Archive for August, 2010

NPR highlights Autism and its social effects

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by admin

All Things Considered of National Public Radio (NPR) is conducting a discussion about evolution entitled “Human Edge.”  The series explores what, exactly, gives humans an edge over other species.  This week’s installation focused on social skills’ role in enabling humans’ evolution.

27 year old Lisa Daxer, an individual with Asperger's syndrome, which is on the Autistic spectrum, strolls on Wright State University's campus. Photo credit Skip Peterson for NPR.

NPR chose to interview 27 year old Lisa Daxer, an individual on the Autistic spectrum, to highlight the extent to which the disease can affect an individual’s social experience, and the extent to which one’s social experience dictates one’s life. NPR’s article on Daxer can be found here.  You can listen to the entire story or read the transcript, both of which are furnished by NPR.  Daxer’s story provides significant insights into how a brain from an individual on the Autistic spectrum functions and interprets social experiences; if your child or a friend’s child is on the Autistic spectrum, please take time to listen to Daxer’s story.

Humans are social creatures; social interaction helps individuals develop a sense of empathy.  It also helps humans learn what is “acceptable” or “unacceptable” behavior, as far as other human beings are concerned.  Individuals with Autism are often unable to engage socially with others, unless they are explicitly trained on how to interact with others in an “acceptable” fashion.  Daxer actually has a list of things that she’s discovered are not appropriate topics of discussion; similarly, Brainjogging coaches children with Autism about what is appropriate behavior.  Lisa Daxer has a sense of humor: she refers to “normal” people, or ones without Autism or other significant disabilities, as “neuro-typicals,” meaning that their neurological processes are “normal.”  Daxer’s blog, Reports from a Resident Alien, provides insight about Autism from an individual with Autism.  Daxer touches on the ways in which Autism affects her life.  “Neuro-typical” and “normal” are relative terms; humans are only “normal” in terms of comparison with other socially ordained behavior.  Brainjogging can help your child cope with Autism and its toll on his or her social skills so that he or she can better integrate with peers and appear to be “normal,” for whatever the term is worth.

Ideally, all Brainjoggers with Autism will appear to others to be “neuro-typical” in terms of manifested behaviors and social skills.  Brainjogging’s students reach unbelievable heights: non-verbal children learn to verbalize short sentences; children with Autism are invited to friends’ houses; teachers and other children’s parents sometimes don’t even realize that a particular Brainjogger has Autism.  Just yesterday, a special education teacher at a nearby private school shared that a story about Brainjogging’s progress with children with Autism.  E., a kindergartner, was sitting in the lunch room when a third grade teacher said, “Wow, she has changed so much!”  Gone is the child that had massive temper tantrums that distracted from lessons; gone, too, is the child that couldn’t sit still.  Brainjogging is working wonders for this little girl with Autism in Columbus, Georgia!

Yo, Sacramento!

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by admin

Mark Alvarez, Will Cleveland and illustrator Tate Nation collaborated to produce Yo, Sacramento!

Yo, Sacramento! is a clever book, written by Will Cleveland and Mark Alvarez and illustrated by Tate Nation, allows one to teach all 50 states and capitals in a matter of minutes.  Reading the book thoroughly, even just one time, ensures that the reader will close the book knowing more states and their corresponding capitals than he or she knew before cracking Yo, Sacramento!’s cover.  Sure, it’s educationally stimulating and yes, it’s cartoon-like illustrations and clever audionyms appeal to children with learning disabilities, but the sheer creativity behind Yo, Sacramento! most endears me to it.  Audionyms are helpful mnemonic devices by which one converts a fact or other piece of information into a series of familiar, even silly, words or phrases; mnemonics is the process or technique of improving and/or developing one’s memory.

Yo, Sacramento! is a published, copyrighted books; for this reason, Brainjogging is unable to publish material from Yo, Sacramento!, but Brainjogging encourages the use of Yo, Sacramento! at home and in the classroom!   Will Cleveland and Mark Alvarez published a follow up book, Yo, Millard Fillmore!

