Thursday, December 23, 2010

Working memory is a better predictor of academic success than IQ

Published on December 21, 2010
by Tracy Packiam Alloway, PhD

Working memory is the ability to hold information in your head and manipulate it mentally. You use this mental workspace when adding up two numbers spoken to you by someone else without being able to use pen and paper or a calculator. Children at school need this memory on a daily basis for a variety of tasks such as following teachers' instructions or remembering sentences they have been asked to write down.

The main goal of this article was to investigate the predictive power of working memory and IQ in learning in typically developing children over a six-year period. This issue is important because distinguishing between the cognitive skills underpinning success in learning is crucial for early screening and intervention.

In this study, typically developing students were tested for their IQ and working memory at 5 years old and again when they were 11 years old. They were also tested on their academic attainments in reading, spelling and maths.

The findings revealed that a child's success in all aspects of learning is down to how good their working memory is regardless of IQ score. Critically, working memory at the start of formal education is a more powerful predictor of subsequent academic success than IQ in the early years.

This unique finding is important as it addresses concerns that general intelligence, still viewed as a key predictor of academic success, is unreliable. An individual can have an average IQ score but perform poorly in learning.

Some psychologists suggest that the link between IQ and learning is greatest when the individual is learning new information, rather than at later stages when it is suggested that gains made are the result of practice.

Yet the findings from this research that working memory capacity predicted subsequent skills in reading, spelling, and math suggests that some cognitive skills contribute to learning beyond practice effects.

The study also found that, as opposed to IQ, working memory is not linked to the parents' level of education or socio-economic background. This means all children regardless of background or environmental influence can have the same opportunities to fulfil potential if working memory is assessed and problems addressed where necessary.

Working memory is a relatively stable construct that has powerful implications for academic success. While working memory does increase with age, its relative capacity remains constant. This means that a child at the bottom 10 percentile compared to their same-aged peers is likely to remain at this level throughout their academic career.

In summary, the present article suggests that the traditional reliance on IQ as a benchmark for academic success may be misguided. Instead, schools should focus on assessing working memory as it is the best predictor of reading, spelling and math skills six years later. At present, poor working memory is rarely identified by teachers, who often describe children with this problem as inattentive or as having lower levels of intelligence. However, there are standardized assessments that are suitable for educators to use to screen their students for working memory problems. For example, the Automated Working Memory Assessment (published by the Psychological Corporation) allows non-specialist assessors such as classroom teachers to screen their students for significant working memory problems quickly and effectively.

Problems with working memory can be easily addressed in schools-an advantage over IQ which is more difficult to influence by teachers. Early intervention in working memory could lead to a reduction in the number of those failing schools and help address the problem of under-achievement in schools.

ReferenceAlloway, T.P. & Alloway, R. G. (2010). Investigating the predictive roles of working memory and IQ in academic attainment. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 106, 20-29.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Accents in wombs"

BBC News ran a story yesterday on babies' ability to pick up certain aspects of their parents' accents in the womb. Before we get carried away by the image of neonates springing out into the world speaking broad Geordie or Brummie, we should look at the study (in press in the journal Current Biology) in a little more detail. The German researchers recorded and analysed the cries of some very young babies—between 2 and 5 days old—born into two language groups, French and German. There were 30 babies in each group. The analysis of the recordings involved examination of the cries' 'melody contours', which makes use of the fact that the cry of a baby follows a distinctive pattern: first rising in pitch, and then falling, in a single arc.

The results of the analyses showed clear differences between the language groups. The French babies' cries spent longer on the rising part of the arc, and the German cries were skewed towards the falling part. These patterns match up to the particular prosodic patterns of the French and German languages, as demonstrated in other studies (and fully evident to listeners to those spoken languages).

