Archive for the ‘Plasticity’ Category

Anxiety, autism and eye movements

Friday, November 5th, 2010 by admin

Chase Johnson referenced anxiety as the main reason that he once avoided eye contact.  He cited “feeling as though he were being stared into” as the source of the discomfort generated by maintaining eye contact.

Social anxiety is a hallmark of ASD, but so, too, is it a general psychiatric condition experienced by individuals that are not on the spectrum.  Psychiatric comorbidities – inattention, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, anxiety, mania and even psychosis – often occur with ASD, but there is significant discussion regarding whether or not these conditions are part of ASD or actual comorbidities.Dr. Roma Vasa of the Kennedy Krieger Institute delivered a lecture on “Anxiety in Youth with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.” Dr. Vasa indicated that ASD adds an additional layer of social, emotional and developmental impairment to children and their communication.  Immature communicative skills reduce people with ASD’s ability to explain their feelings, and their ASD generally makes it difficult for them to understand the very abstract concept of “feelings.”  Luckily, neuroscience reveals what some individuals with ASD cannot communicate.  Studies show that structural and functional changes in the amygdale of people with autism lead to weak connectivity between the amygdale and regions of the cortex involved in regional anxiety.  Regional anxiety occurs in the brain’s frontal cortex.  People with autism have strong connections between adjacent brain regions but not between regions that aren’t localized.  In individuals with autism, the amygdale has reduced communication with the frontal cortex, which controls anxiety.

Here enters Brainjogging: Brainjogging trains the brain.  Through repeated, targeted exercises, Brainjogging facilitates communication between brain cells.  Brainjogging’s eye movements strengthen students’ cognitive processing speeds and their brain regions’ overall ability to communicate with one another.  More and more, researchers are focusing on the eye as the source of learning disabilities.  Individuals with autism have slower pupil light responses than typically developing individuals; they also rely more on their body’s relation to an object than on visual cues.  Dyslexia is often referred to as “word blindness” because people with dyslexia often do not move their eyes far enough to the sides to see words.  A recent study on anxiety by University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health found that “increased brain activity in the amygdale and anterior hippocampus” can predict anxious temperaments (Science Daily).  Autism is marked by significant activity in the amygdale and reduced connectivity to other brain regions.

Researchers from Wisconsin-Madison stated, “We think we can train vulnerable kids to settle their brains down.” Brainjogging settles students’ brains!  Brainjoggers experience significant decreases in anxiety-related behavioral manifestations.  Daily Brainjogging exercises strengthen students’ brains’ connectivity, thereby enabling brain regions to communicate more effectively and with greater reliability.  KKI’s Dr. Vasa stated that cognitive therapy shows promise for decreasing anxiety in clinical studies – we know that cognitive therapy decreases anxiety in our Brainjoggers.  One Brainjogger, a darling six year old child that once picked her hands until they bled, no longer manifests this behavior; she also does not worry bandaids into tatters.  The general education teacher of a five year old that began Brainjogging only six weeks ago has reported that this child is no longer hand-flapping or chewing on his shirt.  In older students, we see a marked increase in self-esteem.  Brainjogging deceases anxiety and increases self-esteem – it is a valuable resource for those experiencing anxiety, whether or not they are on the spectrum.  Students with language processing disorder, who are very susceptible to depression, experience heightened self-esteem with Brainjogging.  We train the brain – and we can help settle your child’s brain.

Autism and the brain

Monday, October 25th, 2010 by admin

Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) hosts an annual continuing education conference to foster understanding of autism spectrum disorders and to provide information about strategies aimed at promoting learning in young children with autism spectrum disorders.  Brainjogging’s founder, Shirley Pennebaker, M.Ed.; cognitive therapist Katie Cyphers, M.A.; and Columbus Learning Center Director Sellers Cook will attend this year’s conference October 28-29, 2010.  In honor of this, Brainjogging’s blog posts this week will be devoted entirely to autism.

In the 1980s, researchers examined the entire brain of a man with autism.  This individual died at age 29.  His brain was sliced into thousands of thin sections and then examined. The brain from a typical man, or one without autism, who died at age 25 was similarly examined as a control brain.

Harvard University’s Dr. Margaret Bauman participated in the research group.  She reported that one main “difference was in the amygdalae, two almond-shaped clumps of cells deep in the brain, one on each side” (NPR).    The amygdalae are vital in processing certain emotional responses, especially fear.  Bauman also pointed out that the brain cells in the amygdala from the autistic brain were “smaller and more densely packed,” indicating that they were underdeveloped (NPR).

In 2006, scientists examined nine brains from people with autism and ten brains from typical people.  The individuals to whom the brains belonged ranged in age from 10-44.

