Saturday, July 23, 2011

Study: Environmental Factors May Be Just as Important as Genes in Autism

By ALICE PARK Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Autism is undeniably influenced by genes, but a new study suggests that environmental factors may also contribute significantly — more than researchers previously thought — to the developmental disorder. In fact, environmental factors may play at least as big a role as genes in causing autism.
Dr. Joachim Hallmayer, a psychiatrist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his team report online in the Archives of General Psychiatry that shared environmental influences may account for as much as 55% of autism risk, while less than 40% can be attributed to genes.
The study modeled risk, but did not specify which environmental factors were at play. But other research has implicated increasing maternal and paternal age, low birth weight, multiple pregnancies and any medications or infections to which an expectant mom is exposed during pregnancy.
Autism, which affects at least 1% of children, is a complex disorder, so it's no surprise that both environmental and genetic factors contribute to its development. But in recent years, experts have focused intensively on the genetic components of autism; with the availability of more sophisticated tools to analyze genetic changes and development of disease, researchers have identified important clues about autism's roots in DNA.
But the rise in autism spectrum disorders has occurred too quickly to be explained fully by genes. And scientists know that genetic changes don't occur in a vacuum. Such aberrations, combined with non-genetic factors, may offer a fuller picture of what causes the disorder.
To determine how much either factor may contribute to autism, Hallmayer's group analyzed identical and fraternal twins, in which either one or both were diagnosed with autism or an autism spectrum disorder. Identical twins share identical genetic makeup, while fraternal twins are only as genetically similar as any two siblings. So by comparing the prevalence of autism between the two groups, the scientists were able to determine with relative assurance how much genes and shared environment contributed to the twins' conditions.
The study found that the likelihood of both twins being affected by autism was higher among identical than fraternal twins. That suggests that genetics plays a key role in the disorder. But importantly, the chance of both twins being affected by autism was not low among fraternal twins, which is counter to what would be expected if genetics were the dominant factor.
The study also found that autism rates among both identical and fraternal twins were higher than in the general population. That further suggests that environmental factors, probably shared by the twins as early as in the womb, contribute significantly to causing the disorder. "The fact that both groups have elevated rates suggests that something is making the two groups of twins similar to each other," says Neil Risch, director of the Institute for Human Genetics at University of California San Francisco and senior author on the paper. "Whether it occurs in utero, during childbirth or soon thereafter, we can't differentiate. But it suggests that something environmental is causing the twins to be alike."
Risch notes that the results do not discount genetic factors by any means. "It's not either-or in terms of genetics or environment," he says. "We're not saying autism isn't genetic, because the huge majority of twins don't have autism. Obviously something is priming the risk, and it looks like that may be a genetic predisposition. So a genetic base and environmental factors together may explain autism better."
The risk in twins with a genetic vulnerability may be triggered by being a multiple, for instance; something about the more crowded uterine environment may contribute to a greater chance of developing the disorder, Risch notes.
The good news is that as researchers better understand the environmental factors that are responsible for autism, the more some of these factors may be modified to help lower the risk of the disorder. A fuller picture of the spectrum of both genetic and non-genetic contributors to autism may also help lead to more effective ways to treat it.

Article retrieved from:
Image retrieved from:

Inspiring Fluency: One School’s Journey to Improve Reading Skills

July 21, 2011 by Corey Fitzgerald

A focus on core reading skills has recently been promoted in college coursework for beginning teachers, statewide initiatives for student achievement, and professional development for teachers across the curriculum in all levels of education. One of the five core skills, fluency, is still being heavily debated among the researchers, but is gaining traction as an instructional skill that is necessary to the efficiency of reading. Differences in word reading or naming speed, two aspects of fluency, have been identified as early as kindergarten levels in struggling readers (Wolf, Bally, & Morris, 1986), and can continue to be tracked into middle and high school (Meyer, Wood, Hart, and Felton, 1999). Many students who struggle and are identified as having reading deficits have difficulty with reading speed and accuracy.

