Monday, December 31, 2012

Can E-Readers Really Ease Reading for Dyslexics?

In a study released this month by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, for example, a team of researchers from the University of Padova in Italy reported that extra-large spacing between letters allowed a group of dyslexic children to read text significantly faster and with fewer than half as many errors as when they read passages with standard spacing.

Extra large spacing helps dyslexic children, explains lead author Marco Zorzi, because they are especially affected by a perceptual phenomenon known as “crowding”: the interference with the recognition of a letter by the presence of the letters on either side.

When each letter is given breathing room, dyslexic readers are less apt to get confused. (Interestingly, research suggests that the standard spacing between letters is ideal for normal readers: they read more slowly and haltingly when spacing is increased.)

Not only the spacing between letters, but the size of the letters themselves affects how quickly and easily dyslexics read.

In a study led by psychologist Beth O’Brien of Tufts University and published in the Journal of Research on Reading in 2005, the authors presented passages printed in progressively bigger letters to groups of dyslexic and normal readers, timing how long it took the participants to read each one.

The children with dyslexia reached their maximum reading speed at a letter size bigger than that required by children who did not have the disorder.

Even the font in which a text is printed may influence how readily a dyslexic is able to read. Last year, Christian Boer, a graphic designer from the Netherlands who is himself dyslexic, introduced a font he created to reduce dyslexic readers’ tendency to misconstrue letters like “d” and “b.”

Boer accentuated certain features of the letters in his font, called Dyslexie, to make them harder to confuse with each other, and he inserted generous amounts of space between letters and words.

Once, such innovations would have required the laborious printing of special texts for dyslexics. But with the advent of e-readers, creating a dyslexia-friendly document is as simple as changing the settings on a digital device.

Indeed, some dyslexics are already doing so—such as the prominent economist Diane Swonk, who has spoken about how she uses her Kindle to adjust the font and limit the number of words she sees when she reads onscreen.

Playing around with the size and spacing and look of letters isn’t a cure for dyslexia. But until science finds one, such manipulations can help dyslexic children read with more ease, and even pleasure.

Dyslexia: Signal Processing Disorder and the Brain

It is said that to participate successfully in life, it is important to be able to read and write.

Nevertheless, many children and adults have difficulties in acquiring these skills and the reason, is they suffer from dyslexia, which can have a variety of ill-defined symptoms.

Thanks to research carried out by Begona Díaz and her colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, a major step forward has been made in understanding the cause of dyslexia.

The scientists have discovered an important neural mechanism underlying dyslexia and shown that many difficulties associated with dyslexia can potentially be traced back to a malfunction of the medial geniculate body in the thalamus.

The results may provide an important basis for developing potential treatments.

People who suffer from dyslexia have difficulties with identifying speech sounds in spoken language.

For example, while most children are able to recognise whether two words rhyme even before they go to school, dyslexic children often cannot do this until late primary school age.

Those affected suffer from dyslexia their whole lives. However, there are also always cases where people can compensate for their dyslexia.

"This suggests that dyslexia can be treated. We are therefore trying to find the neural causes of this learning disability in order to create a basis for improved treatment options," says Díaz.

Between five and ten percent of the world's children suffer from dyslexia, yet very little is know about its causes. Even though those affected do not lack intelligence or schooling, they have difficulties in reading, understanding and explaining individual words or entire texts.

The researchers showed that dyslexic adults have a malfunction in a structure that transfers auditory information from the ear to the cortex is a major cause of the impairment: the medial geniculate body in the auditory thalamus does not process speech sounds correctly.

"This malfunction at a low level of language processing could percolate through the entire system. This explains why the symptoms of dyslexia are so varied," says Díaz.

Under the direction of Katharina von Kriegstein, the researchers conducted two experiments in which several volunteers had to perform various speech comprehension tasks.

When affected individuals performed tasks that required the recognition of speech sounds, as compared to recognize the voices that pronounced the same speech, magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) recordings showed abnormal responses in the area around the medial geniculate body.

In contrast, no differences were apparent between controls and dyslexic participants if the tasks involved only listening to the speech sounds without having to perform a specific task.

"The problem, therefore, has nothing to do with sensory processing itself, but with the processing involved in speech recognition," says Díaz. No differences could be ascertained between the two test groups in other areas of the auditory signalling path.

The findings of the Leipzig scientists combine various theoretical approaches, which deal with the cause of dyslexia and, for the first time, bring together several of these theories to form an overall picture.

"Recognising the cause of a problem is always the first step on the way to a successful treatment," says Díaz.

The researchers' next project is now to study whether current treatment programmes can influence the medial geniculate body in order to make learning to read easier for everyone in the long term.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dyslexia: Achieve your Aspirations - video

Role model Justin Hammond works for local government. As he was growing up, Justin refused to let dyslexia stop him achieving his aspirations.

He saw that other people with dyslexia were doing great things and he realised he could too.

"Think about what you really want and go for it. Don't let anything stop you at all"

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Adult ADHD: Denial in Adults wrecks Family Life

"My husband won't seek counseling or take meds for attention deficit, even though two of our kids have been diagnosed with it. His forgetfulness, procrastination, and inability to keep promises to our children upsets all of us." 

