Monday, February 28, 2005

Money, Motivation, ADHD, and the Brain

Often a child who's brought in for ADHD testing impresses us more by their 'big' personality than inattentiveness. These kids may be Mr. or Mrs. Personality - bright, witty, charismatic, and engaging, but lost and adrift in the mob of the classroom. In many respects, these kids seem like born leaders and entrepreneurs - but they don't have anything to lead yet, and they haven't seen examples of what they want to be. The K-12 years are too long to go without finding their special gift. Lets face it, too, many teachers and parents are not the right people to go to if you want to learn about entrepreneurship. You also won't find much more in conventional textbooks or off-the-rack curricula.

Do you know of a child like this? If so, you might have to look carefully to provide them with the role models that fire up their imagination or mentors who might encourage them along the way.

The following brain studies show an interesting possibility too- when Bush's and Hommer's figures are placed side-by-side, it seem that a money reward could be just the ideal incentive to activate the 'dark' area of ADHD.

fMRI of Monetary Incentive
Stroop and ADHD

Resources for Entrepreneurship in Kids and Teens

Check out the Mint- the interactive pages at this site allow you to choose your level of education (and paycheck), see how much you get to take home, make choices on your lifestyle (Internet access, apartment with air conditioning and a dishwasher?), weigh investments, and see if your personality matches well to being successful in business.

Organizing Genius is a book about successful creative leaders of business groups (like Apple computers, Skunkworks, Disney). It's a great read, and it definitely offers a different view of what work and learning can do. Rich Kid Smart Kid is Kiyosaki's guide to financial literacy for kids. follows the true life events of a rising then falling startup, and Pirates of Silicon Valley follows the adventures of early computer giants (from garage to multi-billion dollar corporation).

The Mint Home Page
Organizing Genius
Rich Kid Smart Kid
Pirates of Silicon Valley
Teen Entrepreneur Site
Teen Entrepreneur and Google

Bill Gates: US Secondary Schools are 'Obsolete'

Bill Gates: US Secondary Schools are 'Obsolete'
The Seattle Times: Local News: Gates "appalled" by high schools

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Visual Memory Problems - Unrecognized Causes of School Underachievement

Visual memory problems are woefully underrecognized as the source of school underachievement. If a child has IQ testing by the school district, visual memory problems might appear as lower Performance IQ scores, or a 'non verbal learning disorder' pattern.

It's hard to put yourself into the perspective of a child with visual memory problems, because we usually take our visual memory activities for granted. If we study a picture on the board, then look away, we can talk about it because we remember it. Children with visual memory problems can't do this, though, and even though them may study it carefully (non inattentive), it may be a blank or all jumbled within moments.

Children who have difficulty remembering whether a 'b' looks lik 'b', 'd', 'p', or 'q', may translate what they see into words ("ball stick") to make up for their visual memory problems, but then find that these words can't tell them orientation. Other children may have no trouble with letter recognition, but stumble when it comes to visual landmarks and surroundings, so that they're constantly getting lost, and being overwhelmed by visual material.

Dysgraphic children with visual memory problems may be able to copy sentences well, but draw a blank or tear up their paper when asked to write on their own. Also because some of the pathways that carry visual information in the brain appear to split up into 'where' and 'what' regions, it's possible to have selective memory problems in spatial information and object recognition. Then children might present with curious visual rotation errors while writing or drawing, or disproportionately low scores on IQ or achievement tests that examine picture recognition or memory.

Sometimes visual memory difficulties are more subtle, and only begin to present with problems as a child enters his or her upper elementary or middle school years. Then the increasing amounts of visual information - flowsheets, diagrams, graphs, and graphic figures can be overwhelming. Science class and multi-stepped mathematics can be particularly tough because of the need to remember both detail and spatial organization.

Visual Memory Problems and Dysgraphia
Visual Problems, Reading and Spelling in Low Birthweight Infants
More School Problems in Children with Impaired Auditory and Visual Working Memory

Vague Imagery in Mathematics - Hadamard

Yesterday's post about Imagery and Math made use think about Jacques Hadamard's inquiry into mathematical creativity. His description was quite similar to Daniel Tammet's account. In Hadamard's interviews with other world class mathematicians, he found that "Practically all of them...avoided the use of mental words I do, (as well as) the mental use of algebraic or any other precise signs... The mental pictures...(used) are most frequently visual, but they may also be of another kind, for instance, kinetic. There can also be auditive ones, but even these quite generally keep their vague character."

Not surprisingly periods of drowsiness or dreaming can also be a powerful source of new ideas and insights for many inventors, scientists, or mathematicians. It may be when the concepts are vague and floating, and associations can float more freely.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Autism, Imagery, Synesthesia, and Genius for Math

The first link below includes a description by Daniel Tammet, a math 'genius' with autism who describes his rage to think mathematically, and how he has visual images associated with numbers that help him arrive at correct answers. His descriptions seem similar to descriptions of mathematical manipulations by synesthetes like Richard Feynman: "When I see equations, I see the letters in colors- I don't know why. As I'm talking, i see vague pictures of Bessel functions...with light tan J's, slightly violet-bluish n's, and dark brown x's flying around.

Synesthesia is a mingling of senses whereby sight, sounds, tastes, or smells may be mixed into different sensory impressions and associations. Synesthesia has been noted to occur in highly creative people and individuals with extraordinary memory. Synesthesia may occur 'naturally', run in families, or be associated with nervous system reorganization.

Tammet's description should also be a reminder that autistic people should not be written off as 'concrete' thinkers. We often don't get detailed verbal descriptions of the experience of autism, so we probably know very little of their perceptual experience.

In the figure below, see how for synesthetes, words activate many more brain areas (emotional and associational sensory areas)than for controls.

Autistic Math Genius
Synesthesia and fMRI

Links to Using Mystery Stories in Teaching - Critical Thinking

Mystery stories build critical thinking and skills like deduction, cause-and-effect, sequencing, and prioritization of facts. Here are some nice links we came across. Also don't forget Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew, the game 'Clue', and Sherlock Holmes.

Web English Teacher
89.04.06: Challenging Children With Mystery Stories
95.01.01: Detective Fiction: Focus On Critical Thinking

Parents Grapple with How to Treat Depressed Kids

Parents Grapple with How to Treat Depressed Kids

Friday, February 25, 2005

What About Auditory Learners?

What about auditory learners? In most learning style discussions, auditory learning is paired with verbal ability - but we probably strong auditory-verbal skills are different from strong auditory-musical skills, although they can also exist together. In this first post about auditory learners, we'll focus on auditory-verbal. We'll talk about auditory-musical learners soon.

In general, auditory verbal learners attract less discussion among learning style enthusiasts because they seem to flourish in conventional classroom settings where the teachers talk and the students are supposed to listen.

Strong auditory verbal learners like to processing information through a brain loop of listening-speaking-listening. They like to talk their way through information and tend to learn well with lecture, group discussions, interactive teaching, and books on tape. Auditory verbal learners tend to have strong language skills, and may take to learning by speaking aloud, working in groups, or studying or taking notes with a tape recorder.

Sometimes strong auditory learners have visual memory problems. They are such strong auditory learners because they have learned that they are better with listening. Verbal mediation can often compensate a great deal for visual problems (e.g. some with dyslexia or premature birth), but these individuals may be more prone to overload if they hae to 'see' by listening at the same time they are listening.

Auditory imagery can be a powerful learning resource, as sounds can be associated with words, pictures, and images. Sometimes this is what children are doing when they make all sorts of noises and sounds as they think or work. We've included some articles and links on auditory imagery below. Also here's a nifty excerpt from an fMRI study of "the little voice in your head." This view is only an excerpt from the left side of the brain, an equally complicated pattern of activation is triggered on the right.

