Friday, January 31, 2014

Dyslexic and Loving Words - Video

A film by Vicky Morris

Made for Off the Shelf Festival of Words 2013

Dyslexic and Loving Words asks the question -- "What if you're dyslexic but you love to write or use words?"

Through interviews with seven practicing wordsmiths, the film highlights how it's possible to overcome dyslexic issues or work around the challenges they present if you have a passion for words.

Within the testimonials we find a poet and author, a storyteller, a spoken word artist, a creative writing student, a novelist and the founder of an initiative for dyslexic writers.

John Stein
There are also insights from Mel Hunt, Principal Specialist Teacher at Dyslexia Action Sheffield and Professor John Stein, of the Dyslexia Research Trust.

Check out: 
National Dyslexia Action Charity;
RASP: Rebelling Against Spelling Press (RASP) A publishing company for dyslexic writers.
DYSPLA: Celebrating dyslexic story makers 

Recognise your Parenting Style

Promoting the self-discipline and self-esteem of one’s children often requires an emotional juggling act by parents.

It is not easy to be firm and demanding one minute, then warm and affectionate the next.

In addition, some adults naturally have personalities or temperaments that predispose them toward one parenting style or the other.

Authoritarian Parenting
Parents who tend to overemphasize the discipline side of the equation are referred to as authoritarian.

Authoritarian parents are demanding in the worst sense of the word.

They are intimidators, requiring obedience and respect above all else. They become overly angry and forceful when they don’t get that obedience and respect.

Their love and acceptance appear totally conditional to the child. They do not listen to their kids or explain the reason for their expectations, which are frequently unrealistic.

They often see their children’s individuality and independence as irrelevant or threatening.

Research has shown that authoritarian parents tend to produce children who are more withdrawn, anxious, mistrustful and discontented.

These children are often overlooked by their peers. Their self-esteem is often poor.

Permissive Parenting
Parents who overemphasize the self-esteem side of the equation are referred to as permissive. They may be warm and supportive, but they are not good disciplinarians.

They make only weak demands for good behaviour and they tend to avoid or ignore obnoxious behavior.

They seem to believe that children should grow up without any anger, tears or frustrations.

They reinforce demanding and inconsiderate behaviour from their children. Their love and acceptance are “unconditional” in the worst sense of the word, for they set few limits on what their children do.

Research has shown that permissive parents tend to produce children who are more immature, demanding and dependent. These children are often rejected by their peers.

Their self-esteem is often unrealistic and hard to interpret, for they often blame others for their misfortunes.

Authoritative Parenting Model
Parents who are able to provide for both the discipline and self-esteem needs of their youngsters are referred to as authoritative.

They clearly communicate high—but not unrealistic—demands for their children’s behavior. They expect good things from their kids and reinforce those things when they occur.

When kids act up, on the other hand, authoritative parents respond with firm limits, but without fits of temper.

They are warm, reasonable and sensitive to a child’s needs. They are supportive of a child’s individuality and encourage growing independence.

The Balance
Parents who are able to provide for both the discipline and self-esteem needs of their youngsters are referred to as authoritative.

They clearly communicate high—but not unrealistic—demands for their children’s behavior. They expect good things from their kids and reinforce those things when they occur.

When kids act up, on the other hand, authoritative parents respond with firm limits, but without fits of temper.

They are warm, reasonable and sensitive to a child’s needs. They are supportive of a child’s individuality and encourage growing independence.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Another study Claims effective reduction of ADHD 'Symptoms' using Vitamins

A recent study suggest that vitamins and minerals could be useful for treating the 'symptoms' of ADHD.

As we know, the condition itself is a neurological disorder with no effective cure or treatment.

The small scale study claims that adults with ADHD, given supplements for eight weeks had a "modest" improvement in their concentration span, hyperactivity, and other 'symptoms.'

"A wide range of nutrients, including vitamin D, iron and calcium, may improve brain function." said psychologists in New Zealand.

Another study claims to have found that medication reduced road accidents in men with ADHD.

As many as one in 20 adults has a form of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), marked by symptoms such as lack of attention, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness.

A variety of medications are prescribed to treat the symptoms of ADHD, such as central nervous system stimulants, which affect brain function and allegedly, improves symptoms.

According to the research, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry (JAMA), taking a broad range of vitamins and minerals may also help reduce ADHD symptoms.

In the study, 80 adults with ADHD were given either supplements containing vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, magnesium, ferritin, iron, calcium, zinc and copper, or a dummy pill.

After eight weeks of treatment those on supplements reported greater improvements in both their inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity compared with those taking the placebo.