Although there seems to be a significant and growing body of research on reading skills, including fluency, there is still much to be learned about the impact of fluency on overall learning. The typical definition of fluency is “the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding” (Meyers and Felton, 1999). Reading fluency problems of children with reading difficulties, according to Torgeson (2006), are a result of students’ difficulties forming large vocabularies of words that they can recognize “by sight” or at a single glance. If students receive “powerful and appropriately focused interventions many of them can become accurate readers and their reading comprehension improves as a result of being able to correctly identify more of the words in text” (Torgeson, 2006).

Bridges Academy, located in Winter Springs Florida, serves students with specific learning disabilities. The overall purpose of the program is to remediate the learning gaps for the students and to “bridge” them back into mainstream schools with mainstream curriculum. Ninety-nine percent of the students who attend the school have an identified deficit in reading and many are considered to be dysfluent readers. Several years ago, Bridges Academy incorporated a computer-based instructional tool, Reading Assistant software, that provided a highly focused intervention for fluency to address the skill development of reading fluency, as a trial implementation.

For the pilot program, 10 middle school aged students were selected to try the Reading Assistant program. Each middle school student was invited to participate, if they desired to do so, during their homeroom time at the end of the day. Homeroom time, of course, is a very social time and many of the middle school students looked forward to spending some time connecting with their peers before leaving campus for the day. Each of the students was asked to commit to no more than 10 days, so they did not feel that they were giving up their social time for the rest of the school year.

To get familiar with the program and the process, each student was assigned a level of the computer program that was instructionally suited to their present independent reading level. The requirements were straightforward. Students were to listen to a selected story read aloud on the computer a total of three times. Then each student was required to review any words that were unfamiliar to them by selecting the word and seeing or hearing an example of that word in a picture or sentence. After this initial step the students were required to orally read the story selection. Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM) was tracked by the software and students were directed to complete a series of comprehension questions when done. One key component unique to this product was the requirement that the student listen to their own voice recording of the selection after each of the three required oral reading samples.

The interest and enthusiasm amongst these 10 middle school students as the project began was very exciting to the faculty and administration. All 10 students shared information with their parents and their classmates about the project and the way the program worked. During their lunch break, they discussed the various stories that they were reading amongst themselves   and shared their present WCPM scores with their peers with tremendous pride!  These students would celebrate their promotion to a new story with a “high five” and pored over their data reports at the end of the week to see what types of gains in fluency they were making. What was most encouraging? All 10 of the students chose to work on the program for the duration of the school year, a period of eight weeks. One student even elected to come back to the campus during summer vacation to complete the stories he was reading, so he could reach his own set goal of 200 WCPM!

The impact of this implementation of the Reading Assistant program is now being realized across the campus at Bridges Academy. All students who are reading above a second grade level are provided access to the Reading Assistant program two to three times a week, throughout the school year. Students who are preparing to “bridge” to a new school program are provided the opportunity to work four afternoons a week as an after school option, so that they may increase their proficiency rate with above grade level material in preparation for their move to the mainstream schools. Every January through April, 80% of the students eligible for bridging can be observed working in the afterschool program. What is most impressive is that these students have chosen to participate in this afterschool program!

The assessments, data analysis, and individual summary reports built into Reading Assistant track the overall impact of the program in improving reading skills for student participants.  Bridges Academy staff and administration are pleased with the overall improvements in the students’ reading skills and confidence. The students perceive themselves as readers, and parents report that the students are now becoming more confident readers who enjoy reading--many for the first time!


Meyer, M.A., & Felton, R.H. (1999). Repeated reading to enhance fluency: Old approaches and new directions.  Annals of Dyslexia, 49, 283–306.

Meyer, M.S., Wood, F.B., Hart, L.A. & Fenton, R. H. (1999) Longitudinal course of rapid naming in disabled and non disabled readers. Annals of Dyslexia, 48, 89-114.

Torgeson, J.K. & Hudson, R. (2006) Reading fluency: critical issues for struggling readers. In S.J. Samuels and A. Farstrup (Eds.). Reading Fluency: The forgotten dimension of reading success. Newark, DE: International Reading Association

Wolf, M., Bally, H., & Morris, R. (1986) Automaticity, retrieval process and reading: A longitudinal study in average and impaired readers. Child Development, 57, 988-1000.