Alvarez, Cleveland and Nation reconnected to create this book about the Presidents, based on the popular audionym concept they first used in Yo, Sacramento!

so children might learn the Presidents of the United States in order, and as quickly, as they did the states and capitals with Yo, Sacramento!. Brainjogging actually uses a rhyme, created by Brainjogging founder Shirley Pennebaker, M.Ed., and a corresponding series of physical movements and gestures to teach the Presidents’ names and order, but Yo, Millard Fillmore! is an excellent additional resource.  You can watch a slide show of Yo, Millard Fillmore! here (there is no such slide show online for Yo, Sacramento!).

A 10 year old Presidential candidate

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by admin

When a child begins Brainjogging, one of his or her first exercises during sessions, if he or she is at a cognitive level that allows for the successful assimilation of such knowledge, is learning poems and stories in an effort to strengthen auditory memory.  One of students’ favorite stories is one that Shirley Pennebaker, M.Ed., founder and director of Pennebaker Learning Center and creator of Brainjogging, created about the Presidents of the United States of America. Mrs. Pennebaker’s story is silly – when children laugh, they engage their cerebellums and are more likely to retain new information.  The story includes hints for remembering each President’s name in chronological order.  The story begins, “In Washington, Adams was jeopardized by a mad monster.” Each italicized word functions as an audionym, meant to draw students’ attention to the similarity between the word provided and the name it invokes.  Jeopardized, for example, signifies Jefferson; mad signifies Madison; and monster signifies Monroe.  Students learn the first five Presidents by remembering only one sentence!  Mrs. Pennebaker’s story invokes the same logic as does Yo, Sacramento! and its Presidential counterpart Yo, Millard Fillmore!, which is an excellent accompaniment to Mrs. Pennebaker’s story.

After learning Mrs. Pennebaker’s story, students learn a corresponding series of physical movements, which also engage the cerebellum. Once a student learns both the story and its motions, the story and the Presidents’ names go into the child’s Brainjogging program.  Next, students encounter a poster containing each President’s photograph.

Upon teaching this story to one student from LaGrange, Georgia, A., his Brainjogging instructor found that A. really enjoyed learning about history.  A. eagerly accepted the challenge of learning the Presidents’ names, asking questions about many of their Presidencies.

Brainjogging instructor Hannah Lybrand poses with a potential President, ten year old A.

A. knew a great deal about the Presidents, too; he mentioned Jefferson’s penning the Constitution and FDR’s having Polio.  A. wondered aloud, “Martin Van Buren sounds like a bad guy from a movie like Terminator – was he a bad President?”  Brainjogging recognized the boy’s appetite for history, and thus fed his curiosity accordingly.  A.’s instructor recorded all questions to which she didn’t know the answer, unless they involved a Terminator character, and provided the student with answers during his next session.

After initially moving through the story, students glance over a poster containing each President’s picture; many children do well with visual affirmation of information.  After A. identified President Obama as America’s 44th President, he added, “And then – President Me!” This boy one day wants to rule the planet, and to be the youngest and best President, by his own admission.  Why not? Brainjogging might one day be recognized as the program that resuscitated the youngest, best President’s enthusiasm for academia!

Georgia Tech comes one step closer to early screening for autism

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by admin

Early intervention is key in treating children with autism.

Georgia Tech recently received 10 million dollars to study and analyze children’s behavior, and to develop a prototype for screening for autism.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Ty Tagami recently reported that Georgia Tech plans “to create an inexpensive, computerized early warning system for young children who have autism” (Tagami 1).  Many children “are not screened by an autism expert until age 4, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants be screened at 18 months of age” (Tagami 1).  Early screening ensures early intervention, and treatment to staunch autism’s effect on a child and his or her interactions are most effective with early intervention.  Currently, screening requires the attention of an expert, but Tech hopes to create a system “that would substitute technology for experience.  It would involve a smart video camera that assesses the facial reactions and eye movements of a child who is responding to instructions from an adult.  And it would include a watch-like device that monitors the child’s heart rate and skin electrical conductivity – involuntary physical responses that can help establish emotional states … that put the voluntary facial movements into context” (Tagami 1). Tech does not propose to replace entirely or dispose of experts and the value of their input; Tech hopes only to disseminate more widely the tools for diagnosing autism at an early age so that children might be treated as early as possible.  Please read Tagami’s article in its entirety here for the full story on Georgia Tech’s research on autism and how it might be most easily diagnosed.

