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Monday, November 30, 2015

As Colleges Educate Players on Concussions, Repeated Head Hits Rise as a Concern

From NPR's WBUR 90.9 FM

By Fred Thys
November 25, 2015

BOSTON - One study four years ago found that college athletes are nearly twice as likely as high school athletes playing the same sport to sustain diagnosed concussions in games or practice. 

Wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley, left, takes a hit from
defensive back Asante Gibson during a Harvard practice Nov. 2.

Harvard University is a leader in the prevention and treatment of concussions among college football players.

But even at Harvard, a potentially more threatening kind of brain injury is not getting the attention some experts believe it deserves.

‘Your Health Comes First’

Harvard defensive back Nick Burrello (16), a fifth-year senior,
suffered a concussion his junior year. “I really didn’t feel pressure
to come back immediately and put my health at risk,” he said.

Crimson defensive back Nick Burrello is a fifth-year senior because of a concussion.

“My junior year … I suffered a concussion the summer coming into the year,” Burrello said. “I just hit my head in the corner coming into the end zone. Got up and had horrible amnesia, and my eyes were crossed.”

Repeated concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain disease also called CTE. It can occur even among players who never play beyond college.

“We’ve seen the brains of 34 athletes who didn’t play beyond college, and 26 of them have tested positive for CTE,” said Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player who now works with Boston University’s Center for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. “That’s very concerning.”

And some of them played quite recently. “There are players who have played in the last five years that we’ve seen with CTE,” Nowinski added.

That’s why Nowinski is working to alert college athletes to the danger.

“We know that a ton of concussions are happening, but what’s terrible about it is that players aren’t reporting,” Nowinski said. “Every game, there’s players out there playing through symptoms and lying about it.”

“Every game, there’s players out there playing through symptoms
and lying about it,” said Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football
player who now works at BU’s CTE Center, seen here in 2012.

A study published earlier this year concludes a quarter of college athletes experience pressure from coaches, teammates, parents and fans to continue playing while having symptoms after a suspected concussion.

Harvard is trying to change that. Burrello says his head coach, Tim Murphy, encourages players to report concussions.

“The hardest pressure to overcome is peer pressure, and the peers really care for you here,” Burrello said. “There is a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie here that’s formed from the top down, from Coach Murphy down. He preaches family, brotherhood, and we really take that to heart. So if you are hurting, there’s players on the team that’ll take you on the side, your best friends, guys who are going to be in your wedding, will be like: ‘Listen, your health comes first.’ ”

The day after he suffered his concussion, Burrello went to see Harvard’s head athletic trainer. And because his eyes were crossed, he was sent to Massachusetts General Hospital for physical therapy.

The Ivy League’s ‘Big Commitment’

The NCAA recommends baseline testing to all colleges and universities, and it recommends that no player be allowed to return to play until that player has returned to his or her baseline levels. Harvard does baseline testing for brain function and balance on its freshman athletes.

Some other local institutions — like Boston College, MIT and Tufts, for instance — also follow the recommendations.

But a Harvard study last year found that nearly 1 in 5 NCAA schools either had no concussion management plan or failed to adequately educate staff about such a plan. Researchers have also completed a study examining implementation of baseline testing across NCAA member schools; it is currently under academic review.

The Ivy League, and Harvard in particular, have led the way in trying to prevent brain damage from concussions in college football.

BU’s Nowinski worked with the Ivy League to implement its concussion management program.

“The Ivy League’s made a big commitment to managing concussions in a very strict way, prioritizing the player’s health, so for example, the player can’t return to the field until they can return full-speed to the classroom, and that’s something that we’re trying to get everybody to do,” he said.

At Harvard, head injury management meant Burrello could take his time.

“I really didn’t feel pressure to come back immediately and put my health at risk,” Burrello said. “They really stressed that you need to take the time to have your brain come back to 100 percent. And so I did not come back until I felt I was comfortable and 100 percent to come back, and I also had to pass a physical exam, a mental exam, my impact test.”

Harvard players with concussions are given academic concessions to ensure cognitive rest. That was the case with Burrello. “My professors were very helpful,” he said. “They extended my deadlines.”

Harvard’s goal is to return players to a normal academic life first. Only then they can return to their athletic pursuits.

That’s now standard practice across the Ivy League.

Sub-Concussive Hits ‘The Elephant In The Room’

Linemen and linebackers are football positions most at risk
for sub-concussive hits. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Studies show more than half the hits football players take come in practice. Harvard led the way by limiting contact practice to twice a week, and the Ivy League followed suit. The PAC 12 conference now also limits full-contact practices to two a week.

