Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Medical device aids speech therapy

One out of every 15 kids has a speech impediment. When a toddler says “wabbit” instead of “rabbit,” it may be cute, but as the child grows older, it can be the source of cruel taunts and teasing.

What’s more, conventional speech therapy can take months and may never completely fix the problem. But now a new device arms therapists with a set of tools that can correct the problem with unprecedented precision and speed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dyslexia: Teacher’s hi-tech tools give hope

AN INNOVATIVE project set up by a teacher at a Scottish primary school has made a significant breakthrough in helping children with dyslexia.

A five-year study of pupils in P3-7 using computer programmes tailored to the needs of individuals has found children’s spelling ages improved by an average of 14 months and, in some cases, by up to 30 months in a school year.

It is now hoped the scheme, which was outlined at the annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association last week, can be extended to other schools across Scotland.

A hereditary, life-long condition, dyslexia is a spectrum of difficulties in learning to read, write and spell. One in ten people are thought to be dyslexic, with up to one in four of these thought to be severely dyslexic.

According to Dyslexia Scotland, if the condition remains unidentified, it is likely to result in stress and low achievement and self-esteem.

Fiona Lyon, head of additional support needs at Our Lady of the Missions in Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, used existing computer programmes, modifying them to the individual needs of her students.

After collating results over a five-year period she found it had led to a marked improvement in spelling.

There are around 80 dyslexic children at Our Lady of the Missions, a school of 750 pupils. Using the Wordshark 3s and Education City programmes, Lyon set out to establish whether there was any advantage in using intervention based on IT, rather than traditional methods such as worksheets and a spelling book.

Lyon said gains using traditional methods had been “marginal”, while success using the computer programmes had been “astounding”.

She said: “Information technology offers a flexible way for pupils to communicate, learn and be creative and can be a highly motivating method of providing opportunities to learn and have fun.

“Most classrooms are equipped with computers and an interactive whiteboard, so IT should be part of the pupils’ daily learning.

Lots of schools use Education City, but we use a facility which allows you to tailor-make activities for the children.

I created a bank of activities for the children, but it was pupil-led and they had to save their scores, so there was an element of independent learning.

“These programmes make children listen, sit up and learn. We have seen huge gains which are quite significant”.

Lyon said some children with mild forms of dyslexia were still going undetected.

“Mild dyslexia could probably go undiagnosed, but other more severe forms will definitely not go missed. Normally, you can pick up these children in P1.”

Lyon said her results showed huge improvements in the pupils’ spelling ages, with some increasing by 24 to 30 months in the space of a school year. But the gain was inversely related to the age of a child, showing that the method was most effective with younger children.

Dyslexia Scotland
Dr Margaret Crombie, of Dyslexia Scotland, said the East Renfrewshire project had been a “great success”, which pointed to how computers could be better used to tackle dyslexia.

She said: “Technology can often break down barriers to learning and be a motivational tool, especially for those children who have found learning difficult and off-putting.

Technology has infinite patience and a child can gain the learning needed to master tasks such as spelling that can otherwise appear boring to present-day children.

“Dr Lyon has systematically evaluated the benefits of such technology for learners and has achieved great success. Any projects where children can achieve the success needed to become successful learners are to be welcomed.

“Once again, early intervention has been shown to be vital for effective outcomes. To gain the best results, every teacher needs to have an armoury of tools to help with early identification and intervention”.

Scottish Government
Earlier this month the Scottish Government announced funding of £40,000 to help bolster an online teaching resource supporting pupils with dyslexia.

Launched in June 2010, the dyslexia toolkit is a comprehensive web-based teachers’ resource for the assessment of literacy difficulties and dyslexia.

Education Secretary Mike Russell said: “The Scottish Government is working to improve the life chances of all Scotland’s children and young people.

“If we are going to realise that ambition, learners need to receive support to overcome any barriers they may have to realising their potential.”

Check out more information on Teachers' Resources at the TES website

Timothy Syndrome: Brain finding sheds light on autism

Cells taken from people with a rare syndrome linked to autism could help explain the origins of the condition, scientists suggest.

The Stanford University team turned skin cells from people with "Timothy syndrome" into fully-fledged brain cells.

The abnormal activity found in these cells could be partially corrected using an experimental drug, Nature Medicine reports.

UK researchers warned the findings might not apply to everyone with autism.

Compared with the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide thought to show characteristics of autism, "Timothy syndrome" is vanishingly rare, affecting an estimated 20 people across the planet.

People who have the syndrome frequently display autistic behaviour, such as problems with social development and communication.

Because it is caused by a single gene defect rather than a combination of small genetic flaws, each making a tiny contribution, it presents a useful target for scientists looking to examine what goes wrong in the developing brain of a child with autism.

Ready for work

The US researchers used a technique developed recently to generate brain cells called neurons from only a sample of the patient's skin.

This allowed them to examine their development in the laboratory, and even use them to test out possible treatments.

They found obvious differences between neurons grown from Timothy syndrome patients, and those from healthy "control" subjects.

The healthy neurons developed into different subtypes, ready for work in different regions of the brain.

In contrast, the proportion of neurons developing into each subtype was different in the Timothy syndrome samples - more were equipped to work in the upper part of the cerebral cortex, and fewer in the lower part.

This meant there were fewer neurons equipped to work in a part of the brain called the corpus callosum, which has the role of helping the left and right "hemispheres" of the brain communicate.

These differences echoed those already observed in mice specially bred with the Timothy syndrome genetic fault.

In addition, the neurons were making too much of a particular body chemical linked to the manufacture of dopamine and norepinephrine, which play a significant role in sensory processing and social behaviour.

Dr Ricardo Dolmetsch, who led the study, said that the abnormalities found tallied with other evidence that autism was due in part to poor communication between different parts of the brain.

The team managed to reduce significantly the number of these malfunctioning neurons by adding a drug as they developed.

This, they said, meant it might be possible one day to treat this defect in a real patient, although the drug used was not currently suitable for children due to side-effects.

The National Autistic Society gave a cautious welcome to findings, but warned that they did not necessarily offer insights into every form of autism.

Researcher Georgina Gomez said: "Timothy syndrome is only one form of autism and so these findings only give a very limited picture of what might cause the condition.

