Archive for November, 2010

Blindness and brain plasticity

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 by admin

Congenitally deaf cats recently lent insight into the plasticity of human brains (click here for that post), and a recent study conducted by the UCLA Department of Neurology has confirmed that “blindness causes structural changes in the brain, indicating that the brain may reorganize itself functionally in order to adapt to a loss in sensory input” (Science Daily).

Brains of blind individuals reorganize themselves to compensate for visual deficits. Photo courtesy of PsychologyFitness.

Natasha Leporé, a postgraduate researcher at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, along with her colleagues, confirmed that “visual regions of the brain were smaller in volume in blind individuals than in sighted ones” (Science Daily). As it turns out, “blindness can heighten other senses, helping individuals adapt” to the loss of one very valuable source of sensory input. In non-visual areas, however, the trend was reversed: areas of the brain that weren’t involved in visual processes were larger in blind individuals, suggesting that “the brains of blind individuals are compensating for the reduced volume in areas normally devoted to vision.”

The study focused on three groups: individuals that lost sight before the age of five; individuals that lost sight after the age of 14; and a control group of sighted individuals.  Both blind groups demonstrated “significant enlargement in areas of the brain not responsible for vision.”  The frontal lobes, for example, which are involved with working memory, among other things, were significantly enlarged.

Leporé stated, “This study shows the exceptional plasticity of the brain and its ability to reorganize itself after a major input – in this case, vision – is lost. It appears the brain will attempt to compensate for the fact that a person can no longer see, and this is particularly true for those who are blind since early infancy, a developmental period in which the brain is much more plastic and modifiable than it is in adulthood.”

As noted by Leporé, infancy and early childhood are the most ideal times for intervention because the brain can easily modify itself to compensate for certain losses. Brainjogging was created to encourage neurological development; if not for the brain’s plasticity, new neurological development could not occur.  Brainjogging facilitates new neurons’ growth and strengthens existing neural connections, enabling individuals with learning disabilities to retrain their brains to compensate for whatever deficits their learning disability may create.

Black Friday – deals and steals

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by admin

Strengthen your child's mind without breaking the bank

[This post was featured as a Letter to the Editor in the Thanksgiving Day edition Columbus, Georgia's Ledger-Enquirer.]

Brainjogging encourages healthy, cognitively-enhancing alternatives to television and video games.  We’ve provided parents with suggestions for play activities before (click here for the relevant post), but in light of Black Friday, we would like to share some discounts and other deals we’ve found for several simple, truly useful tools and activities that nourish children’s imaginations as they gain real-life experience.

THE LIST

  1. Legos encourages imagination and problem-solving.  They also enhance fine-motor skills.  Toys R Us is selling selected Lego Construction Sets at 30% and 33% off. Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys, also available at Toys R Us, are alternatives to Legos; Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys both exercise the imagination and engage children in problem-solving.
  2. Various board games, including Mad Gab and Scattergories, among others, facilitate various skills. Toys R Us has selected Kids Board Games for $12.99.
  3. Target has myriad sales on action figures, from movie characters to Barbie dolls.  Both growing boys and girls benefit from manipulating action figures to mimic real-life situations – and completely invented situations, which stretch children’s imaginations.  Littlest Pet Shop and My Little Pony are hit manipulative sets for young girls.  The American Girl dolls, while they aren’t on sale, are an excellent gift for young girls in that they are a kind of companion and are all accompanied by books about each doll’s adventures.
  4. Play-Doh strengthens childrens’ hand muscles.  Play-Doh is an especially good resource for younger children, as the muscles strengthened by Play-Doh are the same muscles children will use when writing.  Toys R Us has selected Play-Doh Sets for $7.99.
  5. Coloring is always a wonderful activity for children, especially young children in their pre-writing years.  Using a crayon trains small hands to hold a pencil one day.  Coloring also enhances fine motor skills.  Crayola products are available at a plethora of retailers, including Target and Toys R Us.  Target has a rotating wheel of 150 crayons for only $14.99!