Little Voice Auditory Imagery
Learning Styles Including Auditory
Auditory Perceptual Learning
Modality-specific Auditory Imagery
Auditory Imagery and Free Recall

Preemies as Teens- Verbal Fluency Problems

Children seem to recover remarkably well from their stressful births and time in the NICU, but as they grow up, there are patterns of problems that we are just becoming aware of...The link below is an abstract to an article which correlated decreased corpus callosum size with problems in speech fluency.

Speaking Dysfluency Among Former Preemies

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Filling in By Context: The Brain and Lesson Links for Reading

The brain is a remarkable pattern making machine and context is example of this. In filling-in by context, we make an educated guess about what a word means based on other evidence we can find in the sentence. Contextual reading can be a very valuable skill for many dyslexia, but it is also important for any readers who want to expand their vocabulary. When context is visualized on brain imaging, different areas light up all around the brain. Closure by context involves being able to to group words on the basis of direct meaning, indirect associations, and memories of their being used together to predict meaning.

Contextual Sentence Integration
Context Clues
Context Worksheet
Context Lesson and Practice
Context Lesson from ESL Teacher
Practice -Cloze Reading Passages

New York Times Reports on Legislators' Protest Re: No Child Left Behind

The link below will take you to the New York Times site, but they will require you to register to read the article. Here's a highlight- "Under NCLB, the federal government's role has become excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," said the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Revolt Against NCLB

The Free Medical Journals Site

For those of you who like directly read the original scientific literature on ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or learning in general, here is a nice site which keeps track of journals with free text. Because the NIH only asked (i.e. not forced) medical publishers to post their articles by NIH-funded authors on the web, many journals have decided to share them only after 6 months to 2 years. Still, that's better than it was before.

The Free Medical Journals Site

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Are Computers Driving Us to Distraction?

Research studies have shown video gamers who practice on action games like Medal of Honor have a wider visual span and greater sensitivity to visual detection. But the flipside of this visual sensitivity is increased visual distraction.

Several research groups are exploring the relative importance of central focus (See Left, below) and peripheral focus (See Right below). Whether video game training is boosting visual skills depends on what sort of skill you care about.

Side attack games like Medal of Honor probably increase visual focus to the periphery. Good if you're trying to stay alive in Mosul, but maybe not so great if you're sitting in the middle of a noisy class trying to listen to the teacher. Even the Internet diverts our focus to the periphery with blinking cursors, talking paper clips, and image-changing ads (see the Boss in the Machine editorial below).

But don't think we're just technology-haters. The phenomenon may be real (please think about this web designers - our conscience is tweaked too). It means that RPG attack games are not the best thing to have your child playing all the time after school if focus and distractibility problems have been identified. There are games that might even enhance central focus- and wouldn't it be terrific if these games had just as much excitement and personal challenge as the peripheral games?

Our game experience is not extensive, but at home we let our kids play side-scrolling games (many are free nowadays) for visual tracking practice. Side scrolling games are things like Donkey Kong or Charlie the Duck. Also old maze-type games like the Pac man variants, Pong-variants, or Air Hockey can provide challenging exercises in eye movement jumps, turns, and tracking. BTW, don't get us wrong- getting outside and playing ball is a good thing to do too. For Xbox,Tarzan or snowboarding games would seem to strengthen central visual focus over side.
Video Games Boost Visual Skills, Study Finds
The Boss in the Machine
Free online games at

CDC Stresses Early Autism Detection, Intervention

The CDC has announced its new guidelines for parents and medical professionals. Check out the links below. Problems with these milestones don't mean autism, but they mean a medical professional take a look. A good physician will to assess whether auditory or visual impairments may be present. In addition, professionals should be aware of the contributions of sensory or motor behaviors to abnormal social communication. Additional testing may be necessary, but more information will tell you how to help.
Learn the Signs. Act Early. NCBDDD
Developmental Milestones
CDC Stresses Early Autism Detection, Intervention

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ADHD is Not a Simple Deficit Disorder

Hyperactivity is one of the most challenging learning and behavioral problems in grade school. A recent article (below)reports the sobering statistic that hyperactive children are the most likely group of children to be removed from a home. But not all hyperactivity is alike.

Below is a link to one of our papers entitled: "Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, and Sensory Processing". In it, we propose that ADHD should be reserved for a more global impairment in attention processes, and the term ADHD is better reserved for children whose self-stimulatory and hyperactive behaviors result in a deterioration in performance, rather than improvement.

We also are sharing excerpts from fMRI studies in children with ADHD (see full papers below in links). It is a popular misconception that 'ADHD' is simply a deficit disorder. It's not as easy as all that. The distinction is important because many parents may mistakenly believe they must medicate their child to make up for the deficit. In fact in the ADHD subjects, there are some areas that are less active, and other areas that are more active. Medication does change the patterns of brain activation, but it doesn't make the ADHD pattern look like control subjects.

Ongoing biological studies will be very important for sorting out the complex differences in brain functioning among children who meet the criteria for ADHD. But the idea that ADHD is a simple 'deficit' disorder is wrong. There is still much we to learn about the interactions of different brain systems.

Hyperactive Kids Removed from Home
Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, and Sensory Processing
ADHD, Stroop, and Cingulate
ADHD and Striatum

Why Are So Many Students Failing the WASL?

This week we received the School District's WASL update and the stats are depressing. 60% of 10th graders are failing the Math WASL (statewide as well as in the Mukilteo District). Reading and Writing are only a little better (35-40% failure rate). So what is going on?

To make matters worse, an out-of-state review group assessed the WASL Math test to be much easier than other standardized math tests.

Why is it that so many of students are failing the WASL? OSPI has posted one third of last year's questions online, so you can check them out (see link below). Here's our first impressions of the Math WASL:

The Pros:
-The math test emphasizes math reasoning and practical or 'real world' applications of math.

The Cons:
-The math test isn't balanced. It's mostly word problems and doesn't involve conventional high school math subjects
-'Showing your work' is a mandatory aspect of the test. This would be difficult for some intuitive and higher conceptual mathematics people. It can also be a burden with dysgraphics.
-The heavy language emphasis of the math test will trip up many dyslexic children. 20% of children are dyslexic. Also, dyslexics are notoriously underrecognized in the public school system. 'Dyslexia' is not an official school diagnosis, although something like 'ADD' is.
-Real problem solving is rarely well assessed by timed test conditions.
-Despite the heavy emphasis on math reasoning, reasoning per se is not taught formally to teachers or students throughout K-12. Flexible problem solving is actually a very difficult task- some may never learn it at all, and some may only learn it far into adulthood.

Remember how poorly U.S. high school students fared on that international test of problem solving? (bottom third, see link below) Don't despair yet. These kids didn't test well, but somehow the United States leads the world in science, technology, and innovation. And it's not because they ever had to pass a WASL.

There is a need for teaching critical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving throughout educational system. But it's not fair to use a very narrow definition of success to deny students the rights to their diplomas.

Taking the WASL
WASL Practice Tests
U.S. 15-year-olds in bottom third in problem-solving test
The Seattle Times: Education: Math WASL not too difficult, study says

Monday, February 21, 2005

Am I Moving? Easier to Fool the Eyes Than the Ears but Surprising Sensory Processing Solutions

This is an interesting study because it shows that although the eyes and ears are closely linked, anticipation can prepare you for what you see, but it cannot prepare you for how you sense movement. It means that you can prepare for visual movement (maybe why watching the road reduces car sickness) by top-down control from the brain that may reduce your sensitivity to visual movement. But you can't cognitive control what your inner ear balance feels.

This is good news for people with visual vertigo or visual perceptive disorders. It's bad news if abnormal movement signals are coming from the vestibular system like degenerative disorders of the ear, migraine, 'mild or other cerebral palsy', or many other conditions that can present as sensory processing or sensory integration dysfunction. In the latter two conditions, the sensory mismatches may occur because some of the central (brain) connections of the vestibular nerves have been damaged.