Harvard limits full-contact practice in part out of concern about sub-concussive hits. Because these blows to the head do not produce any symptoms, a concussion is not diagnosed.

Even so, Burrello is not aware of any discussion of sub-concussive injuries.

“Not that I know of, and I had a pretty bad concussion,” Burrello said. “I came back. You might get hit in the head once in awhile, but it’s not like: ‘Oh, my gosh! I must have a concussion again.’ It’s not that bad, by any means. You can make full recovery and still take everything in stride.”

As a safety, Burrello did not play one of the positions most at risk for sub-concussive hits. Those would be the linemen and the linebackers.

Harvard’s head athletic trainer says the university discusses concussions with all its athletes every year. And Harvard athletes are taking part in a study with the medical school studying the effects of sub-concussive hits.

Sub-concussive injuries are what Robert Cantu, co-director of BU’s CTE Center, says injury management practices should be focusing on.

“I see the sub-concussive issue as the elephant in the room, in the sense that it’s less well understood,” Cantu said in an interview. “Concussions have gotten quite a bit of recognition in recent years, maybe too much, in some ways, because it’s total brain trauma that counts.”

Cantu says just the accumulation of these blows can give rise to cognitive impairment. He cites more than 10 studies that have looked at sub-concussive blows alone.

But his colleague, Nowinski, says his own experience confirms studies that players still don’t even consider concussions to be a serious injury. He recalls a recent address he gave at a Division III school, Texas Lutheran.

“The football team was there,” Nowinski remembered, “and the next morning, the athletic trainer let me know that a player came in and said: ‘I’ve had a headache for four days. I’ve been hiding it, but now that I understand the consequences, I’m here to tell you.’ And it just reminds me that the players aren’t getting enough education.”


How Anxiety Scrambles Your Brain and Makes It Hard to Learn

From The Guardian
U.S. Edition

By Juliet Rix
November 21, 2015

Levels of stress and anxiety are on the rise among students. Juliet Rix has tips to control the panic and thrive academically.

Anxiety causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight,
which can interfere with students’ ability to study.

Olivia admits she’s always been a worrier – but when she started university, her anxiety steadily began to build. One day she was simply too frightened to leave the house. For two weeks she was stuck indoors, before she was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and began to get the help she needed.

With support from her GP and university wellbeing service, and courses of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), she was able to stick with her university course and to start enjoying life again.

But Olivia is far from alone in her anxiety: the number of students declaring a mental health problem has doubled in the last five years, to at least 115,000.

“And that is a very small proportion of the students who are having mental health difficulties,” says Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK’s mental well-being working group.

A study of UK undergraduates has found that even among students symptom-free before starting university, some 20% are troubled by a clinically significant level of anxiety by the middle of second year.

What does anxiety do to students? It causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight.

“If you are in a situation of imminent actual threat, then the increased alertness and body response can be lifesaving,” explains Chris Williams, professor of psychosocial psychiatry at the University of Glasgow, and medical advisor to Anxiety U.K.

“But if it occurs when trying to revise, or present a talk, or at such a high level that it paralyses or causes errors, it can interfere with what we want to do.”

What happens in the brain of someone experiencing excessive anxiety is not fully understood. One line of research, says consultant psychiatrist Rajeev Krishnadas, is that it involves the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala – a key region of the brain involved in learning and memory, as well as in the physiological and behavioural responses to fear.

“An external stimulus – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – activates a number of regions of the brain, crucially including the amygdala,” says Krishnadas. Under normal circumstances, he says “the amygdala is under tight control from the prefrontal cortex, which evaluates the threat associated with the stimulus. If the stimulus is non-threatening, the activity within the amygdala is suppressed. If it is threatening, the amygdala fear response is maintained.”

In someone with an anxiety problem, it seems, the brain is making incorrect decisions about what to fear and the prefrontal cortex fails to suppress the amygdala, putting the body into fight or flight mode.

In this state, levels of the hormone adrenaline rise and the sympathetic nervous system – which controls automatic activities (like breathing) rather than conscious action – takes over. The heart rate rises, breathing speeds up and blood is diverted to the limbs, blood pressure and body temperature increase, and you may start to sweat.

This is clearly not a state conducive to learning or concentrating in a seminar, says clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin. “Even if you manage to take in what is being said, the information is likely to bounce around [in your brain], not being processed properly or stored in your long-term memory.”

