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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2015

Our very best wishes for a happy,
healthy and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Strengthening Executive Function Development for Students With ADD

From Edutopia

By Dr. Lori Desautels
October 29, 2015

What are the root causes of Attention Deficit Disorder in our children and youth, and how do we address these challenges?

According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of children in the United States age 4-17 (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.

Dr. Russell Barkley, professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina and expert on ADD, shares that this disorder is primarily about emotional regulation and self-control. It is not just about inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Emotional regulation, which is foundational to social, emotional, and academic success, is underdeveloped in these youth.

Dr. Barkley discusses five executive skills, centered on emotional control, that are deeply affected by ADD. He emphasizes that the cause of this disorder arises from within neurogenetic roots that "effective" or "ineffective" parenting do not touch. ADD is not a knowledge or intelligence disorder.

When we study the inability of many children to control emotions and regulate behaviors, we begin to address the specific organic components of ADD and the social repercussions affecting many students at all hours of the day.

The brain is a social and historic organ that performs, behaves, and learns in the context of relationships. People will forgive your academic mishaps, but negative behaviors are often viewed as personal afflictions and intentional.

The following strategies, designed to strengthen the five executive skills, address these negative behaviors supportively and constructively.

1.) Pause: Young people with ADD often show an inability to create a pause, or a moment of self-restraint between stimulus and reaction while weighing the consequences of their impending reaction. To assist students in creating this pause, give their brains the opportunity to make associations with color, visuals, and concrete objects. Tangible items can be symbolic reminders for students of all ages.

Here are examples of signaling an intentional pause:
  • Flicking a red rubber band bracelet on our wrist or placing a red ball cap on our heads are two practices that teachers could model and repeatedly share when a pause is needed before making a hurried emotional or academic decision.
  • Accompanied with the tangible item, teachers can help students identify words that are analogous to waiting and hesitating. Stop, halt, think, rest,breathe, float, and tread could be posted in specific areas of the room with pictures and images to add meaning.
  • Students could bring in an object from home that reminds them to stop, pause, and wait. These personal objects could be placed in a "red corner," a highlighted area in the classroom where they are seen as reminders. Seeing, saying, and experiencing meaningful and personal reminders can effectively create associations and metaphors that the brain desires and needs for personalizing new responses.

2.) The Mind’s Eye: Children need to understand how past experiences and reactive decisions have resulted in a negative impact. Dr. Barkley describes ADD as a lack of hindsight -- and therefore foresight -- to visually see past experiences that did not go well! A lack of hindsight prohibits us from viewing the relevant past, which means that we are unable to see what might happen in the future.

Teachers can address this by having students create a visual or written story about a recent experience. There are a variety of options for implementing this exercise.

The following questions might spur a story starter and reflection:
  • Who are the characters in this story?
  • What is their challenge?
  • What were the rising actions, climax, and solutions?
  • What were the patterns or repetitious behaviors of the characters in the story?
  • How would you create or design a different ending?

3.) The Mind's Voice: This skill is developed through childhood beginning with audible talking that moves inward. Without the voice in our head, we are left in a deep void of confusion, feeling disconnected from choices and consequences.

As an activity, identify self-talk when experiences go poorly, while developing coping strategies through class discussion and reflection. Students can write their challenges on colored cards and toss them into a container. They then draw cards and become Problem Solvers, creating Pinterest boards that display a variety of improved strategies to select as social and emotional anchor charts for improved learning and behavior.

4.) The Mind's Heart: Through this executive skill, youth feel the connection between their emotional responses and ability to self-motivate. This is profoundly lacking in students with deficiencies in emotional regulation and self-control.

Here are two approaches to try:
  • Noticing is a form of feedback that is not evaluation or praise, but rather purely informative, indirectly saying to the student, "I am present and understand." Noticing assists students with frequent feedback and is a validating mirror for small motivational steps. When we begin to noticeeverything -- new shoes, a smile, a haircut, following a procedure or direction -- we affirm the process.
  • Motivational documentaries are powerful stories that promote emotional connection by igniting mirror neurons in our brains to promote perseverance and motivation. They spur great conversations, questions, and discussions that students can apply within their own lives. The emotional lessons from these documentaries could inspire student-designed Snapchats and shared Vines for discussions, increased positive emotion, and modeling.

