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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

5 Cognitive Advantages of People With ADHD

From Open Colleges
via InformedEd

By Saga Briggs
January 10, 2018

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition marked by a limited ability to focus, control behavioural impulses, and manage one’s energy. It affects around 7.2 percent of children and 3.4 percent of adults worldwide.

Normally viewed as a disorder that stands in the way of efficient learning, ADHD may actually offer several cognitive benefits to those affected by it, according to experts.

“Children with ADHD can be highly creative and can spend a long time doing activities they love,” Australia’s Raising Children Network states. “Some children might enjoy using their energy on sport or dancing. They might also be more open to trying new things than other children. Finding positive ways for your child to use her energy can be good for her self-esteem and help protect her against mental health problems.”

Researchers have found that adults can benefit positively, too. Many high-profile CEOs, such as JetBlue Founder David Neeleman, cite having ADHD as one of the reasons for their success, reporting higher levels of creativity and motivation.

In both children and adults, there are cognitive benefits to having “too much energy” and “being easily distracted.” Let’s celebrate a few of these below.

1.) Entrepreneurial Mindset

Johan Wikilund of Syracuse University has found a positive correlation between ADHD and entrepreneurial success. Hyperactivity and impulsivity, in particular, contribute to more success as an entrepreneur.

Wikilund has been studying entrepreneurship for over twenty years. So far he has conducted a case study of 16 entrepreneurs with ADHD diagnoses, a survey of MBA alumni, and a survey of successful entrepreneurs.

He has found that “ADHD symptoms are directly linked to behaving more entrepreneurially within [people’s] organisations, and positively linked to growth and performance.”

2.) Flexible Thinking

Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., of Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, suggests that, in some cases, having trouble focusing on one thing can also be seen as “flexible thinking.”

People with ADHD appear to be better multi-taskers. Although focusing on a single task is crucial to learning, it’s worth noting that those with ADHD may have a leg up when it comes to cognitive flexibility.

3.) Quick-Starter Attitude

People with ADHD are known to be more impulsive than most, making quick decisions without considering the consequences. Wikilund says this might be a good thing, however.

“Impulsivity is particularly interesting because it is such a negatively loaded word,” he says. “But it is impulsivity that triggers people with ADHD to act and take risks where other people would wait and see. They also tend to look at the potential gains rather than fear the potential losses, which helps them keep going and to keep coming back.”

Mendez adds: “Quick reactions lead to action. People who are impulsive don’t sit around and feel helpless.”

4.) Creativity

Recent studies suggest that people with ADHD come up with more creative ideas more quickly than those without ADHD. In one test, wherein children were tasked with generating toy design ideas, those with ADHD “came up with a far more diverse array of different types of toys than those without ADHD.”

In another test, wherein adults were asked to come up with as many uses as possible for a common object like a cup or a brick, “those with ADHD outperformed those without it.”

The creativity advantage seems only to apply to idea generation, though, and not to pattern recognition:

“When adults were given other tasks to test creativity, such as one in which they had to find something in common amongst three seemingly unrelated items (such as the words mines, lick, and sprinkle) those with ADHD performed worse than those without it.”

5.) Emotional Processing

People with ADHD tend to have trouble controlling their emotions as well, often reacting according to how they feel without filtering it first. Researchers say this could be a good thing in some cases, as “allowing ourselves to feel emotions as they happen helps us process them and prepare for the future.”

Having what’s called emotional dysregulation, then, could be beneficial if those with ADHD learn to use it to their advantage.

None of this is to say that living with ADHD is not a challenge, but it may be time to reduce the stigma surrounding it. Focusing on the positive aspects of the condition may help us move toward solutions that strengthen skills rather than treat disabilities. Findings like these offer hope to parents, educators, and students whose lives are affected by ADHD.

How Trauma, Abuse and Neglect in Childhood Connects to Serious Diseases in Adults

From KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

By MindShift
January 23, 2018

Excerpted from THE DEEPEST WELL: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris. Copyright © 2018 by Nadine Burke Harris. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Dr. Vincent Felitti suspected that he might have glimpsed a hidden relationship between histories of abuse and obesity. To get a clearer picture of that potential relationship, when he conducted his normal checkups and patient interviews for the obesity program, he now began asking people if they had a history of childhood sexual abuse. To his shock, it seemed as if every other patient acknowledged such a history.