Julia Rucklidge
Psychologists from the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand, say the effects of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) are more modest than medication but may be useful for some people, particularly those seeking alternative treatments.

"Our study may provide preliminary evidence of the effectiveness for micronutrients in the treatment of ADHD symptoms in adults," said Prof Julia Rucklidge, who led the study.

"This could open up symptom treatment options for people with ADHD who may not tolerate medications, or do not respond to first-line treatments."

Philip Asherson
Prof Philip Asherson, professor in molecular psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, was unconvinced.

He said the suggestion that vitamins and minerals improved brain metabolism was intriguing but needed further investigation.

"It's an interesting study, but it really needs replicating," he told reporters. "The mechanisms behind ADHD and its associated symptoms, remain unclear."

Road accidents
Meanwhile, a separate study on ADHD in Sweden suggests medication could save lives on the road.

Research indicated almost half of transport accidents involving men with ADHD could be avoided if they were taking medication for their condition.

Scientists from the Karolinska Institute studied 17,000 individuals with ADHD over a period of four years using data from health registers.

They found individuals with ADHD had a higher risk of being involved in serious transport accidents, such as car or motorcycle crashes, compared with those without ADHD.

Transport accidents were lower among men with ADHD who were on medication than among men with ADHD who did not take medication.

Calculations showed 41% of transport accidents involving men with ADHD could have been avoided if they had received medication and carried on taking it during the course of the study.

A similar effect was not found in women. It is known that ADHD and its associated symptoms affect men and women differently.

Henrik Larsson
"Even though many people with ADHD are doing well, our results indicate that this serious nerological disorder may have very serious consequences," said Henrik Larsson, associate professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

"Our study also demonstrates in several different ways that the risk of transport accidents in adult men with ADHD decreases markedly if their condition is treated with medication."

The effect of ADHD on road accidents research is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chindren with Autism: EphB Link through Family Genes

Harvard Medical School researchers at McLean Hospital have found that a gene family linked to autism, EphB, is essential for proper brain wiring during development.

The findings suggest that the abnormal brain wiring that results from mutations in this gene family could contribute to autism symptoms.

"Using animal models, we were able to see that EphB is required for normal brain development. Mutations in EphB that compromise its function led to abnormal connections between key brain regions involved in processing of sensory information," said Christopher Cowan, HMS associate professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital.

The findings were reported by McLean Hospital researchers and collaborators in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 22, 2014.

Christopher Cowan
Recent genetic analysis had revealed an EphB gene as a new candidate risk factor for human autism, so investigators targeted the gene in animals to assess its role in the proper development of communication networks between the thalamus and the cortex, the regions of the brain responsible for processing information from the senses, such as touch and hearing.

"Some individuals with autism show abnormalities in sensory perception and processing, including touch, sound and vision," Cowan explained.

Investigators, from left: Yuhong Guo, Jesse Kumar, Laura Smith, Chris Cowan, Adam Harrington, Maria Carreira, Makoto Taniguchi and Rachel Penrod-Martin. 

Not pictured: Carly Hale and Mike Robichaux. 

Image: Patrick O'Connor.

"We found that EphB genes are essential for normal wiring of at least two key parts of the brain that process sensory information, particularly regions involved in touch and sound," Cowan said.

"Our findings suggest that defects in early brain wiring might underlie at least some of the sensory-associated symptoms found in individuals with autism spectrum disorders."

Future work, supported in part by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, seeks to extend these findings to better understand the relationship between EphB genes and the risk for developing autism.

Understanding the underlying causes of autism may help in the development of effective treatments.

More information: "EphB receptor forward signaling regulates area-specific reciprocal thalamic and cortical axon pathfinding." Robichaux MA, Chenaux G, Ho HY, Soskis MJ, Dravis C, Kwan KY, Sestan N, Greenberg ME, Henkemeyer M, Cowan CW. Proc Natl Acad Sci U.S.A.. 2014 Jan 22. 

Dyslexia: Able readers damaged by phonics, UK academic

The interests of able readers are being threatened by an insistence primary school pupils are taught to read using phonics, an academic has said.

The UK Department for Education wants English schools to use the reading system, which requires children to blend common sounds into words.

But Durham University researcher Andrew Davis says those already starting to read are likely to be put off.

The UK DfE's 'One Size Fits All' policy, insists synthetic phonics is the best way to teach reading.

The teaching method encourages children to sound out words rather than recognising the whole word and reading it for meaning.

The government strongly encourages schools to use reading schemes based on synthetic phonics, and part-funds a range of books approved as meeting its criteria.

It has also introduced a phonics test for all Year 1 pupils to ensure they are using this method to decode simple words, as well as some made-up words.

It argues this is the best way to ensure no child falls behind with their reading.

