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).

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.

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).

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

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.

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?”

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.

Cooper: Dealing with potential labels

Monday, November 8th, 2010 by admin

As the mother of two wonderful kids, I was so excited to watch each of them grow and develop into their own interesting personalities.  Cooper is my youngest, five and a half years younger than my daughter.  Cooper was a very quiet, solemn baby who very quickly got his legs under him – crawling at six months, walking at ten months.  We were such proud parents, feeling our little boy must really be something special.

Despite exhibiting upsetting behaviors at school, Cooper got along well with friends and family, including his older sister, pictured here.

At two years old, we recognized that Cooper was not talking the way his peers were.  His second year continued on; still no talking.  My husband and I were concerned.  Our first thought was, “Let’s change his daycare situation.”  We moved Cooper from an “in home” setting to a more vibrant, active arrangement where there were more children, less TV and more learning opportunities.  This did help: by the age of three, I finally heard “Momma” for the first time.

Along with Cooper starting to make some progress with talking, he also started exhibiting other more emotional, aggressive behaviors at daycare.  However, it did not seem to be a big issue with the daycare; consequently, we did not think much of it.  As time passed and Cooper graduated into a traditional school setting and attended Pre-kindergarten it became a huge issue.  Every day we got behavior reports listing so many upsetting behaviors: having tantrums, putting hands on others, disrupting class, crying, not staying in his space, hitting, spitting, screaming and hiding.  I was getting calls at work, being asked to talk to my son on the phone and calm him down and to come to the school and calm Cooper down.  Then the teacher suggested we meet.

I walked into the school to meet the teacher and found myself in a room with four people: the teacher, the principal, the Pre-k administrator and the school counselor.  My heart sank; I was sick at my stomach and this was all before the conversation began. I knew this was serious business.  I was quizzed about Cooper’s home life, my husband’s and my marriage, our family’s routine.  I was so taken aback by everything that was being asked of me.  Even worse,  all these behaviors that Cooper exhibited at school he rarely ever had at home.  The meeting ended, and I was walking around the room absorbing all that had happened when his teacher suggested to me that Cooper might be autistic.

Yes, this sweet boy, again pictured with his older sister, was struggling behaviorally at school.

WHAT???  At that point, I knew I had to take the bull by the horns and get to the bottom of whatever was going on with Cooper; someone had found a label for him and we couldn’t let that happen.  My husband and I discussed how to proceed.  We visited his physician and because Cooper was only four there was nothing that she could recommend short of seeing a psychologist, as he was too young for testing.  At this point, we were completely overwhelmed and thought we were just going to have to deal with whatever was going on until Cooper was old enough to be tested.

Autism, what does that mean?  My husband and I got on the internet and did some digging.  Cooper just didn’t fit the description, in our eyes.  He was so sociable in our home environment and with friends and family.  It did not make sense.  Yet, his teacher said he didn’t know any of his classmates’ names and he wouldn’t play with others.  We kept looking and we found all sorts of disorders that might fit some of his issues.  Still no answers, and the school days passed with countless notes, calls and teacher meetings and even a suspension . . .  in Pre-kindergarten.

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.

Chase Johnson: Living life to the fullest extent

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 by admin

A few of Brainjogging’s staff members had the pleasure of meeting Chase Johnson at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s (KKI) 10th Annual CARD Conference.  Chase is a 21 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome.  He was a KKI intern from April to August, 2010 and has recently helped start an Autism Support Group.

Chase Johnson, a 21 year old man with Asperger's Syndrome, makes his diagnosis work with his life rather than against it.

Chase was born three to four weeks premature; he achieved typical developmental milestones until age two, when his family realized that he seemed to have a speech delay.  His parents even questioned his hearing and discovered that Chase was prone to chronic ear infection; tubes did not resolve his delayed communication.  Chase was echolalic in his vocabulary, “sucking up words and phrases from commercials and everything around [him] and not having the slightest clue what [these words] meant.”  His mind “drew connections where there were none.”  Echolalia renders communication exceedingly difficult; if a child draws a mental connection between a seemingly random word and situation and doesn’t possess the language capabilities to further explain the perceived relationship, he or she literally cannot help others understand communicative intention.

Chase received a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome in the sixth grade, after years of being tormented by peers and even his sister.  Chase’s sister envied the attention he received as a child; she, like many siblings of children on the spectrum, wasn’t able to understand that ASD requires extended attention.  Chase suggests that parents “show compassion to the sibling on the spectrum” but also to “find a way to show a deeper sense of attention to the non-ASD sibling” so that the neurotypical sibling won’t feel cheated of attention.

Although he has overcome nearly all conventional ASD social barriers, Chase still struggles with the communicative inabilities often associated with ASD.  Chase occasionally suffers from mind blindness, or an inability to recognize that others may not share his own conventions.  He was overwhelmed by anxiety for much of his life; anxiety is a hallmark of ASD. Chase explained his own former aversion to eye contact as distaste for feeling as though someone were staring into him, forcibly commanding his attention.  Aversion to eye contact is a stereotypical ASD behavior, but hearing Chase’s insight into why he feels he averted eye contact is significant.  Throughout his life, however, Chase has been lucky  to have family and friends to help him manage his anxiety levels and propel him toward the successful life he now leads. Chase is a student in Indiana and attended American University for a year and a half.  Chase provides fellow individuals on the spectrum with an example of how to make Asperger’s Syndrome work within the constructs of successful interpersonal  experiences.

To read more about Chase’s experiences, visit his blog.

Brainjogging’s associate in Charlotte, North Carolina

Monday, November 1st, 2010 by admin

To the Learning Disability Community of Charlotte, North Carolina,

We have great news for you!  We know the need in your area, and we are committed to making a difference in your students’ lives.  Camp Academia, INC. now has an associate in Charlotte, North Carolina,Mrs. Laura Lynne Frazier.  Mrs. Frazier received her teaching degree from Milligan College, a private liberal arts college in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1988.  Mrs. Frazier has a BA in English and Elementary Education.

She has three children, Ian, Collin and Erika, all of whom have been Brainjoggers at some point.  Mrs. Frazier has directed children’s choirs, worked in Admissions departments at Indiana University and The University of Rochester and began working with Shirley Pennebaker many years ago.  She and her husband have both been instructors with Camp Academia, INC. in the past.  Thus began her tenure with Brainjogging.

Mrs. Frazier and her family moved to Charlotte in 2001. In 2004, she entered the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system as a substitute for several elementary schools and AG middle school. Mrs. Frazier is currently a third grade teacher in Charlotte.

Laura Lynne Frazier is excited to serve Charlotte, North Carolina's learning disability community.

Mrs. Frazier attended Brainjogging’s teacher training in June 2010, where she was introduced to the neuroscience behind Brainjogging.  Mrs. Frazier also learned how to treat learning disabilities utilizing Brainjogging.  She left with an understanding of the myriad ways in which Brainjogging enables students with learning disabilities to be successful learners.
Mrs. Frazier is excited about the opportunity to help her current and future students who need Brainjogging to succeed!

Thank you for your time, Charlotte.  We look forward to a great relationship – we are going to CHANGE YOUR STUDENTS!