Many adults who live with undiagnosed ADHD do not understand the impact their symptoms have on those around them.

Your best bet is to start a polite and patient, but firm, campaign to help him understand how his actions -- inactions, in some cases -- affect you and your family.

It's important that you approach the subject in a noncritical, nonjudgmental way.

If you don't, you will make him defensive and unwilling to take your concerns seriously.

Communicate carefully with your husband. Broach the subject by saying, "I felt sad when we were late for Lydia's birthday party" instead of  "I was angry that you made us late for the birthday party."

Tell them, "I love you, but I feel I'm not getting enough attention from you to be happy" instead of "You never pay attention to me!"

Since your kids have been diagnosed with ADHD, it may be easier to get your husband thinking about the disorder as it relates to them.

Many adults, after reading books to learn how to help their children, see their symptoms more clearly and think about their problems in a new light.

Don’t make the mistake of taking charge of your kids' ADHD challenges without him. You'll miss out on an opportunity to discuss things with him.

ADHD: Medication addresses the condition not Motivation

"I take ADHD medication, and it has helped me focus at work and at home but it hasn’t helped with my motivation. I still don’t want to clean up or get organised. Why don’t meds for attention deficit improve my motivation?" 

Lots of people ask this question but believe me, it sounds as if your medication is doing what it should do -- improving your focus and your attention to detail, making things easier to remember, and making you more aware of time.

However, medication doesn’t necessarily improve your motivation, especially for doing the tasks that you describe. But don't be alarmed. Self motivation can be learned.

Chores such as this will probably never be fun. However, if medication makes it easier for you to consider doing a task, and to stay focused while you are working, you may find that, over time, you will become motivated to do things.

It will become a matter of developing a more positive mindset to tackle challenges instead of avoiding them.

Of course you can sit around waiting for that to happen, which I don't recommend. Better if you can take some positive steps to get support to increase your motivation.

There are numerous self-help books, motivational coaches and psychologists who dedicate their lives to supporting people with motivation issues.

In most cases it's not the task itself, it's getting 'started.' It may help to ask someone to get you started and then you can carry on regardless.

Make a written list or plan of chores and tackle them one at a time. After you have completed one give yourself a small reward; a cup of coffee and a biscuit, will suffice.

Mundane chores, like cleaning up, are generally boring for everyone, but you will feel accomplished when you have made the effort. 

You will be able to appreciate the benefit of doing it and see yourself as capable of accomplishing it. This will lift your confidence.

The feel-good thoughts you get will increase your confidence and willingness to perform other mundane chores and tackle other issues you normally avoid but never be afraid to ask someone for help, even if it's only to get you started.

Medication may be only half the solution, a more positive mindset is the other half and you need them both.

Work on your motivation by seeking support from online articles, books, family, trained experts or medical psychologists. They are waiting and wanting to help and support you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dyslexia and Reading PDFs: callas software pdfGoHTML

Callas software has released pdfGoHTML, a free Adobe Acrobat plug-in converting tagged PDF files into HTML supporting the ISO PDF/UA standard for universally accessible PDF documents and forms.

One simple click on the plug-in button converts the tagged PDF into HTML that is opened in the default browser.

In the resulting HTML different views can be selected to examine the tagging structure, have an easier reading experience or make the document more easily readable for people with visual disabilities or dyslexia.

Callas software, known for its quality control and document archival software, worked closely with its sister company axaio software when focusing its attention on tagged PDF.

Last year, Axaio software released its MadeToTag product, an Adobe InDesign plug-in to streamline tagging of Adobe InDesign files and create tagged PDF files.

Tagged PDF files are essential for screen reader devices helping visually impaired people or reading software for people with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

In addition, tagged PDF files enable substantially better indexing by search engines and a more reliable text extraction or conversion to other formats.

It is this last property of tagged PDFs that is used by pdfGoHTML to allow high quality conversion of tagged PDFs into HTML.

When opening a PDF file, pdfGoHTML immediately indicates whether or not the file is tagged and allows a one-button conversion into HTML in the default browser.

Users can easily switch how the HTML is displayed, to adjust it to their specific needs: browser default, structure tags, easy reader, inverted, low vision, and dyslexia.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Curiosity Gene and ADHD

If an urge to explore rises in us innately, perhaps its foundation lies within our genome. 
In fact there is a mutation that pops up frequently in such discussions: a variant of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward.

Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness.

Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.

Studies in animals simulating 7R’s actions suggest it increases their taste for both movement and novelty, it is also closely associated with ADHD.

The people who keep this spirit of playful engagement with the possibilities of the moment closest at hand, the Cooks and Tupaias, the Sally Rides and Michael Barratts of this world are the explorers and adventurers."

Restless Genes-David Dobbson how we evolved to explore.

Complement with Neil deGrasse Tyson on why we’re wired for curiosity

Childhood Bullying Has Long term Effects: Mood Disorders

Bullying by peers changes the structure surrounding a gene involved in regulating mood, making victims more vulnerable to mental health problems as they age.

This is the reported finding of a recent study by a researcher at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) at the Hôpital Louis-H. Lafontaine and professor at the Université de Montréal suggests that .

The study published in the journal Psychological Medicine seeks to better understand the mechanisms that explain how difficult experiences disrupt our response to stressful situations.