But Dr Davis, a former primary school teacher, says in his pamphlet a small minority begin school able to read and understand sentences, while a larger group are able to recognise some words.

'Form of abuse'
He argues those well on their way to reading could be put off by reading books featuring only words for which they have been taught the phonetic rules in class.

He says: "To subject either the fully fledged readers, or those who are well on their way, to a rigid diet of intensive phonics is an affront to their emerging identities as persons.

"To require this of students who have already gained some maturity in the rich and nourishing human activity of reading is almost a form of abuse."

He agrees that phonics can be very useful for teaching reading, but argues it should not be rigidly imposed on all.

'Mechanical exercise'
"Being forced to move back from reading for meaning to a mechanical exercise of blending and decoding is likely to be off-putting," he said.

He added that the fundamentalist approach to synthetic phonics "threatens the interests of a minority of children who arrive at school already able to read".

"The vast majority of Early Years teachers handle this kind of challenge with their usual professionalism, and will continue to do so if they are not troubled by rigid prescriptions from policy makers," he said.

A UK Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Too many children are not reaching the expected levels of reading at a young age, do not catch up, and then struggle in secondary school and beyond.

"Research shows overwhelmingly that systematic phonics is the most effective way of teaching reading to children of all abilities, enabling almost all children to become confident and independent readers.

"Thanks to the phonics check 177,000 six-year-olds will this year get the extra reading help they need to catch up with their peers."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Epilepsy in Children: Good outcomes with staged surgery

A staged approach to epilepsy surgery—with invasive brain monitoring followed by surgery in a single hospital stay—is a safe and beneficial approach to treatment for complex cases of epilepsy in children, reports the February issue of Neurosurgery, official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

"Staged epilepsy surgery with invasive electrode monitoring is safe in children with poorly localized medically refractory epilepsy," write Drs. Jonathan Roth and Howard Weiner of NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City, New York.

Their 13-year review suggests that complication rates decrease further as surgeons gain experience with staged epilepsy surgery.

Staged Surgery for the Most Complex Cases of Childhood Epilepsy
From 1996 to 2009, the researchers performed staged surgery in 161 children with refractory epilepsy that could not be controlled with anti-seizure medications.

The children averaged about seven years old. Most had "multifocal" epilepsy originating from more than one area of the brain, often related to a genetic condition called tuberous sclerosis complex.

In the staged approach, children underwent two or more surgical procedures for epilepsy during one hospital admission.

The first step was invasive monitoring—surgery to place electrodes, which were used to map the "epileptogenic" areas of the brain from which seizure activity was originating.

Eighty percent of children subsequently underwent surgery to resect the epileptogenic brain areas.

In a total of 200 hospitalizations, the children underwent nearly 500 surgical procedures for invasive monitoring, resection, and electrode removal.

Dr. Roth and colleagues write, "Most children underwent only one admission, most of which included two or three surgeries."

The current study focused on the safety of staged epilepsy surgery. Complications occurred at rates expected for children undergoing neurosurgical procedures.

This included serious but less-common complications, such as neurologic abnormalities and central nervous system infections; as well as minor complications such as bone absorption or noninfectious fevers.

Twenty-five children had complications requiring surgery.

Benefits of Staged Surgeries Outweigh the Risks
"Notably, surgical experience appeared to lower the complication rate," Dr. Roth and coauthors write.

Complications decreased from 30 percent during the first six years of the experience, to 15 percent in the last six years.

Complication rates were similar in different subgroups of patients, including those with more surgeries or more hospital admissions.

Surgery is an important treatment option for epilepsy that does not respond to medications. However, in some complex cases, the epileptogenic area can't be readily identified or seizures are originating from multiple sites.

The authors' department has previously reported good outcomes with staged surgery for children with complex epilepsy, producing large reductions in seizures for most patients.

However, this approach is still not widely used, perhaps reflecting concerns that it might lead to high complication rates.

The new analysis suggests that staged epilepsy surgery in children is "relatively safe," with no higher than expected types and rates of complications.

However, "When considering the risk-benefit profile in these children with severe epileptic disorders, we found that the benefits outweigh the risks," Dr. Roth and colleagues write.

They believe the staged surgical approach is especially appropriate, given the high risks of severe and repeated seizures in complex childhood epilepsy.

The researchers have no single explanation for the reduction in complications over their 13-year experience, but it may reflect close attention to key technical details and patient care routines.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Helping families cope with autism and aggression

Madeline Rainey
Madeline Rainey holds a portrait of herself with her son when he was a child. 

Rainey hopes a UAlberta study on aggression in kids with autism will spur more research and raise awareness of how families are affected. 

