Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dyslexsia: Supporting Writing Difficulties - Call Scotland

Call Scotland has released this marvelous poster, entitled Supporting Writing Difficulties.

A step-by-step guide in the form of a question and answer ‘checklist’ helping you to identify problems and suggesting a range of practical technology focused solutions to support pupils with writing difficulties.

You can download a PDF version here.

CALL Scotland’s Vision

Every child / young person in Scotland with a disability or additional support needs has the curriculum materials, the Assistive Technologies (AT) and/or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools they may need, and the support to use them effectively, to participate effectively and fulfill their potential through learning and achievement.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scotland: Farming with Dyslexia

The inaugural meeting of the Farming with Dyslexia Working Group, led by NFU Scotland, took place earlier this week.

Chaired by the Union’s Vice President Rob Livesey, the group was established to ensure that Scottish farming stakeholders recognise the needs of dyslexic crofters and farmers in the most appropriate way.

Representatives from NFU Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments Inspection Directorate, Forestry Commission Scotland, Dyslexia Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) along with four farming and crofting members of NFU Scotland who have dyslexia attended the meeting on Wednesday (3 September).

Steered by NFU Scotland, this group was borne from the recognition that dyslexia is a real, but often hidden, issue among the farming community.

With some 25 per cent of agriculture students at SRUC receiving support for dyslexia, it is believed this heritable condition is more prevalent within the farming sector than previously thought.

However, due to stigma and poor understanding, it can remain undiagnosed and can be problematic for those dealing with communications, regulation and form-filling within the agriculture industry.

The Union recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of dyslexia amongst the farming community, whilst engaging with the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and SRUC to see how joint work can be undertaken to better recognise the issue and support those affected.

NFU Scotland Vice President Rob Livesey commented:

“Today’s meeting was a constructive one and a sound starting point for those keen to recognise the impact of dyslexia within our industry and what action we can take to help their situation.

“I believe we have a great bunch of people with vision and determination to make a difference.  The contribution from those within the working group will be crucial to the success of this initiative.

“It’s now clear to myself and others that there is no one size fits all approach to helping those with dyslexia working within Scottish farming. However, there is a commitment to proactively help those that have or suspect they have dyslexia.

“As a group, our first objective is to continue to raise awareness and build on the work that we have started. The next task we have is to attempt to remove the stigma attached to dyslexia. We strongly believe as a group that there is huge potential to tap into the talent that dyslexic people in our industry have and help them recognise their own potential for the benefit of all.

“That ambition can be underpinned by engaging with all stakeholders to ensure the needs of those with dyslexia are taken into account and that all communications and regulations are available in a format appropriate for those with dyslexia.

“As a result we will be embarking on a campaign in the next few months to address those stated aims.”

Note to Editors

  • The three key objectives agreed at the first meeting of the Farmers with Dyslexia Working group were:
  • Raise awareness of dyslexia to reduce the stigma and promote the abilities of dyslexic individuals which are of great benefit to the agriculture industry
  • Engage with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to ensure measures to recognise dyslexia among the farming community are appropriate.
  • Ensure systems of communication with regulatory bodies are more accessible for dyslexic farmers and crofters with a choice of delivery options
  • A photograph of the working group is available on request, by contacting Bob Carruth: media@nfus.org.uk or by calling 0131 472 4006.
  • NFU Scotland launched a campaign to get better support in place for farmers and crofters who have dyslexia in July to ensure there is suitable support in place to make the day-to-day running of their businesses easier and more efficient when it comes to form filling and communicating with farming organisations.
  • The campaign has received the backing from former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart and the Union has been working with Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and SRUC throughout the campaign. For more information visit: http://tiny.cc/hisllx

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Embracing Dyslexia - Video



Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with reading, writing, and spelling despite having at least an average intelligence.

It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the population is dyslexic but most are never identified or diagnosed and left to struggle their entire life.

We know how to fix the reading, writing, and spelling issues that dyslexics struggle with. But there is a tremendous roadblock in the way and it is there because our governments, schools and educators are simply misinformed about what dyslexia is or they have no information at all.

By carefully weaving together interviews with parents, experts, and adult dyslexics, "Embracing Dyslexia" tackles the issues surrounding dyslexia like no other documentary film has before.

Parents share emotional stories of their anxiety and frustration over failing to understand why their children were struggling with reading, writing, and spelling and the life-altering impact the word dyslexia had on their lives.

Adult dyslexics courageously open up and speak candidly about their dyslexia, sharing their struggles and successes they have had in school and in their adult lives.

Experts define what dyslexia is, illustrate why early dyslexia screening for all children is vital, and share how effective tutoring, classroom accommodations, and fostering the natural strengths dyslexic's possess can take them from experiencing failure on a daily basis to believing in themselves and knowing that they can be successful.

Credit: www.embracingdyslexia.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fragile-X Syndrome (FXS): Spaced training improves long term memory

Prominent characteristics of the syndrome include an elongated face, large or protruding ears, and low muscle tone. 

Credit: Wikipedia

Research on mice with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) suggests that multiple, spaced training sessions can enhance learning and long term memory when longer, continuous sessions do not.

Christine Gall and colleagues at the University of California Irvine tested mice with FXS on their ability to remember objects and locations and found that multiple training sessions, with 60-minutes breaks, allowed them to perform as well as healthy mice.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

FXS is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability. Previous studies have shown that mice with this condition have a problem with synaptic signaling in the hippocampus, which affects their ability to create long term memories.

Christine Gall
Gall's team wanted to see if they could create a training regime that would help overcome synaptic signaling problems and enable mice with FXS to learn normally.

They knew that individuals tend to learn better when trained in short, spaced trials rather than a single, long training episode, so they tested whether spaced training would help FXS mice.

The researchers tested the mice on object location memory (OLM) and novel object recognition (NOR).

To test OLM, they placed a mouse in a chamber that also contained two identical objects.

They gave the mouse time to examine the objects and remember their locations, and then removed the mouse. When the mouse was gone, the researchers moved one of the objects.

They then returned the mouse to the chamber. If the mouse spent more time exploring the new location than the old location, it was a sign that it had remembered the original location.

NOM testing involved replacing one of the identical objects with a different object, without changing its location.

Mice that spent more time examining the new object showed that they had remembered the original object.

After undergoing five minutes of continuous training and being removed from the chamber for 24 hours, wild mice recognized that one of the objects had moved or been replaced, but FXS mice did not.

However, when the researchers divided the training into three 100-second trials, with 60-minute intervals between them, the FXS mice performed about as well as the wild mice.

