Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Child Poster: Children Need and Deserve Patience

If it takes a poster to help you remember that children need and deserve your patience and understanding to help them learn, then use this poster to help you.

Here are some more quotes to amuse and inform you.

"School is indeed a training for later life not because it teaches the 3 Rs (more or less), but because it instills the essential cultural nightmare fear of failure, envy of success, and absurdity."


Jules Henry

"Schools have not necessarily much to do with education...they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school." 


Winston Churchill

“School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.” Ivan Illich

Canadian Researchers reveal Toddlers value helpful people

Even very young children value people that help them and they are motivated to return the favour, according to a new study in the journal Plos Oneout of Queen's University, Ontario.

The study revealed that those children, when asked to pick one person to help, most often choose the person who was helpful to them.

Valerie Kuhlmeier
"Children can identify helpful individuals and will be helpful toward those people," says study author Valerie Kuhlmeier (Psychology).

"As early as the age of three, children already appear to be engaging in a variant of the golden rule: 'do unto others as they have done unto you."

In the study, children were presented with a puzzle that consisted of a picture covered in such a way as to allow only a small section to be seen.

The children could not see what was in the picture but could interact with two puppets. Puppets are used in studies like this one because children treat them as peers.

One puppet announced that it knew what the picture was and proceeded to tell the child. The second puppet said that it also knew the picture, but was not going to tell.

Both puppets spoke in happy, friendly tones, and looked alike; they only differed in their willingness to provide information.

Children were able to determine which puppet was helpful and, when the one puppet needed help reaching a far-way toy or solving a puzzle of their own, the children were quick to identify which puppet had helped them and returned the favour.

"There is a growing body of research demonstrating that toddlers spontaneously help others in many situations," says Dr. Kuhlmeier, director of the Infant Cognition Group at Queen's.

"What we are also finding is that they pick out the helpers around them, even when the helpful act is as simple as teaching them something new about their world, and they return the favour with their own helpful acts."

Koegel Researchers Claim to have successfully treat Autism in infants

Most infants respond to a game of peek-a-boo with smiles at the very least, and, for those who find the activity particularly entertaining, gales of laughter.

For infants with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), however, the game can be distressing rather than pleasant, and they'll do their best to tune out all aspects of it—and that includes the people playing with them.

That disengagement is a hallmark of ASD, and one of the characteristics that amplifies the disorder as infants develop into children and then adults.

A study conducted by researchers at the Koegel Autism Center at UC Santa Barbara has found that replacing such games in favour of those the infant prefers can actually lessen the severity of the infants' ASD symptoms, and, perhaps, alleviate the condition altogether.

Their work is highlighted the current issue of the Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions. Lynn Koegel, clinical director of the center and the study's lead author, described the game-playing protocol as a modified Pivotal Response Treatment (PVT).

Developed at UCSB, PRT is based on principles of positive motivation. The researchers identified the activities that seemed to be more enjoyable to the infants and taught the respective parents to focus on those rather than on the typical games they might otherwise choose.

"We had them play with their infants for short periods, and then give them some kind of social reward," Koegel said.

"Over time, we conditioned the infants to enjoy all the activities that were presented by pairing the less desired activities with the highly desired ones."

The social reward is preferable to, say, a toy, Koegel noted, because it maintains the ever-crucial personal interaction.

"The idea is to get them more interested in people," she continued, "to focus on their socialisation. If they're avoiding people and avoiding interacting, that creates a whole host of other issues.

They don't form friendships, and then they don't get the social feedback that comes from interacting with friends."

According to Koegel, by the end of the relatively short one- to three-month intervention period, which included teaching the parents how to implement the procedures, all the infants in the study had normal reactions to stimuli.

"Two of the three have no disabilities at all, and the third is very social," she said. "The third does have a language delay, but that's more manageable than some of the other issues."

On a large scale, Koegel hopes to establish some benchmark for identifying social deficits in infants so parents and health care providers can intervene sooner rather than later.

"We have a grant from the Autism Science Foundation to look at lots of babies and try to really figure out which signs are red flags, and which aren't," she said.

"A number of the infants who show signs of autism will turn out to be perfectly fine; but we're saying, let's not take the risk if we can put an intervention in play that really works. Then we don't have to worry about whether or not these kids would develop the full-blown symptoms of autism."

Historically, ASD is diagnosed in children 18 months or older, and treatment generally begins around 4 years. "You can pretty reliably diagnose kids at 18 months, especially the more severe cases," said Koegel.

"The mild cases might be a little harder, especially if the child has some verbal communication. There are a few measures –– like the ones we used in our study –– that can diagnose kids pre-language, even as young as six months.

But ours was the first that worked with children under 12 months and found an effective intervention." Given the increasing number of children being diagnosed with ASD, Koegel's findings could be life altering.

"When you consider that the recommended intervention for preschoolers with autism is 30 to 40 hours per week of one-on-one therapy, this is a fairly easy fix," she said.

"We did a single one-hour session per week for four to 12 weeks until the symptoms improved, and some of these infants were only a few months old. We saw a lot of positive change."

FOOTNOTE
We present this article for you to read and be informed about. We do not in any way endorse this organisation or the work it does. Make up your own mind as to how relevant and scientific it is and make your own decisions.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Protect your kids from pollen allergies

Many children suffer allergies at this time of year as trees and other plants start releasing pollens into the air.

So parents need to monitor their youngsters for symptoms, an expert says.

"There are different types of allergies, but if you notice that your child has more symptoms and reactions during the spring it's a clue that they have a pollen allergy," Dr. Joyce Rabbat, a pediatric allergist at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Symptoms of pollen allergies—which are most likely to be worse on dry, windy days—include itchy eyes, sneezing, stuffy/runny nose, coughing and asthma.

Dr. Joyce Rabbat
"If your child's allergy symptoms are interfering with his or her daily life, there is no reason to let the child suffer. Allergy symptoms are very treatable. Some people think it's just something they need to 'live with' but that's not the case," Rabbat said.

