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Friday, January 31, 2014

Neuropsychological Testing: What Is It and When Is It Needed?

From TOC Talk
The Thinking Outside the Classroom Blog

By Thad Peterson
January 25, 2014

As parents, it’s our inalienable right to worry. It’s just what we do.

We worry about the physical health of our kids. We worry whether they’ve got the right set of friends. We worry about whether they’re keeping up in sports. We worry whether they are getting the support they need from their teachers in school. We worry whether they’re developing good habits around studying. We worry that we don’t worry enough about them.

And our kids do their fair share to add to the consternation. They are practically hard-wired to give us a steady stream of reasons to worry. They are stumbling through their lives, trying to figure out who they are and how to get into a stride that works for them. So much of what they’re doing is new. Yearly, monthly, even weekly, they’re encountering new dilemmas and challenges, and they’re skinning their proverbial knees at every turn—literally sometimes and figuratively constantly.

And as if this isn’t enough, to top it all off, it’s enormously challenging to have a true point of reference when it comes to rationally evaluating our children. We talk to our friends, we go to parent-teacher conferences, we ask other parents about their kids’ behavior—yet it can seem impossible to figure out whether Johnny truly has a problem, or the problem is just our incontrovertible habit of worrying.

For parents, this worrying can intensify greatly when they start to suspect that their child’s problems aren’t just run-of-the-mill issues but something more serious, something that will have significant impact on their children’s lives. Perhaps they see behaviors in their children that could lead to life-long learning problems, not just hiccups in their academic semester. Maybe they’re sensing patterns that seem truly outside the norm of other kids in the same age group.

One question that may arise in these situations is whether the child needs neuropsychological testing.

Neuropsychological Testing Explained

Neuropsychology looks at relationships between the brain and behavior. When children go for neuropsychological testing, both standardized tests and observation are used, and results are compared to what is expected from that age level.

Neuropsychologists also collect data about the school environment and the home environment through interviews with the parents, as well as structured questionnaires for both parents and teachers.

This is how Kay Seligsohn, a neuropsychologist at Mass. General Hospital, explains it:

“The metaphor I use is that it’s a series of snapshots. I’m taking a whole series of pictures of the children in the room with me—both how they do on tests, as well as my observations on how they do on a wide range of tasks. I’m gathering data from parents about how they’re functioning at home. I’m gathering data from teachers about how they’re functioning in school. And if I’ve done my job well and my camera lens was in focus, I can usually put those snapshots into a cohesive narrative from a whole bunch of different sources.”

A critical skill that neuropsychologists bring to the assessment process is breaking down learning problems into their component parts. For example, perhaps a child struggles to follow directions, and that reveals itself during testing. A neuropsychologist will go to another level of testing to evaluate which of the following this problem stems from:
  • The child is unable to concentrate when directions are being given
  • The child was unable to comprehend the directions he received
  • The child was unable to remember the directions.
In other words, neuropsychologists dig deeper and get more granular than teachers or even psychologists do.

Here’s how Ann Helmus, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist and the founder of Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA), explains how the in-depth nature of neuropsychological testing can help identify underlying problems children may be having:

“A quality comprehensive assessment can sort out between these possibilities by interpreting the test results in the context of the child’s history and through close attention to how the child performs on each test. For example, does the child misread the word because he/she is being hasty—sees the word ‘party’ and immediately says ‘pretty—or is the child painstakingly trying to sound out the word and clearly doesn’t know rules of phonics?

Impulsively responding to target words would be more typical of a child with ADHD, while poor phonetic decoding skills would lead one to pursue more vigorously the possibility that the child has a learning disability.“

Neuropsychologists will also test for a wide array of factors that might be impacting children. Here are some of those factors:
  • Intelligence
  • Academic skills
  • Problem solving
  • Attention and concentration
  • Learning and memory
  • Processing speed
  • Visual spatial perception
  • Language skills
  • Visual motor and fine motor skills
  • Sensory perception
  • Executive function skills (such as planning, organization, initiating and inhibiting behaviors)
  • Emotional function skills
  • Social skills.
Once the testing and evaluation are complete—a process that usually requires several meetings and involves both the child and the parents—neuropsychologists will work on developing a report that explains the child’s history, his or her test results and a recommended plan of intervention. Often times, parents use this report to advocate for special services within the child’s school system. There’s also a verbal conversation with the parents to explain the findings and answer questions.

Neuropsychology: Friendlier than It Sounds

Let’s face it, “neuropsychology” is a bit of a daunting word. And bringing your child in for evaluation might be a scary prospect.

Seligsohn and Helmus say that part of their job is demystifying the process. While neuropsychology might conjure up images of patients on gurneys with wires attached to their heads, and doctors hovering around them measuring brain impulses, that couldn’t be further from the reality. Seligsohn points out that “in general, the tasks they’ll be doing are the kinds of things they do in school.” The word “neuropsychological” refers to the framework for interpreting the test results.

Helmus points out “that most kids actually enjoy the process because they are interacting with a supportive adult for 5 hours or so, receiving positive attention.”

Signs Your Child Needs Neuropsychological Testing

So does your child truly need neuropsychological testing, or are you over-amplifying the situation in you own mind? That’s the question so many parents grapple with.

Seligsohn says the way way to make the decision is “to ask the question: is there a persistent problem? Is your child not learning as well? Not getting good grades? Is the teacher is making comments about attention or behavior? Is your child overly shy or aggressive?”

She says that many parents will start with a tutor or therapist, and if the problems still persist, they’ll turn to a neuropsychologist.

Helmus advises to parents to think about the cost-benefit analysis.

“Having a neuropsychological evaluation requires a considerable investment of resources—time, money, and school absence. If a child is considerably behind developmentally in some sphere, the return on investment is likely to be quite high.

As a result of a quality neuropsychological evaluation, the child’s parents, educational team, and other involved professionals will have a clear view of the child’s needs and a ‘road map’ for helping the child to overcome difficulties and supporting the child at home and school.”

Some of the behaviors that lead parents to neuropsychological testing are:
  • Inability to sustain attention
  • Anxiety/fear or reluctance to engage in developmentally appropriate activities
  • Atypical social behaviors/inability to establish peer friendships in a manner expected for age
  • Slow acquisition of academic skills
  • Obviously bright but under-performing or inconsistently performing academically.
Another litmus test often used for neuropsychological testing is whether a child’s overall well-being impact is being negatively impacted by cognitive, emotional or behavioral abilities.