Gall's team examined hippocampal tissue from the mice and found that control FXS mice had problems with the activation of ERK1/2, a kinase needed for memory encoding.

Spaced training corrected this problem and restored proper signaling between synapses.

More information: Spaced training rescues memory and ERK1/2 signaling in fragile X syndrome model mice, PNAS, Ronald R. Seese, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1413335111

Monday, November 3, 2014

Children with dyslexia might also be having difficulties with social skills

A reluctance to do any reading may be a classic sign of dyslexia, but there may be other tell-tale signs that can raise a parent's concern according to Joanna Dunton of Bangor University's Miles Dyslexia Centre.

Speaking ahead of Dyslexia Awareness Week, (3- 9 November) Language Therapist Jo Dunton explained that children with dyslexia might be having difficulties with reading, spelling and writing, but also with social skills, and with other seemingly unrelated areas.

"It could be that a dyslexic child may be particularly prone to forgetting things or being rather disorganised," explained Jo Dunton.

"Because of the challenges facing them, children with dyslexia may appear withdrawn or lose interest in school work, or might want to avoid going to school and, research has shown, could often be bullied or socially isolated due to their difficulties."

"These differences can lead to low self-esteem, especially if the child doesn't understand why they're having to struggle to do things that other children seem to be able to achieve with ease."

"Recognising the problem can be extremely helpful, as can setting things in place to help the dyslexic child overcome the particular difficulties facing them."

However dyslexia is not all negative, many people with dyslexia have great spatial or 3D awareness, and many go on to be engineers.

Places such as the spy HQ GCHQ have dyslexics ranking among their staff as does space agency NASA, so the sky's the limit!

If you think your child may be facing difficulties with reading, writing or any educationally related problem, then the first port of call should be the school" she told reporters.

"However, here at the Miles Dyslexia Centre we're always willing to speak with parents and advise them and can provide consultation sessions for parents and children."

Jo's Top Tips for Parents:

  • Talk to your child - discuss their day or their feelings. Vocabulary has been shown to have a major impact on developing literacy skills.
  • Look at the whole person rather than focus on your child's difficulties. Encourage then to get involved with things that they are good at as this will help build self-esteem.
  • Don't let homework become a battle ground. Little and often is more effective, reading one page or practising one word is better than nothing at all.
  • Spelling practice can be done with a whiteboard or with plastic letters. Try to find a way to make it fun.
  • Reading does not always have to be from a book. Perhaps use sets of word cards to make sentences, play matching or pairs games. Don't let your child view it as a chore that has to be done.
  • Out shopping- ask your child to read out the shopping list or the signs around the store. We are surrounded by words, use them as resources.
  • Talk to the school about any concerns you may have. Working together with the school can lead to a more coordinated response to any difficulties.
  • Self-organisation can be a key difficulty leading to forgotten books, kit, pens etc. Encourage your child to develop a routine. Is it swimming tomorrow? – Get the kit ready tonight!
  • Encourage the use of memory joggers such as checklists, 'to do' lists or school planners. Perhaps a large chalkboard or whiteboard could be used as a family planner.
  • Remember reading and spelling are skills, and, like any skill, they need lots of regular practice. Footballers, swimmers and tennis stars also have to work hard to improve their skills!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dyslexia: The Discover Dyslexia chart

SHARE the Discover Dyslexia chart from WebMD

Friday, October 31, 2014

FUNterval: Fun and games make for better learners

Four minutes of physical activity can improve behaviour in the classroom for primary school students, according to new research by Brendon Gurd.

A brief, high-intensity interval exercise, or a "FUNterval," for Grade 2 and Grade 4 students reduced off-task behaviours like fidgeting or inattentiveness in the classroom.

"While 20 minutes of daily physical activity (DPA) is required in Ontario primary schools, there is a need for innovative and accessible ways for teachers to meet this requirement," says Dr. Gurd, lead researcher and professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

"Given the time crunch associated with the current school curriculum we thought that very brief physical activity breaks might be an interesting way to approach DPA. We were particularly interested in what effects a brief exercise bout might have in the classroom setting."

For the study, students were taught a class and were then given an active break, where they would perform a FUNterval, or a non-active break where they would learn about different aspects of healthy living on alternating days for three weeks.

After each break, classroom observers recorded instances of off-task behaviour. When a four minute FUNterval was completed during a break from class, there was less off-task behaviour observed in the 50 minutes following the break than if students completed a non-active break.

Working with Dr. Gurd, master's student Jasmine Ma created the series of four-minute activities that students could complete in small spaces with no equipment.

FUNtervals involved actively acting out tasks like "making s'mores" where students would lunge to "collect firewood," "start the fire" by crouching and exploding into a star jump and squatting and jumping to "roast the marshmallows" to make the S'more.

Each activity moves through a 20-second storyline of quick, enthusiastic movements followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight intervals.

This research was published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Autism: Conventional UK police interview techniques are not effective

Police find interviewing and interacting with witnesses and suspects with autism a real challenge, a new study from researchers in the Department of Psychology at UK's University of Bath, has revealed, highlighting that the ways UK police officers have been taught to interview could be at odds with what is needed in these situations.

As part of the study, the researchers found that existing interview techniques tend to focus on open questions, only later narrowing down to closed questions, whereas research shows that people with autism may need focused questions from the outset.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded research studied what does, and does not, work when police interview people with autism.

Katie Maras
The researchers, including Dr Katie Maras from Department of Psychology, University of Bath and her colleague, Dr Laura Crane, at City University London, are calling for better training for UK police and criminal justice professionals as, at present in the UK, these groups currently have no standard compulsory training about autism.

Dr Maras said: "As part of this study we have heard of many cases where problems have arisen because police and other criminal justice professionals know very little about autism.

"Research in this area is still in its infancy, but it's steadily accumulating. There's a crucial need to get findings to practitioners to help them obtain the best evidence possible from people with autism."

Laura Crane
More than 400 UK frontline and investigative police officers holding a variety of ranks provided information for the study.

They spoke of the difficulties and challenges they encounter when obtaining written, oral and identification evidence.

Officers reported, for example, finding it hard to build rapport with people with autism, which usually plays an important part in interviews.

They also described difficulties in arranging a suitable environment for interviews.

"Police stations tend to be noisy with bright or flickering lighting and strange smells, but people with autism are often sensitive to sensory input and as a result they can struggle to maintain concentration in interviews", Dr Maras added.