"Many people think that our genes are immutable; however this study suggests that environment, even the social environment, can affect their functioning. This is particularly the case for victimization experiences in childhood, which change not only our stress response but also the functioning of genes involved in mood regulation," says Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, lead author of the study.

A previous study by Ouellet-Morin, conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (UK), showed that bullied children secrete less cortisol -- the stress hormone -- but had more problems with social interaction and aggressive behaviour.

The present study indicates that the reduction of cortisol, which occurs around the age of 12, is preceded two years earlier by a change in the structure surrounding a gene (SERT) that regulates or transports serotonin, and is a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and depression.

To achieve these results, 28 pairs of identical twins with a mean age of 10 years were analyzed separately according to their experiences of bullying by peers: one twin had been bullied at school while the other had not.

"Since they were identical twins living in the same conditions, changes in the chemical structure surrounding the gene cannot be explained by genetics or family environment. Our results suggest that victimization experiences are the source of these changes," says Ouellet-Morin.

According to the author, it would now be worthwhile to evaluate the possibility of reversing these psychological effects, in particular, through interventions at school and support for victims.

The Power of a Mother's touch

Mothers who stroke their baby's body in the first few weeks after birth may change the effects that stress during pregnancy can have on an infant's early-life development, researchers have found.

Researchers at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Kings College, London have been studying whether stress in pregnancy can lead to emotional and behavioural problems in children for many years.

Attention is now moving towards how parents might alter these effects after birth.

Researchers are aiming to improve understanding of the issues to help enhance information services for pregnant women and their partners.

Scientists believe that stress in pregnancy can have an effect on an infant in later life by reducing the activity of genes that play a role in stress response.

Studies of early care-giving in rats have found that high levels of mothers' licking and grooming their pups soon after birth can increase the activity of these genes and may reverse the effects of prenatal stress on their offspring.

Some studies suggest that impacts of prenatal stress on an infant's development can be either positive or negative depending on the type of environment a child encounters. It is thought that some children may experience the effects through being more prone to high levels of fear or anger.

The team at Liverpool, Manchester and London followed first-time mothers from pregnancy through to the first years of their children's lives as part of Medical Research Council (MRC) funded research, The Wirral Child Health and Development Study.

It showed that links between symptoms of depression in pregnancy and subsequent infant emotions of fear and anger, as well as heart rate response to stress at seven months of age changed by how often a mother stroked their baby on the head, back, legs and arms in the early weeks of life.

The results suggest that stroking may alter gene activity in a similar way to that reported in animals.

Dr Helen Sharp, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, explains: "We are currently following up on the Wirral children in our study to see if reports of early stroking by their mothers continue to make a difference to developmental outcomes over time.

"The eventual aim is to find out whether we should recommend that mothers who have been stressed during pregnancy should be encouraged to stroke their babies early in life"

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is your brain's Post-it note, says Tracy Packiam Alloway, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. "It makes all the difference to successful learning," she says.

You can think of working memory as the active part of your memory system. It's like mental juggling, says H. Lee Swanson, Ph.D., distinguished professor of education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside.
"As information comes in, you're processing it at the same time as you store it," he says. A child uses this skill when doing math calculations or listening to a story, for example.

She has to hold onto the numbers while working with them. Or, she needs to remember the sequence of events and also think of what the story is about, says Swanson.

Brief by design, working memory involves a short-term use of memory and attention, adds Matthew Cruger, Ph.D., neuropsychologist with the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City.

"It is a set of skills that helps us keep information in mind while using that information to complete a task or execute a challenge," he says.

Working memory is like a foundation of the brain's executive function. This is a broad and deep group of mental processes. They allow you to do things like plan ahead, problem solve, organize, and pay attention.

"Working memory helps us stay involved in something longer and keep more things in mind while approaching a task," says Cruger. "And, how can you plan ahead if you don't use working memory to keep your goal in mind, resist distractions, and inhibit impulsive choices?"

But if you struggle with working memory, pieces of information may often evade your grasp like a quickly evaporating dream. You find yourself stripped of the very thing you need most to take action.

Read more about Working memory here

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Essential iPhone Apps for the Disabled?

More than 16 million people in America have a mental illness or a cognitive function problem while 3 million people have difficulty with speech communication, thus hindering them from learning independently. 

However, learning can be facilitated, even for people with disabilities, through the help of mobile devices like the iPhone.

If you’re a parent of a disabled child or a teacher for disabled students, you can make learning more interesting for them with the help of these apps!
arktickpixOne of the best learning methods for children is the use of pictures and graphics, one thing that modern technology such as the iPhone can now offer for free.

ArtikPix is one of those free applications geared towards empowering special education teachers and students by providing great ways to interact while learning.

In a nutshell, it’s a flashcard activity app that allows students to practice speech.

The app is also helpful for teachers because it allows them to collect and keep track of data through Google Spreadsheets.

In My Dreams
in my dreams appIf you don’t have an iPhone 5, you can always opt for apps that are great for older iPhone versions.

In My Dreams is a great app that works on all iOS 2.2.1 devices and above (which makes it ideal for every iPhone).

It’s a matching and reading app that allows students to learn effective reading, writing and speaking through animation and repetition.