For example, Johnny flunking his 2st semester biology quiz might be a point of concern, but it isn’t affecting his overall disposition. But when Johnny hasn’t been able to score higher than a C- on a test in the last 6 months, that kind of persistent poor performance might be having a significant impact on his psyche.

Johnny getting in a yelling match at gym class might sound a bit troubling, but there may have be an explanation behind it. Johnny getting into fights with kids at school several times a month is a pattern that is far more serious and might be an indicator that there are emotional regulation problems to investigate.

In other words, persistent trends of negative behavior are a sign that neuropsychological testing might be in order. Discussions with a child’s school teachers is a good place to start. Tutors or therapists are often times a good next step, and often times, discussions with those various professionals can offer clarity on whether neuropsychological testing is needed.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Should Schools Teach Kids to Meditate?

From The Atlantic

By Amanda Machado
January 27, 2014

Meditation can help students be less stressed and more compassionate. But how many districts are ready to sign on?

Each year, meditation becomes more of a trend. Celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and Goldie Hawn, businessmen like Bill George of Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil, and News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, have publicly discussed practicing it. Techies and others in the corporate world have begun using mindfulness, a type of meditation, to combat the stress and overstimulation of their jobs. Even the Marines have used it to “improve mental performance under the stress and strain from war.”

At the same time, more and more studies are showing direct links between meditation and health benefits. A study led by researchers at John Hopkins found that just eight weeks of meditation training was as effective as medication in treating depression, anxiety, and pain.

At Harvard, scientists using neuro-imaging technology showed how meditation positively affected the genes and brain activity of the chronically stressed, a condition that the Benson-Henry Institute reports is related to more than 60 percent of all doctor’s visits.

Schools have also begun experimenting with the practice and discovering that its techniques can help its students. When a school in New Haven, Connecticut, required yoga and meditation classes three times a week for its incoming freshman, studies found that after each class, students had significantly reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their bodies.

In San Francisco, schools that participated in Quiet Time, a Transcendental Meditation program, had twice as many students score proficient in English on the California Achievement Test than in similar schools where the program didn’t exist.

Visitacion Valley Middle School specifically reduced suspensions by 45 percent during the program’s first year. Attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, grade point averages improved, and the school recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco on the annual California Healthy Kids Survey.

Other studies have shown that mindfulness education programs improved students’ self-control, attentiveness and respect for other classmates, enhanced the school climate, and improved teachers’ moods.

These results did not surprise me. As a former teacher who now practices meditation myself, I’ve often wondered how I could have used the practice in my own classroom. The stress level of teaching seemed to bring out my already-existing anxiety in the worst kind of ways. I slept poorly, unable to stop rehearsing my lessons in my head. I got irritable with loved ones. I felt obsessed with saving time when there was so much to do and so much to teach to students who I feared were behind. My students noticed, too. On a survey, one wrote, “It seems like you’re really tense”; another, “You can get easily frustrated with yourself.”

Meanwhile, my students seemed just as anxious as I was. My advisory group complained of the immense pressure of balancing school with their lives at home. Students constantly booked appointments with the school counselor to talk through their personal struggles with a professional. A common response from students on their semester reflections was “I’m overwhelmed.”

Months after leaving the profession (partially due to its stress), I attended a ten-day beginner meditation retreat. It was the first time I ever attempted to learn the practice. I began to understand how powerful meditation could be in confronting the anxiety and insecurity my students felt at school and I felt while teaching, and often throughout most of my life.

So, when I discovered that some of my former students had participated in a mindfulness education program called Headstand in middle school before they became my high-school students, I was eager to find out its effects."

Headstand’s mission is to “empower at-risk students to combat toxic stress through yoga, mindfulness, and character education.” Harvard's Center for the Developing Child defines toxic stress as “severe, uncontrollable, chronic adversity” and explains that it can disrupt the architecture of the developing brain, often impeding academic learning and creating long-term physical- and mental-health problems.

With almost half of current public school students considered low-income, the issue of “toxic stress” affecting young students has become more relevant. Katherine Priore Ghannam, Headstand’s founder, says, “This is a matter of education reform and public health: Our students desperately need a way to cope with the everyday adversity of living in the conditions that they do. If we know this [stress] exists, I think we have the responsibility to provide such a simple tool to kids who need it the most.”

Ghannam believes her mindfulness program can serve as “an antidote to that stress” and so far, surveys results suggest the program works: 98 percent of students in the program reported feeling “less stressed” and more “ready to learn” after taking Headstand classes.

Ghannam had no exposure to yoga or mindfulness growing up, and at first was skeptical it could work. Yet when the stress level during her first year teaching became overwhelming and made her begin to think her job was unsustainable, a close friend finally convinced her to take a yoga class.

“I had an experience in that very first class,” Ghannam said. “For one of the first times in my life, I understood what it meant to be calm.”

Ghannam believes her yoga practice gave her the skills and strength she needed to not quit teaching during that difficult first year. After practicing yoga, she felt her new sense of calm transferred to the classroom and made the environment more welcoming for her students. Years later, she decided to merge the two areas by creating Headstand.

Ghannam wants to emphasize “smart practice.” When she observed existing programs, she felt they lacked a crucial element: delivery. She saw many yoga instructors, accustomed to teaching in studios with middle-aged participants, not adapting their teaching strategies for children in public schools.

“For teachers with that kind of experience, working with young students is like speaking a foreign language,” Ghannam said, “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to translate this content to the appropriate level for children. Otherwise, it won’t make sense.”

She wondered how much greater the impact of a yoga program could be if she had academic teachers delivering the content, with a rigorous, professionally designed curriculum that made the content consistent and structured over time.

Headstand employs this philosophy by only hiring yoga teachers who have three years of previous teaching experience. It also aligns its curriculum’s teaching objectives with California state standards for physical education and health. Its curriculum uses the lesson plan structure taught in several teacher training programs. Lessons scaffold skills to gradually build up to the day’s objective, starting with a “Do Now” that gets students reflecting on the day’s topic and ending class with an “exit ticket” that assesses what they learned.

Even though Headstand’s mission and planning impressed me, I was still skeptical that young students could actually take yoga and mindfulness seriously.

Adam Moskowitz, a Headstand teacher, agreed that the practice can be difficult for some kids: “At their age—and in this age—the last thing some of them want to do is sit, with nothing to look at or play,” he says, “In some ways, despite its great challenge, mindfulness is a very simple, repetitive practice. It’s not always easy convincing kids that they’re learning something by doing the same, simple thing again and again.”

