had been part of the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947. This survey had tested Scottish children born in 1936 and at school on 4th June 1947 using the Moray House intelligence test.

The cognitive abilities of the participants were tested again, now at age 63-65 years, and their brains were also scanned, using a neuroimaging technique called voxel-based morphometry (VBM), to determine the volumes of grey and white matter in frontal areas and the cerebellum.

The most interesting finding from this study is that grey matter volume in the cerebellum predicts general intelligence. However, results differ for men and women, with men showing a stronger relationship between brain volume in the cerebellum and general intelligence.

It has long been recognised that the cerebellum is involved in sensory-motor functions, including balance and timing of movements, but it is now believed that the cerebellum also plays an important role in higher-level cognitive abilities.

“General intelligence is correlated with many basic aspects of information processing efficiency which I believe depend upon the functioning of the cerebellum, including the speed and consistency of our perceptions and decisions, and the speed with which we learn new skills”, notes Dr. Michael Hogan, first author of the study.

“This is exciting research, as it suggests that there may be a backdoor route into maintaining higher cortical functions in old age, that is, through the sustained activation of cerebellar networks via novel sensory-motor and cognitive activities, all of which I believe the cerebellum seeks to regulate and automate, working in concert with the cortex.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Helicobacter pylori infection linked to decreased iron levels in healthy children

Children without previous iron deficiencies or anemia who remained infected with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) had significantly lower levels of iron compared to children who had the infection eradicated, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

“Half of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori and most of the individuals are asymptomatically infected, according to several surveys,” said Victor Cardenas, M.D., Ph.D., lead investigator of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health El Paso Regional Campus, part of UTHealth. “What we learned in this study is not only does H. pylori cause iron deficiency anemia and iron-deficiency, but that even among children who do not have these conditions, their levels of iron are lower than otherwise healthy children.” The research is published in the March issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.

Researchers investigated the link between H. pylori infection and iron levels in non-iron-deficient preschool and school age children in El Paso and found the infection causes a decrease in the levels of iron in children who do not have anemia or an iron deficiency. The bacterium H. pylori infects the lining of the stomach resulting in chronic swelling of tissue, a condition known as gastritis. H. pylori is also a major cause of peptic ulcer disease and the cause of most cancers of the stomach, according to the World Health Organization.

“Iron is an essential nutrient which supports several body functions and exists in small amounts in the body, but it is also required by bacteria such as H. pylori,” said Cardenas. “The infection decreases the body’s natural progression of making iron.” According to Cardenas, this is the first study conducted in the contiguous U.S. to examine the role of the infection on the levels of iron levels in asymptomatic children.

Over time markers of iron stored in the body increased in children no longer infected. However, children who remained infected lagged in levels of one marker, serum ferritin, at their six month follow-up. The protein serum ferritin measures the amount of iron stored in your body, according to the National Institute of Health.

“Previous research has shown that iron levels correlate with several body functions including brain activity and have well documented long-term health consequences such as increased morbidity and mortality and loss of productivity,” said Cardenas. “There is a need to research the long-term consequences of asymptomatic H. pylori infections in those without an iron deficiency because the effect we found could be present among those with normal iron levels.”

Cardenas and his team used a previously tested therapy, which consisted of one antacid plus one antibiotic for five days, followed by the antacid plus two antibiotics for another five days. While previous studies resulted in high rates of success in eradicating H. pylori, only half of the children given the active medications in Cardenas’ study had their infection eradicated, a disappointing result, he said.

Cardenas questions whether asymptomatic H. pylori infections have any significant health consequences. “We want to further investigate if there is a relation between variations of the bacteria strains and iron in adults,” said Cardenas.

Members of the research team led by Cardenas included investigators from Baylor College of Medicine, The University of North Texas, The University of Texas at El Paso and Texas Tech University Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. The research was funded by the Thrasher Research Fund.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mobile Accessibility for Poorly Sighted - Demo UK - Android Market

This application has been designed for people who are blind or partly sighted but it could equally work with people with word or number blidness.

Visit the site for more information Mobile Accessibility Demo UK - Android Market

This application has been designed for people who are blind, partly sighted or sight impaired.

This is a fully functional 30 days evaluation version of Mobile Accessibility.

Mobile Accessibility is a screen-access application which allows people who are blind or have low vision to use an Android phone in an intuitive, easy and simple way.

Mobile Accessibility is two products in one:

- It is a suite of 10 accessible applications (Phone, Contacts, SMS, Alarm, Calendar, Email, Web, Where am I, Apps and Settings) which have been especially designed for the blind and visually impaired. They all have a simplified interface whose textual information is spoken using Nuance Vocalizer® voice synthesis.