Related Reading:

Truth in Numbers: School Achieves Statistically Significant Improvements on TAKS

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

Article retrieved from:

Image retrieved from:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tired and exhausted children

SUNWAY University's Psychology Department lecturer and developmental psychologist Woo Pei Jun says children are at risk of social, emotional and mental problems if faced with excessive homework.
"Too much homework reduces a child's time for other leisure activities, such as play time and interaction with other children and family members. These activities offer many important life skills, such as social and problem solving skills, and opportunities to build friendships with others.

"Children whose schedules are filled with academic work may feel emotionally frustrated.

"They're in danger of being depressed, especially if they can't complete their homework and are afraid of being punished by teachers or parents. 
"It may also affect child-parent relationships because of excessive tension. Ultimately, some children may associate school with a negative experience, which then impacts their learning capabilities as well as life skills. 

"Mentally, children may be tired and exhausted, partly because they don't have adequate rest. This in turns affects their concentration in school, which then impacts their learning.

"Some studies have found that there are no beneficial effects of homework when it's given for more than two hours a day, for senior students. Homework should be kept to a minimum for younger children and increased for older children."

However, Woo also sees the good in homework.

"It gives parents an opportunity to get involved in their children's academic work; research does show that positive parental involvement in children's education is associated with higher level of school achievement."

Positive parental involvement could be using praise and rewards in response to effort put in by children, modelling and demonstrating problem solving skills, providing help and guidance with homework and breaking tasks into more manageable steps for the child. 

"Interactive learning, where parents and children positively complete homework together can make it more meaningful for children and their families. However, when excessive homework is given and parents use different teaching methods from school, then homework can cause conflict and stress for children and parents. 

"Generally, research shows that moderate time spent on homework is associated with better academic achievement, however, this is only applicable to older children. But, it's only beneficial up to a certain point, in which too much time spent can cause detrimental effects," Woo believes.

Parents, she says, should look out for signs of stress in their children.

"Lack of motivation to go to school, younger children may express this in ways of sickness such as headaches and stomach aches, persistent sadness or anxiousness. Lack of energy and fatigue, irritability and restlessness should ring warning bells."

Article retrieved from:
Image retrieved from:

Just too much homework

PEOPLE often say that we never stop learning, but parents are painfully discovering that homework is also an ongoing process -- many are doing more homework and school projects now than when they were in school.
Although the benefits of homework are indisputable, experts are questioning whether there's such a thing as too much homework.

Professor Puan Sri Dr Rohaty Majzub of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Faculty of Education believes that we should stop putting pressure on preschoolers and school-going children.

She asserts that Malaysians may be placing too much emphasis on homework. 
"We need to be sensitive to the fact that the quality of children's lives are eroding, early childhood is slowly disappearing. Why? Because we're turning them into robots. 

"We're dictating how they should spend their lives; we're pushing them too hard, much like a pressure cooker.

"Studies on the effectiveness of homework are inconclusive, in fact some findings don't show a strong correlation between homework and academic achievement." 

Homework shouldn't be abolished totally, but it should be handed out with care and caution, Rohaty believes. 

"The amount of homework expected to be completed leaves very little time for family outings and bonding.

Some parents also get stressed up or stress their children up if their homework is not up to date. 

As a result, parent-child relationships may be further bruised. Homework should be fun and not treated as something which brings about penalty and punishment."

An English tuition teacher, who only wanted to be known as Kamaruddin, notes that many students who come for his classes have a tough time concentrating.

"I feel really sorry for these kids because they're falling asleep while I'm teaching, and many are still in their school uniforms at 8pm. Of course, as a teacher it irritates me, but I blame parents more than kids. 

"When I question them, many admit that they're forced to attend classes to improve their Mathematics skills, on top of piano, drama and art classes. I believe parents are expecting too much from kids.

"I've also come across students who purposely hide or 'forget' their homework because they never have the time to finish it. This is a sign of desperation which leads to lies and deceit, if unchecked it can become a horrible habit and way of life." 

One standard that many schools in the United States are using to regulate homework is the "10-minute rule" created by Duke University psychology professor, Harris Cooper. 

