Thursday, May 31, 2012

Three Messages You Should Never Give to Kids about Anxiety

Kids don’t generally develop anxiety disorders all on their own. Oh sure, genes and biology have some influence, but these factors largely just predispose kids in the direction of acquiring problems with anxiety.

The wrong messages can push both anxiously disposed kids as well as otherwise normal kids in the direction of struggling with anxiety for the rest of their lives.

If you’re a parent or someone who cares about kids, you just might want to know what type of messages instill insecurity.

Let's start by laying out three common mistakes that parents make; in other words, the kinds of messages you “don’t” want to give them:
  1. Invalidating or Denying Your Children’s Feelings. If your kids seem worried, fearful, upset, or distraught, sometimes it’s tempting to tell them “there’s no reason that they should feel that way” or even that they “shouldn’t” be feeling what they are obviously feeling. Parents give these messages because they don’t want their kids to feel distress. So, they reason that their kids will understand, if their bad feelings have no real basis, they won’t feel the way they do. Big mistake. Children need to hear that it’s normal and OK to have a little fear or distress sometimes.
  2. Providing Incessant Reassurance. Messages that “everything will turn out OK” sound so very much like what you should tell kids, and if you don’t say them too often, there’ll probably be no problem. However, when you frequently reassure your kids, you end up giving them the message that they need to turn to you (as an adult or parent) to help them see that things will turn out alright. They fail to learn that they can get through fear on their own. 
  3. Protecting Your Kids from All Harm. No one ever wants to see a child in harm’s way. However, growing, developing and learning require kids to face challenges and even take a few small risks along the way. Parents that try to constantly clear all dangers and risks that their kids confront teach them that the world is a scary place and that they need their parents to guide them through it. That message hardly fosters the independence and maturity they’ll need as adolescents and young adults.
So what’s a parent to do instead? One of the best ways to help prevent kids from developing anxiety disorders is to model how to cope.

I recommend that parents express when they’re feeling anxious and tell their kids how they plan to cope with it. For example, you might say, “Sometimes I feel nervous when I have to climb a ladder, but I just need to take a deep breath, be careful, and do it.

If I get too nervous, I can always climb back down, but it feels good to get through difficult tasks.”

Another good strategy is for parents to praise their kids when they make efforts to do things that are a little anxiety arousing for them.

The bottom line: Gently encourage your kids to confront their fears, let them know that a little anxiety is normal, and don’t try to keep them away from all challenges and risks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Scientists discover gene which causes FGD, rare disease in babies

A rare disease which often first presents in newborn babies has been traced to a novel genetic defect, scientists at Queen Mary, University of London have found.
The research, published online in (27 May) discovered 20 distinct mutations in a specific gene found in patients with the rare adrenal disease, Familial Glucocorticoid Deficiency (FGD).

The potentially fatal disease means affected children are unable to produce a hormone called cortisol which is essential for the body to cope with stress.

Lead researcher Dr Lou Metherell*, endocrine geneticist at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "People who inherit this disease are unable to cope with .

For example, the normal response to infection or traumatic injury is to produce cortisol supporting the metabolic response to the event. Patients with FGD cannot do this and may die if untreated.

"We found 20 distinct defects in the antioxidant gene nicotinamide nucleotide transhydogenase (NNT) in patients from all over the world who suffer from FGD."

The researchers, which include Eirini Meimaridou and Professor Adrian Clark, also at Queen Mary in the William Harvey Research Institute, had previously found defects in four genes present in this disease.

The new research uncovered mutations in NNT, an antioxidant gene, which provides a new mechanism for this adrenal disease.

"Patients with this form of FGD exhibit oxidative stress (OS) in the adrenal, a process which is involved in other diseases such as , cancer, stroke, diabetes and ," Professor Clark said.

"If we can discover how the OS causes its effect then this might give us clues to the mechanism in other diseases like those listed above and it may then be possible to use appropriate drugs to reduce or prevent it."

More information: "Mutations in NNT encoding nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase cause familial glucocorticoid deficiency" was published online in Nature Genetics on 27 May 2012.

Journal reference: Nature Genetics

Stargardt Disease: The Leading Cause of Macular Degeneration and Blidness in Children

Stargardt disease is a rare yet life devastating condition. It is the most common form of inherited macular degeneration, and affects about one in 10,000 people (about 30,000 people in the United States).