She said parents can take the following steps to help reduce children's allergy symptoms:

  • Check pollen counts and limit children's time outside when the counts are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed, especially on high-count days. This will help limit the amount of pollen that lands on furniture and carpets.
  • Turn on your air conditioner to filter pollen from the air within your house. Have children wash their face and hands when they come in from outdoors.
  • A shower and change of clothes can take pollen off the body.

"If your child is active outdoors or in sports, make sure he or she takes allergy medication before heading outside," Rabbat said.

Parents also need to watch for asthma symptoms because many children with allergies also have allergic asthma.

Symptoms of allergic asthma include coughing, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, wheezing and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

"Often treating children's allergies helps to control their asthma as well. Kids may need to take an allergy medicine before going outside, or they may need daily allergy medication.

It's also important to get ahead of your allergy symptoms.

Once allergies are flaring, they become more difficult to treat. If you are on a good medication regimen before the pollens peak, it makes for a much more enjoyable season," Rabbat said.

More information: 
The Nemours Foundation has more about seasonal allergies in children HERE.

Cesar Milan - The Dog Whisperer speaks about Kids connection with Dogs

I have great respect for Cesar Milan and the work he does. He is an example to all dog owners and parents.

He has taught me so much through his programs and writings that I feel I should share this article with you and invite you to read more of his sage advice on his Blog site. -

"Friday was National Kids and Pets Day in the US. If you’ve had both at the same time, then you know that children, especially toddlers, are naturally drawn to animals, particularly dogs, and that calm, balanced dogs have a natural affinity for children."

Most of you reading this probably know that my life-long love for animals also goes back to my childhood, and I was even nicknamed “Dog Boy” because of it. My sons are the same way, especially Calvin, who is growing into a fine Pack Leader.

Here’s my question to you: Why do you think that most kids and dogs get along so well?

The reason is simple: Young children, like dogs, tend to be instinctual. They are very direct in their communication, and they do it through energy, intention, and body language. Dogs can understand and relate to this, because that’s how they communicate, too.

Facial Expressions
Some studies indicate that dogs can read human facial expressions as well, and if there’s one thing young children are not good at, it’s hiding their thoughts or emotions — if a kid thinks it or feels it, it shows up on their face.

Perhaps this is why dogs don’t necessarily react nervously or aggressively when that giggly toddler comes running up to them screaming in delight — they can instinctively understand that the gesture is the same as another dog initiating play, rather than a threat.

Dogs Can Bite
However... there are plenty of stories in the news about children being bitten, maimed, or worse by dogs, whether it was the beloved family pet or a strange dog on the loose, and it is very important from early on to teach our children basic dog safety.

Even an adult can be bitten by taking the wrong approach with a dog (it’s happened to me a time or two!), and it’s much easier for kids to accidentally take the wrong approach.

While I do teach that we should relate to our dogs instinctively,  that’s something for much older kids and grown-ups.

With young kids, we have to teach them to approach dogs intellectually first, then let them re-discover their instincts later.

Respect Their Space
We have to begin by teaching our children to respect a dog’s space, and never approach in a way that might startle or frighten the dog. They should never run at a dog with excited energy, and never chase a dog that is trying to avoid them.

When petting a dog, they should do it gently, and always under the chin or on the chest, never by reaching over the dog’s back and, most importantly, they should never, ever approach a strange dog, especially if it’s alone; otherwise, they should ask the dog’s caretaker first if it’s all right.

Supervision
These rules apply to the pets in your own home as well, and you should never leave your dogs and young children together unsupervised.

Infants especially like to grab things — remember, to humans, touch is a very important way of learning about the world — and even the friendliest dog can react badly to suddenly having its tail or ears yanked.

Respect and Care
If you teach your very young children to approach animals with respect and care, it will not only help keep them safe, but educate them on how to treat animals for life, so they can have many rewarding experiences with them as they get older. Pets are also the perfect way to teach older children empathy and responsibility — two of the most important skills they can have as adults.

And, as adults, we can learn from our young children all over again how to approach the world with that sense of instinctual joy and curiosity that draws them to animals in the first place, but to do it in a way that is safe and rewarding for everyone involved, human and dog alike.

Read more of Cesar's articles here

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jay Berckley at TEDx: Dream Boldly For the Future of Our Children



Do you remember a mentor in your life that always comes to mind when you think of someone who really listened closely, influenced your outlook and performance, and taught you life-long lessons that helped shape who you are today?

Jay Berckley Meritas Family of International Schools, remembers, and is driven to help connect all students to the right mentors and methods that will shape the decision makers of tomorrow.

He will bring his experience and passion to the stage this November as he shares with us his own lessons learned and how multi-disciplinary environments can play a role in truly shaping a better future for us all.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

MYO Wearable-Computing Armbands have potential for Amputees and Disabled



"Wave goodbye to camera-based gesture control." That is the confident directive coming from a one-year-old Waterloo, Ontario, startup called Thalmic Labs.

The company is prepared to ship its next batch of wearable-computing armbands for device controls early next year.

The $149 armbands called MYO do not require cameras in order to track hand or arm movements. The armbands can wirelessly control and interact with computers and other digital consumer products by recognizing the electric impulses in users' muscles.

The MYO is worn around the forearm; its purpose is to control computers, phones, and other devices, sending the data via Bluetooth. Windows and Mac operating systems are supported and APIs will be available for iOS and Android.

Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (BLE) is used for the MYO to communicate with the paired devices. (Bluetooth version 4.0 is the most recent version of Bluetooth wireless technology.

It includes a low-energy feature promoted as good news for developers and manufacturers of Bluetooth devices and applications—enabling markets for devices that are low-cost and operate with low-power wireless connectivity.)

The MYO specs include on-board, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and an ARM processor. Also part of the mix are the company's proprietary muscle-activity sensors and a six-axis inertial measurement unit.