The rule says kids should get 10 minutes of homework a night per grade (standard). A first grader would have 10 minutes of homework each night, while a fifth grader would have 50 minutes.

The homework revolution has also reached Toronto, which in 2008 banned homework for kindergartens and for older children on school holidays, and to the Philippines, where the Education Department recently opposed weekend assignments so that students can "enjoy their childhood". 

Teachers at an elementary school in California are replacing homework with "goal work", which is specific to individual student's needs can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace.

However, some Malaysian parents are of the opinion that schools aren't giving enough homework. 

Mother of three, Selena (not her real name), 40, from Malacca is one of them.

"I honestly don't believe that children have too much homework. It's after school activities which take up most of their time, like sports practice and society meets. I would say that homework is minimal. 

"I'm all for homework because otherwise they won't open their books. Those days, there was so much more drilling, kids were never left idle." 

Working mom, Zalina Ali, 45, however, feels that project work isn't as beneficial as it used to be. 

"There's lots more project work unlike during our time. I would prefer it if children were asked to perform based on their own efforts and not rely on the Internet so much. Many kids are merely copying and pasting, without learning anything. Furthermore, all these projects require Internet and computing facilities, cost money and are time consuming."

Former headmistress, Hamisah Hapipah, 69, says although homework and projects were always a big part of schooling, it wasn't meant to burden students. 

"In my time, teachers gave out homework based on class and subject. For instance, if it was an exam class, teachers would make sure students had Mathematics homework every day. They would be given no less than 20 questions every day and 40 to 50 sums to complete each weekend. 

"It's disheartening to hear that new teachers ask students to exchange homework for marking. 

"Those days, teachers would always recheck books to understand a child's weak areas. Otherwise, what's the purpose of homework?

"I notice that many teachers give a long list of words to memorise for spelling, but students don't even know the meaning of these words. It's much better to follow what we used to do, which is to pick out words from books they have to read."

Will homework standardisation solve the problem? Apparently not. 

"One size doesn't fit all, standardisation has the tendency to reap uncreative results. For instance, homework given to a fast learner should be different from that given to a slow learner. 

"Teachers should be responsible in setting appropriate homework tailored to meet a child's needs. The balancing act must be determined depending on both the curriculum and student needs," Rohaty says. 

Haw Mee Wah, 40, who sends her two boys to a Chinese vernacular school, agrees that homework regulating isn't the answer. 

"My eldest son, Connor, is efficient and can finish tons of homework within two hours without guidance. But my younger son, Carrick, needs to be guided. Therefore I'm forced to send him to homework coaching classes just to complete his school work, especially because I don't speak Mandarin.

"Although homework allows kids to practice and study without the need for tuition, it's a burden for children who have trouble concentrating. I think non-textbook related activities, such as drama and public speaking lessons, are more beneficial."

School heads should play an active role, Rohaty adds.

"They need to address the issue of balancing homework and projects through focus group discussions with teachers and subject matter specialists. As academic leaders, they should oversee the implementation of homework and projects in a continuous and ongoing manner. 

"With accurate research data, schools can improve on homework implementation policies. There's no doubt that practice makes perfect, however, at times it can lead to helplessness and frustration, especially if it's misguided."

Article retrieved from:
Image retrieved from:

Friday, July 15, 2011
















家长看电视连累孩子 导致儿童注意力分散


















Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eat Out - Even With An Autistic Child

Do you avoid eating out because you have a child with autism, and it's just too stressful to take him to a restaurant? We have some tips to help you avoid some common headaches when dining out at a restaurant with an autistic child.

(In the comments section below the article, please share your tried-and-true advice for managing meals out with an autistic or other special needs child! Other parents will appreciate the help.)

Problem: Your autistic child has a hard time with change/visiting new places

There are various ways to help prepare your child for dining out. You can start with these baby steps:

    - Practice the whole "eating out" experience at home first. Demonstrate reviewing a menu, ordering, coloring or enjoying another quiet pastime during the wait -- and remind him that it's important to stay in his seat.
    - Have a rehearsal at a low-stakes establishment: a fast food place or salad bar/buffet establishment. Yes, the experience is a little different, but will help pave the way toward managing a meal at a typical restaurant.
    - Visit a sit-down restaurant just after opening or during their slowest hours, so any problems you encounter are witnessed by as few people as possible. Consider staying only for a single course, maybe either appetizers or dessert.