    Proceeds from the sale of this Alpaca teddy bear go to Autism Speaks.

  6. Finally, stuffed animals are much better companions for children than are handheld gaming systems.  Children sitting at a table in a restaurant that are pecking away at a miniature keyboard aren’t able to participate in conversation or interact with others because their attention is devoted to the game.  A stuffed animal is a constant, quiet companion that, like action figures, can encourage role play.  Stuffed animals can similarly provide comfort, much in the same way as do animals that work with children with learning disabilities.  This Alpaca teddy bear for autism is hand-crocheted from 100% American Alpaca yarn Alpaca teddy bear for autism.  Autism Speaks partnered with PurelyAlpaca to create a soft toy to appeal to children’s sense of touch.

Books to buy on Black Friday

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by admin

Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy series exposes children to elevated vocabulary words.

As Black Friday approaches, consider how best to spend your money (and take advantage of retailers’ Black Friday deals) to facilitate learning for your child.  Reading to your child, and encouraging him or her to enjoy reading independently, is perhaps one of the single-most important things you can do to enhance your child’s cognitive development.  Reading increases children’s letter recognition if they are encouraged to interact with the text and identify letters, etc.; enhances their picture vocabulary, or their ability to see objects and know the names by which these objects are commonly identified; and encourages an affinity for text as a medium, as opposed to computers and handheld readers, etc.

Barnes and Noble is having an enormous Black Friday sale on children’s boxed sets of books, including the Fancy Nancy series, which incorporates all manner of “fancy” words, thereby increasing children’s vocabulary while simultaneously introducing them to words they might otherwise not hear until later in life.

As a Gentleman Would Say highlights all manner - no pun intended - of concerns for a budding gentleman.

The American Girl Body & Mind series is instrumental in teaching young girls how to care for themselves physically and emotionally.

Many children with learning disabilities struggle with interpreting social cues and responding to them appropriately.  John Bridges’s As a Gentleman Would Say and John Bridges’s and John Curtis’s 50 Things Every Young Gentleman Should Know are particularly appropriate for young men.  Both books address many, many situations and provide readers with various appropriate responses.  Bridges’s and Curtis’s work is especially important for individuals with learning disabilities, who might not be receptive to lessons on manners and tactfulness unless they are presented explicitly.  As a Gentleman Would Say and 50 Things Every Young Gentleman Should Know are both available at Amazon.com and at retail outlets.  Amazon’s Black Friday deals actually became available yesterday, Monday, 22 November 2010 – so get moving!

Similarly, American Girl has a line of particularly relevant books for young girls with learning disabilities.  American Girl’s Body & Mind series contains several books that promote young ladies’ well-being, self confidence and understanding of social situations.  The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions is particularly appropriate for young women that struggle with identifying and coping with their emotions. The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls helps young women stay abreast of their bodies and how to care for them properly.

Sleep disturbance and behavior disorder in children with ASD

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by admin

How do you feel when you haven’t slept well?  Irritable?  Cranky and overly-sensitive?

Welcome to the world of many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), particularly children.  When many young children fuss, parents and others write off the fussiness as fatigue; this is generally true.  Imagine having a child with ASD, who quite frequently seems out of sorts – and then imagine that child sleeping reliably and being better able to address daytime behaviors.  While sleep disturbances and ASD are often interlinked, sleep disturbance does not occur in all individuals with ASD.  It does, however, occur in many individuals with ASD, particularly children.  The logic of sleeping more and feeling more prepared to handle stressful situations is stout, but recent studies are further fleshing out the need for treatment for sleep disturbances in individuals with ASD.

Better sleep may equate to a higher quality of life for individuals with ASD and their families.