A user's gestures and movements are actually detected in two ways: muscle activity and motion sensing. The Thalmic team says that when sensing the muscle movements of the user, the MYO can detect changes down to each individual finger.

Also, when tracking arm and hand positions, the MYO picks up subtle movements and rotations in all directions.

Right now, as indicated in their newly released video of the company, Thalmic Labs hopes for greater things for MYO via a developer community. They expect an official developer program to be up and running in the next few months.

They pride themselves in groundbreaking technology, as a team with specialties from electrical engineering to embedded system design. Nonetheless, they are looking to developers for innovative ideas in applications.


Friday, April 26, 2013

A Story of Robots and Autism - Video



UConn researcher Tim Gifford is studying how robots can help children with autism learn and communicate.

The research is currently being conducted with students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Whiting Lane Elementary School in West Hartford, CT.

To learn more about the robot project, visit: http://s.uconn.edu/robotshelp

The young boy, Jack, shyly approaches his friend in the classroom at Whiting Lane Elementary School. This is the last time they'll see each other, and Jack has a gift for his playmate: a picture of the two of them together, and the words, "I'll miss you."

A common enough scene, except the "you" in this case is a humanoid robot programmed by researchers affiliated with the University of Connecticut and Movia Robotics to help children with learning delays like those on the autism spectrum improve their social and communication skills.

"Hi, Jack," the robot chirps in greeting, before he and the student get into a sequence of activities designed to help Jack not just in the classroom, but in his daily life.

Timothy Gifford
Timothy Gifford – who is the CEO of Movia Robotics as well as the director of the Advanced Interactive Technology Center at UConn's Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) – sees the work as having potential to cross over into the marketplace.

"That's really the goal: to take this out of the lab and into the classroom," he says.

"One of the reasons we wanted to make this a commercially available product is to get it into the hands of as many schools and students as possible."

That's going to take some time, and the project is still in development, as Gifford and his team learn what works, and what a high-tech product like a robot needs to have in order to function in the world of elementary school kids and daily use.

At his lab at the Connecticut Science Center, where he's currently scientist-in-residence, Gifford works with programmers who are developing the sequences the two-foot-tall robots, which are made by a French company called Aldebaran Robotics, use in their interactions with students.

While the robot engages the students one-on-one, someone else – right now a researcher, but hopefully soon a teacher or teacher's aide – guides the interaction from a laptop computer.

The six sequences are flexible enough to be effective when working with children with different levels of ability: one child delightedly bangs on a drum along with the robot, while another runs through more complex verbal exercises designed to improve his ability to communicate with peers.

THE CHALLENGES
Among the challenges Gifford is working to address are the wear-and-tear the robots absorb over the course of sessions with the students, and what Gifford calls "the novelty factor."

"We were worried the kids would get bored with the robots after a few weeks, but so far we've been able to consistently stimulate interest," thanks in part to the use of simpler toy robots in conjunction with the state-of-the-art Aldebaran models, Gifford says.

And while more work remains to be done before their research can reach conclusions, Gifford is encouraged by what he's learned so far.

"This is ultimately a very satisfying project to be involved in," he says. "It's something that's not just interesting from a research perspective, but something that can also make a difference in people's lives."

Read more of this article here

Animal Computer Interaction: Technology to help dogs assist humans in the home



Dr Clara Mancini at The Open University talks about the Animal-Computer Interaction team and their collaboration with the charity Dogs for the Disabled to design dog-friendly technologies which will make it easier for dogs to assist their humans in the home.

Dr Clara Mancini
Assistance dogs perform a range of daily tasks, such as operating light switches and door handles, but domestic technology is designed for humans rather than animals, making life harder for the dogs and their owners. So, a new animal-centered design perspective is needed.

Join the conversation on Twitter

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Autism: Increased Risk detected at birth in abnormal placentas - Yale

Abnormal placental folds signal autism risk at birth. Credit: Patrick Lynch, Yale University 

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have figured out how to measure an infant's risk of developing autism by looking for abnormalities in his/her placenta at birth, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment for the developmental disorder.

The findings are reported in the April 25 online issue of Biological Psychiatry.

One out of 50 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but the diagnosis is usually made when these children are 3 to 4 years of age or older.

By then the best opportunities for intervention have been lost because the brain is most responsive to treatment in the first year of life.

Harvey Kliman
Senior author Harvey Kliman  M.D., research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, and research collaborators at the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, have found that abnormal placental folds and abnormal cell growths called trophoblast inclusions are key markers to identify newborns who are at risk for autism.

Kliman and his team examined 117 placentas from infants of at-risk families, those with one or more previous children with autism.

These families were participating in a study called MARBLES - Markers of Autism Risk in Babies – Learning Early Signs.

Kliman compared these at-risk placentas to 100 control placentas collected by the UC Davis researchers from the same geographic area.

The at-risk placentas had as many as 15 trophoblast inclusions, while none of the control placentas had more than two trophoblast inclusions.

Kliman said a placenta with four or more trophoblast inclusions conservatively predicts an infant with a 96.7% probability of being at risk for autism.

Currently, the best early marker of autism risk is family history. Couples with a child with autism are nine times more likely to have another child with autism.

Kliman said that when these at-risk families have subsequent children they could employ early intervention strategies to improve outcomes.

"Regrettably couples without known genetic susceptibility must rely on identification of early signs or indicators that may not overtly manifest until the child's second or third year of life," said Kliman.

"I hope that diagnosing the risk of developing autism by examining the placenta at birth will become routine, and that the children who are shown to have increased numbers of trophoblast inclusions will have early interventions and an improved quality of life as a result of this test," Kliman added.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Autism: Vaccine Developed against gut bug, Clostridium bolteae

Brittany Pequegnat 
A first-ever vaccine created by University of Guelph researchers for gut bacteria common in autistic children may also help control some autism symptoms.