Here's one of our favorite movement illusions on the web. We took only a small piece of it though, please enjoy the full impact by checking out the link.

If you're dealing with vestibular problems, though, don't despair. The commercial BrainPort is supposed to become available some time this year. BrainPort uses sensory substitution to correct vertigo, and amazingly other sensory disorders like congenital blindness. Because the senses are all linked together, some bright and practical thinking neuroscientists realized that - the eyes don't see, the ears don't hear, and the inner ear doesn't sense balance - the brain does. So if the appropriate signals can be direct to a working sensory system, it can serve as a reasonable substitute. Amazing stuff.

There are other interesting implications of the sight-sound disconnect - if you're interested also check out the article on Video Game Sickness - this is believed to result from the visual-vestibular systems being 'out-of-sync'.
Expectation and the Vestibular Control of Balance
Rotating Snake Page
Video Game or Simulation Sickness
BrainPort Sensory Substitution - Driving What Works

Flashes from the Past: One Failure After Another...

At the age of 23, he had a business failure. He ran for state legislator the same year and lost. One year later he tried business again, but again it failed. Then his girlfriend died when he was 26 years old. He had a nervous breakdown at the age of 41. He tried again to be elected to political offices at the ages of 34, 39, 46, 47, and 49, and each time he lost. Who was this loser? This was Abraham Lincoln, who finally won a Presidential election at the age of 51. It's a good reminder not to give up too easily.

Happy Presidents Day.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Teacher-Parent Wars and Learning Styles

Three articles in Time, Newsweek, and Edutopia talk to us about the stresses of teachers, the stresses of parents, and the stresses of teachers-vs-parents. Some of the complaints of teachers and parents seem remarkably parallel- exhaustion, a realization that it is impossible to 'do it all' and there is "too little time."

The Time magazine article is a bit incendiary. At the core of the disagreement is an important issue - how should we help children who are falling behind or failing? Some teachers seem to feel that a 'tough love' approach is appropriate; whereas, some parents think the answer is change the teacher or change the school. It is a real dilemma knowing how much to challenge and how much to help.

Teachers seem to have some legitimate gripes about manners - and parents have some legitimate gripes about non-personalized or negative education. The gap between the ideal and reality may be too great. Some teachers may have up to half of their class on IEPs - how can you possibly individualize the education for 20 people at one time? Is she supposed to be a carnival clown juggling visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning - even if she manages to hit all the learning styles in one classroom session, she'd lose the other half to distraction or working memory overload.

The Edutopia article offers more food for thought. The statistic that caught our eye was the fact that the attrition rate for teachers was twice as high if they hadn't received training in child development or learning styles. Why should any teacher not have training in child development or learning styles these days?

The more we observe the variation in learning styles among children - is that many of these learning differences are not intuitive. Sometimes the way a person memorizes best, or solves a problem seems exotic or roundabout compared to how we have approached it. We have to be very conscious of our own biases in our learning preferences before we figure out the best way for someone else. But before we condemn a teacher for not knowing how to optimize learning for a particular style, how much training have we given her? Is there a good model available, or only checklists?

What we are trying to do in our upcoming book is provide a usable model for how different modes of thinking and learning fit into what we know about the working of the brain. Different modes of thinking are much more dynamic and combinable than learning style surveys and checklists would have you think. And before you begin teaching others how to use their learning styles best, it's good to know what you have yourself. What's the ideal? A flexible approach to the use of different modes of learning, and an awareness of strengths to bypass weaknesses and disability areas. The good news is we haven't even begun to tap all the power that's under the hood.

Teachers Leaving School
MSNBC - Mommy Madness
TIME: Teacher's Pests (A)

Impaired 'Mirror Neuron' Function in Autism

In this latest study, autistic subjects were found to have defective activation of mirror neurons. Because mirror neurons help a person to imitate, this dysfunction can have powerful consequences on socialization and social learning. Mirror neurons may be important for motor imagery.

Abnormal Brain Activity During The Observation Of Others' Actions

NOVA | scienceNOW | Mirror Neurons | PBS

Neural Foundations of Imagery

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Training More Rapid Word 'Seeing' in Dyslexia

Here's a studying that found that tachistoscope training (used in speed reading programs) improve the visual spatial span and reading word accuracy for children with dyslexia. The tachistoscope flashes words briefly on a screen.

We have noticed that children who have developed a sufficient fund of knowledge with recognition can improve their reading fluency or speed with rapid reading techniques. This is a small study, but certainly makes sense with what is known about the biology of plasticity in the nervous system. Do you have any experiences with dyslexia and speed reading? If so, please share them. There are some fairly inexpensive computer based programs ($50) using the tachistoscope technique, but we aren't personally familiar with the programs.

Entrez PubMed

Flashes from the Past: Nearly Deaf and "Addled", A Slow Learner...

He was totally deaf in the left ear and had only 10% hearing on the right. He was schooled for only 3 months, when his teacher scolded him for being "addled" and unteachable. His mother took him home and schooled him.

Later Thomas Edison would say that his deafness helped him in his work. He could concentrate more and was less likely to get caught up in the "babble of conversation". His advice to deaf people: "Take up reading." Edison liked hands-on learning and teaching through play. He cautioned: "The present system casts the brain into a mold. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning."

Edison was awarded 1,368 different patents during his lifetime, including the firs elecric motor, first commercially practical electric lamp, first successful typewriter, and phonograph among others.
Edison National Historic Site
Thomas Alva Edison

Article Library at Audiology Online

View Articles Archives on Audiology Online
Auditory Training
Classroom Amplification

Friday, February 18, 2005

What is Gifted Thinking?

Our son's assignment for his Stanford EPGY (Educational Program for Gifted Youth) Writing Course this week is to write an essay defining giftedness. What is gifted thinking? How we define giftedness will affect how we organize, design, and deliver our educational programs.

The assessment of who's in or who's out is such a touchy subject, that some prefer to avoid discussion of it all together. If you do though, you will bring that view to your program. It was Stanford Professor Lewis Terman who first coined the term "gifted", but his massive study on the "Genetic Study of Genius" also missed the only two Nobel prize winner of the group (Luis Alvarez and William Shockley) because their IQ tests were too low.

Some of our son's brainstorming notes made us think. His answers:

1. How should giftedness be determined? "When a student complains!"
2. What should a gifted student be able to do? "Breeze through some things, know the information already, and want to know more about the why and how"
3. What are different ways a student could be gifted? "They could be very kind, do interesting things, do things that are new or different, be a good theorizer, be a good entertainer, be perfectionisic, artistic, good in business, or really think about their audience." How many of these qualities are used to define giftedness today? Who might we be missing?

Wired: The Key to Genius
Nobel Prize Winners Hate School

fMRI of 'Creativity' - Fluid Analogies

Here are two interesting brain pics from John Geake's work on fMRI and Analogies. If you look at functional brain imaging, a common theme in gifted thinking studies appears to be 'whole brain' giftedness. People who excel at fluid analogies, mathematics, or art are not just right or left brain thinkers, but right and left brain thinkers. It's like the Gifted Creative Corporation mentioned in our NAGC talk (here)- there's a Creativity Director (combining ideas, shifting patterns) and a CEO (manages the entire process)coordinating the creative work and bringing the project to fruition.

fMRI of Fluid Analogies

Washington State WASL - LD Info for Accommodations or Alternate

Students graduating high school in 2008 will be required to meet state standards on the WASL, or Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Students with learning disabilities should be aware of the accommodations that they may be eligible to have for the test, as well as the 'portfolio option' or WAAS. Here are links to the OSPI report. It's best to plan ahead, and accommodations may need to be on file in the 504 or IEP.

Special Education Manual for Accommodations
Introduction to Alternate Assessments for WA Requirement
Bergeson Report

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Is caffeine good for you?