There is currently no cure or treatment for Stargardt disease but clinical trials using gene and cell therapies are currently undergoing.

Patients with Stargardt most often start experiencing significant vision loss during their childhood and teenage years (60% of the patients are diagnosed before 20 years of age).

This vision loss cannot be corrected by glasses, and diagnosis had been traditionally delayed due to the young age of the patients and the rareness of the disease.

After diagnosis, and depending on age at onset, vision deteriorates progressively to levels below 20/200 (legal blindness).

The disease affects mostly the central vision and spares some of the peripheral vision, although there are very severe forms that lead to complete blindness.

Almost all of those affected by Stargardt disease will live legally blind during their adult lives, although patients with late onset may retain some visual acuity.

Loss of central vision leads to impossibility to perform tasks such as reading, writing, driving or recognizing faces.

In 1997, scientists discovered that Stargardt disease results from a defective gene, the ABCA4, responsible for the synthesis of an important protein called Rim protein.

A normally functioning Rim protein transports vitamin A molecules from the photoreceptors (the molecules sensitive to light) back into specialized cells (called RPE), where vitamin A molecules are recycled to be reused for vision.

In Stargardt, the defects in the ABCA4 gene lead to partial or full dysfunction of this protein. As a result, vitamin A transport is affected and vitamin A molecules tend to accumulate in the photoreceptors.

This accumulation leads to the formation of toxic pigments (known as "vitamin A dimers") believed to be partly responsible for vision loss.

Although normal individual also form vitamin A dimers, this process usually takes decades, explaining why age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs later in life of normal people, while the same process takes only a few years in Stargardt explaining vision loss from childhood.

Read more of this article here at Alkeus - Stargardt disease

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dyslexia: Two UK Boys Write to celebrities Praising Charity

Dyslexic and sight-impaired children have sung the praises of a UK, Aylesbury-based help group, to some of the world’s biggest stars.

Two dyslexic brothers, Joshua and Matthew MacMillan, aged six and nine, have written to 100 celebrities praising Aylesbury-based Calibre Audio charity for helping them discover the power of literature in a bid to gain their Blue Peter badges.

Celebs the boys wrote to included David Cameron, ITV presenter Lorraine Kelly, The Duchess of Cambridge, Bill Gates, Daniel Radcliffe and children’s laureate Julia Donaldson and the youngsters have been lucky enough to receive responses from all of the above.

Director at the charity, Michael Lewington, said it was fantastic to know Audio Calibre, which sends out around 1,800 audio books a day, has been able to help the boys so significantly.

“All of this is really great news,” said Mr Lewington. Click here to view their Letter!

“The fact that the two boys decided to write all those letters is wonderful – and it’s so heart-warming that celebrities such as Lorraine Kelly could find the time to respond with handwritten letters.

“They even received a response from Downing Street and the royals, who must get thousands and thousands of letters.

“All of this has of course really done well to raise the profile of the charity, and as the boys are from Scotland, it’s raised our profile there, too. It’s all about letting people know we’re out there.

“The aim of the charity is to provide audio books to anyone who is ‘print disabled’, which means that as a result of dyslexia or physical disabilities, they are unable to read books.

“We have around 18,500 members, and more than half of our children are dyslexic.

“As a director here, I actually feel like I can personally give back to the community.

“Audio books can be of so much benefit to kids – it’s been proven that it actually improves their academic progress, as well as their general wellbeing. And with older people, who perhaps cannot hold a book because of sever rheumatoid arthritis, it allows them to start reading again.”


Can Starting school at seven 'boost pupils' reading skills?

Pupils kept out of formal schooling until the age of seven perform just as well those subjected to normal lessons at five, it was revealed.

In some assessments of reading skills, those with a later start actually overtook their peers by the age of 10, figures show.

Academics suggested that infants given more time to naturally develop their language skills in the early years had a better foundation when they started conventional tuition at seven.

The disclosure – based on an analysis of pupils in New Zealand – will raise fresh concerns over Government reforms to pre-school education which appear to place a greater focus on the three-Rs at an increasingly early age.

This includes subjecting all pupils to a new-style reading test at six to identify those lagging behind.

It comes after a major US study showed that bright children actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, suggesting that they risked growing up in an “intellectually unbalanced” way by being pushed too far, too soon.

Most British schoolchildren already start classes earlier than their peers in many other European nations. Children are normally expected to be in lessons by five, although most are enrolled in reception classes aged four.