5.) The Mind's Playground: The fifth executive function embraces problem solving, cognitive flexibility, and empathy. To visualize a problem from a different perspective, we need to empathize, see possibilities, and talk through a challenge, which can motivate us to discover a new way of learning and relating to others. The Mind's Playground incorporates Pause, the Mind's Voice, Mind's Heart, and Mind's Eye.

Combining these skills gives us an incredible opportunity to be a part of our students' brain development.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt

From American Educator
via Reading Rockets

By the American Federation of Teachers
December 23, 2015

A look at three pivotal longitudinal studies that clearly show: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers.

For thirty years, up until about a decade ago, the idea of "late bloomers" was widely believed among researchers and educators alike. "Late bloomer" was the endearing term for a child who was slower than his peers in learning to read. The idea, so well captured in the term, was that these children would bloom in their reading—they would just do it a bit later than their peers.

This common view, known among researchers as the "developmental lag" theory, was the reasonable basis for teachers' patience with students who didn't catch on to reading quickly—and it justified the common practice of delaying the diagnosis of reading problems until they were quite severe (Lyon et al., 2001).

But more recently, long after many teachers ended their formal education training, researchers have been able to put the developmental lag theory to rest. It has been replaced by an alternate theory of early reading weakness that defines the problem as a skill deficit.

The main difference between the two theories is that the developmental lag theory posited that difficulties in learning to read would fade as the brain matured—early, urgent intervention was not necessary. In contrast, the skill deficit theory claimed that waiting wouldn't work; children wouldn't pick up these skills unless they were taught directly and intensively.

In fact, waiting would be harmful, as it condemned children to falling further behind.

Three longitudinal studies (Juel, 1988; Francis et al., 1996; Shaywitz et al., 1999) have put the weight of research squarely behind the skill deficit theory and against the developmental lag theory. Each study tracked the reading development of children beginning in first grade.

In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up?

The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers. This research may be counter-intuitive to elementary teachers who have seen late-bloomers in their own classes or heard about them from colleagues. But statistically speaking, such students are rare.

(Actually, as we'll see, there is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader.)

The first study (Juel 1988) tracked 54 children at a school in Austin, Texas, from the beginning of first grade through the end of fourth grade using a variety of standardized tests of phonemic awareness, decoding, word recognition, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension. To see if those who are behind in learning to read do or do not catch up, Juel split the students into two groups based on their scores at the end of first grade on the ITBS Reading Comprehension subtest.

Those who scored in the bottom quartile (based on national norms) were labeled "poor readers." Those in the top three quartiles were labeled "average or good readers."

Over the next three years, the poor readers, on average, never caught up to the average and good readers on any measure of reading ability. Consider, for example, the two groups' grade-level equivalents on the ITBS Reading Comprehension subtest at the end of first grade and at the end of fourth grade. The poor readers' mean score increased from K6 (a mid-kindergarten level) to 3.5 (a mid-third grade level). But the average and good readers' mean score increased from a 2.4 to a 5.9.

Of course, group averages don't reveal individual results. Were there some late bloomers hidden behind these means? Not many. On the ITBS Reading Comprehension subtest, students who score in the bottom quartile at the end of first grade are, in terms of grade-level equivalents, at least six months behind.

So, Juel examined the individual results at the end of fourth grade to see how many students were still at least six months behind. Of the 24 students who were poor readers in first grade, 21 of them were still at least six months behind in reading. Similarly, of the 30 students who were average or good readers at the end of first grade, only four had fallen six or more months behind.

Juel summarized her findings as follows:

"The probability that a child would remain a poor reader at the end of fourth grade, if the child was a poor reader at the end of first grade, was .88; the probability that a child would become a poor reader in fourth grade if he or she had at least average reading skills in first grade was .12. The probability that a child would remain an average reader in fourth grade if the child had average reading ability in first grade was .87; the probability that a child would become an average reader in the fourth grade if he or she was a poor reader in first grade was only .13.