"More work would need to be done to substantiate this particular piece of research."

The Refracted Alphabet Video

Refraction - The Alphabet from Jesse Zanzinger on Vimeo.

A brilliant visual experiment by Jesse Zanzinger. Refraction: The Alphabet — a stunning visual exploration of the alphabet, rendered in type refracted through backlit signage lettering and images on an iPhone, with voiceover by the late and great Richard Pryor from his Sesame Street ABC. Beautiful.

The 3D Alphabet Book - Pop-up Letters

We’re suckers for a good pop-up book, but Marion Bataille‘s ABC3D takes it to a whole new level.

Slick, stylish and designerly, it’s hard to capture its tactile, interactive magic in static words — you have to have it in your hands to truly appreciate it.

The Washington Post hit the nail on the head:
Does for paper what Claymation did for mud. It’s a three-dimensional, interactive, cinematic treat for the littlest fingers right up to the oldest eye...

Visit the Publishers website or read more and see the illustrations and videos: The Alphabet Book Rethought | Brain Pickings

David Sacks' Alphabets

A new book by David Sacks offers much more depth than the designerly eye candy the genre lends itself to.

Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters is an ambitious exploration of the pervasiveness of letters in everyday life, tracing our visual vocabulary to its roots in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Kanji characters and other ancient alphabets with rich illustrations, beautiful graphic design and typography, found objects, graffiti and more.

Read more at the Brain Pickings website

Natalie Merchant Sings Children´s Poems at Ted

Natalie Merchant’s absolutely breathtaking live performance at TED earlier this year, which, though not doing justice to her live stage charisma. The rich emotion oozing from Merchant’s voice as her melodic storytelling unfolds is just otherworldly.

Where Children Sleep: James Mollison's Poignant Photographs

Kenyan-born, English-raised, Venice-based documentary photographer James Mollison explores Where Children Sleep — a remarkable series capturing the diversity of and, often, disparity between children’s lives around the world through portraits of their bedrooms.

The project began on a brief to engage with children’s rights and morphed into a thoughtful meditation on poverty and privilege, its 56 images spanning from the stone quarries of Nepal to the farming provinces of China to the silver spoons of Fifth Avenue.
From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background.” ~ James Mollison
Perhaps most interestingly, the book was written and designed as an empathy tool for 9-to-13-year-olds to better understand the lives of other children around the world, but it is also very much a poignant photographic essay on human rights for the adult reader.

See more illustrations at the Brain Pickinfs website: Where Children Sleep: James Mollison's Poignant Photographs | Brain Pickings

A Book of Sleep

A lovely 2009 children’s book titled A Book of Sleep — the American debut of Korean illustrator Il Sung Na, whose beautifully textured drawings tell the poetic, quiet story of creatures going to rest.
When the sky grows dark
and the moon glows bright,
everyone goes to sleep . . .
except for the watchful owl!”
Read more at the Brain Pickings website: A Book of Sleep | Brain Pickings

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Actual '73 Giving Tree Movie Spoken By Shel Silverstein - YouTube

Shel Silverstein is one of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators of our time, his masterpiece The Giving Tree one of those rare gems of children’s literature with timeless philosophy for grown-ups.

Every Thing On It is a lovely new book of 137 never-before-seen poems and drawings, only the second posthumous anthology published since Silverstein’s passing in 1999.

A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web
Of silken threads and silver strings
To catch all sorts of flying things,
Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles
And specks of dried-up tears,
And dust of dreams that catch and cling
For years and years and years . . .

To celebrate the new release, here is a 1973 animated adaptation of The Giving Tree, read by Silverstein himself — a priceless memento of one of our era’s most wholehearted creators.

The Power Of Dyslexia about Famous Dyslexics - YouTube

This video is about  Famous Dyslexics. The Power Of Dyslexia video was created to help provide awareness around dyslexia. Thanks for watching!

Famous People with Dyslexia:

  • Albert Einstein is one of the most well know and respected scientists.
  • Tom Cruise is one of the top five US movie starts of all time
  • Charles Schwab heads one of the largest US investment firms
  • John Chambers CEO of Cisco Systems, Inc.
  • Henry Winkler from the hit US show happy days
  • Vince Vaughn is one of Hollywood’s biggest names in comedy
  • Jay Leno host of the US Tonight show
  • Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest US fighters of all time
  • Thomas Edison is one of the most prolific inventors of all time
  • Paul Orfalea is the founder of Kinko’s
  • Salma Hayek is a Mexican actress, director, and television and film producer
  • Whoopi Goldberg is a great US Actress and Comedian
  • Orlando Bloom is a famous English actor
  • Richard Branson billionaire founder of Virgin enterprises
  • Henry Ford was the inventor of the modern day assembly line
  • Winston Churchill is one of the greatest UK leaders in all of history
  • General George Patton one of the most popular US military generals
  • and many others…

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What is up with Noises? The Science and Mathematics of Sound, Frequency, and Pitch - YouTube

Mathemagician Vi Hart creates another brilliant stop-motion movie, this time exploring the science and mathematics of sound, frequency and pitch. From Pythagoras to the anatomy of the ear, Hart uses her signature playful hand-illustrations to reveal how simple mathematical ratios make pleasing melodies.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Co-Sleeping Ad Aims To Reduce Infant Deaths - YouTube

A controversial ad circulating in Milwaukee is meant to grab parents' attention to the potential dangers of co-sleeping.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at least 9 children have died in the city this year, possibly a result of unsafe sleep environments. The latest incident makes it the 10th on record.

Co-sleeping deaths are believed to occur because the infant is usually suffocated by a parent rolling over onto them, while sharing the same bed.

In an effort to spread awareness and get a discussion going on the subject, a controversial ad campaign shows a baby nestled in its parents' bed, with a butcher knife nearby. The tagline reads: "Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous."

The eye-catching ad, launched to enlighten parents over the dangers of sleeping with their infants, has sparked immense outrage among people.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Babies Learn to Walk like Rats

We may be the only animal to move around upright on two legs, but babies learn to walk in the same way that rats, cats, monkeys and birds do.

