Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

BPA May Affect the Developing Brain by Disrupting Gene Regulation


February 25, 2013

Environmental exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a widespread chemical found in plastics and resins, may suppress a gene vital to nerve cell function and to the development of the central nervous system, according to a study led by researchers at Duke Medicine.

The researchers published their findings -- which were observed in cortical neurons of mice, rats and humans -- in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on February 25, 2013.

"Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders," said lead author Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine/neurology and neurobiology at Duke.

BPA, a molecule that mimics estrogen and interferes with the body's endocrine system, can be found in a wide variety of manufactured products, including thermal printer paper, some plastic water bottles and the lining of metal cans. The chemical can be ingested if it seeps into the contents of food and beverage containers.

Research in animals has raised concerns that exposure to BPA may cause health problems such as behavioral issues, endocrine and reproductive disorders, obesity, cancer and immune system disorders.

Some studies suggest that infants and young children may be the most vulnerable to the effects of BPA, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of the chemical in baby bottles and cups in July, 2012.

While BPA has been shown to affect the developing nervous system, little is understood as to how this occurs. The research team developed a series of experiments in rodent and human nerve cells to learn how BPA induces changes that disrupt gene regulation.

During early development of neurons, high levels of chloride are present in the cells. These levels drop as neurons mature, thanks to a chloride transporter protein called KCC2, which churns chloride ions out of the cells. If the level of chloride within neurons remains elevated, it can damage neural circuits and compromise a developing nerve cell's ability to migrate to its proper position in the brain.

Exposing neurons to minute amounts of BPA alters the chloride levels inside the cells by somehow shutting down the Kcc2 gene, which makes the KCC2 protein, thereby delaying the removal of chloride from neurons.

MECP2, another protein important for normal brain function, was found to be a possible culprit behind this change. When exposed to BPA, MECP2 is more abundant and binds to the Kcc2 gene at a higher rate, which may help to shut it down.

This could contribute to problems in the developing brain due to a delay in chloride being removed.

These findings raise the question of whether BPA could contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders such as Rett syndrome, a severe autism spectrum disorder that is only found in girls and is characterized by mutations in the gene that produces MECP2.

While both male and female neurons were affected by BPA in the studies, female neurons were more susceptible to the chemical's toxicity. Further research will dig deeper into the sex-specific effects of BPA exposure and whether certain sex hormone receptors are involved in BPA's effect on KCC2.

"Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the Kcc2 gene. However, we expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from Kcc2 are affected by BPA," Liedtke said. "This is a chapter in an ongoing story."

In addition to Liedtke, study authors include Michele Yeo and Ken Berglund of the Liedtke Lab in the Division of Neurology at Duke Medicine; Michael Hanna, Maria D. Torres and Jorge Busciglio of the University of California, Irvine; Junjie U. Guo and Yuan Gao of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and Johns Hopkins Univ. in Baltimore, Md.; and Jaya Kittur, Joel Abramowitz and Lutz Birnbaumer of the Nat'l. Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.


The research received funding from Duke University, the Klingenstein Fund, the National Institutes of Health (R21NS066307, HD38466 and AG16573), and intramural funds from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


Journal Reference
Michele Yeo, Ken Berglund, Michael Hanna, Junjie U. Guo, Jaya Kittur, Maria D. Torres, Joel Abramowitz, Jorge Busciglio, Yuan Gao, Lutz Birnbaumer, and Wolfgang B. Liedtke. Bisphenol A delays the perinatal chloride shift in cortical neurons by epigenetic effects on the Kcc2 promoter. PNAS, February 25, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1300959110

Can You Relate?

Mindfulness Meditation: How It Works in the Brain

From The Huffington Post Healthy Living Blog

February 14, 2013

Mindfulness may be so successful in helping with a range of conditions, from depression to pain, by working as a sort of "volume knob" for sensations, according to a new review of studies from Brown University researchers.

In their paper, published in the
journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the researchers proposed that mindfulness meditation works by enabling a person to have better control over brain processing of pain and emotions.

Specifically, the researchers postulate that mindfulness meditation plays a role in the controlling of cortical alpha rhythms, which have been shown in brain imaging studies to play a role in what senses our bodies and minds pay attention to.

"We think we're the first group to propose an
underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers," said study researcher Catherine Kerr, an assistant professor of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University.

Previous research has shown that mindfulness meditation could have a positive effect on the brain by decreasing the density of the
grey matter in the brain's amygdala, which is a brain region known for its role in stress. That study was conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011.

And in another study, University of Oregon researchers found that mindfulness meditation -- particularly a kind called integrative body-mind training -- is linked with an
increase in the brain's signaling connections (called axonal density), as well as the protective tissue that surrounds the brain's axons.

Ultrasound At Birth Reveals (An) Autism Risk

From MSU Today - Michigan State University's Health Blog

February 25, 2013

Low-birth-weight babies with a particular brain abnormality are at greater risk for autism, according to a new study that could provide doctors a signpost for early detection of the still poorly understood disorder.

Led by Michigan State University researchers, the study found that low-birth-weight newborns were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with autism later in life if an ultrasound taken just after birth showed they had enlarged ventricles, cavities in the brain that store spinal fluid. The results appear in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“For many years there’s been a lot of controversy about whether vaccinations or environmental factors influence the development of autism, and there’s always the question of at what age a child begins to develop the disorder,” said lead author Tammy Movsas, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at MSU and medical director of the Midland County Department of Public Health.

