Digital Fitness, Dyslexia, Music, Rhythm Games

An interesting example of how technology is changing music, except this one is aim at small children. Imprint Talk

Japanese magazine for the first graders, “Shougaku Ichinensei“, covers popular Mangas and some educational stuff. Every issue, there is a special supplement to the magazine, but the latest issue’s supplement was way too cool “Finger Piano”.

The original article has video of a child trying it but more impressive is this video of an adult using it to play When The Saints Go Marching In.

The quality of sound the device makes is poor but this is a toy given away on the cover of a magazine. For $10 or so it would be possible to manufacture a device with better sound and include an LCD display that teaches the user how to play a tune.

Such a device would help dyslexic children and other children with sound sensitivities who can be overwhelmed by typical classroom teaching. Even one-on-one teaching can be futile because of the demands it places in the child. To play a piano the child has to listen to what the teacher is saying, find the right notes on the keyboard, press them in time and in the right order, and listen to the sound of the notes they have just played. All this is needs to happen at the same time. A difficult task for someone with an underdeveloped cerebellum.

A device that allowed the child to learn one their own, at the own pace, and gives feedback or score as to how well they are doing would make learning music so much easier.

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

The Wii is showing great potential for physical and mental skills training. The nature of the Wii’s controls plus the add-ons like Wii Fit‘s balance board mean its can be used to track and sense all sorts of movements and actions. Just to show the potential of the Wii, a grad student called Johnny Chung Lee has come up with a way to track your head movements. He’s used this create a prototype virtual reality system which you can see in the video below (skip to 2:45 if you are not interested in the technical stuff).

Virtual reality may be great for games but from neurological training point of view its not that interesting. Its the other potential uses for the head tracker that interests me. A Wii head tracking combine with the balance board allows the Wii to track many of the movements used in the Dore system and other movement based approaches to dyslexia and ADHD. A computerised system will have an advantage over the traditional approaches as it can give feedback on how well the exercise is being done and control its difficulty to reflect the skills of the user.

Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment

It’s ironic that dislexic (sorry, dyslexic) is such a hard word to spell and this could impact on the type of advice someone gets about the problem. A quarter of the people searching on the word ‘dyslexic’ in Google end up searching for the misspelt version. Personally I never had a problem with spelling the dyslexia even before my successful treatment. It breaks down into three strong, distinctive sounds Dis-lex-ia and as long as you remember it is ‘dy’ rather than ‘di’, its easy.

Along with many dislexics dyslexics, I could spell a reasonable number of apparently difficult words for the same reason. A distinctive pattern of strong sounds (phonemes) gave me a structure, a shape in my head that I could base the spelling on. The phonemes themselves had to be ‘easy’ phonemes, that is the phonemes and the letters used to represent them are consistent. So words with ‘p’ or ‘b’ are easier because the ‘p’ sounds is normally represented by the letter p (e.g. pen, spin, tip). Unlike the ‘k’ sound which can be represented by lots of different spellings, e.g. cat, kill, skin, queen, unique, thick.

However the sounds that were real killers to my spelling were the phonemes for ‘th’, ‘f’, ‘v’ and ‘ph’ or words with significant vowel sounds, such as ‘enough’. No mater how I tried I could not learn how to spell those words. For years I consistently spelt ‘manager’ as ‘manger’ which was always embarrassing as the word cropped up often in my line of work. Words such as those never seemed to have a shape, were slippery like an eel and I could not grasp how to spell them. Compared to spelling these words, there was never any danger of me spelling ‘dyslexic’ as ‘dislexic’.

This disconnection between the sounds and spelling is typical of dyslexics and has given rise to the phonetics movement. Up in the York University centre for dyslexia, Professor Snowling and her colleagues has researched little else. They have found that early intervention with phonetics program does help reading skills. Similarly, fMRI studies have shown there are neurological differences in the relevant language areas of the brain between dyslexics and non-dyslexics. This seems to have convince the Professor and her colleagues (judging by her appearance on The Myth of Dyslexia) that teaching a dyslexic child to read solves the problem despite the fact it does nothing to help other symptoms of dyslexia such as problems with short-term memory, coordination and hand-writing. Knowing I was dyslexic and not dislexic did not make my life any easier.

One of the interesting things I noticed as my spelling improved after the Dore treatment was that I could grasp the shape of those words with subtler sounds. My suspicion is that my improved cerebellum was better at slicing the word in to its phonemes than before. This turned words that had just been an amorphous mess into something manageable. With improved ability to control of my eyes so I could see the written word more consistently and a better short-term memory, the proportion of my vocabulary that I can spell has increased. However I don’t think my ability to actually differentiate the sound has improved that much leading me to suspect those areas of my brain are still weak. This is logical as during their critical years of development they were handicapped by a poor cerebellum. This leaves me with, what I suspect, is a lower than normal level of spelling for someone of my IQ and educational background. This is still pretty good and at least as good as the average school leaver but I do find myself occasionally falling back on the same coping strategies that help me know it was dyslexic and not dislexic.