Francesco Lacquaniti at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy, and colleagues used an electromyograph (EMG) to record the activity of 20 muscles in the arms, legs and torso during walking.

They took measurements from adults, preschoolers, toddlers and even newborns, who take baby steps when supported and made to walk forwards. The EMG picked up two patterns of activity during newborn "walking": one pattern causes the legs to flex and extend, the other makes sure that they move alternately as the baby moves forward.

Things become more complicated by the time toddlers are taking their first steps solo, though. Lacquaniti found four neural patterns at this stage: the two patterns seen in newborns, and two more that control subtle movements, such as shifting the weight from heel to toe before the leg leaves the ground and making sure that the knee bends only after the toes are lifted.

Although even as toddlers we are beginning to move in a way that no other animal does, the motor patterns controlling walking in other animals are nearly identical. When Lacquaniti's team looked at previously published results, they found that newborn rats show the same two patterns as newborn babies. By the time rats reach adulthood they show the four patterns seen in toddlers. Adult cats, rhesus monkeys and guinea fowl also show the four patterns of toddling.

Late development
"During evolutionary history, nature didn't scrap the old hardware," says Lacquaniti. "Instead it was modified and tuned to adapt to our needs."

Human adults differ, though. By adulthood, the four phases have changed subtly in a way not seen in other animals. This might allow us to accommodate complicated arm movements such as grasping objects as we walk, Lacquaniti says.

The results make sense, thinks Sten Grillner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. We might appear to stand apart from the rest of the animal kingdom because of our unusual posture and the fact that babies take so long to learn to walk – but it's all a matter of perspective.

"In fact, the reason humans take so long before starting to walk is that the human baby is born very early in the maturation process," Grillner says. "If age is measured from conception rather than birth, the relationship between brain size and walking age is linear, and humans follow this relationship closely."

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1210617

University of Michigan website: Dyslexia and Reading Problems

What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a complex language problem. It has to do with the way the brain works, not with vision.

It involves not being able to break a word down into the sounds that make it up, and not being able to write and think about the sounds in a word. Kids with dyslexia have brains that work differently to process language.

They have problems translating language to thought (in listening or reading) and thought to language (in writing or speaking).

How common is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability (LD); 80 percent of students with LDs have dyslexia [1]. It affects more boys than girls [2].

Why is early diagnosis and treatment so important?
When dyslexia is not found and treated early on, it tends to snowball. As kids get more and more behind in school, they may become more and more frustrated, feeling like a failure.

Often, self-esteem problems lead to bad behavior and other problems. When dyslexia is not noticed or not treated, it can cause adult literacy problems. By identifying dyslexia early, your child will get the help they need to reach their potential.
What if I suspect my child might have a reading disability?
If you suspect your child may have dyslexia, do not wait! Have your child evaluated. Your child should not have to fail for a couple years before being able to getting the right kind of help. You and your child's teachers can help your child overcome reading difficulties.

Read more on the University of Michigan: Dyslexia website

Aiding the Blind: Kinecthesia - Oct 2011 - YouTube

Two Students from the University of Pennsylvania have modified a Kinect to help the vision impaired to become more aware of their environment. The project is called Kinecthesia and functions as a radar-like device, but instead of using sound, the device uses the Kinect's cameras to map out the environment and translate it into a sensation the blind can understand.

Eric Berdinis and Jeff Kiske, juniors of the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Computer Engineering, has garnered attention in the 2011 Google's Zeitergeist Young Minds Conference with their application of the gaming peripheral.

The project was born from both student's final project for Rahul Mangharam's embedded systems class. The resulting device can be likened to a high-tech walking cane.

The Kinect is a motion detecting gaming peripheral produced by Microsoft. The device is used for the Xbox 360 which can interpret specific gestures and track movement of individuals or objects.

The device is composed of an RGB camera, an infrared sensor acting as a depth sensor and multiple-array microphone. It can perform facial recognition, voice recognition and gesture recognition.

Using the Kinect's multiple cameras, Berdinis and Kiske have made a harness that produces vibrations to notify the wearer of coming obstacles.

The Kinect is connected to a BeagleBoard, a whole computer in a single board, and fitted in a waistband or belt. The device is ran in Linux and 16 AAA batteries. Since it was still in development the device is not made to run for hours. There are six vibrating motors to guide the user and weighs 1349g as of now.

There are already a number of people hacking their Kinect devices for other applications besides gaming like 3D modeling, controlling robots and using motion capture to automate devices, augment reality, and even produce a low-budget CGIs for amateur movies.

It is great that people are experimenting and applying on technologies readily available for them. Will this open doors on new innovators? Does Microsoft see a new market for their devices?

The project's development can be tracked on their own website at kinecthesia.com. The website also contains the project source code, parts list and assembly instructions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Children with callous, unemotional (CU) traits - Neurological study

A Recent study reveals that a small number of children with a 'callous' attitude towards other children and adults may be suffering from a neurological condition that pre-determines their nature.

If this is diagnosed and proven to be the case, then it will dictate the way that parents, teachers and medical practitioners deal with the child's behaviour and will determine a more focussed solution.

Background: Children with callous-unemotional (CU) traits may have a particularly malevolent view of social conflicts and a pervasive insensitivity to others’ distress.

The current study examined whether children with CU traits have unique expectations and values regarding the consequences of aggressive conflicts and a ubiquitous lack of concern for others’ feelings independent of co-occurring aggression.

Methods:  Participants were 96 (46 males, 50 females) children recruited from elementary schools within an urban city.

Associations between CU traits and child reports of outcome expectancies/values following aggressive conflicts and facets of empathy were examined after controlling for aggression, academic abilities, and demographic covariates.

Results:  Children with higher CU traits were less likely to expect that aggression would result in victim suffering and feelings of remorse.

After controlling for co-occurring aggression, children with higher CU traits were more likely to expect that aggression would result in peer dominance, while children with higher levels of aggression were more likely to expect that attacking others would reduce their aversive behaviour.

Children with higher CU traits were less concerned that aggressive behavior would result in punishment, victim suffering, and feelings of remorse.

Moreover, children with higher CU traits reported lower levels of empathetic concern and sadness in response to others’ distress outside of aggressive conflicts.

