Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Autism: Reflecting on the mirror neuron system - A systematic review

There is much interest in the claim that dysfunction of the mirror neuron system in individuals with autism spectrum condition causes difficulties in social interaction and communication.

This paper systematically reviews all published studies using neuroscience methods (EEG/MEG/TMS/eyetracking/EMG/fMRI) to examine the integrity of the mirror system in autism. 25 suitable papers are reviewed.

The review shows that current data are very mixed and that studies using weakly localised measures of the integrity of the mirror system are hard to interpret.

The only well localised measure of mirror system function is fMRI. In fMRI studies, those using emotional stimuli have reported group differences, but studies using non-emotional hand action stimuli do not.

Overall, there is little evidence for a global dysfunction of the mirror system in autism. Current data can be better understood under an alternative model in which social top-down response modulation is abnormal in autism.

The implications of this model and future research directions are discussed.

Read the full article here

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chronic Stress in Pregnancy prevents brain benefits of motherhood

A new study in animals shows that chronic stress during pregnancy prevents brain benefits of motherhood, a finding that researchers suggest could increase understanding of postpartum depression.

Rat mothers showed an increase in brain cell connections in regions associated with learning, memory and mood.

In contrast, the brains of mother rats that were stressed twice a day throughout pregnancy did not show this increase.

The researchers were specifically interested in dendritic spines – hair-like growths on brain cells that are used to exchange information with other neurons.

Previous animal studies conducted by lead author Benedetta Leuner of Ohio State University showed that an increase of dendritic spines in new mothers’ brains was associated with improved cognitive function on a task that requires behavioral flexibility – in essence, enabling more effective multitasking.

The dendritic spines increased by about 20 percent in these brain regions in new mothers, according to her findings.

The stress in this new study negated those brain benefits of motherhood, causing the stressed rats’ brains to match brain characteristics of animals that had no reproductive or maternal experience.

The stressed rats also had less physical interaction with their babies than did unstressed rats, a behaviour observed in human mothers who experience postpartum depression.

“Animal mothers in our research that are unstressed show an increase in the number of connections between neurons. Stressed mothers don’t,” said Leuner, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State.

“We think that makes the stressed mothers more vulnerable. They don’t have the capacity for brain plasticity that the unstressed mothers do, and somehow that’s contributing to their susceptibility to depression.”

Previous research has suggested that there are a number of risk factors for postpartum depression, including hormone fluctuations, prior history of mental illness and environmental factors such as smoking or low socioeconomic status.

One of the strongest predictors, however, is chronic stress during pregnancy, so Leuner sought to create an animal model that could help explain brain changes linked to postpartum depression.

“It’s devastating not only for the mother, because it affects her well-being, but previous research also has shown that children of depressed mothers have impaired cognitive and social development, may have impaired physical development, and are more likely as adults to have depression or anxiety,” she said.

“A better understanding of postpartum depression is important to help the mother but also to prevent some of the damaging effects that this disorder can have on the child.”

The researchers exposed pregnant rats to stress twice a day by limiting their mobility on some days and on other days placing them in water. For three weeks after the rats gave birth, Leuner and colleagues monitored the rats.

The animals showed classic signs of the effects of stress, including lower than normal weight gain and enlarged adrenal glands, a sign of high stress-hormone production. The mothers stressed during pregnancy also gave birth to smaller pups.

“And they were not very good mothers,” Leuner said. After separation from pups for 30 minutes, unstressed mothers would gather up their babies, put them in the nest and nurse them. Stressed mother rats left the pups scattered around, wandered around the cage and fed the babies less frequently.

The stressed mother rats also exhibited more floating than unstressed rats in a water test; animals that float rather than swim are showing depressive-like symptoms.

“These findings in rats mimic some of the symptoms that are seen in women with postpartum depression,” Leuner said.

An examination of the animals’ brains showed that the rats exposed to chronic stress did not grow the additional dendritic spines in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex that the unstressed mother rats did.

The stressed rats’ brains more closely resembled the brains of control rats that had never been mothers.