The app uses voice, sign language, pictures and words to help kids widen their vocabularies, master sentence structures and distinguish connections between words and visuals.
ADHD Angel
adhd angelAside from the usual speech and learning problems that many students encounter, a lot of children in America also have problems focusing in school due to behavioural disorders such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

For students who are having trouble controlling and monitoring their ADHD tendencies, the perfect app to try is ADHD Angel. ADHD Angel helps students understand their condition and monitor and manage their feelings.

Aside from medication reminders, the app also features information about ADHD which kids can use to explain their disability to their peers. It also has important emergency contact details, advice and reminders to help students cope with ADHD even at school.
taptotalkFor students who can’t speak because of autism, cerebral palsy or other speech defects, the iPhone is a very helpful tool in communicating with others.

Apps likeTapToTalk serves as an easy and fun communication device. The app is filled with pictures that he or she can tap to voice their feelings and needs.

Aside from this app, the developers also created other apps to go with it such as TapToTalk Uploader which helps disabled kids expand their photo album by uploading their own pictures.
Learn Braille Alphabet
learn braille appWhether or not a student is blind, it still is helpful to learn the Braille alphabet.

Students who have a blind friend or family member will find it easier to learn the Braille alphabet by using the Learn Braille app.

This app is enhanced for the iPhone 5 so that students can easily learn Braille with fun visuals and interactive games.

Not only will the kids learn a new language, they will also be able to help their blind classmate!
While there are many apps to support parents and teachers who have disabled students, developers have yet to come up with many applications to help disabled children.

But with the onset of new technologies, it won’t be too long until students with disabilities have the opportunity to learn at the same pace as other kids.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Parental child abductions 'rise by 88% in a decade'

The number of children abducted and taken abroad by an estranged parent has risen by 88% in just under a decade, according to new government figures.
About 270 new cases were reported in 2003-4, while this year so far there have been more than 500 new cases, data from the Foreign Office (FCO) showed.
It is illegal for a parent to take a child overseas without permission from others with parental responsibility.
But 24% of Britons are unaware it is a crime, separate FCO research suggested.
The FCO has launched a campaign to highlight the issue.
"We know that before or during school holidays is one of the most common times for a child to be abducted," said Daisy Organ, the head of the FCO's child abduction section.
'Think twice'
"We hope that this campaign will help inform and educate the UK public and encourage parents thinking of abducting their child to think twice before they cause significant distress to themselves and their family."
Alison Shalaby, chief executive of the charity Reunite, said: "It is important to remember that parental child abduction is not faith or country specific - 71% of the UK public thought that parents most commonly abduct their children to the Middle East, India and Pakistan but it can happen to anyone, from any background."
She said children had been abducted by a parent and taken to France, Australia, Thailand and many other countries, some of which had few processes in place for returning such children.
Between 2001 and 2011 there was a 206% increase in the number of children taken to a country which had not ratified the Hague Convention on child abduction, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent.
According to the FCO research, 74% of people thought fathers were most likely to abduct their children but statistics from Reunite International suggest 70% of their cases concern mothers taking the child.

Warmth 'gives babies pain relief' during vaccination

Keeping a baby nice and warm while giving injections may offer better pain relief than the techniques doctors currently use.
Research, published in the journal Pain, showed warmer infants cried and grimaced less than babies given sugar pills or a dummy before vaccination.
The small trial was in 47 healthy newborns.
The authors said warming was "natural, easy and performed better" than other treatments.
Doctors try to ease the pain to babies during routine procedures such as blood tests and vaccinations.
There are concerns about using drugs while the brain is still developing so other techniques such giving a sugar pill, suckling on a dummy, or breast-feeding are used.
Sugar is one of the most common treatments used, however, there have been concerns about its effectiveness.
In this trial at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, 47 healthy infants were split into three groups - warming, sugar and suckling for their hepatitis B vaccination.
Those in the warming group were placed under a medical "infant warmer system" before the injection. The other babies were either given sugar drops or a dummy.
The babies responses to the injection - crying, grimacing and heart rate - were recorded.
The babies who were warmed stopped crying and grimacing earlier than babies in the other groups. Nearly a quarter did not cry at all whereas all the babies given sugar cried.
In all the groups the heart rate rapidly rose after the injection and then decreased at broadly the same speed for each treatment.
The authors concluded that: "Providing natural warmth to newborn infants during a painful procedure decreases the crying and grimacing that normally accompanies a painful vaccination.
"We have shown that exposure to natural external warmth is as effective, if not more effective, as the analgesic and calming properties of sucrose taste and pacifier suckling."
More research is needed to see if the pain-killing technique could be used regularly by doctors as questions such as the best temperature to use are still unanswered.

Teenage Cancer Trust: The role of a Youth Support Co-ordinator - YouTube

Carrie is a Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Co-ordinator. She talks about how her role helps young people with cancer remain active and occupied during long stays in hospital and encourages them to share their experiences with each other.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

What is Dyslexia? by Mystery Novel Author Stephen J. Cannell - YouTube

Stephen J. Cannell, the Mystery Novel Writer, has lived with dyslexia his entire life. In this inspiring video series, he explains dyslexia, misconceptions, challenges and ways to help children with dyslexia.