But the latest study – published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly – found that children who begin decoding words later than their peers can “eventually achieve equally in reading fluency”.

“Our findings suggest that success at reading is not assured by an earlier beginning,” it said.

Academics from Regensburg University in Germany and Otago University in New Zealand tracked hundreds of children who started formal schooling at different ages.

This includes those who joined conventional New Zealand state schools at five and others from progressive Steiner schools, who are allowed to delay formal tuition until seven.

The second group remained in Steiner nurseries for two more years, where written language is banned to encourage the development of oral communication and children spend time on play-based activities, such as painting, drawing, cooking, singing or oral storytelling, the study said.

Children were given reading tests at different stages during the first six years of their primary education to assess their ability to decode individual words and fluently read a passage of text.

The study, led by Dr Sebastian Suggate, found that those learning to read later had caught up by the age of 10 and actually had “slightly better reading comprehension” before the end of primary education.

“Instead of focusing on developing decoding-related skills between the ages of five and seven, and in the first years of school, it may be that the environments in the Steiner kindergartens favoured language development, which later feeds into reading comprehension,” said the research.

The findings come amid claims from academics that children in England are being pushed too hard at a young age.

Currently, all nurseries and childminders are expected to follow a compulsory pre-school curriculum that requires children to hit a series of targets before their fifth birthday.

This includes reading and understanding simple sentences in books, writing simple sentences, counting up to 20, using simple addition and subtraction and employing everyday language to describe and compare size, weight, capacity, time and distance.

Brain Potential Institute: Brain-Training Treatment for Learning Disabilities

Several years after launching its online one-on-one brain-training program that treats people with learning disabilties and concentration problems, Brain Potential Institute claims it has affirmative evidence that the program is equally as successful when completed online as at its onsite center.

The Institute believes that Results of the online treatment program indicate a significant increase in IQ, attention, focusing, and memory for those with ADD, ADHD, central auditory processing issues, autism and memory loss.

Jane Davis, P.T., M.S.H.P founded Brain Potential Institute in 2002 as Kid Potential Inc. The company expanded its services to provide brain training to teens, adults and seniors, which required rebranding itself as Brain Potential Institute.

Brain Potential Institute is dedicated to optimizing through cognitive training, the human brain to reach its highest intellectual potential for optimum performance at school and work, and to preserve brain function at all ages. Brain Potential Institute accepts students ages 3 through 90. Screenings are free

Brain Potential Institute claims to be one of the few companies able to increase a persons IQ by significant numbers. Its program is aimed to help with concentration issues, math and reading problems, development disorders and a litany of other cognitive and learning disabilities.

The foundation on which Brain Potential Institute has based its program is neurogenesis the brains ability to create new neuro-pathways.

Jane Davis, P.T., M.S.H.P, CEO and founder, Brain Potential Institute states that many students have gained three grade levels in reading and experienced up to a 30-point IQ increase.

Friday, May 25, 2012 for ADD, ADHD & Dyslexia (short video) - YouTube

The Reading Focus Card can help children and adults, especially those with ADD, ADHD & dyslexia, read more easily. It is non-invasive with no side effects because no medication is involved.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Goldilocks Effect - YouTube

Dubbed the “Goldilocks effect” by the University of Rochester team that discovered it, the attention pattern sheds light on how babies learn to make sense of a world full of complex sights, sounds, and movements.

The findings could have broad implications for human learning at all ages and could lead to tools for earlier diagnosis of attention-related disabilities such as ADHD or autism, says Celeste Kidd, lead author on the paper published in the journal PLoS ONE and a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences.

With the aid of eye-tracking devices and statistical modeling, the research is the first to provide both a theory and quantifiable measures of what keeps a baby’s attention, says study co-author Richard Aslin, a professor of brain and cognitive science.

For years, researchers have explored what types of events most effectively capture babies’ attention. In some situations, infants reliably prefer familiar items, such as a favorite toy; in others, they favor novel objects.

The new study resolves such seeming contradictions. Instead of novelty or familiarity per se, the research shows that babies seek out situations with just the right amount of surprise or complexity.

To measure complexity, the team developed a test based on the probability of surprising events in a video.

Unlike hard-to-quantify concepts such as novelty or unlimited dimensions such as size, probability exists in a well-defined range from 0 (never happens) to 1 (always happens). Probability provides a continuous measure and is often employed by computer scientists and engineers to describe complexity, says Aslin.