There's nothing particularly new about a finding that foetuses can pick up and learn about auditory information in the womb. In my book, I describe an experiment conducted by Peter Hepper two decades ago, in which babies who had been exposed to the theme tune of the soap Neighbours showed a preference for that tune after they had been born. Plenty of other convincing evidence for foetal learning has been published since the time of Hepper's study. What is striking about this new study is that babies aren't just learning patterns in the womb, but they are also showing an ability to mimic them—which must call for some very sophisticated control over the articulatory system (the system of muscles that allows us to produce speech). Previous findings had shown vocal imitation at 12 weeks, but no earlier. Rather than just making a noise that is constrained by the respiratory (breathing) cycle, newborn babies are actually shaping the sound they make, and doing it in response to sounds they have already heard in the womb. This is particularly true of the French babies, with their 'rising' intonation—not the sort of cry you would hear if babies were simply vocalising their breaths.

In her comments to BBC News, study author Kathleen Wermke speculates that 'crying with an accent' may play a part in attracting the mother's attention and thus forging a bond with her. I was also interested in the comment by Debbie Mills of Bangor University, who questions whether this neonatal capacity for imitation might fall away shortly after birth only to return later in a different form. This 'inverse-U' trajectory of development is commonly observed in the first few months of life, with newborns showing capacities that they then lose, only to recover them again a few months later as different neural systems take responsibility for them.

(Mampe et al., Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language, Current Biology (2009),

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ADHD: Not Just Biology or Environment

ADHD is a biopsychosocial issue

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teletubbies is as bad for your child as a violent video game, says leading psychologist

By Dr Aric Sigman on 11th September 2010
We must prevent children under three from watching television or risk irreversibly damaging their health.
It may sound shocking but, rest assured, far from being a Luddite, I am enjoying my brand-new iMac and we own a television set. However, I stopped my three youngest children watching TV before the age of three. Let me explain why...

Over the past ten years I have been collating data and my discoveries have troubled me greatly – both as a biologist and as a parent.
Last month, I presented my findings to MEPs in Brussels. My message was unequivocal.

There needs to be a recommended daily allowance for screen time as we have with salt and fat, or we risk harming our children when at their most vulnerable. Indeed, in 2008 the French government outlawed programming aimed at children under three.
Research suggests it is not what you watch, it is what age you start and how long you watch for that has a detrimental effect. In many ways Teletubbies, or any other educational programme for children, could be as physiologically damaging as a violent video game.
So, how does watching something on a screen – whether TV, a DVD, computer games or surfing the internet – have a negative impact, more so than other sedentary activities such as reading or knitting?
It is because we are instinctively transfixed by television. It elicits the orienting response – our sensitivity to movement and sudden changes in vision or sound. Studies have shown that infants, when lying on their backs on the floor, will crane their necks around 180 degrees to watch. Our attraction to looking at anything bright and fastmoving is an evolutionary mechanism, a survival instinct.
These images on screen trigger what psychologists call attentional inertia – we are dazzled and cannot take our eyes off the screen. The same behaviour is seen in some animals.
But it seems we pay the price for tapping into these primitive urges. Scientists have observed effects ranging from the immediate release of hormones into the blood, which can contribute to long-term health problems, to actual physical changes in the brain and learning disorders.