“We don’t yet know what the exact trigger is for the increase in spines in motherhood, but we know that the increase goes away with stress,” Leuner said.

She is continuing the work by investigating whether the beneficial effects of motherhood on cognitive functions are also blocked in mothers who are exposed to pregnancy stress as well as whether hormonal factors play a role.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Wake Up and Dream - Radiolab

Matt Kielty introduces us to Steve Volk, a city reporter in Philadelphia who, for decades, was plagued by a recurring nightmare.

It popped up whenever Steve was going through a stressful time, and it always played out exactly the same way but no matter how self-aware Steve was about his most current set of anxieties, and no matter how hard he tried to rationalize and explain away the dream...he couldn't make it stop.

Then one year, Steve started working on a book about topics at the edge of science, and along the way he stumbled into lucid dreaming.

Pretty soon, Steve was reading through old sleep studies conducted by a scientist named Stephen LaBerge, and he was starting to wonder if lucid dreaming might not be so near the fringe after all.

So he called up LaBerge's assistant and began training himself on a set of techniques that would eventually help him put his inner demon to bed.

Read more:
Fringe-ology, by Steve Volk
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, by Stephen LaBerge

The Scientific Power of Music - YouTube

Is music humanity's drug of choice? What is the mysterious power behind it's ability to captivate, stimulate and keep us coming back for more?

Find out the scientific explanation of how a simple mixture of sound frequencies can affect your brain and body, and why it's not all that different than a drug like cocaine.


The Science of Lucid Dreaming - YouTube

Have you ever wanted to take control of your dreams? Now you can, with the science of how to lucid dream! With these simple steps, and a little practice, you'll soon experience sleep like never before.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ADHD at School: Help Your Children to Learn!

One of the frustrations for teachers and parents of children with ADHD is getting a child to stop, listen, and understand what is being taught or asked of him.

These tips and strategies will enable students to listen and learn in school and at home.

Tools for Teachers

  • Get your students' attention! Clap out a rhythm and have your students clap the rhythm back until the class is quiet. This signals that it is time to move to the next activity. During group lessons, keep students involved by asking them questions. Play music or sing a song to keep them focused on the material being taught.
  • Repeat it back. When giving instructions, limit the number of steps involved and have the students repeat the steps back to you, one at a time. Use the words first, next, and last to give order and structure.
  • Go beyond textbooks. Relate concepts to real-life experiences through visuals, sign language, or gestures. Bring vocabulary words and stories to life by giving students examples from everyday life. If you are starting a story about a supermarket, bring in items that you buy there.
  • Make directions concrete. Make sure your commands and directions are precise. "Do careful work" or "Be respectful" are too vague. Be specific in what you expect to see: "Eyes looking at me, bottoms in your chairs, book open to page 21, and desks cleared except for a pencil."
  • Take small steps. Read a few pages of an article or story at a time. Teach students how to stop and ask themselves questions about what they have read. Allow them to draw a picture or write a key word on a sticky note and attach it to the page.
  • Use attention-getting strategies. Make your voice go up or down, or make it louder or softer while doing a read-aloud or giving directions. Buy a garden glove and write a story element on each finger.

Pointers for Parents

  • Keep it predictable. Be consistent with the words you use to give directions, and stick to established schedules in your household. This will increase a child's listening comprehension because he knows what to expect and feels secure and calm.
  • Show them what you want them to do. Walk through the steps of a task. Check for understanding of directions. Write down the task you want done (in words or pictures) and give it to your child for reference.
  • Check in with a child to make sure he isn't tuning out. Before, during, and after chores, homework, or a task, have your child tell you specifically what he is doing. This continuous reminder of the task at hand keeps your child focused. It may seem redundant, but it works!
  • Move to remember. Get your child up and moving to help with listening skills. Use hand gestures, exercises, or dance moves to help him remember what to do.
  • Help a child recall. If your child is watching TV, ask her about what she is watching. When your child gets off the phone, ask him what he talked about -- and, above all, don't interrupt.
To read the full article with helpful links visit here

Retro Posters: Book Reading Promotion

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Language learning makes the brain grow, Swedish study

At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, young recruits learn a new language at a very fast pace.