In the study, researchers measured the attention patterns of 72 seven- and eight-month-old infants in two separate experiments. The babies watched video animations of fun items, such as a pacifier or ball, being revealed from behind a set of colorful boxes. The researchers varied where and when the objects would appear across dozens of short trials.

To measure attention, an eye-tracking device located below the computer screen followed the infants’ gaze. As long as they looked at the screen, the events continued; as soon as they looked away, the trial ended.

Babies quickly learned that they were in control. If they wanted to continue watching they just needed to keep their eyes on the screen. To reduce distractions, infants sat in a darkened space on the lap of their parent, who wore headphones playing music and a visor to prevent them from biasing their infant’s performance.

‘Not passive sponges’
Using a specialized statistical model, the researchers were able to calculate and predict how likely infants were to lose interest based on the complexity of each event depicted in the video. Complexity was defined as how surprising each event was in light of the previous events an infant had observed in the video.

Across both experiments, babies reliably lost interest when the video became too predictable—when the probability of a subsequent event was very high. “But here’s the counterintuitive part,” says Aslin. “You would think that the more complex something is, the more interesting it would be. That’s not the case with babies.”

They drifted away from the screen when the sequence of events also became too surprising—when the pattern seemed random and unpredictable because the probability of something happening was very low.

“The study suggests that babies are not only attracted by what is happening, but they are able to predict what happens next based on what they have already observed,” says Kidd. “They are not passive sponges.

They are active information seekers looking for the best information they can find.”

Although the experiments were limited to infants, the results provide a window into the way the brain works in general. “If you are interested in human nature, then babies are the place to look,” because their reactions are less complicated by cultural filters and learned responses, says Steven Piantadosi, a co-author and post-doctoral fellow in brain and cognitive sciences.

For example, the “Goldilocks” attention pattern supports other theories of adult learning, the authors note.

Cognitive scientists have proposed that learners direct their attention to material that contains just the right amount of challenge, because this optimal complexity triggers the right amount of stimulation in learners.

In real life, babies are also attracted to faces, voices, foods, and other aspects of their world that are key to survival. These “special” stimuli may trigger attention in a different way, the authors acknowledge. But complexity does help to explain how infants gather information about the rest of their environment, they write.

Advice for parents

Does this mean that parents should worry about providing material that is “just right” for their little ones?

Not really, says Aslin. “Infants are learning all the time, as long as they have reasonably stimulating environments. They focus in on what they can handle and filter out the rest,” he says.

Kidd agrees: “Parents don’t need to buy fancy toys to help their children learn. They make the best use of their environment. They are going to look around for what fits their attention level.”

And even though the experiment employed an animated video, the scientists emphasize that human interactions are the most critical for development. “Kids learn best from social interaction,” reminds Kidd.

The study’s insights into attention patterns may help to explain why children ask to hear the same story over and over. For an adult, the repetition can be mind numbing, says Kidd, “but for a child, they are likely getting something new out of the story every time. Because adults know so much, we often take for granted how many new things an infant needs to learn.”

The research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and the J. S. McDonnell Foundation.

More news from the University of Rochester:

Read the full article here - DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036399

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Little Bird was originally written in French and translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Enchanted Lion Books.

Korean designer Young-jun Kim created this charming animation based on the book.

The entire story unfolds with few words and primary colors, but mesmerizes with its evocative honesty and gentle sophistication, inviting readers of all ages to look again and again as we rediscover our inner child’s gift for finding infinite beauty and curiosity in the little things.

A lovely quote from an e. e. cummings poem graces the first page:
may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Research team uses robot eye technology to help the blind

A research team from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris have ported technology originally developed to help robots maneuver in real world environments to Braille enabled devices that help vision impaired people do the same.

The new technology uses a pair of glasses affixed with sensors and cameras connected to hand-held devices that allow the blind wearer to “feel” the 3D environment around them.

The team from the university's Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics will be presenting their findings at this month’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

The new technology incorporates cameras and sensors initially developed for use with robotics technology, along with image processing hardware and software, to gather information about the surrounding environment.

From there though, the two technologies diverge. Instead of the data collected being routed to AI systems for use by a robot, it moves instead to a processor that converts 3D imagery to Braille signals that are passed along to real-time Braille devices in the hands of the person using the device.