Once your child (and you!) have mastered these steps, it's time for the litmus test: dining out at a real restaurant.

When you're ready for the dining out adventure to begin, keep these suggestions in mind:

   - If your child needs time to mentally prepare for a restaurant outing, let him know the plans as soon as they're set.

   - Anticipate and explain changes if a place has been remodeled or you're going to another restaurant location of the same chain.

   - Bring along food from home if needed, as well as any favorite toys, games or books.

   - Have your kids use the bathroom before leaving the house so you can hopefully avoid grappling with the public restroom rules (or, worse -- a toilet aversion issue).

   - Head off any problems at the pass by choosing a restaurant renowned for fast service (or at the very least, tell the server you're in a rush).

   - Consider letting the server know of your child's special needs -- perhaps in the context of asking for speedy service, or to help explain why your son is completely ignoring the question, "So what would you like to drink, young man?"

   - Stay at your child's side every moment -- and be sure not to get so caught up in the amazing nachos or a great conversation that you forget to pay attention to what he or she is doing. Autistic kids may not think twice about leaning over and swiping a few fries from the guy at the next table, or staring down the teenager in a nearby booth.

   - Don't wait until juice has been spilled all over your pants before asking that your child's drink be served in a kiddie cup with a lid.

Problem: There's too much stimulation

Restaurants are typically crowded and noisy -- that's par for the course. But as a parent, you know that some autistic kids have a really hard time with sounds, movement, smells and sights.

Apart from obviously trying to avoid restaurants altogether if this is a big problem for your child, you will want to do what you can to at least minimize the worst of these sensory issues. Here are some suggestions:

   - Plan to visit at a quiet time and ask to be seated away from other tables -- particularly those with parties or groups.

   - Try not to sit right by the bathrooms, kitchen or main entryway, as this will mean a constant parade of people by the table.

   - Sit in a corner so you only have two walls open to sound.

   - At your table, seat your child where he will be least disturbed: may be with his back to the people milling around, or on the opposite side of the table so he doesn't have to be near the patrons and servers walking by.

   - Ask for high-backed booths when available, instead of tables. (Even regular booths may be preferable)

   - Ask your server to please warn you before they sing a rousing rendition of a birthday song for another table, so maybe you can take your child outside for a few minutes.

   - If your child can tolerate earplugs, always have some handy.

   - Take your child for a walk outside or go sit in the car if things get too stimulating. (You might want to ask for a table near the door for just this reason.)

   - Try to keep your child occupied: bring pen and paper, books, or even a "for restaurant-times only" toy.

Problem: Your autistic kid won't stay in his chair

   - Ask for a booth -- this way, you can block your child's exit. (Do, however, be aware that many restaurants have plants and various types of art on mantels or walls around the booth, and these may present a hazard in and of themselves.)

   - If you do get seated at a table with chairs, have your child sit in the spot furthest away from other customers (a corner by the wall or between two other people in your party) to minimize any disruption to others in the restaurant.

   - See the suggestions in the stimulation problem, above.

Problem: A very impatient/restless child with autism

Autistic kids -- like almost all the kids on this planet -- only have so much patience. Sitting and waiting for a table gets boring and frustrating. Your child may want to explore or simply leave -- and will loudly protest being made to sit down until your table is ready. Here are some things you can do:

  -  Avoid restaurants with anything more than a 5-10 minute wait for a table. A good way to manage this feat is to visit restaurants at an off-peak time (such as 4-5 on a weekday afternoon) so you beat the rush.

  -  Since fewer and fewer restaurants are accepting reservations nowadays, find out if the place at least has a "Call ahead" policy. Essentially, you call when you're leaving home, and they put your name on the waiting list -- though this typically only works up to about a half hour in advance. Restaurants that allow call-aheads include Chili's and TGIFridays (in most markets).

