Archive for December, 2010

Targeting social deficits in ASD

Friday, December 31st, 2010 by admin

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by three core deficits: difficulty with communication, issues with repetitive behaviors (stimming) and social competence.  Researchers at the University of Missouri are developing a social competence curriculum with a virtual classroom component, designed to facilitate disorder-specific assistance.

Stichter’s team developed this curriculum in an after-school formant; it is now being tested during the school day.  Stichter’s curriculum focuses on specific needs and behavioral traits within the autism spectrum.

Stichter says, “At MU, we’ve worked to develop intervention to meet specific needs, similar to a medical model for treating cancer: doctors don’t use one treatment model for all forms of cancer.”

Stichter’s curriculum will help insure that doctors do not treat all forms of ASD with a single treatment model, either.  Her curriculum almost enitrely focuses on social competence, as the ability to communicate effectively helps children achieve in the classroom and in the workplace.  Because high-functioning children on the autism spectrum tend to struggle with “determining and managing goals, understanding others’ feelings and regulating emotions,[…] Stichter’s curriculum focuses the student on recognizing facial expressions, sharing ideas, taking turns, exploring feelings and emotions and problem-solving” (Science Daily).  Strengthening these skills will significantly increase students’ social competency, thereby affecting not only their social lives, but also their overall educational experience.

Folks benefit from physical activity, particularly in their teen years

Thursday, December 30th, 2010 by admin

“Women who are physically active at any point over the life course have lower risk of cognitive impairment in late-life compared to those who are inactive, but teenage physical activity appears to be most important.” Science Daily.

The Journal of American Geriatrics Society recently conducted a study of nine thousand women in an attempt to explore the connection between physically activity and cognitive impairment.  The study focused on four age groups: teenage, age 30, age 50 and late life.

Current research suggests that “people who are physically active in mid- and late life have lower chance of dementia and more minor forms of cognitive impairment in old age,” but there is less understanding of the various effects of physical activity in early life versus physical activity at different ages.  Researchers from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Canada, “compared the physical activity at teenage, age 30, age 50 and late life against cognition of 9,344 women from Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania to investigate the effectiveness of activity at different life stages.” After adjusting for age, education, marital status, diabetes, hypertension, depressive symptoms, smoking and body mass index, the results indicated that “only teenage physical activity status remained significantly associated with cognitive performance in old age.”  Being active at age 30 and age 50, however, was not “significantly associated with rates of cognitive impairment in those women who were already physically active at teenage.”  Thus, it seems that to minimize risk of dementia and other cognitive impairment, physical activity should be encouraged beginning in early life.  However, individuals that were inactive as teens can “reduce their risk of cognitive impairment by becoming active later in life.”Additionally, evidence suggests “physical activity has a positive effect on brain plasticity and cognitive and in addition, physical activity reduces the rate and severity of vascular risk factors, such as hypertension, obesity and type II diabetes, which are each associated with increased risk of cognitive impairment.”  Brainjogging has a positive effect on brain plasticity, and is particularly effective in students that engage in physical activity.  Brainjogging therapists strive to coordinate motor skills and academic information into sessions; students learn and retain more when their cerebellum is active.

Some very smart, accomplished people cannot read well

Thursday, December 16th, 2010 by admin

Dyslexia is characterized by difficult reading even “in relation to intelligence, education and professional status” (Science Daily).  This means that dyslexia causes reading difficulties despite the individual’s IQ.  Researchers at Yale School of Medicine and University of California Davis recently presented data illustrating how “otherwise bright and intelligent people struggle to read.”

The researchers used data from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, which is an ongoing 12-year study of cognitive and behavioral development in a representative sample of 445 Connecticut school children.  Researchers tested the children every year in reading and tested for IQ every other year, hoping “to show how the dissociation between cognitive ability and reading ability might develop in children.”Researchers found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time.  Children with dyslexia, however, experience a dissociation between IQ and reading: IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another, which explains why people with dyslexia can be very intelligent and not read well.

Why Supplemental Educational Services matter

Thursday, December 16th, 2010 by admin

Brainjogging is one of Muscogee County, Georgia’s Supplemental Educational Services (SES) providers for the 2010-2011 school year.  SES services are open to students that receive free or reduced lunch and whose schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) during the previous school year.  All students at schools that have not made AYP during the previous two school years are eligible for SES.