Tammy Movsas, M.D., clinical assistant professor of pediatrics
at MSU and medical director of the Midland
County Department of Public Health

“What this study shows us is that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism.”

Movsas and colleagues reached that conclusion by analyzing data from a cohort of 1,105 low-birth-weight infants born in the mid-1980s. The babies had cranial ultrasounds just after birth so the researchers could look for relationships between brain abnormalities in infancy and health disorders that showed up later.

Participants also were screened for autism when they were 16 years old, and a subset of them had a more rigorous test at 21, which turned up 14 positive diagnoses.

Ventricular enlargement is found more often in premature babies and may indicate loss of a type of brain tissue called white matter.

“This study suggests further research is needed to better understand what it is about loss of white matter that interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism,” said co-author Nigel Paneth, an MSU epidemiologist who helped organize the cohort.

“This is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism."

Prior studies have shown an increased rate of autism in low-birth-weight and premature babies, and earlier research by Movsas and Paneth found a modest increase in symptoms among autistic children born early or late.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Linking Insulin to Learning: Insulin-Like Molecules Play Critical Role in Learning and Memory


February 26, 2013

"...the interaction between the molecules can fine-tune how, or even if, learning takes place."

Though it's most often associated with disorders like diabetes, Harvard researchers have shown how the signaling pathway of insulin and insulin-like peptides plays another critical role in the body -- helping to regulate learning and memory.

In addition to showing that the insulin-like peptides play a critical role in regulating the activity of neurons involved in learning and memory, a team of researchers led by Yun Zhang, Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, show that the interaction between the molecules can fine-tune how, or even if, learning takes place. Their work is described in a February 6 paper in the journal Neuron.

Harvard Professor Yun Zhang, whose new research
demonstrates how the signaling pathway of insulin
and insulin-like peptides plays a critical role
in helping to regulate learning and memory.

"People think of insulin and diabetes, but many metabolic syndromes are associated with some types of cognitive defects and behavioral disorders, like depression or dementia," Zhang said. "That suggests that insulin and insulin-like peptides may play an important role in neural function, but it's been very difficult to nail down the underlying mechanism, because these peptides do not have to function through synapses that connect different neurons in the brain"

To get at that mechanism, Zhang and colleagues turned to an organism whose genome and nervous system are well described and highly accessible by genetics -- C. elegans.

Using genetic tools, researchers altered the small, transparent worms by removing their ability to create individual insulin-like compounds. These new "mutant" worms were then tested to see whether they would learn to avoid eating a particular type of bacteria that is known to infect the worms.

Tests showed that while some worms did learn to steer clear of the bacteria, others didn't -- suggesting that removing a specific insulin-like compound halted the worms' ability to learn.

Researchers were surprised to find, however, that it wasn't just removing the molecules that could make the animals lose the ability to learn -- some peptide was found to inhibit learning.

"We hadn't predicted that we would find both positive and negative regulators from these peptides," Zhang said. "Why does the animal need this bidirectional regulation of learning? One possibility is that learning depends on context. There are certain things you want to learn -- for example, the worms in these experiments wanted to learn that they shouldn't eat this type of infectious bacteria. That's a positive regulation of the learning. But if they needed to eat, even if it is a bad food, to survive, they would need a way to suppress this type of learning."

Even more surprising for Zhang and her colleagues was evidence that the various insulin-like molecules could regulate each other.

"Many animals, including the humans, have multiple insulin-like molecules and it appears that these molecules can act like a network," she said. "Each of them may play a slightly different role in the nervous system, and they function together to coordinate the signaling related to learning and memory. By changing the way the molecules interact, the brain can fine tune learning in a host of different ways."

Going forward, Zhang said she hopes to characterize more of the insulin-like peptides as a way of better understanding how the various molecules interact, and how they act on the neural circuits for learning and memory.

Understanding how such pathways work could one day help in the development of treatment for a host of cognitive disorders, including dementia.

"The signaling pathways for insulin and insulin-like peptides are highly conserved in mammals, including the humans," Zhang said. "There is even some preliminary evidence that insulin treatment, in some cases, can improve cognitive function. That's one reason we believe that if we understand this mechanism, it will help us better understand how insulin pathways are working in the human brain."

Journal Reference

Zhunan Chen, Michael Hendricks, Astrid Cornils, Wolfgang Maier, Joy Alcedo, Yun Zhang. Two Insulin-like Peptides Antagonistically Regulate Aversive Olfactory Learning in C. elegans. Neuron, 2013; 77 (3): 572 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.11.025

Infographic: The Adoption of Inclusion Education in the United States

Inclusion education has become a crucial part of classrooms across the United States, offering students with disabilities, as well as the gifted, an opportunity to join the classroom community and prepare for a successful and productive life. Inclusion education has evolved over time, and as this infographic will illustrate, has become an integral part of our education system. The evolution of inclusion education began in 1972, and is still continuing today.

Various government initiatives have helped the adoption of inclusion education over the years, including EHA and IDEA. IDEA has been successful in increasing the graduation rate of students with disabilities by 14% and has helped triple the number of students with disabilities entering college degree programs. There is still a great amount of work needed to ensure students both gifted and disabled are provided with the quality education that those without are offered.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Neuroanatomy 101

Rare and valuable insights from the latest imaging studies.