Conclusions:  Children with CU traits tend to minimize the extent to which aggression causes victim suffering and openly acknowledge caring less about distress and suffering in others.

They are less intimidated by the possibility of being punished for aggressive behavior and tend to view aggression as an effective means for dominating others.

In summary, children with CU traits have a particularly malicious social schema that may be difficult to change using conventional treatment methods.

To read the paper published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry follow this link: Perceptions of aggressive conflicts and others’ distress in children with callous-unemotional traits: ‘I’ll show you who’s boss, even if you suffer and I get in trouble’

Trevor Eissler "Montessori Madness!" - YouTube

The previous posting inspired another animation, by Petter-Lipstein’s “fellow Montessori caped crusader” Trevor Eissler, based on Eissler’s popular book Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education

Superwoman Was Already Here! - YouTube

Superwoman Was Already Here! is an animated adaptation of the Montessori philosophy of education by Maria Montessori superfan Daniel C. Petter-Lipstein, who lists Harvard College and Columbia Law School as his alma maters.

I’m intrigued by a sketchnote-animated synthesis of the Montessori philosophy. Although, it certainly doesn’t help that the most famous RSA animation is actually the adaptation of Sir Ken Robinson’s now-legendary TED talk on changing educational paradigms, adding to the similarity of style a similarity of message. As always, be your own judge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dyslexia: Predictive text Tool - Penfriends

Penfriend's suite of literacy tools

Penfriend features a comprehensive suite of literacy tools and so much more! Penfriend claim to be able to support people of all abilities and ages.

If you have a literacy difficulty such as dyslexia you may benefit from tools similar to Penfriend, helping with spelling and grammar.

As well as predicting words when you type, Penfriend will read text aloud from websites, documents, in fact any Windows text-based program.

The Penfriend Blog

With the release of the new Penfriend Blog there are now video tutorials to get you up and running with Penfriend as quickly as possible.

If you’d like to contact or keep up-to-date with what’s happening at Penfriend then you can view and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Penfriend benefits?

Penfriend software claims it may benefit users who have dyslexia, visual impairment or physical disablilities, including Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease, Stroke, limb deformities and any condition which impairs the ability to write with a keyboard.

Penfriend also claims to help users to write faster by predicting the next word they want to type, allowing faster writing for longer tasks, promoting better spelling and grammar and encouraging users to overcome low self esteem and become more confident writers.

Features include powerful word prediction, on-screen keyboard, screen reading, lexicon editing and the ability to learn new words as you type.

You Decide
We do not recommend this product but simply provide the information for you to decide whether it is relevant and /or helpful to you. Be careful, take normal precautions and do be confident in the benefits before spending money over the internet.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dyslexia: Let Me Learn - Educational games & teaching resources

The creator of this site is a teacher and private tutor who is passionate about helping children improve literacy skills and maths skills.

She believes that time and time again the best way for any child to learn effectively is when they're having fun.

"Education is essential for a fulfilled life and the process of gaining that education must be fun and enjoyable because that is the best and easiest way for anyone to learn."

Let Me Learn sources children's educational games and educational resources for teachers from all over the UK for their ability to help children learn through fun and games.

The shop has been created with their customers' needs in mind. All the products are tested before they are put in the shop to ensure that they will be fun for your children.

The company claims they provide first hand detailed descriptions that you're unlikely to find elsewhere, to help you make an informed choice.

They also offer you a free newsletter where you can download free worksheets (many of which are tailored towards dyslexic children) and provide discount codes.

They have a special feature product called the Nessy Learning Programme with Nessy GamesPlayer because it incorporates much of their learning philosophy.

The company exalts that watching a child with Dyslexia and ADHD go from depression and tears to laughter and giggles whilst writing words and sentences with the Nessy Games Player, is an empowering experience for the child.

Their main objective is to ensure the customer's experience at this website is as enjoyable and informative as it can be and above all, that children are happy with the products you buy.

You can contact them directly if you have any questions.

Dyslexia: Letter Reversals - Bulldog demo video - YouTube

Let me introduce you to the Bulldog Letter Reversals, a downloadable games, worksheets and kinaesthetic activities pack for children aged 5-12 years.

The company claims that Bulldog, the adorable dog featured throughout this multi-sensory learning pack, helps children to learn and remember the difference between ‘b’ and ‘d’.

They also claim that introducing your child to Bulldog, will give him / her a strategy to remember the difference between ‘b’ and ‘d’ and in most cases it will resolve the problem entirely and you will have a happy smiling child again.

The company expects the Bulldog theme keep children engaged and motivated, helping them have lots of fun whilst they learn.

Check out the video below and decide for yourself!

“My students loved the games and materials! They would ask me ‘Can we play Bulldog again?’ Not only were the games fun for them, but they are confusing b/d far less now, and with more of the games (and flashcards) confusion will soon be a non-issue. The worksheets have also been popular with the children (and parents, for homework). Greatly recommended!”Debbie Took Primary School Teacher, Henley-on-Thames.

Check out the website  www.bulldogletterreversals.com

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Better Reading: Children's Educational Magazines in English, French and Spanish

Educational Magazines in English, French and Spanish for Children From 3 - 6 years, 6 - 9 years and 9 -12 years
"It’s vital that children’s reading development is supported at home." says Simona Sideri, Editor in chief. 

"Our magazines are designed with beautiful illustrations, stunning photographs and a variety of writing styles for children to learn and have fun!"

Click on the picture to view some Story Box contents
Click on the picture to view some Adventure Box contents
Click on the picture to view some Discovery Box contents

If you are a parent or a teacher who wants to make further enquiries about any of the magazines shown, you can visit the website here or if you live in the Netherlands you can contact Isabelle Lopez by email.

Isabelle is a charming and professional representative, speaking French and English, she addresses the needs of the International community in Netherlands via the schools and parent groups.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SAD: Take your light therapy, and stick it in your ear

Many readers in the Northern Hemisphere are likely already starting to experience seasonal affective disorder, appropriately enough known as SAD.

For those people fortunate enough not to be familiar with it, SAD is a mood disorder that is brought on by the shorter day-length experienced in winter - less sunlight results in gloomier people.