At first he thought there was no way this could be true. Wouldn’t he have learned about this correlation in medical school? However, after 186 patients, he was becoming convinced. But in order to make sure there wasn’t something idiosyncratic about his group of patients or about the way he asked the questions, he enlisted five colleagues to screen their next hundred weight patients for a history of abuse. When they turned up the same results, Felitti knew they had uncovered something big.

Dr. Felitti’s insight about the link between childhood adversity and health outcomes led to the landmark ACE Study. This was a prime example of doctors thinking like detectives, following a hunch and then putting it through its scientific paces.

Beginning with just two patients, this research would eventually become both the foundation and the inspiration for ongoing work giving medical professionals critical insight into the lives of so many others.

After the initial detective work within his own department, Felitti started trying to spread the word. In 1990 he presented his findings at a national obesity meeting in Atlanta and was roundly criticized by his peers. One physician in the audience insisted that patients’ stories of abuse were fabrications meant to provide cover for their failed lives. Felitti reported that the man got a round of applause.

There was at least one person at the conference who didn’t think Dr. Felitti had been hoodwinked by his patients. An epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), David Williamson was seated next to Felitti at a dinner for the speakers later that night. The senior scientist told Felitti that if what he was claiming — that there was a connection between childhood abuse and obesity — was true, it could be enormously important.

But, he pointed out that no one was going to believe evidence based on a mere 286 cases. What Felitti needed was a large-scale, epidemiologically sound study with thousands of people who came from a wide cross-section of the population, not just a subgroup in an obesity program.

In the weeks following their meeting, Williamson introduced Felitti to a physician epidemiologist at the CDC, Robert Anda. Anda had spent years at the CDC researching the link between behavioral health and cardiovascular disease. For the next two years Anda and Felitti would review the existing literature on the connection between abuse and obesity and figure out the best way to create a meaningful study.

Their aim was to identify two things: (1) the relationship between exposure to abuse and/or household dysfunction in childhood and adult health-risk behavior (alcoholism, smoking, severe obesity), and (2) the relationship between exposure to abuse and/or household dysfunction in childhood and disease. To do that, they needed comprehensive medical evaluations and health data from a large number of adults.

Fortunately, part of the data they needed was already being collected every day at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, where over 45,000 adults a year were getting comprehensive medical evaluations in the health appraisal center. The medical evaluations amassed by Kaiser would be a treasure trove of important data for Felitti and Anda because they contained demographic information, previous diagnoses, family history, and current conditions or diseases each patient was dealing with.

After nine months of battling and finally gaining approval from the oversight committees for their ACE Study protocol, Felitti and Anda were ready to go. Between 1995 and 1997, they asked 26,000 Kaiser members if they would help improve understanding of how childhood experiences affected health, and 17,421 of those Kaiser health-plan members agreed to participate.

A week after the first two visits for this process, Felitti and Anda sent each patient a questionnaire asking about childhood abuse and exposure to household dysfunction as well as about current health-risk factors, like smoking, drug abuse, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.

The questionnaire collected crucial information about what Felitti and Anda termed “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. Based on the prevalence of adversities they had seen in the obesity program, Felitti and Anda sorted their definitions of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction into ten specific categories of ACEs.

Their goal was to determine each patient’s level of exposure by asking if he or she had experienced any of the ten categories before the age of eighteen:
  • Emotional abuse (recurrent)
  • Physical abuse (recurrent)
  • Sexual abuse (contact)
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Substance abuse in the household (e.g., living with an alcoholic or a person with a substance-abuse problem)
  • Mental illness in the household (e.g., living with someone who suffered from depression or mental illness or who had attempted suicide)
  • Mother treated violently
  • Divorce or parental separation
  • Criminal behavior in household (e.g., a household member going to prison).

Each category of abuse, neglect, or dysfunction experienced counted as one point. Because there were ten categories, the highest possible ACE score was ten.