ADHD Increases Risk of Substance Abuse

From Smart Kids with LD

February 25, 2013

Results from a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry shows that adolescents with ADHD are twice as likely to smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, and use marijuana as those without ADHD.

According to an article in Southwest Florida Online, the study also found that “contrary to previous findings, current medications for ADHD do not counter the risk for substance abuse and substance abuse disorder (SUD) among teenagers.”
Researchers, led by a team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine followed nearly 600 children from six different sites for eight years, examining the relationship between ADHD and the risk of substance abuse.
Their findings include the following:
  • Among participants with ADHD, average age of 15 years old, 35% reported using one or more substances compared to 20% of teens without ADHD.
  • 10% of the ADHD adolescents and 3% of the non-ADHD group had significant substance use problems
  • 17% of the ADHD group reported daily cigarette use, while 8% of the non-ADHD teens said they smoked daily
  • 13% of 17-year-olds with ADHD used marijuana compared to 7% of non-ADHD 17-year olds
  • Substance abuse rates were the same for adolescents with ADHD regardless of whether or not they were still being treated with ADHD medication.

While this study did not delve into the reasons for the higher rates of substance use among teens with ADHD, Dr. Brooke Molina, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the lead author of the study, offered some possibilities:
"We are working hard to understand the reasons why children with ADHD have increased risk of drug abuse. Our hypotheses, partly supported by our research and that of others, is that impulsive decision making, poor school performance, and difficulty making healthy friendships all contribute. Some of this is biologically driven because we know that ADHD runs in families.
However, similar to managing high blood pressure or obesity, there are non-medical things we can do to decrease the risk of a bad outcome. As researchers and practitioners, we need to do a better job of helping parents and schools address these risk factors that are so common for children with ADHD."

Sticks and Stones


In her new book, Author Emily Bazelon takes a close up look at bullying past and present -- and explores what it says about kids, parenting, and American culture. An excerpt:

By Emily Bazelon

"For centuries if not forever, children have bullied each other, and for almost as long, adults have mostly ignored them.

The concept that children deserve special protection — as opposed to serving as a source of cheap labor — didn’t exist until the nineteenth century.

At that point, child-rearing manuals began urging parents to teach their children Christian kindness, making clear, for example, that an older brother who scalded his little sister’s kitten (after she used his kite to make a muff for it) was to be sternly instructed in the wrongness of his ways.

From Flashman to Nellie Oleson: Bullies in Fiction

Even then, though, bullying wasn’t considered worthy of much comment by adults — with the exception of a few sharp-eyed novelists. Only in the fiction of the era have I found tales of bullying that read like the real-life stories we tell today.

Charlotte Brontë, for example, made her readers feel Jane Eyre’s misfortune by showing her cowering before a vicious older cousin: “He bullied and punished me; not two or three times a week, not once or twice in the day, but continually: my every nerve feared him, and every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he came near.”

A decade later, in 1857, Tom Brown’s School Days launched a thousand British school novels with its account of eleven-year-old Tom’s thrashings at the hands of a seventeen-year-old tormentor named Flashman (“Very well then; let’s roast him,” Flashman calls to his buddies before knocking Tom into the fireplace).

Looking back on her American frontier childhood in her Little Housebooks, Laura Ingalls Wilder anticipated the modern-day mean girl in her character Nellie Oleson, who wrinkled up her nose at Laura’s and Mary’s homemade dresses.

“‘Hm!’ she said. ‘Country girls! ’” And, “Don’t you wish you had a fur cape, Laura? But your Pa couldn’t buy you one. Your Pa’s not a storekeeper.” Laura tells us that she dared not slap Nellie, who “went away laughing.”

Just Walk Away

These fictional kids — stand-ins for the real children left out of the history books — suffered their cuts, burns, and hurt feelings while the adults stood by. No teacher or parent helped Tom or sympathized with Laura. When Jane’s aunt interceded, it was to lock up her niece for defending herself.

Fiction reflected a cold underlying fact of life: bullying was a matter of course. A battery of sayings would arise to dismiss its significance: Boys will be boys. Just walk away. Ignore it. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

This basic stance remained largely unchanged in America for the next hundred years: bullying was an inexorable part of life, a force of nature, and the best thing to do was to shrug it off.

Deadly Serious Threat

And then on April 20, 1999, that bedrock principle of child rearing collapsed in this country. That morning, at 11:19, two seniors — Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — walked into Columbine High School, in a suburb outside Denver, and opened fire on their classmates with semiautomatic weapons.

When the forty-nine-minute rampage was over, twelve students and a teacher lay dead, with two dozen more students injured.

It was a dreadful awakening, for many of us, to the devastation that disaffected but normal-seeming middle-class teenagers can wreak. In the aftermath, a nation that had treated bullying as a rite of passage suddenly started to rethink its indifference.

Harris and Klebold weren’t themselves targets of bullying (or known bullies). But when a subsequent nationwide investigation revealed that most kids who turn into school shooters have previously felt persecuted, bullied, or threatened, the lesson was driven home: to brush off bullying was to court disaster, by ignoring a deadly serious threat.