Caffeine can lead to improvements in reaction times, self-monitoring, and selective attention. But do you remember the old NASA study of spiders on caffeine? Hmm...maybe I'll skip the extra shot.

Normal Web

Caffeine Web

Actions of Caffeine
Spider experiments with Drugs

Why Visual Distractibility Often Accompanies Auditory Processing Impairment

We often see parents shaking their heads - how is it that it's both auditory and visual processing? But it's not some odd luck, the visual and auditory systems are tightly coupled, and each makes up for the other when some problem arises.

We shouldn't think of the brain having "deficits" - because reorganization is the rule rather than the exception, and generally loss in one domain, leads to compensatory changes in the other. Auditory processing problems are accompanied by increased sensitivities in other senses - and vision is one of the most common to cause trouble.

The first breakthrough in our understanding of the yin and yang of the brain's sensory system came in research studies examining subjects who were either completely deaf or completely blind. Before there was a technology to image these events in the brain, neuroscientists had pondered what the auditory part of brain might do in a deaf person, or what the visual part of the brain might do in a blind person. Was it a specialized area of brain that would just never get the right signal? Would it just sit there? Or would it be collared into doing something else?

The answer: it got put to work by the other senses.

In this remarkable figure, you can see that the outlined area of brain (auditory cortex) has now gotten recruited to work for the visual system. That's great you might say...if you can't hear, there are so many things that can creep up on you - so increased visual vigilance can protect you from danger. Yes -that's right, but increased visual sensitivity also comes with a price. The deaf are also much more sensitivity to visual distractibility (check out the teaching tips for the deaf, including recommendations to avoid shiny jewelery)...and in milder form, but no less significant, many children with central auditory processing disorders suffer this same fate.
Visual Reorganization in the Deaf
Visual Attention to the Periphery Enhanced in Deaf
Deaf or Hard of Hearing - Teaching & Learning Supports - Trinity College Dublin

Preemies at School - Why Sensory Processing Disorders?

1 in 10 children are the product of premature birth, but parents, teachers, and doctors, may be bewildered by the lack of specific advice once they are school age. There are clusters of difficulties that are more common because of the injury and reorganization of brain-based sensory pathways. A common cluster of difficulties includes - hypotonia, dysgraphia, auditory processing dysfunction, expressive language difficulties, and emotional volatility. Many of these children are also very intelligent, but they may suffer from visual distractibility, poor sensory regulation, and a great deal of personal frustration. Many can respond quite well to work accommodations in school, adjustments in teaching style, and involvement of therapy professionals like pediatric OTs.

Periventricular leucomalacia and preterm birth have different detrimental effects on postural adjustments -- Hadders-Algra et al. 122 (4): 727 -- Brain
Neurodevelopmental Consequences Associated With the Premature Neonate
Periventricular leukomalacia affects sensory cortex white matter pathways
Language Shift Among Adults Born Prematurely
Auditory Processing and Language Difficulties in Prematurely Born
Premature Birth, Corpus Callosum Size, and Verbal Fluency in Boys
Prematurity and Disorganized Cortical Development
Auditory Impairment in Preterm Infants

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Video Gaming in Education - Good for the Brain?

We came across new posts and discussion about video gaming and education. Where do you stand? Here are some first thoughts...

The Pros:
- highly motivating, it's fun (fun is very important - we don't underestimate it!)
- encourages risk taking and trial and error
- self-paced
- young-age friendly...young kids can begin to work with complex situations or ideas
- encourages analysis and looking for mistakes
- can incorporate or train different learning strategies- though at present visual-heavy (pictures, images, text)
- can hint without telling
- can be very patient
- solve by ideas, not strength or size (great for young gifted kids or 2E's)
- encourages perspective changing
- encourages some problem solving (though not as much as we'd like for K-12)
- allows incremental learning, close monitoring of improvement or training
- allows precisely targeted sensory / perceptual learning (auditory / visual processing)

The Cons:
- it's not real- may impact on how the information is generalized, taken seriously
- the process is immersive and usually fairly fast-paced (may not be as conducive to reflection compared to other learning formats such as reading)
- doesn't encourage as much critique about the information as maybe reading original documents, magazine, or book...after all, it's just a game
- game play doesn't directly examine reality
- players are directed to the programmer's teaching points or conclusions- whereas direct inspection of real experiments or phenomena may provide more individual learning points or conclusions.
- the games could be administered poorly...teacher leaves students to computer terminals, student doesn't learn anything, copies from neighbor, etc. (this can happen in labs too, of course)
-games are interactive, but not as interactive as conversation with a smart and perceptive teacher (remember the Turing test?)...some programs are completed by kids clicking a lot or cheating
-not hands-on learning (click or toggle rather than working with original materials)...miss making projects by hands, spatial learning and modeling

Some of the ideas about gaming in medicine - reminded us a bit of the 'Virtual Patient' programs that we tried out for the University of Pennsylvania years ago. These programs were decision-based flow programs, that drove you to a particular diagnosis or cluster of diagnoses...but very different from real patients. There are a million different ways people will tell you something (or not tell you something), and the computer model was nothing like taking a history from a real patient, sorting out facts from conflicting office notes or lab studies. Even the most complex games involve the abstraction of a great deal of information, and many decisions about what to include or exclude for a game. Now, selection and abstraction takes place in every lesson or learning plan we know, but what direct labs or experimentation? Which sort of format would you be more likely to have an unexpected result- a 4th grade science experiment or a video game teaching the same principle? Now some might prefer that you don't ever get an unexpected result - but which is more like life?

So where do we stand? Gaming has a wonderful potential in education and rehabilitation for that matter - but in our household, we like pairing computer-based learning with one-on-one old-fashioned Socratic thinking and hands-on study. We don't use games only for educational purposes (shouldn't life be fun?), but if our kids develop an insane delight in 'arcade games' over and over again, we have insisted they learn about what makes a good game, and try some simple programming themselves.

Games that make leaders: top researchers on the rise of play in business and education | WTN
Video Games Boost Visual Skills, Study Finds
Random Walk in E-Learning: Educational Games Don't Have to Stink!

Training the Brain to See

Brain-based visual loss (like the visual field loss in yesterday's post on autism) can be corrected by specific rehabilitative strategies, but too often these partial 'holes' in vision are missed clinically (children are just thought to be clumsy etc.). Researchers have also begun to experiment more with clinical approaches to increase the degree of remodeling and recovery. Children and adults have been shown to be able to recover even years after the initial injury. The first link below refers to a new computer-based program for visual rehabilitation. Locally we have had patients recover by combinations of prism glasses (to redirect the visual field) and vision therapy.

Rehabilitation can Restore Vision After Stroke
Visual Rehabilitation

Learning Disabilities and College - Links

Seeing Schwab Learning's mention of a local college fair for students with LDs, reminded us to post some references for LD and College...
LD College Fair in Midwest
Disability Law
LD and College Planning
Selecting a College, LD ADHD
Landmark College
College Info LDs
Schwab Learning
College Choice
Peterson's Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities
Survival Guide for College Students with ADD & LD
Kathleen Nadeau
ADD and the College Students
Patricia Quinn
Unlocking Potential: College and Other Choices for Learning Disabled People:
A Step-by-Step Guide
Schieber & Talpers
Succeeding Against the Odds
Sally Smith

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Teaching Problem Solving

Problem solving is at the heart of all creative and higher order intellectual work, but it usually doesn't get the attention it deserves during education. Maybe because it's not that easy to do.

Real problem solving is not just imitation. It's a self-conscious process of analyzing information, sorting, prioritizing, testing, and then reassessing. Some people have a natural gift for problem solving, but most learn over the course of their lifetimes.

Better problem solving skills leads to greater adaptation to changing circumstances, resiliency, personal satisfaction, and achievement (more problems solved!). Problem solving can be encouraged by didactic teaching about 'steps' (examine the evidence, consider the extreme case, etc) and open discussions about blindspots and bias. Problem solving instruction is wonderful when provided one-on-one, socratic style...identifying the source of student's opinions, assumptions, and decision making. Don't forget to model problem solving persistence, the solution of problems over time - whether it be days, months, or years.