I emailed my former students who took Headstand’s classes in middle school to ask them about their impressions of the program. Michael Rivera, now a senior in high school, admitted that at first, he found yoga class “dull.” His next response also seemed very telling: “It wasn’t as active as sports. There wasn’t a lot of movement going on, so it reminded me of a ‘time out,’ like a punishment. We were stuck inside, instead of being outside and having an extra 45 minutes of P.E.”

His response exemplified two common attitudes: a refusal to believe anything but fast-pasted exercise can qualify as “physical education”; and a tendency to equate active movement with productivity, and stillness with wasted time or even, as Michael noticed, “punishment.” To me, this was the most revolutionary aspect of meditation programs: They teach the idea that slowing down is necessary, and that sometimes “not doing” can be just as productive as “doing.”

Headstand’s curriculum aims to promote this idea with its students. In one lesson plan, students brainstorm what they generally associate with the word “slow” and discuss why the word’s connotation is generally negative. Then, they do a yoga sequence paced slowly and quickly at different times, and discuss how moving at each pace affected the tone of the room, and their own frame of mind. They brainstorm situations when acting slowly may be better than acting too quickly, like during an argument or when overwhelmed on a test.

While teaching, I was always concerned with “doing,” making sure my students and I constantly worked towards the goals we wanted to achieve. It wasn’t until I practiced meditation that I realized what my schools and professional environment had never taught me: that instead of moving for the sake of moving, what both my students and I may have needed instead was a moment of being still.

“Their minds are busy just like ours,” says Emily Tsay, a Headstand teacher for first and second graders. “But you can see physically how their mood changes when we practice.” She says she starts class by having students rest their minds for just three breaths and then builds up from that. On a chart posted on a wall of her class, she tracks how long they can sit with their eyes closed focusing only on their breath.

“Just having a good 45 minutes to not hear any noise and keep to yourself mentally actually helped me prepare for the next class periods. After yoga class, I would feel pretty rejuvenated.”

Now looking back, Michael agrees that mindfulness practice was useful and appreciates the quiet environment the class provided: “Just having a good 45 minutes to not hear any noise and keep to yourself mentally actually helped me prepare for the next class periods. After yoga class, I would feel pretty rejuvenated.”

Headstand’s curriculum also tries to stay true to the original purpose of yoga and meditation by framing each class around positive character traits, like compassion and gratitude. Recently, some critics have coined the term "McMindfulness" to criticize the mindfulness movement’s tendency to only focus on reducing stress while ignoring the practice’s other key goals of compassion and social awareness.

Critics want to ensure that programs emphasize being mindful not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others. This makes the character education aspect of Headstand’s curriculum significant. Each unit focuses on a certain trait. A unit on “responsibility” is framed around questions like “What does it mean to accept personal responsibility?”, “How does being irresponsible affect the people around you?” and “How are responsibility and power related?” A unit on gratitude discusses the idea of “taking something for granted.” A unit on “curiosity” asks how curiosity can encourage social justice.

Kelly Knoche, a yoga teacher helping to develop social-emotional curricula in Oakland, thinks this emphasis on character is imperative to providing true education: “We think we’re teaching kids how to thrive by focusing on academics. But we often miss teaching them the skills they need for daily life: how to build relationships with compassion, how to support each other, how to cope with trauma. Those are the kinds of skills that will eventually keep them going.”

Headstand’s emphasis on character education follows a trend that has gained momentum in urban education circles, particularly after the popularity of journalist Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed, based on his popular New York Times article. After dismal graduation statistics showed only nine percent of low-income students who enter a four-year college actually graduate, Tough’s book theorized that the character traits of college students, even more than their academic skills, could predict whether they succeeded or not. Headstand’s curriculum builds off of the seven traits that Tough argues are crucial for future success: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism, and gratitude.

Knoche thinks bringing a program like Headstand to her school district would help accomplish this: “Headstand has a beautiful way of redefining what we believe public education should be and blending yoga, mindfulness and character education into those beliefs.”

But with issues like funding, class scheduling, graduation requirements, and other logistics, I wondered whether programs like Headstand and others could ever become a part of our public-education system.

“Headstand has taken a specific model and made it successful within a charter network, which is relatively autonomous and flexible,” Knoche says, “Now the question is, how do we get an entire district on board?”

Parents and administrators have not always embraced these programs right away. Administrators at an Ohio elementary school discontinued the school’s mindfulness program after parents felt uncomfortable with the practice’s roots in Eastern religion and complained that the program did not use class time valuably. Last year, prosecutors in a prominent court case sued California's Encinitas Union school district, arguing that the district’s yoga program indoctrinated students with Hindu beliefs.

“To me, yoga is secular. Everybody breathes, everybody gets stressed, everybody can benefit from the skills we teach,” Tsay says, “But I definitely think there is resistance with people not being aware of what yoga is because they haven’t practiced it themselves.”

In July, the judge in the Encinitas case ruled on the side of the school district, finding that the curriculum had no trace of religion, opening up the possibility of spreading yoga to other public schools in California.

But even disregarding the religious undertones of the practice, I also wondered how public school students, 48 percent of which are considered low-income and more than 40 percent of which are black and Latino, would receive a practice that is often stereotypically associated with a white, upper-class demographic. According to a 2008 study, 85 percent of yoga practitioners are white. More than 30 percent of Yoga Journal magazine’s readership have incomes over $100,000 a year.

Growing up in a Latino middle-class family, I had never known anyone who practiced yoga or meditation. My father adopted “Power Yoga” in his early 60s to improve his flexibility, but he still skips the meditation part at the end of the routine. Seeing how hesitant my family has been, I doubted that students from similar backgrounds would instantly embrace Headstand classes.

When I asked my former students how they perceived the program, the two students who responded—both students of color from lower-middle-class backgrounds—agreed that at first, the ideas of yoga and mindfulness were unfamiliar.

“Before the class, I had never heard about yoga before and did not know what to expect,” Tracy Lord, now a senior in high school, told me. “So most students at first were hesitant to participate and try.”

Michael also felt that teenage insecurities often played a role in students resisting the class: “As a 12-year-old kid, I didn’t always feel comfortable moving my body in such a way.”

Tracy echoed these insecurities: “At first, I kind of rejected the practice because it made me too vulnerable, with its awkward poses and asking me to close my eyes. I didn’t want to look weird.”