Using the data from the medical evaluations and the questionnaires, Felitti and Anda correlated the ACE scores with health-risk behaviors and health outcomes.

First, they discovered that ACEs were astonishingly common — 67 percent of the population had at least one category of ACE and 12.6 percent had four or more categories of ACEs.

Second, they found a dose-response relationship between ACEs and poor health outcomes, meaning that the higher a person’s ACE score, the greater the risk to his or her health. For instance, a person with four or more ACEs was twice as likely to develop heart disease and cancer and three and a half times as likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a person with zero ACEs.

Given what I’d seen in my patients and in the community, I knew in my bones that this study was dead-on.

It was powerful evidence of the connection that I had seen clinically but had never seen substantiated in the literature. After reading the ACE Study, I was able to answer the question of whether there was a medical connection between the stress of childhood abuse and neglect and the bodily changes and damage that could last a lifetime.

It seemed clear now that there was a dangerous exposure in the well at Bayview Hunters Point. It wasn’t lead. It wasn’t toxic waste. It wasn’t even poverty, per se. It was childhood adversity. And it was making people sick.

One of the most revealing parts of the ACE Study was not what it investigated but who it investigated.

Many people might look at Bayview Hunters Point and see the rates of poverty and violence and the lack of health care and say, “Of course those people are sicker; that makes sense.” After all, that’s what I learned in public-health school. Poverty and lack of adequate health care are what really drives poor health outcomes, right?

This is where the ACE Study comes in and shakes things up, showing us that the dominant view is missing something big. Because where was the ACE Study conducted?

Bayview? Harlem? South-Central Los Angeles?


Solidly middle-class San Diego.

The original ACE Study was done in a population that was 70 percent Caucasian and 70 percent college-educated.

The study’s participants, as patients of Kaiser, also had great health care. Over and over again, further studies about ACEs have validated the original findings.

The body of research sparked by the ACE Study makes it clear that adverse childhood experiences in and of themselves are a risk factor for many of the most common and serious diseases in the United States (and worldwide), regardless of income or race or access to care.

The ACE Study is powerful for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that its focus goes beyond behavioral or mental-health outcomes. The research wasn’t conducted by a psychologist; it was conducted by two internal medicine doctors.

Most people intuitively understand that there’s a connection between trauma in childhood and risky behavior, like drinking too much, eating poorly, and smoking, in adulthood (more on that later).

But what most people don’t recognize is that there is a connection between early life adversity and well-known killers like heart disease and cancer. Every day in the clinic I saw the way my patients’ exposure to ACEs was taking a toll on their bodies. They may have been too young for heart disease, but I could certainly see the early signs in their high rates of obesity and asthma.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is the founder of CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point. She is the subject of a New Yorker profile and the recipient of a Heinz Award, among many other honors. Her TED talk “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across the Lifetime” has been viewed over three million times. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and four sons. THE DEEPEST WELL is her first book.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Bill Gates is Surprisingly Strict About His kids' Tech Use — and It Should Be a Red Flag for the Rest of Us

From Business Insider

By Chris Weller
January 14, 2018

Bill Gates has set strict rules in his home regarding the use of cell phones and other technology. The policy speaks to the growing consensus in Silicon Valley that consumer tech is too addictive, and potentially harmful to young brains.

For all his success in designing world-changing technology, Bill Gates has set surprisingly strict rules for how his kids can use that technology, the billionaire philanthropist has said in multiple interviews.

"You're always looking at how it can be used in a great way — homework and staying in touch with friends — and also where it has gotten to excess," Gates told the Mirror in April 2017.

Each of Gates' three kids — ages 15, 18, and 21 — has grown up in a home that forbade cell phones until age 14, banned cell-phone use at the dinner table, and set limits on how close to bedtime kids could use their phones.

Gates told the Mirror his kids routinely complained that other kids were getting phones much earlier, but the pleas did nothing to change the policy. In a separate interview with Matt Lauer, then at the Today Show, Gates said he doesn't go as far as keeping the passwords to his kids' Facebook accounts, but that online safety is "a very tricky issue for parents now."