ADD / ADHD, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Science

Mind Hacks points to a good article on the current state of research into the effectiveness of biofeedback on ADHD. Its conclusion that biofeedback is a promising but unproven treatment is fair one.

What is interesting about the article is that it talks about what makes a good research study and delves into the problems of having a control group. In medication trials the control group takes a placebo pill, an inert sugar pill, whilst the study group takes the real medication. Both pills look the same and none of the medical staff handing out the pills know who is getting what. This minimises the confounding variables in the experiment.

In biofeedback studies, the problem is what to do you do with the control group. The treatment typically consists of 30 minutes a day using a computer and a biofeedback device. The control group needs to have a dummy treatment that is identical so that no one knows who is getting the real treatment but yet is guaranteed to have no effect. By its nature, biofeedback is an interactive process so the control group must have some sort of interactive experience. A device that just randomly responses to the the biofeedback would be quickly spotted.

This problem, when applied to a treatment such as the Dore program, becomes even more significant. Dore is series of exercises forming a 12 month program of twenty minutes a day. What activity could be used as a placebo that isn’t immediately recognised as the placebo? The only possibility would be to give one group the proper Dore exercises whilst the control group gets a random selection of exercises. But, the random exercises are too much like the real thing and there is a chance they help develop the cerebellum. Though they certainly would not be as effective it would introduce an unknown variable into an experimental set-up designed to remove unknowns.

A secondary problem is that children are assessed every six weeks under Dore using sensitive balance and eye-tracking devices. The child gets regular empirical evidence that the treatment is having an effect long before any improvements are seen in academic work. Obviously the users of the placebo should not see any improvement and this could have a significant effect on the child’s general confidence.

There is a way to conduct trials in these situation. You have two treatment groups, A and B plus a control, Group C. Group A gets the treatment whilst Group B gets a different activity, for example one-to-one help for 20 minutes a day. Group C gets no treatment. After Group A has received the treatment, the groups switch so Group B get the treatment and Group A gets the other activity. Once Group B has completed the treatment the experiment ends.

Both Groups A and B should of made more academic progress than the control Group C because of the one-to-one help they received and confounding variables such as the Placebo and Hawthorne effects. If the treatment worked better than the one-to-one help, then Group A would be expected to show academic improvements during the first period greater than Group B. This progress would slow down in the second period after the two groups switched roles and Group B would catch-up. If the treatment did not work, Group B would be ahead after the first period thanks to the one-to-one help and Group A would catch-up in during the second period.

There are some obviously difficulties in using this experimental design with Dore. Firstly it is a year long treatment. That means the whole experiment will last two years. To allow for people to move schools or drop out without having a major impact on the statistics, each group needs to be quiet large. Given that for the two treatment groups, there is a lot of investment of time in doing the exercises or taking children to the one-to-one sessions, the drop-out rate is likely to very high. Each group would probably need to start with about 50 people.

The cost of all this is significant. One-to-one teaching everyday for 50 people for year, twice, won’t be cheap. Nor will provision of the Dore treatment. Overheads in managing the experiment, tracking the academic performance of the children all add up. A gold standard experiment like this costs tens of thousands of pounds. Of course if Wynford Dore pays for the experiment then it won’t be an independent study but no one else will fund the experiment. The only dyslexia research body with that sort of funding is the department at York University. It is run by Professor Snowling who is rabidly opposed to Dore so its unlikely that any funding will come from there.

Another problem with an experiment on Dore is an ethical one. Asking a child to take part in a drug trial for four weeks is OK because if the treatment has no benefit then the child isn’t effected in anyway. For a Dore trial, the child has to spend twenty minutes a day for a year. If the treatment doesn’t work then the child has lost a huge amount of time and effort that could of been spent on more established therapies and the child would of fallen even further behind academically. This is major problem as the basis of any ethical experiment is that in no way, regardless of the experiment’s outcome, should the subjects experience any detrimental effects.

There are good reasons to criticise Dore’s scientific research and similar research by other alternative treatment but it has to be seen in context. The practicalities of an effective study that proves in one go the treatment works are both difficult and expensive. Dore and others are stuck in a catch-22 situation where if they pay for research there will be immediate accusation of bias but if they don’t pay for it, no one else will. Finally the ethical issues make the whole feasibility of an experiment doubtful.

Source: How Strong is the Research Support for Neurofeedback in Attention Deficits?

ADD / ADHD, Current Affairs, Dyslexia

All over the UK’s news today is a report into our primary school (age 4 – 7) education. One of the areas being discussed is what age children should start school. In the UK it is normally aged four and mandatory by age five. Some other countries don’t require it until aged seven.