The result, the team says, is situational awareness unlike anything else currently available to assist the blind in moving around without benefit of a cane, guide dog or other assistive device.

To create true 3D imagery, the system uses two cameras on each side of the glasses, which are connected to an image processor that picks out objects, edges and other pertinent details of the view ahead.

From that, a map is generated to represent the scene from the user’s perspective. That map, along with data from a gyroscope and accelerometers that provide information about speed and current location, is then converted by another processor to a series of signals that are sent to the Braille devices in the hand.

Each is a flat pad with pins that can be raised or lowered using heat, to create a virtual tactile real-time image of the surrounding environment and because the system generates new maps at a rate of about ten per second, the user is able to move, the developers say, at walking speed through a real world environment.

Only time will tell of course, just how useful the new technology will be, as those that use it will likely develop a connection with the system over time akin to the way others grow accustomed to keyboards, canes and guide dogs, and only they will be able to judge whether new systems such as this are as useful as they appear in demonstrations.

This is not the only robotics project to be re-purposed. Software that predicts how far a robot has travelled based on information from its on-board sensors is being modified to track a person's movements based on their stride length. 

The low-cost system, being developed by Eelke Folmer and Kostas Bekris at the University of Nevada in Reno would help blind people navigate around buildings using just a smartphone.

The new system uses freely available 2D digital indoor maps and the smartphone's built-in accelerometer and compass. Directions are provided using synthetic speech. 

To help the smartphone calibrate and adjust to a user's individual stride length, the user must initially use touch to detect the landmarks in their environment, such as corridor intersections, doors and elevators. 

The system will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in St Paul, Minnesota, in May.

David Ross at the Atlanta Vision Loss Center in Decatur, Georgia, says that the sensing problems faced by robots and blind people are similar but there are big differences. "Sensing systems developed for mobile robots may have some application, but must be adapted considerably to suit a wide variety of human needs and situations," he says.

Let Go of Unachievablle Goals and be Happier

Reaching for the Moon? People who let go of unachievable old goals have a better quality of life, McGill University researchers have discovered. The discovery was made when they were studying data of breast cancer patients.

Researchers had studied 176 breast cancer survivors between the ages of 28 and 79. Self-reports of the individual's capacity to adjust their goals were measured at the start of the study. At the same time, researchers measured self-report of physical activity, sedentary activity, emotional well-being, and daily physical symptoms such as nausea and pain.

Three months later, they took a look at another round of self-reports. The study found that goal reengagement (being able to set new goals) was associated with more physical activity, increased emotional well-being and fewer physical symptoms. In addition, breast cancer survivors who were able to let go of old goals and to find new ones were less sedentary, which contributed to improved well-being. These findings support earlier research showing that goal adjustment can influence better well-being and health.

"By engaging in new goals a person can reduce the distress that arises from the desire to attain the unattainable, while continuing to derive a sense of purpose in life by finding other pursuits of value," said Carsten Wrosch, researchers at Concordia University's Department of Psychology and Centre for Research in Human Development. "Abandoning old goals allows someone to invest sufficient time and energy in effectively addressing their new realities."

Researchers have also suggested that breast cancer survivors should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity every week to gain health benefits.

"It is safe, feasible and effective for enhancing well-being and health among breast cancer survivors," said Catherine Sabiston, researcher at the McGill University. "Unfortunately, few survivors are engaging in the recommended levels of activity."

"Our research reveals that the capacity to adjust goals plays a pivotal role in facilitating not only high physical activity but also low sedentary activity and thereby contributing to overall improved well-being," said Wrosch. "Given that it is possible to influence adjustment to specific goals; it may be beneficial to integrate goal adjustment processes into clinical practice."

Painkiller Addiction Increasingly Common In Newborns

When you picture a person going through painkiller withdrawals, a baby crying in his crib is usually not the first image that comes to mind. But the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms has skyrocketed since 2000, according to a new study.

In 2000, approximately 4,300 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that occurs in some babies that were exposed to opiates such as heroin, Vicodin and oxycodone in the womb, according to the study. In 2009, the number jumped 300 percent to 13,000.

"That's about one baby per hour," Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan, told CNN. "We were surprised by it. That's a startling increase."

Opiates used by an expectant mother during pregnancy pass through the placenta and into the baby. The babies' bodies become dependent on the drugs but no longer have access to them once they are born, triggering withdrawal. Between 55 percent and 94 percent of babies exposed to the drugs before birth show signs of withdrawal once they are born, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Signs of withdrawal unique to infants include a distinct, high-pitched cry and an aversion to light and sound. They may also show symptoms similar to adult withdrawal patients, such as insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting.