The groundbreaking study by Brittany Pequegnat and Guelph chemistry professor Mario Monteiro appears this month in the journal Vaccine.

They developed a carbohydrate-based vaccine against the gut bug, Clostridium Bolteae.

C. bolteae is known to play a role in gastrointestinal disorders, and it often shows up in higher numbers in the GI tracts of autistic children than in those of healthy kids.

More than 90 per cent of children with autism spectrum disorders suffer from chronic, severe gastrointestinal symptoms.

Of those, about 75 per cent suffer from diarrhea, according to current literature. "Little is known about the factors that predispose autistic children to C. bolteae," said Monteiro.

Although most infections are handled by some antibiotics, he said, a vaccine would improve current treatment.

Mario Monteiro
"This is the first vaccine designed to control constipation and diarrhea caused by C. bolteae and perhaps control autism-related symptoms associated with this microbe," he said.

Autism cases have increased almost sixfold over the past 20 years, and scientists don't know why.

Although many experts point to environmental factors, others have focused on the human gut. Some researchers believe toxins and/or metabolites produced by gut bacteria, including C. bolteae, may be associated with symptoms and severity of autism, especially regressive autism.

Pequegnat, a master's student, and Monteiro used bacteria grown by Mike Toth, a Guelph PhD student in the lab of microbiology professor Emma Allen-Vercoe.

The new anti- C. bolteae vaccine targets the specific complex polysaccharides, or carbohydrates, on the surface of the bug.

The vaccine effectively raised C. bolteae-specific antibodies in rabbits. Doctors could also use the vaccine induced antibodies to quickly detect the bug in a clinical setting, said Monteiro.

The vaccine might take more than 10 years to work through pre-clinical and human trials, and it may take even longer before a drug is ready for market, Monteiro said.

"But this is a significant first step in the design of a multivalent vaccine against several autism-related gut bacteria," he said.

Monteiro has studied sugar-based vaccines for two other gastric pathogens: Campylobacter jejuni, which causes travellers' diarrhea, and Clostridium difficile, which causes antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

Good Mental Health starts with early Childhood Relationships

The mental and emotional development of children is just as important as early childhood education, according to Iowa State researchers. 

Credit: Bob Elbert 

Making sure children grow up in a safe and stable environment is the goal of Iowa State University researchers working on a statewide evaluation through the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting programs.

Researchers want to improve effectiveness as well as access for families to prevention and intervention programs.

Kere Hughes-Belding
Kere Hughes-Belding, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State, says the work is critical to the mental and emotional development of children.

It's an aspect that is often overlooked, but is just as important as early childhood education, she said. "This is such a critical age and period of development in a child's life. There really is no better age to intervene and get the most benefit," Hughes-Belding said.

"The more we can do to promote nurturing and caring relationships between parent and child, the better outcomes for the child." Researchers will start by interviewing families who participate in the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting programs.

Many of these families are also dealing with complex problems such as poverty, unemployment and chronic depression, as well as substance abuse issues.

Hughes-Belding says parents are generally motivated to do what is best for their children, but may lack the skills or ability to improve the situation without outside support.

The research team also plans to work with the home visitors who provide the services and videotape their interactions with families.

They want to get a better idea of what works and what doesn't. "The results from this evaluation project will give us information about the characteristics, training and support needed for effective home visitation with at-risk families of very young children," Hughes-Belding said.

Read More here

Knowing the Gender of Unborn Child Helps Fathers Bond with Offspring

Dads who find out the sex of their unborn child and give him or her a name may find it easier to connect emotionally with their baby, a study conducted at the University of Birmingham has found.

The report, entitled "The Moral Habitus of Fatherhood: A Study of How Men Negotiate the Moral Demands of Becoming a Father," funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, looked at men's experiences of, and feelings about, becoming a father and mapped their journeys from the discovery of the pregnancy to the early months of fatherhood.

Jonathan Ives
Dr Jonathan Ives, a senior lecturer in the centre for Medicine, Ethics, Society and History at the University of Birmingham, who carried out the research, said: "Serious consideration needs to be given to how men can be empowered to become the fathers they want to be.

"Healthcare workers who are involved in this process need to engage with men's views on what it is to be a good man, a good partner, and a good father and help them achieve an appropriate balance between their own needs and interests and those of their partner and future children."

The study found that some men's understanding of what it means to be a good man and/or a good partner could act as a barrier to being drawn into, or actively seeking involvement in antenatal or postnatal consultation, but that "this is not necessarily demonstrative of a lack of commitment to fatherhood, but merely a different construction of the fatherhood role in that context".

"Helping men effect an 'active transformation into positive fatherhood' may require helping them to reconcile their moral sense of how they ought to act as a partner and as a man, with how they need to act as a father and a father-to-be," the report states.

"Encouraging fathers to become actively involved, and drawing them in, may require more than making them feel welcome and creating space for them to talk, but also giving them explicit permission to become actively involved."

The research found that scans helped to make their partner's pregnancy more real for men but "it was discovering the gender of their child, and giving him/her a name that tended to enable men to feel emotionally connected, because it allowed them to think of the unborn child as a person whom one can father, and with whom a relationship could be developed and a future imagined".

Dr Ives followed 11 men over a period of 9 months, from the first scan to 8 weeks after the birth of their child. The ages of participants ranged from 22 to 58.

Jason Cole, one of the dads who took part in the research, said: "I really wanted to know the gender of our first child.

My partner wasn't fussed. She was happy either way but I really wanted to know. I don't know why. As soon as we found out she was a girl, from about 20 weeks, we named her Molly and I think it did help me prepare for her and connect with her once she was born."

Mr Cole, who lives in Devon, is happy to discuss his experiences with the press. He and his partner are now expecting their second child – also a girl.

More information: www.birmingham.ac.… oject-1.aspx

Autism: Anti-Epileptic drug use during pregnancy associated with increased risk

Maternal use of valproate (a drug used for the treatment of epilepsy and other neuropsychological disorders) during pregnancy was associated with a significantly increased risk of autism in offspring, according to a study in the April 24 issue of JAMA.