The MIND Institute’s Dr. Amaral stated that brains of people with autism were clearly different in that they had “a decreased number of neurons in the amygdala, and then particularly in one subdivision of it called the lateral nucleus” (NPR).  The lateral nucleus communicates with a part of the brain that controls perception, which might explain why people with autism tend to process information by relying heavily on their own internal sense of body position, rather than visual cues.

Additionally, an underdeveloped amygdala might explain the tendency of an individual with autism to exhibit anxiety; his or her amygdala doesn’t properly regulate fear. Interestingly, “in boys with autism, the amygdala develops early and stops growing around the age of eight, [but] in typical boys, the amygdala continues to grow until age 18″ (NPR).

Dr. Amaral says early development in the amygdala accounts for the reduced number of neurons later: while typical brains have about 12 million neurons, brains from individuals with autism average about 11 million.

*Listen to NPR’s podcast of Jon Hamilton’s “New Autism Study Shows Discrepancy in Autistic Brains.”

Individuals with autism have slower pupil light responses

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by admin

Autism is not well understood, despite the fact that its prevalence among children is more staggering than that of childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.  University of Missouri (MU) researchers recently “developed a pupil response test that is 92.5 percent accurate in separating children with autism from those with typical development” (Science Daily).  Children with autism, according to MU’s study, “have slower pupil response to light change” (Science Daily).

Prior to this study, conducted by Gang Yao, associate professor of biological engineering in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the College of Engineering, there had been no comprehensive evaluation of “pupils’ response to light in children with autism” (Science Daily).  Scientists used “a short light stimulus to induce pupil light reflexes in children under both dark and bright conditions” (Science Daily).  They used a computerized binocular infrared device,

which eye doctors normally use for vision tests, to measure how pupils react to a 100-millisecond flash light.  A pupil reaction tests reveals potential neurological disorders in areas of the brain that autism might affect.  The results showed pupils of children diagnosed with autism were significantly slower to respond than those of a control group.MU’s research illustrates the autism’s interaction with pupils’ light response.  Increasingly, the eye is becoming the focus of studies on various types of learning disabilities; it seems that the eye is a kind of key to neurological disorders.  Camp Academia, INC.’s Brainjogging program actually strengthens peripheral vision by forcing student to track their eyes across a computer screen.  By training the eyes, Brainjogging simultaneously trains the brain!

*This story was also published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Cognitive therapy’s benefits for adult ADHD

Monday, September 27th, 2010 by admin

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers recently suggested that the impulsive behavior and inattentiveness that characterize attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) “often [last] into adulthood.”  MGH’s report reveals that “adding cognitive behavioral therapy – an approach that teaches skills for handling life challenges and revising negative thought patterns – to [medication] for ADHD significantly improved symptom control in … adult patients” (Science Daily).

Steven Safren, PhD, ABPP, director of Behavioral Medicine in the MGH Department of Psychiatry, stated that, “Medications are very effective in ‘turning down the volume’ on ADHD symptoms, but they do not teach people skills” (Science Daily).Michigan State University researchers divided adults with ADHD into two groups.  The control group “received training in muscle relaxation and other relaxation techniques, education on how to apply relaxation to ADHD symptoms, and supportive psychotherapy” while the experimental group partook in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions including “skills training in areas such as organization and planning, setting priorities and problem solving, coping with distractions and developing adaptive thought responses to stressful situations” (Science Daily).  After the 12-week study, “participants receiving cognitive behavioral therapy had significantly better symptom control than did those receiving relaxation training” (Science Daily).  Cognitive behavioral therapy generated sustaining benefits three and even nine months after the study ended.

Brainjogging, Camp Academia, INC.’s cognitive therapy
computer software, stimulates the brain.  Brainjogging instructors teach students life skills, to which their brains are more receptive after  receiving stimulation from the Brainjogging computer program!Approximately 4.5 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD; if these children’s ADHD symptoms go untreated, their symptoms will continue to manifest into adulthood.  Early intervention reduces adults’ ADHD symptoms.  Even with medication, many adults “are still troubled by continuing symptoms” (Science Daily).  Brainjogging teaches individuals with ADHD and other learning disabilities to narrow their focus and apply life skills, thereby instructing these individuals in coping strategies and productive habits.

Approximately 4% of adults in the United States have ADHD – that is roughly 9 million individuals!  Imagine how Brainjogging can affect the lives of individuals with ADHD!  Nearly 9 million people could lead less stressful, more productive lives – and that’s without considering the 4.5 million children that have also been diagnosed with ADHD.  Brainjogging is an extraordinary tool for individuals with learning disabilities!  Review some of Brainjogging’s students’ success stories, in the form of parent testimonials, for feedback on just how greatly Brainjogging can affect change in individuals’ lives.