Free Parent Workshop March 4th: Infusing Social Cognitive Tools, Techniques, and Strategies Within and Throughout the School Day

Sponsored by the Arlington Public School and Arlington SEPAC

Presented by Pamela Ely, M.S. CCC-SLP, founder and CEO of The Ely Center, LLC, in Newton, MA. Ely is a specialist in Social-Cognitive tools for teachers and students.
Do you have a child who…
  • Keeps blurting out all the answers
  • Interrupts
  • Repeats themselves
  • Gets upset when they don't know something
  • Doesn't let you know when they don't understand
  • Is socially awkward
  • Has trouble working in groups

Isn't on an IEP or 504 plan, but still struggles with executive functioning skills:
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Self-Control

When:    6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Monday, March 4, 2013

Where:  Ottoson Middle School Cafeteria (directly off lobby)
                   63 Acton Street, Arlington, MA 02476
                   (781) 316-3745

Content will include:
  • How sensory needs, executive function skills, & language processing abilities affect individual students' learning;
  • A detailed description of the "buzz" phrases that support students with social-cognitive inefficiencies
  • How to facilitate Social Cognition in all settings of the child's day;
  • Methods to improve efficient communication and accelerate learning;
  • Tools and handouts that can be used at school and at home;
  • Question & Answers about fostering successes, identifying & facing challenges, and developing strategies to improve Social Cognition and other social communication skills.

About Pamela Ely
Pamela Ely is the Chief Executive Officer/Owner of The Ely Center in Newton, MA, who together with Elsa Abele conceptualized the idea of a center-based holistic approach to social communication development that meets the varied needs of clients. She is a Speech-Language Pathologist with over 10 years experience in the public schools as well as within more clinical settings.

A consultant to several school districts in Massachusetts, Ely works collaboratively with school personnel to enhance their knowledge and understanding of autism spectrum disorders and other neurological challenges that result in Social Thinking ® and other communication skill deficits.

She trains staff in the use of various diagnostic protocols and treatment techniques for identifying and facilitating language processing and social-communication issues for all students. In the fall, 2011, Pamela completed a mentor training program with Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP, at Think Social ® in San Jose, CA.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Must-See TV: Neurodiversity - The Next Frontier for Civil Rights?


By Joshua Chaffee
February 13, 2013

A school in New York City is expanding the definition of diversity, and putting kids of varying developmental ability side-by-side in the classroom. The IDEAL School of Manhattan is breaking new ground on inclusion education, creating an environment where students with developmental disabilities are never pulled out of class, and are taught the same lessons as students without special needs.

Correspondent Alex Wagner visited the IDEAL School and discussed the idea of “neurodiversity” with the NOW panel.

The Ideal School in New York City represents a
new frontier in education where kids with mental
and physical disabilities are learning alongside
students with no special conditions, providing
each student with a unique education plan.

Twenty Movies Every Educator Should See


By Nicholas Provenzano
August 26, 2011

"Besides being the right thing to do, "Carrie" showcases a great reason on why kids should never bully other students. You never who has telekinetic powers, so be nice to everyone."

These are the top 20 movies every educator should watch. While every movie is not specifically about educators, there is definitely something to take away from each. These movies are not listed in order of importance, just the order they came to me. Each title is linked to their IMDB page.

Mark Harmon tries to be the teacher he is not and only succeeds in reaching his students when he is the teacher they need him to be. Be true to yourself and the students will listen.

Lean on Me
Morgan Freeman plays Joe Clark, the principal who is willing to do anything it takes to help make his school safe and create an environment for all students to learn. Sometimes doing what's tough is what's best for kids.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
As a teacher, this movie is a bit funnier when you think about the things Ferris is able to pull off and the craziness Edward Rooney, the principal, must have had to deal with to push him over the edge.

Dead Poets Society
One of the main reasons I wanted to be an English Teacher my captain, my captain.

Stand and Deliver
This is a great movie about reaching students who feel like they have no hope of success in their life. Looking at it now, it also has something to say about standardized testing.

Searching for Bobby Fischer
A young chess prodigy is pushed by his father and chess teacher to be the best, when he just wants to play. Thought provoking story about how we treat gifted children. Do we really know what is best for them?

The Karate Kid
A wimpy kid is trained to defend himself by a old Japanese man. What I always take away from this movie is the unconventional ways that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel. Sometimes the unconventional is the way to go.

Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman, is the student that seems to be involved in everything, but can't seem to get his studies done. Bill Murray should have won an Oscar for his performance. I think every school has a Max, but how do we reach them?

Besides being the right thing to do, Carrie showcases a great reason on why kids should never bully other students. You never who has telekinetic powers, so be nice to everyone.

Mean Girls
Tina Fey does a great job with this script showing how high school gossip and overall cattiness plays out. It is a funny take on a serious issue in some high schools.

Reese Witherspoon and Mathew Broderick (now playing a teacher) are amazing in this film showing the dark underbelly of student government. It is a funny movie that, as a teacher, makes you wonder what student leadership is all about.

It might seem like a bit dated for today's schools, but Heather's commentary on cliques is still relevant. Heathers is an excellent movie that still packs a punch today.

Dazed and Confused
Forget about the herbal parts of the movie and focus on Jeremy London's character. He is supposed to be "the jock" and commit to being a certain person. He fights to be himself and that is something to be admired.