Credit: Richard Siemens

Madeline Rainey admits she compares her son's existence to a life sentence.

"I watched him suffer and be blamed and judged," says Rainey, whose son Eric has autism spectrum disorder with aggression.

"I keep asking, 'When is someone going to do something and recognize the lifelong pain that my kid and I have to live with?'"

Though autism and aggression are not synonymous, many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show aggressive behaviour, which has a significant and lifelong impact on families, according to a University of Alberta study.

"Little has been done to understand families coping with autism and aggression, and if these families don't receive the support they need, things can get bad very quickly," says Sandy Hodgetts, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and lead author of the study.

Sandy Hodgetts
"The percentage of children with ASD and aggression is not known because aggression is not a core symptom of autism."

Though the study was small, it was the first to look at families dealing with autism and aggression.

The researchers followed 15 families with male children and young adults with varying levels of autism.

Nine of the 15 families brought up their child's aggression as a barrier to services.

Parents described the impact of the aggression as "constant," "never-ending" and "almost unbearable."

One mother said her son's aggression had become so bad that she was "about ready to be locked up."

Hodgetts says families dealing with aggressive behaviour struggled with social isolation, lack of respite care and limited professional supports.

"The aggressive acts are not malicious. There needs to be better understanding and mechanisms in place to train and support respite care providers and health-care professionals in this area."

Rainey agrees that specialized training could make all the difference. When Eric was in grades 11 and 12, he had a teacher who majored in special education.

She was able to be creative, understand Eric and not be deterred by his aggression.

"I'm grateful for her and we still keep in touch," says Rainey.

Though her son is now 21, Rainey hopes this study can spur more research on autism and aggression. "It raises awareness on the impact on families and can hopefully help remove the social stigma for children and parents."

She hopes that with positive change and awareness, perhaps one day other families don't have to go through what she went through.

"We went from daycare to daycare, from caregiver to caregiver. I was told the reason my son was aggressive was that I was too domineering as a mother and I was told I was too permissive.

I was told to feed my child only organic food so he wouldn't have these behavioural problems. They assumed he was some kind of monster and I was to blame," she says. "It takes a piece of your soul."

More information: Sandra Hodgetts, David Nicholas, and Lonnie Zwaigenbaum. "Home Sweet Home? Families' Experiences With Aggression in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders." Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. September 2013 28: 166-174, first published on January 18, 2013 DOI: 10.1177/1088357612472932

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Being overweight makes children less active

A new study from the University of Copenhagen's OPUS Research Centre reports that being overweight makes children less active.

The findings underscore that parents of overweight children have an obligation to keep their children active, as physical activity is vital for the general health of all children.

The study also shows that slender children do not become overweight due to a lack of activity.

Over time, children with a higher fat mass reduce their level of physical activity and increasingly pursue sedentary activities such as watching TV or computer gaming.

Conversely, low levels of physical activity or too much time in front of the TV or computer do not cause normal-weighted children to put on weight.

The findings stem from a large study that has just been published in the esteemed journal, the 'International Journey of Obesity'.

New knowledge about the linkage between physical activity and overweight children

The study presents an entirely new body of knowledge about the links between physical activity and being overweight because it investigates developments among test participants over time.

In contrast, most other studies have measured activity at a single point in time, making it impossible to establish whether activity levels affect being overweight, or whether being overweight influences the level of activity:

"The defining characteristic of our work is that we have left a period of six months in between our measurements of activity and weight."

Mads Fiil Hjorth
"Thus, we have been able to investigate how an overweight child's level of activity develops over a half-year," says Mads Fiil Hjorth, a researcher of physical activity, sleep and obesity at the University of Copenhagen's OPUS Research Centre.

Mads Fiil Hjorth emphasises that physical activity is of great value to children.

"Even though our study, in part, shows that a lack of physical activity and lots of TV and computer do not cause children to gain weight, physical activity is obviously very good for children's general health and welfare in a number of other ways.

We have not focused on these areas in this study. Instead, we have specifically focused on the link between physical activity and fat mass."

Danger not limited to those who are overweight
Anders Sjödin
Associate Professor Anders Sjödin, head of OPUS' research into children's activity patterns, points out that the problem also extends to a segment of normal-weight children:

"It wasn't only those children who are classically understood as being overweight who demonstrated poor development in activity levels."

"There were also normal-weight children with slightly larger fat masses," according to Sjödin.

"So, there is no doubt that if someone has a child with a bit too much to pinch around the midsection, parents need to stay attuned to the child's level of activity."

The Method
The study included 600 third and fourth grade children who were equipped with an activity tracker on two occasions, for seven days at a time.

The activity tracker was worn at the start of the project and again after six months. The tracker was able to register around the clock activity levels.