The evidence in this sample of children indicates that the poor first-grade reader almost invariably remains a poor reader by the end of fourth grade." (Juel, 1988)

Furthermore, Juel found that the poor readers lacked a critical skill: phonemic awareness. The poor readers entered first grade with little phonemic awareness; they did not approach the ceiling on the phonemic awareness test until the end of 3rd grade.

In contrast, average and good readers approached the ceiling on that test two years earlier, at the end of first grade. She concluded that it was trouble with decoding, rooted in poor phonemic awareness, that appeared to keep the poor readers from improving. With this finding, Juel did much to boost the case of researchers who believed that students who are behind in reading actually have a skill deficit—not a developmental lag

(And, as we see in the related article by Joseph Torgesen, she gave researchers a great clue as to how to intervene with struggling readers.)

The study that finally put to rest the developmental lag theory among researchers tracked 403 students from 12 communities in Connecticut from grades one to nine (Francis et al., 1996). The primary measure of reading development was the reading cluster score from the Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Test Battery. This score is comprised of scores from the Battery's Word Identification, Word Attack, and Passage Comprehension subtests. In addition, students' IQs were measured in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children—Revised (and students with IQ scores below 80 in third grade were excluded from the study).

Once they reached third grade, students were designated "low achieving," "reading disabled-discrepant," or "not reading impaired," depending on their scores. The low-achieving group consisted of students whose reading scores were below the 25th percentile. The reading disabled-discrepant group consisted of students whose reading scores were well below (at least 1.5 standard errors below) what their IQ scores predicted. (For example, if a student's predicted score was at the 50th percentile, his actual score would have to be at about the 7th percentile to be placed in the reading disabled-discrepant group.)

Students who met the criteria for both of these groups were designated reading disabled-discrepant. The "not reading-impaired" group consisted of the remaining students.

With students broken into these groups, the researchers analyzed the reading scores from grades one to nine looking for evidence of either a developmental lag or a skill deficit. If the developmental lag theory was correct, students who were behind would eventually catch up; if the deficit theory was correct, students would not catch up.

But the data clearly demonstrated that, on average, neither the low-achieving nor the reading disabled-discrepant students ever caught up to their peers who were not reading impaired. All students' reading improved quickly in grades one to six, but then the rate of improvement slowed.

(This quick, early improvement displayed even by weak readers has probably fueled classroom teachers' optimism that these children would eventually bloom as readers.) Apparently, the normal and behind readers reached two different plateaus.

Researchers also analyzed the scores of individual students to determine whether the average scores could, as they sometimes do, be masking different achievement patterns among individual students. That is, could the average scores be hiding the fact that many low scorers in first grade actually went on to be fine readers, while many high scorers in first grade went on to be poor readers?

The researchers determined that no masking was happening; rather, they determined that the group averages depicted in the figure closely reflected what was happening with the vast majority of the individual students.

But what about those last few years in high school? Did the struggling readers catch up? In the late 1990s, the study of Connecticut youth was extended to grade 12 (Shaywitz et al., 1999). On average, students who were behind in reading in elementary school never caught up to their peers.

As in the previous study (Francis et al., 1996), all of the students improved quickly in elementary school, but then improved very little after sixth grade. Throughout elementary and secondary school, the gap between struggling readers and their peers remained quite steady.

It's important to note that in each of these studies, the poor readers' failure to catch up only indicates (1) that there is no evidence for the developmental lag theory, and (2) that the special services these students received were not effective.

None of these studies indicates that it is impossible to intervene with these students.

The upshot of the research: The problem is not a developmental lag; it is a skill deficit. And, as Joseph Torgesen explains in a related article, the skill deficit between average and below-average readers can be largely erased with appropriate early intervention.

Monday, December 28, 2015

With Winter Here, Many Kids Could Use Vitamin D Supplements

From NPR's Health Blog "Shots"

By Katherine Hobson
December 21, 2015

In northern climes, the winter sun is too weak for people to
generate vitamin D on their own,
and it can be hard to get enough in food.

My 3-year-old drinks milk, but not very much of it, and that could be a problem for her.

We live in the Northeast, where the sun's rays are weaker. And now that the days are shorter, my kid arrives at day care a few hours after sunrise and leaves when it's dark. That all made me wonder whether she's getting enough vitamin D, and if not, what we should be doing about it.