Over 600,000 people in the UK have autism, many of whom will come into contact with the police at some point in their lives.

Poor social-communication skills can make them vulnerable when involved with the UK Criminal Justice System as a victim, witness or suspect.

Individuals with autism process memories in a different way from other people, which can lead to misunderstandings.

During the study, officers answered questions about existing interview practices that they considered worked well, and were asked what could be done to develop understanding and skills.

The researchers found examples of excellent practice, especially among police officers who were able to draw on their personal experience of the disorder through familiarity with a family member or colleague with autism.

On a further positive note, related research shows that there are simple and effective strategies that can enhance the evidence that people with autism give and improve their credibility as witnesses.

For example, providing information about a witness' diagnosis can improve his or her perceived credibility; unusual and stereotyped behaviours can be attributed to autism, rather than a lack of credibility.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

In the experimental sequence, a pair of identical animals (e.g. horses) is preceded on the screen by a pair of mirror-image letters (b and d), or, in the control condition, a pair of non-mirror-image letters (f and t). 

The participant must decide in each case whether the two items (letters or animals) are identical or not. 

Credit: CNRS /Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne-Paris-Cité /Université de Caen Basse-Normandie

While reading, children and adults alike must avoid confusing mirror-image letters (like b/d or p/q). Why is it difficult to differentiate these letters?

When learning to read, our brain must be able to inhibit the mirror-generalization process, a mechanism that facilitates the recognition of identical objects regardless of their orientation, but also prevents the brain from differentiating letters that are different but symmetrical.

A study conducted by the researchers of the Laboratoire de Psychologie du Développement et de l'Education de l'Enfant (CNRS / Université Paris Descartes / Université de Caen Basse-Normandie) is available on the website of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Online First Articles).

In recent years, many studies on the process of learning to read have been based on the neuronal recycling hypothesis: the reuse of old brain mechanisms in a new adaptive role - a kind of "biological trick."

Specifically, neurons that are originally dedicated to the rapid identification of objects in the environment, through the mirror-generalization process, are "repurposed" during childhood to specialize in the visual recognition of letters and words.

In this study, the researchers showed 80 young adults pairs of images, first two letters and then two animals, asking them to determine whether they were identical.

The readers consistently spent more time determining that two animal images, when preceded by mirror-image letters, were indeed identical.

This increase in response time is called "negative priming": the readers had to inhibit the mirror-generalization process in order to distinguish letters like b/d or p/q. They then needed a little more time to reactivate this strategy when it became useful again to quickly identify animals.

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

The reader must learn to distinguish mirror-image letters (b and d) on the computer screen separated by a target fixation cross (+). 

Credit: CNRS/Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne-Paris-Cité /Université de Caen Basse-Normandie

These results show that even adults need to inhibit the mirror-generalization process to avoid reading errors.

Children must therefore learn to inhibit this strategy when learning to read. A failure of cognitive inhibition during the recycling of visual neurons in the brain could thus be a factor in dyslexia, a direction worth exploring, in light of these findings.

More information: "The cost of blocking the mirror-generalization process in reading: Evidence for the role of inhibitory control in discriminating letters with lateral mirror-image counterparts." Grégoire Borst, Emmanuel Ahr, Margot Roell, and Olivier Houdé. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Online First Articles), 23 May 2014. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-014-0663-9

Learning to talk is in the genes

Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy.

Scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol worked with colleagues around the world to discover a significant link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene and the number of words spoken by children in the early stages of language development.

Children produce words at about 10 to 15 months of age and our range of vocabulary expands as we grow - from around 50 words at 15 to 18 months, 200 words at 18 to 30 months, 14,000 words at six-years-old and then over 50,000 words by the time we leave secondary school.

The researchers found the genetic link during the ages of 15 to 18 months when toddlers typically communicate with single words only before their linguistic skills advance to two-word combinations and more complex grammatical structures.

The results, published in Nature Communications today [16 Sept], shed further light on a specific genetic region on chromosome 3, which has been previously implicated in dyslexia and speech-related disorders.

The ROBO2 gene contains the instructions for making the ROBO2 protein. This protein directs chemicals in brain cells and other neuronal cell formations that may help infants to develop language but also to produce sounds.

The ROBO2 protein also closely interacts with other ROBO proteins that have previously been linked to problems with reading and the storage of speech sounds.

Dr Beate St Pourcain, who jointly led the research with Professor Davey Smith at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, said: "This research helps us to better understand the genetic factors which may be involved in the early language development in healthy children, particularly at a time when children speak with single words only, and strengthens the link between ROBO proteins and a variety of linguistic skills in humans."

Dr Claire Haworth, one of the lead authors, based at the University of Warwick, commented: "In this study we found that results using DNA confirm those we get from twin studies about the importance of genetic influences for language development."

"This is good news as it means that current DNA-based investigations can be used to detect most of the genetic factors that contribute to these early language skills."

The study was carried out by an international team of scientists from the EArly Genetics and Lifecourse Epidemiology Consortium (EAGLE) and involved data from over 10,000 children.

More information: 'Common Variation Near ROBO2 is Associated with Expressive Vocabulary in Infancy' by St Pourcain et al in Nature Communications.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rett syndrome: Autism Spectrum Disorder Mice improve with synthetic oil

When young mice with the rodent equivalent of a rare autism spectrum disorder (ASD), called Rett syndrome, were fed a diet supplemented with the synthetic oil triheptanoin, they lived longer than mice on regular diets.

Importantly, their physical and behavioral symptoms were also less severe after being on the diet, according to results of new research from The Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers involved in the study think that triheptanoin improved the functioning of mitochondria, energy factories common to all cells.

Since mitochondrial defects are seen in other ASDs, the researchers say, the experimental results offer hope that the oil could help not just people with Rett syndrome, but also patients with other, more common ASDs.

A description of the research will be published on Oct. 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.

ASDs affect an estimated one in 68 children under 8 years of age in the United States. Rett syndrome is a rare ASD caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene, which codes for methyl-CpG-binding-protein 2 (MeCP2).

Rett syndrome includes autism-like signs, such as difficulty communicating, socializing and relating to others.

Other hallmarks are seizures, decreased muscle tone, repetitive involuntary movements, and gastrointestinal and breathing problems.

These other signs are also seen in some patients with other ASDs, suggesting underlying similarities in their causes.

While the causes of most ASDs are unknown and thought to be complex, Rett syndrome is unique, and could be a source of insight for the others, because it is caused by an error in a single gene.