The authors caution that these findings must be balanced against the treatment benefits for women who require valproate for epilepsy control.

"Anti-epileptic drug exposure during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk for congenital malformations and delayed cognitive development in the offspring, but little is known about the risk of other serious neuropsychiatric disorders," according to background information in the article. Jakob Christensen, Ph.D., of Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark, and colleagues evaluated the association between maternal use of valproate during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder and childhood autism in offspring.

The population-based study included all children born alive in Denmark from 1996 to 2006. National registers were used to identify children exposed to valproate during pregnancy and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (childhood autism [autistic disorder], Asperger syndrome, atypical autism, and other or unspecified pervasive developmental disorders).

Data were analyzed and adjusted for potential confounders (factors that can influence outcomes) such as maternal age at conception, paternal age at conception, parental psychiatric history, gestational age, birth weight, sex, congenital malformations, and parity.

Children were followed up from birth until the day of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, death, emigration, or December 31, 2010, whichever came first.

The analysis included 655,615 children born from 1996 through 2006. The average age of the children at end of follow-up was 8.8 years.

During the study period, 5,437 children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, including 2,067 with childhood autism.

The researchers identified 2,644 children exposed to antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy, including 508 exposed to valproate.

The authors found that use of valproate during pregnancy was associated with an absolute risk of 4.42 percent for autism spectrum disorder and an absolute risk of 2.50 percent for childhood autism.

"In this population-based cohort study, children of women who used valproate during pregnancy had a higher risk of autism spectrum disorder and childhood autism compared with children of women who did not use valproate.

Their risks were also higher than those for children of women who were previous users of valproate but who stopped before their pregnancy," the researchers write.

"Because autism spectrum disorders are serious conditions with lifelong implications for affected children and their families, even a moderate increase in risk may have major health importance.

Still, the absolute risk of autism spectrum disorder was less than 5 percent, which is important to take into account when counseling women about the use of valproate in pregnancy."

Read more here

Touch Bionics I-Limb Ultra: Boy uses Smartphone App to adjust Prosthetic Hand

A teenager who lost his hand to meningitis has become the first in Britain to be fitted with a revolutionary bionic replacement - operated using an iPhone.

Patrick Kane, 16, can now control his state-of-the-art left hand using a mobile application on his iPhone 5 which gives him 24 different pre-set grips.

He can create favourite grips and configure the settings on his arm for different situations, like sport or using a keyboard.

The thumb on the next generation prosthesis now rotates automatically instead of Patrick having to move it manually with his other hand.

Today Patrick - dubbed the bionic boy - showed off his brand new i-limb ultra revolution at the headquarters of Touch Bionics in Livingston, West Lothian.

He said: “It makes a big difference. It has got a mobile phone app which means it can go into 24 different pre-set patterns.

“I can operate it using my iPhone 5. There’s nothing it can’t do.”

Experts at Touch Bionics lead the field in the use of intelligent prosthetics, and Patrick, from London, is the first in the UK to benefit from the latest technology.

At 13, he had already become the youngest amputee in the world to be fitted with one of the company’s pioneering prosthetics when he received an earlier model, the i-limb pulse, in 2010.

But the upgraded i-limb ultra revolution is even more sophisticated, and allows Patrick to create favourite shortcuts to control the arm via an app that can be used on an iPhone 5 or 4S.

He can use the biosim mobile control app to activate 24 different grips or gestures just by tapping the screen.

The grips include different pinches, fist clenches, a tripod grip and a single finger point.

“We believe that the i-limb ultra revolution, with powered thumb rotation and the ability to quickly access multiple grip patterns, offers unparalleled dexterity and control, enabling wearers to more easily perform activities of daily living and thus increase their quality of life. Ian Stevens, CEO of Touch Bionics.

TOUCH BIONICS I-LIMB: Prosthetic Hands controlled by Smartphone App



Credit: CNN

Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows you the latest in prosthetic technology: bionic hands controlled from an iPhone app.

I-Limb Ultra Revolution from Scotland's Touch Bionics.

“We believe that the i-limb ultra revolution, with powered thumb rotation and the ability to quickly access multiple grip patterns, offers unparalleled dexterity and control, enabling wearers to more easily perform activities of daily living and thus increase their quality of life. Ian Stevens, CEO of Touch Bionics.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Autistic pupil Douglas Parr 'terrified' by Psycho scene

A 13-year-old autistic boy was left traumatised after seeing the shower murder scene from the film Psycho at his school, says his mother.

Douglas Parr attends mainstream classes at Comberton Village College in Cambridgeshire.

His mother Kate Bourne said no consent was requested from parents for the 15-certificate film to be shown and the scene had made her son sick.

Mrs Bourne has accepted an apology from the teacher.

The school said it was "very regrettable" that the pupil found the film distressing and added it was "reviewing this particular scheme of work".

The famous scene from the 1960 Hitchcock film shows Anthony Perkins, as the troubled Norman Bates, stabbing Janet Leigh through a shower curtain.

'Sensitive to noises'
In the email to Mrs Bourne, the teacher said the clip had been used to illustrate how music was integral to the mood of a film - but it would not be used again.

Mrs Bourne said: "Dougie came flying through the door after school on Monday saying, 'I had to watch the bloody shower scene from Psycho in music, today'."

He then told her he had been sick.

Douglas Parr
Douglas Parr was sick after seeing the film

"Dougie is quite sensitive to noises, so even if his teachers had just played the soundtrack it might have distressed him," Mrs Bourne said.

Douglas's teaching assistant had made a note in his school diary - which details work the pupils have done during the day - informing his mother that he had been upset by a film.

She had removed him from the classroom and he had been sick, the note said.

Mrs Bourne emailed the school, saying: "I cannot for the life of me understand why this has been shown.