Yet both Michael and Tracy eventually found Headstand’s classes beneficial. Tracy thought her teacher helped students overcome their timidity, and “won over” the majority of the class over time. Tracy ended up loving the practice so much that she wrote her college application personal statement on the effect yoga had on her life.

In her statement, Tracy described a doctor’s visit where she learned she had issues with her spine that caused her immense back pain and physical disability. She wrote that yoga helped her by not only easing the physical pain, but also teaching her that “My imperfections were what made me unique. Through yoga, I reprogrammed my mind to accept my disabilities and to not be crippled by them. I still have a twisted spine, but I can persevere through it.”

Michael still thinks middle school was too early for him to handle the “embarrassing poses” of yoga class, but also admits that he still found the mindfulness practice useful: “Before taking the yoga class, I used to believe that the only thing I had to work out and take care of was my body, but that isn’t the case. You also have to take care of your mind.”

Now a senior experiencing the stress of the college application process, Michael used the skills from the class again. He noticed how his mood changed and self-confidence dipped when worrying about completing his applications.

“But now I could stop and realize that this stress is all right. I meditated for an hour when I got home and submitted my applications soon after. That one hour period probably saved me another month of stress.”

Ghannam has seen this retrospective appreciation happen before: “It is sometimes the students who hated it who are then the ones writing me emails later telling me how much they have learned to appreciate it,” she says. “Sometimes the kids who are the most resistant at first are the ones who might need that practice the most.”

This school year, Headstand partnered with the University of California San Francisco to provide more concrete data of the program’s effectiveness. However, Ghannam also accepts that her classes, as in Michael’s case, may not necessarily show immediate results. She is more concerned with building consistency and normalizing the practice for students over time.

“It’s the same as a student who may not love math class and may just be going through the motions at first. Over time, as long as they’re practicing with a great teacher, something is going to click and hopefully more meaning is taken on.”

Practicing mindfulness now at 26, I wish I had more exposure to the practice as a student and as a teacher. I wonder whether my moment for it to “click” would have happened earlier if I had persistent classes showing me why it matters. And I wondered if practicing mindfulness as a teacher would have made me more relaxed and happy, and thus more effective. Teachers at Headstand schools seem to agree: When Tsay offered to teach an adapted version of her Headstand class for the teachers at her charter school, 12 of the 13 staff members signed up.

I also wonder what it would have done for my students who also at times struggled with issues of anxiety and self-worth, and often allowed those insecurities to affect how they dealt with the everyday setbacks they encountered.

“The ability to help ease your mind in stressful situations is critical for everybody, because everyone at some point in their life will go through something that will truly knock them down,” Michael wrote. “That’s where yoga/meditation comes in.”

As more research discovers the true effectiveness of these kids of programs, I at least take comfort in the fact that my students had the rare opportunity of learning the importance of mental health and character-building at such a young age. All students could benefit from learning these things early but with students whose backgrounds at times already place them at a disadvantage, these kinds of programs become even more justified.

Every student should have access to skills necessary for confronting the anxiety of everyday life. As Tracy wrote to me: "We all deserve peace, and a calm mind."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Are Your Kids Plugged Into Screens?

From the Psychology Today Blog "Listen to the Kids"
Positive Parenting with Sensitive Children

January 22, 2014

How to handle your kids with screen addiction.

Ten years ago, parents could simply put their child in front of a video if they wanted to get some peace in the household. You could ask them to come to dinner or suggest, “Let’s go skiing or sledding!” and chances are they’d leave the TV.

Today, the screen goes with them everywhere. Children are linked up to their smartphone or tablet, or some game console activity that captivates them and keeps them in their own “zone.” They ignore you. It’s almost impossible to talk to your children today with social media, and fixation on their screens.

Recently I saw several children at the mall dancing to images on a gaming console screen that was as big as a side of a house! While they were dancing, mesmerized by the sound and the colors of the digital screen, their parents were sitting by, ignoring them because they were fixated on their smart phones.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. Some kids are even using their smart phones to play screen games at recess and not interacting with their peers.

But some parents walk their kids in strollers, looking down at their phone. What is happening to the parent-child relationship? According to researchers, this is “the erosion of creative play and interaction with caring adults.” Studies are finally focusing on the addictive potential of computers and video games for young children and for teens.

Some of the tablet and iPad apps are great for kids to improve language skills, but other apps are not educational, although they claim to be helpful. Instead, they keep a child addicted to the screen and cause parents to struggle. It’s also a problem because of what kids are missing—the social interaction and live communication that are essential for their development and for future relationships.

I admit that an Xbox is fun to use! I tried skiing downhill on an Xbox yesterday with an eight-year-old. It was a real blast. Before I knew it, I was engaged with the screen and not talking to my speech patient! I was laughing at myself. Now I’m writing this blog on how to help kids avoid screen time. It’s a REAL challenge. I know.

Here are some simple tips to help make better connections with your plugged-in children:

Younger Children: Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • Be sure to allow time to talk and listen to them. Give them a simple plan for your day—a big list. Talk about the time of day they will be allowed to use a device and for how long. Take them outside to play! No screen time for toddlers under the age of two.
  • Give them “options for interactive play (e.g. riding their bike with Mom) that they can do after they give up the screen time. You can try to motivate them: “When we get home from shopping, you can have ten minutes on your tablet to use two great apps: Giggly Gorillas or Toca Boca or Letter School.” However, this can be a source of argument, too. You don’t want them to think about rewards instead of doing more engaging activities.
  • Tell them that when you’re going out for pizza or for lunch the phone or tablet will be turned off. You want to talk to them and RELATE.
  • Give them a “goal” to look at each other now and then or to comment on someone’s actions in the restaurant.
  • Feed them healthy snacks several times during your shopping excursion, and keep them engaged with what you’re doing (e.g. bring a stuffed animal to help shop).
  • Help them take charge of your list of things to do; they can check things off or make choices for you.

Elementary School Children
  • Make a clear plan and ask them what they want to do for the day.
  • Limit screen time when you’re in the car or forbid it entirely. If your children are under age two, no screen time at all.
  • Allow them to negotiate—more screen time at home if they cooperate and help you shop or do their chores, but no more than an hour a day on screens (all of them).
  • Take them to a park or some place where they can run, play ball or do some kind of exercise. Take them outdoors every hour! Go sledding or walking or skiing! Walk the dog! Make projects with them.
  • Listen to music they love when you’re in the car or at home.
  • Participate in screen-free weeks if your town or school has one scheduled.