SES was created to provide additional support to students that need it most.  The overt reasons for SES do not include those discussed in an article from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, which cites long-term crime, alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and risky sex behaviors as prevalent issues plaguing disadvantaged adolescents, but the prevention of development of negative behaviors and the curbing or cessation of current behaviors absolutely plays into the psychology of many students eligible for SES.  These are students that are not performing on grade level; they are at high risk for developing risky behaviors.

The study cited in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry “examined the influence of delinquency behaviors in late childhood development among over 800 youth from low- compared to middle-income backgrounds, age 10 to age 24” (Science Daily).  Subjects were asked to complete “self-report assessments that included questions about delinquent involvement, alcohol use and sexual activity in late childhood; delinquency and alcohol use in adolescence; and crime, AUDs and risky sex in early adulthood.”

Children from low-income backgrounds were twice as likely to report early sex onset (by age 11) and more likely to report early delinquency (by age 10).  Those from middle-income backgrounds were 1.5 times more likely to report early alcohol use (by age 10).  Those that showed “early and frequent involvement with risky sex, delinquency and alcohol use beginning in late childhood and extending throughout adolescence showed an increase in long-term crime, AUDs and risky sex behaviors in young adulthood.”

SES is more than academic assistance; SES is a way out for some children.  The students receiving SES with whom Brainjogging works are building their academic base and their self-confidence.  They are learning about their intrinsic value and the power of self-motivation.

Alienation makes children more likely to act aggressively

Friday, December 10th, 2010 by admin

Netherlands researchers at Utrecht University recently “found that some children are more likely than others to lash out in response to acute peer rejection: children who already feel like outcasts” (Science Daily).   The results of the study are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Perhaps saying that alienated youth are more likely to lash out than are youth that are generally accepted by their peers is stating the obvious, but it is important to face aggression and bullying directly.  Utrecht University’s researchers believed there might be “something to alienation that increases aggression” and created an Internet contest called “Survivor” to test children’s degrees of alienation and corresponding aggression.The contest was fake; it never went live on the web.  The study included 121 children between the ages of 10 and 13.  Each child created an online profile that would allegedly be uploaded onto the “Survivor” website alongside the child’s picture.  Eight children from other schools acted as judges and wrote feedback for students.  While some children received mostly positive feedback, some had mostly negative feedback, including statements like, “This person does not seem fun to hang out with.”

After reviewing the feedback they received from judges, the children were able “to choose how much money each judge would get, and to write comments about the judges.”  Students who received negative feedback and were rejected by their peers “were more likely to act aggressively toward judges – taking away money from them and/or writing comments like ‘this person is fat and mean.’”  Students “were even more aggressive if they’d scored high on a measure of alienation – agreeing with statements like, ‘Hardly anyone I know is interested in how I really feel inside.’”

Researchers closed the study with a session during which they explained to the children that the judges and their mean comments were fake.  They discussed with the children positive social experiences they recently had and then gave them a present.

Curbing bullying is as simple – or as difficult – as helping children not to feel like outcasts.  Children, particularly those with learning disabilities, are likely to feel different from and/or excluded by others. A child in your life with a learning disability is a child for whom you should strive to facilitate positive, validating social experiences, perhaps even more so than for a child without a learning disability. Children with learning disabilities are also at risk to experience depression.  As demonstrated by Utrecht University’s research, bad peer experiences can lead children to lash out aggressively, likely causing further alienation.  Help the child in your life with a learning disability feel accepted and valuable to reduce the chance that he or she may develop unhealthy tendencies to act aggressively toward others.

“Being there” for children with learning disabilities

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by admin

University of Minnesota psychologists recently discovered that “social support benefits are maximized when provided ‘invisibly’ – that is without the support recipient being aware that they are receiving it” (Science Daily).  Graduate student Maryhope Howland and professor Jeffry Simpson suggest that there may be “something unique about the emotional support behaviors that result in recipients being less aware of receiving support.”

Effective support should make the recipient “feel better and more competent” and is generally acknowledged; such support includes giving advice and encouragement.  These are positive exchanges between individuals, but they are exchanges of which both the giver and the recipient are aware.  Sometimes, such exchanges, although they are ostensibly positive and committed with good intentions, can make individuals feel “vulnerable, anxious or ineffective.”U of M researchers had 85 couples engage in “videotaped support interaction,” in which “support recipients were instructed to discuss something they’d like to change about themselves with their partners, who thus had the opportunity to provide support.”  The recipients then reported the extent to which they felt they had received support, or were aware of receiving support, and “trained observers then watched the videotapes and coded the interactions to gauge the extent to which any support provided was invisible or visible.”

Invisible emotional support includes reassurance, expressions of concern, advice or overt offers of assistance.  Partners that received invisible support seemed to experience increased self-efficacy.

