The role of sleep disorders in learning difficulties is unclear but various studies have pointed to a link between the two. (See Snoring, Sleep and Hyperactivity). Now news of a new drug has emerged which may help. The BBC are reporting Drug ‘reverses sleep lack effect’ about a trial that restored sleep deprived monkeys to a non-sleep deprived level of cognitive ability.
The drug, currently called CX717, is an Amakine. Unlike caffine, amphetamines or methylpheniadates (Ritalin) these drugs are not stimulants so they do not cause sleeplessness or hyperactivty. Instead Amakines restores a tired brains ability to make synaptic connections and thus think more clearly.
The idea that we have a body and a mind and that they are two separate things is a fallacy many people believe in. The truth is far more complex as Lisa M Saksida, cognitive neuroscientist, and lecturer in experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge, points out in recent survey. To celebrate 100 years of Enstien’s E = MC2, Spiked asked 250 top scientists, if they could teach the world just one thing, what would it be?
Dr Saksia said:
"I wish people understood that there is no mind/brain duality. Specifically, I wish people understood that there is no such thing as a purely psychological disorder. Every event in your psychological life, and therefore every psychological change, is reducible in theory to events and changes in your brain. We should therefore not judge people differently, according to whether they are considered to have a ‘psychological’ as opposed to a ‘neurological’ problem.
Of course, a lack of mind/brain split does not mean that we should abandon all talk of psychology. Psychology and neuroscience are two ways of studying the same thing, and both are essential for understanding the human condition."
An article in two parts (one, two) in the The Washington Times examines an interesting question of “are there any autistic Amish?”. The Amish , made famous in the Harrison Ford film Witness, are a reclusive religious group who eschew the trappings of modern life which includes vaccinations. If autism is a genetic condition then there should be over 100 Amish with autism in the community the article looks at. Yet the journalist can only find one and that is an adopted child from China. The article goes on to look at the role of mercury and thimerosal in vaccines. For more information see Mercury and Autism.
Based on my personal experiences and observations, a dyslexic child is a stressed child. Most dyslexic child have problems dealing with the amount of information that is coming to them from their senses and classrooms are often noisy, busy places. This is why treatments like DDAT may work. They improve the cerebellum which acts as a clearing house, coordinating signals from the outside world with thoughts and actions. A fitter, more able cerebellum may reduce this stress allowing the child to learn normally.
Recent research covered in the Guardian points to the role of anxiety or stress can play in learning. People who lacked confidence in maths were asked to take answer a series of maths questions. Those who had reported they were most anxious about maths performed the worst. Critically, when asked to perform word based tasks along side the mathematical tasks those who were most anxious about the maths did worst on the language tests despite normally being confident and able in language. The anxiety about the maths transferred in to problems with language.
Original Press Release
Generation Rescue are a non-profit organisation that highlights the link between autism and mercury poisoning. Mercury is slightly toxic in its liquid state but highly toxic if inhaled or in various compounds. Its known to cause liver and brain damage.
Surprisingly mercury is used in vaccinations given to children mostly in a chemical called Thimerosal which acts as a preservative. A study on mice found that it did have an effect on development but a Danish study found no link between autism and Thimerosal. In fact autism rates increased after Thimerosal was banned,
Mercury is also released by coal firing power stations. In a study published in Health and Place researchers found that "On average, for each 1000 lb of environmentally released mercury, there was a 43% increase in the rate of special education services and a 61% increase in the rate of autism."
Whilst there are many different causes to dyslexia: cerebellum and vestibular problems, auditory and visual weaknesses, retained primitive reflexes and others; the psychological aspect cannot be ignored. Unpleasant or difficult early experiences may give rise to dislike of reading and writing that almost be called a phobia.
To combat this an American based group is training dogs to help the children with reading. The dogs provide a stimulus that encourages the children to read. Their friendly, attentive manner helps calm the children and of course the dogs do not criticise the child. A typical session lasts between 30 and 40 minutes and involves the child reading aloud to the dog, who sits next to the child, Ms. Vinson-McCullough who runs the scheme said
“The child knows the dog is there not to judge but just to listen. The child gets involved in reading aloud and begins to love what reading is all about. It is amazing to see.”
Shy children may also benefit from shifting roles and build up more confidence, she said. At a local school, Curtsey, an 8-year-old Australian Shepherd and Chow mix, freely roams and stops to help children in the classrooms. Curtsey’s training was extensive, taking more than a year and including lots of obedience classes and tests to find out if she had the requisite personality to work with kids, Ms. Vinson-McCullough said.
Curtsey also seems to have an innate ability to sense distress or frustration and will find the child to offer consolation. “Crying just devastates her,” Ms. Vinson-McCullough said. “There’s a good chance that if someone is crying, Curtsey will be there to catch the tears before they hit the floor.”
Source: The Princeton Packet. Other web sites / articles on Reading Dogs
"Autism Is A World" has been nominated in the documentary short subject category. It was directed by Academy Award winner Gerardine Wurzburg and writtern by Sue Rubin who is autistic herself and though was initially diagnosed as retarded she has gone on to thrive in college. Co-producer of the firm is Douglas Biklen the professor of cultural foundations of education, disability studies and teaching and leadership in Syracuse’s School of Education. He is a promoter of the technique known as facilitated communication.
A new study by the National Institute for Health Care Management Research and Educational Foundation into the effects of physical education in kindergarden and first grade has found that as little as an hour of P.E. a week can have a significant impact. The report [Full PDF, Press Release] focuses on obesity but also looks at behavioral and academic issues as well. It found that “Overweight girls … had problems such as: anxiety, loneliness, sadness, low self-esteem, acting out, anger, impulsive acts, and being accepted by peers” and “overweight children tend to score lower on both reading and math“. These are many of the same problems that children with ADD, ADHD or dyslexia suffer, conditions which can be help by physical activities. The bottom line is that for a child to grow up fit, healthy and academically succesfuly they need plenty of physical activity from a very early age.
In a recent letter, purportedly from Wynford Dore, DDAT / Dore Achivement Centres announced the formation of a new charity, The Dore Foundation. As a charity ‘independent’ of DDAT, the letter states the organisation’s aims as “help with research … to get [DDAT] as quickly as possible into every school…”.
The charity has no active web site and a request for more information from DDAT got no response. Fortunately the UK’s Charity Commision has full details online, a copy of which is below. The key points however are that the charity is based in DDAT’s head office in Kenilworth and was established in March 2003. No information on whom the trustees are or any financial information has yet been posted.
Whilst its easy to be cynical and see this charity as a vehicle for marketing and fund raising for research it should be considered a win-win situation for DDAT and the public at large. DDAT does work, at least for some people, so increased awareness in it and as a consequence other programmes will provide help to some people and act as a catalyst for the development of cheaper alternatives. What is important, especially given Wynford Dore’s excellent business and marketing skills, is that the UK government doesn’t end up funding research into a treatment programme which it then has to buy from DDAT. Any research funded by UK public bodies should generate scientific papers that place the treatment programme in the public domain allowing both full scientific scrutiny and free access to it for all.
For more information on criticism of DDAT’s past research see DDAT Trial Critique Parts one and two as well as their response.
ABC’s Good Morning America has featured the Dore Centres. Hopefully this appearance will not run into the same problems earlier TV spots have had.