The Breakfast Club
A movie that is a must-see for everyone. When I watch the movie now, it reminds me that no matter how I might perceive a student to be, there is a good chance they have some darker parts they are just waiting to share. Sometimes they just need someone to ask.

Finding Forrester
One of Sean Connery's last movies before he retired and he is magnificent. A young man gets into a fancy prep school on a basketball scholarship, but it turns out he is a great writer who butts heads with his tyrannical English teacher. Connery is reclusive writer who helps the student find his voice. There is more to students than we realize at times.

The Mighty
This is a story about two unlikely friends that have much to learn from one another. I stumbled upon this movie a few years ago and loved it. I will always stop and watch it.

Real Genius
Val Kilmer is very funny in this movie. He mentors a young kid who skips ahead to college. It's interesting to see what the pressure of being a "genius" can sometimes do to a person.

School Ties
This has an all-star cast dealing with bigotry during the 1950's. Even though it deals with anti-Semitism, the story truly applies to all types of discrimination students might face in schools.

Super 8
The reason this movie is on the list is because I feel it nailed the type of relationship young boys have at a particular age. JJ Abrams did an amazing job of writing exactly how young boys act when they are goofing around or when there is a girl in their midst. When dealing with boys in the classroom, this movie might help you make sense of their actions.

Stand by Me

This is another example of boys being boys, but also young kids being forced to deal with unfair expectations or labels based on their families. Whether it's not living up to your all-star brother or trying to escape the reputation of a criminal brother, fighting to be yourself is never easy.


Do you have an education-related list of 20 you'd like to submit? Please send to community AT edutopia. Be sure you have a profile on with a photo and bio included.

What Does the End of Asperger's Mean?

From MSN News - Science & Technology

February 21, 2013

The syndrome has been dropped from the "Bible of Psychiatry" as a distinct condition, which has many parents and caregivers worried.

One expert calls it “Autism Lite,” while another uses the phrase, “close-but-no-cigar-autism.”

They are referring to “social communications disorder,” the new classification in the
DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) diagnostic manual, often referred to as the "Bible of Psychiatry," that ropes in Asperger's syndrome under that one umbrella. The new DSM-5 will be in effect in May, 2013.

The thick manual is used to diagnose mental illness and to thus, determine who receives support services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and social/emotional skills training.

It’s that last part that has some people worried. In DSM-IV, the previous manual, Asperger's Syndrome was treated as separate diagnosis from autism, as were a host of other childhood disintegrative disorders called "pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified" (PDD-NOS). The DSM-5 has changed all that, unifying many of these diagnoses to fit under one heading of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Social communications disorder is not considered an autism spectrum disorder.

This, says Fred Volkmar, Director of the Yale University Child Study Center and Chief of Child Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, may leave high-functioning children with autism symptoms out in the cold.

“The APA decided to get rid of the sub-threshold, ‘close, but not quite’ categories, which are five-times more common than classical autism,” he explained. “It’s ‘close-but-no-cigar-autism’ -- These people need services, even if they’re ‘not quite’.”

Previously, a PDD-NOS diagnosis entitled a person to receive public support services under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.) But with the new blanket classification, social development disorder, not recognized by IDEA, it’s unclear if the same people will be eligible.

“This is going to raise some very fundamental problems,” he predicts. “This was supposed to be a diagnosis for children who have ‘language problems with social vulnerability’-- but we don’t have the faintest clue what this means.

“If you take what [the APA says] at face value, the more able people – and I’m not saying rocket scientists, I’m saying people who score 70 or above on an IQ test, people outside the mentally retarded rate -- these people get no services."

"The APA estimates that no more than 10% of the children will lose a diagnosis, but among the more able [autistic population], we think it may be more like 40%. That’s what we’re worried about.”

Volkmar acknowledged that this is a worst-case scenario, but says he sees little reason for optimism. “If you’ll forgive my saying so, it’s a little like asking Mrs. Lincoln how the play went. The reality of it is, we have a bit of a mess on our hands. If people are motivated, they’ll do anything they can to pull services. This is not a world where people are eager to give services if they can help it.”

This prediction is echoed by other experts, including Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and a Presidential Appointee on the Council for Disability. “Applicants applying services with a diagnosis of social communication disorder would be at a significant disadvantage compared to those with an ASD diagnosis . . . [and] would have diminished access to both SSI and SSDI cash benefits and public health insurance through the Medicaid Buy-In program.”

Autistic author and activist Temple Grandin expressed a similar fear.

“It is my opinion that social communication disorder is part of the social impairment continuum of the autism spectrum. I fear that many Aspies will be switched into this diagnosis when school districts get short on funding," she wrote on her

The motivation to change the diagnosis, according to Catherine Lord, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell Medical College/Columbia University Medical Center, came from the awareness that “many professionals found the DSM IV criteria confusing.”

“It’s a new category so it’s normal to have a lot of questions about it," acknowledged Lord, a member of the DSM-5 task force. "But I think the hysteria is unnecessary."

She added that "diagnoses of PDD-NOS were often used instead of autism because diagnosticians did not want to upset parents . . . and there was concern that, in some states and school systems, children and adults were being denied services because they didn't have autism diagnoses.”