Daniel Coury, MD, is the Medical Director of the Autism Treatment Network (ATN).  The ATN devotes itself to compiling a comprehensive database of ASD symptoms and behaviors, from which researchers may draw information that may assist in better treating ASD.  Recently, the ATN gathered data from parents of individuals with ASD regarding the ASD-affected individuals’ sleeping habits.  Parents filled out the “Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire and the Child Behavior Checklist.”  Adverse sleep behaviors, on which parents reported, included sleep delay, sleep anxiety, sleep duration, parasomnias, night awakenings, bedtime resistance and daytime sleepiness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “reports have suggested that sleep problems in children and adolescents with ASD are associated with challenging daytime behaviors” (Science Daily).

Dr. Coury, who delivered a lecture at Kennedy Krieger’s 10th Annual CARD conference, explained that “sleep factors are associated with problematic daytime behaviors in a large cohort of children with ASD [and] the behavioral domains of affective disorders and anxiety are associated with problematic sleep.”

Coury also stated, “This study contributes to our understanding of sleep issues and helps us to plan future work addressing more specific symptoms and treatments.  A better understanding of the relationship between sleep problems and daytime behavior could lead to more effective treatments for both.”

Better daytime behaviors, which may be encouraged by more restive sleep, understandably equate to a higher quality of life both for individuals with ASD and for the individuals surrounding them.  Brainjogging contends that there are two hurdles which Brainjogging cannot overcome: video games and sleep deprivation.  Children must be well-rested for their minds to be receptive; children with ASD struggle with sleep, but parents and other caregivers must strive to enable sleep as much as possible.  The ATN’s valuable sleep study is a wonderful step forward for parents of children with ASD in that the study quantifies the extent to which sleep is necessary, and proposes the extent to which adverse daytime behaviors can be attributed to sleep deprivation.

Food for thought – and tolerance

Friday, November 19th, 2010 by admin

In eight words, this button manages to say something that ALL individuals need to hear:

Children with autism are often dismissed as having bad behavior, especially by individuals that are unfamiliar with ASD and some of its characteristics.


ASD, proprioception and poor handwriting – what is the link?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by admin

[This post is a followup of yesterday's post, entitled "ASD and handwriting problems." Please click here to read "ASD and handwriting problems."]

Another study conducted by the KKI and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published in Nature Neuroscience and recently documented on this blog (click here for the relevant post) suggested that children with ASD “learn new actions differently than do typically developing children” (Science Daily).  Dr. Mostofsky, of the KKI, concluded that “children with autism relied much more on their own internal sense of body position (proprioception), rather than visual information coming from the external world to learn new patterns of movement” (Science Daily).

This Brainjogger with ASD has been Brainjogging since December of 2009; her handwriting has improved significantly.

It seems that the handwriting deficits demonstrated by children with ASD may persist into teen years and adulthood because handwriting skills were initially developed by relying on proprioception rather than visual cues.  This would explain the atypical letter formation characteristic of individuals on the spectrum.  Dr. Mostofsky’s study suggested that targeting visuo-motor skills in children with autism would enhance and perhaps encourage greater reliance on visual cues.

Brainjogging encourages reliance on visual cues!  Brainjogging targets the eyes and focuses on enhancing visuo-motor skills.  Perhaps Brainjogging’s targeted visuo-motor intervention will correct neurological abnormalities that encourage proprioception, which seems to lead to poor handwriting.  If corrected in childhood, these neurological abnormalities may be eliminated or at least reduced so that older individuals show greater reliance on visual cues, which may very well lead to their forming more typical letters.

ASD and handwriting problems

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by admin

Graphic courtesy of Health Jockey.

In November of 2009, Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) researchers conducted the first study on handwriting quality in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  The study confirmed that handwriting is a real problem for individuals with autism.  Children with autism struggle to form letters correctly, although their “size, alignment and spacing… [is] comparable to typically developing children” (KKI).  The root cause, as identified by KKI researchers, was fine motor control.  The study compared “handwriting samples, motor skills and visuospatial abilities of children with ASD to typically developing children” (KKI).