"The film carries a certification of 15 years. Dougie is 13.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Neurodiversity: Non-Conventional Thinking for the Brain

Judy Singer
In the late 1990s, a sociologist named Judy Singer—who is on the autism spectrum herself—invented a new word to describe conditions like autism, dyslexia, and ADHD: neurodiversity.

In a radical stroke, she hoped to shift the focus of discourse about atypical ways of thinking and learning away from the usual litany of deficits, disorders, and impairments.

Echoing positive terms like biodiversity and cultural diversity, her neologism called attention to the fact that many atypical forms of brain wiring also convey unusual skills and aptitudes.

Autistic people, for instance, have prodigious memories for facts, are often highly intelligent in ways that don’t register on verbal IQ tests, and are capable of focusing for long periods on tasks that take advantage of their natural gift for detecting flaws in visual patterns.

By autistic standards, the “normal” human brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail.

“I was interested in the liberatory, activist aspects of it,” Singer explained to journalist Andrew Solomon in 2008, “to do for neurologically different people what feminism and gay rights had done for their constituencies.”

The new word first appeared in print in a 1998 Atlantic article about Wired magazine’s website, HotWired, by journalist Harvey Blume.

“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general,” he declared.

“Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?

Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.”

Thinking this way is no mere exercise in postmodern relativism.

One reason that the vast majority of autistic adults are chronically unemployed or underemployed, consigned to make-work jobs like assembling keychains in sheltered workshops, is because HR departments are hesitant to hire workers who look, act, or communicate in non-neurotypical ways, that is to say, by using a keyboard and text-to-speech software to express themselves, rather than by chattering around the water cooler.

One way to understand neurodiversity is to remember that just because a PC is not running Windows doesn’t mean that it’s broken. Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs.

We owe many of the wonders of modern life to innovators who were brilliant in non-neurotypical ways.

Herman Hollerith, who helped launch the age of computing by inventing a machine to tabulate and sort punch cards, once leaped out of a school window to escape his spelling lessons because he was dyslexic.

So were Carver Mead, the father of very large scale integrated circuits, and William Dreyer, who designed one of the first protein sequencers.

Singer’s subversive meme has also become the rallying cry of the first new civil rights movement to take off in the 21st century.

Empowered by the Internet, autistic self-advocates, proud dyslexics, unapologetic Touretters, and others who think differently are raising the rainbow banner of neurodiversity to encourage society to appreciate and celebrate cognitive differences, while demanding reasonable accommodations in schools, housing, and the workplace.

A nonprofit group called the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is working with the US Department of Labour to develop better employment opportunities for all people on the spectrum, including those who rely on screen-based devices to communicate (and who doesn’t these days?).

“Trying to make someone ‘normal’ isn’t always the best way to improve their life,” says ASAN cofounder Ari Ne’eman, the first openly autistic White House appointee.

Neurodiversity is also gaining traction in special education, where experts are learning that helping students make the most of their native strengths and special interests, rather than focusing on trying to correct their deficits or normalize their behaviour, is a more effective method of educating young people with atypical minds so they can make meaningful contributions to society.

“We don’t pathologise a calla lily by saying it has a ‘petal deficit disorder,’” writes Thomas Armstrong, author of a new book called Neurodiversity in the Classroom. (see the video below)

“Similarly, we ought not to pathologise children who have different kinds of brains and different ways of thinking and learning.”

In forests and tide pools, the value of biological diversity is resilience: the ability to withstand shifting conditions and resist attacks from predators.

In a world changing faster than ever, honouring and nurturing neurodiversity is civilization’s best chance to thrive in an uncertain future.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Splash! Less Talking and Less Emotion

The two biggest mistakes parents and teachers make in dealing with children are: 

  • Too Much Talking and 
  • Too Much Emotion. 

Talking is bad because it either doesn't work or leads you down the wrong path, through the Talk‐ Persuade‐Argue‐Yell‐Hit Syndrome.

Why is too much emotion destructive? When they are little, kids feel inferior and they crave your attention.

Sure, they can be cute and lovable, but they are also smaller, less privileged, less intelligent, less skillful, less responsible and less of just about everything than their parents and the older kids.

Children are constantly testing parents on a number of levels. They check the boundaries and limitations. They like to feel they have some power but also they want to know that their world is controlled and regulated.

By repeatedly getting your attention throughout the day means that they must be important to you and you must consider what they are doing as important to you. But it must also be safe and acceptable behaviour.

Repetition and re-affirming!

Have you ever seen a small child go down to a lake and throw rocks in the water? Children can do that for hours, partly because the big splashes are a sign of their impact.

They are making things happen. At this stage, it doesn't have to be a good or bad effect, so long as it's an effect.

Key Concept - If you have a child who is doing something you don’t like, get real upset about it on a regular basis and she’ll repeat it for you, ad infinitum.

Your being Upset and reacting is the Effect i.e. "The Big Splash"

So what does rock tossing have to do with what happens at home? 
If your small child can get big old you all upset, your upset is the big splash for him. It's normal 'testing the boundaries' behaviour. It doesn't mean that he has no conscience and is going to grow up to be a criminal or worse, a politician!

It's just that having all that power temporarily rewards them and it feels good to the inferior part of the child but at the same time, it demonstrates that the parent does not have full control of the environment, and that's not what the child wants to feel.

If the parent does not have control of the situation it can cause a raised level of anxiety in the child i.e. disruptive behaviour that is not dealt with properly can create a higher level of anxiety in children.

Parents who say, "It drives me absolutely crazy when she eats her dinner with her fingers. Why does she do that?" may have already answered their own question.

She does that BECAUSE IT DRIVES YOU CRAZY!

There are a number of ways you can control your child's behaviour and teach them discipline, within a loving /caring relationship and without the raised emotional levels.

You can ruin any good practices and these approaches by talking too much and getting too excited. These two mistakes, of course, usually go hand in hand, and the emotion is usually anger, born of frustration.