Brainjogging has experienced enormous, quantifiable success with students on the autistic spectrum.  Brainjogging treats children on the spectrum in Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, GA; Lagrange, GA; Columbus, GA; New Zealand and many other locations!  Early intervention is extremely important; please contact Brainjogging for a consultation regarding your child with autism!  Call Miss Marjie at the LaGrange office at 706.884.4492 to reserve your space.

A mother’s perspective: April 2010

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by admin

Brainjogging affects real children and real families.  Brainjogging has one particular student, N., that began Brainjogging in April 2010.  N. attends Brainjogging sessions with a Brainjogging cognitive therapist from 9 am – 3 pm, with a one hour lunch break, one week each month; she Brainjogs at least twice daily at home with her mother the other three weeks of the month. Directly following N.’s week of Brainjogging session, her mother, J., writes Brainjogging a letter about N. and the progress she made over that week in relation to her state prior to the week’s therapy.

N., who began Brainjogging in April 2010, poses during her week of sessions in August, 2010.

The following is the first letter J. wrote Brainjogging, from April 2010.  Over the coming days, you’ll be able to read J.’s letters from May, June, July and August and watch N.’s progress from her mother’s perspective.  *Please note that each letter reads exactly as it was written by J., the exception being the presence of initials instead of names, which Brainjogging did with the intention of protecting this family’s identity; the completion of abbreviated terms OT for Occupational Therapy; and the grammatical errors.  All changes are bracketed.

April 15, 2010
Dear Brainjogging,

Hello, this is J., N.’s mother, and I am writing this letter filled with Hope as we approach the end of our first week of Brainjogging.

I’ll start with telling you a little about N..  She is our middle child after years of infertility.  Her older sister, A., was born via gestational surrogate.  She has been working very hard from day one.  My pregnancy was wonderful, but N.’s delivery was traumatic.  She was so beaten up that a geneticist saw her right away.  We have a slew of physicians and have run every test possible.  Fortunately, everything has come back normal.  However, this is frustrating in the sense you want something definitive so it can just be fixed!

N. came into this world with that sparkle and a smile that melts anyone.  She was born with Torticollis and low muscle tone.  C. and I have been very proactive from the beginning.  N. started P[hysical] T[herapy] at 4 months and began S[peech] T[herapy] and O[ccupational] T[herapy] during her first year.  From the beginning she has been on the upward curve of progress, and we’ve been told that is the best sign possible.

N. has a doting family that will continue to do anything we can to help her have a happy life.  N. is an appendage to A., and she is a little Mommy to her younger brother W..  N. feels like 2 children at times because she requires a little more with her delays; however, I cannot imagine the three without each other.  N.’s siblings challenge her; she must keep up with them.

Physically, N. has seemed to be about a year behind.  She was slow to sit, speak, run.  She has been diagnosed with Apraxia and Dyspraxia/SPD … all that said, it has been indicated with therapies and work she will be fine and live a productive life.  Now what exactly that means is unclear to me J. All I know is that I feel so much is in N. that she just can’t get out.  She is intelligent; her body just won’t sync with her brain … but it is getting better!  It can be heartbreaking to watch her attempt a normal activity and realize she is trying but can’t do how all the “typical” children are doing it.

N. does tire easily, especially with all the effort she has to use to function.  She eats well; we call her Swiper because she easily takes others’ food.  We’ve had IgG allergy test, and N. is highly sensitive to rice and shrimp.  We did attempt a gluten-free diet, but no difference was noted.  N. always walked on her toes; A[nkle] F[oot] O[rthoses] corrected that.  N. has a need to chew or teethe items/things.  She is very clumsy and unbalanced, but we are improving.  N. started jumping with 2 feet off the ground 5 months ago!!  Because speech is limited, N. does show frustration more because she is telling us something in N. language but no one understands.  N. is very social and happy.  She can be very stubborn and strong willed.  She is tough as nails given everything she has been through.