A subsequent study, conducted in November 2010 and published in the 16 November 2010 of Neurology, suggests that handwriting problems in children with ASD continue into teen years (ages 12 to 16).  Two groups, each consisting of 12 individuals with ASD or unaffected by the disorder, were examined.  The group of adolescents with ASD exhibited “poor handwriting and motor skill impairments when compared to typically developing peers” (KKI).  However, in the adolescent group, perceptual reasoning abilities were the greatest indicator of handwriting deficits.  Perceptual reasoning abilities “reflect a person’s ability to reason through problems with nonverbal material” (Science Daily).   Out of 204 possible points, the adolescents with autism earned only 167 points, compared to 183 earned by typically developing peers.

Dr. Amy Bastian, the study author, stated, “There are several techniques available to improve handwriting quality, such as adjusting pencil grip, stabilizing the writing hand with the opposite hand or forming letters more slowly.”

The techniques of which Dr. Bastian speaks are all excellent for lessening the degree of handwriting problems, but they do not address the neurological basis for the problems.   Brainjogging actually improves students’ visuospatial abilities and perceptual reasoning, which allows students with autism to realize a difference in their handwriting, among other benefits.

Congenitally deaf cats’ visual abilities provide insight into brain’s plasticity

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by admin

People that are blind or deaf often report that their other sensory abilities are heightened.  Researchers at The University of Western Ontario, led by The Centre for Brain and Mind’s Stephen Lomber, revealed that “plasticity that may occur in the brains of deaf people” might actually lead to brain reorganization that makes certain visual abilities more acute (Science Daily).

Besides humans, cats are the only animals that can be congenitally deaf, or born deaf.

Time magazine's October 25, 2010 edition displayed this blurb on Lomber's research under its "Lab Report."

Thus, UWO’s researchers conducted their study using congenitally deaf cats and “discovered there is a casual link between enhanced visual abilities and reorganization of the part of the brain that usually handles auditory input in congenitally deaf cats” (Science Daily).  Lomber and researchers showed that “only two specific visual abilities are enhanced in the deaf: visual localization in the peripheral field and visual motion detection” (Science Daily).

“The part of the auditory cortex that would normally pick up peripheral sound enhanced peripheral vision, leading the researchers to conclude the function stays the same but switches from auditory to visual.”

Lomber provided the following analogy to explain the significance of the discerned visual enhancement, “If you’re deaf, you would benefit by seeing a car coming far off in your peripheral vision, because you can’t hear that car approaching from the side; the same with being able to more accurately detect how fast something is moving.”

Lomber states, “The brain is very efficient, and doesn’t let unused space go to waste.   The brain wants to compensate for the lost sense with enhancements that are beneficial.”

Lomber intends to conduct additional research to discern whether or not those who once possessed the ability to hear also experience the enhanced visual abilities or whether previous auditory experience prohibits the changes from occurring.

Nature Nueroscience published Lomber’s research in October 2010.

Cooper: Video games and DVDs are a small price to pay

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by admin

I must add this note: from day one Shirley told us we had to cut out the video games.  Kids like Cooper have exceptionally high visual learning skills.  When Cooper was tested he was four years old and his testing showed his visual learning skills at a fourth grade level. He was in Pre-k!  Cooper was one of those kids who would sit all day and play a game, if we let him.  We didn’t allow this, as we had already noticed that he would wet his pants while playing a game and not even realize he had done it – that was just how into it he would get.  We didn’t think that was a good thing so we had already established limitations.  However, when Shirley said “NO GAMES,” we both cringed.  Then she went further to suggest that Cooper not watch any DVDs.  We thought, “Right, has she lost her mind?”

Brainjogging's answer is an emphatic, "YES!"