Switch off the Faucet and stop the Flood!

Parents who understand and sense that they need to break the cycle of unwanted behaviour i.e. the child's action versus the parent's reaction.

They know that the cause is purely to have an 'effect', so they can turn off the talking and the emotional upset like a faucet. Thus, stopping the escalation into a flood (mainly of tears!).

It is not easy to do and it takes practice and raised awareness. Be alert that you are being drawn in to an emotional state by the child's behaviour and don't go there.

It helps if you have a partner, friend or family member who can help you recognise the signs and have a quiet word with you, until you can better recognise them yourself.

Make sure your children look to you for leadership and guidance as well as love and affection, and not for a sparring partner they can wind up at will and watch the Splash!.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Risk: Teenagers' brains are more Sensitive to Rewarding Feedback from their Peers

Laurence Steinberg
Teenagers are risk-takers—they're more likely than children or adults to experiment with illicit substances, have unprotected sex, and drive recklessly but research shows that teenagers have the knowledge and ability to make competent decisions about risk, just like adults.

So what explains their risky behaviour? In a new report, psychological scientists Laurence Steinberg and Jason Chein of Temple University and Dustin Albert of Duke University argue that some teens' risky behavior reflects the unique effect of peer influence on the still-developing teenage brain.

Their report is published as part of a special issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Jason Chein
The issue is focused on understanding the teenage brain. Teens spend an increasing amount of time with their peers, and the feedback they get from their friends and classmates may tune the brain's reward system to be more sensitive to the reward value of risky behaviour.

This sensitivity leads teens to focus on the short-term benefits of risky choices over the long-term value of safe alternatives.

The brain's cognitive control system, which helps to "put the brakes" on risky behavior, matures more gradually.

"If adolescents made all of their decisions involving drinking, driving, dalliances, and delinquency in the cool isolation of an experimenter's testing room, those decisions would likely be as risk averse as those of adults," argue Steinberg and colleagues.

"But therein lies the rub: Teenagers spend a remarkable amount of time in the company of other teenagers."

The authors point to a new wave of research at the intersection of neuroscience and behavior that suggests that the company of other teenagers fundamentally changes the calculus of adolescent risk taking.

In a study published in 2009, Steinberg and colleagues found that early adolescents, around 14 years old, took twice as many risks in a driving simulation game when they were tested with peers than when they were tested alone.

Older adolescents' driving was about 50% riskier in the company of peers. In a more recent study, Steinberg and colleagues found that adolescents, but not adults, took more risks when they were observed by their peers.

They also showed greater activation of brain structures, such as the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex, that are involved in evaluating rewards.

Randall W. Engle
Taken together, findings from this line of research reveal that being around peers can heighten teens' risky decision making by changing the way their brains process rewards.

"The phrase 'What were you thinking?' is known to every parent of a teenager," observes Randall W. Engle, professor of psychology at Georgia Tech and editor of Current Directions and yet, psychological research has historically neglected teenagers, focusing instead on children or adults.

Now, with the emergence of new techniques for studying the brain and its development, researchers are beginning to understand more about the way teens think and behave.

B.J. Casey
"The articles in this special issue on the teen brain provide the latest findings from human imaging and animal studies on topics that range from self-control to peer influence to policy," says B.J. Casey, guest editor of the special issue and Director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Casey emphasizes that, rather than portraying the teen brain as somehow 'defective,' "the contributors paint a picture of a brain that is sculpted by both biological and experiential factors to adapt to the unique social, physical, sexual and intellectual challenges of adolescence."

Autism: MEG Research Advances Detection from brain activity

Roberto Fernández Galán
Neuroscientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the University of Toronto have developed an efficient and reliable method of analyzing brain activity to detect autism in children.

Their findings appear today in the online journal PLOS ONE. The researchers recorded and analyzed dynamic patterns of brain activity with magnetoencephalography (MEG) to determine the brain's functional connectivity – that is, its communication from one region to another.

MEG measures magnetic fields generated by electrical currents in neurons of the brain. Roberto Fernández Galán, PhD, an assistant professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve and an electrophysiologist seasoned in theoretical physics led the research team that detected autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with 94 percent accuracy.

The new analytic method offers an efficient, quantitative way of confirming a clinical diagnosis of autism.

"We asked the question, 'Can you distinguish an autistic brain from a non-autistic brain simply by looking at the patterns of neural activity?' and indeed, you can," Galán said.

"This discovery opens the door to quantitative tools that complement the existing diagnostic tools for autism based on behavioural tests."

In a study of 19 children—nine with ASD—141 sensors tracked the activity of each child's cortex.

The sensors recorded how different regions interacted with each other while at rest, and compared the brain's interactions of the control group to those with ASD.

Researchers found significantly stronger connections between rear and frontal areas of the brain in the ASD group; there was an asymmetrical flow of information to the frontal region, but not vice versa.

The new insight into the directionality of the connections may help identify anatomical abnormalities in ASD brains.

Most current measures of functional connectivity do not indicate the interactions' directionality. "It is not just who is connected to whom, but rather who is driving whom," Galán said.

Their approach also allows them to measure background noise, or the spontaneous input driving the brain's activity while at rest.

A spatial map of these inputs demonstrated there was more complexity and structure in the control group than the ASD group, which had less variety and intricacy.

This feature offered better discrimination between the two groups, providing an even stronger measure of criteria than functional connectivity alone, with 94 percent accuracy.

Case Western Reserve's Office of Technology Transfer has filed a provisional patent application for the analysis' algorithm, which investigates the brain's activity at rest.

Galán and colleagues hope to collaborate with others in the autism field with emphasis on translational and clinical research.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Parent and Teachers Concerns Block Children Playing freely

Prof Anita Bundy
Altering parents' and teachers' notion of risk taking behaviour can significantly increase children's physical activity suggests a study lead by University of Sydney researchers.