Fifty Problem Solving Strategies
Problem Solving Strategies
Critical and Creative Thinking

The Visual Side of Autism

These visual studies highlight the dilemma of addressing the social difficulties of autistic individuals by behavioral or 'visual learning' strategies alone. When research tracked the eye movements of autistic subjects looking at faces, they found a very different pattern of visual focusing compared to non-autistic controls. This pattern suggests a visual field defect: The lines on the faces indicate where an autistic (left) or control (subject) fixed their gaze as they were looking at the photographs. The control subject focused on the eyes and the triangular area involving the bridge of the nose (an area with a lot of emotional content information), whereas the autistic subject appeared to study only the right side of the face.

In another study, when autistic and control subjects watched a movie, autistic subjects preferred to focus on the lower part of the face instead of in the line of gaze.

These patterns of visual scannings likely have a variety of causes, including visual field neglect, impaired emotional perception pathways(if you don't get much information, why look?), or auditory processing impairment (reading lips). Interestingly, we have seen some autistic children respond well to prism glasses shifts of their visual field- in some children the prisms resulted in improved eye contact, social interaction, and something to keep in mind.

The research studies show that 'lumping' children with autism diagnoses together irrespective of their individual neurological factors is a bad idea. Although some researchers have voiced an interest in evaluating these children more specifically on the basis of language, auditory processing, or visual processing impairments - unfortunately, this research idea has not trickled down to many children yet.

Mapping Visual Scanning In Autism
Visual Perception in Autism

Monday, February 14, 2005

Boys and Reading

Some of the gender differences noticed by fMRI raise some possibilities about why boys might read differently from girls. Language does tend to be more one-sided in men compared to women (see figure below), accounting for why boys may be more vulnerable to language difficulties following birth trauma.
But even gender-related differences in emotional memory (yesterday's post) could explain some of the differences in reading preferences that educators have noticed throughout K-12 education.

A quick survey of the bookshelves of almost any elementary school classrooms reveals a heavy preference for fiction and 'school' stories, although boys prefer non-fiction, fantasy, humor, and science fiction. Could the preferences that boys and girls have be due to the gender differences in emotional memory? Would girls be as interested in situationally-based fiction if they didn't have as powerful emotional memories as they do? How about boys? Would boys be as uninterested in fiction if they had more powerful emotional memories? Something to think about...

If you have a reluctant boy reader, stock up on non-fiction titles, adventure stories, technology, and fantasy. Favorite reads can be a vital way to encourage a reluctant reader. Often if there is quite a bit of technical language to learn at first, this special interest can give a child a foothold in further language learning.

Helping Boys to Read Well and Often. ERIC Digest.
Boys and Books
Helping Boys Become Better Readers, Better Students, Better Guys
Gender Differences in Learning and Emotional Memory
Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women

The Architecture of Empathy

Here's a Valentine's Day treat - a wonderful review on the architecture of empathy. More to think about!
Architecture of Empathy
The Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory

Neuroeconomics: Decision Making, Reward, and Emotion

It's Neuroeconomics - businesses and economists are interested in what scientists are finding out about money-based decision-making. There's a battle going on between emotional feelings and reason.

Separate Systems for Immediate and Delayed Monetary Rewards
Duality of desire: Emotion and rationality compete

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Visual Learning Style as a Kaleidoscope

There is a restlessness afoot among some parents and educators who feel that visual learners are neglected in the school system. So, you may ask, does brain research support such a thing as a 'Visual Learner'? Yes. But it's not a single type. Visual learning is more like a kaleidoscope than a single shade of a color. That's because there is a remarkable diversity to the organization visual abilities in the brain. Expertise at visual learning may mean a preference for learning by seeing visual relationships or pictures, a preference for learning by reading text, expertise at translating verbal information into visual pictures or imagining visual permutations, visual sensitivity to detail, color, texture, or motion, or a spectacular memory for visual information. A visual genius may have capabilities in one, several, or all areas of visual ability.

The picture above shows the differences in brain activation patterns in adults vs. children (aged 7-10 years old) performing a verbal task in response to a target word flashed on a screen. The children appeared to respond much more powerfully in their visual cortex than adults.

Another area at the front of the brain comes into play when solving the visual Tower of London puzzle. What might we conclude from this? Giftedness in visual abilities may not be 'global'. It's important to look for patterns and clusters of talents- and see that there are great variations among gifted visual learners.

Age-Related Processing Differences
Tower of London Visual Problem Solving

College Students with Superior Memory Most Sensitive to Performance Pressure

Here's another study highlighting some of the burdens that accompany intellectual giftedness...The university students with the best working memory were the most sensitive to performance stresses. They performed their best when told their tests were only 'practice', but fell below their teammates when informed their performances would be videotaped and be evaluated by local math professors, and when they were told that a good score would result in a monetary reward for themselves and the other team.

While Under Pressure Those Most Likely To Succeed Will Most Likely Fail

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Gender Differences in Learning and Emotional Memory

Gender differences in learning are pretty interesting- but it's important to remember that most studies represent averaged results of groups - rather than any definite information about a person. Because learning disabilities appear to be more common in boys,though, and the gender gap in achievement only increases with age, there is hope that greater consideration to boys' preferences in learning style will eventually narrow the gap. At the K-12 level, women comprise an overwhelming majority of the teaching force.

Here's the key figure from the study of how men and women navigated their way out of a virtual maze. In this study, it's interesting to note that completely different brain regions were used by men and women to navigate their way. The sites in men correlated with geometric orientation (approximate) whereas the sites in women were associated with recall of landmarks (exact). Since then (link below) other investigators have found that both men and women are capable of using either navigation methods.

In follow up Jodi's question re: Simon Baron-Cohen "extreme male" hypothesis of autism (link below), we believe that this theory is just a working model for his group. Baron-Cohen has pursuing a line of investigation regarding prenatal exposure to testosterone. For all practical purposes, the "male hypothesis" doesn't help with any decision-making regarding autism. It is speculative.

Other studies have commented about gender-related differences emotional behaviors, but when it comes to autism, families should realize that the causes are multifactorial. Impaired emotional responsiveness may occur due to defective empathy, impaired visual processing (misreading faces), impaired auditory processing (mishearing auditory information, tone of voice), impaired language processing or various combinations of the above.

Here's a key figure from the emotional memory paper. On the left is the brain (amygdala) activation from women remembering an emotionally powerful photograph. On the right is the brain activation seen in men. Although men and women appeared to have similar levels of emotional responsiveness initially viewing photographs, later the women's group had stronger emotional recall for the pictures, and it correlated with this increased activation in the amygdala.

Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories
Are There Gender-specific Neural Substrates of Route Learning from Different Perspectives?
Gender differences in navigation
Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women
Men, Empathy, and Autism
Boys fall behind girls in grades

Homeschooling and E-learning...Our Experience

As some of you know, we homeschool one of our children who has both gifts and learning-challenges. We're often asked for our experiences and knowledge of resources, so here's our review of the year so far...

E-learning: Our favorite E-learning options have been those that provide some flexibility in work submission, online discussion, and regular feedback from teachers. Discussions include virtual classrooms (talking to your computer, click your hand to speak) with blackboards, slides, and taped classes that can be reviewed later. E-learning programs without a 'live person' may present more problems with motivation, though some self-paced programs like (for Lego building, engineering, robotics) also offer some forums, interest groups, and a 'merit' pyramid to work through.

Northwestern Center for Talent Development - an award-winning fun and whimsical course on the Hobbit. Weekly projects involved a selection of options - and choice of writing, drawing, composing music, or cooking. The best parts were interesting questions delving into the characters and themes of the book. The worst - technical glitches when the teacher was not able to be present to lead discussions.

