In this recent opinion piece in the NY Times, “The Upside of Dyslexia” science writer Annie Murphy Paul cites a few experiments that causes her to wonder about the positive attributes and cognitive abilities that may occur naturally in people who have dyslexia, and could in theory lead to better performance in certain artistic and scientific fields.

She discusses a couple of interesting examples, one of which involves the discovery by cognitive scientists at UMASS found; that their subjects with dyslexia saw things on the periphery faster than non-dyslexics. This has been repeated in additional studies. In these examples, those who can focus better on the periphery or outer aspects of a visual field (who are less proficient at discernment of the central field) can do things like find the logical flaws in “impossible figures,” such as the interesting and impossible images found in some of M.C. Escher’s work.

Similar examples are cited in other experiments done with undergrads.

I think it’d be fascinating to find out that there are inherent abilities in a given condition mostly viewed as a frustrating learning disability.

I wish experiments like these focused on four and five year olds. Brains are proving to be far more plastic or malleable than we ever imagined. So I wonder if skills like the peripheral vision ability in their subjects are developed over time, as a result of (someone with a reading disabilitiy) not practicing or knowing what to look for in the central field of vision while reading. Word analysis requires looking at specific patterns within the central field. As a result of repeated looking more at the non-discrete aspects of words on a page, the outer reaches are more what one pays attention to.

It’s an intriguing field, that of looking for strengths as well as struggles and I’m all for good research along these lines.

On the other hand, blind people seem to develop great auditory abilities that I’m sure are reflected in teh developing architecture of their brains.

Stay tuned.

Autism and the Agitator

Interesting and thought provoking op-ed piece in NY Times.

Autism and the Agitator

Image courtesy of Rebecca Kamen

Neurons to Butterflies

Fascinating piece from PBS, about Rebecca Kamen, an artist with dyslexia. In a nod to the field of neuroscience, she fashions abstract sculptures, inspired by neurons and her experiences with dyslexia.

Those persistent struggles were what influenced Kamen to study art in the first place. Admitted to college on probation, Kamen chose to study art education, because it was the only major she could find at Pennsylvania State University that didn’t require a math course.

“I learned about things by taking things apart, examining them,” Kamen said. “I think that enabled me to develop the skills of working with my hands more than just processing things in a more linear way.”

This article from Forbes, like many, frames the debate around the question of when kid should start school. Too Much Too Soon: Why Children Should Spend More Time Playing And Start School Later

The polar opposing sides argue for earlier or later start ages. The issue is framed around relative value of play versus “early intervention” so to speak.

It’s the wrong question. There’s plenty of kids who would benefit from starting school experiences at five or four and younger. The issue isn’t so much when, as it is giving people the freedom to choose and most importantly, understanding that play is a tool for brain development. Children’s play is the outgrowth of what’s called “private play” (internal and external fantasy play). The next stage of play, including playing with others, is central to developing the executive function of problem-solving. In children’s play, kids get to try things out, solutions to problems, and experiment with the physical and social world.

Don’t choose one over the other. Create different opprtunities in early childhood education with the right balance of acrtivities.

Recess should be renamed and re-imagined at that age. At any age.

“Major” changes coming to 2016 SAT

Glad they’re thinking “changes” and updating. Call me skeptical however, but I’m not convinced.

Changes to SAT in 2016

The Marketing of AD/HD

Slide above: Adapted from Exploring the Neurocircuitry of the Brain and Its Impact on Treatment Selections in ADHD, PRAKASH S. MASAND, MD; PETER S. JENSEN, MD; STEPHEN STAHL, MD, PHD

There’s been a certain amount of press and attention on the intense marketing of medications for people with ADHD, and the perceived over-medication. Representing the this type of attention is an article in the NY Times a couple of months back, The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder

On a personal level, I’m happy when people get sensitized to how easily manipulated into quickly reaching for a pill we can get. However, from a professional perspective, I’m nervous when we do a backflip into equally dangerous territory. The statistics bear out that the consequences of untreated ADHD are far more serious than the perceived over medication.

From observational data, interviews and surveys, and two really good long-term studies from UMASS and University of Wisconsin Medical College (The Milwaukee Study) we’ve found that:

Adults with ADHD are three times more likely (21 percent compared to 6 percent) to sell drugs illegally, have significantly more money management trouble, three times as likely when compared with the community control group to initiate physical fights (30 percent compared to 9 percent), destroy others property (31 percent compared to 8 percent) and break and enter (20 percent compared to 7 percent). They get into more and more severe car accidents, and exhibit road rage at higher rates than others. These statistics pertain generally to people with untreated ADHD.

The consequences to families and society when this very real condition is untreated are enormous.

This isn’t to say that people with ADHD can’t lead fantastic lives, or that all are troubled, not in the least, but you can’t wish the syndrome away and often, not always, medication is an extremely helpful agent. This is also not to say that there aren’t other treatment options, which when used appropriately can’t also help. ADHD coaching models, cognitive training programs (notably Cogmed) certain Mindfulness-based meditation practices (the military call it “situational awareness” not mindfulness) and ADHD-informed counseling, can be effective adjunctive or stand-alone therapies.