Why should I, or anyone else, care about vitamin D? It's essential to building strong bones during childhood and adolescence. Children who are extremely low in the nutrient can develop rickets, which is characterized by soft, weak bones. Some research has tied low levels of vitamin D in active teen girls with higher rates of stress fractures.

There have been a host of studies associating low vitamin D levels with other chronic diseases and ailments, but the Institute of Medicine, or IOM, says there's no direct evidence that low levels cause those problems.

It turns out that given my daughter's demographics, there's a good chance she's low on D. She hasn't been tested. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force last year recommended against routinely screening everyone for vitamin D deficiency, saying there isn't enough evidence to assess the benefits and harms.

But there are some data to suggest that a significant percentage of children aren't meeting the floor of 20 nanograms of 25-hydroxyvitamin D per milliliter of blood serum that the IOM says is sufficient for most people to maintain bone health. Some medical groups argue for a higher bar of 30 ng/mL.

A study published in 2008 looked at infants and toddlers visiting a primary care clinic in Boston. Of the 380 kids studied, 12 percent had levels below 20 ng/mL, and 40 percent below 30 ng/mL. Research has shown that an even greater percentage of teens are deficient in vitamin D. That's likely because they drink less milk and spend less time playing outside than younger kids, says Deborah Mitchell, a pediatric endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

To maintain sufficient vitamin D levels in the blood, the IOM recommends taking in 400 international units, or IU, of vitamin D per day in the first 12 months of life and 600 IU for older kids. (The American Academy of Pediatrics supports those recommendations.)

But it can be hard to get that much D through diet alone. The vitamin occurs naturally in salmon, mackerel, sardines and shiitake mushrooms, none of which is high on my child's list of favorites. Fortified foods like milk, some yogurts, cheese, some cereals and orange juice are available, but still may not be enough. Each cup of fortified milk or orange juice, for example, contains 100 IU of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin. Indeed, on a clear day between the months of May and October, about five minutes of daily exposure is enough to spur lighter-skinned kids into making enough of the nutrient. Kids with darker skin tones need more sun exposure.

But most parents are told to slather their children in sunscreen every time they leave the house in order to prevent future skin cancers. And even if you do let your kid get a bit more sunshine, during the winter in the northern latitudes, it's not enough. "You could be naked all day in Minnesota or Seattle and you'd make no vitamin D. The sun is just too low in the sky," says Frank Greer, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and former chair of the AAP committee on nutrition.

Given all that, "it's probably not a bad idea for anyone, realistically," to take vitamin D supplements, says Mitchell. That doesn't mean that more is always better. The IOM's recommended upper limit of D consumption for children ranges from 1,000 IU for infants to 4,000 IU for teenagers and adults.

Children's multivitamins contain vitamin D, so if your kid or teen doesn't have any special health problems that prevent nutrient absorption and is already chomping a daily Flintstones, he's set. If you'd prefer to get a standalone vitamin D kid's supplement, it may be harder to find on drugstore shelves, but I found liquid, chewable and gummy options online.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Santa on the Brain

From The New York Times

By Kelly Lambert
December 21, 2013

"Throughout their adulthood, even when I’m no longer around, the sight of Santa will allow my daughters, once again, to see the world as a child would, if only for a few fleeting moments."

Credit: Jensine Eckwall
ASHLAND, VA. — I’ll never forget that December day 12 years ago, and the family holiday crisis I so narrowly averted.

I had spent the morning at my office writing a neuroscience textbook, and was looking forward to returning home to be with my 3- and 7-year-old daughters, Skylar and Lara.

But the news I received from my husband as I walked through the door was devastating.

The girls had been exploring in the attic — a space I’d thought was the perfect hiding place for Santa’s gifts. It was more than a week before Christmas and they had just seen their presents!

I’m not sure where it came from but some maternal lobe in my brain immediately became activated, and I morphed into Santa’s legal counsel. “I was afraid this would happen!” I told the girls.

I went on to explain that Santa had contacted all the parents whose kids were expecting bulky gifts that year and shared that he was having back problems. Mrs. Claus had insisted that Santa send some of those gifts ahead of time via U.P.S. so he wouldn’t be in so much pain delivering them on Christmas Eve.