The research team used mice lacking the MeCP2 protein, which left them with severe Rett syndrome.

In examining those mice, what stood out, according to Gabriele Ronnett, M.D., Ph.D., who led the research project at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was that they weighed the same as healthy mice but had large fat deposits accompanied by lower amounts of nonfat tissue, such as muscle.

This suggested that calories were not being used to support normal tissue function but instead were being stored as fat.

This possibility led Ronnett and her research team to consider the role of mitochondria, which transform the building blocks of nutrients into a high-energy molecule, ATP.

This molecule drives processes such as the building of muscle and the growth of nerve cells.

Mitochondria use a series of biochemical reactions, collectively called the TCA cycle, to make this transformation possible.

According to Susan Aja, Ph.D., a research associate and lead member of the research team, "If the components of the TCA cycle are low, nutrient building blocks are not processed well to create ATP. They are instead stored as fat."

Ronnett suspected, she says, that some of Rett syndrome's neurological symptoms could stem from metabolic deficiencies caused by faulty mitochondria and reduced energy for brain cells.

"Rett syndrome becomes apparent in humans 6 to 18 months old, when the energy needs of the brain are particularly high, because a lot of new neural connections are being made," says Ronnett.

"If the mitochondria are already defective, stressed or damaged, the increased demand would be too much for them."

Previous small clinical trials in people with a different metabolic disorder suggested that dietary intervention with triheptanoin could help.

Triheptanoin is odourless, tasteless and a little thinner than olive oil. It is easily processed to produce one of the components of the TCA cycle.

When Rett syndrome mice were weaned at 4 weeks of age, they were fed a diet in which 30 percent of their calories came from triheptanoin, mixed in with their normal pelleted food.

Though far from a cure, the results of the triheptanoin treatment were impressive, the researchers say.

Treated mice had healthier mitochondria, improved motor function, increased social interest in other mice and lived four weeks, or 30 percent, longer than mice who did not receive the oil. The team also found that the diet normalized their body fat, glucose and fat metabolism.

"You can think of the mitochondria of the Rett syndrome model mice as damaged buckets with holes in them that allow TCA cycle components to leak out," says Aja.

"We haven't figured out how to plug the holes, but we can keep the buckets full by providing triheptanoin to replenish the TCA cycle."

"It is still too early to assume that this oil will work in humans with ASDs, but these results give us hope," says Ronnett.

"It's exciting to think that we might be able to improve many ASDs without having to identify each and every contributing gene."

According to Aja, additional mouse studies are needed to learn if female mice respond to the treatment, to perform a wider range of physiology and behavior tests, and, importantly, to assess the effects of triheptanoin treatment on the brain, which is considered the main driver of many Rett symptoms.

The team would also like to provide triheptanoin at earlier ages, perhaps via the mothers' milk, to mimic developmental ages at which most children are diagnosed with Rett syndrome.

Triheptanoin is currently made for research purposes only and is not available as a medicine or dietary supplement for humans.

More information: PLOS ONE: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109527

Addressing Whining and unwanted behaviour in young children

Whining: That Voice!

Whining is high on the list of childhood behaviours that are really, really obnoxious to parents.

Some kids have developed this strategy into a dramatic art form, and there are a few youngsters who definitively deserve academy awards for their performances!

Many parents dread saying "No" to their kids, or not giving the children what they want, simply because of the threat of the whining that will result.

As aggravating as whining is, it can be managed. That management starts with a good understanding of where the behaviour comes from, followed by the use of a Calm, Decisive and Consistent strategy to address it.

What Causes Whining? 
You don't have to search far to discover the causes of whining. The answer to the question goes something like this.

Good parents have two sides to them, a warm, loving side and a demanding dominant side. To the child, the warm, loving part of parenting involves fun, affection and good times.

The demanding part involves learning to follow rules, acquiring skills and, basically, growing up and accepting responsibility for your actions.

The warm side of parenting is more friendly; the demanding side is more challenging.

You generally won't run into whining from your children when you are operating in the warm parenting mode.

However, you will run into whining when you are coming from the demanding side of the parenting equation.

Being demanding is a big part of your job as a parent, but it can create frustration and inappropriate reactions from your youngsters.

When you ask or demand a behaviour from a child, they have two choices: They can bite the bullet and cooperate or they can do what we call "test and manipulate."

Whining is a form of testing and manipulation.

Adults Reinforce Whining?
What makes whining work for kids?

Whining continues, and gets worse when mums, dads, grandparents or teachers do any of the following:

1. See whining as abnormal, horrible behaviour.
2. Feel angry or guilty when the kids complain.
3. Talk, argue, yell or whine back when the kids moan.
4. Or worst of all, give in to the kids and let them have their way when they whimper.

Four Useful Strategies for Parenting a Whiner 

1. Dramatically change the way you think: Whining comes from GOOD parenting; it does not mean you did something wrong.

2. Tell your child, “Whining is for your room.” Let them moan where you can’t hear it, but once they have calmed down, make sure they comply with your initial 'demand.' If they do not, then send them to their room again and repeat until they are willing to comply.

3. Use small, reasonable consequences. For example, "For every minute you whine at me, you are going to pay me 25 cents."

This 'monetary' forfeit may only work in a deeply consumer-based society where the child has a certain amount of 'disposable wealth,' like the US and the UK, but the principal of applying a 'loss' for unwanted behaviour is sound.

Keep any consequence simple, clear and short. Then no more talking, until the child changes its behaviour and complies.

There is No Negotiation and No Discussion allowed as this is simply another 'Testing' behaviour used by the child to take control of the situation and avoid doing what you want.

If you find this difficult, try avoiding eye contact with the child as well as not talking, this will help you stay stronger and stick to your goal.

4. You can also try using the age-old Counting Method from 1‐2‐3 for addressing the whining, but this should be a well understood way of correcting your child's unwanted behviour. It should be something you have practiced with your child from when they were very young.

If you want more information on correcting unwanted child behaviour and advice on sleep, bed-wetting and more serious childhood conditions, visit www.dream-angus.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Children can be trained to recognise emotions

Children can using training to spot crucial cues on someone's emotional state, new research from the University of Lincoln, UK, has show.

Children can learn to better recognise other people's emotions through games which emphasise the significance of the eyes and the mouth in conveying feelings, new research has shown.

The study by cognitive neuroscientists at the University of Lincoln, UK, suggests that simple training programmes could help children better understand which expressive facial features offer the most important cues to other people's emotional state.