Smartphone overuse — or "addiction," according to some psychology experts — is becoming a growing concern for parents, academics, and even workers in Silicon Valley. Gates has some company in his old-school approaches to smartphone regulation: Steve Jobs, the famed Apple CEO and inventor of the iPad in 2011, didn't let his kids use the product at home.

"We limit how much technology our kids use at home," Jobs told New York Times reporter Nick Bilton shortly after the iPad's release.

According to educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, coauthors of the recent book "Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber," it should be telling that people like Gates set strict rules on tech use.

"What is it these wealthy tech executives know about their own products that their consumers don't?" the authors wrote.

The answer, according to a growing body of evidence, is the addictive power of digital technology. In the past several months, a slew of Silicon Valley executives have denounced the all-consuming power of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter in capturing users' attention through their products and platforms.

"It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other," Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker told Axios in November. "It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways."

The most recent sign people are turning against the Silicon Valley giants: Two of Apple's largest shareholders, who collectively hold a $2 billion stake in the company, wrote an open letter expressing concern for what Apple products are doing to kids' brains.

"We have reviewed the evidence," wrote the shareholders, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, "and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner."

Poverty, Segregation Persist in U.S. Schools, Report Says

From the Associated Press
via PBS News Hour

By Maria Danilova
Associated Press

January 11, 2018

Too often, low-income, black and Latino students end up in schools with crumbling walls, old textbooks and unqualified teachers, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The commission said inequities are caused by the fact that schools are most funded with state and local tax dollars. More than 92 percent of funding comes from nonfederal sources, according to the Education Department.

The resulting imbalance renders "the education available to millions of American public school students profoundly unequal," the commission said.

For instance, the authors said, 33 percent of high schools with high black and Latino enrollment offer calculus, compared with 56 percent of high schools with low black and Latino student populations. Nationwide, 48 percent of schools offer the rigorous math course.

On average, school districts spend around $11,000 per student each year, but the highest-poverty districts receive an average of $1,200 less per child than the least-poor districts, while districts serving the largest numbers of minority students get about $2,000 less than those serving the fewest students of color, according the study.

The authors called on Congress to create incentives for states to adopt equitable funding systems, to ensure adequate funding for students with disabilities and to increase federal funding to supplement local dollars for school districts that are underfunded.

"Federal, state, and local government should develop incentives to promote communities that are not racially segregated and do not have concentrated poverty," the report said.

Whether channeling more money to schools in underserved communities will help improve the quality of education is a subject of academic debate.

"Money matters. If you don't have it, you cannot spend it," said Bruce Baker, a professor of education at Rutgers University.

Baker said that states should do a better job in raising education funding and in equalizing spending among school districts. He also called for a greater federal role in making sure that less affluent states that need additional education funding get it.

"Having federal money can help states that cannot help themselves and federal pressure can encourage states to do the right thing, to raise enough resources and put them where they are needed."

But Eric Hanushek, a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, disagrees.

"Money is not the secret recipe," Hanushek said. "How much is spent on schools is not as important as how the money is spent." For instance, he said, simply increasing the salaries of all teachers in a high-need school district won't have as much of an impact as identifying high-performing teachers and increasing their salaries.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Heart of the Matter: The Adolescent Brain

From Developmental Empathy

By David Gleason
January 25, 2018

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present to the faculty of a local independent school on the topic of the developing adolescent brain. They were interested in how they could apply the findings of “The Heart of the Matter: The Adolescent Brain,” chapter five in my book, At What Cost: Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools.

Since the school had recently engaged a different speaker who had focused on the intense and competing pressures on students – and since several of this school’s administrators had read my book – they were eager to “home in” on the five recent neurobiological discoveries which I detail in that chapter.

These discoveries provide indisputable, authoritative reasons for why any school faculty should strive to be more “developmentally empathic” in its overall approaches to educating their students.

What I want to share with you here is how, during the course of an afternoon, these educators were able to move from the broad topic of the adolescent brain to concrete ideas about how they could introduce changes that would truly embrace developmental empathy into their school environment.