Check out more videos and fun stuff at

Care-Giving Skills: Being a Good partner and a Good Parent

Being a good partner may make you a better parent, according to a new study. According to the researchers, the same set of skills that we use to be caring toward our partners is what we use to nurture our children.

The study sought to examine how caregiving plays out in families -- "how one relationship affects another relationship," says Abigail Millings of the University of Bristol, lead author of the work published online this week in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

"We wanted to see how romantic relationships between parents might be associated with what kind of parents they are."

Romantic Care-giving and Parenting
Previous research had looked at similar care-giving processes within romantic relationships or between parents and children, but rarely for both groups. "Our work is the first to look at romantic care-giving and parenting styles at the same time," Millings says.

Looking at 125 couples with children aged 7 to 8 years, the study, carried out at the University of East Anglia, examined a few factors: the way the couples are attached toward each other; the parenting styles they use with their children; and their "caregiving responsiveness."

Care-giving Responsiveness
Care-giving responsiveness is the "capacity to be 'tuned in' to what the other person needs," Millings says.

"In romantic relationships and in parenting, this might mean noticing when the other person has had a bad day, knowing how to cheer them up, and whether they even want cheering up" and, it's not "just about picking you up when you're down, it's also about being able to respond appropriately to the good stuff in life."

They found that a common skill set underpins caregiving across different types of relationships, and for both mothers and fathers.

"If you can 'do' responsive caregiving, it seems that you can do it across different relationships," Millings says.

Surprisingly, however, the researchers found that how you care toward your partner does not relate to how your partner behaves as a parent.

Millings also underscores that the data do not yet speak to what causes our caregiving toward our partners to be mirrored in our caregiving for our children, or if it's the other way around.

"It might be the case that practicing being sensitive and responsive to our partners, (by really listening and by really thinking about the other person's perspective) will also help us to improve these skills with our kids," she says. "But we need to do more research to see whether the association can actually be used in this way."

Single Parents
She points out that parents can have great relationships with their children without having a partner. Her team would therefore like to explore how caregiving and parenting relate to one another in other family structures.

If they find that improving care-giving responsiveness in one relationship does indeed improve relationship functioning elsewhere, it may be possible to use this idea to design a self-help program that enables people to improve their own personal relationships.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Children with Sleep Related Behavioural Problems


Children with sleep-related breathing problems (such as snoring or apnea) frequently have concurrent behavioural sleep problems (such as waking repeatedly) -- and vice versa, according to research led by a scientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

However, children with one type of sleep problem are not routinely evaluated and treated for the other.

The findings suggest that pediatricians, respiratory specialists and sleep medicine specialists should work together whenever a sleep problem is suspected.

The study was published Dec. 4 in the online edition of Behavioral Sleep Medicine and is reprinted from materials provided by Albert Einstein College of Medicine, via Newswise.

"Our findings should raise awareness among parents and physicians that if a child is sleeping poorly, they should delve deeper to see if there is an unrecognized respiratory-related sleep problem," said senior author Karen Bonuck, Ph.D., professor of family and social medicine and of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health at Einstein.

"The best way to make sure this happens is by taking an interdisciplinary approach to the care of these children."

According to Dr. Bonuck, little was known about the co-occurrence of behavioural sleep problems and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB).

She and her colleagues carried out this study to find the prevalence and duration of behavioral sleep problems and of SDB and the rate at which they co-occur in a large, population-based sample of children (aged 18 months to nearly 5 years).

The researchers analyzed data on more than 11,000 children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a project based in the United Kingdom.

In response to mailed questionnaires, parents reported their child's snoring and apnea at 18, 30, 42, and 57 months of age.

For the same time intervals, parents were also asked whether their child refused to go to bed, and whether they regularly woke early, had difficulty sleeping, had nightmares, got up after being put to bed, woke in the night, or awakened after a few hours.

Children with five or more of these behaviours simultaneously were considered to have a clinically significant behavioral sleep problem.

The prevalence of behavioural sleep problems over the 18 to 57-month age reporting period ranged from 15 to 27 percent with a peak at 30 months of age.

Among children with behavioural sleep problems, 26 to 40 percent had habitual SDB, again peaking at 30 months.

Among children who had habitual SDB, 25 to 37 percent also had a behavioural sleep problem, peaking at 30 months.

While it is unlikely that behavioural sleep problems cause SDB, the converse may be true, noted Dr. Bonuck.

Frequent night wakings initially related to SDB may be reinforced by the parents' anxious responses. These behaviours may, in turn, develop into a persistent behavioural sleep problem, despite adequate treatment for SDB.

"It's important that we pay attention to how our children are sleeping," said Dr. Bonuck. "There's ample evidence that anything that interrupts sleep can negatively affect a child's emotional, cognitive, behavioural and academic development. Fortunately, snoring and apnea are highly treatable, and there are many effective interventions for behavioral sleep problems."

For more information on Sleep and Sleep-related Behavioural problems in children, visit Dream Angus - a qualified children's sleep consultancy practice based in the UK and Europe.

Dyslexia: Brainscape Learn How to Learn Faster

BrainScape app
Dyslexia has always been thought of as a learning disability having to do with literacy impairment.

Many people who have it are unable to read properly when they are younger, or read a lot slower than a non-dyslexic reader.