Doctors use methadone, a drug used by addicts looking to kick the habit, to wean the babies off of the drugs slowly. Making them go cold-turkey could lead to seizures and possibly death, according to the study.

Getting the babies over their addiction could take weeks or even months and often requires long-term hospitalization. The cost of treating drug-addicted babies increased from $190 million in 2000 to $720 million in 2009, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday.

The increase in opiate-addicted babies is a product of growing numbers of adults who abuse painkillers.. More than two-thirds of patients prescribed painkillers abuse them by taking them too often or by taking them in conjunction with other painkillers not prescribed to them, according to research published by Quest Diagnostics.

In addition, two million people in 2010 admitted to abusing prescription painkillers for the first time -- almost 5,500 per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tennessee had the highest rate of painkiller abuse between 2007 and 2008, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It also has one of the highest rates of opiate-addicted newborns. At East Tennessee Children's Hospital, almost 50 percent of the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit are experiencing withdrawals.

"In Knox County, we're drowning," Susan Kovac, attorney for the Department of Children's Services in Tennessee, told CNN. "We've seen the number of children in foster care increase by almost 50 percent over the last few years, and that's just the tip of the iceberg because we're trying to keep the children out of foster care. We've got lots and lots of relatives who are raising drug-exposed infants."

Florida also experienced a surge in the number of addicted babies, which increased from 354 in 2006 to 1,374 in 2010, according to the study.

The researchers call for individual states and the Federal government to take action to reduce the amount of painkillers prescribed and say educating the public about the dangers of using the drugs while pregnant may also help. Cutting the number of prescriptions of opiates could drastically reduce the number of babies born with NAS, according to the study.

"Newborns with NAS experience longer, often medically complex and costly initial hospitalizations," the researchers wrote in the study. "The increasing incidence of NAS and its related health care expenditures call for increased public health measures to reduce [in utero] exposure to opiates across the United States."

Hearing Disability Linked To Poor Touch Sensitivity

Touch and hearing are very distinct, but German scientists have found a possible genetic link between the two sensory systems.

Superficially, the two senses might seem worlds apart, but both rely on the ability to translate motions - vibrations in the ear and movement and pressure on the skin - into signals to the brain. A common set of molecules or mechanisms might be at work.

To determine if touch sensitivity can be inherited genetically, Henning Frenzel of the Max-Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine and his colleagues first examined 100 pairs of fraternal and identical twins in a study outlined in the journal PLoS Biology.

They tested the twins on two kinds of touch sensitivity traits: "vibration detection threshold," or how low a vibration the subject could detect with their pinky finger; and "tactile acuity," or the ability to distinguish between two pressure points on the skin that are very close together.

Since the identical twins are genetically identical and the fraternal twins share up to 50 percent of the same genes, any genetic effect on touch should be more pronounced in the former.

Next, Frenzel and his team calculated the heritability of the two traits, a figure that explains the degree to which genetic variation contributed to the variation in the traits seen in the subjects. On average, 28 percent of the differences in tactile acuity and 52 percent of the differences in vibration detection could be chalked up to genetic influence.

Second Experiment
In a second experiment, the scientists found that some - but not all - of a population of young people that were born deaf also had impaired tactile acuity. But since there are about 70 known genes that are involved in hearing impairment, the researchers wanted to focus on a smaller group of genes to test the link between hearing and touch impairment.

Third Experiment - Usher syndrome
The scientists next examined patients with Usher syndrome - a hereditary condition that causes both hearing and visual impairment. They zeroed in on USH2A, one of the nine known genes that, when mutated, cause Usher syndrome.

Of the Usher patients studied, the 19 individuals that had a mutation in USH2A had both impaired hearing and poor touch sensitivity. It's possible then, that this gene may play a role in both touch and sound.

"Our next task will be to investigate some of these other cases to see if they are also correlated with problems in touch," senior author Gary Lewin said in a statement Tuesday. "This will give us a better understanding of the genetic mechanisms that underlie both types of perception."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Help a Child with Weak Working Memory

Here are a few places to start to help a child with poor working memory.

Know your child's strengths and weaknesses.
As a parent, you want to support your children any way you can. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses can make a big difference, says Tracy Packiam Alloway, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida.