Brainjogging enables child to reach point of independent maintenance

Friday, August 13th, 2010 by admin

Even as Brainjoggers go back to school, I said, “Goodbye (for now),” to my first student, P,. yesterday.  This particular seventh grader worked with me from June 2009 to June 2010.  P. has moved to a place where independently Brainjogging twice daily will maintain his progress.  Yes, I will see P. once a year for his annual reviews; yes, I will probably run into him around town, but he will not come to my office and catch me up on his week.

Goodbyes are always difficult, but knowing that you've enabled a student to leave you better-equipped for life than he was when he came to you makes the departure less heartwrenching.

I am thrilled to see P. flourish – but I am so tremendously sad to know that I will not see him on a weekly basis!  Teachers, particularly learning disability  teachers, want their students to succeed, but we also bond with these children and, because we are human, do not wish to say goodbye.

P’s family had something to deliver to me, so I met him and his father at a local Zaxby’s.  Upon seeing me enter the restaurant, P. rose from his seat, looked me in the eye, told me he would miss me and gave me a hug.  He is 13 years old, and he is the same child that told me I’d “taught [him] good study habits.”  I was moved by that experience, but seeing him standing in a restaurant with his eyes cast upward rather than toward the floor – that was an extremely powerful experience.  I cried the entire way home from Zaxby’s, and not simply because I was sad that I wouldn’t see P. regularly anymore; I was crying because I know that he is going to do well and lead a successful life.  Going back to school will not be daunting this year; he is ready.

Brainjogging allowed me to play a small part in P’s transformation, and I cannot say thank you nearly as many times, or as loudly, as I feel I’d need to say it to get across my thankfulness.  It is such a blessing to have a child come into your life, spend time nurturing him and watching him grow (and at times being mind-numbingly frustrated with him) and then watch him leave again, a changed and matured, capable young man.  I’ve tried to nail this experience down in words, but they are inefficient; the best I can do is wish the power of it on your life, and hope that at some point you, too, might witness such a transformation!

Cognitive therapy versus tutoring: Training the brain

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 by admin

“Not only can the brain learn new tricks, but it can also change its structure and function” (Begley 72).

In January 2007, Time magazine printed a “Mind and Body Special Issue” that focused on the ways in which science about the brain has changed over the past several years.  It was once believed that “the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function,” but this is not so, according to recent research (Begley 74).  Harvard Medical School’s neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone tested brain plasticity by having two groups of people practice a simple, five-finger piano exercise. The volunteers practiced two hours each day for five days; one group of volunteers attempted to keep in time with a 60-beat per minute metronome and the others played at their own pace.  Each participant “sat beneath a coil of wire that sent a brief magnetic pulse into the motor cortex of their brain, located in a strip running from the crown of the head toward the ear” (Begley 72).  This transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS) allowed scientists “to infer the function of neurons just beneath the coil” (Begley 72).  Scientists found “after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to these finger movements took over surrounding areas” (Begley 72).

Brainjogging enables the development of new neurons and the strengthening of neural connections.

Pascual-Leone showed that “greater use of a particular muscle causes the brain to devote more cortical real estate to it” (Belgey 72). Brainjogging believes that the key to success is training the brain to learn; if the brain is unprepared, new information will not assimilate with old information.  The brain has neuroplasticity, which is the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience.  Brainjogging capitalizes on the brain’s neuroplasticity: Brainjoggers train their minds to learn.  This, essentially, is the difference between Brainjogging, a cognitive therapy program, and tutoring.  Tutors coach children through information, and in some cases, this is immensely helpful; in others, children’s brains are not ready to learn and must be primed for learning prior to any degree of academic success.  Brainjogging founder Shirley M. Pennebaker, M.Ed., says, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher may teach.”  Oftentimes, pupils, particularly those with a learning disability, are not ready to be taught, and so information provided by teachers is “in one ear and out the other.”  Brainjogging, unlike tutoring, trains pupils’ brains to receive and assimilate new information.  Brainjogging’s computer exercises stimulate the creation of new neurons and, by repeated exposure to variations of the same exercise, strengthen neural connections.

Fifty million “Americans … suffer from neurological illnesses” of some type (Rosen 97). An estimated fifteen percent of Americans have “learning disabilities that affect their ability to listen, speak, read, reason, spell or perform mathematical calculations.  Most of these problems can be overcome with training” (Nash 110). Brainjogging is applicable to all learners, not merely those with diagnosed learning disabilities.

Begley, Sharon. “How the Brain Rewires Itself.” Time 29 January 2007: 72-79. Print.
Nash, J. Madeline. “The Gift of Mimicry.” Time 29 January 2007: 108-113. Print.
Rosen, Jonathon. “Who should Read your Mind?.” Time 29 January 2007: 96-101. Print.

Clap, clap, clap, clap your hands – and reap neurological benefits

Friday, July 30th, 2010 by admin

Hand-clapping songs are not idle play; they have legitimate neurological value.  Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) conducted the first study on hand-clapping songs.  The study found that “hand-clapping songs improve motor and cognitive skills” (Science Daily).