10 Tips for Anxious Students

Last month, Anxiety U.K. launched a student guide to anxiety. Here are Anxiety U.K. and Dr Rudkin’s top 10 self-help tips:

If you feel yourself start to panic, tell yourself: don’t panic; you can do this. Self talk can reduce anxiety.

Work on controlling your breathing. Try breathing in through your nose for four seconds, holding for two seconds, then breathing out through your mouth for six seconds.

If you find large busy lecture rooms a problem, start by sitting near the exit. Record lectures so you can listen back to any bits you missed.

Break coursework and essays into small chunks. This takes a bit of planning and means not leaving it all to the last minute, but it staves off anxiety.

Most research into young people’s attention spans suggests a limit of 40 minutes, so work in half-hour chunks with short breaks between for a drink or a breath of fresh air.

Procrastination can be the anxious person’s biggest enemy. Convince yourself to work for just five minutes. Once you’ve started you may be able to keep going. If not, at least you have achieved five minutes of work.

Be kind to yourself – but disciplined. It is easy to become your own worst enemy. Accept that things are tough right now and think about how you can work with your brain to make things happen.

Moderate your caffeine and alcohol intake. Excessive caffeine increases symptoms of anxiety and although alcohol is a relaxant it may not help the next day.

Remember you are not alone. Everyone else may look as if they are coping fine but many of them are struggling too. Talk to people.

Follow a healthy routine of eating, sleeping and exercise. Even 30 minutes walking a day can reduce anxiety. Disrupted sleeping and eating are classic accompaniments to anxiety and can create a vicious cycle. If this is happening, seek help.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Food Insecurity

From the Data Bank

November 23, 2015

Download Report

In 2013, more than one in five U.S. children (21 percent) lived in households that were food-insecure at some point during the year, and 1.0 percent experienced the most severe level of need, where food intake is reduced and regular eating patterns are disrupted. [1]


Inadequate food intake in children is associated with a number of serious health, behavior, and cognitive deficits. Children who are food-insecure are in poorer health and are more likely to be developmentally “at-risk” than non-food-insecure children, according to parental reports. [2][3]

Infants who experience food insecurity are more likely to have insecure attachment relationships, and to perform more poorly on tests of cognitive development. [4]

Children in food-insecure households have more stomach aches, frequent headaches, and colds than children who are in food-secure households. Higher rates of hospitalization, iron deficiency anemia, and chronic health conditions are reported among food-insecure children. [5]

Studies also report that food insecurity is associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in three-year-olds; in school-aged children, psychosocial deficits, as well as higher anxiety and depression; and, in adolescents, higher rates of depressive disorder and suicidal symptoms. Food-insecure children show smaller gains in math and reading achievement between kindergarten and third grade, and, among those ages six to 11, a higher likelihood of repeating a grade. [6]

Food insecurity, particularly when experienced in the earliest primary grades, also has a significant detrimental effect on non-cognitive classroom measures, such as interpersonal skills, self-control, and the group of competencies (including attentiveness, persistence, and flexibility) termed “approaches to learning." [7]

Counter-intuitively, child food-insecurity is also associated with a greater risk for being overweight. [8][9][10] While the processes underlying this association are not completely understood, food insecurity can result in lower diet quality and less variety, both of which can contribute to being overweight, and unpredictable availability of food can lead to overeating. [11]

In a study led by Child Trends researchers, household food insecurity was also associated with mothers’ depressive symptoms, and with fewer positive interactions between parents and their infant children; each of those factors could play some role in accounting for risk for being overweight. [12]

Food insecurity can also affect the health of pregnant women. One study showed that women living in food-insecure households had greater pregnancy weight-gains and a higher risk of diabetes—both of which increase the risk their infants will have health conditions related to overweight status. [13]

Recent research shows that even “marginal” food security is associated with poor health and developmental outcomes. [14]

A 2011 report calculated the annual cost burden of hunger in the United States (adults and children) at a minimum of $167.5 billion. This estimate includes the hunger-related costs associated with charity, illness and psychosocial dysfunction, and diminished learning and economic productivity. [15]

Food security is typically reported at the household level. As of 2013, 14 percent of households with children had low food security, and an additional six percent had very low food security. [16] Parents are often able to keep their children “food- secure,” even when parents themselves have low food security. However, food insecurity can be aggravated by the trade-offs households make to stretch limited economic resources.