Five Neurobiological Discoveries of Brain Development

Here’s how it unfolded. In my opening presentation, I reviewed the following five neurological discoveries of brain development in adolescents:

  • Back to Front Development: The human cortex develops from back-to-front. The prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain most involved with the development of executive functioning skills – does not develop fully until a person reaches their late 20s or even early 30s.
  • Limbic System and Prefrontal Cortex – Uneven Development: The brain’s limbic structures (amygdala, hippocampus, etc.) that are responsible for processing and expressing emotions come “online” with full force in the early stages of puberty, long before the prefrontal cortex has the capacity to fully regulate the intensity of the limbic-generated emotions.
  • Neuroplasticity: “Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together:” The brain is “plastic” or pliable; it matures mostly by becoming more connected (white matter), not larger (grey matter) from puberty onward. These neuronal connections are totally dependent on the environments in which they exist or function.
  • Environment Shapes the Brain: Interactions between genes and environment shape human development. Early experiences determine both how genes are “turned on and off” and whether or not some genes are even expressed at all. Healthy brain development depends on both how much and when certain genes are activated within the environment to do certain tasks. Essentially, experiences leave chemical signatures (epigenetic markers) that determine whether and how genes are expressed.
  • Adolescence is a Developmental Sensitive Period for the Brain: Adolescence is a developmental window of time within which the effects of environmental stimulation – or lack of it – on brain structure and function are maximized because so much brain maturation and development is occurring so rapidly and simultaneously.

With this foundational knowledge about the adolescent brain, the participants assembled in groups around circular tables and worked together to respond to the following question.

“In light of the constant and unrealistic pressures that so many students are experiencing, within your school’s already-sensitive and intentional educational environment, what other ideas/suggestions/changes can you IMAGINE as possible ways of becoming a more developmentally empathic school?”

Social-Emotional Functioning
  • Teach social-emotional learning for students in ALL grades.
  • Schedule more free time for students.
  • Facilitate students’ connecting with each other in meaningful ways.
  • Encourage parent education about these neurobiological issues and collaborate with parents about empathic changes for kids.

Academic Work Load
  • Reduce the amount of homework we assign: be sure homework reinforces learning and is not homework for the sake of homework
  • Review our assumptions about end-of-term assessments. Do we really need them? They put A LOT of pressure on kids.
  • Revise our schedule: it is too packed … daily, nightly, and weekly!
  • Reconsider our testing and assessment policies for all age groups.
  • Prioritize what we really value!
  • Remove numerical grades. Imagine NO grades!

Age-Appropriate Expectations
  • Review our age and grade level expectations. Are they developmentally appropriate?
  • Align our expectations with kids’ development. We are grading many kids on expectations they can’t meet!
  • Integrate appropriate study skills instruction within all academic areas for all grades.

In summarizing their focused work on these issues, one faculty member stated, “We need to be brave enough to go against the norm … as educators, parents, and as an entire institution.”

To me, the four most important take-aways from this afternoon session – which sparked the creation of this blog post – are the following:

1.) The members of this entire school’s faculty and administration were eager to learn about the five recent neurodevelopmental discoveries. They were eager for this kind of professional development in their collective effort to become a more developmentally sensitive and empathic school.

2.) After about a 90-mintute presentation of these five neurodevelopmental discoveries, these faculty members and administrators assembled into working groups and responded to the question (above) that challenged them to “imagine possible ways of becoming a more developmentally empathic school.” That is, they were eager to segue from a broad, scientific presentation to a focused discussion on its implications.

3.) In less than an hour, this group of about 75 committed teachers and administrators generated a long list of very specific possible ways of becoming a more developmentally empathic school.

4.) The speed with which they worked and the specificity of their suggestions speaks volumes of their underlying and collective desire to be as “developmentally empathic” as possible.

I applaud this school – and others with whom I have conducted similar workshops – for their focused and deliberate efforts to understand the developmental integrity of the students they teach, and then, to teach to these students accordingly, in ways that are deeply respectful of their students’ actual developmental capacities.

At the end of my work with this motivated group of faculty members and administrators, I reminded them of Margaret Mead’s famous quotation:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Mindful or Mind Full? Can You and Your Child Be More Present?

From NESCA News & Notes

By Amity Kulis, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

January 22, 2018

Mindfulness activities for caretakers and youth.

