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Research Offers Clues to Cause of Dyslexia

More good info. from our friends at HealthDay!

People with the reading disability dyslexia may have brain differences that are surprisingly wide-ranging, a new study suggests.

Using specialized brain imaging, scientists found that adults and children with dyslexia showed less ability to “adapt” to sensory information compared to people without the disorder.

And the differences were seen not only in the brain’s response to written words, which would be expected. People with dyslexia also showed less adaptability in response to pictures of faces and objects.

That suggests they have “deficits” that are more general, across the whole brain, said study lead author Tyler Perrachione. He’s an assistant professor of speech, hearing and language sciences at Boston University.

The findings, published in the Dec. 21 issue of the journal Neuron, offer clues to the root causes of dyslexia.

Other studies have found that people with dyslexia show differences in the brain’s structure and function.

“But it hasn’t been clear whether those differences are a cause or consequence of dyslexia,” Perrachione explained.

The chicken-and-egg question is tricky, because years of reading, or years of reading disability, affect brain development.

Perrachione said his team thinks it has discovered a cause of dyslexia — partly because the reduced adaptation was seen in young kids, and not only adults.

A researcher who was not involved in the study called it “groundbreaking.”

“Frankly, researchers have struggled with understanding the brain bases of dyslexia,” said Guinevere Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Scientists have known that brain structure and function look different in people with dyslexia, Eden said, but they haven’t known why.

“This study makes an important step in that direction,” she said. “It gets to the true characteristics of the properties of the neurons [cells] in these brain regions, not just their outward appearance.”

People with dyslexia have consistent problems with language skills, especially reading.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, as much as 15 percent to 20 percent of the population has symptoms of dyslexia — including “slow” reading, poor spelling and writing skills, and problems deciphering words that are similar to each other.

The new study aimed to see whether “neural adaptation” might play a role.

Adaptation is how the brain improves its efficiency. Perrachione offered an example: When you speak to someone for the first time, the brain needs a little time to get used to that person’s voice, speaking rhythms and pronunciation of words, for instance.

But then the brain adapts and stops working so hard to process the other person’s speech.

In people with dyslexia, however, that adaptation seems to be hindered. “Their brains are working harder to process these sensory inputs,” Perrachione said.

The new findings are based on functional MRI scans of adults and children with and without dyslexia. The scans were used to capture the study participants’ brain activity as they performed a series of tasks.

In one experiment, the participants listened to a series of words, read either by a single speaker or several different ones. Overall, the researchers found, people without dyslexia adapted to the single voice, but not to multiple speakers.

In contrast, people with dyslexia showed much less adaptation in their brain activity, even when listening to a single speaker. The same pattern was seen when study participants viewed written words.

But the differences went beyond words: People with dyslexia showed less brain adaptation in response to images of faces and objects.

That’s “surprising,” Eden said, since the disorder does not involve apparent problems with recognizing faces or objects.

Perrachione speculated on a reason for the findings: The reduced brain adaptation may only “show up” when it comes to reading, because reading is such a complex skill.

The brain has no dedicated “reading” area. “Reading is a tool, or technology, that we’ve invented,” Perrachione pointed out.

Learning to use that technology requires a complex orchestration of different brain “domains,” he explained.

And yet, because everyone is expected to read, most people probably do not realize what an accomplishment it is, Perrachione said.

Eden agreed. “Learning to read is an astonishing feat and one that we often take for granted,” she said.

Will the new understanding of dyslexia lead to new therapies? It’s not clear, both Eden and Perrachione said.

Right now, dyslexia is managed with specialized reading instruction, starting as early as possible. That’s not going to change, Eden said.

But if scientists better understand what’s happening in the brain, Perrachione said, it might be possible to refine the reading therapies used for dyslexia.

Parent-Led Autism Therapy (PACT) Shows Lasting Benefits

parent-child-playA therapy that focuses on parents’ communication skills may have lasting benefits for young children with autism, a new clinical trial suggests.

Researchers from the United Kingdom found that preschool children who took part in the program had less-severe autism symptoms six years later, compared to kids who received standard autism services available in their local community.

The study is the first to show such lasting benefits from an early childhood program for autism. Experts not involved in the work were encouraged by the findings.