For example, a study found that as households’ “energy insecurity” (difficulty paying for heating/cooling and utilities) increased, so did the likelihood of children’s food insecurity. [17] Another study found that children living with adult smokers had twice the risk of food insecurity as those living in households without smokers. [18]

In a 2007 survey, households with low food security among children were more likely to report they reduced the quality and variety of children’s meals, rather than reducing the amount of food they gave children. Households with very low food security among children reported multiple indicators of going without food, or reducing the amount of food, due to lack of money to buy food. [19]


In 2013, 21 percent of children under 18 lived in food-insecure households, and one percent in households with very low food security among children specifically. (Figure 1)

Household food insecurity among children rose between 1999 and 2004, reflecting a slowing economy in those years. In 2005, the rate of household food insecurity among children declined, then remained fairly constant (at 17 percent) until 2008, when it rose to 23 percent. Since then, it has decreased a small amount, and in 2013, the proportion of children in food-insecure households was at 21 percent. The prevalence of very low food security among children remained essentially the same from 1999 to 2006, at around 0.7 percent, but increased in 2007 to 0.9 percent, and to 1.5 percent in 2008, before declining slightly between 2008 and 2013, to 1.0 percent. (Figure 1)

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin [20]

In 2013, household food insecurity was more than twice as prevalent among children in households headed by blacks (36 percent) or Hispanics (30 percent), than in those headed by whites (15 percent). The proportion of households where children had “very low food security,” was between three and four times as high in black or Hispanic households as it was in white households. (Figure 2)

Differences by Family Structure

In 2013, household food insecurity among children was more than twice as prevalent in households headed by single women as it was in those headed by married couples (37 and 15 percent, respectively), and also significantly higher than was found among households headed by single men (26 percent). Children in households headed by a single woman were also twice as likely as children in households headed by a married couple to experience very low food security themselves, at 2.0 and 0.7 percent, respectively. (Figure 3)

Differences by Household Income

Throughout the period of 1999-2013, the percentage of children living in households with incomes below the federal poverty level that were also food-insecure was more than twice as high as it was among all households, although in 2010 that difference was the smallest ever recorded. (Appendix 1)

In 2013, the prevalence of very low food security among children was nearly more than twice as high among poor households as it was among all households. (Appendix 2)

Forty-six percent of all children in households with annual incomes below the federal poverty line were living with household food insecurity in 2012, compared with 32 percent in households with incomes between 100 and 199 percent of poverty, and eight percent in households with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (Figure 4)

Differences by income-group in the proportion of children in food-insecure households narrowed between 2001 and 2010, with the greatest decreases between 2007 and 2008, but have increased since then. (Appendix 1) In 2007, most households (85 percent) with food-insecure children had at least one adult in the workforce, including 70 percent that had a full-time adult worker. [21]

State and Local Estimates

State-level data for 2011-2013 on food insecurity among households (regardless of the presence of children) are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Table 4)

A 2009-10 survey conducted by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), using questions similar, but not identical to those used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys, produced estimates of "food hardship" for the nation, states, Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and congressional districts.

Feeding America has developed synthetic estimates of child food insecurity at county and Congressional District levels, as well as county-level estimates of food price variation.

International Estimates

Food security statistics for the world population can be found on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations web site.

FAO also reports on food insecurity in the developing world, by region, sub-region, and country; the 2010 report is currently available.

National Goals

Through the Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government aims to eliminate very low food security among children, bringing it from 1.3 percent in 2008 to 0.2 percent in 2020. This goal is based on a similar goal set by the Obama administration, to eliminate very low food insecurity among children by 2015. [22] Additionally, the Healthy People 2020 initiative has set a goal to reduce the percentage of all households that are food insecure, from 14.6 percent in 2008 to 6 percent in 2020.

More information is available HERE. (Goals NWS-12 and 13)

What Works to Make Progress on this Indicator

Studies have shown that a number of publicly funded "safety net" programs--food stamps, TANF (welfare), WIC, LIHEAP (low-income heating assistance), and subsidized housing--alleviate hunger and food insecurity and some of their deleterious effects on children. See publications from the Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program and the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, there is evidence to suggest that young, low-income children who attend child care programs that participate in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, and who eat meals supplied by the child care provider, have better health outcomes than children of the same status whose meals in child care were supplied from home.

More information is available HERE.

Rural low-income households with children may be more likely to be food-secure when mothers have skills related to budgeting for, purchasing, and preparing food, and have knowledge of community resources. See the this publication for more information. (pp. 12-20).


The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. [23]

Households are classified as food insecure if they reported three or more indications of food insecurity in responses to 18 questions referring to experience within the past 12 months. The food security of children in the household is assessed by responses to eight of the questions (the latter group asked only if the household included children younger than 18).