For parents “in the heat of the battle,” the question is at the core of their struggle to get their children the help they need. New Jersey mom Catzell Bumpus said her son Timothy is thriving today because of the early interventions he received after he was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age six. But that came only after years of misdiagnoses.

“We had been through a series of evaluations since Tim was three, and at first, they could not figure it out and did not rule out OCD," she recalled. “He was then diagnosed with Semantic Pragmatic Disorder, which overlaps a lot with Asperger's.”

Neither Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) nor Semantic Pragmatic Disorder are included on the autism spectrum. However, Tim’s Asperger’s diagnosis did qualify him for school services and accommodations, such as occupational therapy, social skills training and emotional support.

“The accommodations gave him help so he could use the nurse as a safe haven if he needed a place to go, or allowed him to take a walk if he needed to de-stress,” said Catzell. “It allowed extra time on tests, for him to be able to take a test verbally, for directions to be repeated if necessary, and other strategies such as assistive technology to ease anxiety and make his days easier.”

As Tim got older and began to excel academically, the services diminished, Bumpus said. Now 14, Tim is an honors student at his mainstream high school and preparing for college. Though he is friendly and confident with adults, he has some social issues with his peers and finds physical situations, like gym, challenging. Still, Catzell said the help he received early in his life was invaluable to his success. She questions whether similar high-functioning children would receive that same help today.

“My fear is that an individual kid will get lost in the DSM-5 reclassification. Some children who really need help may not “qualify” or be diagnosed at all, and won’t be able to receive essential educational or state services. If Tim was six years old today, he would never qualify to get services [because he is high-functioning].”

She added, “He has this diagnosis and I want him protected. Some people think, ‘Oh, you just want your kid to have extra time on the SATs.’ No, I want him protected.”

EDC Health Risks: Man-Made Chemicals May Be Partially To Blame For Some Cancers, Infertility

From Reuters
Via The Huffington Post "Healthy Living" Blog

How Everyday Chemicals May Be Hurting Our Health

By Robert Evans
February 19, 2013

Man-made chemicals in everyday products are likely to be at least the partial cause of a global surge in birth deformities, hormonal cancers and psychiatric diseases, a U.N.-sponsored research team reported on Tuesday.

These substances, dubbed EDCs, could also be linked to a decline in the human male sperm count and female fertility, to an increase in once-rare childhood cancers and to the disappearance of some animal species, they said.

"It is clear that some of these chemical pollutants can affect the endocrinal (hormonal) system and ....may also interfere with the development processes of humans and wildlife species," the report declared.

The international group, academic experts working under the umbrella of the United Nations environmental and health agencies UNEP and WHO, issued their findings in a paper updating a 2002 study on the potential dangers of synthetic chemicals.

Declaring "a global threat that needs to be resolved," the team said humans and animals across the planet were probably exposed to hundreds of these often little-studied or understood compounds at any one time.

"We live in a world in which man-made chemicals have become part of everyday life," said their 28-page report, "State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, 2012," issued as a policy guide for governments.


Download and print PDF copies of the full report (11.71Mb)
or an executive summary (2.84Mb) HERE.


EDCs include phthalates long used in making plastics soft and flexible. Products made from them include toys, children's dummies, perfumes and pharmaceuticals, as well as cosmetics like deodorants that are absorbed into the body.

Another is Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is used to harden plastics and is found in food and beverage containers, including some babies' bottles and the coating of food cans.

A few countries - including the United States, Canada and some European Union members - have already banned the use of some of them in certain products, especially those destined for the use of children.

But, the report said, "many hundreds of thousands" are in use around the world and only a small fraction had been assessed for their potential to spark disease by upsetting the endocrinal, or hormonal, systems of humans and animals.

Experts believe that in general, such chemicals can be absorbed into drinks and food from the containers they come in.

Components Not Identified

The team, created by a 17-year-old chemical management body called the IOMC working with a range of U.N. agencies, said a key problem was that manufacturers of consumer products did not identify many of their chemical components.

Consequently, the researchers said, they had only been able to look at "the tip of the iceberg". Disease risk from the use of EDCs - or what could be even more dangerous a combination of them - "may be significantly underestimated."

Using studies of the effect of the chemicals on humans and animals, the team added, a link to EDCs could be suspected in breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, infertility, asthma, obesity, strokes, and Alzheimer and Parkinson's diseases.

Babies exposed to EDCs in the womb or in puberty, these studies suggested, were especially vulnerable to developing these diseases in later life as well as behavioral and learning problems like dyslexia as children.

In many countries, these disorders affected 5-10 percent of babies born, while autism was now recorded at a rate of one percent. Childhood leukemia and brain cancer is also on the rise, according to the report.

"All of these complex non-communicable diseases have both a genetic and an environmental component," it said.

"Since the increases in incidence and prevalence cannot be due solely to genetics, it is important to focus on understanding the contribution of the environment to these chronic disease trends in humans."

The researchers said their report had been based largely on studies in the developed world. But the size of the problem in developing countries had yet to be adequately assessed due to a lack of data from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Are Special Education Children a Joke?

From CNN's iReport

By mybratpack5
February 23, 2013

I sent this message to our school district's Superintendent this morning. It was directed at information that the Schools Board sent out in a mass email to parents.

Good Morning Mr.Yennie,

I just received one of your current event emails. In that email was a link in regards to a Power Point Presentation on Special Education IEP changes for the school system. I've provided you the link below, to that Presentation in which was included.