A study from the University of Florence in 2006 of children aged six to 13 who spent an average amount of time watching TV found that their levels of melatonin – a hormone that causes us to sleep, but is also important for a healthy immune system and regulating the onset of puberty – shot up by 30 per cent after one week with no screen time.
If TV does suppress melatonin release, could this explain why puberty now begins in girls, on average, aged nine years 10 months – a year earlier than two decades ago?
Hormones related to metabolism are also affected. A study at the University of Sydney published this summer found that of a group of 290 boys aged 15, those who watched TV or DVDs or played computer games for more than two hours a day had elevated levels of chemical markers related to the development of coronary heart disease in later life.
And this year the University of Copenhagen found that individuals given 45 minutes of computer screen time subsequently consumed 230 calories more from a buffet than those who were given no stimulus.
These findings were backed up by a study from Birmingham University that found women who watched TV during a meal were likely to snack more in the hours after. One theory is that screen time interrupts the release of chemicals in the blood linked to hunger and satiation. Or perhaps memory is affected, so we forget we have eaten.
Perhaps the most compelling study, from the Dunedin School of Medicine, New Zealand, was published in 2004. Researchers followed 1,000 individuals from early childhood, for 26 years. They found that those who watched more than two hours a day between the ages of five and 15 were 15 per cent more likely to have raised blood cholesterol.
This link remained, irrespective of other factors such as social background, body mass index (BMI) at age five, parents' BMI, parental smoking and how physically active the children were by the age of 15. Those that did not watch TV did not have any raised health risks.
Screen time also triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that is involved in learning and concentration. When we see or experience something new, dopamine is released in the brain. Its effect is to focus our attention.
The surges caused by regular screen time may mean the brain becomes desensitised, so when the child later has to concentrate on something that does not have the same hyper-stimulating effect – a book or a teacher – they find they cannot do so. It's a bit like the way that those who add salt to their food find unsalted food tastes dull.
About 80 per cent of brain development happens before we are three, and screen time at this age seems to be particularly damaging.
At the other end of the spectrum, a study this year from the Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, found that each daily hour of TV viewing in adulthood was associated with an 18 per cent increase in death from heart disease. Those who watched four or more hours were 80 per cent more likely to suffer a fatal heart condition.
By the age of 75 the average Briton will have spent more than 12 years watching television. Those aged 11 to 15 now spend 50 per cent of their waking lives – 42 hours a week, six hours a day – in front of a screen.
The good news? If you turn the TV off these ill-effects can be prevented or reversed. After all, there are no health risks to reading a good book.

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Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains

November 18, 2010 by Sherrelle Walker, M.A

This past September in a blog posting about the importance of physical exercise, I opened with a comment about the powerful pull that the video screen exerts on young brains. To be sure, this useful evolutionary adaptation has served us very well. Our instinctive ability to focus and concentrate on fast-moving, bright stimuli is a survival mechanism that allowed our ancestors to escape from many a tight spot. Even so, with the advent of modern technologies such as computers and television, we are now experiencing the down side of an endless flood of engaging electronic input. Research has shown that extensive screen time has the power to negatively affect our very chemistry and biology.
As we know from brain plasticity research, the stimuli we receive over time directly affect the development and wiring of the brain. Still, these effects are only the beginning of a long list of problems that screen time engenders. This past September, British psychologist and biologist Aric Sigman published an article in the British MailOnline that pulls together the conclusions of recent research from around the globe, painting a clear picture of the deleterious effects of screen time, and that picture is far from pretty. In fact, it is one that we, as parents, as teachers and as members of a national community, must not ignore.
While screen time has been shown to have negative psychological effects, I found Sigman's run-down of the chemical and biological effects to be of particular concern:
  1. Suppression of melatonin release: Healthy levels of melatonin help regulate sleep, the immune system, and the onset of puberty. When children who watched an average amount of TV had all screen time removed, their melatonin levels went up by 30 percent after one week.
  2. Increased chance of coronary heart disease: A study of 290 boys aged 15 showed that those who averaged over two hours of screen time a day had "elevated levels of chemical markers related to the development of coronary heart disease in later life." A different study out of Melbourne showed that for each hour an adult watches TV a day, there is an 18 percent increase in the likelihood that this adult will die from heart disease. Says Sigman, "Those who watched four or more hours were 80 percent more likely to suffer a fatal heart condition."
  3. Changes in chemicals related to hunger and feeling satisfied: After 45 minutes of screen time, subjects consumed 230 calories more than those who had no screen time. Also, women who watched TV during a meal were more likely to snack later on.
  4. Elevated blood cholesterol: Individuals between five and 15 who watched more than two hours a day were more likely to have raised blood cholesterol later in life.
  5. Release of dopamine: Screen time causes the release of dopamine, a chemical that contributes to learning and concentration. As a result, our brains may become desensitized to the effects of normal levels of dopamine, making it hard to concentrate and focus on non-screen-based stimuli.
Taken in sum, these studies are sending us a clear message that we as parents and educators must take to heart: the more these screen-based technologies occupy time in our days, the more vigilant we must be about maintaining our own healthy habits, as well as educating our students to the risks so they can make their own smart decisions and lead long, healthy lives.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sharing the Practices of Phonics Practice: 5 Instructional Approaches