Data Sources
  • Data for 1995, 1999, and 2001-2012: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2014). America's children in brief: Key national indicators of well-being, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Table ECON 3.
  • Data for 1998 and 2000: Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., and Carlson, S. (2012). Household food security in the United States in 2011. United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Tables: 1B and S-3.


[1] "Food-insecure" is a term used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to refer to "the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways." "Very low food security," the most severe level measured by the survey, is characterized by irregular meals and inadequate food intake, as determined by caregivers.

[2] Nord, M. (2009). Food insecurity in households with children: Prevalence, severity, and household characteristics. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from

[3] Rose-Jacobs, R., Black, M. M., Casey P. H., et al. (2008). Household food insecurity: Associations with at-risk infant and toddler development. Pediatrics, 121(1), 65-72.

[4] Zaslow, M., Bronte-Tinkew, J., Capps, R., Horowitz, A., Moore, K. A., & Weinstein, D. (2009). Food security during infancy: Implications for attachment and mental proficiency in toddlerhood. Maternal

[5] Nord, (2009). Op. cit.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Howard, L. L. (2010). Does food insecurity at home affect non-cognitive performance at school? A longitudinal analysis of elementary student classroom behavior. Economics of Education Review, 30, 157-176.

[8] Casey, P. H., Simpson, P. M., Gossett, J. M., et al. (2006). The association of child and household food insecurity with childhood overweight status. Pediatrics, 118(5), e1406-e1413.

[9] Bronte-Tinkew, J., Zaslow, M., Capps, R., and Horowitz, A. (2007). Food insecurity and overweight among infants and toddlers: New insights into a troubling linkage. Child Trends Research Brief. Retrieved from

[10] Food Research and Action Center. (2010). Why low-income and food-insecure people are vulnerable to overweight and obesity. Retrieved from

[11]Bronte-Tinkew et al. Op. cit.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Laraia. B. A., Siega-Riz, and Gundersen, C. (2010). Household food insecurity is associated with self-reported pregravid weight status, gestational weight gain, and pregnancy complications. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(5), 692-701.

[14] Cook, J. T., Black, M., Chilton, M., Cutts, D., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Heeren, T. C., Rose-Jacobs,R., Sandel, M., Casey, P. H., Coleman, S., Weiss, I., & Frank, D. A. (2013). Are food insecurity’s health impacts underestimated in the U.S. population? Advances in Nutrition, 4, 51-61.

[15] Shepard, D.S., Setren, E., Cooper, D. (2011). Hunger in America: Suffering we all pay for. Commissioned by The Center for American Progress. Available at:

[16] Coleman-Jensen, A., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2014). Household food security in the United States, 2013. United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Retrieved from Table 2.

[17] Cook, J. T., Frank, D. A., Casey, P. H. et al. (2008). A brief indicator of household energy security: Associations with food security, child health, and child development in U.S. infants and toddlers. Pediatrics, 122(4), e867-e875.

[18] Cutler-Triggs, C., Fryer, G. E., Miyoshi, T. J., and Weitzman, M. (2008). Increased rates and severity of child and adult food insecurity in households with adult smokers. Pediatrics, 162(11), 1056-1062.

[19] Nord, M. (2009). Op. cit.

[20] Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.

[21] Nord, M. (2009). Op. cit.

[22] See USDA Strategic Plan FY 2010-2015 available at, p. 26.

[23] U. S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. (2014). Definitions of food security. Available at:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Impact of Social-Emotional Learning on Academic Achievement

From the American Psychological Society
via ScienceDaily

November 23, 2015

Summary: Teaching social and emotional skills to inner-city students can contribute to their academic achievement, new evidence shows. The project involved all students enrolled in regular or bilingual education in an inner-city school system where 2 out of 3 students qualify for a free or reduced price lunch and 9 out of 10 students are African American or Hispanic/Latino American.

Those promoting a "whole-child" approach to education contend that we need a holistic perspective that aims to nurture the full range of skills and capacities that will help children of today become healthy and competent future adults.

But increasing scrutiny of academic achievement gaps among children in the United States, as well as between children in our country and other developed countries, has created an urgency to promotion of academic achievement that has left little time for the development of non-academic skills.

However, research recently reported in School Psychology Quarterly suggests there's no real conflict: a randomized, controlled trial of an evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum (PATHS: Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies) in grades 3-6 showed that students in schools randomized to receive an enhanced SEL program were more likely than those in the control group to achieve basic proficiency in reading, writing and math on independently administered state mastery tests in later grades.

