ADD / ADHD, Dyslexia

Growing up dyslexia leaves you ill-equipped for the world. Your education success is generally low, your poor short-term memory puts in you at a disadvantage in most situation and often poor social skills limit your ability to make friends. Add all the normal teenage problems of hormones, acne and trying to work out who you are, and the transition from child to adult can be very difficult. Fortunately I found an unlikely support group that gave me a chance to develop friendships, social skills and the concept of who I was. This group involved assassins, fighters, thieves and hoard of monsters. It was my local Dungeons & Dragons group.

The name Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D for short) will be familiar to most. A few years ago they made two films under the name and in the nineties it was a Saturday morning cartoon. But to me and millions of others around the world, it will always be a roleplaying game. A game of imagination, dice and arcane rules that is the haunt of intelligent but awkward teenage boys everywhere.

The premise of the game is simple. Each player has a character modeled after one the great heros of the Grey fantasy literature. e.g. a Barbarian like Conan, a noble fighter like Aragorn or a cunning thief in the mold of Mouser. The game is lead by a Dungeon Master (DM) who describes the action and controls the monsters. It’s he who plans the lost cities for the players to explore and interprets the hundreds of rules that make up D&D. Individual sessions of the game last many hours and completing a single adventure often takes weeks.

In this unlikely, fantasy setting I learnt skills that the real world had failed to teach me. In a group of similarly social inept teenagers, my lack of social skills did not impede me, allowing me to build friendships that have lasted 25 years. The D&D fantasy setting also taught me problem solving skills and teamwork as often a deadly trap or a fiendish puzzle would block the adventurers path and could only be overcome by cooperation. Even the mass of rule books with their pages and pages of dry text helped. Normally the requirement to read and remember so much would drive me away but with Dungeons & Dragons, I was motivated to learn. I spent many happy hours reading those books, expanding my vocabulary and pushing my literacy skills in a way that school never did.

Having mastered the basics of the game I was keen to be DM and create my own adventures. With this step, D&D opened new and previously unimagined doors for me. My imagination had always been highly active but I had never had an outlet. With my poor spelling & grammar, writing stories had never been an option, neither had art been an option with my cackhandedness. But in creating fantasy adventures and worlds for my players, I could exercise my creativity without being held back by my inability to express myself. Through this I learnt how to be creative and to turn those creative thoughts into something useful. Skills that have been a consistent benefit to me in designing software and web sites.

Over the years D&D has received some very bad press. Some right-wing nut jobs think its linked to satanic worship and black magic. Others have linked it to suicide and violence. All this is rubbish. Dungeons & Dragons gave me a safe environment to learn vital life skills that because of my dyslexia, the education system had singularly failed to provide me. For tens of thousands of bright teenagers with dyslexia, asperges, ADHD and other educational problems, this fantasy game has provided a safe haven in which to learn, explore and to grow.

D&D is made me who I am and it is why I still play, 25 years on. In fact I now run a company that create RPG miniatures and D&D Adventures to use in the game.

Brain & Body, Dyslexia

There are two schools of thought on dyslexia: Those that say it is a permanent condition that is with someone through out their life; and those that say the problem is can be fixed by training the brain (e.g. cerebellum training). One of the major sticking points is how adaptable the brain is. If the brain cannot change, then no amount of training will be able to fix the problem. But if the brain is highly plastic and any part of it can be rewired, then the problem can be fixed with a modest amount of training.

Mind Hacks has word on ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind program that examines the issue in depth.

…a two part series on the implications of neuroplasticity – particularly the discovery that the brain can physically ‘rewire’ itself through adulthood, albeit in a more limited way in comparison to the process that occurs during childhood.

Source: Neuroplastic fantastic

ADD / ADHD, Dyslexia

Colic, extened but unexplained crying in a new born infant, effects around 20% of western babies. Whilst apparently harmless it does cause a get deal distress to parents and the baby. Despite its prevalence, Doctors do not know what causes it though many explanations have been suggested.

There have been some suggestion that colic babies tend to develop educational problems in later life though there is no direct evidence for this. However an article in the New Yorker may add some weight to this. Professor Barry Lester has been studying colic for most of his professional career suggest that some colicky babies are “hypersensitive to normal stimuli” and over-react to normal stimulus. He has also studied 3 – 8 year-olds who had colic as a child and found the 75% “suffered from behavioral problems, including a limited attention span, tantrums, and irritation after being touched or coming in contact with particular fabrics or tags in their clothing”. Lester speculates that “Colic threatens to cause problems in the child’s ability to form relationships, because the child doesn’t learn behavioral regulation and develops problems with impulse control,”.

Source The Colic Conundrum (with thanks to Mind Hacks)

Auditory, Autism, Dyslexia

Dyslexics and autistic children oft exhibit a sensitivity to noise. Background noises can be painful at worst or simply distracting. Some people have found that listening to white noise (static) helps because it masks the background sounds, allowing the child to get on with the task in hand. This is not something that has been scientifically studied or proven but some people find it helps and I include myself in that list. I have a white noise track on my MP3 player and I occasionally tune the radio into static when the noise of others in the house is getting too much.