They may also have trouble spelling or reading things like nonsense words. In short, dyslexia is a learning disability in which people have trouble translating visual language into language that the brain can understand.

It happens to be one of the most common learning disabilities among children, affect anywhere from 10% – 15% of our population, according to various sources.

Until recently it has been thought of mostly as a learning disability that specifically affects the ability to read and understand writing.

However, research recently completed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology adds another dimension to dyslexia that helps us understand exactly what it is.

Graduate student Tyler Perrachione, left, and Professor John Gabrieli found that people with dyslexia have a much harder time identifying voices of different speakers than non-dyslexics. 

Credit Photo: Patrick Gillooly

John Gabrieli, professor of cognitive neuroscience at GabrieliLab MIT, and his team of graduate students performed an experiment in which they took two groups of students, one with dyslexia and one without.

Firstly, they exposed them to voices of English speakers coming from cartoon characters.

Secondly, they exposed them to voices of Chinese speakers coming from cartoon characters.

After seeing the characters and hearing their voices, they were given a test, in which their task was to match the voice to the face of the person.

Overall, neither group was able to match the Chinese voice to the respective bodies with much success.

However, when it came to matching the English speaking voices to their cartoon bodies, the non-dyslexic speakers were able to match and distinguish the voices fairly well, whereas the dyslexic students had a similar success rate to matching the Chinese voices.

In other words, the dyslexic students faced difficulties matching voices to bodies no matter what the language.

This is a very significant finding because it shows that there is more to dyslexia than simply not being able to read properly.

It appears to have something to do with hearing as well, which could prove to be very helpful in diagnosing children with dyslexia much earlier on in life.

Many of the students with dyslexia who participated in the study were very high functioning students, referring to the fact that their dyslexia was not overly severe, yet they still had difficulties distinguishing the English speaking voices when matching them to the cartoon characters.

In light of this study, there could possibly be a way to test children when they are younger for dyslexia.

Currently, many students find out that they are dyslexic around the second grade, by which time they may have already suffered from a reduced level of learning.

Having found that dyslexia is also audio based, would allow educators to test students earlier, using some type of voice recognition test.

However, things are not that simple because failing a voice recognition test may not necessarily be a sign of dyslexia.

Read more at BrainScape an app that claims to help you learn faster.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Is Baby's health tied to Mother's Family Values?

The value that an expectant mother places on family -- regardless of the reality of her own family situation -- predicts the birthweight of her baby and whether the child will develop asthma symptoms three years later, according to new research from USC.

The findings suggest that one's culture is a resource that can provide tangible physical health benefits.

"We know that social support has profound health implications; yet, in this case, this is more a story of beliefs than of actual family support," said Cleopatra Abdou, assistant professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology (Geriatrics).

Abdou studied 4,633 socioeconomically disadvantaged white, black and Hispanic women, gauging their "familism," or, more specifically, their beliefs about familial roles and responsibilities, using a questionnaire.

Sociological Definition: Familism is a social structure where the needs of the family are more important and take precedence over the needs of any of the family members.

Familism was determined by responses to statements such as, "Single moms can do just as well as married parents," or "It is better for children if their parents are married."

Abdou then tracked the health of their children and found that, for every one-point increase in familism, there was a 71-gram increase in birthweight independent of a whole host of other factors -- including the gender of the infant or whether the mother was married.

NB: The average birthweight in the U.S. is around 7.5 pounds, or roughly 3,400 grams. Low birthweight, typically defined as under 5.5 pounds or 2,500 grams, has been linked to health problems later in life.

Higher familism can also predict lower rates of asthma in children up to three years later.

Though one might expect to see healthier children from mothers who reported strong family support, familism is a cultural measure that exists outside of an individual's actual circumstances.

"Cultural beliefs and ideals can be distinct from one's present reality. Familism is about beliefs and ideals within families. That's why familism is referred to as a cultural resource. The cultural resource of familism appears to favorably impact both reproductive health in mothers as well as critical markers of physical health in offspring. That is, the transmission of health from one generation to another," Abdou said.

Abdou's findings were published online on Nov. 9 in the journal Social Science & Medicine, in an article coauthored by Tyan Parker Dominguez of USC and Hector F. Myers of UCLA.

The results may shed light on the so-called "Hispanic Paradox" or "epidemiologic paradox," first documented in 1986 by Markides and Coreil, which found that immigrant populations in the United States tend to be relatively healthy compared to their peers, despite being poorer and contained in a lower class order.

In general, poorer populations tend to be less healthy than wealthier ones. The epidemiologic paradox diminishes over time, with immigrant populations becoming less and less healthy as they start assimilating into American culture.

Abdou theorizes that U.S.-born populations, in addition to immigrant populations, can benefit in terms of mental and physical health from strong cultural resources, a theory that is supported by this study.

Abdou's work continues to probe the connections between health and culture in diverse populations in the United States and the Middle East.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Phonics: Children who do not respond

What happens when a child cannot learn to read through phonics? 

Educational researchers call these children nonresponders or  treatment-resisters. They use these terms because direct and intensive teaching of phonetic skills is usually the first approach taken to help a young child who is falling behind but a surprisingly large number of children fail to progress to phonics-based interventions.  