At this time, N. is a student at CC & F.  It is a fabulous school and worth my drive.  She gets ST, OT, and PT at school.  We have a private therapist once a week, and I think she complements Brainjogging very well.  N. takes dance and will resume Hippotherapy in the summer.  N. loves taking care of her babies, water, bubbles, music; she is busy and known for her quick and sneaky nature.

I was apprehensive to start Brainjogging because we really did not have our ABCs.  I am thrilled at the progress N. has made in learning the ABCs and how her speed has improved.  When I speak of speed that crosses over to when you ask her to repeat a letter or random word; her answer is coming out quicker.  It is amazing (with some prompting) how many words N. can say clearly!  I do realize we as a family will have some work in making sure we get the words out.  Since we started this week, N. obviously showed great improvement on the Brainjogging program.  She is catching a ball!  Throwing with some umph!  N. is saying more two word phrases.  She said, “I love Jelly Bean!” [the office dog] – one for the books.  The use of the potty has improved!  She is telling me she “has to go” at times!!  I’ve noted less tongue protrusion and mouth opening.  I have truly loved seeing improvement in N.’s eye contact.  Tonight we had a chat and she did so well with keeping eye contact!!  I am thrilled about the week … a great sense of hope.  I realize it is a huge commitment, but how can N.’s parents not do anything they could to help her?  I’m a little anxious about getting Brainjogging settled into our daily routine, but I know it will just take some practice.  I’m even more excited to see what will come.  N. has given me the gift of relaxing into the moment and enjoying the journey (of course with a lot of prayers, too ).  I know we can get those ABCs!!  It is fantastic to [hear] her improvement in enunciation; she can say those letters!  It is unbelievable how she has improved on Brainjogging from Monday!

Thank you so much!  It has been a productive and fun week – fun in the sense that N. has done so well.


Going big with manipulatives

Monday, August 16th, 2010 by admin

Brainjogging lauds manipulatives.  Manipulatives make abstract concepts concrete entities.  Brainjogging uses Math U See’s concrete math manipulatives and Hands on English’s linking blocks, which makes grammar a concrete, visual experience.  Architect David Rockwell and Darrell Hammond, of the nonprofit Kaboom!, the largest builder of playgrounds in the US, are going big with manipulatives: the two collaborated to create Imagination Playground, in Manhattan, New York.  Rockwell spent five years consulting experts and children on the nature of play, the end result being a set of 350 bright blue foam blocks that children can use to construct their own unique play space.  Some blocks “are shaped like wheels, others like cogs or giant noodles,” and can become nearly anything a child can think to create (Barovick 45).  More significantly, perhaps, is the fact that the blocks “are deliberately big so kids will be more likely to assist each other with them” (Barovick 45).

Rockwell and Hammond also collaborated on Imagination Playground in a Box, “a walk-in-closet-size container with at least 75 foam blocks, among other components” (Barovick 46).

Rockwell's and Hammon's Imagination Playground in a Box is portable and exercises children's minds.

The starting price for Imagination Playground in a Box is $6,150, which is likely out of most parents price range; this, however, does not mean that parents cannot use the same principle in their own homes.  Children need toys that engage them physically and exercise their mind! Give them tools with which they can build; games with which they can create new games, without prescriptive limitations.  Foster a sense of creative mental agility in your child; help him or her learn to create rather than rely solely on preexisting toys.

Barovick, Harriet. “Building a Better Playground..” TIME 9 August 2010: 45-46. Print.

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!

Autism and antidepressants

Thursday, August 12th, 2010 by admin

No parent wants to watch his or her child struggle with a disability.  With the best of intentions, some parents of children with autism are “‘often anxious to try treatments regardless of the lack of evidence’” supporting them (Science Daily).  Due to the varied symptoms displayed by individuals with autistic spectrum disorder, antidepressants cannot be recommended based on studies by Cochrane researchers (listen to Cochrane’s audio podcast of this study by clicking here).