These measurements were compared with measurements of fat mass at both the beginning and end of the project.

Among other things, this demonstrated that children with the highest fat mass experienced the greatest reduction in the amount of activity over the half-year period.

The study's results can be read in the article, Fatness predicts decreased physical activity and increased sedentary time, but not vice versa: support from a longitudinal study in 8-11 year old children', published in the 'International Journey of Obesity'.

More information: "Fatness predicts decreased physical activity and increased sedentary time, but not vice versa: support from a longitudinal study in 8- to 11-year-old children." M F Hjorth, J-P Chaput, C Ritz, S-M Dalskov, R Andersen, A Astrup, I Tetens, K F Michaelsen and A Sjödin. International Journal of Obesity (5 December 2013) | DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2013.229

Dyslexia: The "Sea of Strengths Model"

The "Sea of Strengths Model" produced by Sally Shaywitz, of the Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity, as part of Overcoming Dyslexia.

Rett sufferers: Australian researchers produce new recommendations ease challenges

"Since publication, we have developed leaflets for clinicians and a booklet for families based on the recommendations, which provide information in a readable and understandable format," Dr Helen Leonard says. 

Credit: Bradley Gordon

The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research together with international collaborators have created a comprehensive approach to tackle feeding and growth problems in Rett Syndrome sufferers.

A rare neurodevelopmental disorder caused by a mutation in the X-linked MECP2 gene, Rett Syndrome mainly affects girls and is associated with loss of hand and communication skills between the ages of one and two years.

The children, although apparently normal at birth and in the early months of life, become severely intellectually and physically impaired following this regression.

Impairments include feeding difficulties related to problems with chewing and swallowing, hypersalivation and hyperventilation, which leads to poor growth and weight gain.

Helen Leonard
Telethon Institute expert and lead author Dr Helen Leonard says the project included a literature review, parental input and contributions from a multidisciplinary international panel of 27 clinicians.

The result is a comprehensive set of management recommendations to do with clinical assessment of factors such as growth, feeding difficulties and management to increase energy intake.

"The project pulled together data from 77 articles and three sets of guidelines, which we used to create 34 open–ended questions to inform areas in which the literature was lacking," Dr Leonard says.

"We then received feedback from a range of specialists, including gastroenterologists, paediatricians, child neurologists, clinical geneticists, dieticians, speech pathologists and nurses.

"Using a two–stage Delphi process, agreement was achieved on 101 of 112 statements, which inform recommendations we hope will have a major impact on managing the gastrointestinal and growth problems in Rett Syndrome.

"Since publication, we have developed leaflets for clinicians and a booklet for families based on the recommendations, which provide information in a readable and understandable format."

Dr Leonard says drawing together experts was difficult at times and involved contacting practitioners directly by phone and sending encouraging emails at regular intervals to elicit responses.

Dr Leonard established the first Australia–wide register in 1993 to determine the prevalence of Rett Syndrome, and has managed an international register since 2003.

"I first met girls with this condition over 20 years ago as a doctor working at Disability Services Commission in WA, when the cause of the condition was unknown," she says.

"Since 1993, I have published over 70 journal articles and am continuing my research, including developing guidelines for bone health and evaluating the benefits of gastrostomy feeding."

More information: Leaflets and the booklet for families can be accessed here:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Toddlers' Aggression Strongly Associated With Genetic Factors

The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated with genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study. 

Credit: © nadezhda1906 / Fotolia

The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated with genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital.

Lacourse's worked with the parents of identical and non-identical twins to evaluate and compare their behaviour, environment and genetics.

Eric Lacourse
"The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression, " Lacourse said.

"However, it should be emphasized that these genetic associations do not imply that the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable."

"Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behaviour."

Over the past 25 years, research on early development of physical aggression has been highly influenced by social learning theories that suggest the onset and development of physical aggression is mainly determined by accumulated exposure to aggressive role models in the social environment and the media.

However, the results of studies on early childhood physical aggression indicate that physical aggression starts during infancy and peaks between the ages of 2 and 4.

Although for most children the use of physical aggression initiated by the University of Montreal team peaks during early childhood, these studies also show that there are substantial differences in both frequency at onset and rate of change of physical aggression due to the interplay of genetic and environmental factors over time.

Genetically informed studies of disruptive behaviour and different forms of aggression across the lifespan generally conclude that genetic factors account for approximately 50% of the variance in the population.

Lacourse and his colleagues posited and tested three general patterns regarding the developmental roles of genetic and environmental factors in physical aggression.