The project involved all students enrolled in regular or bilingual education in an inner-city school system where 2 out of 3 students qualify for a free or reduced price lunch and 9 out of 10 students are African American or Hispanic/Latino American. The project focused on the impact of advancing academic proficiency at the lowest level (i.e., below basic proficiency) given that the curriculum has demonstrated positive impact on behavior and emotion for students most at-risk, as well as the belief that these students might be most vulnerable to the negative impacts of sub-optimal social and emotional skills, classroom and school climate, and school engagement.

Furthermore, this group of students contributes most to the achievement gap that has challenged our country's educational system.

Those children randomized to schools where the enhanced SEL curriculum was taught were more likely to achieve basic proficiency in the three academic areas evaluated by the mastery test. Furthermore, within the schools where the enhanced SEL curriculum was implemented, researchers saw a "dosage effect;" students whose teachers reported teaching more of the lessons were more likely to achieve basic proficiency.

Positive intervention effects of the curriculum were found in at least some grade levels for all three academic content areas. Specifically, the intervention group showed greater basic proficiency in 4th grade reading and math, as well as 5th and 6th grade writing, compared to the control group, with the analyses for the dosage effects providing additional support for the intervention effects for reading and math.

Although the effect sizes were relatively small, considering that the curriculum aims to teach social-emotional skills and was implemented to reduce the onset of high-risk behaviors (a prior paper by the team showed that the program helped reduce early sexual behavior), the fact that there was also impact on academic test scores is noteworthy.

This is one of the first studies to examine the impact of a multiyear SEL program on academic achievement among young students.

Many schools are actively restricting classroom time devoted to any subjects or activities that do not appear to directly prepare children for high-stakes testing in reading, writing, and math. Teachers and school administrators are increasingly finding their job performance linked to the degree to which their students demonstrate achievement in these subject areas. As a result, many important components of children's education, including SEL, are being seriously compromised or eliminated entirely.

This research provides support that SEL may be a promising approach to promote basic academic proficiency, especially for those students most at risk.

Journal Reference
  • David J. Schonfeld, Ryan E. Adams, Bridget K. Fredstrom, Roger P. Weissberg, Richard Gilman, Charlene Voyce, Ricarda Tomlin, Dee Speese-Linehan. Cluster-randomized trial demonstrating impact on academic achievement of elementary social-emotional learning..School Psychology Quarterly, 2015; 30 (3): 406 DOI:10.1037/spq0000099

Friday, November 27, 2015

Video (1:21:44): Brainstorm - The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (Dan Siegel)

From the Family Action Network (FAN)

November 16, 2013

Siegel illuminates how brain development impacts teenagers' behavior and relationships. Drawing on important new research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, he explores exciting ways in which understanding how the teenage brain functions can help parents make what is in fact an incredibly positive period of growth, change, and experimentation in their children's lives less lonely and distressing on both sides of the generational divide.

The Family Action Network (FAN) is a 501(c)(3) organization that creates a free, high-quality human development speaker series each academic year. All programs are free and open to the public.

Implicit Learning Works Differently with Autism

From Carnegie Mellon University
via Futurity

By Shilo Rea
November 23, 2015

New research shows how the brains of people with and without autism spectrum disorder gradually became adapted to visual patterns they were learning, without awareness of the pattern, or implicit learning.

Functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) imaging revealed that the brain activation of ASD individuals was slower to become familiar with the pattern they repeatedly saw—meaning their brains failed to register the “oldness” of the patterns to the same degree that the control participants did.

Read the original study HERE.

As reported in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of the control participants kept decreasing their level of activation with repeated exposures to the patterns being learned—showing adaptation—whereas the decreases in the brain of participants with ASD were significantly smaller.

They also found that the severity of an individual’s autism symptoms correlated with the brain’s degree of adaptation to the patterns. The findings provide insight into why many real-world implicit learning situations, such as learning to interpret facial expressions, pose challenges for those with ASD.

“This finding provides a tentative explanation for why people with ASD might have difficulty with everyday social interactions, if their learning of implicit social cues has been altered,” says Marcel Just, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

Different Ways of Learning

While having their brains scanned, 16 high-functioning adults with ASD and 16 typical adults were trained to perform an implicit dot pattern-learning task. The target pattern was a random array of dots, which can gradually become familiar over multiple exposures despite minor changes in the pattern. Prior to the brain scan, both groups were familiarized with the type of task that would be used in the scanner.

The ASD participants took longer than the control group to learn the task, demonstrating altered implicit learning in ASD. After equalizing the task structure learning and using the fMRI scanner, the two groups’ brain activation differed while they were learning a new dot pattern.

