Archive for October, 2010

Halloween Candy

October 29, 2010

Here at Be Amazing Learning, we spend a lot of time thinking about the brain. But today, we are taking a hint from the dentist and thinking about teeth.

Given the question of whether to dole candy out little by little, or eat it right away, many dentists say getting it out of the way is better than having a little each day. The bacteria in plaque ferments the sugar in candy to create an acid that attacks the surface of teeth. The thinking then is that the less this occurs, the better we can avoid cavities.

So how much sugar is in Halloween candy?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that consuming 12 average size Halloween treats is equal to 30 packs of sugar or drinking a 1 liter bottle of soda. That is a lot of sugar!

Every parent has a different strategy for handling the inevitable mass of candy. We asked around found some tricks to dealing with the treats your ghosts and goblins bring home. Here are the highlights:

  • Smaller bags: Use smaller trick-or-treat bags. If you are crafty you can make your own. No pillow cases!
  • Limit trick-or-treat time: This is pretty simple, the less time your little Superman spends trick-or-treating, the less candy he will bring home.
  • Eat before going out: Trick-or-treating on a full stomach may help avoid the “snacking” between houses.
  • Trade or buy them out: We know a mom who takes her child to the toy store to let her pick out a toy in exchange for the full bag of candy. We have also heard of parents who buy the bag, though we are not sure of the going rate. The Utah Daily Herald reports that a dentist office pays $1 per pound to buy children’s candy.
  • Treats should follow a healthy snack: Make sure that kids eat something with nutritional value before they eat a piece of their candy.

Our advice? Hide it. If the candy is out of sight, children will be less likely to ask for it. We’re actually famous for losing the candy. Last week, I found my children’s Easter candy at the back of the cupboard, no joke. The bag was pretty full.

Happy Halloween!

First Direct Evidence That ADHD Is a Genetic Disorder

October 28, 2010

Some of this DNA stuff is a little beyond us, but we’re intrigued by the gist of a new study, published in the journal Lancet and highlighted on Science Daily: there is now “strong evidence that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder — in other words, that the brains of children with the disorder differ from those of other children.”

The study, conducted at the University of Cardiff, found that children with ADHD were more likely to have small segments of their DNA duplicated or missing than other children. It’s incredibly important data for parents of children struggling with ADHD:

“We hope that these findings will help overcome the stigma associated with ADHD,” says Professor Anita Thapar. “Too often, people dismiss ADHD as being down to bad parenting or poor diet. As a clinician, it was clear to me that this was unlikely to be the case. Now we can say with confidence that ADHD is a genetic disease and that the brains of children with this condition develop differently to those of other children.”

We posted recently about a new book written by an investigative journalist who received her own ADHD diagnosis not long after her son was diagnosed with the disorder. For her and many other parents, the following is probably not a surprise:

The condition is highly heritable — children with ADHD are statistically more likely to also have a parent with the condition and a child with an identical twin with ADHD has a three in four chance of also having the condition. Even so, until now there has been no direct evidence that the condition is genetic and there has been much controversy surrounding its causes, which some people have put down to poor parenting skills or a sugar-rich diet.

We were also intrigued by the finding that the genes responsible for a tendency towards ADHD have also been implicated in other neurological conditions, including autism:

There was also significant overlap between CNVs identified in children with ADHD and regions of the genome which are known to influence susceptibility to autism and schizophrenia. Whilst these disorders are currently thought to be entirely separate, there is some overlap between ADHD and autism in terms of symptoms and learning difficulties. This new research suggests there may be a shared biological basis to the two conditions.

The importance of the research is well-summarized by Dr. John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, which helped fund the University of Cardiff study: “Using leading-edge technology, [researchers] have begun to shed light on the causes of what is a complex and often distressing disorder for both the children and their families.”

Parents for whom this is interesting stuff might also be intrigued by another recent post related to technology-based screenings for ADHD.

Be Amazing Learning provides research-based solutions that build brain processing efficiency in critical cognitive skill areas, including working memory, sustained attention and auditory processing. Our programs can be effective interventions for students struggling with ADHD. For more information, visit our Web site.

Play Ball!

October 27, 2010

Our hometown San Francisco Giants kick off the World Series tonight. If they win, it would be the franchise’s first World Series victory since the 50s when they were the New York Giants. Only the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs have gone longer without a World Series Title.

Cognitive neuroscientist Jordan Grafman, Chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), uses functional MRI scans of the brain to find out what’s going on cognitively as individuals wrestle with big questions such as politics and religion. And according to an article in Discover Magazine, he also “delved into the social neuroscience literature to understand why anyone would love the Chicago Cubs.”

Grafman says that Cubs worshippers are similar to religious adherents in their staunch belief that every “next year” will be the year. He says this hope springs from the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for high-level cognitive activities such as planning, reasoning, establishing context—and, undoubtedly, inventing justifications for loving perennial losers in baseball.

So hats off to those religious Cubs, Indians and Giants fans among us with such well-developed prefrontal cortexes. And who knows – this year might finally be “next year” for the Giants!

Don’t Choke!

October 26, 2010

Remember President Obama’s inauguration, when Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed the oath of office? Sian Beilock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, is pretty sure she knows what happened:

Pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, which is critical to everyday activities.

Specifically, Beilock says Roberts was probably overthinking his delivery, and should have just put the whole thing on autopilot.

Beilock is the author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. A recent Chicago Tribune article highlights some of Beilock’s advice for preventing stress from interfering with brain processing, including the above-mentioned need to put things on autopilot, putting worries to paper, and practicing making a fool out of yourself.