Researchers have found that 25% to 50% of children with learning disabilities fall within this category. That is, one-fourth to one-half of kids with reading difficulties won't learn with the methods that are most likely to be offered at their schools. That is a higher percentage than the reported number of children with dyslexia.

New research confirms that the children who do not progress with traditional phonics-based tutoring are highly likely to be dyslexic. 

Unfortunately, schools often follow up the failed intervention with more of the same -- the teachers try harder, reasoning that the child must need to have more repetition and practice to learn but the research evidence also shows that the children who do not learn from phonics-based teaching at the outset do not improve over time; if anything, their performance tends to get slightly worse.   

Most dyslexic kids will struggle to learn to read that way, and those who struggle at the outset will continue to find traditional approaches to reading to be difficult or near-impossible. 

Learn more about the Davis Method:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dichlorophenols pesticides in water linked to rise in allergies

Food allergies are on the rise, affecting 15 million Americans and according to a new study published in the December issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), dichlorophenol-containing pesticides could be partially to blame.

The study reported that high levels of dichlorophenols, a chemical used in pesticides and to chlorinate water, when found in the human body, are associated with food allergies.

"Our research shows that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy," said allergist Elina Jerschow, M.D., M.Sc., ACAAI fellow and lead study author.

"This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water."

Among 10,348 participants in a US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006, 2,548 had dichlorophenols measured in their urine and 2,211 were included into the study.

Food allergy was found in 411 of these participants, while 1,016 had an environmental allergy.

"Previous studies have shown that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States," said Dr. Jerschow.

"The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies."

While opting for bottled water instead of tap water might seem to be a way to reduce the risk for developing an allergy, according to the study such a change may not be successful.

"Other dichlorophenol sources, such as pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables, may play a greater role in causing food allergy," said Dr. Jerschow.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase in food allergy of 18 percent was seen between 1997 and 2007. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, soy, fish, and shellfish.

Food allergy symptoms can range from a mild rash to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. The ACAAI advises everyone with a known food allergy to always carry two doses of allergist prescribed epinephrine. A delay in using epinephrine is common in severe food allergic reaction deaths.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), via Newswise.

Mental illness and Intelligence tied to ancient accident

Scientists have discovered for the first time how humans – and other mammals – have evolved to have intelligence.

Researchers have identified the moment in history when the genes that enabled us to think and reason evolved.

This point 500 million years ago provided our ability to learn complex skills, analyse situations and have flexibility in the way in which we think.

Professor Seth Grant, of the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, said: “One of the greatest scientific problems is to explain how intelligence and complex behaviours arose during evolution.”

The research, which is detailed in two papers in Nature Neuroscience, also shows a direct link between the evolution of behaviour and the origins of brain diseases.

Scientists believe that the same genes that improved our mental capacity are also responsible for a number of brain disorders.

“This ground breaking work has implications for how we understand the emergence of psychiatric disorders and will offer new avenues for the development of new treatments,” said John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, one of the study funders.

Genetic accidents will happen

The study shows that intelligence in humans developed as the result of an increase in the number of brain genes in our evolutionary ancestors.

The researchers suggest that a simple invertebrate animal living in the sea 500 million years ago experienced a ‘genetic accident’, which resulted in extra copies of these genes being made.

This animal’s descendants benefited from these extra genes, leading to behaviourally sophisticated vertebrates – including humans.

The research team studied the mental abilities of mice and humans, using comparative tasks that involved identifying objects on touch-screen computers.

Researchers then combined results of these behavioural tests with information from the genetic codes of various species to work out when different behaviours evolved.

Mental illness connection

They found that higher mental functions in humans and mice were controlled by the same genes.

The study also showed that when these genes were mutated or damaged, they impaired higher mental functions.

“Our work shows that the price of higher intelligence and more complex behaviours is more mental illness,” said Professor Grant.

The researchers had previously shown that more than 100 childhood and adult brain diseases are caused by gene mutations.

“We can now apply genetics and behavioural testing to help patients with these diseases”, said Dr Tim Bussey from Cambridge University, which was also involved in the study.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Supporting orphaned children in Africa: Stop AIDS Now

I was fortunate enough this week to stumble across a most remarkable event whilst walking through the streets of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is many things to many people but to me it is a constant source of surprise and amazement, mainly because of it's window on the raw humanity of our world and also to the shear creativeness of our species.

I was walking towards Amsterdam's Nieuwmarkt, the open market space that spreads out in front of one of the ancient gates known as De Waag, which was once the Gestapo HQ for the German Occupying forces during WWII,

On most weekends this square, or 'plein,' can be occupied by street traders, rowdy tourists and the odd street performer but on this occasion it was occupied by strings of large cardboard dolls house.

Each one had been printed as a large cardboard 'cutout', in the manner of a children's toy and had been folded and constructed into the form of a doll's house. Individually they stood 5' tall.

This in itself was a creative and amazing piece of art but in addition to this the organisors, Stop AIDS Now (Holland), had arranged this assemblage of, possibly 100+ dolls' houses, into the form of a crossed ribbon. Almost filling the entire square with them.

The positioning of each doll's house was precisely placed as was the location of the event because not more than a stones-throw away is Amsterdam's Red light district.