The imaging showed that at the beginning of the learning session, both groups’ brain activation levels were similar. By the end of the task, the typical participants showed decreased activation in the posterior regions. The ASD participants’ brain activation did not decrease later in learning. In fact, it increased in frontal and parietal regions.

“Behaviorally, the two groups looked very similar throughout the task—both the ASD and typical participants were able to learn how to correctly categorize the dot patterns with reasonable accuracy,” Just says.

“But, because their activation levels differed, it tells us that there may be something qualitatively different in the way individuals with ASD learn and perform these kinds of task and reveals insights into the disorder that are not discernible from behavior alone.”

Brain Synchronization

A second finding involved brain synchronization—a measure of how well coordinated the brain activation was across different regions of the brain. The implicit learning exercise was specifically designed to engage both the frontal and posterior regions of the brain, and the results showed that brain synchronization between these regions was lower in ASD.

This supports Just’s 2004 work, which first discovered this lower synchronization. In later studies, Just shows how this theory accounted for many brain imaging and behavioral findings in tasks that required a substantial role for the frontal cortex.

“This lack of synchronization with frontal regions in ASD—an impairment in brain connectivity—may lead to symptoms of the disorder that involve processes that require brain coordination between frontal and other areas, such as language processing and social interaction,” Just explains.

The researchers also found that adaptation and synchronization were directly related to the severity of the participants’ ASD symptoms.

“Seeing that individuals with more atypical neural responses also had more severe ASD symptoms suggests that these neural characteristics underlie or contribute to the core symptoms of ASD,” Just says. “It is possible that reduced neural adaptability during learning in ASD may lead to the behavioral symptoms of the disorder. For example, the ability to learn implicit social clues may be affected in ASD, leading to impaired social processing.”

Coauthor Sarah Schipul, a Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. graduate in psychology and postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Just believe that therapeutic approaches for ASD might benefit from making the learning of various everyday skills that people without ASD learn implicitly very clear.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health funded this research.

  • DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.10.039

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2015

From New Orleans!

Second Quarter 2015 BSEA Commentary by

From Special Education Today
A Special Education Law Blog by Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP

By Eileen Hagerty, Esq.
November 24, 2015

Eileen Hagerty, Esq.
KCS attorneys comment quarterly on Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”) decisions and rulings for the Massachusetts Special Education Reporter. Eileen Hagerty’s commentary on the second quarter of 2015 is now available on our website.

Highlights of the commentary include:
  • Dissection of a decision involving disputes over eligibility and placement for a student with specific learning disability (dyslexia), ADHD, anxiety, and depression (Newton Public Schools). What factors appeared to influence the hearing officer? Why did she give more weight to some pieces of evidence than to others? What can parents and advocates learn from the decision?
  • Analysis of a decision that enforced a student’s right to transportation, underscoring the principle that, when transportation is necessary for a student to access his or her program, denial of transportation is a denial of FAPE (Acton-Boxborough Regional School District).
  • Discussion and comparison of two stay-put rulings, one considering whether stay-put required a private special education school’s continuing involvement in a public school classroom (answer: no) (Norton Public Schools) and the other considering whether a private special education school could terminate a student’s enrollment where the school perceived the parents’ conduct, but not the student’s, to be problematic (answer: no) (Agawam Public Schools).

Read the full KCS commentary HERE.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Peek At Brain Connections May Reveal Attention Deficits

From NPR's WBUR 90.9 FM

By Jon Hamilton
November 23, 2015

A look at the brain's wiring can often reveal whether a person has trouble staying focused, and even whether he or she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. 

Brain imaging experiments found patterns associated
with attention span. (iStockphoto)

A team led by researchers at Yale University reports that they were able to identify many children and adolescents with ADHD by studying data on the strength of certain connections in their brains.

"There's an intrinsic signature," says Monica Rosenberg, a graduate student and lead author of the study in Nature Neuroscience. But the approach isn't ready for use as a diagnostic tool yet, she says.

The finding adds to the evidence that people with ADHD have a true brain disorder, not just a behavioral problem, says Mark Mahone, director of neuropsychology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. "There are measurable ways that their brains are different," he says.

Listen to this story (3:26) HERE.

The latest finding came from an effort to learn more about brain connections associated with attention.

Initially, the Yale team used functional MRI, a form of magnetic resonance imaging, to monitor the brains of 25 typical people while they did something really boring. Their task was to watch a screen that showed black-and-white images of cities or mountains and press a button only when they saw a city.