As it turns out, ADHD is actually under-diagnosed because self-reporting and self-referral are the primary ways that adults in particular find their way into treatment, and until the age of 30 or so, people with ADHD tend to over inflate their perceptions of their own performance. In other words they don’t always recognize the degree to which their distractibility, impulsiveness, or executive function deficits are impacting their lives as well as the lives of those with whom they live and work.

The only group for whom this is not true are college-age students. With this demographic, 1 in 4 are found to be “malingering” (essentially meaning, not being honest) when seeking medication or accommodations for coursework. This is a very real concern for my colleagues in the mental health field, as it should be.

So, while I agree that as a nation we seem too easily drawn to quick fixes, we also have to treat a very real condition with serious and life-changing consequences in a comprehensive and holistic way.

Ghotit, a software company that makes an integrated spell-checking program with an imbedded dictionary and word prediction capability, was founded by people with dyslexia and made for people with dyslexia or related print struggles. They’ve now made their programs avaiable for the Android operating system.

Never Too Late to Learn a Language

Engineer Celebrates Bar Mitzvah at 65
Man with severe dyslexia decides to persevere and learn Hebrew in order to have his Bar Mitzvah, at age 65.

It’s never too late.

The Art of Timelapse

This is a great short video, sent to me by my friend Richard Wanderman, about a photographer/videographer named Michael Shainblum and his time-lapse work.

Beautiful images. I loved listening to his explanation of how he produces his work. It’s very low tech thinking (he strips it down to some simple ideas) and them adds some really cool technology to create his images. Watch the video on full screen mode.

The work and video stand on it’s own merit and the fact that he’s dyslexic may or may not have anything to do with any of this.

However: Dyslexia is in many ways, an obstacle, and certianly makes school life much harder. Michael Shainblum somehow was able to take his experiences of struggling, and turn it towards looking for other ways to find success. Art was a beginning for him.

I can’t help wonder about the ways in which we respond to hardships and challenges, or outright suffering of one kind or another. How do we position ourselves to those experiences? The type of “relationship” we create with our struggles determines so much. That may sound strange at first, this notion of a “relationship with our struggles.” And yet, the science of mindsight certainly teaches us that how we pay attention to the events in our lives has a lot to do with our stress levels and our success in healthy living.

Thanks Richard.

[via Richard Wanderman]

This article, from Slate, Comfort Food, hit home. Larry Lake describes the difficulty many people have with knowing how to be supportive when someone they know has a mental illness, or has a child with a mental illness. People have learned to respond supportively when there’s a physical illness, but not nearly so well to the very real disturbances and struggles related to brain function: anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, and addiction to name a few. Since people with ADHD and, to a lesser extent, LD, are at much higher risks for them, it’s a big deal. And it’s something I can relate to in a very real way.

When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we ate well

From my Jewish ethnic upbringing I know very well the help a timely chicken soup can provide, along with the conversation that may come with it.

Friends drove Mary Beth to her radiation sessions and sometimes to her favorite ice cream shop on the half-hour drive back from the hospital.

I’ve had a close family member struggling with these mental health issues for years, and recently they’ve started to come to a head. So, I’ve experienced it first-hand. On the one hand, I can admit to wanting to keep these struggles inside, and not open for public consumption. They are highly personal and they are hard and painful.

I’ve experienced exactly what the writer talks about; that some people who know what’s going on, have fears or insecurities about what to say or how to say and what to do.
I can see where even people who love and support, can avoid talking about it. They don’t ask questions. And I’ve realized that while I don’t judge that, I see that it’s connected to our overall societal discomfort with mental illness and addictions. Sometimes we need the caring questions.

Almost a decade later, our daughter, Maggie, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, following years of secret alcohol and drug abuse.

No warm casseroles.

I think we’re on the right track, but it’s slow going. And, the author nails it.

Creativity and Enhanced Schooling

I love finding schools and school cultures that consider and engage with emotional development practices, creative arts and vocational options. More often than not I come across these at programs for teens who are “at-risk.”

Hollywood arts school gives struggling teens a second chance

I wish these were the rule of thumb and for education at large. An ounce of prevention…

Photo credit: Nicholas Blechman

Well-done piece in NY Times about teacher preparation.

There are widespread holes in teacher preparation programs, including how reading is still taught with an emphasis on guessing instead of a more analytic and systematic approach.

How America prepares its teachers has been a subject of dismay for many years. In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.” Since then the outcry has only gotten more vociferous. This summer the National Council on Teacher Quality described teacher education as still “an industry of mediocrity.”

Another missing component, reformers say, is sustained, intense classroom experience while being coached by masters of the profession. Too much student teaching is too superficial — less a serious apprenticeship than a drive-by. The Woodrow Wilson program, which has beachheads at 23 universities in four states, builds teacher training programs in partnership with local school districts, requires prospective teachers to spend a full year inside schools working alongside veterans, and provides three years of postgraduate mentoring in the classroom.