That’s, in part, because the program is considered “low intensity.” Parents had 18 sessions with a therapist over one year, and then took charge from there.

“This study is important in demonstrating that parent-delivered therapy can be used effectively in low-resource communities where there are few trained professionals,” said Geraldine Dawson. She’s the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, in Durham, N.C.

The program, dubbed PACT (for Preschool Autism Communication Trial), focuses on parents’ and children’s “social communication.”

Parents are videotaped during different interactions with their child. Then the parents watch the videos alongside a therapist. Parents learn to better interpret their child’s unique style of communication, and respond to it.

To put that into practice, parents are asked to lead “structured tasks” at home for 30 minutes every day.

The approach makes sense and is “very feasible,” according to Jeff Sigafoos, a professor at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand.

In fact, programs that include similar principles are already available in the “real world,” said Sigafoos. He wrote an editorial published with the study in the Oct. 25 online edition of The Lancet.

“All of these programs tend to share a few common elements — such as being home-based, parent-implemented and focused on supporting parents in engaging their child in more social-communication interactions,” Sigafoos said.

The new findings add to evidence that those approaches can help children and parents alike, according to Rebecca Shalev. She is a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, in New York City.

It’s not “intuitive” for parents to know how to interact with a child who has autism, Shalev said.

Learning how to play with their child and “have enjoyable experiences” benefits everyone, she said.

An estimated one in 68 U.S. children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ASD refers a group of developmental brain disorders that affect children’s behavior and ability to communicate and socialize.

The severity ranges widely from one child to the next: Some kids have relatively mild problems with social interactions, while others speak very little and focus on a limited number of repetitive behaviors.

The PACT study involved 152 British children aged 2 to 4 who had relatively serious issues with social communication and repetitive behaviors. On average, they scored an “8” on a standard scale of 1 to 10 — with 10 signifying the most severe symptoms.

The researchers, led by Jonathan Green of the University of Manchester, randomly assigned the children to either the one-year PACT program or the “usual” autism services available in their local area.

Six years later, the researchers were able to re-test 80 percent of the children.

The researchers found that, compared with kids who’d had standard autism services, children in the PACT group were less likely to have symptoms in the severe range: 46 percent versus 63 percent in the usual care group.

And although the program focused on social communication, it also reduced kids’ repetitive and restrictive behaviors, on average.

That’s an interesting finding, according to Shalev. She said it suggests that enhancing parent/child communication has “collateral benefits.”

Sigafoos said, “One take-home message is that it’s important for parents to be highly responsive to their child’s communication attempts. Try to create the need for your child to communicate and watch for any indication of communication on your child’s part.”

He offered one example: “Your child might lead you to the fridge door to request a drink of milk. When you see this, you can acknowledge that the child is attempting to communicate — ‘Oh, I see you want some milk.’ Then try to get your child to communicate in a more elaborate form, ‘Can you say milk?’ ”

Of course, the study is reporting group averages, and not every child showed the same gains. “Simply put,” Sigafoos said, “some children will respond better than others.”

But, he added, in the real world, therapists can adapt an intervention to better suit a particular child’s needs.

Dawson said that, ideally, children with autism would be seeing a therapist directly, along with any training their parents receive.

But, she added, therapists with that expertise are not always available in a community.

It’s also best for parents to learn at-home techniques from a trained therapist, Dawson said. But, she added, there are also some good books with “useful tips.”

Special thanks to our friends at HealthDay

SOURCES: Jeff Sigafoos, Ph.D., professor, education, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., director, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; Rebecca Shalev, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor, child and adolescent psychiatry, NYU Langone Child Study Center, New York City; Oct. 25, 2016, The Lancet, online

Lifestyle Changes May Help ADHD Kids Avoid Meds

kids in sprinklerFrom our friends at HealthDay News

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often treated with medications, such as Adderall or Ritalin. But a new study suggests that parents can also help their kids by promoting healthy lifestyle habits.

For the study, researchers looked at 184 children with ADHD and 104 without the disorder. The investigators found that those with ADHD were less likely to adhere to healthy behaviors recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Sleep Foundation and other organizations.

Those guidelines include no more than one to two hours of total screen time a day (TV, computers, video games); at least one hour of physical activity a day; limited intake of sugar-sweetened beverages; getting nine to 11 hours of sleep a night; and drinking seven to 10 cups of water daily, depending on age. The kids in the study were aged 7 to 11.