But there was a condition to this agreement. I had to sign a contract stating that I would not, under any circumstances, let my children see the gifts before Santa had a chance to set them out on Christmas Eve. If the children saw the gifts, they would have to be sent back.

“NO! NO!” cried my girls. “We ... we only saw a few of them. We don’t even remember them.”

I told them that I was probably going to get in legal trouble but I would send only a few back and keep those they hadn’t seen. After serious consultation, we all agreed this was a good plan. I took a deep breath and continued decorating the house.

In addition to being a mom, I am a behavioral neuroscientist, a professor and a generally serious-minded, reality-based person. So what in the world had I just done? Why did I invent this incredible story in a desperate bid to protect my daughters’ belief in Santa, instead of seizing it as a teachable moment to tell them the truth?

While it may seem that I had abandoned my scientific training, nothing could be further from the truth.

Although children are born with a full set of 86 billion brain cells, or neurons, the connections between these neurons are relatively sparse during these early years. As their brains develop — as more and more micro-thread extensions form between neurons, and neurochemicals zap across the tiny gaps — children slowly learn about the rules of the physical world, and the distinctions between fiction and nonfiction.

Eventually, they learn that reindeer can’t fly, that Santa can’t visit every child’s home in one single night and, even if he could make such a trip, there’s no way he could eat all those cookies. Magical beliefs are pruned away as mature neural circuits reflecting real-world contingencies become solidified.

Luckily, however, we don’t completely lose those old ways of thinking, because the brain appears to retain a mechanism for neural time travel. By this, I don’t simply mean that adults have warm memories of having believed in Santa Claus.

Pascal Boyer, a professor of memory at Washington University in St. Louis, differentiates between what he refers to as episodic memories — the first time we sat on Santa’s knee or the year a blizzard knocked out the electricity — and mental time travel memories, or M.T.T. These come closer to re-experiencing a remembered event.

Professor Boyer describes how neuroimaging evidence indicates that, when certain events are recalled — presumably after being triggered by familiar sights, smells or sounds — emotional brain areas are activated as well as visceral responses. You relive the feelings you experienced in the past.

These recollections can be thought of as full-body and brain memories.

This can be traumatic, as it is likely to be for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Or it can be more mundane. Imagine that someone had a chili dog before riding a roller coaster and then got sick. For years, he may be overcome by nausea whenever he encounters a chili dog — even if he knows perfectly well it was the motion of the ride that made him ill.

When the brain considers something to be important, it is difficult to extinguish its responses to conditioned memories. Thankfully, it can happen for happy memories as well.

This notion of mental time travel tells me it was right to try to keep Santa alive for my daughters. For every year I layered another set of Christmas memories into their brains, the easier it would be for them to relive those feelings.

From my own childhood, all those years of reciting “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” smelling fir trees, and going to bed with all the anticipation of a cocaine addict about to get the biggest hit of her life have become a part of my brain’s permanent holiday infrastructure.

(Incidentally, neuroscience confirms another bit of Christmas wisdom: that the anticipation of the holiday can be as exhilarating as receiving the actual gifts. Rodent research suggests that addicted rats experience pleasure, neurologically speaking, when they anticipate receiving cocaine, even if they don’t actually consume it.)

Today, I am so reality-based that my daughters jokingly refer to me as Bones, after Fox’s stoic, almost Aspergerish forensic anthropologist. Even so, because my holiday memories were consolidated at a time when my brain effortlessly conjured up images of flying reindeer, I still feel a bit of that Christmas magic when I encounter holiday sights, smells and sounds.

Like Pavlov’s slobbering dogs, my “Christmas spirit” is the result of conditioned responses that have been consolidated in various areas of my brain, and the right sensory cocktail of sights and smells can still give me a holiday high.

So, although I was in mom-mode and not neuroscience-mode when I came up with that cockamamie story about Santa’s bad back, neuroscience research confirms the benefits of trying to assure that my girls have an emotional holiday portal for their future adult brains. I believe this is just as important as their childhood vaccinations — as it is for all children, whether their memories are of Christmas or of other celebrations and traditions.