School starting age may impact on educational problems such as dyslexia and ADHD if these are caused by a neurological underdevelopment. The early start to school may exaggerate the difference between those children who’s development is equal or greater than average and those who are below average. With the under-developed children immediately falling behind, their better developed peers and once behind they may never catch up. The argument for a later school starting age is that by seven there is a lot less variation in neurological development (at least relating to basic skills such speaking, listening and movement),

The report by the National Foundation for Education Research looked at a variety of research that should children in the UK who are summer born (April to August) do worse than those that are winter born. The obvious answer was that the summer born children got less schooling because they tend to started schooling later. However more detail research found that this wasn’t the issue. The report offers no easy answer why summer-born children do worse.

One interesting nugget the report throws out is that when our starting age was first set, part of the motivation was financial. The sooner the children entered school, the earlier the school leaving age would be, allowing the children to enter the workforce sooner. May be its time we embraced a schooling system more like that of our european neighbors and discard our system that dates back to the time we had children working up chimneys.

Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment, Science

Myself and a reader going under the name of Tom, are having a discussion on the Dore Treatment. Tom is very much against Dore and has described it as a “con”. He has also accused me of promoting Dore for money and that I am lying about my treatment and subsequent improvement. You can read all this on iPhone Plays Guitar or via the Myomancy Forum.

One of the interesting points that has arisen out of this discussion is the idea that any improvement in my dyslexia has been caused by the placebo effect.

The placebo effect is defined as “…occur[ing] when a patient’s symptoms are altered in some way (i.e., alleviated or exacerbated) by an otherwise inert treatment, due to the individual expecting or believing that it will work. “. The two important elements are that the patient receives a totally inert treatment and that the patient’s symptoms really change.

The placebo effect is normally found in relation to physical medical problems ranging from common colds to cancer. Alternative medical treatments such as homeopathy and faith healing rely on the placebo effect for most of their benefits. It is also common practice in drug trials to give half the patients the real drug to be tested and the other half a sugar pill placebo. It is then possible to compare the results from the real drug to the placebo and work out how much more effective the real drug is. These drug trails regularly show 20%-30% of people on the placebo show an improvement of symptoms. In some cases, such as drugs designed to control pain, up to 75% of people on the placebo reported less pain. The placebo effect is very real and may be far more important to how effective drugs are than the big pharmaceutical companies would like you to know.

It is important to note that there is no evidence that the placebo effect actually cures anything. They can make you feel better by reducing pain or other symptoms and this can have a knock-on effect. A patient with less pain may be more positive and more active and this can help the bodies natural healing process. Another vital aspect of the placebo effect is that it wears off. A placebo only works because the patient believes it is going to work. After they have been taking a placebo for sometime the patient will begin to question why their illness hasn’t been cured. Once this loss of faith occurs the placebo loses its symptom reducing effects.

To apply this to dyslexia we have to identify the ‘disease’ and the ‘symptoms’. If the Dore Treatment is a placebo, the symptoms should reduces in intensity for a while but then return because the underlying problem or ‘disease’ still remains. Most dyslexia experts believe that dyslexia, the ‘disease’, is caused by a fundamental difference in the brain that cannot be changed. The ‘symptoms’ of this disease are reading problems, poor spelling, poor handwriting and poor short-term memory. Because the ‘disease’ is an unchangeable flaw, these symptoms can only be ameliorated. If a placebo works on dyslexia then we would expect one or more of those symptoms to show improvement and then return to its previous levels once the effect is lost.

A patient receiving a dyslexia treatment placebo might well do better in a spelling test than before because they believe they are being cured. This success would boast their confidence, helping them to learn new words and to make further progress in the next test. But if dyslexia is a lifelong condition that can only be ameliorated then this cycle of progress can only continue until the limits on the patient’s ability, placed on them by the underlying ‘disease’, are reached. Once this limit is reached the patient would lose faith in the placebo, the placebo effect would stop working, levels of confidence would drop and most of the improvements seen would disappear.

This does not appear to be the case. My own, other people’s anecdotal evidence, and research by Dore shows that the improvements gained whilst on the treatment remain and further improvements are seen after the treatment has stopped. Though the treatment has certainly not worked for some, no one has reported seeing significant improvements and then losing them once treatment stops.

This persistence of improvement is the clear sign that the Dore treatment is not working through a placebo effect but is making a permanent change in the brain.