She says that sometimes teachers tell their students with dyslexia to just keep repeating the information over and over to themselves. "But this will be hard to do for students with dyslexia who have a verbal working memory problem," says Alloway. "It's really better to target their strengths -- to try to use visual aids to support their learning, for example."

H. Lee Swanson, Ph.D., distinguished professor of education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, agrees. Use your child's preferred way of processing information. For a child whose visual-spatial skills are strong, he suggests taking information from a math word problem and inserting it into a visual diagram. This uses a strength to help solve a problem.

Help compensate for weaknesses.
One way to compensate for poor working memory is to break up or chunk information. This way, it takes up fewer "slots" in working memory. Give one or two, not a long string of, instructions, says Swanson.

Encourage children to ask for this kind of "information management." Then they are less overwhelmed and have learned yet another skill -- self-advocacy, says Matthew Cruger, Ph.D., neuropsychologist with the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City.

Other ways to compensate
Use audiotapes or write things down, says Cruger. "If auditory working memory is weak, don't depend on it for important things." It's far easier to write down homework in a planner and access it later. After the tenth time you've reminded your child to check his book bag, it may finally dawn on you that there is an easier way: Create a checklist with pictographs and put it on the outside of the bag for easy reference, he says. Rituals and routines are also helpful, says Cruger, who puts his cell phone in the same place each day to be sure he won't misplace it.

Reinforce what works
Of course, learning how to compensate doesn't mean simply letting working memory atrophy, says Cruger. Just as with building a muscle, using the skill will strengthen it, making it easier to use in the future.

Likewise, you and your child's teacher can help your child develop knowledge of his or her own working memory, says Alloway. You can congratulate a child on any success right away. Then ask probing questions to help a child identify what worked well in a certain situation: "Did you think of a song or an image? Did you repeat it to yourself? Or, did you use a rhyme to help you with your multiplication tables?" If something works, suggest that your child try it again.

"This really encourages students to become aware of the strategies they're using," says Alloway. "Otherwise, they don't know what they've done, so they can't apply it again."

Use working memory as a floodlight to plan action
Parents should teach children to use available working memory to be more efficient, instead of focusing on multitasking, Alloway advises. With our busy lifestyles, many of us put a premium on multitasking. But it's not all it's cracked up to be, she says. "The great, great majority of us can't do it well."

"Instead, use working memory like a spotlight to focus on one thing at a time and shift between activities," says Alloway. "Do one activity and stop and shift to the next and maybe come back to the first, and so on. Do this instead of trying to do many things at once."

Alloway says that mindfulness training has been shown to help adults create a space in working memory to allow them to focus on a single thought, rather than being overwhelmed by a number of different things at once. See if you can find ways to help your child learn how to reduce distractions and compartmentalize in a similar way.

Train working memory
For a long time, psychologists thought that working memory was fixed, says Alloway. But evidence is beginning to show that you can train your working memory. One example is a home-based method of strengthening skills, called CogMed. It can improve your ability to remember numbers in forward and backward order, for example, a signature skill of working memory. But does this transfer to learning and better grades? "If all you do is biceps curls, you would expect that your arms would be stronger, but not that you could run faster," suggests Alloway.

Swanson agrees. "You can certainly make changes in working memory, but it doesn't necessarily translate to getting a whole lot better in math and reading comprehension," he says.

Even so, some working memory training programs are beginning to show promise. The bottom line is buyer beware, says Swanson. He is researching a program that is showing promise, one that uses working memory tasks to improve math. "But," he says, "there is no magic bullet." If you try a program, watch how your child progresses with tasks in the classroom to see if it is making a difference.

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Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: Tougher to Treat in Kids and Teens

Type 2 diabetes, the kind linked with obesity, progresses much faster and is harder to treat in children than in adults, according to the disappointing results of a new study that sought to determine the best treatment for the disease in obese teens.

The study, the largest to examine Type 2 diabetes treatment in youth, looked at the effectiveness of several methods to manage blood sugar in newly diagnosed teens aged 10 to 17. The researchers found that nearly half of all participants failed to maintain stable blood sugar over the four-year study, and 1 in 5 suffered serious complications as a result.

The findings are troubling for teens’ health since obesity and diabetes rates are increasing nationwide. Uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk for serious health problems, including heart disease, vision loss, nerve problems, amputations and kidney failure.