Throughout their adulthood, even when I’m no longer around, the sight of Santa will allow my daughters, once again, to see the world as a child would, if only for a few fleeting moments.


Kelly Lambert is a professor of neuroscience at Randolph-Macon College and the author of “The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons From the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals.”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Harnessing the Incredible Learning Potential of the Adolescent Brain

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

By Katrina Schwartz
December 21, 2015

It has become a cultural cliché that raising adolescents is the most difficult part of parenting. It’s common to joke that when kids are in their teens they are sullen, uncommunicative, more interested in their phones than in their parents and generally hard to take.

But this negative trope about adolescents misses the incredible opportunity to positively shape a kid’s brain and future life course during this period of development.

“[Adolescence is] a stage of life when we can really thrive, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Temple University Neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg at a Learning and the Brain conference in Boston. Steinberg has spent his career studying how the adolescent brain develops and believes there is a fundamental disconnect between the popular characterizations of adolescents and what’s really going on in their brains.

Because the brain is still developing during adolescence, it has incredible plasticity. It’s akin to the first five years of life, when a child’s brain is growing and developing new pathways all the time in response to experiences.

Adult brains are somewhat plastic as well — otherwise they wouldn’t be able to learn new things — but “brain plasticity in adulthood involves minor changes to existing circuits, not the wholesale development of new ones or elimination of others,” Steinberg said.

Adolescence is the last time in a person’s life that the brain can be so dramatically overhauled.

“The adolescent brain is exquisitely sensitive to experience,” Steinberg said. “It is like the recording device is turned up to a different level of sensitivity.” That’s why humans tend to remember even the most mundane events from adolescence much better than even important events that took place later in life. It also means adolescence could be an extremely important window for learning that sticks.

Steinberg notes this window is also lengthening as scientists observe the onset of puberty happening earlier and young people taking on adult roles later in life. Between these two factors, one biological and one social, adolescence researchers now generally say the period lasts 15 years between the ages of 10 and 25.

“When adolescence is this long, we can’t look at it as something to just survive,” Steinberg said.

Teenagers get a bad reputation as risk-takers because parts of their brains are more plastic than others, creating an imbalance. The prefrontal cortex, which controls things like planning, thinking ahead, weighing risk and reward, and logical reasoning is the most malleable during adolescence.

Meanwhile, sex hormones released by puberty affect brain functioning by adding more dopamine to the system. Every time an adolescent feels good about something he gets a dopamine squirt. That’s why adolescents seek out pleasurable experiences, despite the risks.

“Nothing will ever feel as good to you for the rest of your life as it did when you were a teenager,” Steinberg said. The imbalance between an aroused dopamine system and a still developing prefrontal cortex, which would inhibit some of the risky pleasure-seeking behaviors, is why adolescence is such a dangerous time. While adolescents are extremely healthy, mortality rates increase by 200-300 percent due to risky behavior.

Scientists have also shown that reward pathways are activated when an adolescent is with a group of peers, which is why kids take extra risks when with friends that they might not take when alone.

The imbalance between aroused dopamine systems and self-regulation systems sounds like a scary story, but it also represents a unique opportunity to reach adolescents with positive stimuli that will be hard-wired in high definition years later. Unfortunately, American high schools are by and large not taking advantage of this opportunity.

“Our high school students are among the worst in the developed world,” Steinberg said. The high school math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been flat for 40 years. In contrast, both elementary school students and middle school students have improved.

And, U.S. schools tend to spend more money on high schools, those teachers make more money, and on the whole elementary schools enroll more low-income kids than high schools. Steinberg contends that the traditional arguments for why schools fail don’t explain everything that’s going on.

“It’s because our high schools are so boring,” Steinberg said. He notes U.S. high school students who study abroad report their experiences were more interesting and more challenging, while foreign students who study in the U.S. say American high school is more boring.

Steinberg believes part of the reason school is so boring for teens is that it doesn’t challenge them. Students themselves report that they can get by in school without doing much.

“When we are not challenging our kids in high school, not only are we hindering their academic development, but we also aren’t taking advantage of the plastic prefrontal cortex,” Steinberg said. The prefrontal cortex is strengthened by challenge and novelty.