One of the most common treatments involves regular exposure to bright artificial lights, that appear to psychologically serve the same purpose as sunlight.

Now, one might assume that such light therapy would require that people see the light. According to the Finnish designers of the Valkee device, however, light also does the trick if you shine it up your ears.

The invention is based around the assertion that not only are our visual systems photosensitive, but so are our brains themselves.

More specifically, there are apparently 18 sites in our brains, where OPN3 photoreceptor proteins are located. These regions will supposedly react favourably to exposure to light, even when that light is filtered through tissue and bone.

The Valkee itself looks a lot like a personal music player, complete with earbuds. Instead of emitting music, however, these buds contain fiber optic lights.

By turning the device on and sticking the glowing fibers in your ears for about ten minutes a day, it is claimed that your brain will receive enough light to send the SAD packing.

Does it sound like quackery? A great deal of people would certainly say so.

Not among those people, however, would be a group of scientists from Finland's University of Oulu.

In two clinical trials, they had people with severe SAD use the device daily, for 8 to 12 minutes a day.

Afterward, when those people completed a BDI-21 questionnaire (a standard for assessing depression), it was found that 92 percent of the subjects in the first trial had completely recovered.

The information presented by the company is definitely somewhat difficult to sort out, although it appears that the results of the second trial were similarly encouraging.

A placebo group was included in at least one of the trials, to ensure that people weren't feeling better merely because they expected to.

To read more about the Valkee device visit their website

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Autism: Is Key in Too Many Brain Cells and Pre-Birth Development

A new autism study reveals that autistic children have many more brain cells than their typically developing peers, with brain "heaviness" seen while the baby is still in the womb.

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego Autism Center of Excellence studied the brains of 13 boys, seven with autism and six who were developing normally.

They found the autistic children had a whopping 67 percent more brain cells than their average counterparts, as well as having brains that were 17.6 percent heavier than normally developed samples.

Autism affects one in every 150 children in the U.S., and a new study by UC San Diego scientists indicate the roots may be found in prenatal development.

What do these findings tell us? The roots of autism, which affects one in every 150 children in the U.S., may be in having too many neurons, not too little, and that this dangerous overflow occurs, not during toddlerhood or infancy, but while babies are still developing in the prenatal stages.

"Too Much of a Good Thing."

Having so many brain cells sounds like a good thing, until one examines the area where this 67 percent increase occurs. The study focused on the prefrontal cortex, which specializes in social, emotional, communication and language development.

Having too many neurons, or nerve cells, in the prefrontal cortex may be what triggers autistic children's lack of development in just these areas. When the brain has too many neurons, something happens which resembles the tangled pile of wires and extension cords at most people's desks: wiring gets crossed.

"In autism, something is going terribly wrong with mechanisms that control the number of neurons," said lead author Eric Courchesne, Ph.D. If there's too much neural "wiring" in the prefrontal cortex, it might help explain why children with autism exhibit poor social skills and difficulty expressing emotion or communicating.

"This is a good example where you have too much of a good thing, it can be bad for you," Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a neurologist and autism expert at the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

"This is not consistent with the claims that heavy metals [from vaccines for example] cause the death of brain cells," says Wiznitzer. Rather than fewer brain cells causing autism, it would appear that the unexpected increase is to blame.

Small But Significant
This autism study is a very small one, and cannot be taken as proof of a pattern in autistic neural development. The study is significant however, for what it suggests, and what other sources were used for the study.

Courchesne's research suggests that contrary to some popular theories of autism, brain problems occur before autistic children are born, rather than during toddlerhood.

It also suggests that the bulk of autism's effect on the brain is felt early on, in the prenatal and perinatal stages of development, and not caused by environmental factors in infancy.

Read the full article here

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tourette's Syndrome: The nature of Tics and more symptoms

Tourette's Syndrome is a neuro-developmental 'spectrum' disorder. Tics are part of the disorder but not proportional to overall severity of TS in an individual.

Although often also referred to as 'Tic spectrum disorder', do not always expect to see overt tics in all individuals. Some motor tics will be in muscle groups that are not easily observed.