Forget the apple. How about a walk a day?

October 25, 2010

This brain stuff just gets cooler and cooler.

A recent cardiovascular health study published in Neurology shows that older adults can increase the grey matter in their brains with increased physical activity. The conclusion? “Greater amounts of walking are associated with greater gray matter volume, which is in turn associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment.”

Specifically, walking at least 72 blocks per week was necessary to promote increased grey matter. But beyond 72 blocks, there wasn’t a significant increase in grey matter. But the grey matter increase brought about by 72 blocks per week of walking reduced the occurrence of cognitive impairment by half.

At Be Amazing Learning, we have had great success with a number of adults seeking to improve their cognitive fitness. Older individuals may also be interested in programs from Posit Science, which leverage some of the same technology that’s behind the Fast ForWord programs to improve brain fitness in adults.

We’ve previously posted about the cognitive benefits of exercise. And it’s a hot topic: Our post referenced a NY Times article, and Scientific Learning (creators of the Fast ForWord programs) featured it in a recent blog post.

Study skills are the Talk of the Nation

October 22, 2010

We posted a couple of weeks back about new research into effective study techniques that was featured in the NY Times. Yesterday, NPR’s Talk of the Nation featured the author of the Times article, Benedict Cary, sharing highlights and answering questions from listeners.

Cary reports that research indicates that there’s a benefit to taking tests and quizzes (the act of recalling information for a quiz can actually improve the likelihood that you’ll be able to recall the information again later) and mixing up your study locations increases the number of associations your brain forms with the information you’re studying.

NPR’s Web site has a summary and a link to the audio from the show (there’s also a transcript for you visual-spatial learners).

Can we be serious here for a minute?

October 21, 2010

Last week, we posted about kids’ recognition and use of ironic language. Today, it’s the serious stuff.

Dutch researcher Lotte Henrichs has examined what she terms “academic language.” It’s not a unique language, but rather is:

Characterised by difficult, abstract words and complex sentence structures. The language often contains a lot of clauses and conjunctions and due to the methods of argument and analysis it has a scientific appearance.

Why is academic language important for children? From a Science Daily summary of Henrich’s research:

Children at a primary school need a certain type of language proficiency: academic language. Academic language …  is the language that teachers use and expect from the pupils. It enables children to understand instructions and to demonstrate their knowledge in an efficient manner.

Henrich says that how parents approach language interactions with their children has a significant impact on the children’s development of academic language: “Those who address children as fully-fledged conversation partners lay an early basis for the development of ‘academic language'”:

If children are given the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to conversations, they often use characteristics of academic language proficiency naturally. In addition to this, the knowledge of academic language depends on the extent to which parents read to their children, tell them stories and hold conversations about interesting subjects.

We’ve also previously posted about the importance of engaging children with language.


Changing Education Paradigms

October 20, 2010

If you’ve got 10 minutes, check out this 10 minute excerpt from a talk by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. The visual presentation is fantastic (calling all visual-spatial learners!), and the subject of the talk fascinating.

Robinson hits on the roots of many challenges in education today, focusing on our lack of ability to engage students and to foster what he calls “divergent thinking”: an essential capacity for creativity, which includes the ability to see lots of ways to interpret a question, and multiple answers to a question, not one (distinct from “creativity” itself, which is the process of having original ideas that have value).

Robinson’s talk was given to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which (from their Web site) “has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.” Robinson was the recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin Award.

If you’ve got a bit more time, you can see Robinson’s talk in its entirety (and in a much more traditional presentation).

Nature vs. Nurture? Well, both, actually.

October 19, 2010

The Nature, of course, is what we are born with: our inherited resources, our DNA. Nurture is our environment and the experiences we have. There has been a long-standing debate between which of these two determines who we are and what we can do.

But both are important. Our abilities grow out of how our environment has interacts with our brain. And our environment influences the way our brain develops.

Tantalized? Check out this great video from the Children of the Code Web site that features prominent scientists, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Dr. Michael Merzenich, Dr. Terrence Deacon, and Dr. Paula Tellal.

What does this mean for children and learning? It means that what children experience can support, or not support, their learning.  The brain can develop and change based on activities, experiences, environmental influences.

Using MRI to diagnose autism

October 18, 2010

From Science Daily: A recent study of individuals with autism at the University of Utah used MRI to study the strength of connections between the individuals’ left and right brain hemispheres. The study, published in Cerebral Cortex, indicates communication deficiencies in the areas responsible for motor control, social functioning, attention, and facial recognition.

Other than increased brain size in young children with autism, there are no major structural differences between the brains of people with autism and those who do not have the disorder that can be used to diagnose autism on a routine brain MRI. It has been long believed that more profound differences could be discovered by studying how regions in the brain communicate with each other. The study, and other work U of U researchers are doing using diffusion tensor imaging (measures microstructure of white matter that connects brain regions), reveals important information about autism. The advances highlight MRI as a potential diagnostic tool, so patients could be screened objectively, quickly, and early on when interventions are most successful. The advances also show the power of MRI to help scientists better understand and potentially better treat autism at all ages.

“We still don’t know precisely what’s going on in the brain in autism,” says Janet Lainhart, M.D., U of U associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and the study’s principal investigator. “This work adds an important piece of information to the autism puzzle. It adds evidence of functional impairment in brain connectivity in autism and brings us a step closer to a better understanding of this disorder. When you understand it at a biological level, you can envision how the disorder develops, what are the factors that cause it, and how can we change it. “

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