"It gets really dull after a while," Rosenberg says, "so it's really hard to pay attention to over a long period of time."

During the test, the team measured the strength of thousands of connections throughout the participants' brains. And they were able to identify certain patterns that predicted a person's ability to stay focused.

What's more, these connection patterns were present even when the person wasn't trying to keep track of cities and mountains, or anything else, Rosenberg says. "We could actually look at that signature while they were resting and we could still predict their attention," she says.

The team wanted to know whether this signature could be used to assess younger people, especially those with ADHD. So they reviewed data on 113 children and adolescents whose brains had been scanned by scientists in China as part of an unrelated study. The children had also been assessed for ADHD.

The team used the information about brain connections to predict how well each child would do on the attention task with cities and mountains.

"And what we found was really surprising, and I think really cool," Rosenberg says. "When we predicted that a child would do really well on the task, they had a low ADHD score. And when we predicted they would do really poorly on the task, they had a high ADHD score, indicating that they had a severe attention deficit."

For many of the children, the researchers were able to predict not only whether they had ADHD, but how severe the problem was.

The test isn't perfect but does provide useful information, Rosenberg says. Eventually, she says, it might help psychologists and psychiatrists assess children with attention problems.

One potential limitation of the approach is that attention deficits aren't found only in people with ADHD, says Mahone. Individuals with anxiety, depression, learning disabilities and autism also have trouble staying focused, he says.

Regardless of the diagnosis, though, Mahone says, "knowing how the brain is different in a disorder, we can look at ways to help 'normalize' the brain."


ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: There's new evidence that people with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have brains that are wired differently. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on a test that measures how different that wiring is. And the test might even help predict a person's ability to stay focused.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: A team at Yale University wanted to know more about the brain circuits that affect attention. So they used a type of brain scan called functional MRI to monitor the brains of 25 typical people doing something really boring. The participants reclined in a scanning tunnel, watching a screen. Monica Rosenberg, one of the study's authors, says they saw images of cities or mountains.

MONICA ROSENBERG: And their job was to just press a button that they had every time they saw a city and not to press anything when they saw a mountain.

HAMILTON: Again and again and again for half an hour.

ROSENBERG: It gets really dull after a while. And the images fade into each other. So it sounds simple, but it's really hard to pay attention to over a long period of time.

HAMILTON: During the test, the team measured the strength of thousands of connections in the participants' brains. And the scientists were able to identify certain patterns that predicted a person's ability to stay focused. What's more, Rosenberg says, these connection patterns were present even when the person wasn't trying to keep track of cities or mountains or anything else.

ROSENBERG: We could actually look at that signature while they were resting, so while they weren't doing anything at all, and we could still predict their attention. So there was some kind of, like, intrinsic signature.

HAMILTON: At least for the 25 typical adults in the study, but the team wanted to know whether this signature would apply to younger people, especially those with ADHD. So they reviewed data on 113 children and adolescents whose brains had been scanned by scientists in China as part of an unrelated study. The children had also been assessed for ADHD.

Without knowing which kids had attention problems, Rosenberg's team relied on their brain scans to predict how well or poorly each kid could do on the attention task.

ROSENBERG: And what we found was really surprising and I think really cool, which is that when we predicted that a child would do really well on the task, they actually had a low ADHD score. And when we predicted they would do really poorly on the task, they had a high ADHD score, indicating that they have a severe attention deficit.

HAMILTON: For many of the children, the researchers were able to predict not only whether they had ADHD but how severe the problem was. Even so, Rosenberg says, the approach isn't perfect.

ROSENBERG: I wouldn't say this tells you everything. I wouldn't base a clinical diagnosis just on this scan.

HAMILTON: But she says it does provide useful information. Mark Mahone, a neuropsychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, says the results offer one more piece of evidence that ADHD is a brain disorder, not just a behavior problem.

MARK MAHONE: I think it shows us that there are measurable ways that individuals who have been carefully diagnosed with ADHD - there are measurable ways that their brains are different.

HAMILTON: Mahone says the brain differences found by the Yale researchers may also appear in people with other disorders.

MAHONE: Deficits in sustained attention are in no way unique to ADHD. You know, individuals with anxiety may have some of these problems, depression, learning disabilities of one type or another, autism.

HAMILTON: Mahone says regardless of the diagnosis, treatments need to focus on the specific deficits a person has.

MAHONE: Knowing how the brain is different in a disorder, we can look at ways to help, quote, unquote, "normalize" the brain.

HAMILTON: And tests like the one developed at Yale should help assess the result. The new research appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.