- It is also a screen reader which allows you to get out of the suite and navigate the standard interface of your phone.
Please note that if you want to use the screen reader functionality of Mobile Accessibility you will need a phone with physical navigational controls such as a trackball or trackpad.

Inside the Mobile Accessibility suite of accessible applications you can do the following:

- Phone: Make calls, answer calls, hear the caller ID and manage your call log.
- Contacts: Manage your contacts, even those from social networks such as Facebook.
- SMS: Compose and read short messages. Manage conversations.
- Alarms: Set your alarms.
- Web: Full web browser experience, similar to what you can find on your PC. Jump by the control of your choice (links, paragraphs, headings, forms, etc.) to navigate faster to the information of your interest. Bookmark your favourite webpages.
- Calendar: Create, edit and delete a calendar entry. View all events per day, week or month.
- Email: Full access to your Gmail account.
- Where am I? : GPS application that gives you updates on your current location.
- Apps: Access the list of apps installed on your Android phone.
- Settings: Change ringtone. Configure feedback and notifications (vibration or audio). Configure keyboard echo, punctuation verbosity, speech pitch and rate, etc.
- Quick access to date and time, phone status information such as battery level and network coverage, number of missed calls and unread messages, etc.

Main Highlights:

- Touch navigation: You can use Mobile Accessibility not only with the trackball or the physical keyboard of your phone, but also with its touchscreen! Simply move your finger around the screen and the voice synthesis will read the text located under your finger. Or if you prefer, you can also swipe up/down/right/left and tap on the screen to navigate through the interface. And if you wish you can enable sound and vibration feedback.

- Easy to input text: In or outside the Mobile Accessibility suite you can use the touch qwerty keyboard as well as the speech recognition to write text quickly and easily. Imagine writing an SMS or an Email using your voice only... just great!

- Voice synthesis: Code Factory has been making mobile phones accessible to the blind and visually impaired for many years now, and we know that the voice matters... and a lot! For Mobile Accessibility Code Factory has partnered with Nuance® and Vocalizer® is therefore the voice of Mobile Accessibility.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Body Language: Kids With Emotional IQ Deficits

Most of the time our kids aren’t listening to our words nearly as much as we would like them to.

This is not news for most of us but our kids are more likely to be attentive to our posture, gestures and facial expressions and hearing the tone of our voice. This is particularly the case in younger children.

Albert Mehrabian
, author of
Silent Messages, conducted a series of studies and now claims that the percentage of communication actually sent through spoken words is only seven per cent. Meaning we need to be more aware of body language and non-verbal communications.

Over fifty-five per cent of communications with our children and with other adults, is communicated through our body language and thirty-eight percent is through the tone of our voice.

Unfortunately, this can put a number of kids (and adults) at a disadvantage because they lack the ability to read critical nonverbal cues so essential for getting along in life.

Michele Borba's blog post offers help on overcoming these deficits. Check it out!

Kids With Emotional IQ Deficits | Dr. Michele Borba's Reality Check

Distance Learning: Play Therapy from Counsellor Training

For more information visit the Counsellor Training website; Play Therapy

NB: This is not a reccomendation to buy this product, it is suplied for information only. We encourage you to make your own checks and research on the provider before committing to the course.

The Virtual College: Safeguarding Children with Disabilities

As part of my ongoing pursuit for knowledge and information to support you, my loyal reader and my clients, I have been looking at online and distance learning courses for Parents of children with some level of disability.

In that research I have come across the Virtual College who offer short online courses in plain English.

Please remember that I am not promoting or recommending these providers and encourage you to check that they meet your needs and are suitable for you and your children.

Safeguarding Children with Disabilities - Virtual College
Course Overview
In the UK there are approximately 1.2 million children living with disabilities (Families and Children Study, 2002).

This course aims to raise awareness of specific needs of disabled children in relation to their vulnerability and communication.

The course contains an overview of the national and local agendas in relation to children with disabilities, basic knowledge of the range of protection needs of disabled children and information on how you can enable them to communicate about their experiences and provide support.