Mindfulness is an area of psychology that continues to gain popularity in our culture and in therapeutic practice. By definition, mindfulness is the practice of being conscious or aware of our current state without judgement. That is, focusing our awareness on what is happening in this very moment related to our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

We ignore what was happening in the past and what could happen in the future by being present in this moment.

While this seems like a simple concept, in our distracted world of technology and instant gratification this can be difficult to put into practice. Too often we lose sight of the present and our current experiences, as our mind races and analyzes what just happened or what could happen, giving rise to anxiety.

Research suggests that the benefits of mindfulness include improved emotional regulation by decreasing rumination and improving attentional capabilities. There is also emerging evidence that mindfulness can decrease emotional reactivity which can have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships.

Other positive benefits include improvements in sensory processing as well as sensitivity to internal stimuli.

Below is a list of mindfulness-based activities that can get you and your child started on the journey of being more present in the moment and begin reaping the benefits of a mindfulness practice.
  • Breathing: Have the child breathe in for three seconds, hold their breath for three seconds, and then breathe out for three seconds. For younger children, the very act of focusing on this activity will ground them to the moment. For older children and teens, there might be more instruction like having the child focus on how the breath feels coming in, holding it in their lungs, and finally blowing out through their nose or mouth.
  • Seeing the world: Ask the child to spend a minute looking around the room while being silent with the goal of finding things in the room that have never been noticed before. After one minute, the child should be asked to share the most interesting thing that they see now but have not noticed before.
  • Feeling objects: Provide the child with an object or series of objects and ask them to spend a minute just noticing what the object feels like in their hand. Guiding them to attend to the texture, temperature, size, shape, etc. Afterwards, ask the child to share what they noticed.
  • Listening: Ring a bell or other chime-like noise that provides a long trailing sound. Ask the child to indicate when they can no longer hear the sound. After the ringing ends, ask the child to listen to any other sound they hear for the next minute.
  • Emotional acceptance: Young children tend to be more "in the moment" than most when it comes to emotional experience. When a child is expressing an emotion, rather than tell them “You’re okay,” validate their emotional experience and let them know it is okay to be angry, sad, etc. Then follow with asking your child how their body feels when they are in this emotional state. This process can help children to be more in touch with their bodies and begin to recognize how their emotions feel in their body to create greater emotional awareness.

To learn more about mindfulness and practice techniques, check out:

Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges.

She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages.

Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions.

A Surprising Side Effect of Children’s Allergies: Anxiety

From Children's National
via The Washington Post

January 16, 2018

New research shows allergies take a toll on kids’ mental health.

“I can’t breathe.”

That’s the last thing 8-year-old *Alexander told his mother the night he went into anaphylactic shock so severe he had to be airlifted from his local emergency room to a children’s hospital.

Alexander, who has both asthma and a peanut allergy, recovered from the physical symptoms of his reaction in a few days. But the psychological ones lingered.

His mother, *Jennifer, recalls that her son’s personality changed. He went from upbeat and easygoing to inflexible and controlling. He would be left off birthday-party invitation lists. He stopped playing soccer and baseball. Playdates dried up.

“He pulled back. He no longer knew how to be part of the group,” said his mom. The school guidance counselor asked what might be happening at home. She wanted to know if there had been a divorce or a death in the family.

“It turned out that he was thinking about death,” said Jennifer. ”There was constant anxiety. He would accuse people of not being careful enough [with food]. He was scared something could happen and that he could have a reaction and go into anaphylaxis.”

Alexander’s fears weren’t wildly irrational. Unlike an imaginary monster under the bed, his worries couldn’t be easily dismissed. For him, ingesting even a trace amount of peanuts could be fatal.

There’s Help

Alexander’s story is not one of a kind. New research shows that children with food allergies are more likely to suffer from anxiety than children without them. Studies also reveal that symptoms of anxiety are relatively common in kids with anaphylactic conditions.

What can be done to help the 5.9 million children in the United States with food allergies, specifically those that struggle with anxiety? That’s the question the medical professionals in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Health System are devoted to answering.