It is hoped the findings, published in the peer reviewed science journal PLOS ONE, could lead to new or improved interventions for children and adults who have difficulty recognising emotional states in others.

Dr Petra Pollux, a cognitive neuroscientist from the University of Lincoln's School of Psychology, said: "How we recognise and process facial expressions plays a big part in our social interaction skills."

"We've all experienced walking into a room, looking around and immediately understanding that something has happened, and that's because we're reading the expressions on people's faces."

"This ability to understand and read facial expressions is a crucial skill in development and begins at quite an early age."

"Generally, when we look at faces, we look at the eyes and the mouth, but with a definite bias towards the eyes."

"We wanted to investigate if there was a correlation between which parts of the face the children looked at and their ability to correctly pick up on the emotional state of the person in the image."

During the study nine-year-old children were shown images which conveyed varying levels of intensity of emotional expressions, from a small smile to a big grin, and asked to match it with the correct emotion. If they answered incorrectly, they were alerted by a tone.

Children and adults were not given any instructions about eye-movements, but over the four sessions learned that focusing more on the eyes offered the crucial clues they needed.

The images used in the study were digitally manipulated and showed happy, sad or fearful expressions.

An adult's ability to recognise emotions was also assessed and compared with children's, and in both cases, special eye tracking equipment was used to monitor their gaze pattern and determine which features of the face, such as the eyes, nose or mouth, they focused on most.

Children looked less often and for a shorter duration at the eyes, and more often and for longer at the mouth compared with adults.

Training for both adults and children increased the amount of time spent looking at the eyes, although for adults this was only for faces which showed a sad expression.

Children, however, showed a significant increase in the amount of time spent focused on the eyes of all three expressions after training, leading to more correct answers.

The images used in the final session were also replaced by new faces, meaning their abilities translated to different people, researchers said.

Dr Pollux added: "It's really useful to know that the way a child scans a face plays an important role in recognising emotions. This research could be used to develop mobile phone apps which turn this kind of training into a game."

Researches now hope that the findings will inform training programmes for people in need of a better understanding of recognising facial expressions, such as those with autism or other cognitive development problems.

More information: Pollux PML, Hall S, Guo K (2014) "Facial Expression Training Optimised Viewing Strategy in Children and Adults." PLOS ONE 9(8): e105418. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105418

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beat synchronization in preschoolers aids learning and reading skills

A team of researchers with Northwestern University in the U.S. has found that an ability to synchronize with a beat may be an indication of how well preschoolers will later do when developing reading skills.

In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes a study they undertook that involved testing for beat synchronization and sound recognition in preschoolers and what they found as a result.

Devising a test for reading aptitude prior to teaching children to read, it is believed, would help children of all levels learn better.

If a teacher knew beforehand that a child was going to have a reading disability, for example, that child could be placed into a program developed specifically for their needs, hopefully offering a better long term outcome.

Likewise, children with an exceptional aptitude for reading could be put into an accelerated program to prevent boredom.

Unfortunately, there is no such test, thus parents and teachers are left to discover a child's reading abilities on their own.

In this new effort, the researchers devised a study to find out if beat synchronicity skills might be used as the basis for such a test.

Reading specialists have suspected that there is a link between beat synchronization and both language and reading ability, reading and speech are both timing based after all.

To better understand that link the researchers arranged to test preschool volunteers.

In the first test, 35 children were given a toy drum and asked to beat it in time with an adult beating on a similar drum.

Those that could do it well were described as synchronizers, those that could not, as nonsyncronizers.

The same group of children then had electrodes pasted to their scalps to measure brain waves, as the researchers watched monitors, the children listened to sounds the researchers played, such as "da" and "ba" with no other sound, and then with background noise.

In studying the data, the researchers found that the children dubbed synchronizers in the first part of the experiment processed the played sounds with greater precision than did the nonsyncronizers.

Further tests revealed that the synchronizers did better on overall language abilities than the nonsyncronizers, which suggests that it might be possible to use the same process to test children as young as infants for later reading ability.

The researchers plan to continue monitoring the same children in the study for five years to see if their testing method is viable.

More information: Beat synchronization predicts neural speech encoding and reading readiness in preschoolers, Kali Woodruff Carr, PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1406219111

Monday, September 22, 2014

EEG Brainwave test could improve autism diagnosis and classification



A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University suggests that measuring how fast the brain responds to sights and sounds could help in objectively classifying people on the autism spectrum and may help diagnose the condition earlier.

The paper was published today in the online edition of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The signs and symptoms of ASD vary significantly from person to person, ranging from mild social and communication difficulties to profound cognitive impairments.

"One of the challenges in autism is that we don't know how to classify patients into subgroups or even what those subgroups might be," said study leader Sophie Molholm, Ph.D., associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and the Muriel and Harold Block Faculty Scholar in Mental Illness in the department of pediatrics at Einstein.

"This has greatly limited our understanding of the disorder and how to treat it."

Autism is diagnosed based on a patient's behavioural characteristics and symptoms.

"These assessments can be highly subjective and require a tremendous amount of clinical expertise," said Dr. Molholm. "We clearly need a more objective way to diagnose and classify this disorder."

An earlier study by Dr. Molholm and colleagues suggested that brainwave electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings could potentially reveal how severely ASD individuals are affected.

That study found that children with ASD process sensory information, such as sound, touch and vision, less rapidly than typically developing children do.

The current study was intended to see whether sensory processing varies along the autism spectrum. Forty-three ASD children aged 6 to 17 were presented with either a simple auditory tone, a visual image (red circle), or a tone combined with an image, and instructed to press a button as soon as possible after hearing the tone, seeing the image or seeing and hearing the two stimuli together.

Continuous EEG recordings were made via 70 scalp electrodes to determine how fast the children's brains were processing the stimuli.

The speed with which the subjects processed auditory signals strongly correlated with the severity of their symptoms: the more time required for an ASD individual to process the auditory signals, the more severe that person's autistic symptoms.

"This finding is in line with studies showing that, in people with ASD, the microarchitecture in the brain's auditory center differs from that of typically developing children," Dr. Molholm said.

The study also found a significant though weaker correlation between the speed of processing combined audio-visual signals and ASD severity. No link was observed between visual processing and ASD severity.

"This is a first step toward developing a biomarker of autism severity, an objective way to assess someone's place on the ASD spectrum," said Dr. Molholm.

"Using EEG recordings in this way might also prove useful for objectively evaluating the effectiveness of ASD therapies."