High School Students
  • Ask them what they want to do for the day and tell them to invite a peer. This encourages interaction instead of screen time.
  • Give them strict instructions about screen time limits. No Angry Birds during lunch or Minecraft! Get to know these apps. Know if they have the violent part turned on or not. Some apps and games lead them only to addictive behavior.
  • Negotiate with them about their homework. (Is it done?) Give them funds for shopping, but limit the amount. Be clear about all negotiated limits.
  • Allow the kids to negotiate when they can use a screen and where, who will be present, and for how long. Check to be sure the games or apps are not violent.
  • Don’t tell them what to do while they’re with peers.
  • Compliment them for coming up with creative ideas to do things with their friends and family.
  • Use the outdoors and take them skiing, or to an event that is interesting to them. Physical exercise is essential for high school students.

  • Go out to dinner with your husband or wife or partner and enjoy the time together and forget the kids for an evening!
  • Be present, relate, and enjoy your children when you’re with them.
  • Be honest with yourself: how much time do you spend each day attached to a screen? Do you answer your phone when you’re in the presence of your kids?
  • Be careful when you’re looking at your phone or texting while your young child is bouncing around a mall or a park. Safety for your child is first!
  • Do what you love to do everyday. Work out, see a friend, read or just DO Nothing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics stated, “It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood.” Children need to experience learning during interactions, with creative, hand-on projects, in the outdoors, and with relationships with their teachers, caregivers and families during play.Play and relating to others is the essence of childhood.

There are many resources to read about the use of technology and children. Many more studies will be in the news soon. I don’t have all the answers here, but my intuition is that we need technology, but we have to limit the amount of screen time and the quality of the games and apps that our children see everyday, even if it’s at the mall or on our own smart phones.

Here are a few resources for review (I don’t agree with all of what the authors say, and they won’t agree with all of what I suggest):

  • Commonsense Media is one organization that is very helpful for parents: It provides reviews of movies, shows, games, and apps as well as recommendations.

About Ann Densmore

Ann Densmore, Ed.D., CCC-SLP/A is a certified speech and language pathologist and audiologist with a doctorate in education from Clark University and a master’s degree in human development and psychology from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Ann was also on the teaching faculty for Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance Continuing Education Seminars in Psychiatry.

She is the author of Helping Children with Autism Become More Social (2007), and co-author of Your Successful Preschooler: Ten Skills Children Need to Become Confident and Socially Engaged (2011). She has taught language and social communication skills to young children, nationally and internationally, for over 30 years.

How Vaccine Fears Fueled the Resurgence of Preventable Diseases

From Shots
Health News from NPR

By Michaeleen Doucleff
January 25, 2014

For most of us, measles and whooping cough are diseases of the past. You get a few shots as a kid and then hardly think about them again.

But that's not the case in all parts of the world — not even parts of the U.S.

As an interactive map from the Council on Foreign Relations illustrates, several diseases that are easily prevented with vaccines have made a comeback in the past few years.

Their resurgence coincides with changes in perceptions about vaccine safety.

Credit: Adam Cole/NPR with
data from the Council on Foreign Relations

Since 2008 folks at the think tank CFR have been plotting all the cases of measles, mumps, rubella, polio and whooping cough around the world. Each circle on the map represents a local outbreak of a particular disease, while the size of the circle indicates the number of people infected in the outbreak.

As you flip through the various maps over the years, two trends clearly emerge: Measles has surged back in Europe, while whooping cough is has become a problem here in the U.S.

Childhood immunization rates plummeted in parts of Europe and the U.K. after a 1998 study falsely claimed that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was linked to autism.

That study has since been found to be fraudulent. But fears about vaccine safety have stuck around in Europe and here in the U.S.

Viruses and bacteria have taken full advantage of the immunization gaps.

In 2011, France reported a massive measles outbreak with nearly 15,000 cases. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Somalia suffered larger measles outbreaks that year.

In 2012, the U.K. reported more than 2,000 measles cases, the largest number since 1994.

Here in the U.S., the prevalence of whooping cough shot up in 2012 to nearly 50,000 cases. Last year cases declined to about 24,000 — which is still more than tenfold the number reported back in the early '80s when the bacteria infected less than 2,000 people.

So what about countries in Africa? Why are there so many big, colorful circles dotting the continent? For many parents there, the problem is getting access to vaccines, not fears of it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Noncompliance: A Symptom of Difficulty with Transitioning

From the HuffPost Education Blog

By Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA
January 27, 2014

"Come in from recess. It's time for math."

Simple requests can lead to refusal and perhaps behavior outbursts from students with anxiety. This doesn't mean these students are difficult or can't follow directions.

Jessica Minahan
Transitions are among the most difficult times of the day for some students with anxiety. Transitions require flexibility and executive functioning skills. In school, students must transition frequently with little support; however, transition difficulties are at the root of many non-compliance incidents.

When students "don't stop reading when asked," "never follow directions" or "have to be chased to come in from recess," their noncompliance is symptomatic of a fundamental problem transitioning. We may be asking students to do something they don't have the skills to execute. Teachers can help these students with anxiety handle transitions more successfully so they don't become uncooperative.

There are four components to a transition and it's equally important to support students whether they're having difficulty with one or all of them.

Here's the example: "Come in from recess. It's time for math!"

First: Stop the Initial Activity

Students need support finding a stopping place in activities such as recess. They may need explicit instruction about how to find a stopping place (e.g., stop playing after one more time down the slide) and how to pick an activity that's a good match for the time allotted (e.g., pick a short game when you only have five minutes).

Second: Cognitively Shifting to the Next Activity

Students must make a mental shift before they transition physically. They have to stop thinking about recess and start thinking about math. Help them visualize the new activity. Take a photograph of them "ready for the next activity," or use a visual schedule so they know what's coming and can be prepared.

Third: Starting the Next Activity

Anxiety significantly affects the ability to initiate an anxiety-provoking activity, such as a math quiz. Any of us who have procrastinated a task we perceive as difficult can relate to this. Besides countdown transition warnings, many students need help beginning the new activity. Often, accommodations are necessary to support initiation.

Help Them Start

Teachers typically give students work, then moments later offer help to a student who hasn't started. By the time you get to them at that point, the student is highly anxious and irreparably shut-down. For students with anxiety, I propose a more errorless approach. If the teacher has only 30 seconds for each student, make it the first 30 seconds for students with anxiety who require support to initiate a task. Help them get started.