November 23, 2010 by Terri Zezula

Let’s talk about phonics teaching. Actually, let’s talk about phonics practice.Together, let’s figure out and share what works. But before we start our quest forward, let’s take a quick look back.
The “Great Debate” between proponents of the whole language and phonics approaches to reading instruction and practice has gone on for decades. Essentially, the discussion comes down to the question of whether early readers should focus on developing an understanding of written language at the letter/sound level (a phonics approach) or at the word level (a whole language approach). Today, the most widely accepted strategy indicates that phonics instruction and practice represent the most effective methods of reading instruction for K-6 learners; phonics also has proven very effective in helping those who are struggling with learning to read and spell. (Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read, 2006)
So, what opportunities—systematically speaking—are open to educators to offer phonics practice and instruction to students? The National Reading Panel outlines five different instructional approaches that we can draw upon. Specifically, the report lists them as follows:
  1. Analogy Phonics—teaching students unfamiliar words by analogy to known words (e.g., recognizing that the rime segment of an unfamiliar word—the part of a syllable used in poetic rhyme—is identical to that of a familiar word, and then blending the known rime with the new word onset, such as reading brick by recognizing that -ick is contained in the known word kick, or reading stump by analogy to jump).
  2. Analytic Phonics—teaching students to analyze letter-sound relations in previously learned words to avoid pronouncing sounds in isolation.
  3. Embedded Phonics—teaching students phonics skills by embedding phonics instruction in text reading, a more implicit approach that relies to some extent on incidental learning.
  4. Phonics through Spelling—teaching students to segment words into phonemes and to select letters for those phonemes (i.e., teaching students to spell words phonemically).
  5. Synthetic Phonics—teaching students explicitly to convert letters into sounds (phonemes) and then blend the sounds to form recognizable words. (Ibid.)
Print publishers as well as online curriculum providers have created countless tools to help educators teach phonics as well as offer practice to solidify these lessons. But any practice of these lessons that reinforces and offers further exercise in these five understandings--inside or outside the classroom--has the potential to help solidify and further students’ reading skills. Guidelines for teaching phonics systematically can be found on many blogs and websites, including, where you can find their Current Practice Alerts publication on Phonics Instruction: Go For It!(
In such a discussion of phonics practice, we must make the point that any selection of technology to assist in the process should be thoroughly researched and proven in tests as well as in the field. Speaking specifically about the Fast ForWord® products, multiple studies have shown their effectiveness in building the cognitive skills necessary for reading and writing. They do this through development of memory, attention, processing and sequencing abilities, and by exercising early reading skills including phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
That said, finding what works isn’t easy; it takes practice, but it also takes research, adaptation, experimentation and creativity. According to columnist Ruth Bettelheim as quoted recently in USA Today, one of the key elements for effective learning is giving students what she calls “the pleasure of mastery.” Phonics is one of those areas where we can—with the right instructional tools—give students the practice they need to not only achieve success, but deliver that pleasure of mastery to help stoke each student’s fire for learning.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Research Suggests Link Between 'Handedness' and Dyslexia

Finding based on scan of genomes of 192 children with reading difficulties

FRIDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- New genetic mapping of children with reading difficulties suggests that those who carry a particular gene mutation are particularly well-skilled in the use of their right hand.
The apparent link between a specific variation of the so-called "PCSK6 gene" and hand-motor control among dyslexic children is the first hard evidence to suggest that there could be an association between "handedness" and language disorders, the researchers said.
"This study provides the first genetic link between handedness, brain asymmetry and reading ability," study author Tony Monaco, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford in England, said in a university news release.
"This is the first study implicating [PCKSK6] with handedness," he added. "The fact that this association also seems to be apparent in people with dyslexia provides an interesting clue to explore whether there is a link between handedness and language-related disorders."
Monaco and his colleagues report their findings in the Nov. 5 online edition of Human Molecular Genetics.
The authors noted that most people -- including most children with dyslexia -- are right-handed. However, the study found that among a group of 192 dyslexic children, those who had the mutation were, on average, even more skilled with the use of their right hand (relative to their left hand) than those who didn't carry the variation.
Giving the finding some context, the researchers pointed out that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body -- and vice versa. Given the general propensity for right-handedness, researchers have viewed the left side of the brain as dominant in terms of motor control. Coupled with the fact that the left hemisphere is also known to exert dominance over language skills, the theory had emerged that "hand favoritism" and language disorders could be associated with one another. But until now efforts to uncover a genetic foundation for this notion had turned up nothing.
The new finding lends this theory some support, the researchers said. And Monaco and his team think their observations could help to expand further explorations into the underlying biology of language-related disorders.
More information
-- Alan Mozes
SOURCE: University of Oxford, news release, Nov. 5, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why does my baby crawl backwards?