Motor and vocal tics are often suppressed or 'hidden'. Many older people are better able to hide their symptoms, an ability that is useful in order to negotiate 'social opposition' and prejudice by others.
  • Vocal tics: throat clearing/coughing, words/phrases/grunts/squeals & indraw/expel air via mouth/nostrils, tongue clicks
  • Motor tics: twitching/tightening/relaxing of any skeletal muscle group & face/neck/limbs/abdomen/gluteal muscles & also the diaphragm
  • Complex tics: sequential movements or behaviours. 'Complex tics are distinct, coordinated patterns of sequential movements. They may appear purposeful, as if voluntary' .... TSA. Complex tics may mimic meaningful actions or gestures. Some individuals are able to disguise or hide tics by incorporating them into behaviours that appear 'normal.'
  • Palilalia: Repeating one's own words or parts of phrases. Often repetition of the ending of a phrase
  • Echolalia: The repetition of other's or heard words, phrases or sounds (including animal vocalisations)
  • Palipraxia: Repetitive movements. An action may be performed over & over again before before compulsion/tic is completed
  • Echopraxia: Copying/mimicking the movements & gestures of others
  • Obsessive thinking and unwanted thoughts
  • Compulsive/impulsive thoughts and behaviours (may involve risk-taking)
  • OCD has traditionally been considered as a 'co-morbidity' however evidence suggests that the TS-related obsessive and compulsive behaviours that affect more than 60% of individuals, differ substantially in character and treatment-responsiveness to OCD.
  • Enshrinement: fragmentary phrases, words, sounds, music or thoughts may 'stick' in the mind & reiterate
  • Attention deficit and concentration difficulties (ADHD). Frequently difficulties with focusing on a single specific task. Tendency to take on many separate tasks simultaneously (taking on too much at once).
  • Depression is very common among those with TS. Clinical depression may be worsened by 'reactive' low-mood. The seeming 'exuberance' and hyperactivity of TS in combination with low mood has lead to erroneous 'diagnoses' of bipolar disorder rather than TS and may also seemingly mask the extent of any underlying depression. Self-harming thoughts can become obsessive and in some suicide is felt to be the only way of escaping from their condition so must be taken seriously. Risk taking and impulsive behaviours in TS must also be considered. In many cases it is difficult to determine whether low-mood is 'clinical' and part of TS itself or whether of 'psychological' origin as a consequence of dealing with the challenges of the condition and the reactions of others.
  • Thought-blocking. "Inner voice" distractions. Often referred to as "tics of the mind"
  • Speech difficulties: include stuttering, speaking loudly, rapidly, indistinctly, broken speech-flow, poor intonation and vocal tics. Repetition and perseveration. Poor reciprocity in conversation and initiation/commencement. Socially inappropriate or non-intentional speech content. Cursing (coprolalia), although widely thought of as characteristic due to inaccurate media portrayal and over-emphasis, affects few people with TS and is a rare symptom.
  • Difficulties in understanding or reading others intentions or in detecting deception (known as 'Theory of mind' difficulties). This is sometimes misconstrued as 'gullibility' or being too trusting. Many with TS tend to be quite 'direct' (open) and detailed in their own expressions of their thoughts, feelings and intentions, to avoid the 'ambiguities' they experience themselves in relation to understanding other people. Negative consequences from others reactions can lead to an intentional 'closing-up' or wariness. People with TS may over-estimate other people's understanding and ability to 'see' things that appear very obvious to them. This is perhaps a consequence of rapid, expansive and analytical thinking that appears characteristic in TS. Appropriate descriptions of the high level of cognitive activity that seems almost universal in TS are 'restless' and 'relentless.'
  • Recent research suggests that of the common symptom set (or symptom 'spectrum') experienced by post-adolescent individuals with TS, anxiety and panic attacks are the most troublesome and represent the greater part of the disability-impact than other symptoms. Previously attention-deficit, hyperactivity and obsessive and compulsive symptoms have been considered the most disabling and may be so for children.
  • 'Hyperempathy' - Many with TS experience intense feelings of concern and empathy for others (and for animals) which can provoke strong anxiety especially in regard to family and close friends. Such concern for their 'well-being' often extends to individuals who are unknown to them but whose plight has been reported. These behaviours may have a close association with obsessive-thinking. This is an area of TS behaviour that differs substantially from the apparent 'lack of concern' or empathy seen in some individuals with autistic spectrum disorders.
  • Non-verbal learning difficulties (NLD) 
  • Many individuals experience a lessening of motor and vocal tics as they progress into adulthood however the non-tic symptoms of TS may persist or can even worsen with age. There is a tendency for greater adaptation and compensation with age in suppressing/managing socially-relevant tics. This may give a false impression of resolution. As the individual ages they have a strong imperative to learn and adopt compensatory 'survival-strategies' to hide their condition as much as they are able. They may however incur considerable 'stress' due to suppression and social-vigilance.

Do You Have a Happy Child?

According to a Web site called the Baby Center (US) and Baby Centre (UK), a child's happiness in life can be shaped by a parent.

One may think that it's easy to make a child happy; just give him candy, just give her a toy and everything will be better, right? But that isn't necessarily the case.

One needs to give one's child the proper tools early on for creating a happy life but how can a parent teach that to a 5-year old?

A parent should be able to give a child enough space for free play. That is unstructured, unencumbered time to do what s/he wants without being told as to what s/he needs to do.

Your children are being told every day what to do; don't cross the street, finish your milk, take a nap, etc.

By allowing enough time each day for them to discover what makes them happiest, you are not only raising a happy child, you are giving him/her the skills to think him/herself.

This is linked to another tip from Baby Center, in which a child has to be able to solve his/her own problems without help.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't care as a parent; just let them figure out the little things: how to turn on a light, how to wash their hands in the sink, etc.

These small decisions will lead to bigger things such as how to verbalise feelings without throwing a tantrum, how to say what they want to say with kindness, etc.

The premise is; when kids are given enough freedom to understand concepts on their own terms they learn to be good adults.

Where does this leave you as a parent? You are still responsible for the connection between mind and body which means you still need to form boundaries through the food they eat, the time they sleep, etc.

Nurture the child, don't stifle them and you'll have an exceptionally happy child on your hands.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome: Coloured Overlays - FAQs

There is now widespread scientific research to show that both coloured filters (worn as spectacles) and coloured plastic sheets laid over text (known as overlays) can help some children to read.

We have a number of articles in this blog that look into this subject, on your behalf. Here is one: Coloured Overlays for reading  - To find more simply run a search on our blog.

This current article is for parents and teachers whose children continue to have difficulty reading after their vision has been checked by a qualified optometrist or ophthalmic optician.

NB: Optometrists cannot treat or cure Dyslexia but they can treat visual problems which may co-exist with Dyslexia.

1. What are coloured overlays?
Coloured overlays are sheets of translucent or transparent coloured plastic that can be placed over a page of a book so as to colour the text beneath without interfering with its clarity.

2. What do they do?
Coloured overlays reduce the perceptual distortions of text that children sometimes describe. They enable some children to read text more fluently and with less discomfort and fewer headaches. Each individual seems to need a different colour, so it is important to assess the effects of a wide range of colours.

3. What proportion of children can benefit?
In several studies, children in county primary schools were individually shown a passage of text covered in turn by a variety of coloured overlays, including grey or clear overlays for comparison. About 20% of the children found one or other of the colours improved the clarity of the text.

They continued to use an overlay of that colour without prompting for more than three months. They read more quickly with their overlay, both before and after they had become accustomed to its use.

4. How should an overlay be used?
The reader should place the sheet over the page, when reading. The text should be positioned to avoid reflections from the surface of the overlay caused by lighting.

The overlay should not be creased, and it is a good idea to keep it in an envelope when it is not in use.

Pupils should nevertheless feel free to touch the overlay in order to point when reading. If teasing is a problem, it may help for staff to explain to the class that the use of overlays to correct sight is similar to the use of glasses.

5. What are visual perceptual distortions?
Some people can experience distortions when they look at certain materials, particularly text. The distortions of text include blurring, movement of letters, words doubling, shadowy lines, shapes or colours on the page, and flickering.