  • First, the most consensual and general point of view is that both sources of influence are ubiquitous and involved in the stability of physical aggression.
  • Second, a "genetic set point" model suggests a single set of genetic factors could account for the level of physical aggression across time. 
  • A third pattern labeled 'genetic maturation' postulates new sources of genetic and environmental influences with age.

"According to the genetic maturation hypothesis, new environmental contributions to physical aggression could be of short duration in contrast to genetic factors," Lacourse explained.

About the twins cohort
This twin study was initiated by Michel Boivin of Laval University and Richard Tremblay, who is also affiliated with the University of Montreal and University College Dublin.

All parents of twins born between April 1995 and December 1998 in the Greater Montreal area (Canada) were invited to participate, which resulted in the participation of 667 monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs.

Monozygotic means the twins originated from the same embryo -- they are genetically identical. Dizogytic means they developed in separate embryos, meaning they are not identical.

Mothers were ask to rate their twins physical aggression, by reporting behavior such as hitting, biting, kicking and fighting, at the ages of 20, 32 and 50 months.

"The results of the gene-environment analyses provided some support for the genetic set-point hypotheses, but mostly for the genetic maturation hypotheses," Lacourse said.

"Genetic factors always explained a substantial part of individual differences in physical aggression."

"More generally, the limited role of shared environmental factors in physical aggression clashes with the results of studies of singletons in which many family or parent level factors were found to predict developmental trajectories of physical aggression during preschool."

Our results suggest that the effect of those factors may not be as direct as was previously thought.

Long-term studies of physical aggression clearly show that most children, adolescent and adults eventually learn to use alternatives to physical aggression.

"Because early childhood propensities may evoke negative responses from parents and peers, and consequently create contexts where the use of physical aggression is maintained and reinforced, early physical aggression needs to be dealt with care," Lacourse said.

"These cycles of aggression between children and siblings or parents, as well as between children and their peers, could support the development of chronic physical aggression."

"We are presently exploring the impact of these gene and social environment interactions."

Journal Reference: 
Eric Lacourse, PhD, Michel Boivin, PhD, Mara Brendgen, PhD, Amélie Petitclerc, PhD, Alain Girard, MSc, Frank Vitaro, PhD, Stéphane Paquin, PhD candidate, Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, PhD, Ginette Dionne, PhD and Richard E. Tremblay, PhD. A longitudinal twin study of physical aggression during early childhood: Evidence for a developmentally dynamic genome. Psychological Medicine, January 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Childhood Autism: Evidence-based Interventions helps parents make better choices

More children than ever are being diagnosed with autism, which means more parents than ever face a dizzying array of often expensive treatment options. 

Giving parents and professionals authoritative information is the purpose of a new review spearheaded by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Without a thorough review of autism interventions, Allison Smith of Pawtucket, R.I., might never have asked to try video-modeling to help her twin sons, age 4, develop the key motor skill of blowing a feather, a steppingstone to speech.

Allison Smith
"Knowledge is power," said Smith, who found video-modeling on a list of proven interventions from the US National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorders, a multi-university center to promote the use of evidence-based practices.

UNC is one of three NPDC operating sites.
"Knowing what works has given us the upper hand in acquiring appropriate therapy and tools."

Autism incurs an average lifetime price tag of $3.2 million per person, according to a 2007 research study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine but the Autism Society estimates that early diagnosis and effective interventions can reduce that lifetime cost by two-thirds.

Samuel L. Odom
"Parents often pay for interventions that have no evidence behind them," said FPG director Samuel L. Odom, who co-headed the new review.

"This report will allow them to make the best choices."

In this five-year update for the NPDC, UNC scientists screened 29,000 articles about autism spectrum disorders to find the ones proven to work best.

Compared to the 24 proven interventions in the 2008 report, the new report lists 27.

Applying even more stringent criteria this time, the FPG team dropped "structured work systems" and added five practices: "exercise," "structured play groups," "scripting," "modeling" and "cognitive behaviour intervention."

After considering more studies, scientists also renamed and broadened one category, "technology-aided instruction."

Kristine Ganley
"Expanding the list offers more tools to educators and service providers. This improves outcomes for children with ASD," said Kristine Ganley, a training and technical assistance provider at George Mason University.

NPDC's report on evidence-based practices provides important guidance for professionals and families.

Before NPDC's list, parents and professionals often searched for practices online, with unreliable results.

Connie Wong
"Some interventions may seem cutting-edge, but we don't yet know if they have any drawbacks or trade-offs," said FPG investigator Connie Wong, the new report's lead author and co-head of the review of research.

"Our report only includes what's tried and true."

More information: Report: (PDF)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dyslexia, less brain tissue not to blame for reading difficulties

It has previously been suggested that people with dyslexia have less gray matter in the brain and this has been  reportedly linked to reading disabilities.

