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.
Retrieved from:

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?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Deaf people 'can rewire brains'

People deaf from birth may be able to reassign the area of their brain used for hearing to boost their sight, suggests a study.
Improved peripheral vision, often reported by deaf people, could be generated by the brain area which would normally deal with peripheral hearing.
The Canadian research, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, tested the theory using congenitally deaf cats.
The researcher involved said the brain did not let unused space "go to waste".
Both deaf and blind people frequently say their other senses are sharper by way of compensation.
However, it has not been obvious how the brain might achieve this.
The researchers from the University of Western Ontario used their cat studies to test which parts of the brain were responsible.
Their cats were given tests in which lights flashed at the very periphery of their normal vision.
When only the auditory cortex - the part of the brain which normally processes sound information - was deactivated temporarily, their enhanced peripheral vision appeared to be switched off as well.
Narrowing the search, the team found that the part of the auditory cortex responsible was the part which would ordinarily detect peripheral sounds.
Dr Stephen Lomber, who led the research, said: "The brain is very efficient, and doesn't let unused space go to waste.
"The brain wants to compensate for the lost sense with enhancements that are beneficial.
"For example, if you're deaf, you would benefit by seeing a car coming far off in your peripheral vision, because you can't hear that car approaching from the side - the same with being to more accurately detect how fast something is moving."
He said that understanding what happens within the auditory cortex in the absence of sound information coming in could help doctors work out what is happening when someone with hearing loss is given a cochlear implant.
"If the brain has rewired itself to compensate for the loss of hearing, what happens when hearing is restored?"
Reaction time
Dr Joanna Robinson, a researcher at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), welcomed the findings.
She said: "This research supports previous findings that people who are deaf from birth have a larger visual field than hearing people.
"Research funded by ourselves recently showed that deaf adults can also react to objects in their peripheral vision more quickly than hearing adults, while deaf children react more slowly than their hearing counterparts.
"This indicates that it may take some time for the auditory part of the brain to make the switch to processing visual information."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Learn To Read Through Sound: Cognitive Neuroscientists Use Sound Training To Help Dyslexic Children Read

May 1, 2008 — Cognitive neuroscientists monitoring brain activity with fMRI found that children with dyslexia are often unable to process the fast-changing sounds used in spoken language. Sound training dedicated to teaching children to better process these sounds improves their ability to manipulate words and their phonetic components, which translates into better reading
Dyslexia can be a frustrating condition, making it difficult for children to read. Many think it is a visual issue, but a new study using a computer game reveals the problem may not only be with sight, but also sound.
Jake Lo Giudice is dyslexic and some words can be tough to identify. "I felt like I was different," Jake recalls. I felt like I was outside of the group." Jake's mother Karen uses clay models to help her son visualize non-sight words. "It's because they are picture thinkers and those words do not have a picture," Karen explained. But researchers believe the problem could also be with how the brain "hears" sounds. "We believe that these children -- from being toddlers or even earlier as infants -- have problems with processing these changes in sounds," Nadine Gaab, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass., told Ivanhoe.
Cognitive neuroscientists believe dyslexic children's brains have problems interpreting fast-changing syllables like "ba" and "da" because their brains are wired differently. This makes reading more of a challenge. Dr. Gaab is using "sound training" through computer exercises to monitor how dyslexics process fast and slow-changing sounds. While children play the game, Dr. Gaab monitors their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). But after eight weeks of intensive training, a dyslexic child's fMRI image shows more activity. "The brain is very plastic and so the brain learns and reconnected and built a new network," Dr. Gaab explained.
That possible reconnection could hold the key to helping dyslexics read. Researchers hope as children are diagnosed with dyslexia earlier, they can start sound training sooner and possibly reduce the severity of their condition.
LANGUAGE PROCESSING IS THE KEY: It is worth noting that dyslexia is not clinically identified by seeing letters backward or out of order. When dyslexics hear speech, they are not necessarily able to hear the sound accurately. Recent research showed that the brains of children with dyslexia are not able to process fast-changing sounds. Based on data obtained via fMRI, the findings suggest new ways to treat dyslexia and may help doctors to diagnose the disability earlier in life, before reading begins. This causes problems later when kids attempt to sound out words while reading.
THE EXPERIMENT: Researchers agree that dyslexics have problems manipulating words and sounds – that the primary problem is processing the sounds that make up words. Using a computer program that plays fast-changing and slow-changing sounds, Dr. Gaab used fMRI to monitor how children's brains respond to the sounds. Children with dyslexia use the same brain areas to process both fast and slow changing sounds, as opposed to other readers, who use a certain array of 11 areas more extensively when processing fast-changing sounds.
WHAT IS fMRI? Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field rather than X-rays to take clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. fMRI uses this technology to identify regions of the brain where blood vessels are expanding, chemical changes are taking place, or extra oxygen is being delivered. These are indications that a particular part of the brain is processing information and giving commands to the body. As a patient performs a particular task, the metabolism will increase in the brain area responsible for that task, changing the signal in the image. Analyzing the images to understand how responses are similar or different for different tasks allows scientists to better understand the patient as an individual, and also to learn more about the human brain in general.

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