By measuring their brains before and after the language training, a group of researchers has had an almost unique opportunity to observe what happens to the brain when we learn a new language in a short period of time.

At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy in the city of Uppsala, young people with a flair for languages go from having no knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Dari to speaking it fluently in the space of 13 months.

From morning to evening, weekdays and weekends, the recruits study at a pace unlike on any other language course.

As a control group, the researchers used medicine and cognitive science students at Umeå University -- students who also study hard, but not languages.

Both groups were given MRI scans before and after a three-month period of intensive study. While the brain structure of the control group remained unchanged, specific parts of the brain of the language students grew.

The parts that developed in size were the hippocampus, a deep-lying brain structure that is involved in learning new material and spatial navigation, and three areas in the cerebral cortex.

"We were surprised that different parts of the brain developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the course," says Johanna Mårtensson, a researcher in psychology at Lund University, Sweden.

Students with greater growth in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning (superior temporal gyrus) had better language skills than the other students.

In students who had to put more effort into their learning, greater growth was seen in an area of the motor region of the cerebral cortex (middle frontal gyrus).

The areas of the brain in which the changes take place are thus linked to how easy one finds it to learn a language and development varies according to performance.

Previous research from other groups has indicated that Alzheimer's disease has a later onset in bilingual or multilingual groups.

"Even if we cannot compare three months of intensive language study with a lifetime of being bilingual, there is a lot to suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in shape," says Johanna Mårtensson.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dyslexia and DynaRead Library

Dynaread claims to offer an online science-based Learn to Read remediation program specifically designed for older struggling readers (age 7+).

Also a complete 12 to 18 months curriculum.

DynaRead claim it is affordable and reaps wonderful results with their users.

"If the dyslexia test confirms your child cannot read, this dyslexia treatment word exercise module forms part of our reading strategies. Expand your child's reading vocabulary and allow them in 18 months to reach functional literacy.Improve reading comprehension as accurate and fluent reading ability goes up."

Dyslexia: Brain connectivity predicts reading skills

The growth pattern of long-range connections in the brain predicts how a child’s reading skills will develop, according to research published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Literacy requires the integration of activity in brain areas involved in vision, hearing and language. These areas are distributed throughout the brain, so efficient communication between them is essential for proficient reading.

Jason Yeatman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California, and his colleagues studied how the development of reading ability relates to growth in the brain’s white-matter tracts, the bundles of nerve fibres that connect distant regions of the brain.

They tested how the reading skills of 55 children aged between 7 and 12 years old developed over a three-year period.

There were big differences in reading ability between the children, and these differences persisted — the children who were weak readers relative to their peers at the beginning of the study were still weak three years later.

The researchers also scanned the brains of 39 of the children at least three times during the same period, to visualise the growth of two major white-matter tracts: the arcuate fasciculus, which conects the brain's language centres, and the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, which links the language centres with the parts of the brain that process visual information.

Differences in the growth of both tracts could predict the variations in reading ability. Strong readers started off with a weak signal in both tracts on the left side of the brain, which got stronger over the three years. Weaker readers exhibited the opposite pattern.

Read the full article here

Speech Pathologist Seeks to Dispel Dyslexia Myths

Certified and Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist Renee Matlock will lead a presentation entitled “Finding Your Way Through the Dyslexia Maze,” at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Frankfort Public Library.

Matlock’s presentation is scheduled in conjunction with Dyslexia Awareness Month. She hopes to inform the community about the disability, which she frequently encounters in her work.

“I want parents to realise how important reading is,” said Matlock, who is the owner and Executive Director of Speech Plus, a speech-language and learning clinic.

“By reading with your child from infancy on, you’re developing the brain wiring that sets the child up for success in their school years.”