Q:My 7-month-old daughter is finally attempting to crawl, but she only goes backwards and in circles. Is there reason for alarm or is this natural? — Submitted by Doug in Okeechobee

Doug, your daughter's physical development is right on track. Most babies begin to crawl between 7 and 10 months of age. Once they can sit up well and see the interesting things around them, they want to move across the floor to explore their environment. But it can take weeks or months for babies to develop the arm and leg strength and coordination to crawl effectively.

Because babies develop strength and coordination in their arms before their legs, it's common to begin crawling by rocking back and forth, pushing backwards, and going in circles. In fact, babies have many different styles of crawling including the standard crawl on hands and knees, the "army crawl" pulling themselves forward on their tummy, crawling with one leg extended to the side, and seated scooting along on their bottom. Some babies even go from sitting up to walking without ever crawling. The important thing is to see that your daughter uses both arms and legs, improves her skills over time, and is able to explore her environment. If you have any questions about your daughter's development, be sure to talk about it with her doctor.

Here are some tips to help your daughter with crawling:

  • Spend "tummy time" on the floor together. Place her on her tummy and get your face down in front of her so she wants to push up on her hands to see you.
  • Place a toy in front of her, just out of her reach. Give her lots of encouragement to move forward to grab it.
  • Try putting your hand behind her feet to give her something to push off against and experience moving forward and grabbing the toy.
  • Crawl around on your hands and knees and make a game for her to chase you. You can even make an obstacle course with sofa cushions to crawl over.
  • Take this opportunity to child-proof your house so it will be safe once she's crawling and walking, which will be all-too-soon!
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Does walking barefoot cause flat feet?

Question: My 10½-month-old son is cruising all around, and I don’t make him wear shoes. Well, my family says he needs to learn how to walk in shoes or he’ll become flat-footed. When he wears them he fumbles. What’s best for my son?— Submitted by Breanne in Napa
A:Darlene, letting your baby go barefoot as much as possible is the best way to develop your baby’s feet. When babies are barefoot, they can wiggle their toes, grip the floor, balance themselves and push off with their feet muscles.

Some people buy shoes for newborn babies because they look cute, but they don’t help the baby’s foot development. The only exception might be if your baby was diagnosed with an orthopedic problem and the doctor prescribed special shoes. In fact, shoes or pajamas with feet that are too tight can interfere with babies’ foot development. If your baby needs his feet covered to stay warm, socks and cloth booties are fine.

Get your baby his first pair of shoes when he begins walking outdoors. It’s still good for him to go barefoot indoors, but shoes are good for outdoors to protect his feet from cuts and infections, and cold weather. Look for shoes that are lightweight, soft and made of flexible material such as leather shoes or canvas sneakers. Get shoes with skid-proof soles to prevent slipping and falling. Make sure the shoes are wide enough for your child’s foot to lie flat, and long enough for a little extra room to wiggle and grow, maybe ½ inch beyond the toes.

It’s normal for babies to have flat feet—most children naturally develop arches by 6 years of age. You don’t have to worry about buying shoes with special arch supports unless a doctor prescribes them for an orthopedic problem. Remember, shoes are basically for protection, not for foot development.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Is TV Bad For Your Child?