On completion of this module learners will have covered these learning objectives:
  • Be able to recall some of the key legislation and guidance relating directly and indirectly to children and disability
  • Understand the range of initiatives focussing on disabled children, their siblings and carers, including their rights enshrined in legislation, government guidance or recommendations from disability groups
  • Be able to state what disability is under the Disability Discrimination Act and list the four main types of disability
  • Understand why communication is important, be able to name means of and barriers to communication for disabled children, and be able to describe how to ensure consultation and participation
  • Be able to explain how children from minority ethnic backgrounds could experience ‘double discrimination’ and how professionals can influence this
  • Understand the key elements that go into various aspects of child welfare, including transitional planning, multi-agency working, dealing with diagnosis etc.
  • Recognise how safeguarding issues fit into the process, such as the links between abuse and disability, the need for Sex and Relationships Education and how the disclosure of abuse affects parents/carers
Lesson Plan
  • Welcome and learning objectives
  • Context and Overview
  • Rights of Children, Young People, Facilities and Carers
  • Awareness of Different Types of Disability
  • Communication
  • Attitudes and Value
  • Transitions
  • Guidelines for Working
  • Safeguarding Issues
  • Abuse and Parents/Carers and summary
The content of this course has been independently certified as conforming to universally accepted Continuous Professional Development (CPD) guidelines

On completion of this course you will be able to download a Virtual College certificate.

Approximately 2 hours. The length of time taken depends entirely on how quickly you can study and absorb the material. You can proceed as quickly or slowly as you like, and there is no limit on how long you can take to do the course.

Target Audience
This course is designed for anyone who works with children, young people and their families.

Entry Requirements
There are no specific entry requirements for this course.

How it Works

£30.00 + VAT (£36.00 inc. VAT) Discounts are available for multiple purchases - phone (+44) 01943 605976, or email for details
For more information visit their website: Virtual College

Friday, March 4, 2011

Differences in Recovery Time From Attention Distractions

Differences in working memory (WM) capacity have been attributed to a person’s ability to control their attention, and low-WM-capacity individuals are thought to be more prone to have their attention captured by distractors.

To test an alternative theory, that high-capacity individuals simply recover more quickly from distractions, two experiments using psychophysical and electrophysiological methods were carried out to test the susceptibility of different personality types and their recovery times, following a distraction i.e. Attention capture.

Evidence was found that high- and low-capacity individuals were distracted or had their attention captured, equally by a distractor. But the high-capacity individuals regained and returned their attention to the target more quickly than the low-capacity individuals.

Authors: Keisuke Fukuda and Edward K. Vogel

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “The Omission Strategy” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Tiffany Harrington at 202-293-9300 or

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dyslexia: Video - Maintaining Self Esteem

All credit to Teachers TV for this video

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

iPad apps selection: Montessori-based learning for kids

Help your kids to learn on their own with this selection of fun and educational Montessori-based learning apps.

Montessori Crosswords - Teach and Learn Spelling with Fun Puzzles for Children
Montessori Crosswords uses word-image-audio combinations to teach young children (from ages 3 to 8) how to spell.

The app uses phonics and fun interactive visual effects to encourage and develop kids' reading, writing and spelling skills.

Three different levels of difficulty make it easy to tailor the app to your child's abilities.
Price: $2.99

Tam & Tao in Numberland HD - Learn numbers with Montessori
This beautifully-designed app takes children on a number-learning adventure through ten animated "Numberland" worlds.

The app is based on Montessori principles and uses creative and fun elements to keep children interested in learning the numbers from one to ten.

While exploring through the worlds, children will learn to write, count and say the numbers. Once your child masters the numbers in English, switch the language to French for an extra challenge.
Price: $4.99

Alpha Writer, by Montessorium

Alpha Writer uses elements of the Montessori Moveable Alphabet to teach children how to read, write and spell phonetically.

The app is divided into two sections: the Moveable Alphabet, in which your child learns to spell with phonics, and a storyboard, where your child constructs his or her own stories using a combination of images and words.
Price: $4.99

Approach to Montessori - Numbers HD
While the user interface might not be as slick as some of the other Montessori apps in the App Store, this app provides a low-cost option for parents eager to see if the Montessori approach is right for their child.

The app offers six different Montessori games including number tracing, number rods, bead stairs and number blocks. After playing with this app your child should be able to recognize, comprehend and write numbers from zero to ten and have a basic grasp of math foundations.

There is also a "power setting" that enables you to adapt the settings to suit your child's learning level.
Price: $2.99

A Montessori Approach to Math - Hundred Board
A Montessori Approach to Math - Hundred Board helps children learn to count from 1 to 100. The Hundred Board is an exact replica of that used in Montessori classrooms and provides additional lessons on counting with even or odd numbers only.

Children search for the correct number from the jumbled tiles to the right of the board, placing them in the correct ascending order in the shortest amount of time possible.
Price: $2.99

World of Dyslexia March 2011 Newsletter

World of Dyslexia March 2011 Newsletter