Matlock said she wants to dispel myths surrounding dyslexia, including the notion that children will outgrow dyslexia, that writing backwards is the only symptom of dyslexia, that children who struggle with reading are unintelligent and that dyslexic children are lazy.

International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a language-based neurological learning disability.

Dyslexia affects one in ten individuals, many of whom are never diagnosed. People with dyslexia are typically of average or above average intelligence and encounter difficulty with reading, writing and spelling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Behavioural genetics and the phonics test- Letter in The Guardian

In debating whether a pass rate of 60% on the controversial phonics test for six-year-olds is good enough, and whether the test truly measures reading ability or merely the capacity to decode phonetically sensible sounds (Phonics test identifies pupils needing support, 28 September), we are rather missing the point.

As is too often the case in education, the influence of genes has not been taken into account.

We are a group of researchers who study genetic and environmental influences on academic and cognitive abilities, including reading.

Genetic research has shown convincingly that the ability to decode sounds is heritable, more so than many aspects of behaviour and health.

No one would claim that it is a complete measure of reading ability but it is an essential skill and one that is strongly predictive of children's later reading achievement.

Therefore a phonics test can be a good thing which can genuinely help teachers to identify children who, largely for genetic reasons, may struggle with reading as they go through school.

However, using it as a high-stakes test rather than a teacher's tool is a bad thing. It leads to teaching to the test, which wastes everybody's time because the most influential experiences are unique to individuals, not shared by all children in a year 1 classroom (Harlaar, Dale and Plomin, 2005).

Evidence from behavioural genetics suggests a more fruitful debate is needed, a debate about how to use schools to enhance opportunities for children who struggle – in many instances children identified by this test – rather than the current debates about how many children should be able to jump through the hoop, and whether the hoop has been well-chosen.

The plan for a light-touch phonics assessment is a good one, but the government will need to remember to keep the touch light if it is to be used to help all children become good readers rather than to demonise schools and teachers.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reading Disabilities: 50 Useful Apps For Students

Whether you’re the parent of a child with a reading disability or an educator that works with learning disabled students on a daily basis, you’re undoubtedly always looking for new tools to help these bright young kids meet their potential and work through their disability.

While there are numerous technologies out there that can help, perhaps one of the richest is the iPad, which offers dozens of applications designed to meet the needs of learning disabled kids and beginning readers alike.

Here, we highlight just a few of the amazing apps out there that can help students with a reading disability improve their skills not only in reading, writing, and spelling, but also get a boost in confidence and learn to see school as a fun, engaging activity, not a struggle.

Helpful Tools

These tools are useful for both educators and students with reading disabilities alike, aiding in everything from looking up a correct spelling to reading text out loud.
  1. Speak It!: Speak It! is a great text-to-speech solution that can allow students with reading disabilities to get a little help with reading when they need it.
  2. Talk to Me: Talk to Me is another text to speech application. It can be used to read words out loud as they are typed, which can help students to better correlate the letters and words with how they’re pronounced.
  3. Dragon Dictation: Dragon Dictation works in reverse of the two apps we just listed. Instead of reading text out loud, the application writes down spoken text. For students who struggle with writing, it can be a great way for them to jot down ideas or get help learning.
  4. Dyslexic Like Me: Explaining dyslexia to a child can be hard, but this application can make it a little easier. It’s an interactive children’s book that helps students to understand dyslexia and become empowered to overcome their learning disability.
  5. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: If spelling is a problem, it’s always a good idea to have a really great dictionary on hand. This app from Merriam-Webster can provide that.
  6. Ditionary.com: If Dictionary.com is your go-to place for definitions and spelling help, this app can be a great way to bring that functionality to your iPad or iPhone.
  7. Prizmo: With Prizmo, users can scan in any kind of text document and have the program read it out loud, which can be a big help to those who struggle with reading.
  8. Flashcards for iPad: This app makes it easy to study words, spelling, and other things that young and LD readers might need help with.
  9. Soundnote: Using Soundnote, you can record drawings, notes, and audio all at once, balancing reading-based skills with those that are auditory and visual.