The issue of kids watching television has been a hot debate in recent years. Most experts agree that while TV isn’t inherently bad, it should be watched only in small doses. The AAP changed their policy a few years ago to recommend that children under the age of 2 watch no TV at all, and children over that age watch only small amounts, no more than an hour a day.
Still, for better or for worse television is a part of daily life in most homes. Most children do watch some television during the day, and there are benefits to be gained from watching the right programs. Experts agree that educational television is better than mindless entertainment. “If programs are age appropriate, and send children messages that you would want your children to have, then the watching can be entertaining and instructional”, says educational, health, and clinical psychologist Dr. Nancy Mramor.
On the other hand, studies have shown numerous unwanted effects of watching television. It has been linked with poor imaginative skills and can slow language development due to the use of visuals instead of words. “Even the better shows rely on visuals at the expense of talk” says author Jane Healy, PH.D. Children also learn to expect much more entertainment out of anything educational, and find it hard to adapt to school where they are expected to pay attention without the benefit of colorful cartoon characters and music. Their attention spans are shortened as a result.
While some studies show a link between watching television programming like Sesame Street and better academic performance later in life, these studies concerned children who watched the venerable children’s program in the 1980’s, when children watched far less television in general. Today’s children watch on average of 2-3 hours of TV a day – and it isn’t all Sesame Street.
Experts generally recommend the following guidelines for television time:
  • Keep television watching to an hour at most each day
  • Select and monitor the programs your child watches and be sure you know the content
  • Choose educational programming
  • Select channels that do not advertise to children, such as PBS
The bottom line when it comes to television is that it can be bad for your children if they are spending too much time watching it at the expense of time spent reading books, engaging in physical activities or spending time as a family. But as long as your children only watch small amounts of age-appropriate, educational programming, it’s unlikely there will be any long-term problems as a result.
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What Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Developing Brain (Part 2)

October 28, 2010 by Martha Burns, Ph.D

In my August post, I discussed how the primary job of the infant brain is to detect relevant information about language and the environment in which the baby is born and to design itself, in a relatively short period of time, to be an expert at that language and environment. This month, we will continue the discussion of how the brain develops in a young infant.

The genes more or less provide the blueprint for the brain’s hardware and early wiring, but after a child is born, and perhaps even for several months before, the stimulation in the world around the infant sets up the experiences that the brain uses to wire itself for later learning. Whether that stimulation is beneficial or detrimental is a matter of expectations: if our goal is that a child be good at attending to brief segments of information (so called, “sound bites”) but not be as good at sustaining attention for a longer period of time (as might be expected in a first grade classroom), then hours of watching television might be viewed as beneficial. But since teachers do not talk in “sound bites,” and most education, from learning to read to learning algebra, requires extended periods of concentration to relatively unchanging stimulation (a teacher’s lengthy explanations, for example), television watching may prepare the brain for attentional skills that are not beneficial for school success.

Parents can help their babies and young children prepare for the “listening” demands of school by spending time in activities where Mom or Dad talk, read or sing to their child in a quiet setting for fifteen minutes to half an hour (for children over three) at a time. Even infants under six months of age can be encouraged to “listen” to adults. Young infants are very interested in facial expression and voice melody but they need to see a parent’s face and hear their voice together to build up the brain networks that sustain their attention to speech. Mom or Dad can build this network by holding the baby within a foot of their face (lying on a parent’s lap or being held close a parent can talk to the baby about parts of his face for example, “You have such a nice nose, here is your nose, look at Mommy’s nose; and here is your ear and this is Mommy’s ear.” As the baby gets older and can sit up, Dad and Mom can begin to pay games that further attract the baby’s attention to their voice and face, like “Peek-a-Boo.” Babies under a year often enjoy these activities and can attend for several minutes at a time, preparing their brain for later attention to speech.

For children over a year, parents can establish a routine “quiet time” to settle a child down before bedtime. A fifteen minute to half-hour quiet time where Mom or Dad sit with the child on their bed and look at books together, or talk about something special that happened during the day, or sing nursery songs before bed can provide a perfect opportunity build listening skills. If a child gets accustomed to sitting for 30 minutes listening to songs or stories he will have he will have established the attention skills that he will need when he gets to school.

As a case in point, the American Pediatric Association has recently published research indicating that too much exposure to television during the first two years of life seems to increase the likelihood that the child will be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder in the early school years.1 From a neuroscientists’ perspective, attention deficit disorder may not represent so much an abnormal brain as a brain that has developed in a way that is not well suited to sitting and learning in a classroom environment.