Preview the Next Activity

We can't preview enough for students with anxiety. In the morning, most teachers review a visual schedule of the day. Preview alone doesn't necessarily mitigate a student's anxiety toward a particular subject -- and definitely doesn't help them initiate the activity when it comes time. If math triggers a student's anxiety, knowing math will be at 10:30am doesn't necessarily reduce anxiety. Anticipation may even increase his anxiety all morning.

As a supplement to reviewing the schedule, preview the actual piece of work. "Here's the math sheet we'll be doing today. Let's do the first problem together." When math class comes, the child has an entry point and won't have an initial avoidance response.

Four: Downtime During a Transition

After years of analyzing behavior microscopically, I've found it's common for students to have difficulty with the downtime during the day (e.g., standing in line, or waiting for materials to be passed out).

First we need to teach students to identify wait time or downtime. Through the use of social story, videos or role-play, we explicitly teach how to identify downtime when it's beginning. When the student knows he's being asked to wait, we can teach structured activities to keep him occupied and productive. Younger students can draw or perform a helpful task, like pushing in chairs. Older students can think of song lyrics or math facts.

Transitioning to a Non-Preferred Activity

One of the most difficult transitions is from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity (e.g., "Recess is over. It's time to take your math quiz"). It's difficult for the student to stop a preferred activity, let alone initiate a dreaded one. It's like jumping into cold water. Stopping one pleasurable activity to do something difficult equals a set-up for resistance.

Instead, have the child transition more gradually from preferred to less-preferred to non-preferred activity. The student will require less shifting and flexibility. Instead of going directly from recess (preferred) to a math quiz (non-preferred), add an intermediate step: "Come in for recess and you can draw." Once the student is drawing at his desk, shift to the math quiz.

By supporting transitions, we can help students with anxiety cope with the disturbance by learning to become more flexible and less resistant.


Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA is a board-certified behavior analyst, special educator and Director of Behavioral Services at NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), as well as a school consultant to clients nationwide. She is the co-author of 'The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students,' with Nancy Rappaport, M.D. (Harvard Education Press).

Monday, January 27, 2014

Five Ways ADHD Can Affect Your Child’s Social Life

From NCLD.org
The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Amanda Morin
January 22, 2014

ADHD can make it difficult for your child to concentrate and pay attention in school, but it affects more than just academics. It has an impact on social skills as well.

Here are five common social challenges your child with ADHD may face—and ways you can help.

Social Challenge #1:
Your child has trouble making friends. The ADHD link: Kids with ADHD often don’t notice how their behavior affects other people. They may interrupt others and have trouble filtering what they say—which could irritate others.

How you can help: Role-play social situations with your child. He can play himself while you play the other child. Then switch. Finish by talking about what he did well and what he could do differently.

Social Challenge #2:
Your child quickly loses friends. The ADHD link: Kids with ADHD can be very intense and demanding without realizing it. Their difficulty with taking turns and waiting for things can cause friendships to burn out.

How you can help: Sign your child up for a sport or another group activity that interests him. He may find it easier to learn about “give and take” in a group setting rather than one-on-one.

Social Challenge #3:
Your child struggles with conversation. The ADHD link: Kids with ADHD can easily lose the thread of conversation, misinterpret what others are saying and become distracted by unrelated thoughts. If your child has difficulty taking turns it can be even harder to be an equal participant.

How you can help: Record a conversation with your child at mealtime. Listen to it together and talk about where you both hear him going off-topic. Discuss other ways he could have handled it.

Social challenge #4:
Your child overreacts to situations. The ADHD link: Kids with ADHD might struggle with self-control. They may lash out physically when they’re upset, or have meltdowns at an age when it’s no longer appropriate.

How you can help: Point out to your child the signs of when he’s getting upset. Talking about what his body and voice are doing will help him learn to take his own “emotional temperature.”

Social challenge #5:
Your child isn’t always reliable. The ADHD link: Kids with ADHD can have trouble with planning and follow-through. That may cause other kids to think they can’t be counted on when doing group projects.

How you can help: Encourage your child to talk with the group members about how they’ll divide up the work. Then help him make a checklist or chart to keep track of his own progress.

Having social issues on top of attention issues can take a toll on your child’s self-esteem. But there are many ways you can help your child build confidence, develop stronger social skills and deal with hurt feelings.

Amanda Morin is an education and parenting writer who uses her experience as an early interventionist and teacher to inform her writing. Her work appears on many parenting websites and she is the author of two books, including The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

5 Reasons Why Your Smart Kid Is Struggling in School

From TOC Talk
The Thinking Outside the Classroom Blog

By Jackie Stachel
January 12, 2014

The first part of the school year is in the record books, and already you see the writing on the wall. Your bright, funny, curious child brought home a backpack crammed with crumpled worksheets, last week’s PB&J…and a report card with less than stellar results. You know he can do better. His teachers know he can do better. He thinks, “I guess I’m not so smart, after all.”

But succeeding at school is not all about pure intellect, or IQ. Rather, skills of self-management, or executive functions, are the key to consistent academic achievement. Smart kids struggle in school when they don’t have tools and strategies to manage their academic demands.

Here are 5 red-flag statements we hear from students that signal a need to build executive function skills. The good news? These skills can be learned.

1.) “I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember.” Oftentimes, students think they can remember all their homework without writing it in a planner. Some days that works, but more frequently students find they have completed the wrong assignment, or they forget about it altogether. As for taking notes in class, they make the mistake of thinking that they should only write down what's new or unusual information, instead of seeing note-taking as a documentation of what was covered in class.

2.) “I hate that teacher/ that subject!” Students without good self-management skills get derailed when they don’t like a teacher or a subject. Their emotions get in the way of their investment in the class, and ultimately their grade can suffer. Successful students make 1:1 connections with all their teachers, because they know that it's in their best interests to build strong relationships with instructors.

3.) “But I know I did that assignment…” When a student doesn’t have a system for managing materials, completed homework can get lost before it ever gets passed in. Grades suffer when homework completion is spotty, even if a student does reasonably well on tests.
4.) “This work takes forever. It’s so boring.” Longer, more complex assignments draw on a student’s ability to maintain their effort over time, or persist, in the midst of the temptation of other (more fun) activities. Without strategies to follow through and tolerate the “boring stuff’, students tend to give up and seek more satisfying diversions.