Thankfully this ridiculous notion has been debunked.

New evidence suggests that the amount of brain material in people with dyslexia may be a result and consequence of their poorer reading experiences and not the root cause of the disorder.

It has been assumed that the difference in the amount of gray matter might, in part, explain why dyslexic children have difficulties correctly and fluently mapping the sounds in words to their written counterparts during reading but this assumption of causality has now been rightly turned on its head.

Guinevere Eden
The findings from anatomical brain studies conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) in the Center for the Study of Learning led by neuroscientist Guinevere Eden, DPhil, were published online today in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The study compared a group of dyslexic children with two different control groups: an age-matched group included in most previous studies, and a group of younger children who were matched at the same reading level as the children with dyslexia.

"This kind of approach allows us to control for both age as well as reading experience," explains Eden, a professor of pediatrics at GUMC.

"If the differences in brain anatomy in dyslexia were seen in comparison with both control groups, it would have suggested that reduced gray matter reflects an underlying cause of the reading deficit. But that's not what we observed."

The dyslexic groups showed less gray matter compared with a control group matched by age, consistent with previous findings.

However, the result was not replicated when a control group matched by reading level was used as the comparison group with the dyslexics.

Anthony Krafnick
"This suggests that the anatomical differences reported in left hemisphere language processing regions appear to be a consequence of reading experience as opposed to a cause of dyslexia," says Anthony Krafnick, PhD, lead author of the publication.

"These results have an impact on how we interpret the previous anatomical literature on dyslexia and it suggests the use of anatomical MRI would not be a suitable way to identify children with dyslexia," he says.

The work also helps to determine the fine line between experience-induced changes in the brain and differences that are the cause of cognitive impairment.

For example, it is known from studies in illiterate people who attain reading skills as adults that this type of learning induces growth of brain matter.

Similar learning-induced changes in typical readers may result in discrepancies between them and their dyslexic peers, who have not enjoyed the same reading experiences and thus have not undergone similar changes in brain structure.

Children with Autism: Senses of sight and sound separated

Like watching a foreign movie that was badly dubbed, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have trouble integrating simultaneous information from their eyes and their ears, according to a Vanderbilt study published today in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Mark Wallace
The study, led by Mark Wallace, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute, is the first to illustrate the link and strongly suggests that deficits in the sensory building blocks for language and communication can ultimately hamper social and communication skills in children with autism.

"There is a huge amount of effort and energy going into the treatment of children with autism, virtually none of it is based on a strong empirical foundation tied to sensory function," Wallace said.

"If we can fix this deficit in early sensory function then maybe we can see benefits in language and communication and social interactions."

And the findings could have much broader applications because sensory functioning is also changed in developmental disabilities such as dyslexia and schizophrenia, Wallace said.

In the study, Vanderbilt researchers compared 32 typically developing children ages 6-18 years old with 32 high-functioning children with autism, matching the groups in virtually every possible way including IQ.

Study participants worked through a battery of different tasks, largely all computer generated.

Researchers used different types of audiovisual stimuli such as simple flashes and beeps, more complex environmental stimuli like a hammer hitting a nail, and speech stimuli, and asked the participants to tell them whether the visual and auditory events happened at the same time.

The study found that children with autism have an enlargement in something known as the temporal binding window (TBW), meaning the brain has trouble associating visual and auditory events that happen within a certain period of time.

Stephen Camarata
"Children with autism have difficulty processing simultaneous input from audio and visual channels. That is, they have trouble integrating simultaneous information from their eyes and their ears," said co-author Stephen Camarata, Ph.D., professor of Hearing and Speech Sciences. 

"It is like they are watching a foreign movie that was badly dubbed, the auditory and visual signals do not match in their brains."

A second part of the study found that children with autism also showed weaknesses in how strongly they "bound" or associated audiovisual speech stimuli.

"One of the classic pictures of children with autism is they have their hands over their ears," Wallace said.

"We believe that one reason for this may be that they are trying to compensate for their changes in sensory function by simply looking at one sense at a time. This may be a strategy to minimize the confusion between the senses."

Wallace noted that the recently-released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (DSM-5), which serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis, now acknowledges sensory processing as a core deficit in autism.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Childhood Autism: Desperate Parents turn to bogus therapies for vain hope

In a study of the range of treatments being employed for young children with autism and other developmental delays, UC Davis MIND Institute researchers have found that families often use bogus and ineffective procedures masked as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments.