Stanford EPGY Writing - hard work, but enjoyable course involving weekly online discussion (talk into your computer's microphone) revising writing with teacher, and critique in class. Emphasis is on the mechanics and artistry of writing.

Great Books Academy Online - weekly online discussion (talk into your computer) using the Socratic method and the Touchstones materials (Great Books)- Open ended discussion questions emphasize critical thinking and examining assumptions. The director seems flexible with grade skips- a plus for gifted students. - Various courses with Lego building - Architecture, CAD, Robotics, Machines, Electricity. Each lesson is fairly short, but step-by-step instructions, introduction to design principles, and forums. Progress assessed by uploading pictures, journal entries, and multiple choice questions.

Other online resources: : Because our son (age 10) wants to be an digital animator, animation is a large part of his arts program. A fabulous free resource is Professional animators from Disney and Pixar (as well as anyone else - largely art students or high school students taking a class) comment on animations that you upload. There is an Acme Trek challenge - where the animation challenges get more complicated. We use Toon Boom Studios which exports as a Quicktime file. Online streaming movies to supplement Science, French, History - $100/year with homeschooling discount - gets you access to 4000 excellent full-length streaming videos. Also unitedstreaming is aiming to have 1/2 of movies close captioned - excellent for children with auditory processing problems. Many of the videos come with full lesson plans, text of video, quizzes and problem sets. These accompanying lesson plans are much better than the ones offered by Mentura. We had subscribed to Mentura, but gave it up. : Apex Virtual School...have mainly used and Beyond Books for History and English Literature. Occasional science topics in Biology course (lesson plans presented as Flash movies -especially helpful with molecular biology). Without a 'live' class or teacher, it has been more difficult to engage.

For non-Elearning, we have used conventional textbooks (mostly bought used - for instance from Textbook Heaven) for French and Science, Spielvogel text for World History (also some Tapestry of Grace), Math with excerpts from Singapore Math and Continental Press workbooks, Grammar and Vocabulary with workbooks from Continental Press and Caesar's English (Royal Fireworks Press). Handwriting without Tears.

We have a local homeschool resource which has a wide selection of course offerings taught by staff teachers, yet flexibility in course selections and reasonable time expectations. Many tech options are available even for the lower grades (RPG creator, lego courses and robotics league, digital animation, web design, cinematography, even Broadcast News), foreign language (Spanish, French, Japanese, Latin), as well as science, language arts, math, music, drama, and arts.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Exact vs. Approximate Problem Solving - Another Learning Styles?

Thinking more on yesterday's post about exact calculation vs. approximation in problem solving....Because quite different areas of the brain mediate problem solving by exact calculation and approximation, one could also consider them to be alternative learning styles or problem solving strategies.

Often traits of precision (being exact, detail-oriented) vs. big-picture (gestalt) orientaion were thought to be personality-based. But there are advantages and disadvantages of both approaches, so that the ideal way to approach problems would seem to be able to have both tools in your arsenal so that you could choose which approach might be most successful in a particular situation.

The advantages of 'exact' problem solving seem somewhat self-evident. It is precise, allows for greater reproducibility, builds on prior knowledge, and can result in rapid processing with repetition.

Approximate problem solving can also be important though. Because it is representational and approximate, it may more flexible in terms of considering information, it may be more extrapolatable to different situations, and it may provide more accurate information when not all the facts are known or some information is incorrect.

If you teach, it is important to be aware of your orientation (detail vs. gestalt), because it may color how you view your pupil. Detail-oriented teachers may see gestalt students as sloppy and flakey. Whereas as gestalt-oriented teachers may see their precision-orientated students as overly fastidious and rigid. In practical matters as well, there are many situations in which your most obvious way to solve a problem (exact vs. approximate) will obscure your vision from the opposite point-of-view.

How do you do long division? Do you know your facts and perform the stepwise calculations as you learned them? If so, you may not see how your student would prefer to use reverse multiplication and estimate to derive her answer.

How do you figure out where you are when you're lost? Do you retrace your steps, count stop signs or look for landmarks? (exact) Of so, you may have a hard time understanding why your spouse prefers to use geometry, visualize an internal 'aerial' map and head out driving 'over there somewhere'.

The truth is, within every domain their are great men and women on both sides of the this exact-general divide. There are Nobel prize winners or other eminent men and women in science, art, history, economics, engineering, literature who have use either strategy to break new ground using exact or general tools of inquiry.

Understanding the Biology of Autism - Abnormal Connectivity and Sensory Motor Processing

It's about time- there is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of sensory-motor processing dysfunction that accompanies autism. The biology of autism involves abnormal connectivity of the brain and abnormal 'maps' of sensory and motor areas. These difficulties underlie autistics' difficulting registering and interpreting their environment. Disordered sensory systems will also affect emotional regulation, learning, and social communication.

Autism's Cause
Sensory Processing Problems and Postural Control Problems in Autism
Sensory Motor Problems in Autism and Mild "CP"

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What Does Brain Research Tell Us About Learning Styles?

Plenty! Visual learning, auditory learning, and kinesthetic learning all activate different pathways by functional brain imaging. But brain studies also suggest that there is much greater flexibility to learning styles than the multiple intelligence checklists would have you believe.
For instance, are you familiar with Stroop tests? You're supposed to try to ignore what the word 'says' and just name the color. Sometimes these tests are used to look at attentional or executive function capabilities.

In fact, there are wide variations among individual subjects as they perform the Stroop task. We've excerpted two 'brains' for an example. The subject on the left appeared to use a frontal-parietal lobe approach (executive function) in selection, whereas the person on the right was able to focus him- or herself visually.

Individual Differences fMRI Stroop

But some of the most exciting findings provide insights about how different pathways can be activated depending on the strategy chosen. In this study from Dehaene and his group, blue areas were activated when exact calculations were performed to solve a math problem, whereas yellow areas were activated when approximations were performed. It might be that next generation of neuroteachers will be able to direct or cultivate flexible approaches to problem solving depending on student strengths or disabilities. Advanced thinkers are often aware of the different routes they can use to solve problems. Neurolearning for them may mean expanding their arsenal of tools for creative or analytical work.


Auditory Processing and E-Learning

In a recent survey of 10,000 children, researchers found that a startlingly high percentage were unable to comprehend information presented to them by auditory routes alone. 30 percent of children aged 4-6 could not comprehend sentences longer than 9 words through listening alone. Similar numbers of 9-10 year olds could not understand spoken sentences longer than 13 words. But there is an important flip side to this startling statistic. Most 9 to 10 year olds could readily comprehend longer sentences if they were provided in print. These findings raise an important question: is a strong functional preference for read versus spoken language a developmental issue, a learning disability, or highly preferred learning style? This question has great significance for the classroom, because children who have difficulty learning through auditory information may learn far more quickly and efficiently when provided with text.

There are several ways to present text, but E-Learning (electronic or computer-based learning, also written eLearning) will be an ideal resource for many children. Visual information, both text and pictures, can be tightly linked to auditory information on computer. Learning is self-paced. When acoustic information is presented, it comes from a fixed location straight-ahead with no competing sounds (children with asymmetric hearing have difficulty distinguishing words when speakers are moving or they turn away from them). Most films can be presented with close captioning (for instance, and many online classroom chats have the flexibility of text-based entry or online 'talking.' Online classrooms are often preferable for children with subtle auditory processing difficulties because there is less background noise from fellow classmates, a more orderly style of contributing (click on a hand icon to raise your hand), and more time to answer questions (individuals with auditory processing often benefit by delays or a slightly slower pace to interactive conversations). Many children who are quite silent regular classrooms "find their voice" online.

The benefits of E-Learning for children with auditory processing disorders can be immense. These children often gravitate quite naturally to the computer. It's important for more people to realize the many reasons why they do.