These apps help teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, and spelling to any young learner, but can be especially helpful for those who are struggling.
  1. Alphabet Zoo: Alphabet Zoo is a great tool for helping young readers to recognize letter sounds. Using text and pictures of animals, kids can build their reading skills while having fun.
  2. Find the Letters HD: A favorite of special education teachers and psychologists, this app asks learners to find letters and numbers in a coloring grid. It helps build skills in spatial positioning, depth orientation, form discrimination, and concentration and attention.
  3. First Words Sampler: Preschoolers with a reading disability can get a head start on improving their skills with this app that teaches them about letters and words using fun graphics and sounds.
  4. Montessori Crosswords: Embrace the Montessori method by using this app to help youngsters improve their spelling and reading skills through engaging phonics-based exercises.
  5. Read & Write :Students can practice reading and writing letters using this application. Users can trace letters, learn letter sounds, and get illustrations to go along with each part of the alphabet.
  6. Sound Literacy: With a portion of the proceeds from this app going to the Dyslexia Association, there’s no reason not to sign on. Even better, the app is incredibly useful, employing the Orton-Gillingham method to help students recognize the spellings of English phonemes.
  7. weesay ABC: Using pictures, words, and sounds, this application makes it easy for young students to practice and learn their ABCs.
  8. abc PocketPhonics: This app is a great tool for teaching reading disabled students the fundamentals of letter sounds and shapes.
  9. The Writing Machine: By correlating pictures and words, reading text, sounding out letters, this tool helps students develop early literacy abilities with greater ease.
  10. WordSort: One of the top educational apps out there, this game helps kids to learn how to identify parts of speech, like nouns, adverbs, and verbs, as well as emphasizing grammar skills.
  11. ABC Phonics Word Families: Using analogy phonics (or word families) this application teaches young learners to see and hear the patterns of commonality in a set of words. With flashcards, spelling words, scrambled words, and games, this app is a must-have for helping students.


These excellent iPad apps can be a big help to reading disabled students who need a little extra support when trying to read.
  1. Blio: Blio offers all the same features of any basic e-reader, and also a few things that make it unique. Through synchronized highlighting and a serial presentation view, the app helps those with reading disabilities make sense of the text, something many other similar apps don’t offer.
  2. Read 2 Me: For those who have difficulty reading, apps like Read 2 Me can be a godsend. The app comes complete with an entire library of texts, all of which can be read out loud.
  3. Read2Go: If you use DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) books in your classroom, Read2Go is one of the best and most accessible ways to read those books on iOS.
  4. AppWriter: Designed with reading and writing disabilities in mind, this text editor for iPad integrates numerous accessibility features into standard text editing functionality.
  5. Audiobooks: Sometimes students with reading disabilities might just want a break from reading books the old fashioned way. That’s why this amazing collection of free audiobooks can come in handy, offering access to classics like Romeo and Juliet and Treasure Island.
  6. Bob’s Books: Bob’s Books uses phonics-based interactive games to help kids learn how to read. Activities will help young learners to sound out words, spell, and make connections between letters and sounds.
  7. iStoryTime: There are numerous titles to choose from in the iStoryTime series, all of which allow kids to have the book read to them or to get help reading it themselves.
  8. MeeGenius! Kids’ Books: MeeGenius is another series that’s perfect for practicing reading skills. Those with trouble reading can use illustrations and helpful word highlighting to get help, or just have the book read to them until they’re confident enough to do it on their own.
  9. Reading Trainer: While this app is designed to help average readers boost their reading speed and ability, it can be useful to those who struggle as well, as many of the skills taught can help just about anyone become a more confident reader.
  10. See Read Say: This application will help to ensure that young learners are familiar with all of the Dolch sight words (the most common words), using games, activities, and tons of practice.
  11. Stories2Learn: Why use existing stories to help troubled readers when you can build your own? This application lets you develop your own text and audio stories, including messages, topics, and other things that can help keep kids interested.
  12. eReading series: The eReading series from Brain Integration LLC, helps young readers at all levels of proficiency learn about topics like Greek Mythology and Gulliver’s Travels. Users can have the book read to them, or practice reading without the help, too.