To be brutally honest, after reading through the presentation itself, which was less than what I would expect from a professional, I came to a cartoon drawing at the end. I'm sure there are those who have viewed it and have found it a bit comical and let out a laugh.

As the parent of a special needs child in the Sullivan County Educational System, I do not find it funny at all. I find it reprehensible that it would have been included in such a formal presentation that would be viewed by other parents like me.

It's bad enough, that I struggle to maintain some sense of normalcy for my daughter who already knows she has different learning abilities but also struggling to make sure she receives the right help that is due to her and recommended for her. I also accept the extraordinary financial burdens of obtaining the outside help for her and then dealing with people who either don't have time to understand the real issues or simply care not too.

For the sake of meeting a score, that and let's be honest here, a score being something your office has forced my child to consistently struggle to meet.

The fact that this school system suffers because of our state politicians is in no way a joke. The cartoon itself implies basically that if we don't have it, they won't get it
and criminality and welfare will be what they have left to save them. This is what our system thinks of our children?

I seriously do not know what went through the mind of the authors of this particular presentation, but I think in the future they may want to proofread and edit their own work for grammar and punctuation mistakes, as well as leaving out the offensive material that has very negative connotations attached to it.

I don't consider my child to be one that will ever fall through the cracks or left to fend for herself as many have in this district. She is also not fodder for someone else's joke.

It was in extremely poor taste, and again, I reverberate, tasteless, showing poor class and offensive.

Have a nice day!

Pain of Bullying Goes Beyond Childhood

From Health & Medicine

Children who are exposed to bullying have an increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts as adults, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator.

The findings, based on more than 20 years of data from a large group of participants initially enrolled as adolescents, are the most definitive to date in establishing the long-term psychological effects of bullying, and belie a common perception that bullying, while hurtful, inflicts a fleeting injury that victims outgrow.

“We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning,” says William E. Copeland, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, lead author of the study.


Straight from the Source: Read the Original Study


“This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied. This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”

A previous longitudinal study of bullied children, conducted in Finland, found mixed results, concluding that boys had few lasting problems, while girls suffered more long-term psychological harm. That study, however, relied on registry data in the health system that didn’t fully capture psychiatric records.

Copeland and colleagues had a much richer data set. Using the Great Smoky Mountain Study, the research team tapped a population-based sample of 1,420 children ages 9, 11, and 13 from 11 counties in western North Carolina. Initially enrolled in 1993, the children and their parents or caregivers were interviewed annually until the youngsters turned 16, and then periodically thereafter.

At each assessment until age 16, the child and caregiver were asked, among other things, whether the child had been bullied or teased or had bullied others in the three months immediately prior to the interview.

A total of 421 child or adolescent participants—26 percent of the children—reported being bullied at least once; 887 said they suffered no such abuse. Boys and girls reported incidents at about the same rate.

Nearly 200 youngsters, or 9.5 percent, acknowledged bullying others; 112 were bullies only, while 86 were both bullies and victims. Of the original 1,420 children, more than 1,270 were followed into adulthood. Subsequent interviews included questions about the participants’ psychological health.

Middle of the Chain

As adults, those who said they had been bullied, plus those who were both victims and aggressors, were at higher risk for psychiatric disorders compared with those with no history of being bullied. The young people who were only victims had higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.

Those who were both bullies and victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, depressive disorders, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Bullies were also at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.

“It is clear that those involved in bullying are at an increased risk for emotional disorders in later life,” says co-author Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick. “It is those in the middle of the chain, who are both bullies and victims, who are at the highest risk of suicide.”

The researchers were able to sort out confounding factors that might have contributed to psychiatric disorders, including poverty, abuse, and an unstable or dysfunctional home life.

“Bullying is potentially a problem for bullies as well as for victims,” says senior author E. Jane Costello, associate director of research at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Bullying, which we tend to think of as a normal and not terribly important part of childhood, turns out to have the potential for very serious consequences for children, adolescents, and adults.”

The researchers say they will continue their analysis, with future studies exploring the role sexual orientation plays in bullying and victimization.


The work received support from the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

Why College Success Often Eludes Students with Learning Disabilities

From Smart Kids with LD

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED
February 19, 2013

It may surprise you to learn that the U.S. ranks 14th among 37 developed nations when it comes to the percentage of young people holding college degrees. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011, only 56% of students in the U.S. that begin four-year colleges are likely to graduate.

If college presents insurmountable obstacles for almost half of all college students, you can imagine what that means for students with learning disabilities who already face challenges.

The postsecondary success rate for students with LD is half that of the general population; it’s estimated that only 28% receive a diploma.

According to the Institute for Higher Education Policy, the low graduation rate is largely attributable to educational missteps that begin in elementary school and continue through high school. From kindergarten through 12th grade, students with LD experience “inadequate academic preparation when compared to their peers without disabilities; lower academic expectations; inferior pedagogy and services; and lack of full access to the core curriculum.”

Furthermore, with high school guidance counselors, teachers, and even parents focused on college admission rather than how to succeed when they get there, students with LD remain largely uneducated about the dramatically different culture they’re about to enter. Even parents who graduated college themselves remain ignorant of the obstacles kids with learning disabilities encounter at the college level.