Type 2 diabetes — once referred to as adult-onset diabetes — was rarely seen among children before the 1990s. But as American children and teens started getting fatter, related cases of diabetes began to rise. Today, Type 2 diabetes is still uncommon in children (Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes affects more youths), but the disease continues to increase at an alarming rate: between 2002 and 2005, there were about 3,600 new cases of Type 2 diabetes in children and teens a year.

For the new study, released Sunday by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers followed 699 overweight and obese teens who had been recently diagnosed with diabetes. Most of the participants were from low-income families; 40% were Hispanic, 33% black, 20% white, 6% American Indian and fewer than 2% were Asian.

All of the participants were started off on metformin, the standard oral medication for Type 2 diabetes, to normalize their blood sugar levels. They were then divided into three treatment groups to maintain blood sugar control. One group continued to use metformin alone; another used metformin along with an intensive diet, exercise and weight-loss program; the third used metformin plus another drug, rosiglitazone (Avandia).

Failure rates were high for all three treatment groups. About half of the teens in the metformin group failed to keep their blood sugar down, 39% failed in the group using metformin plus Avandia, and 47% failed in the diet and exercise group.

“It’s frightening how severe this metabolic disease is in children,” study author Dr. David M. Nathan, director of the diabetes center at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the New York Times. “I fear that these children are going to become sick earlier in their lives than we’ve ever seen before

The authors could only speculate why diabetes is so hard to treat in children and teens, but it could be due to rapid growth and hormonal changes during puberty.

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Maths anxiety: the numbers are mounting

Maths anxiety, a feeling of fear about maths, is believed to affect about a quarter of the population, which would equate to more than 2 million schoolchildren in England alone, along with thousands of teachers.

Many of us are familiar with that blind panic when faced with a maths problem we can't fathom, but maths anxiety isn't always recognised or understood.

Maths anxiety was first identified in the 1950s, but the devastating way it affects performance is only now becoming evident.

For the first time, researchers at Stanford University in the US have used scans to see what goes on inside the brains of children with maths anxiety, and discovered that they respond to sums in the same way that people with phobias might react to snakes or spiders, showing increased activity in the fear centres.

This in turn causes a decrease in activity in the problem-solving areas, making it harder to come up with the right answers.
Dr Vinod Menon, the professor who led the project, explains its significance: "Our research is important because it is the first to identify the neural and developmental basis of maths anxiety, and our findings have significant implications for its early identification and treatment.

It is also important because it shows that math anxiety in children is real. It cannot be wished away. It needs to be attended to and treated if it persists."

If maths anxiety has such a devastating effect on ability, why aren't we doing more about it? Most teachers and academics know it exists, but there are no formally established diagnostic tools to determine when worrying about maths becomes "maths anxiety".

What's more, it can be counterproductive to tell a child that they have a problem, as Mike Ellicock, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, explains: "Labelling and categorising children into those who can and can't do maths isn't helpful.

There's nothing more certain to be a self-fulfilling prophecy … but given encouragement and the right support, everyone can meet a functional level of numeracy."

We clearly haven't been offering the right support, as almost half of the UK's adults are only capable of basic maths. It doesn't help that we often see maths as the preserve of a few geeks.

Maths is a clear-cut subject where answers are either right or wrong, and teaching methods focusing on quick recall, mental arithmetic and on answers given in front of the class are unhelpful to those who are less confident.

Most teachers understand that confidence is as important as competence when it comes to maths achievement, but Peter Lacey, of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, says they are often constrained by a system focused on targets and attainment levels.

"If you say slow down, ministers get concerned, but if you want to build a tall and secure house, you make sure your foundations are right. Sometimes there's a rush in the earlier years of teaching that interferes with children gaining real confidence, once it goes wrong at that stage, everything afterwards is insecure.

The pressure to get children to a particular level in tests at 11 can mean teaching them tricks to get good outcomes rather than making sure they are confident in their understanding."

Experts in the field, such as Professor David Sheffield of Derby University's Centre for Psychological Research, who is one of the country's leading specialists in maths anxiety, believe it has a lifelong effect.

So what would he advise? "The first thing to say is don't do more maths. More maths is unlikely to work because it's actually an anxiety problem. Try to deal with the anxiety with simple approaches like relaxation or breathing exercises. We did one study where we got people to do a relaxation exercise and then followed them up. Their anxiety scores had dropped and they were able to solve more problems."