“Throughout different developmental stages, it’s entirely normal for children with food allergies to experience fear, anxiety, and uncertainty as they begin taking more autonomy over their allergies,” said Dr. Hemant Sharma, the clinical chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National.

“But when it seems anxiety is interfering with activities that a child would normally enjoy engaging in, that’s an indication to us that we’d want to have that family start seeing a psychologist,” said Dr. Sharma.

Children’s National is one of a handful of hospitals in the country having a dedicated psychologist on staff with a specialty in food allergies. Dr. Linda Herbert oversees the hospital’s psychosocial food allergy research team and works with patients and families to help them cope with the stress and anxiety that may be associated with a food allergy.

When working with a new patient, Herbert begins with “basic” allergy education. “I have found that since a lot of kids are diagnosed when they’re very young, they don’t necessarily have all of the information their parents had when they were diagnosed,” she said. “They were too young to understand it.”

Herbert may then engage in a variety of strategies with patients, including relaxation techniques as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help them recognize and challenge troubling thoughts as they occur.

Alexander, now 12, was a patient of Drs. Sharma and Herbert; his mother says she is grateful to them both. “[Treatment] gave us a language and an understanding of why all of the sudden he was so nervous. He learned to say, ‘Mom, I’m feeling worried,’ instead of acting out,” she said. “He is lighter. He is not isolating himself from his friends. He got his power back."

A Brighter Future

There have been a number of headline-making advances in the food-allergy world in recent years. One in particular—a treatment called ‘immunotherapy’—is showing promising results in trials throughout the United States. In immunotherapy, patients are gradually given larger amounts of foods to which they are allergic to desensitize them to the allergens.

In addition, new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases advise parents to give peanut protein—in puree or paste, but not nut, form—to infants as early as 4 months old to help prevent the development of an allergy. (Parents with infants who have an egg allergy or severe eczema should first talk to their healthcare providers.)

Remarkably, even for those babies who may have positive allergy tests to peanut, there’s hope to reverse it through this early exposure.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Dr. Sharma. “I think all of us have a lot of hope for what the future holds.”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Teens Who Spend Less Time in Front of Screens are Happier — Up to a Point, New Research Shows

From The Washington Post

By Tara Bahrampour
January 22, 2018

In recent months, Silicon Valley executives have been speaking out about the purposefully addictive designs of smartphones and social media, which make them hard to put down for anyone, but particularly teenagers.

Now, a new report puts numbers to the warnings by tying a sudden and large drop in adolescents’ happiness with the proliferation of smartphones and finding that the more hours a day teens spend in front of screens, the less satisfied they are.

The report, “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology,” was published Monday in the journal Emotion using a large national survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders conducted annually by the University of Michigan.

After rising since the early 1990s, adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness plunged after 2012, the year smartphone ownership reached the 50 percent mark in the United States, the report said.

It also found that adolescents’ psychological well-being decreased the more hours a week they spent on screens, including with the Internet, social media, texting, gaming and video chats. The findings jibe with earlier studies linking frequent screen use to teenage depression and anxiety.

[How snubbing other people in favor of your smartphone affects the people watching you]

The ubiquity of the devices has mushroomed in the past six years. The percentage of teens who had smartphones jumped from 37 percent in 2012 to 73 percent in 2015 to 89 percent at the end of 2016, according to data from the Pew Research Center and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The Emotion study graphed correlations between happiness and screen activities and non-screen activities such as sports, in-person interactions, religious services, print media and homework. For all the non-screen activities, the correlation was positive; for the screen activities, it was uniformly negative.

“When I made that graph, I got up and took my kids’ Kindle Fires and shoved them in the back of a drawer,” said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and the study’s lead author.

Twenge, who is also the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” called the relationship of screen and non-screen activities “zero sum” — if you are doing one, it takes time away from the others.

Diane Tanman of Chevy Chase, Maryland, worries that is the case for her sons, 11 and 15. “Like playing games in the field like they used to when they were little — they used to do that, and I think it made them more happy,” she said.

These days her sons are more into online games, many of which have rewards built in to keep players coming back. “I think it’s addictive,” Tanman said. “It’s just junk food for the brain. … I don’t know one parent who doesn’t worry about it.”