The results of the Sydney Playground Project published online in the Preventive Medicine Journal show simple, low cost, additions to a playground can increase physical activity and decreases children's sedentary behaviour during recess times.

However parental and teachers' concerns for safety and being sued remain a concern.

Lead investigator Professor Anita Bundy from the University's Faculty of Health Sciences says the trial may have helped reverse parents and teachers' perception of what constitutes risky play activities by assisting them to understand what can motivate and encourage children to be physically active and socialise with their peers.

Twelve Australian primary schools participated in the project which simultaneously focused on the school children aged between five-to-seven years, their parents and their teachers.

The initial phase of the three-year project involved a 13-week intervention program. The program that introduced new objects such as cardboard boxes, old car tyres, colourful fabrics, and Styrofoam and milk crates into schoolyards, thereby giving children opportunities for creative, outdoor play.

Workshops were also conducted with parents and teachers to discuss play and perceptions around risk taking related to play.

"We wanted to capture children's intrinsic motivations to play, increase their physical activity during break times, while simultaneously helping adults reconsider their views on risky play behaviour," says Professor Bundy.

"What we found was these simple objects coupled with an education program for parents and teachers significantly increased the children's activity levels."

Whether the increases measured can be maintained remains to be seen says Professor Bundy but evidence in one school suggests they can.

"We retested children in one intervention school after two years and they had maintained their gains," she states.

Trial project manager Lina Engelen says schools and preschools are ideal sites for interventions to promote physical activity either within the school's Physical Education curriculum or via breaks such as recess and lunchtime.

"If break times are to promote physical activity in a sustained manner then available activities must be highly motivating, such as active play and have adults' support," Dr Engelen says.

Children of all sizes and shapes were delighted by the playground initiative she adds.

Teachers Using Social Media to communicate with Parents

Teachers are turning to twitter, blogging and Facebook as a way of keeping in touch with parents about their child's learning, and according to Queensland University of Technology (QUT) education expert Associate Professor Margaret Lloyd it is a trend which is meeting the needs of busy parents with time restrictions.

Professor Lloyd said contemporary teaching involved teachers' blogging with students to capture their learning, and tweeting and emailing parents with information about the school day.

"Gone are the days of finding a scrunched-up newsletter in the bottom of a bag, squished between the rotten banana and mouldy sandwich," she said.

"Parents are now able to find out what their children are doing, virtually as they are doing it." Professor Lloyd said in many families today both parents worked, meaning parents were not able to be as involved in their child's schooling as they perhaps would like.

Prof Margaret Lloyd
"This trend of using digital technology as a means of connecting with parents, essentially bringing parents into the classroom, is really taking off," Professor Lloyd said. "It also fits with the trend that the walls of the classroom are disappearing."

Professor Lloyd said the notion of classes fitting inside four walls was a thing of the past, with digital technology rapidly being used as a communication tool between teachers and parents, teachers and students, students and students and teachers and teachers.

"For example it is common for students in one classroom to work with students in another classroom halfway across the world using digital technology," she said.

"There is also a change in the relationship between teachers and students with teachers nowadays able to see the students' work as they are working and comment and provide feedback progressively.

"There is a huge change in the way we are teaching and communicating." She said universities were leading the way in this method of teaching.

"At QUT we model this teaching practice. Future teachers are working on collaborative wikis, they are talking about collaborative learning and they are being afforded that enhanced teaching experience," Professor Lloyd said.

"The classroom is changing and our teaching students have to be positioned to lead that change and once they get on board, it just clicks into place."

Comment
Firstly, one wonders if the schools and teachers would be open to enabling wider Social Media forums that would allow parents to discuss general school and education matters more openly.

Thus allowing parents to see and share difficult areas and comments on potentially bad teachers /pupils and to bring group thinking into the discussion.

Secondly, this is an excellent step forward in teacher /parent communications but unfortunately, in some areas and countries the teachers and parents can be less able to use and understand the Technology, reported here.


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in childhood

Dr Minnis
Dr Minnis is a Senior Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Her main research interest is in Reactive Attachment Disorder in childhood and her research has involved developing new assessment tools and increasing understanding of the aetiology of this serious disorder of social functioning.

She has also developed computerised assessment tools for aspects of child and adolescent mental health.

Background
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is described in clinical literature as a severe and relatively uncommon disorder that can affect children.

There is potentially a higher level of incidence in homes where the family is long-term unemployed and there is a history of social care provision but RAD can also occur in, what is believed to be, the best of family situations.

RAD is characterised by markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially in most contexts.

It can take the form of a persistent failure to initiate or respond to most social interactions in

  • a developmentally appropriate way, known as the "inhibited form," (RAD) or
  • an indiscriminate sociability, such as excessive familiarity with relative strangers known as the "disinhibited form" (DAD). 

The term is used in both the World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) and in the DSM-IV-TR, the revised fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

ICD-10 Definition
In ICD-10, the inhibited form is called RAD, and the disinhibited form is called "disinhibited attachment disorder", or "DAD".

DSM Definition
In the DSM, both forms are called RAD; for ease of reference, this article will follow that convention and refer to both forms as reactive attachment disorder.

RAD arises from a failure to form normal attachments to primary caregivers in early childhood. Such a failure could result from severe early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between the ages of six months and three years, frequent change of caregivers, or a lack of caregiver responsiveness to a child's communicative efforts. Not all, or even a majority of such experiences, result in the disorder.

The criteria for a diagnosis of a Reactive Attachment Disorder are very different from the criteria used in assessment or categorisation of attachment styles such as insecure or disorganised attachment, e.g. Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD).

PDD: Pervasive Development Disorder
It is differentiated and has a separate classification from Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or developmental delay and from possibly comorbid conditions such as mental retardation, all of which can affect attachment behaviour.

Dr Minnis appeared on BBC Radio 4's Women's hour program to discuss RAD with the presenter and families that had suffered from the experience of having a teenager with RAD.