Excess teacher talk swamps children

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Imagery - Integration of the Senses and Movement

Imagery is a powerful way of organizing sensory information - whether it be visual, auditory, or sensory-motor (movement). The 'primer' below is an excellent imagery review posted online.

Imagery activates perceptual areas and MT (movement); Abstract
A Primer on the Neurobiology of Imagery

Imagery in Motor Learning - More Imagery with Expertise

This study from University College suggests that motor experts like professional dancers are able to activate more brain areas while watching familiar movements in others. The brain areas activated included areas for motor planning, sensory-motor imagery, and personal memory. This is a similar to a research report that found that professional pianists watching other pianists activated sensory motor areas (kinesthesia!) just by watching.

Imagery is a powerful guide to learning - it unites diverse brain areas and provides patterns for coordinated actions that may be used for other purposes in the future. One of the reasons that sensory processing disorders can have such a profound effect on behavior (children may develop anxiety, avoidance, isolation), is that these children have fewer opportunities to build coordinated sensory-motor patterns as they interact with their environment, so they may always appear to encountering things for the first time.

Better Imagery with Expert Dancers

Flashes from the Past: A Person with Powerful Auditory Imagery

Who was this? His formal education ended at elementary school and he was illiterate in math. A life long friend described him as "awkward and helpless; his uncouth movements were often destitute of grace. He seldom took anything into his hands without dropping and breaking it. No piece of furniure was safe with him. he frequently knocked his ink-pot into his pianoforte."

This was Ludwig van Beethoven, a master of auditory imagery who composed the Ninth Symphony when completely deaf. About his composing he wrote: "I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time...before writing them down...once I have grasped a theme. I shall not forget it even years my grows, I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle...and only the labor of writing it down remains...I turn my ideas into tones that resound, roar, and rage until at last they stand before me in the form of notes."

Computer-Based Training Improves Auditory Processing...Especially Those with Background Noise Problems

A collaboration with Northwestern University and BioMap has resulted in another addition to the Central Auditory Processing Disorder arsenal. Existing CAPD studies rely too much on synthesized sounds or 'fill-in' approaches that can be compensated for by inference. There has been a significant need for better tests that mimic the sound problems that people have in normal life. This test is still only a diagnostic test and not therapeutic program, but certainly it heralds better programs on their way to development. Families should be aware that existing CAPD testing is still far behind basic research, but progress is being made.

The other online paper below shows how Earobics (a simple software - even Step 2) was able to improve the timing of brain cortical responses in children with learning problems. Interestingly, the effect was most notable in the LD group that also had difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise. The timing problems in background noise also improved with auditory training, although the Earobics software does not really direct its training for this task. The results are exciting because they show that even with fairly crude auditory training therapy (Earobics is really a simple program), focused perceptual training works for brain-based hearing problems
Computer-Based Training for Auditory Processing - News: New tool for auditory processing disorder

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Computerized Training of Working Memory in Children with ADHD

This is an exciting study, and we hope it will be replicated on a broader scale. Unfortunately, we can only provide a link to the abstract because we access the paper through the University of Washington. This Swedish study found that children diagnosed with ADHD, but never treated with medication (stimulants, atomoxetine, etc.) were able to improve their verbal working memory, timing and accuracy on Stroop tests, and complex reasoning, and reduce symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity / impulsivity with computer-based training (Robo-Memo) that included remembering the position of objects, remembering phonemes, letters, or digits. Training was adjusted to continually challenge children, and duration of training usually amounted to about 40 minutes per day for over 20 days.

There are some commercially-based computer programs based in the States, but the ones we have been able to sample were too simple for most of the children we see. Working memory is highly trainable, but the exciting aspect of this study is that the behavioral and inattentive symptoms also subsided as working memory increased.

Increasing Working Memory for ADHD

Dysgraphia as Isolated Spelling Disorder

Spelling-based dysgraphia may be one of the most commonly missed disabilities. Students with poor spelling are written off as ignorant or slow, though they may be quite bright. Prejudice about spelling as a disability has caused some gifted students to be excluded from gifted classes, others to be held back a grades, or worse, denied opportunities to graduate. Standardized tests rarely specifically accommodate for spelling and the additional writing components to state required tests or college entrance exams will only make matters worse.

Because the situation regarding spelling disabilities is the way it is, occasional reports like the one below are valuable. It's reports the case of a woman who developed spelling problems after a heart attack. The importance for us is that is shows that focal brain injury can result in a focal spelling disability. This former secretary had excellent sentence copy, comprehension, working memory, spontaneous speech, and reading, but she couldn't write well to dictation. She probably would have problems with spontaneous writing as well.

Surprisingly, even school professionals have been confused about whether dysgraphia exists if a student can copies sentences well. For some reason, dysgraphia hasn't gotten as much attention as other learning disabilities.

Spelling difficulties may be due to problems with phonology (the sounds that make up words), weakness of visual word form (visual memory for words), or general weaknesses in working memory. Most often spelling disabilities are seen in association with dyslexia, but they can also be seen in the setting of focal brain injury, premature birth, or head trauma.

Isolated Spelling Disability from Brain Injury

Links to Help with Organization and Time Management

It's the new year and Chinese New Year, so time to think about becoming more organized. Here are an array of links for ideas on organization - including tips about homework, assistive devices, and time management. Don't forget to think about technology. Kids love technology, and may take to their PDA or computer-based reminder instead of a datebook planner. We included our software calendar / reminder below - it's Calendarscope. Easy to use, visual (color coded), fairly cheap, can get to your student if he's always on the computer.

The homework helps are also a great idea. Children who are not naturally organized, will need to be conditioned into a routine, and time reminders may be helpful. Many studies have shown that children with learning difficulties may have difficulty gauging the processing of time.

Assistive Technology for Students with Mild Disabilities
Calendar software
Hi-Tech and Low Tech Solutions: Time Management Basics for the Person with ADHD
Teaching Study Skills - TeachersAndFamilies
Organizational Skills
Learning Disabilities OnLine: LD In-Depth: 10 Tips for Developing Good Organizational Skills

Auditory Processing: Read My Lips!

This interesting little tidbit from a Finland-MIT collaboration - by functional brain imaging, scientists were able to show that auditory cortex (the hearing part of the brain) becomes activated when a subjects watches someone talking. So we really 'hear' what a person is saying when we watch their lips. A good tip for children with auditory processing difficulties. Children don't always know to sit up front and look at a teacher's lip movements, but it may help a great deal with comprehension.

Reading Lips Activates Auditory Cortex

Monday, February 07, 2005

Stimulating Higher Order Thinking - The Language of Metaphors and Gifted Thinking

"I have wanted in late years to go further and further in making metaphor the whole of thinking."-- Robert Frost

Too often the teaching of metaphors are brief mentions in language arts lessons, but metaphors and analogies are powerful sources of creativity and invention, and they should be looked for and cultivated children (and colleagues for that matter!). It's important to look hard for metaphorical precocity, because these children may appear to be dreamy or preoccupied. Strong metaphorical thinkers may enjoy playing with ideas and similarities, and they may not be particularly demonstrative in showing what they know.

We've included some resources for metaphorical lesson plans below, but metaphorical thinking is probably most successful when its not a special event, but a regular way of thinking and communicating. Lesson plans may be helpful in providing examples and introducing ideas, but novel or helpful metaphors may not be generated within the time frame of a class period.

Metaphor in Scientific Thinking Page
How the Heroic Inventors Did It
Georgia Lesson Plans Metaphorical Thinking
fMRI of Metaphors

Sensitivity to Detail or Whole? More Visual Processing and Attention Differences with Age

The title of this news article is a bit misleading, but the research results are still interesting. We are really just beginning to understand the differences that exist in the ways we see. This recent report in Neuron highlights the tension between sensitivity to visual detail and sensitivity to visual whole. Younger subjects were better at detecting the movement of small details, whereas seniors were better at detect larger movements. You can't have it both ways, it seems.