The findings, published online recently in the Journal of Attention Disorders, suggest that following more of these healthy habits could benefit children with ADHD.

“Many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD do not want their children on medication. Having their children follow healthy lifestyle behaviors may be an effective intervention, either alongside or in the place of traditional ADHD medications,” said study author Kathleen Holton. She is a member of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C.

“Parents of children with ADHD should talk with their pediatrician about how to improve health behaviors, such as limiting screen time, encouraging physical activity, improving bedtime routines and drinking water rather than other beverages,” she suggested in a university news release.

Changing a number of lifestyle habits at once may lead to other healthy behaviors, according to Holton.

“For example, physical activity increases thirst, making water consumption more attractive. Physical activity can also offset screen time and can improve sleep,” she explained.

“Similarly, removal of caffeinated beverages prevents their diuretic effect, helps increase water consumption and can help prevent sleep disturbance,” she added.

“As research into health outcomes in children with ADHD continues to provide new insights, focusing on the overall number of healthy lifestyle behaviors may become important,” Holton said.

Genetic Insights May Help Lessen Developmental Delays

parent and child readRecently Canadian researchers found a precise genetic cause for seven out of every 10 children suffering from a previously undiagnosed condition that caused developmental delays.

In many cases, the genetic analysis led to groundbreaking discoveries. Researchers discovered 11 new disease genes linked to developmental delays, and described new physical traits and symptoms for a number of known diseases.

The investigators recruited 41 children who were suffering from these delays, which could range from delayed walking and talking, to more severe problems like epilepsy or autism, explained senior researcher Dr. Clara van Karnebeek, pediatrician and biochemical geneticist at BC Children’s Hospital and principal investigator with the Center for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia.

Using traditional urine and blood tests, the researchers screened the children for 90 known metabolic diseases tied to developmental delay, and found that based on those tests, the children didn’t qualify for any of the known illnesses.

The researchers then performed an analysis of the children’s exome, the part of their genetic structure that guides the creation of proteins essential for the body to function properly.

Thanks to the genetic results, researchers were able to help 17 of the 41 children with treatments aimed directly at their genetic condition, she said.

“One of the parents explained the difference she saw in her son before and after,” van Karnebeek said. “Before, he was head-banging thousands of times a day, injuring himself. Afterwards, he calmed down. He was able to come home and have dinner with the family and watch TV.”

Many large medical centers and commercial labs are able to conduct these sorts of analyses for children with previously undiagnosed developmental problems, she said.

However, the genetic screen is expensive at this time, costing a couple of thousand dollars, on average, van Karnebeek added.

Dr. Edward McCabe, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes, called the study an “impressive investigation.”

“As sequencing gets cheaper, it’s the way we need to go to identify the cause of disorders in these patients,” McCabe said.

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Making Baby Drop Off at Child Care Easier

childcare or preschoolGetting the day started can be a challenge. So here are some suggestions to make your separation at the child care setting a little easier for both of you from our friends at healthychildren.org.

0 to 7 months

  • In early infancy your baby primarily needs love, comforting, and good basic care to satisfy his physical needs.
  • Although this period may be a difficult time of separation for you, young infants generally will transition to a consistent child care worker in almost any setting. Be patient during this initial settling-in period.

7 to 12 months

  • Stranger anxiety normally occurs at this time. Suddenly your baby may be reluctant to stay with anyone outside his family. The unfamiliar setting of a child care center also may upset him.
  • If possible, do not start child care during this period, or just ease into it. If your child is already in a program, take a little extra time each day before you say good-bye. Create a short good-bye ritual, perhaps letting him hold a favorite stuffed animal. Say good-bye and then quietly leave. Above all, be consistent from day to day.

12 to 24 months

  • This is when separation anxiety peaks and your child has the most difficulty with your leaving. He may not believe that you will return, and may weep and clip to you as you try to leave.
  • Be understanding but firm and persistent. Reassure him that you will return when you’re done with work or have finished your errands. Once you have left, do not reappear unless you are prepared to stay or walk with your child to the door.
August 23rd, 2016|Infant Multiples, Special Needs, Toddler Multiples|