To advertise the event the organisers had arranged for some Dutch celebrities to act as ambassadors, Angela Groothuizen en Nicolette Kluijver, to pose for photographs and to be interviewed by Dutch TV channels. An excellent event, well publicised.

I took the liberty, for you my readers, to climb the official photographer's platform to capture a few photographs, to better record the event and to experience the layout in it's entirety.

The organiser's representatives were too busy speaking to the TV crews and celebrities to be able to discuss the event with me, at this point. So, I continued on my way and returned later when things were quieter.

I was told that Stop AIDS Now had devised this campaign to highlight the plight of children in Africa who had become orphaned by AIDS, and that these children were now struggling to raise their siblings, unaided, acting as a substitute parent.

They very kindly gave me a small version of the cardboard cutout doll's house, which acts as a collection box. This is shown below.

These small cardboard versions are available from Stop Aids Now's Dutch website but feel free to print out the picture below and construct it from cardboard. Any money you collect will be put to good use.

I hope, when you look at it, it will remind you of the children in this world who have been denied a full and enjoyable childhood by circumstances beyond their control and of the blight that AIDS has brought to all humanity.

Smart Babies: Research Explores Infants' Skills and Abilities

Infants seem to develop at an astoundingly rapid pace, learning new things and acquiring new skills every day. And research suggests that the abilities that infants demonstrate early on can shape the development of skills later in life, in childhood and beyond.

How Do You Learn to Walk? Thousands of Steps and Dozens of Falls per Day
In this study, Adolph and colleagues recorded 15- to 60-minute videos of spontaneous activity from infants.

They then coded the videos for the time infants spent walking and crawling, the number of crawling and walking steps infants took, and the number of falls infants experienced whether walking or crawling.

The researchers found that the infants moved a tremendous amount and that new walkers moved faster than crawlers but had a similar number of falls at first and fewer as they became more experienced.

This suggests that infants are motivated to begin walking because they move faster without falling more and that they dramatically improve their walking skills through immense amounts of practice.

Implications of Infant Cognition for Executive Functions at Age 11
Do basic information processing skills in infancy have any bearing on later executive functioning skills in children?

Infants were assessed for memory, processing speed, and attention at age 7-12 months and age 24-36 months.

When they were 11 years old, the children returned to the lab and were assessed for various different kinds of executive functioning skills, including working memory, inhibition, and shifting.

Rose and colleagues created a statistical model that used infant abilities to predict executive functioning later in childhood and they found that this model fit the data well.

The model indicated that processing speed in infancy significantly predicted working memory and shifting ability at age 11 and that memory in infancy significantly predicted shifting at age 11.

This research supports the idea that infant cognitive abilities provide a foundation for the later development of executive functioning abilities.

One-Year-Old Infants Follow Others' Voice Direction
Can infants determine what adults are paying attention to by listening to their voices? Yes!

Rossano and colleagues conducted an experiment in which infants were placed in front of a wooden barrier that had a box sticking out of either side.

A member of the research team hid behind the barrier and spoke in the direction of one of the boxes.

The researchers then watched to see which box the infants moved toward. Rossano and colleagues found that infants moved toward the box that was in the direction of the researcher's vocalisation.

A follow-up study that examined the same task with chimpanzees found that they showed no ability to follow voice direction.

This suggests that infants -- but perhaps not chimpanzees -- can infer what an adult is paying attention to based on voice alone.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Foetal Alcohol Exposure affects childhood development

Children exposed to alcohol during fetal development exhibit changes in brain structure and metabolism that are visible using various imaging techniques, according to a new study being presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Alcohol use by expectant mothers can lead to problems with the mental and physical development of their children—a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome.

Research suggests an incidence of 0.2 to 1.5 per 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Costs for care of individuals affected by fetal alcohol syndrome in the U.S. have been estimated at $4 billion annually.

Advancements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are affording unprecedented insights into the effects of alcohol on the central nervous systems of children whose mothers drank alcohol during their pregnancy.

Recently, researchers in Poland used three different MRI techniques to better define these effects.

The study group included 200 children who were exposed to alcohol during their fetal stage and 30 children whose mothers did not drink while pregnant or during lactation.

Researchers used MRI to evaluate the size and shape of the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers that forms the major communication link between the right and left halves of the brain, in the two groups.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is the major cause of impaired development or complete absence of the corpus callosum.

The MRI results showed statistically significant thinning of the corpus callosum in the children exposed to alcohol compared with the other group.

“These changes are strongly associated with psychological problems in children,” said Andrzej Urbanik, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.

Dr. Urbanik and colleagues also used diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) to study six areas of the central nervous system in the children. DWI maps the diffusion process of water and can be a more sensitive means than traditional MRI for detecting tissue abnormalities.

Children in the alcohol group exhibited statistically significant increases in diffusion on DWI compared with the other children.

“The increase of diffusion indicates neurological disorders or damage to the brain tissue,” Dr. Urbanik said.

To noninvasively study metabolism in the brains of the children, the researchers used proton (hydrogen) magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HMRS), a common adjunct to structural MRI studies. HMRS results showed a complex collection of metabolic changes.

“In individual cases, we found a high degree of metabolic changes that were specific for particular locations within the brain,” Dr. Urbanik said.