We successfully cut out games and we stick primarily to VHS cassettes if Cooper is watching anything.  Of course, on occasion, he has been given the latest movie on DVD and he is allowed to watch it, but we can immediately see the effects of that movie on him.  While we initially snubbed our noses at the thought of this video game/DVD issue, we have found truth in it.  Over these last two years as Cooper would watch a DVD we would observe his behavior following and there are many DVDs that now have a new home in a spare drawer that Cooper knows nothing about.  These DVDs create an almost immediate change in his demeanor: he’s more aggressive and more obsessive over certain things.  The only thing worse than the effects of these DVDs is going to a 3D movie.  This summer, Cooper’s babysitter, as a “treat,” took the kids to a movie.  When I got home from work I immediately knew something was different.  Cooper told me all about the movie, as he bounced off the walls.  I asked my babysitter how he had been all day, and she said that he’d been wild since they went to the movie.  My daughter chimed in and said, “Yeah, I had to take those glasses off, they made my head hurt.”  My immediate response was, “It was 3d?  Did Cooper wear the glasses?”  Cooper had worn the glasses and it took about four or five days to get his behavior settled back down.  It is the most unbelievable thing I have ever seen to watch the effects of these DVDs, games and 3d movies on my kid.

All this being said, by following the advice that we have been given regarding DVDs and video games, following our Brainjogging prescription and working with Cooper’s physician on his ADD, we have definitely found a way of life that promotes a successful learning environment for Cooper.  Brainjogging has enabled Cooper to be successful in an environment that had once completely overstimulated him.  Further, Cooper’s dad and I were full of anxiety as school approached this year.  We can happily report, three weeks in, that it has gone exceptionally well.

It is almost unbearable, the angst that these learning disorders bring into everyone’s life: the child’s struggles, the parents’ anxiety and its effects on their relationship and the other child who inevitably gets sidelined.  The Brainjogging program has had an amazing impact on all our lives.  It is a part of our daily routine.  I hear Shirley ask clients, “Do you brush your teeth every day?  Do your Brainjogging right after.”  In my mind I am thinking, “Cooper’s teeth may not get brushed, but he is doing his Brainjogging!”

*As always, this parent testimonial has been reprinted without editing for content; testimonials are occasionally edited for grammar, but all changes are bracketed.

Cooper: Committing to Brainjogging – and positive change

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 by admin

In January of 2009, my mother found a new job she was so excited about at the Pennebaker Learning Center.  The particular building where she went to work was one I had been riding by every day for some time.  One of the words on the sign read “Brainjogging.”  Every day that I rode by I wondered what that word meant; I had even looked at it on the internet.  So when my mom told me she went to work there, I said, “Tell your boss about Cooper.”  She did.  That same day, my mother called and said, “Get Cooper here, Shirley can help him.”

After beginning Brainjogging, Cooper graduated from kindergarten at the top of his class.

Within a week Cooper was tested.  It was determined that Cooper has dyslexia and language processing disorder.  And by this point, his physician had also diagnosed him with ADD.  We immediately started him on Brainjogging and slowly but surely we have made progress with these behaviors.  In fact, his behaviors were so improved that in December 2009 we decided to discontinue the program because Cooper was fixed.  He was at the head of his class with his sight words, he was participating in class, he was making great decisions, he was a leader and everyone loved having him around.  By March, Cooper began having some issues here and there with his behavior again.  The teacher calls and principal calls started again, and the final straw was my child having to be physically restrained.  Panic set in.

God is full of blessings in so many ways!  Shirley came back into our lives and Cooper went back on Brainjogging. By May we were seeing him turn around and he successfully, and still at the top of his class, graduated kindergarten.  We have continued Brainjogging over the summer and we are in our third week of first grade.  Cooper is not struggling with his behavior; he is enjoying school and his teacher is enjoying him.

He had his first set of benchmark testing; the goal for all first graders was that they score a 24.  At open house his teacher and I chatted; she told me how impressed with Cooper she was, as he had scored a 36 so far on his testing – and he was not even finished.