5.) “I’ve got plenty of time to do homework. It’s only 8:30.” Time management looms large as a critical skill for students, and for life in general. When a student has poor ability to estimate how long tasks will take, and plan his evening accordingly, the results lead to last-minute panic and sloppy or incomplete work.

How many of these sound familiar to you? If you count one or more, your child may have some challenges with self-management, or executive function, skills. As with any skill, these can be learned through good instruction and practice.

Ask your pediatrician or your child’s teacher about your options. Your child may be recommended for testing to determine the nature of his/her difficulties.


Does your child need help managing a project? Download this free planner and start building executive function skills today, so your child can be effective for a lifetime.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thinking Outside the Classroom: Executive Function Presentation February 6th

From Milestones Day School

January 22, 2014

On February 6th at Milestones Day School, Speaker Jackie Stachel will make a presentation on executive functioning called Thinking Outside the Classroom. As the world becomes more complex and demands on students' time and attention increase, all students can benefit from strategies to manage productivity.

Executive functions, the skills involved in self-management, are key elements of academic success. What sets the stage for managing executive function challenges? How do we foster growth and change?

This presentation will address both the mindset and the specific tools that lead to progress in students with executive function challenges. Admission is free.

When:  10:00 - 11:30am Thursday, February 6, 2014 

Where: Milestones Day School
                   410 Totten Pond Road, Waltham, MA
                   (Located in the Totten Pond Office Park)

Directly following, please join them for a tour of their program and complimentary lunch!

RSVP to Sarah Folk, Head of Admissions, at (781) 895-3200, ext.135, or by email to sfolk@advancingmilestones.com

The Curious Case of Autism and MMS

From The Huffington Post's Healthy Living

By Todd Drezner
Director, 'Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic'

June 14, 2012

I'm going to say something radical, something that may shock you. Brace yourself. Are you ready

Here goes:

It's not a good idea to make children drink bleach.

If you're not familiar with the autism community, you may wonder why my statement would ever be considered controversial. Unfortunately, in the autism community, where there are disagreements about everything, even this seemingly straightforward statement causes arguments.

The controversy, such as it is, began during the Autism One conference, held in Chicago from May 23-27, 2012. The conference is a one-stop shop for parents looking for alternative treatments for autism, and it featured some of the most prominent supporters of the idea that vaccines cause autism, including discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield and celebrity autism mom Jenny McCarthy.

But the Autism One presentation that may have gotten the most attention this year was this one, about a treatment called MMS. In it, Kerri Rivera, the founder of a "Biomed-based Autism Clinic in Latin America," explained "how MMS (chlorine dioxide) has become the "missing piece" to the autism puzzle" and how she has used it to recover 38 children in 20 months.

MMS, it turns out, stands for Miracle Mineral Solution. Go to the MMS website, and you'll find that, "The answer to AIDS, hepatitis A, B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind's worst diseases has been found." =

These kinds of expansive, evidence-free claims are a sure sign of quackery, and identifying MMS as snake oil is no harder than realizing that $23 million is not waiting for you in a Nigerian bank account.

Unlike some kinds of pseudoscience, though, MMS has the potential to be quite harmful. Check out the slides for Rivera's presentation, and you'll find that MMS is a combination of sodium chlorite and citric acid which, when mixed together, releases chlorine dioxide. MMS, in other words, is bleach.

Rivera recommends giving it orally up to eight times a day. There's also a protocol for enemas, applied two to three times per week, and baths, which can be taken every other day.

Rivera's own slides admit that MMS can cause fevers, but she calls this a "good thing" and recommends giving an enema every day during the course of a fever. She also talks about what to do if the child suffers a Herxheimer Reaction, which can cause fever, chills, hypotension, headache, hyperventilation, elevated heart rate and muscle pain.

If you don't find all of that appalling enough, you can read this testimonial from the parent of a non-verbal autistic boy who is using MMS. The MMS is causing vomiting and diarrhea, but the parent is frustrated because the non-verbal boy can't give any feedback about how he's feeling.

Well, how do you think he's feeling?

Let's state the obvious: There is no reason to give bleach to any child, for any reason. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that MMS is an effective treatment for autism.

Some purveyors of quackery have spotted a lucrative market and are trying to take advantage of it. But their protocol is far closer to child abuse than it is to effective medical treatment.

Sadly, Autism One and those who attend it have had a very hard time recognizing these simple facts. In a post at Age of Autism, Julie Obradovic tries to defend MMS without actually defending it. Instead, she mentions that Autism One presenters included M.D.s, Ph.D.s, and a Nobel Laureate.

But the presence of smart people at a conference that promotes quackery doesn't change the fact that it's promoting quackery.

Second, Obradovic argues that Autism One "is loaded with good people, good parents, and great doctors who are willing to suffer personal attacks in order to make progress in the medical treatment of our very sick kids." Whether or not this characterization is accurate doesn't really matter.

Again, the motivations of the people at Autism One are irrelevant to the subject of MMS. MMS is the worst kind of quackery, and Autism One gave it a forum.

What's happened is that MMS has gotten caught up in the same arguments that always divide the autism community. Many bloggers have for years attacked Autism One specifically and alternative treatments generally (and in my view rightly so -- there are many dubious treatments besides MMS promoted at the conference). Many people who use those treatments have attacked right back. And so it is, reflexively, with MMS.

But I want to put those arguments aside for the moment. Forget all the divisions in the autism community and just think about MMS. If you heard about this treatment and didn't know what it was for, what would your reaction be?

To be fair, a few commenters on the Age of Autism post have done this thought experiment and have called out MMS for what it is. But there ought to be more than a few.

The issue here is not about what causes autism, how to treat autism, or whether autism can be cured. The issue is not about autism at all. The issue is simply whether you believe it's OK to force bleach down children's throats or up their colons.

There are many things to argue about in the autism community. MMS isn't one of them.

About Todd Drezner

Todd Drezner has recently directed his first documentary film, "Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic," (available on DVD, queue on Netflix) and he is also the father of Sam, an autistic child. The title of the film refers to the circuit of lampposts that Drezner’s son likes to visit in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Drezner received his MFA in Film from Columbia University and is the editor of several award-winning documentary films and commercials.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Six Tips for Avoiding Homework Distractions for Kids with ADHD

From Smart Kids with LD

January 21, 2014

ADDitude, the magazine devoted to helping people live well with attention deficits, ended the year with a list of their top articles for 2013. Among the articles listed is Homework Help for ADHD, a topic that parents cannot get enough of.