That does not necessarily imply the child is not “intelligent” (although parents may be led to view the child that way) or that the child is not “well behaved’, but it does bias the child against being viewed as intelligent and well behaved in an environment that places emphasis on “sitting still and listening”, namely the typical public school classroom. And although one option might be for parents to remove the child with a “short attention span” from the public school environment and either home school the child or pay for a private school that is not as overtly punitive, ultimately, the child will most likely eventually have to sit and concentrate for long periods of time, either at college, or at work. So, it would make sense to build the child’s brain in such a way to allow him or her to successfully compete in a world where listening or watching and concentration to one task are important.

That does not mean, however, that the brain is inflexible, unable to multitask, or incapable of handling rapidly changing information as well. Think of a professional basketball player, who has developed a genius of sorts for a sport, who must maintain concentration on his or her team position as well as an expected play while at the same time following the ball and observing opponents and team members as they move around the floor. So, it turns out, a brain that is good at sustained attention to a single task can also be good at multitasking as well as handling rapidly changing information.

The human brain appears to be remarkably equipped to develop these capacities and to utilize them in almost all aspects of learning in which one might find himself, be it a classroom, a sports arena, a symphony orchestra, or a multitude of other performance.2 The key is preparing the brain for these potential capacities during the first few years of life.

[1]Journal of the American Pediatric Association, 2007
[2] Merzenich, M. Personal communication, 2008

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrities and Successful Entrepreneurs with Dsylexia

Billy Bob Thornton Talks About Dyslexia

Orlando Bloom on Having Dyslexia

Successful Entrepreneurs with Dyslexia

Richard Branson

Friday, October 15, 2010

Language delays found in siblings of children with autism

October 1, 2010Language delays found in siblings of children with autism
his graph tracks the symptoms of girls in one category of families affected by autism. Yellow denotes girls with histories of language delay and autistic traits who were never formally diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Blue represents unaffected girls, red represents those diagnosed with ASD. Credit: Image courtesy of The American Journal of Psychiatry. Copyright © 2010 American Psychiatric Association. Used with permission.
Siblings of children with autism have more frequent language delays and other subtle characteristics of the disorder than previously understood. Girls also may be mildly affected more often than recognized in the past.

A new study, led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found mild traits, not strong enough to provoke a diagnosis of autism, seem to be present in the siblings of affected children at significantly higher rates than seen in the general population. The findings appear online and will be published in the November issue of The .
"Mild symptoms, called quantitative traits, may be confounding studies that compare children with autism to their siblings," says first author John N. Constantino, MD. "Researchers presume one child is affected, and the other is not, but our findings suggest that although one child may have autism while the other does not, it's very possible both children are affected to some degree by genes that contribute to autism."
exert their influence in different ways. Some families have only a single child with autism and no other affected children. But in other families, more than one child may be affected, or other siblings may have a number of autism characteristics.
Siblings of children with autism have more frequent language delays and other subtle characteristics of the disorder than previously understood. Girls also may be mildly affected more often than recognized in the past, according to a new study, led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Credit: Washington University BioMed Radio
The study found that approximately one in five siblings thought to be unaffected experienced language delays or speech problems early in life. The researchers also noticed many female siblings had subtle traits, but few had full-blown . Boys are thought to be affected four times more often than girls. But when the researchers used standardized methods to account for the presence of quantitative traits, the rate looked more like three affected boys for every two affected girls.
"The gender difference may not be as pronounced as we once thought it was," Constantino says. "If we rely only on a professional diagnosis of autism to determine who is affected, then boys vastly outnumber girls. But it may be that many girls are being missed."
The data comes from almost 3,000 U.S. children in 1,235 families who are part of the Interactive Autism Network, a national online research registry at Developed by study co-author Paul Law, MD, director of medical informatics at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, the network has more than 35,000 participants who share information to help advance autism research.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Misdiagnosing ADHD