These distortions are characteristic of a condition that some have called Visual Stress (previously Meares-Irlen Syndrome, Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome).

Coloured overlays are available from many outlets, either individually priced or in packs of 5 or 10. They are reletively inexpensive. Try Amazon for a sellection of providers.

Here is another example: Crossbow Education; a Dyslexia friendly retailer who will also ship coloured overlays.

6. How can visual perceptual distortion be spotted?
Visual perceptual distortion should be suspected in children who have trouble learning to read, particularly if they report headaches and eye-strain from prolonged exposure to the page. If the child reports any illusory movement of the letters or words, or glare from the white paper, then treatment with coloured overlays or filters should be considered.

One possible question to ask is: "After you have been reading for a while, do the words or letters do anything different?". If open-ended questions such as the above fail to provoke reports of distortions, more direct questions can be given.

The child can be shown a page of text, and asked the following questions: "Do the letters stay still or do they move?"; "Are the letters clear or are they blurred (fuzzy)?"; "Is the page too bright, not bright enough or just about right?" ; “Does it hurt your eyes to look at the page or is it OK?”. Reports of movement, blurring and glare are more likely in children who benefit from overlays.

7. How are visual perceptual distortions caused?
The cause of the distortions is not known with any certainty. Some authors have hypothesised that the distortions are due to a dysfunction, perhaps a hyper-excitability, of nerve cells in the visual cortex, an area of the brain at the back of the head. Individuals with migraine, and those with migraine in the family, are particularly susceptible to the distortions.

8. What is Visual Stress (Meares-Irlen Syndrome)?
The term Visual Stress is sometimes used to refer to the collection of symptoms and signs of visual fatigue when reading that are reduced when colour is used as therapy. Other terms are Meares-Irlen syndrome, Irlen syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS).

Unfortunately, the syndrome is not yet widely recognised by the medical and scientific communities, and there is no universal agreement on its name.

The symptoms of visual perceptual distortion in children with reading difficulty were first described by Olive Meares, but have been listed by Helen Irlen, as follows.

9. What are the symptoms of Visual Stress?
Some of the main symptoms are:
  • glare from the page
  • headaches when reading
  • sore eyes when reading
  • movement/blurring of print
(onset of symptoms varies and may depend on lighting conditions, style of text and quality of paper).
10. What are the signs of Visual Stress?
Some of the signs may be:
  • rubbing eyes
  • excessive blinking
  • poor concentration
  • inefficient reading
  • difficulty in keeping place
11. Which texts show a benefit from colour?
Overlays can increase the speed of reading, although with conventional text the improvement may only be apparent after ten minutes continuous reading when the child would begin to tire were an overlay not used.

If the text is closely spaced, the benefit is more immediate. Books with large text are less of a problem, and may not need an overlay.

12. Which children benefit?
The children who benefit may be good readers who tire quickly, but more often they have difficulty reading.

They usually suffer visual discomfort when reading and, when questioned, will often report perceptual distortions of the text. These distortions usually include apparent movement or blurring of the letters and words. Often there is a family history of migraine.

13. Does visual perceptual distortion relate directly to learning difficulties, or dyslexia?
Children with reading difficulty are more likely than others to report visual perceptual distortion, and to benefit from coloured overlays.

A smaller proportion of good readers also show similar benefits. Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulties with visual perception, but usually also have difficulties of a linguistic nature which need to be addressed separately.

14. Why can children have "perfect eye sight" and still experience distortion?
An optometrist (previously known as an ophthalmic optician) will report "perfect eye sight" when someone can see a letter chart without needing refractive correction (glasses), and when there are no (orthoptic) problems of co-ordination between the eyes.

The perceptual distortions may occur quite independently of any refractive error, although they are often, but not always, associated with a mild binocular vision difficulty (i.e. a difficulty in moving the eyes together, keeping the direction of gaze appropriately co-ordinated). In most cases the binocular difficulties do not appear to be the basis for the distortions.

15. Does visual perceptual distortion occur in families, and if so, why?
Many traits run in families and visual perceptual distortions are no exception.

16. Does visual perceptual distortion cause writing to deteriorate?
The visual perceptual distortions that people experience can affect all aspects of visual function, but they are more likely when the visual material has many similar contours (letters).

Text is unlike natural scenes in that it is composed of many identical elements. These are at their most confusing in small closely spaced printed text, but they also occur in handwritten work.

17. Do children need coloured overlays or coloured glasses permanently?
It seems that children benefit most from colour if it is offered as soon as any reading difficulty is suspected, before the cycle of failure has begun. Many 7-year-olds appear to use coloured overlays for a year or two and then discard them as unnecessary. This may be because the acquired familiarity with text then makes the distortions less distracting.

18. Can overlays or glasses harm the eyes?
Just as some colours are reported as being beneficial, others are often reported to be uncomfortable. Individuals sometimes show a marked aversion to these uncomfortable colours. Provided the appropriate colour is chosen, it seems unlikely that overlays can have any detrimental effect. The possible long-term effects of wearing coloured glasses are unknown at present.

19. Should coloured glasses be worn all the time?
In our view, children should be free to wear the glasses if they find it helpful to do so. They should not becoerced into wearing them if they would not otherwise do so, or bullied and teased so that they refrain from wearing them. The response to colour is subjective and individual, and the wearer is the best person to judge whether there is any benefit.

20. Should children with binocular difficulties who are undergoing orthoptic eye exercises or other medical treatment continue to use overlays?
In our opinion, overlays can be used regardless of any simultaneous eye exercises or medical treatment. However, since visual perceptual distortions can sometimes be caused solely by binocular vision problems, it is often sensible to have these corrected first. If the distortions remain then coloured filters need to be tried.

21. How long should overlays be used before coloured glasses are considered?
There are many factors involved. First, are the overlays obviously beneficial? If so, only a short trial period, say six weeks, is necessary, particularly if headaches have been reduced but not eliminated, and if untidy writing continues to be a problem. Under these circumstances glasses may further reduce the headaches and may well improve the handwriting.

If, on the other hand, the response to overlays is less marked, it seems sensible to see whether the child continues to use overlays without prompting for, say, a school term or longer, before considering coloured glasses. Coloured glasses are more expensive than overlays, and it may be wise to wait before incurring the cost.