Children with learning disabilities are not romantic partners, but developing individuals learning to navigate their world and interact with others on terms that they often don’t quite understand.  There are myriad options available to assist your child in learning the world’s ways and hidden curriculum, but you can provide invisible support even in the home.  All situations allow opportunities to provide invisible support.  Practical support is fine, too; there is great significance in encouraging a child to talk himself through a situation or providing a direct solution to a problem, but there is also significance in encouraging a child through smiles and words of encouragement.  Your child, whether or not he or she has a learning disability, looks to you to confirm his or her beliefs about the world.  Be a shining light for your child by being aware of the difficulties he or she sometimes faces – and providing support through all of them for which you can do so.

Brainjogging and the dyslexic brain

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 by admin

Children with dyslexia, despite displaying intellectual ability in other areas and having received appropriate education, often have difficulties with reading, writing and spelling.  The June 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex contains findings from Vanderbilt University, Johns Hopkins University and Kennedy Krieger Institute researchers that suggest “a connection between difficulties with written language and structural differences in the brain” (Science Daily).

The brain contains white matter.  This white matter consists of bundles of fiber that are essentially the wiring that allows brain cells to communicate.  The brain’s left-hemisphere language network is made up of bundles of these fibers, which contain branches that extend from the back of the brain to the front parts, which are responsible for articulation and speech.  In individuals with dyslexia, there is a structural difference in a very important bundle of fibers in the left-hemisphere language network.Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), researchers traced the course of this bundle in its network and “discovered that it ran through a frontal brain region known to be less well organized in the dyslexic brain” (Science Daily).  Additionally, they found that “fibers in that frontal part of the tract were oriented differently in dyslexia,” substantiating that dyslexia is directly related to structural abnormalities in the brain.

One of the study’s researchers, Laurie Cutting, of Vanderbilt University, stated, “If you have decreased integrity of white matter, the front and back part of your brain are not talking to one another.  This would affect reading, because you need both to act as a cohesive unit.”

Brainjogging helps regions of the brain talk to each other.  Individuals with dyslexia actually show the fastest and most sustained response to Brainjogging when related to other learning disabilities.  Brainjogging encourages communicate between brain regions, thereby better enabling the circuitry involved in many tasks, including reading, writing and spelling.  Brainjogging works for individuals with dyslexia because Brainjogging helps the brain to act as a cohesive unit; the dyslexic brain does not act cohesively unless it is trained to do so.  Brainjogging trains the dyslexic brain!

Controlling the brain’s control center

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 by admin

A new Queen’s University study suggests that “impulsive behaviour can be improved with training and the improvement is marked by specific brain changes” (Science Daily).  PhD student Scott Hayton believes he has “pinpointed the area of the brain that controls impulsive behaviour and the mechanisms that affect how impulsive behaviour is learned” (Science Daily).

Mr. Hayton’s research was prompted by a desire to understand how students learn to hold their tongues and wait until being called on by teachers instead of blurting out answers.  Mr. Hayton explained, “We wanted to know how this type of learning occurs in the brain.  Our research basically told us where the memory for this type of inhibition is in the brain, and how it is encoded.”

Mr. Hayton and his team “trained rats to control impulsive responses until a signal was presented” (Science Daily).  As the rats learned to control their impulses, the electrical signals between cells in their brains’ frontal lobes grew stronger.  The significance of this experiment lies in the fact that as cells communicate more effectively, the brain grows more able to control impulses, indicating that humans’ brains, too, can be trained to better communicate and thereby more successfully control impulsiveness.

ADD/ADHD, in addition to addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder and gambling, is marked by impulsiveness.  The study’s principal investigator, Professor Cella Olmstead, explained that “children who have difficulty learning to control a response often have behavioral problems which continue into adulthood.”  Ideally, early intervention would train individuals’ brains to communicate more efficiently.  This increase in processing speed and efficiency would simultaneously decrease the chance of not being able to control impulsivity.

Brainjogging trains individuals’ brains by building new neurons and strengthening communication between existing neurons by continuously calling on brain circuits to communicate information.  The repetitive nature of Brainjogging’s exercises actually “work out” the brain’s neurons, making them more efficient in the same way that “working out” by lifting weights strengthens muscle groups.  By increasing students’ brains’ communication and strengthening the neurons in their frontal lobes, Brainjogging teaches students to control impulsiveness, which is particularly important for students with ADD/ADHD or the obsessive compulsive qualities sometimes associated with ASD.