In addition, EEG recordings might help diagnose ASD earlier. "Early diagnosis allows for earlier treatment, which we know increases the likelihood of a better outcome," said Dr. Molholm.

"But currently, fewer than 15 percent of children with ASD are diagnosed before age 4. We might be able to adapt this technology to allow for early ASD detection and therapy for a much larger percentage of children."

More information: The paper is titled "Neurophysiological Indices of Atypical Auditory Processing and Multisensory Integration are Associated with Symptom Severity in Autism."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

US Congressional Committee Hearing on the Science of Dyslexia

In an age of gridlock and choking polarization, the yesterday’s Congressional Committee Hearing on the Science of Dyslexia evoked the best qualities of US governmental process: bringing elected officials to the table with ordinary citizens in non-partisan dialogue to solve a major societal problem.

For a two hours in Rayburn room 2318 on Capitol Hill, there were no Democrats or Republicans, just people concerned about the prevalence of dyslexia in our nation’s children and the fact that millions of families are struggling, and convinced that something huge needs to be done to help these kids read, learn and thrive.

What made the event most remarkable was its emotional richness. As data points from the vast body of dyslexia science were shared by leading experts, tears flowed and laughter filled the air.

At one point, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas commented that he’d never heard such eruptions of applause and enthusiasm in a Congressional Hearing.

Best of all, the event was made accessible for everyone: its live webcast was recorded and archived; and all of the testimony was transcribed.

Here are several highlights.

Clicking on the speakers’ names will bring up a full transcript of their remarks:

Rep. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana gave some of the day’s most compelling and heart-wrenching testimony, pausing several times to wipe away tears and collect himself.

“A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia. Prompted by concerns about my daughter and my constituents’ children, I set out to learn as much as I could about dyslexia and was amazed at how much is known and yet, far too often, not incorporated into public policy and education. . ."

"If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs.”

Brownley1Rep. Julia Brownley of California also shared personal perspectives as a parent.

“When my daughter Hannah struggled to learn to read, like any parent I was completely panicked about what to do next."

"It was Hannah’s dyslexia, and learning to navigate the school system, where I witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly, that led me to public service. . ."

"This spring, Hannah received her Master’s degree in International Studies, and is now overseas saving the world with a NGO in Kenya, Africa."

"She speaks three languages, and she still misspells in all of them! I could not be prouder of her. But for every success story like Hannah, there are countless others who do not succeed.”

Sally1Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity made a passionate plea to policy makers that now is the time to translate science into action.

“In dyslexia, remarkably in America, in the year 2014, we have not a knowledge gap but an action gap."

"We have the knowledge but it is not being put into policy and practice and far too many children and adults, too, are suffering needlessly."

"There is an epidemic of reading failure that we have the scientific evidence to treat effectively and we are not acknowledging or implementing it. . ."

"I cannot look into the face of one more child who has lost faith in himself and the world, I cannot look into the face of a child’s father who is desperately trying to hold back tears; I cannot hear once again about how a school told a mother, ‘we do not believe in dyslexia.’. . ."

"It is our hope that hearing the depth and extent of the scientific knowledge of dyslexia will alert policy makers to act and to act with a sense of urgency. ”

Max Brooks, an accomplished author and screenwriter, electrified Committee members and the gallery crowd with his personal account of living with dyslexia:

“For me, dyslexia was nearly as bad as the feelings of anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem that it caused."

"For me, ‘learned dependency’ was the real enemy, the self-narrative that ‘I can’t do this’ that can destroy children’s learning potential for the rest of their lives."

"That was ALMOST me. I’ve spent the last 30 years unlearning the lesson that dyslexia taught me, that society has no use for me. . ."

“A little awareness and flexible teaching methods could unlock unlimited potential in these kids who now think they’re losers."

"If we already have mandatory racial sensitivity training for our police, why not have mandatory dyslexia recognition training for our teachers?"

"It’s so simple, so easy, and when you look at all the other government programs designed to help citizens help themselves, it’s probably the least expensive.”

Persusasive testimony was also given by panelists Stacy Antie, a mother and parent advocate; Paul Eden, president of Landmark College; and Guinevere Eden, Director of the Center for the Study of Learning (CSL) and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University Medical Center.

Later on in a Q&A session with Committee lawmakers, Max Brooks revived his comment about making dyslexia training “a mandatory part of every teacher’s certificate,” instantly sparking whoops of applause from the gallery crowd, including many members of the Decoding Dyslexia movement.

And those Decoding Dyslexia members, from states as nearby as Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and from as far away as Texas, graciously gathered for a photo op of their own before the day’s proceedings concluded.

After the Committee Hearing, attendeees and panelists enjoyed a great luncheon hosted by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, featuring a preview look at the new Understood.org initiative and a website that will launch later this month.

This was followed by speeches by an assortment of guests, including Hal Malchow, President of the International Dyslexia Association, Robbi Cooper of Decoding Dyslexia Texas, and Kristin Kane of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia.

What will be the net impact of a day like this on our nation’s dyslexic children and the parents and teachers who support them?

It’s hard to say, but there was enough knowledge, passion and experience gathered there on Capitol Hill to move mountains.

With so many diverse players assembled at the table, it brought to life the vivid slogan Learning Ally has embraced this year: Together It’s Possible.

All credit goes to Learning Ally for the content of this article.

Friday, September 12, 2014

ADHD: Medication plus parent training may help kids with aggression

Combining two medications with parent training appears to improve anger, irritability and violent tendencies in children whose attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is coupled with severe aggression, a new study suggests.

"Augmented" therapy that consists of stimulant and antipsychotic drugs, along with parent training in behavioural management techniques, was rated more effective by parents than "basic" therapy pairing only the stimulant and parent training, researchers found.

"An important finding of this study was that at the end of nine weeks, approximately half of all children receiving basic therapy were still rated by their parents as being impaired... with symptoms interfering with school or social functioning," said study author Kenneth Gadow, a professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University in New York.

"In the augmented group receiving three interventions for aggression, about one-quarter still, at the end of nine weeks, were rated by their parents as being impaired, and that suggests, even with highly effective therapies, that many of these children still have unmet treatment needs" " he added.

The drugs used in the study, published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, included the widely prescribed ADHD stimulant Concerta (methylphenidate) and the antipsychotic Risperdal (risperidone).

Approximately 11 percent of American children aged 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, which includes symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty focusing and controlling behavior, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As many as half of children with ADHD also display significant, disruptive aggression, according to an editorial accompanying the new research.