Dr. Idit Sulkin, of BGU, went to elementary schools and engaged children either in school board sanctioned music appreciation programs or hand-clapping songs training, each program lasting for 10 weeks.  At the end of the ten weeks, children who underwent the hand-clapping songs training and had not taken part in hand-clapping songs until that point “caught up in their cognitive abilities to those [children] who did” (Science Daily).  The finding, however, applied only to children who participated in hand-clapping songs; those children in the board of education sanctioned musical appreciation program did not show the cognitive gains obtained by those children participating in hand-clapping songs.

Hand-clapping games are great for kids' socialization and neurological development.

Hand-clapping songs serve as a “developmental platform to enhance children’s needs – emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive” (Science Daily).  Yes, your child might want to play Suzy Q fifteen times a day, and yes, it probably gets old, but play along!  Even adults reap benefits from hand-clapping songs: once adults “‘start clapping, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood'” (Science Daily).  Perhaps we could all use some more hand-clapping songs in our lives! Some Brainjogging favorites:

Miss Mary Mac
Miss Mary Mac, Mac, Mac
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the fence, fence, fence
They jumped so high, high, high
They reached the sky, sky, sky
And they never came back, back, back
‘Til the Fourth of July, -ly, -ly!

*Clap, pat, clap, touch hands three times; repeat for each line.

Double, Double
Double, double, this, this;
Double, double, that, that;
Double, this;
Double, that;
Double, double, this, that!

* “Double, double” – pat, pat
“This, this” – clap, clap (palms facing partner)
“That, that” – clap, clap (palms facing self; hands’ backs touch)
“This, that” – clap, clap (palms facing partner for “this,” palms facing self for “that”)

Also use:

Sara Bernstein's "Hand Clap!" includes several alternate hand-clapping rhymes.

Norwegian Study Reinforces Brainjogging’s Effectiveness

Friday, July 9th, 2010 by admin

Students with learning disabilities, and particularly students with Dyslexia, show signs of visual processing deficits. If there is a discrepancy in the way a person visually receives information, the brain then processes that information differently than it would if the information were received “correctly.”  One of Brainjogging’s guiding principles is that there is an irrefutable link between visual stimulation and the brain’s ability to process perceived stimulation. ScienceDaily reports that The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), too, theorizes that “the failure of magno cells to work the way they should may explain multiple learning disabilities and developmental problems.”

NTNU’s Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson conducted a study revealing “that children who have great mathematical difficulties also have significantly poorer visual perception associated with rapid changes in environment.”  Deficient magno cells also lead to problems with handwriting and motor skills.  Children with, as professionals say, “imprecise motor skills,” suffer from an inability to perceive stimuli properly.  If children cannot quite perceive their relationship to objects, they cannot manipulate these objects with the prowess as can individuals whose magno cells function properly.    ScienceDaily suggests “children with dysfunctional magno cells probably need more specific tools to help them understand visual information than we previously thought.”

Brainjogging is the “more specific [tool]” that individuals with learning disabilities need!  Brainjogging’s letter flash exercises stimulate the eyes’ magno cells, which respond to rapid movements and then transmit signals from the eye to the brain.  Brainjogging’s consistent stimulation of magno cells, and the replication of letter patterns, strengthens students’ magno cells’ capacity to correctly view stimuli, which allows the brain to process that information properly.

Study habits and students: Brainjoggers learn how to be proactive learners

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010 by admin

Some children seem to be harder to reach than others; my most hard-headed child recently told me, “You’ve taught me good study habits, Miss Sellers.”

 I am not at all lying when I say I almost cried. This child, however, is a pubescent boy who would have been mortified at the sight of tears, especially ones he brought about, so I kept it together and patted him on the back and said, “You just made my day, friend.”
This particular child struggled to copy down his homework; if he did copy it down at school, he did not complete it at home; if he did copy it down and complete it, he often forgot to turn it in. He also struggled with multiple-step directions, often completing one direction quite successfully but completely ignoring another. There were parent conferences, there were teacher conferences – but children need to realize their own intrinsic strength and ability. This child needed confidence, and he needed to understand that he is not only capable of completing his work and turning it in, but also that he is proficient in his studies when he really attends to them.

The thing is, I did not necessarily teach this boy good study habits. I modeled them and encouraged them, but Brainjogging did the difficult work of preparing his mind to receive the instructions! Brainjogging helped this boy to access his potential. He blossomed from a sullen, video game-addicted preteen to a friendly, confident young man. He looks you in the eye when he speaks to you; he tells jokes; he even volunteers information about upcoming tests and quizzes and proceeds to launch into a litany of relevant facts. I don’t believe that this boy could have made such a phenomenal transformation without Brainjogging’s help – and I am so thankful for this child and his progress!