The most frequent users of both conventional and bogus complementary approaches are those with higher levels of parental education and income.
There is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medical treatment for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong neuro-developmental condition whose hallmarks are deficits in social relatedness, repetitive thoughts and behaviours and, often, intellectual disability.
In the vain search for treatments to help their children, families may turn to bogus and snake-oil approaches such as mind-body medicine (e.g. meditation or prayer), homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets or more invasive therapies such as vitamin B-12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin or chelation therapy; many of which carry significant risks.

Robin Hansen
The research is published online today in the Journal of Behavioural and Developmental Pediatrics. It was led by Robin Hansen, director of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute and chief of the Division of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

"In our Northern California study population, it does not appear that families use bogus and ineffective complementary and alternative treatments due to the lack of a definitive answer and therfore, a lack of appropriate conventional services, as has been suggested by other research," Hansen said.

"Rather, desperate parents with excess money use bogus treatments in addition to and in parallel to conventional approaches. Thus causing great confusion as to the benefits of either."
The cause or causes of most neuro-developmental disorders are not known, and the conditions have no cure. 
Many children suffer from a wide array of associated symptoms that may not be directly associated with their condition and that make their daily lives and those of their families very stressful.

Such symptoms include irritability, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal problems and sleep disorders.

The study included nearly 600 diverse children between 2 and 5 years with autism and developmental delay who were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study.

Of the participants, 453 were diagnosed with autism and 125 were diagnosed with developmental delay.

"Our study suggests that pediatricians and other providers need to ask about CAM use in the context of providing care for children with autism and other developmental disorders, and take a more active role in helping families make decisions about treatment options based on available information related to potential benefits and risks," said Roger Scott Akins, lead author and a former postdoctoral fellow at the MIND Institute, who now is chairman of the Division of Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences and principal investigator for the CHARGE study, said the research supports the emergent need for identifying validated treatments for neurodevelopmental conditions.

"These findings emphasize the enormous and urgent need for effective treatments and for rigorous research that can identify them and verify their effectiveness and safety," Hertz-Picciotto said.

"Of course it is reasonable for parents to keep searching for ways to help their children, when there are few effective treatments and none that can help every child."

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: Barbara Arrowsmith-Young - TED Video

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is the Creator and Director of Arrowsmith School and Arrowsmith Program, and the author of the international best-selling book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.

She holds a B.A.Sc. in Child Studies from the University of Guelph, and a Master's degree in School Psychology from the University of Toronto (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).

Arrowsmith-Young is recognized as the creator of one of the first practical applications of the principles of neuroplasticity to the treatment of learning disorders. Her program is implemented in 54 schools internationally.

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

Dyslexia: Sudden onset of 'Word Blindness'

In the journal Neurology, researchers report a novel technique that enables a patient with "word blindness" to read again.

Word blindness is a rare neurological condition. (The medical term is "alexia without agraphia.") Although a patient can write and understand the spoken word, the patient is unable to read.

Here's how the technique works: When shown a word, the patient looks at the first letter. Although she clearly sees it, she cannot recognize it.

So, beginning with the letter A, she traces each letter of the alphabet over the unknown letter until she gets a match.

For example, when shown the word Mother, she will trace the letters of the alphabet, one at a time, until she comes to M and finds a match. Three letters later, she guesses correctly that the word is Mother.

"To see this curious adaption in practice is to witness the very unique and focal nature" of the deficit, the authors write.

The authors describe how word blindness came on suddenly to a 40-year-old kindergarten teacher and reading specialist.

She couldn't make sense of her lesson plan, and her attendance sheet was as incomprehensible as hieroglyphs. She also couldn't tell time.

The condition was due to a stroke that probably was caused by an unusual type of blood vessel inflammation within the brain called primary central nervous system angiitis.

Once a passionate reader, she was determined to learn how to read again. But none of the techniques that she had taught her students – phonics, sight words, flash cards, writing exercises, etc. – worked.

So she taught herself a remarkable new technique that employed tactile skills that she still possessed.

The woman can have an emotional reaction to a word, even if she can't read it. Shown the word "dessert," she says "Oooh, I like that." But when shown "asparagus," she says, "Something's upsetting me about this word."

Shown two personal letters that came in the mail, she correctly determined which was sent by a friend of her mother's and which was sent by one of her own friends.

"When asked who these friends were, she could not say, but their names nevertheless provoked an emotional response that served as a powerful contextual clue," the authors write.

What she most misses is reading books to children. She teared up as she told the authors: "One day my mom was with the kids in the family, and they were all curled up next to each other, and they were reading. And I started to cry, because that was something I couldn't do."

More Information: 'Right Brain: A reading specialist with alexia without agraphia' A Teacher interrupted Jason Cuomo, MA, Murray Flaster, MD, PhD and José Biller, MD: doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000438218.39061.93