  -  Keep things moving. When your server comes to take your drink orders, have your full meal order ready, too. If you're just not quite that ready, do at least mention to the person waiting on your table that you're in a hurry (to speed up service) or explain that your child has autism, and quicker service will help keep the dining experience quieter and less problematic.

  -  Order any of your child's desired refills and second helpings as soon as you realize the need -- don't wait until the cup is empty or the plate is clean. (Sometimes you might want to order two of something in the first place so you can keep the process moving along.)

  - Once the food is gone, your child will likely want to go home, go to the car -- go anywhere else. So make yourself available to go as soon as you must... just in case. To start, request the check and have the restaurant run your card when the server brings you your main course. (Either at that point or when the meal's actually done, you can leave the cash or sign the credit card receipt. Some people prefer to wait until the last moment before signing and calculating the tip, to ensure that service is good throughout the meal.)

Problem: Your autistic child doesn't want to eat anything

The majority of kids with autism are super fussy eaters. They don't like anything unless it passes the essential look, feel, smell and taste tests -- and it's a rare morsel indeed that meets even the first two qualifications.

Don't give up! Here are some things to keep in mind when taking a child with autism to a restaurant, diner or even a cafeteria.

  -  Make sure your child is actually hungry. If mealtime is a hassle at the best of times, it will be a nightmare if your son or daughter has no appetite!

  -  Before you head out, make sure there's something on the menu that your child will actually eat (rice, plain noodles, french fries) -- or just bring along food from home for him or her.

  -  When ordering, be very specific if your child has strong preferences. Don't assume that your definition of "plain" is the same as the restaurant's version of the word. Mention things like no garnish, no sauces, no shakes of pepper or herbs, no cheese, no toppings, no butter/oil on noodles and so forth.

  -  Was this meal out unplanned -- and you are therefore unprepared? In a pinch, restaurants will generally have -- at the very least -- saltines and some fruit (often depending on what is used at the bar or as garnish).

  -  You might also want to carry some non-perishable foods your kid will eat in your purse or in a bag in the car.

  -  You can also make a pit stop at a take-out place or grocery store to get something your kid will enjoy eating, and bring that food along to the restaurant with you.

  -  Try not to force the issue of what your child is or is not eating, lest that cause him or her to go into meltdown mode. Really, getting him to eat right now is not worth disrupting your meal -- or those of the other diners.

When all else fails...

Sometimes there's simply nothing that will work to calm an autistic child -- your kid is D-O-N-E. Always be prepared to take your meal to go. In this case, you might want to employ the two-part exit strategy: One parent/guardian takes your child or children outside or to the car, while whoever's paying or waiting for the takeout boxes hangs back until finished. (Remember to leave a nice tip if your waiter or waitress has dealt admirably with the situation.)
Know when to hold 'em... know when to walk away

Although it certainly is important for your child to learn how to behave in real-world situations out in public, don't force the issue too much. You deserve to enjoy dining out, and the last thing you want to do is make the experience miserable every time. If you work at it -- but don't stress out about it -- in time, everything will all come together. Until then... Thanks for your order, and please pay at the second window.

Article retrieved from:

Image retrieved from:

Eight Tips For Helping Your Sensory Sensitive Child While Dining Out

Enjoying family meals out at a restaurant can be a lot of fun. However, for some children, this experience can also be a source of sensory overload with all the sights, sounds, smells and movement throughout the restaurant. Below are a few ideas to help you and your child have a pleasurable meal at your favorite neighborhood spot!

How to Make A Restaurant Manageable For Your Child

  1. Engage in heavy work at home such as frog jumps, wheelbarrow walks, or household chores before going to your meal
  2. Use a Lap Lander or Sensory Snuggle to provide deep pressure input during the meal
  3. Bring along fidget toys such as play dough or putty for your child to squeeze
  4. Facilitate deep breathing techniques
  5. Have your child drink through a straw
  6. Allow your child to chew gum or eat bread or other chewy foods while waiting for your meal to arrive
  7. Take a break in the bathroom
  8. Take a walk around the parking lot together
Article retrieved from:
Image retrieved from:

    Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More