The article touts a homework system that includes helpful strategies such as getting teachers on board, establishing routines at home, and acting as your child’s “coach.” But additionally, the article contains an invaluable sidebar with tips for minimizing distractions—the real homework bugaboo for kids with ADHD.

Drawing on experience from her two children with ADHD, Melinda Boring put together a list, excerpted below, of her six favorite strategies to help minimize distractions.

1. Move Around. Walking around or marching while studying helps maintain a child’s focus. Some children do better with their book in hand as they pace, using it as a reference to check information as they memorize it.

2. Speak Out Loud. Talking out loud adds auditory support to the information a child is studying. This improves recall. It is easy for ADHD students to look at a page and “read” it without focusing seriously on the material. By speaking study material aloud, the student forces his attention to stay on task.

3. Fidget. Studying at school, without the opportunity for short breaks, is unbearable for most children with ADHD. When a student can’t get up and move around, “fidget items” can provide small, controlled movements that increase attention or calm him down, as needed.

4. Change Position. Have your student use a sitting disk, instead of a chair, when he is doing written work such as an essay or filling out a study guide. This sturdy, lightweight, portable cushion fits on top of a chair seat, or it can be placed on the floor. The gentle, controlled motion of the disk satisfies a child’s need for movement without distracting him.

5. Work in Bursts. Children with ADHD struggle to maintain attention when doing activities that don’t interest them. Working intensively for short periods of time will be more productive for them.

6. Shift Subjects. “Shifting” is not multitasking: It is having a student work on a subject until his attention starts drifting. When it drifts, the student works on a different subject. A child may have to shift back and forth between assignments several times before the work is completed.

Giving the ADHD student a mental break from one subject area by starting another is the key to being productive.

ReelAbilities: The Boston Disability Film Festival Runs January 30th - February 6th

From AANE.org
The Asperger's Association of New England

January 23, 2014

ReelAbilities, the Boston Disability Film Festival, starts in a week, running from January 30th through February 6th. Autism is well represented with the following films:
  • Wretches & Jabberers
  • Son of the Stars
  • Autism in Love (short)
  • Sensory Overload (short)
  • Come As You Are
  • My Perfect Buddy (a short)

The Wretches & Jabberers screening on opening night will be attended by its protagonists Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thesher. They communicate via iPad, and will be answering questions afterwards.

In "Wretches & Jabberers", two men with autism embark
on a global quest to change prevailing attitudes about
disability and intelligence.

Many, many other films will be shown; most ReelAbilities screenings are free of charge.

Please see the complete list of films and the full list of venues, along with the schedule for each of them.

Tickets are available online as part of the listing for each film.

For Opening Night (1/30), the mid-fest screening (2/3), and Closing Night (2/6), a limited number of complimentary tickets are available. Please contact Ellie Pierce by email to epierce@bjff.org before January 26th.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work

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

January 22, 2014

A great new parent-to-parent advocacy resource!

An elegantly written, wisely pragmatic new book, Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014), has been published this month to help parents navigate the special education system on behalf of their children.

It was written by parents, Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, who learned the ropes both by advocating successfully for their own child from preschool through high school, and also by engaging extensively with many other parents and professionals along the way to learn the wider and deeper elements of the process.

Their book carries the same gently persistent spirit, judicious sense of proportion, and sharp intelligence that marked their advocacy for their child, and the lessons they learned should help all parents of children with learning challenges – both those who are new to the process and those who feel frustrated and powerless after suffering multiple bureaucratic defeats along the way – avoid many common mistakes.

I was honored to be asked to contribute a foreword to this book, which I entitled, “Looking Back and Leaning Forward.”

There, I took the opportunity to survey some key developments in the history of special education advocacy and the course of legislative and judicial interpretations and modifications over the decades that, in the aggregate, now define the context for the advocacy of which the Graves have written.

Towards the end of that foreword I wrote:

“Notwithstanding all my dark descriptions of the erosion of rights and hopes since 1972, parents who take the time to educate themselves about the process and train themselves with the help of manuals like this one can make tremendous gains in their advocacy for their children. … Read this book and keep it handy for frequent reference! And may you, with its help, fight your way to a fantastic program for your child!”


Buy the book HERE and 7% of the proceeds go to the Federation for Children with Special Needs.

Students Sleep Habits Jeopardized By Environmental Factors

From Smart Kids with LD

January 14, 2014

As parents you know the importance of good sleep habits for your children with learning challenges and ADHD. New findings from two recent studies have shed light on surprising factors that may be interfering with your child’s sleep patterns.

Beyond Biology

In one study, University of Cincinnati researchers found that parents, peers, and the social environment had more to do with the number of hours adolescents sleep than their developmental age alone.

According to an article in Education Week, David J. Maume, the lead author of the study, explained that “When adolescents have trouble sleeping, doctors often recommend prescription drugs to address the problem. My research indicates that it’s necessary to look beyond biology when seeking to understand and treat adolescents’ sleep problems.”

Maume’s team found that the factors influencing teenage sleeping habits include homework load, computer use at night, and the quality of their relationships with friends. Specifically:
  • Students with heavy homework loads were more likely to be sleep deprived
  • Students who used computers frequently on school nights were more likely to sleep less and more sporadically
  • Students with positive social relationships enjoyed longer, and less disrupted sleep
  • Students whose parents remained involved and set bedtimes also slept longer and more soundly

Shedding Light on Sleep

In the second study, Education Week reported on another sleep study from Harvard Medical School that found “the use of artificial light from energy-efficient lamps and computer and mobile-electronics screens later in the day can lead to significant sleep problems” for children (and adults).

As stated in the article:

While lights and electronic devices that mimic daylight can improve students’ attention and alertness if used during normal daytime hours, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, has found exposure in the late afternoon and evening can disrupt sleep cycles as much as six to eight hours—the same amount of “jet lag” caused by a flight from New York City to Honolulu.

“Technology has disconnected us from the natural 24-hour day,” Dr. Czeisler said in a keynote lecture at the Society for Neuroscience meeting held here last month."

The National Sleep Foundation found that blue light—the type of light that interferes with sleep—is found in computers, laptops, and tablet devices used nightly or almost every night by more than half of Americans.

Students exposed to blue light late in the day feel less tired and often do homework or stay online until late at night.

Experts recommend nine hours per night for students from 6th to 12th grades; less than eight hours is considered insufficient.