According to a study released by the University of Michigan, nearly 1 million children in the United States are potentially misdiagnosed with ADHD.
The research was conducted, not by a medical group, but by economist Todd Elder in the Journal of Health Economics (Elder et al. The importance of relative standards in ADHD diagnoses: Evidence based on exact birth dates. Journal of Health Economics, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2010.06.003).
Elder found that the youngest or often the most immature children are misdiagnosed with the ADHD label simply because of their age and exhibited maturity. Elder also found that these children are significantly more likely than their older classmates to be prescribed medications like Ritalin to control their behavior. Using a sample of 12,000 children, Elder examined the difference in ADHD diagnosis and medication rates between the youngest and oldest children in a grade. He found that the youngest kindergartners were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest kindergarten children. Elder followed that group of children and found that they were more than twice as likely to be prescribed stimulant medication by the time they reached the fifth and eighth grades.
Currently, about 4.5 million children are diagnosed with ADHD. Elder concludes that about 20 percent or about 900,000 children have likely been misdiagnosed.
In a press release from the University of Michigan, Elder said that such inappropriate treatment is particularly worrisome because of the unknown impacts of long-term stimulant use on children’s health. Elder is also concerned that misdiagnosis wastes an estimated $320 million-$500 million a year on unnecessary medication. He estimates that between $80 million-$90 million of it is paid by Medicaid.
"If a child is behaving poorly, if he’s inattentive, if he can’t sit still, it may simply be because he’s 5 and the other kids are 6," said Elder. "There’s a big difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old, and teachers and medical practitioners need to take that into account when evaluating whether children have ADHD."
ADHD has no pathology, no biological marker in the brain that clearly demonstrates its existence. Thus, its diagnosis is always subjective. While teachers are not permitted to make this diagnosis, their perceptions and opinions serve as the initial step to a diagnosis made by a doctor.
"Many ADHD diagnoses may be driven by teachers’ perceptions of poor behavior among the youngest children in a kindergarten classroom," he said. "But these ’symptoms’ may merely reflect emotional or intellectual immaturity among the youngest students."
According to Science Daily, Elder’s paper will be published in the Journal of Health Economics in conjunction with a related paper by researchers at North Carolina State University, Notre Dame and the University of Minnesota that arrives at similar conclusions as the result of a separate study.
by Peter

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top 10 snappy answers to annoying comments about autism

If you're a parent with a child on the spectrum, you've probably responded to the same annoying remarks and questions a thousand times. Here's a handy list of responses'll probably never use out loud (but are fun to imagine using)!

1. He can’t be autistic -- he can talk! (or make eye contact, smile, engage)
And yet, amazingly, he’s still autistic! Y’see, autism is a spectrum disorder, and that means …

2. Oh, she must be SO good at math! (or science or music)
Actually, her great talent is in memorizing and reciting lines from Sponge Bob videos! (Or those annoying Thomas the Tank Engine songs!)

3. All he needs is more discipline, and he’ll get the message.
Yup, it’s true -- if you give a child enough time outs, he’ll just stop being autistic. And if I speak French to you loudly enough, you’ll become fluent!

4. You poor thing, it must be so upsetting to have a child with a disability.
Yes, it can be hard. And pity really helps me to get through the day and feel better about myself and my child. So…thanks so much!

5. Will he be able to go to college (or get married or hold down a job)?
Hm. Good question. By the way, has your daughter’s divorce been finalized yet? And I’m so sorry to hear that your son was recently laid off from his job…

6. I have a friend whose child was autistic, and she cured him!
Wow! So I guess she’s enjoying the millions she made after figuring out how to cure autism? I bet her second home is a yacht!

7. If she can’t behave properly, you shouldn’t BRING her to the grocery store!
Wow -- that would be great. Should I fax you my grocery list, or send it by email? I’ll really enjoy the delivery service!
8. We can’t include him in typical classes, it wouldn’t be fair to the other kids.
Hm, that’s an interesting perspective. So I guess you have a pretty big endowment to pay for all the law suits? That must be great!

9. We can’t accept her at our school because she doesn’t have a learning disability
Ohhhh… what a shame! Oh, wait, look, she’s suddenly developed dyslexia! Can she come to your school now?

10. You should make more time for yourself!
You’re so right! So will you be babysitting tonight or tomorrow night?

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