Another factor to consider is the age of the child. It is often difficult to assess a child for coloured glasses below the age of 8.

22. Are coloured glasses necessary?
Children who persist in using their overlay usually find coloured glasses more convenient to use. Glasses can help with writing, whereas overlays cannot. The degree of precision in the choice of colour is critical for obtaining the best results, and the precision available with lenses is far greater than with overlays. Perhaps for this reason glasses often give better results.

23. Are glasses the same colour as overlays?
It is essential to realise that the appropriate colour for use in glasses is not the same as that in overlays.

For example, a child may choose a yellow overlay and benefit from blue lenses. The colour of the lenses can only be assessed by optometrists or orthoptists who use the Intuitive Colorimeter, or by the use of a very large number of coloured trial lenses. Other methods of selecting coloured lenses may be less likely to select the optimal colour.

24. Why are glasses a different colour from overlays?
When you wear glasses everthing you see is coloured, but you are often unaware of the colouration because you adapt to it and make allowances for it (for example, the colour of light from a normal household light bulb is very yellow in comparison to daylight, but you are never aware of this).

When you use an overlay only part of what you see is coloured and the eyes are adapted to white light. The way that the brain processes what you see in the two circumstances is very different.

25. What is the best method for combining overlays?
The best method is that which most efficiently covers the largest number of possible colours.

The Intuitive Overlays used in recent research4 were scientifically developed so that similar colours can be combined two at a time in a simple yet thorough way. If these overlays are used and all suggested combinations are tried, a wide range of colours will have been efficiently and systematically sampled.

26. How reliable is the choice of overlay colour?
When tested a second time, individuals may sometimes choose a different colour, but it is usually a similar colour. The choice of colour may appear random, but it is not!

27. What does one do if a child reports a large range of colours beneficial, but cannot make a consistent choice?
Beneficial colours should be compared side by side. If the choice remains unreliable, then one of the chosen colours should be given a trial for a period of a week, followed by one of the other colours.

28. Do children change their preferred colour?
Children sometimes seem to change their preferred colour. The reason for this is not known.

29. Does it matter if the child still sees areas of white page around the overlay?
Areas of white page may well affect the choice of colour. The conditions of the test should resemble those under which the overlay will be used. If neighbouring white pages are unlikely to be encountered when the overlay is used, they should be avoided during the test procedure.

30. Would it help children to work under lighting that is not fluorescent?
Schools are usually overlit by fluorescent and natural light. Care must be taken to avoid glare by shielding work surfaces from direct sunlight.

Complaints of glare from fluorescent lighting should be taken seriously; they usually result from real rather than imagined problems. In 80% of classrooms fluorescent lighting emits high-frequency invisible flicker that can affect some people, particularly those with migraine.

If headaches are attributed to fluorescent lighting, the individual should be seated where the fluorescent light is "diluted" by daylight or the relatively steady light from filament lamps.

31. Can adults be affected?
Yes. Although some people seem to "grow out" of the condition, many do not. The distortions may be less pronounced when reading becomes fluent and text ceases to be a meaningless collection of confusing shapes.

Sadly, visual perceptual distortion is often not recognised in children and many sufferers enter adulthood without ever having been treated.

32. What do I do to find out if colour might help?
First you should obtain an optometric examination. You should find an optometrist who has an interest in reading difficulties (see below).

The optometrist should assess binocular (orthoptic) function.

Next you should obtain an examination with coloured overlays. The examiner should have an Asessment Pack of overlays.

Several different packs are on the market with varying numbers of colours. The pack should include a wide range of at least 10 colours.

It is not sufficient to try the coloured sheets available from stationers, because the colours are not subtle or varied enough.

The examiner should listen to the client’s description of the distortions, and use this description when trying to decide whether a particular colour reduces the distortions.

One way of assessing benefit is for the examiner to administer the Wilkins Rate of Reading Test. The test consists simply of a passage of randomly ordered words that the client is required to read aloud as rapidly and as accurately as possible.

The words are all very commonly used and are therefore familiar to most children, even those whose reading is very poor. The words are arranged in random order so that the person cannot guess what words come next.

The text is printed in small closely spaced lettering so that any visual difficulty is maximised and affects reading speed after only a short period of reading.

The rate of reading words on this test is usually more than 10% higher with the chosen overlay than without in children who will subsequently make frequent use of their overlay.

33. How can I find an optometrist who has specialised in reading difficulties?
Optometrists (previously called ophthalmic opticians) can be found in most town centres. Optometrists examine eyes to assess their health and to determine whether glasses or eye exercises are needed.

A small but growing number of optometrists have specialised in assessing people who have reading difficulties.

A list of optometrists who prescribe coloured lenses can be obtained from the Society for Coloured Lens Prescribers.

Special needs teachers and educational psychologists also often know of local optometrists who have specialised in this subject.

34. What tests should I expect the optometrist to do?
The precise routine will vary from one optometrist to another but the basic eye test includes refraction (tests of lens focus), acuity (ability to see small objects), tests of the health of the eyes, and basic tests of ocular motor function (how well the eye muscles work together).

There are other tests that are not always included in the examination but are generally thought to be particularly important for children with reading difficulties. You can ask an optometrist whether they would do these tests before you book an appointment.
  • Mallett fixation disparity test at near
  • fusional reserves at near
  • accommodative lag
  • coloured overlay testing
Not all optometrists who have specialised in this subject have an Intuitive Colorimeter, but all should know of a colleague who they can refer you to if this further testing is needed.

35. Will there be a charge for these tests?
The NHS pays optometrists a small fee for carrying out a basic eye examination. As the tests listed above are of a specialist nature most optometrists have to charge a private fee for the detailed investigation of people with reading difficulties.

36. Where can I find out more?
The following books provide a review of research in this area and a theoretical explanation for the effects of colour
- for teachers and parents as well as eyecare professionals : Wilkins, A.J. Reading through Colour, Wiley: Chichester, 2003.
- for teachers and parents as well as eyecare professionals with an interest in dyslexia : Allen, P.A., Evans, B.J.W. and Wilkins, A.J., Vision and Reading difficulties, 2011