As with any addiction, breaking away can be unpleasant. Ed Lazzara of Salem, Ore., says his 12-year-old son, Leo, a fan of the game Minecraft, is more irritable after he has been playing a lot. “It’s like interacting in the real world doesn’t have that zing, you know?” Lazzara said.

The report’s findings were not all dire: Teenagers who get a small amount of exposure to screen time, between one and five hours a week, are happier than those who get none at all. The least happy ones were those who used screens for 20 or more hours a week.

The greater unhappiness among those with no screen exposure could be due to several factors, Twenge said. “It could be that they are left out of the social scene of high school, that it’s very difficult to carry on friendships in high school these days without texting at all or being on social media.”

It is also possible that those kids are outliers, she said — teens with special needs or in special education, or those whose screens have been taken away from them by parents.

The happiest teens, according to the study, are those who are above average in face-to-face social interaction time and below average in social media use.

Amanda Lenhart, deputy director of the Better Life Lab at New America who has conducted studies on teenagers and screen use, called the study interesting but said it is hard to separate screen time from other stressors that may affect teenagers’ happiness, such as the political or economic landscape. “The culturally easy scapegoat right now is the technology — it’s new, it’s scary, it’s changed our lives, it’s changed our kids’ lives,” she said.

While she generally advises moderation, Lenhart said that rather than making one set of rules about when and how much screen time teens should have, she prefers a case-by-case approach. “Some of it is about your particular kid and your particular life and you as a parent,” she said. “Some of it is you looking at your child and saying, ‘Something is not right here.’”

In many ways, some sort of screen time is built into being an adolescent. Many schools require students to be online and to use iPads, Chromebooks or other devices to do their work. But teachers have also decried the distraction that technology can become when students use their devices in the classroom for things other than their studies.

Technology-free schools do exist — including some in Silicon Valley that tech titans send their own children to. And movements such as Wait Until 8th have urged parents to delay giving smartphones to kids until high school or just before. But even Bill Gates, known for limiting his children’s access to technology, allowed them to get phones by age 14.

Marina Bowsher, the mother of a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl in Chevy Chase, views screen time “like dessert — sure you can have some once in a while, but it shouldn’t be part of your every day.”

However, she and her husband decided to relax her rules against gaming after helping their niece move into college at George Washington University and noticing that “every boy was carrying around an Xbox … and suddenly there was no monitor. It’s like drinking; nobody’s telling you no.”

They decided it was better for their son to learn to regulate his gaming in high school, when he still had parents to help, than to have to learn how in college when no one was watching. Their son also has a smartphone and a laptop; their daughter has a phone with no social media accounts. “It’s all around them, and they are going to have to learn to live with it in their society,” Bowsher said.

But the finer points of screen use in today’s society are still evolving. Earlier this month, investors in Apple, the maker of the iPhone, signed an open letter demanding more options for parental regulation of phones, such as the ability to limit their use to certain hours or shut off social media access at a certain time each day.

The letter, which Twenge helped draft, cited research showing negative psychological effects of phone use on teens and noted parents’ “constant battle” over screen time, calling it “unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.” Apple responded by saying it is planning new enhancements to increase parental control.

New Study, Same Result: Preschoolers With Disabilities Get Suspended and Expelled More Often

From Jim Gerl's Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl. Esq.
January 23, 2018

A recent report by the Center for American Progress shows that students with disabilities aged 3 to 5 make up about 12 % of the early childhood population, yet they represent about 75% of suspensions and expulsions.

Alternatively stated, these very young people with disabilities are about 14 1/2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled that their non-disabled peers. Yikes.

Here are some other findings:

  • The odds of being suspended or expelled were more than 43 times higher for children with behavioral problems.The odds of being suspended or expelled were 33 times higher for children with ADHD.
  • The odds of being suspended or expelled were more than 14 times higher for children with anxiety.
  • The odds of being suspended or expelled were 10 times higher for children with autism/ASD.
  • The odds of being suspended or expelled were more than 7.5 times higher for children with developmental delays.
  • The odds of being suspended or expelled were more than 4 times higher for children with speech disorders.

You can read the report here. An article in the Disability Scoop blog appears here.