Some of the paradoxes that occur with visual distractible children is that they may notice more details but miss the forest for the trees. Visual processing will change with age, but it's important to realize that a particular strength in one area, may mean weakness in the other. Visual distractibility is not simply a negative - like a global lack of attention. It also accompanies a talent for 'seeing what others miss'. Perhaps this is why 'I Spy' or 'Where's Waldo' is so popular among the young?

Visual Sensitivity to Detail or Whole? Change with Age

Autism Cases Soar in CA -- Scientists Search for Cause

Autism Cases Soar in CA -- Scientists Search for Cause

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Understanding the Visual Difficulties in Dyslexia

If your dyslexic child seems to struggle with the visual aspects of reading, but the eye doctor said 'everything's fine' - the problem may be with brain-based aspects of seeing in dyslexia. Dyslexia can be associated with a wide range of visual difficulties including problems with stabilizing visual gaze, moving the eyes smoothly and in a coordination fashion, and visually registering letters or words.

Additional studies supporting the visual aspects of dyslexia continue to trickle out, but here in the U.S., much more attention is paid to the phonological aspects of dyslexia in the classroom. Children may have predominant phonological problems, predominant visual problems, or mixtures of the two. Understand what a particular child's difficulties are will help focus remediation and educational strategies.

There has been an explosion of research in the biological bases of dyslexia in the past few years. School are having to play catch up with the pace of research.

Dyslexia Research Trust - Science and Research
Dyslexia More than Phonological Disorder
Seeing Differently - Contrast Differences and Dyslexia

Tinnitus, Hyperacusis, and Hearing Loss in School Aged Kids

It's not your imagination, classrooms are filled with children with auditory processing problems - for some it's mishearing, others have exquisite auditory sensitivity and become overwhelmed with normal school noise. Although clinicians have known for a long time that hearing loss and hearing hypersensitivity can occur in the same patients, the biological processes involved are just beginning to be understood.

Children often don't mention that they suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and there are no ways to detect it by a simple clinical test. The first link below shows how tinnitus can be 'seen' on functional brain imaging studies. When certain frequencies are lost in the brain, the 'hearing brain' reorganizes to try and compensate for the loss. The only problem is, the hearing of some frequencies may become overly sensitive, while the losses of others still persist. Interestingly, some of the most beneficial therapies for tinnitus are directed at introducing sound at the appropriate frequencies to allow the brain to reduce its self-generated sounds.

There are many reasons why we may be seeing more hearing loss, tinnitus, and sound hypersensitivities in school-aged children. Predisposing factors are many, but may include premature or stressful birth, frequent ear infections, and or autism spectrum disorders.

The diagnosis of brain-based auditory processing disorders is still in its infancy, although the pace of research and advancement in the areas of auditory training are exciting.

Seeing Tinnitus on fMRI
Tinnitus, Hyperacusis, and Hearing Loss
Hyperacusis in Autism
Auditory Processing and Language Difficulties in Prematurely Born

Flash from the Past: Helen Keller and Different Ways of Sensing

Other senses become keener with deprivation, and for Helen Keller, touch, proprioceptive sense, and smell became essential modes of communicating with and sensing others. From Anne Sullivan's writings: "Her sense of touc has sensibly increased during the year, and has gained in acuteness and delicacy. Indeed her whole body is so finely organized that she seems to use it as a medium for bringing herself into closer relations with her fellow creatures. She is able not only to distinguish with great accuracy the different undulations of the air and the vibrations of the floor ade by various sounds and motions, and to recognize her friends and acquantiance the instance she touches their hands or clothing..."

When children are severely impaired in critical sensory modalities like sight or sound, it is important to remember that other senses can help a child compensate, and instruction needs to be driven through the intact pathways.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Analogies - Differences in Biology & Practical Teaching Tips

Analogies can be a powerful tool for teaching higher order thinking, and strong performance in analogies is thought by some to be the greatest predictor of creative and flexible thinking.

This first paper is a beautiful study by Wagner and his group at Stanford. It shows the different anatomical 'filing' away in the brain of words that are merely related and those that are true analogies - related by functional relationships or representations. It's the analogy that is foundational for higher order creative thinking. Understanding how one system could be related or differentiated (the analogy breaks down) from another leads to new theories, new models, and new paradigms.

Teaching with analogies can be a powerful approach for gifted thinkers. We've included two links to teachers' sites discussing the use of analogies in teaching. Please send us your favorite links or books too - we'd like to hear about them.

Anatomy of Analogies
Teaching with Analogies
Teachers views of analogies and models as motivators

More About the New SAT

The New SAT

Attentional Problems and Epilepsy

"Little seizures" should always be considered in children who have periods of 'spaciness' or 'blanking out'. Subclinical seizures may just cause a child to flutter eyelids, lose her train of thought, or repeat what he was saying. Sometimes brief or nighttime seizures cause attentional problems and restlessness that are misinterpreted as ADHD. Treatment of epilepsy results in improved attention and behavior.

Attentional problems and epilepsy in children
Incidence of Seizures in Children
Improved Behavior with Treatment of Epilepsy
ADHD and Epilepsy
Language Difficulties in Children with Benign Epilepsy

Friday, February 04, 2005

Listening to Action Sentences Activates Motor Circuits

Talk about exercising your mind! Hooked on adventure stories? Chances are you're living the action through your brain's motor imagery.

Listening to Action-related Sentences Activates Fronto-parietal Motor Circuits --

Elaborative Rehearsal and Memory

Finally, some news you can use. Elaborative rehearsal of information (reorganizing information in a meaningful way) is the best way to help you remember. "Just memorizing", or rote rehearsal helps things look 'familiar', but is not as good helping you remember.

For list material, elaborative rehearsal may mean calling up relevant associations, developing mneumonics, stories, adding images, or redrafting or outlining information as mentioned in the linked article from the ADHD lawyer posted yesterday. Now many students of psychology may not be surprised at this study's result, but how many K-12 students are aware of this valuable tidbit?

Different Strategies for Memory

Upcoming Book on ADHD and Creativity

What if Einstein Had Taken Ritalin? ADHD's Impact on Creativity

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Understanding Brain Remodeling-Based Education

We're back! Over the next few weeks, we'd like to talk about some of the main take-home points of developmental neurobiology, and what it means for education. Multiple Intelligences was important for introducing and popularizing the concept of different preferences for learning, and Mel Levine's approach of "A Mind At a Time" emphasizes the importance of learning differences in each child, but neither addresses the implications of brain plasticity or its tremendous reorganization potential in education, the importance of perceptual processing disorders in school underachievement, and the potential for targeted brain-based retraining to overcome specific learning blocks.

We're at a point where the lines between biology and education blur. We would like to hear some discussion from some of you about what education should include. These days it seems that a majority of the time in school is spent on fact mastery and the basic building blocks of reading, writing, and mathematics. Should a core system of neurocognitive skills be added to this list? Is it a responsibility of educators to help entrain skills of sustained attention, organization, or efficient memory? Or if not, whose job is it?

Advice from Adults with ADD

We like the resources at It's especially nice to hear from successful adults who learned time and task organizational strategies that helped them. We fear that our existing educational supports for children with attentional problems are spotty and haphazard. Because children with attention problems are thought to comprise almost 1 in 5 children, a more systematic approach to different learning environments, and teaching of self-focusing and organization strategies could have a powerful impact on student success.

ADDvice from a Certified ADHD Non-Expert

Mathematical Understanding: An Introduction

Here is a link to the National Academies Press' free online book, the Mathematics chapter. Mathematics is the perhaps one of the most commonly underrecognized learning disabilities.

Nat'l Academies Press, How Students Learn: (2005), page 218, in chapter Part II MATHEMATICS: 5 Mathematical Understanding: An Introduction