None of this proves the underlying hypothesis of the Dore treatment that dyslexia is caused by an under-developed cerebellum or that the Dore treatment does anything but boast the patient’s confidence. But because the effects of the treatment are permanent it cannot be described as a placebo effect.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Diagnosis, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis, Dyslexia Treatment, Music, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

The Corpus Callosum is a large structure in the brain that connects the two hemispheres. Its roll is to pass information from the left hemisphere to the right and vice versa. This is a vital as the two hemispheres perform different tasks and need to communicate efficiently. The Corpus Callosum has been linked by scientists to dyslexia and ADHD for a long time. They theorize that the problems in these conditions may be caused by insufficient information passing between the two halves of the brain.

Plenty of research has been done on the size of the Corpus Callosum in dyslexics and in children with ADHD and the results have generally found a correlation. Its seems that the anterior region of the Corpus Callosum was significantly smaller in the dyslexic children. However the results are not clear cut with at least one study has found no difference in dyslexic versus non-dyslexic children and another study on adult, male dyslexics found areas of the Corpus Callosum were larger that normal.

These variation in results may have several causes. How the study defines dyslexia when selecting there sample population may make an impact. The sophistication of the equipment used is important. Some of these studies date back to the early 1990’s when fMRI technology was still new so the ability to accurately measure the Corpus Callosum may of been poorer. Our knowledge of the brains structure has also improved and later studies have tended to focus on specific areas of the Corpus Callosum, partially areas linked to the processing of sounds. However, with a lot of maybes and provisos it does look like the Corpus Callosum in dyslexic and ADHD children is subtly different.

Being able to efficiently pass information from one half of the brain to the other is vital. Much like a road between to busy cities. The better the road, the more information, wealth and trade will flow between the cities. So in dyslexic and ADHD children this road may be poor and restricting vital traffic. But there is hope that this roadway can be improved.

Its has been found that the Corpus Callosum was larger in professional musicians than in non-musicians. Playing instruments involves a lot of cross hemisphere processing to keep both hand’s movements in time with each other. This suggest that by regular practice the Corpus Callosum can be strengthen. The Dore Program, Interactive Metronome and primitive reflex based treatments such as INPP all involve cross-lateral movements designed to train this area of the brain. Other activities may also help. Such as computer games like Wii Drums and some aspects of Wii Fit may also help.

If you would like to try out your Corpus Callosum, have a look at this test on Mind Hacks. You will need a friend to help you but otherwise it is an extremely simple demonstration of what the Corpus Callosum does.

Studies

Dyslexia and corpus callosum morphology
Magnetic resonance imaging of the corpus callosum in developmental dyslexia
Corpus callosum morphology, as measured with MRI, in dyslexic men
Developmental Dyslexia: Re-Evaluation of the Corpus callosum in Male Adults
Less developed corpus callosum in dyslexic subjects—a structural MRI study
Increased corpus callosum size in musicians

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Balance & Coordination, Brain & Body, Digital Fitness, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment, Music, Nintendo Wii

Doing the post on the Wii Drums remindered me of a book I wanted to write about. Its 4-Way Coordination: A Method Book for the Development of Complete Independence on the Drum Set . I forget how I found it but it immediately got my attention as a way of learning cross-lateral and limb-independent movements. Drummers need to be able to use each of their four limbs independently from each other and this takes a lot of time to learn. Education problems such as dyslexia and ADHD are linked to a poorly developed cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls the limbs, and retained primitive reflexes which restrict limb movements. Training regimes such as the Dore Programme teach children (and adults like myself) how to use their bodies. If this book has a good training method for limb independence that doesn’t focus on drumming it could be and effective resource of parents.

Here is what one of its reviews says:

You don’t need a drumset to work it — all you need are hands and feet to
get better. the “score” is set out in various patterns of LH,RH, LF, RF
(left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot). So if you can’t get
enough of drumming, take this on the road with you for vacations, work
trips, whatever and work on breaking the mold. The floor, your knees
and any flat surface in front of you will do for practice.

This is one of the few drum books you can literally practice from
anywhere at anytime with nothing but the book and you.

I’ve ordered a copy and will be reviewing it soon.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Autism, Autism and Mercury, Autism Treatment, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia

Are we too quick to medicate children?, a good round-up of the issue from the Las Angeles Times. Whilst The Guardian has a piece on the rise of students using brain boosting drugs such as Ritalin

The Spoof! has a short piece on PHADD (Pseudo Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder)

Questionable Study Claims ADHD is Under-Diagnosed

Good Vibrations, a new, drug-free treatment for ADHD?

Understanding Chelation therapy, a brief round-up of this dubious autism therapy.

National Institutes of Health will intensify its efforts to find the causes of autism.

No explanation for ‘scary’ rise in autism in New Zealand

A Dore Program presentation at the Hallowell Center in Sudbury, MA.

Experts Demand End to Child Drugging in the US.

Shire reveals the effect size for it ADHD medication, Vyvanse.

Study on Concerta shows significant effect on ADHD sufferers.