Now there is a very easy and simple white noise generator available on the web. Simply Noise does exactly what is says. It creates white noise and a simple slide control can adjust its intensity. Give it a try next time you or your child are working at your computer and see if it works for you.

Thanks to LifeHacker who also has information on more advanced White Noise generators.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Diagnosis, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis, Dyslexia Treatment, Dyspraxia, Medication, Memory, Music, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was interested in creating a cerebellum training program that was quicker, more effective than Dore. Myomancy was my notebook of interesting technology and relevant science. Over the years I’ve examined many different approaches to the treatment of dyslexia and ADHD. Some were simply nonsense, others had promise but were lacking the scientific, technological or business resources to make them viable. Some lacked the ethical honesty necessary when selling products to parents desperately worried about their children.

Slowly overtime I refined my ideas about how cerebellum training should work and how a independent company without much in the way financial resources could develop and sell such a product in an ethical manner. One main stumbling block has been the cost and availability of the technology necessary to track a user’s limb movements and balance. So I’ve been watching the progress of the Wii and latterly the Wii Fit with interest. The technology needed for cerebellum training was finally cheaply and readily available. What’s more many people already own it.

Originally I intended to make an announcement after slowly develop a proof of concept over the next few months but with the collapse of Dore and the shadow that will cast over the cerebellum training field, I’ve decided to move my plans forward. So I’m pleased to announced the creation of WyyMi, a project to create a free, open-source, open-science cerebellum training program.

What is WyyMi?
WyyMi is a project to develop a cerebellum training program to help people with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and similar educational problems.

Project Goals
To develop a system that cost nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) to use; to do it using open-source software; and to make freely available as much scientific evidence on its effectiveness as possible.

How Will It Work?
The idea is to use cheap and easily available computer hardware that can monitor and assess gross motor movements and balance. At the moment the Wii Remote and Wii Fit Balance Board seem the best candidates but they need to be adapted to work on PCs and Macs because the Wii console itself is difficult to develop for.

Using this hardware and software on the website, users will be perform a series of exercises. The amount of time spent training and the accuracy of the user’s movement will be logged on the server so that the user can track their progress and so the server can inform the user which exercises to do next. This data will also be aggregated, made anonymous and published so that it can be analyzed by any interested 3rd party. Ideally, symptom specific measures (e.g. spelling tests) will also be included so that the training programs effectiveness in treating educational problems can be measured.

Other than a broad statement of goals and the planned route for achieving them, there is nothing else on site at the moment. Progress is likely to slow, not least because I am working on another project at the moment as well maintaining my existing portfolio of web sites. If you wish to help in anyway, please see the announcement for ways you can contribute, not matter what your skills are.

Myomancy will be continuing to report on anything and everything I think is relevant to dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Obviously as I am planning to create my own training program, that might create a conflict of interest when discussing other people’s approach. I will try and be as unbiased as possible and make my conflict of interest clear.

Dyslexia

Received this note from Mike:

Devon based painter Mike Juggins launches his new web site www.mikejuggins.com this week.

After eight years of successful work on the issue of dyslexia Mike is focusing on his painting. The web site is full of fab stuff. Videos and drawings, as well as his newly completed collection of vibrant oil paintings – Visual Jazz.

Well known as a community artist, educator and film-maker, Mike has run very many community based projects with people from society’s margins. He has always encouraged others to focus on their abilities.

When you visit the site you will see that he has many talents himself!

ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia Treatment, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

With the financial collapse of Dore in Australia, it is inevitable that questions will be because its ask about the long-term future of cerebellum training. The financial problems are Dore will cast a shadow over this approach to dyslexia and ADHD but I don’t believe it will kill it. Why? Partly because it works for some people but mostly because Dore is irrelevant to the future.

One of Dore’s key selling points was a personalised program based on the six weekly check-ups using their hi-tech balance machine. However that advantage has gone or will be gone in the next few months. The worldwide release of the Wii Fit Balance Board put a hi-tect balance machine in people’s living rooms for £69.99.

The balance board is not any use without some software and the Wii Fit software that comes with it, whilst good for general balance training, is nowhere near a replacement for Dore. Unfortunately developing software for a console like the Wii is expensive because of licensing issues and the special tools need to write the software. So its unlikely any company involved in cerebellum training will have enough money to pull it off.

However, the Wii Fit balance board can also be made work with PC’s and Macs. At the moment the software is a hack, a quick & dirty solution, but over the next few months these will stabilize and become easier to work with. Now, any one with a bit of programming skills and a good knowledge of cerebellum training could create a great dyslexia / ADHD orientated training program. One that personalises the training plan every time it is used, not once every six weeks.

Of course, the any training program would need to be tested and validated. Once again, technology can allow the little guy to do this on a budget. Anyone using the training system can sign-up to be part of the trial. Via the internet they can automatically log their usage and fill out regular questionnaires on symptoms or take online reading tests. All this data can then be anonymised and placed online so that anyone, pro or anti cerebellum, can analyse that data. Such a study would have many problems, not least the self-reporting aspect of it, but if the training works there should be a strong signal in the data to warrant more detailed studies.

ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dore Sport, Dyslexia Treatment, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

One of the short comings of the Dore program and all movement based treatments is the low level of feedback you get when doing the exercises. Without someone watching you and checking the instructions for an exercise, its very hard to tell if you are doing them correctly. This is a major problem for people who cannot tell left hand from right and could easy spend ten minutes doing an exercise without noticing they are doing it completely wrong. Of course having someone to help is ideal but for adults doing the course that isn’t always possible and for children, it demands a great deal of time from other members of the family.

Its partly because of this problem that I’m interested in how technology can help deliver training programs like Dore. Computers or games consoles are the perfect way to monitor the exercises and provide feedback so that the exercisers knows they are doing it correctly. This reduces wasted time, improves the rate of progress and most importantly, reduces the demand on the rest of the family. This all adds up to a more effective treatment with a lower drop-out rate.

One technological development that has a lot promise is the slowly emerging 3D cameras. These are not strictly speaking 3D cameras, instead they use a variety of methods to identify depth and distance. This information is then passed back to the computer which can use it to workout if objects are moving towards it or away from it. Something that is very hard to do with a traditional camera.

The best demonstration of this technology I can find is this Second Life demonstration. Second Life (SL) is a virtual reality world shared by many thousands of people. Using a mouse and keyboard the players moves their avatar through the world but in this demo, a 3D camera is used to track the players movements.

It is not hard to make the leap from this demonstration to a computer program that tracks how well the person does does an exercise. We are already seeing this sort of approach in Wii Fit. More demonstrations of the technology are available from the makers of the camera. Here, an on-screen avatar mimics the movement of a real person and in this one, the player is throwing and catching a virtual ball. More are available from 3DVSystems.

Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment

The text below was originally posted as a comment to a completely unrelated post. In effect it is spam and I have deleted it. However I thought the issue is worth wider discussion so I’m posting it here.

Dear Friends,

I am connected with an organisation called The Learning People, who have launched a UK petition on the Downing Street website to reclassify dyslexia as a thinking style rather than a disability.

You can access further information about the campaign, and sign up for newsletter updates, on our blogsite at http://www.dyslexia-gift.org.uk

If you are a UK resident or ex-pat British citizen, you can sign the petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk

Please help us publicise the campaign by telling everyone you know, and by passing the word around any other relevant networking groups you subscribe to.

Our sincerest thanks,

Tatjana Lavrova
tatjana.lavrova@gmail.com

I am totally against this. The Learning People are a group of practitioners of the Ron “Gift of Dyslexia” Davis Dyslexia Programme. I quite like the programme’s style that mixes mental exercises with Montessori style multi-sensory techniques but the idea that dyslexia is a gift really annoys me. If dyslexia is such a gift why is Ron Davis making so much money selling a programme to fix the problem?

Calling dyslexia a gift is like saying someone in a wheelchair is gifted because they can roll down hill.

Dyslexia is a disability. It condemns sufferers to lifetime of underachievement unless they get high quality intervention. Unfortunately most don’t which is why so many dyslexics end up in prison, on the streets or with mental health problems.

For more on this subject, read Is Dyslexia a Gift? Sink or Swim.

UPDATE: In the last few days, this message has been posted three times to Myomancy, each time on completely irrelevant posts. Two of them have been after I posted this article. Clearly the Learning People have pay no attention to the blogs they spam. Don’t buy from The Learning People. They are spammers who use shoddy marketing techniques to promote their products without regard for the damage they do to dyslexics everywhere.

Dyslexia

On Slashdot, a very popular geek site about the internet, Star Wars and all things nerdish, someone posted a question.

What font color and what background is best for the eyes, when you work for a long time? I have found various contradictory recommendations and I wonder if you know about any medical studies on this topic.

In amongst the almost 300 replies, most of which are just pure rubish, I found this comment by user unfunk:

When I was in uni, I used to buy special black paper “visual arts diaries” and write my class notes using a gold, silver, bronze, or plain white ink pen. This had the effect of making my pretty poor handwriting easier to read for most people, and also reducing the effects of my dyslexia; I would make less errors like inverting a series of numbers as I wrote them down and the like.

I’ve never heard of this approach. Has anyone else experimented with light pens on black paper to help with handwriting?

If you are interested in what font color / background to use on your monitor, then check out this answer by Skapare. His (hers?) comments on fluorescent lights, common in schools, is quite interesting.

Incandescent light has a fairly even level through all light wavelengths. This makes those black on white edges a bit fuzzy. But fluorescent light has two narrowband peaks at a red and green wavelength (the blue is broader). This can make the text edge sharper … twice. The eye ends up with two contrast edges. I believe this increases the eyestrain by causing the focus to be constantly jumping in and out to alternate the focus on the two different edges. It’s a very small adjustment, but it is there at least for me. With incandescent light, it just settles in the middle of the fuzzy range and doesn’t change much. And this is affected by how much light there is, which dictates how small the iris becomes. Higher light levels with a smaller iris won’t change the effect from fluorescent as much as for incandescent, since with fluorescent the two contrast edges are already rather sharp due to the two narrowband spectral peaks. But for incandescent, the high light level helps (up to the point that intensity is too stressful).