"This is very common among kids with ADHD, but unfortunately it complicates the picture for treatment," said Erin Schoenfelder, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children's Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural health at University of Washington.

"It really is staggeringly high."

In the new research, Gadow and his colleagues divided a group of nearly 170 children aged 6 to 12 with ADHD and aggression problems into two treatment groups, basic and augmented.

The basic group received Concerta and their parents underwent behavioral management training.

The augmented group received Concerta and parental training as well, but also took the antipsychotic Risperdal. Both groups were followed for nine weeks.

While both groups of children displayed marked reduction in symptoms, improvement ratings varied depending on whether parents or teachers were making the assessment.

Parents reported that children on augmented therapy were less likely to be impaired socially or academically by their anger and irritability than children on basic therapy.

On the other hand, teachers found few differences in these measures.

Instead, teachers of those on augmented therapy reported significant drops in ADHD symptoms, especially impulsiveness, compared with teachers of children on basic therapy.

Gadow and Schoenfelder agreed that the conflicting parent-teacher ratings demonstrate a familiar concept: that children's behaviours vary in different settings, whether or not they have ADHD.

"Just like adults, they adapt their behaviours to be more appropriate for the setting they're in," Gadow said.

"People do differ, however, in their ability to modify their behaviour from one setting to the next, and some children are much more variable [in this regard]."

Schoenfelder said long-term evidence is needed indicating that combining Concerta and Risperdal is safe in children, but "it appears from this study that the combination was well-tolerated and something practitioners could [adjust the dosage of] effectively."

"Folks trying this type of treatment should have close monitoring," she added. "This is a starting point. It's a combination doctors may try when they see this blend of aggressive and hyperactive behaviours. It certainly will require adjustment . . . but it's exciting to find something helpful for a significant proportion of the kids studied."

The study authors pointed out that their findings only apply to children with ADHD who exhibit severe irritability and peer aggression.

They noted that the study's findings are not an indication of the ADHD population as a whole.

More Information: "Risperidone Added to Parent Training and Stimulant Medication: Effects on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and Peer Aggression" http://www.jaacap.com/article/S0890-8567(14)00369-4/abstract

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Children with autism have extra synapses in brain

In a study of brains from children with autism, researchers found that autistic brains did not undergo normal pruning during childhood and adolescence. 

The images show representative neurons from autistic (left) and control (right) brains; the spines on the neurons indicate the location of synapses.

Credit: Guomei Tang, PhD and Mark S. Sonders, PhD/Columbia University Medical Center

Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain "pruning" process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

Because synapses are the points where neurons connect and communicate with each other, the excessive synapses may have profound effects on how the brain functions.

The study was published in the August 21 online issue of the journal Neuron.

A drug that restores normal synaptic pruning can improve autistic-like behaviors in mice, the researchers found, even when the drug is given after the behaviours have appeared.

"This is an important finding that could lead to a novel and much-needed therapeutic strategy for autism," said Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, Lawrence C. Kolb Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at CUMC and director of New York State Psychiatric Institute, who was not involved in the study.

Although the drug, rapamycin, has side effects that may preclude its use in people with autism, "the fact that we can see changes in behaviour suggests that autism may still be treatable after a child is diagnosed, if we can find a better drug," said the study's senior investigator, David Sulzer, PhD, professor of neurobiology in the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Pharmacology at CUMC.

David Sulzer
During normal brain development, a burst of synapse formation occurs in infancy, particularly in the cortex, a region involved in autistic behaviours; pruning eliminates about half of these cortical synapses by late adolescence.

Synapses are known to be affected by many genes linked to autism, and some researchers have hypothesized that people with autism may have more synapses.

To test this hypothesis, co-author Guomei Tang, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at CUMC, examined brains from children with autism who had died from other causes.

Thirteen brains came from children ages two to 9, and thirteen brains came from children ages 13 to 20. Twenty-two brains from children without autism were also examined for comparison.

Dr. Tang measured synapse density in a small section of tissue in each brain by counting the number of tiny spines that branch from these cortical neurons; each spine connects with another neuron via a synapse.

By late childhood, she found, spine density had dropped by about half in the control brains, but by only 16 percent in the brains from autism patients.

"It's the first time that anyone has looked for, and seen, a lack of pruning during development of children with autism," Dr. Sulzer said, "although lower numbers of synapses in some brain areas have been detected in brains from older patients and in mice with autistic-like behaviours."


Clues to what caused the pruning defect were also found in the patients' brains; the autistic children's brain cells were filled with old and damaged parts and were very deficient in a degradation pathway known as "autophagy."

Cells use autophagy (a term from the Greek for self-eating) to degrade their own components. Using mouse models of autism, the researchers traced the pruning defect to a protein called mTOR.

When mTOR is overactive, they found, brain cells lose much of their "self-eating" ability and without this ability, the brains of the mice were pruned poorly and contained excess synapses.

"While people usually think of learning as requiring formation of new synapses, "Dr. Sulzer says, "the removal of inappropriate synapses may be just as important."

The researchers could restore normal autophagy and synaptic pruning, and reverse autistic-like behaviors in the mice, by administering rapamycin, a drug that inhibits mTOR.

The drug was effective even when administered to the mice after they developed the behaviors, suggesting that such an approach may be used to treat patients even after the disorder has been diagnosed.

Because large amounts of overactive mTOR were also found in almost all of the brains of the autism patients, the same processes may occur in children with autism.

"What's remarkable about the findings," said Dr. Sulzer, "is that hundreds of genes have been linked to autism, but almost all of our human subjects had overactive mTOR and decreased autophagy, and all appear to have a lack of normal synaptic pruning.

This says that many, perhaps the majority, of genes may converge onto this mTOR/autophagy pathway, the same way that many tributaries all lead into the Mississippi River.

Overactive mTOR and reduced autophagy, by blocking normal synaptic pruning that may underlie learning appropriate behaviour, may be a unifying feature of autism."

Alan Packer, PhD, senior scientist at the Simons Foundation, which funded the research, said the study is an important step forward in understanding what's happening in the brains of people with autism.

"The current view is that autism is heterogeneous, with potentially hundreds of genes that can contribute."

"That's a very wide spectrum, so the goal now is to understand how those hundreds of genes cluster together into a smaller number of pathways; that will give us better clues to potential treatments," he said.

"The mTOR pathway certainly looks like one of these pathways. It is possible that screening for mTOR and autophagic activity will provide a means to diagnose some features of autism, and normalizing these pathways might help to treat synaptic dysfunction and treat the disease."