Antidepressants may not be the best option for individuals with autistic spectrum disorder.

There is “no evidence for any benefits associated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in children,” and there can, in fact, be “serious adverse effects” for children with Autism taking these drugs (Science Daily).

SSRIs are used to treat autism based on the fact that “they act on serotonin, the same chemical in the body that is responsible for some of the psychological processes affected by [autistic spectrum disorder]” (Science Daily).  Cochrane esearchers conducted seven trials, employing 271 patients with autistic spectrum disorder.  These trials monitored the effects of fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, fenfluramine and citalopram on individuals with autistic spectrum disorder, and discerned that there was “no benefit in the five trials in children and some evidence of serious harm, including one child who suffered a prolonged seizure after taking citalopram” (Science Daily).

Cochrane researchers conclude that they “can’t recommend SSRIs as treatments for children, or adults, with autism at this time. However, decisions about the use of SSRIs for co-occurring obsessive-compulsive disorder, aggression, anxiety or depression in individuals with autism should be made on a case-by-case basis” (Science Daily).

Brainjogging has experienced enormous success with children on the autistic spectrum: non-verbal Brainjoggers have begun stringing together four and five word sentences; Atlanta’s Marcus Autism Center has revised one Brainjogger’s diagnosis after observing her before and after Brainjogging; another Brainjogger enjoys social outlets like Boy Scouts and football with his peers.  Brainjogging is a wonderful resource for children on the autistic spectrum.  Please contact Brainjogging to schedule an appointment for your child with autism.

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.

Alternatives to video games and television

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 by admin

Brainjogging does not advocate video games or television – so what can tools can you provide your child so he or she problem solves and uses his or her imagination?  There are several things you can do at home with your child, or that your child can do alone and/or with other children.  These activities are all healthy, cognitively-enhancing alternatives to television and video games.  The following are several simple, truly useful tools and activities that nourish children’s imaginations as they gain real-life experience:

Action figures
Action figures increase children’s visual motor skills, spatial skills, strategic planning skills, concentration and creativity.  Winston Churchill considered action figures one of his favorite toys:

Winston Churchill achieved enormous success, which might partially be attributed to the hands-on activities he enjoyed during childhood.

Churchill placed a map of Europe on his floor and planned maneuvers for hours on end with his toy soldiers; this play undoubtedly contributed to the successful outcome of World War II.

Light-up yoyo (or a basic, solid yo-yo)
Yoyos enhance children’s fine motor skills, dexterity, spatial planning skills and muscle coordination.  Additionally, children love yo-yoing!  Learning yo-yo tricks is challenging; there will be frustrated moments for your child, but these moments present challenges the child must work through.  Yo-yoing also assists children with peripheral vision.

There are also several games that Brainjogging uses to increase students’ vocabularies and mental agility.  You might have some of these games on-hand already in your home; others are easy to purchase or simulate.

Taboo enhances word retrieval, builds vocabulary skills, increases one’s ability to think and create synonyms.

Mad Gab
Mad Gab increases auditory processing, divided attention and executive processing.  It is an excellent game for children that are learning to read!  Mad Gab forces children to think about words rather than guessing at them.

Pictionary increases visual memory.

O, Monopoly; so many parents and children have turned to this tried-and-true game, and for good reason.  Monopoly teaches money skills, math concepts, investing and planning.

Simon Says
Simon Says increases children’s deductive reasoning skills, executive processing, numerical concept, planning, processing speed, selective attention, sustained attention and visual processing.  Simon Says can be played anywhere – and it delivers fun and cognitive enrichment.

Brainjogging always advocates incorporating learning in everyday experiences.  The aforementioned games and activities help children develop cognitively and socially.  They encourage problem solving and myriad other skills, all of which they receive in relation to other human beings, so they simultaneously receive socialization.

*Please note that these are only a few healthy alternatives to video games and television; there are numerous other games and activities that will nourish your child’s developing mind!