Challenges for Students with LD

As a result, students cross the chasm between high school and college filled with misconceptions. They have no clue that their world is about to be turned on its head. Upon entering college, students are blindsided by a totally different landscape in which the tried-and-true methods that got them through high school no longer work.

Following are the major factors that make college such a difficult proposition for students with learning disabilities:
  • Pressure from parents and/or peers: It is often expected that students enroll in college despite lack of ability, desire, readiness, or significant knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Besides, with such a tight job market, what else is there to do? Sadly, parents learn the hard way that they can’t legislate motivation. To achieve success, motivation must come from within. In many cases, it comes with maturity.
  • Semester vs. year: Material covered in a year of high school is expected to be learned in a 15-week semester, making the college workload faster, heavier, and more difficult than that of high school. It requires more time, organization, and a greater mental commitment. In addition, because a semester proceeds so quickly, students often don’t recognize they’re in academic trouble until it’s too late.
  • Lack of an IEP: Students with disabilities in high school are covered under IDEA, the law that provides an individualized education plan (IEP)aimed at guaranteeing success. In college, IDEA vanishes and Section 504 takes over. All the support to which students have become accustomed is suddenly pulled out from under them. Now they are only guaranteed non-discrimination through accommodations (assuming they disclose); the onus for success suddenly shifts from the parent and school to the student.

This raises the issue of self-advocacy. Prior to college, parents were charged with looking after their child’s best interests. In the span of 12 years, how many times did you contact the school, dissatisfied with services your child was receiving? In college, this burden falls on the student who, up until now, has taken a passive role. This dramatic change is often underestimated and is a frequent cause of college failure.

Exams: In high school, teachers often test students on every chapter, forcing frequent review and diminishing the weight of each exam. Extra credit may be offered to compensate for a poor grade, and attitude is often factored into final grades. In college, a professor may choose to give only a midterm and a final. This gives students only two opportunities to influence their final grade. Imagine too, with two exams in 15 weeks, the quantity of material on each. Furthermore, most professors don’t provide extra-credit opportunities, and even students with the most enthusiastic, cooperative attitudes won’t do well with poor exam scores in college.

Independence: In high school, a teen completes a major project, perhaps with some parental badgering to meet the deadline. On the due date, she scrambles out the door to catch the bus and leaves the project behind. A parent, knowing the implications of late work, panics, grabs the project and speeds to school in the hope of helping their child avert academic disaster. Parents are so worried about grades, particularly in junior and senior years, that they often fail to see this scenario as an opportunity to teach responsibility; mistakes and their consequences are the way we learn best. How will kids survive in college if parents are always their safety net?

Time Management/Organizational Skills: While most students can’t wait to escape parental nagging, they often arrive at college without a system that replaces parent-imposed structure. Accustomed to writing homework in a simple assignment pad, they haven’t learned that a weekly/monthly academic planner is essential to managing their time in college. Because college assignments can be long-term, they need to be planned up-front, allowing sufficient time for completion, while not conflicting with responsibilities in other classes. This can be a delicate balancing act.

Study Skills: Most high school teachers assume their students already know how to study, so study skills aren’t incorporated into their curriculum. Special Ed teachers, in particular, often provide review packets for exams, and test questions frequently come straight from the packet. This translates into good test results with minimal effort. Professors, on the other hand, rarely use study guides. They expect students to ferret out the essential information from the emphasis in lectures and assignments.

Self-discipline: Here again, high school students have parents to police their actions with required homework/study times, curfews, restrictions on school nights, etc. In college, no one imposes these controls. Furthermore, college offers many seductive temptations, especially for undergraduates. It takes a strong will to pass up a weeknight party because you have an 8:00 a.m. class the next morning. Students who don’t have their priorities in order may fall victim to these enticements.

Navigational strategies: In high school, students take four or five major subject classes, supplemented by electives, back-to-back. They begin school around 8:00 a.m. and end by 3:00 p.m. This system allows for little flexibility. In college, however, scheduling is an art that, unfortunately, few disability centers teach. 
Students rarely know how many credits they can successfully handle; that they should take classes when they are most alert; that they need to balance their schedule with challenging/easier courses; how to distribute their courses evenly over the span of a week; when they are in academic trouble, and what to do about it.

Poor college fit: Almost every college campus today has a disability services office. However, there is great variability in staff size, personnel credentials, and services offered. Still, most offices have one thing in common: the ability to persuade parents they can meet the needs of their child. In a poor economy, with colleges competing for tuition dollars, disability providers are very savvy at allaying parental anxiety. For parents unfamiliar with the significant challenges that lie in wait, talk of a tutoring lab, skills workshops, and student support groups can be very reassuring. In actuality, however, college students need at least twice the support they received in high school, rendering the above amenities largely ineffective.

In my many years of working with college students with disabilities, I’ve witnessed frequent failure by those I’ve considered otherwise capable–usually due to a combination of the above factors. What I find most disconcerting, other than the significant financial loss incurred by parents, is that these students quit feeling utterly defeated; they walk away convinced they’re not college material. In fact, had they only known more about the college system and how to navigate it as a student with LD, the outcome could have been far different.


Joan M. Azarva runs Conquer College with LD, a website for parents of college-bound students with learning differences. She also has a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs that focuses on helping students make the successful transition from high school to college.


Related Smart Kids Articles