Journal Reference: 
Guomei Tang, Kathryn Gudsnuk, Sheng-Han Kuo, Marisa L. Cotrina, Gorazd Rosoklija, Alexander Sosunov, Mark S. Sonders, Ellen Kanter, Candace Castagna, Ai Yamamoto, Zhenyu Yue, Ottavio Arancio, Bradley S. Peterson, Frances Champagne, Andrew J. Dwork, James Goldman, David Sulzer. "Loss of mTOR-Dependent Macroautophagy Causes Autistic-like Synaptic Pruning Deficits." Neuron, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.07.040

ADHD children make poor decisions due to less differentiated learning processes

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common psychiatric disorders among school children. Pupils with ADHD often make poorer decisions than their unaffected classmates.

Researchers from the University of Zurich now discovered that different learning and decision-making mechanisms are responsible for these behaviors, and localized the underlying impairments in the brain.

Which shirt do we put on in the morning? Do we drive to work or take the train? From which takeaway joint do we want to buy lunch?

We make hundreds of different decisions every day. Even if these often only have a minimal impact, it is extremely important for our long-term personal development to make decisions that are as optimal as possible.

People with ADHD often find this difficult, however. They are known to make impulsive decisions, often choosing options which bring a prompt but smaller reward instead of making a choice that yields a greater reward later on down the line.

Researchers from the University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich, now reveal that different decision-making processes are responsible for such suboptimal choices and that these take place in the middle of the frontal lobe.

Mathematical models help to understand the decision-making processes
In the study, the decision-making processes in 40 young people with and without ADHD were examined.

Lying in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to record the brain activity, the participants played a game where they had to learn which of two images carried more frequent rewards.

To understand the impaired mechanisms of participants with ADHD better, learning algorithms which originally stemmed from the field of artificial intelligence were used to evaluate the data.

These mathematical models help to understand the precise learning and decision-making mechanisms better.

"We were able to demonstrate that young people with ADHD do not inherently have difficulties in learning new information; instead, they evidently use less differentiated learning patterns, which is presumably why sub-optimal decisions are often made", says first author Tobias Hauser.

Multimodal imaging affords glimpses inside the brain
To study the brain processes that triggered these impairments, the authors used multimodal imaging methods, where the participants were examined using a combined measurement of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to record the electrical activity and the blood flow in the brain.

It became apparent that participants with ADHD exhibit an altered functioning in the medial prefrontal cortex, a region in the middle of the frontal lobe.

This part of the brain is heavily involved in decision-making processes, especially if you have to choose between several options, and in learning from errors.

Although a change in activity in this region was already discovered in other contexts for ADHD, the Zurich researchers were now also able to pinpoint the precise moment of this impairment, which already occurred less than half a second after a feedback, i.e. at a very early stage.

Psychologist Tobias Hauser, who is now researching at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, is convinced that the results fundamentally improve our understanding of the mechanisms of impaired decision-making behaviour in people with ADHD.

The next step will be to study the brain messenger substances. "If our findings are confirmed, they will provide key clues as to how we might be able to design therapeutic interventions in future," explains Hauser.

More information: Tobias U. Hauser, Reto Iannaccone, Juliane Ball, Christoph Mathys, Daniel Brandeis, Susanne Walitza & Silvia Brem: Role of Medial Prefrontal "Cortex in Impaired Decision Making in Juvenile Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder," in: JAMA Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1093

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Autism: ASU experts follow gut reaction in digestion treatment study

Clostridium difficile in the gut. The overgrowth of this dangerous bacteria can cause serious, life-threatening infections. 

About half of all children and adults with autism suffer from chronic gastrointestinal problems, causing frequent pain, discomfort and irritability.

Research out of Arizona State University suggests these gastrointestinal (GI) complications may be due, in part, to abnormal gut bacteria.

A new study approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and led by Arizona State University will examine a novel treatment, called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), for GI problems in children with autism.

The treatment involves transferring about 1,000 different species of live gut bacteria from a healthy donor that then act like a broad-spectrum probiotic treatment to restore normal gut bacteria.

FMT has been used to treat serious Clostrium difficle infections that kill up to 15,000 people each year in the United States.

Determining the safety and tolerability of using FMT to treat GI problems in children with autism is driving the study.

The FDA has approved a pilot treatment study of 20 children with autism, ages 7 to 17 years, and moderate to severe gastrointestinal problems.

Missing bacteria
Led by professor Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, an expert on evaluating the composition of gut bacterial communities, and professor James Adams, director of the ASU Autism/Asperger's Research Program, the ASU research team published a scientific paper last year demonstrating that children with autism were missing several hundred species of gut bacteria compared to typical children.

"Our initial work found major differences in the gut bacteria of children with autism compared to typical children, and our subsequent work has confirmed those findings," said Krajmalnik-Brown.

"Children with autism seem to be missing hundreds of beneficial gut bacteria."

"Many children and adults with autism have chronic gut problems, sometimes lasting for many years and seriously affecting their quality of life," said Adams. "We think this treatment may be helpful."

The team's hypothesis is that FMT will "reseed" the gut with beneficial bacteria that will help diminish GI problems and possibly reduce autistic symptoms.

Several studies show that FMT may also be helpful in treating other GI problems, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation.

Beneficial versus harmful
The human gut typically contains more than 1,000 different species of bacteria – most of them beneficial.

These bacteria help with digesting food, making certain vitamins, improving GI function and protecting against pathogenic bacteria.

However, there are a few dangerous bacteria, such as Clostidium difficile (C. difficile), which can cause serious, life-threatening infections.

C. difficile kills about 15,000 people per year in the U.S., but a single dose of FMT has been shown to cure C. difficile with 92 percent effectiveness, usually within a few days.

Collaborating with Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona, the ASU team will lead the treatment portion of the study, with the help of Sharon McDonough-Means, a developmental pediatrician involved in the care of children with autism and previous research studies.

Greg Caporaso at NAU, an expert in computational and statistical methods for studying communities of microorganisms, will analyze the effect of FMT on gut bacterial communities, and Matthew Sullivan at UA will investigate the viruses that infect gut bacteria, and thereby affect bacterial populations in the gut.

The new initiative is a follow-up to a previous study that demonstrated that treatment with a powerful oral antibiotic, vancomycin, led to a temporary improvement in both gut symptoms and symptoms of autism, presumably because it killed off harmful bacteria in the gut.

However, when the treatment was stopped, the benefits were lost, presumably because there was insufficient "reseeding" of the gut with beneficial bacteria.