For those with reading disabilities, sometimes writing can also be a trying task. Here are some apps that can help teach, assist, and make writing more fun.
  1. iWrite Words: Named by The Washington Post as one of the best apps for special needs kids, this game-based program helps youngsters learn to write their letters through a fun and engaging setup that uses illustrations and animations to keep things interesting.
  2. AlphaWriter: Using Montessori-based learning methods, this application helps kids to learn how to read, write, and spell phonetically. It also teaches lessons on consonants and vowels, letter sounds, writing stories, and much more.
  3. Sentence Builder: Through this application, elementary school children will learn how to build grammatically correct sentences, with a special focus on using connector words.
  4. Story Builder: After kids are done learning how to build sentences, they can move onto this app which combines those sentences into one coherent story, complete with illustrations.
  5. Writing Prompts: Having trouble thinking of things for students to write about? This app removes that roadblock and offers up numerous ideas for short writing assignments.
  6. Idea Sketch: This mind-mapping app can help learning disabled students make sense of their ideas and organize them in ways that they can easily translate into written work.
  7. Storyrobe: Teachers and students can build and share their own unique stories through this application. Integration with YouTube and email makes it easy to share and revise, too.


These applications can be excellent tools for improving spelling skills.
  1. American Wordspeller: Looking up a word in a dictionary isn’t that simple if you have no idea how to spell it. This app removes that problem and employs a method that lets you much more easily pinpoint how to spell just about any word.
  2. Word Magic: Created by the parents of a five-year-old, this app for young learners help kids learn words and how to spell them correctly. It uses lots of positive reinforcement, rewards, and fun pictures to keep things interesting to learners.
  3. Typ-O: Poor spellers can rejoice over this great application that help you spell words correctly in any typing-related program on your iPhone or iPad.
  4. A1 Spelling App: This application is a great way to help poor spellers begin to learn the correct spelling of common words, increasing difficulty as kids master words.
  5. iSpell Word: iSpell Word is designed to help kids learn the spellings of simple English words. It uses games to teach, with each level of the game employing more difficult words so kids are always challenged.
  6. Jumbline: If you’re looking to make reading, writing, and spelling into a game, this app can help. It’s full of word games that ask players to use speed, smarts, pattern recognition, and spelling skills to win.
  7. Spelling Bee Challenge: Kids can have fun taking part in a mock spelling bee using this application that boosts both spelling and vocab skills.
  8. Word Fall: In this educational game, words fall from the sky and players must collect letters to form basic words.
  9. WordLadder: This highly challenging word game will get older readers thinking about how words are spelled and how they can be connected and changed to form new words.
  10. ACT Spell: Developed especially for learners with disabilities and special needs, this tool helps develop motor control, word recognition, spelling, and reading skills.
  11. Word Wizard: Lauded by The New York Times, this word-focused app lets kids hear the sounds of letters and words through a movable alphabet while also engaging them in spelling practice and games.

Smartphones: EFM App - Prenatal scans help keep babies safe at home

KEEPING a close watch on baby and mother during pregnancy is crucial, but the equipment to do this is often found only in hospitals. 

So mothers who live far from medical centres must make long journeys to receive routine scans.

This could soon change thanks to a portable fetal-monitoring package based around a smartphone. 

It could provide broader access to cheap monitoring systems for those in remote locations and in countries without access to the most advanced prenatal technologies.

Designed by a team of engineers, computer scientists and obstetricians at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the system uses commercially available sensors to monitor the fetal heartbeat during pregnancy or the mother's contractions during labour. 

EFM Monitoring Activity
That information is sent via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone, which processes it before relaying it to the main hospital database using whatever connections are available.

Dimitrios Mastrogiannis, the lead physician on the project, says that other health measures such as maternal oxygen saturation or blood-glucose monitors could be integrated into the system.

The work is being presented at the BodyNets conference in Oslo, Norway, this week.