“This is when we want them to be challenged and pushed because this is when we can develop advanced thinking, as well as self-regulation,” Steinberg said.

Teachers often say their students struggle with work that is below grade level and must catch up before they can take on more challenging tasks. But scaffolding can ensure that even the catch-up process is challenging in an interesting way.

Consistently providing students with work that is slightly more challenging than their current level keeps them engaged. If the work is too easy, they will disengage and become frustrated.

The problem is that many high schools confuse “challenging work” with “amount of work.” Students are stressed out by the volume of tasks they must complete each night or week, but that isn’t the same thing as being challenged by the work. Steinberg points out that hours of repetitious work that is not challenging do nothing but make kids hate school.

“Rates of anxiety disorders among adolescents are at record levels,” Steinberg said. “We are raising generations of students who we are driving crazy with what we are asking of them.” Recognizing this pitfall is not only important for maximizing the opportunity to make a lasting impact on students’ extremely malleable developing brains, but also because a plastic brain is also vulnerable to the wrong influences.

Adolescence is the most likely time for mental illness to develop, and substance abuse is 10 times worse if a student starts using before the age of 15. “It’s not just the type of people who begin using earlier, it’s the way the adolescent brain is responding to the use,” Steinberg said. The aroused dopamine system in the adolescent brain craves drugs, nicotine or alcohol in a different way than at other times in life.

Stress also has a big impact on adolescent brains. A recent study from UC Berkeley showed that growing up as an adolescent during wartime took years off people’s lives. “[Stress] takes more years off of your life if you are a teenager than if you are a child or an adult,” Steinberg said.

Taking Advantage of a Malleable Brain

Understanding the neuroscience at work in the adolescents populating classrooms can help teachers develop lessons that challenge, engage and satisfy the search for novelty in teens. Those experiences in turn could be some of the most meaningful ones in their lives. If educators and parents don’t take note of this research, kids will continue to tune out, seek pleasure in risky places and continue on into college-level courses unprepared.

Research has shown that targeting prefrontal cortex development in adolescents does help. Despite being a bit clichéd, Steinberg pointed to initial research findings that mindfulness in schools can improve self-regulation, the single most important quality to leading a successful life. Steinberg says that statistically there are four things everyone has to do to have a good life: graduate high school, don’t have a child until being married, don’t get in trouble with the law and don’t be idle.

“If you play by those rules you will be guaranteed a basically decent life,” Steinberg said. “This is not a moral thing, this is a statistical fact.”

Self-regulation and delayed gratification are important skills to clear those four hurdles. Steinberg basically says that if educators and parents can teach kids self-regulation, they can reduce poverty.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Positive Brains Are Smarter Brains

From Edutopia

By Donna Wilson, Ph.D.
December 9, 2015

Explicit instruction to guide students toward taking charge of their outlook on academic endeavors can lead to a more positive -- and ultimately more productive -- approach to learning. 

Applying metacognition to both the emotional and cognitive aspects of learning can help students steer their minds to make steady gains in developing their knowledge and skills.

In a previous post, we explored the gains that are possible when students adopt an attitude of practical optimism as they learn. These advantages persist into adulthood, as business research shows that people with a positive outlook are more productive, motivated, and likely to achieve their goals on the job.

And, optimistic people enjoy better personal and professional relationships and even better physical health than people who tend toward pessimism.

Influences on Learning Outlooks

A common assumption is that the tendency toward optimism or pessimism is predetermined by genetics. Indeed, research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues indicates that roughly half of people's "baseline level of well-being," the propensity toward cheerfulness or negativity, owes to DNA.

However, students can learn to exert control over other significant influences on their emotional outlook and, in doing so, sharpen their focus on positive outcomes. Explain to them that each of us can increase our positive feelings and well-being by taking charge of these three influences:
  • Thoughts: To a significant extent, we are who we perceive ourselves to be. By consciously seeking to maintain a positive orientation, we can apply a more optimistic frame as we reflect on our learning experiences and abilities to achieve our goals.
  • Behaviors: Of course, we do not succeed simply by believing that we will. An optimistic outlook must be supported by positive action and persistent effort. Learning can be hard work, but those who keep trying, monitoring their learning to make adjustments when necessary, will make steady gains that create a positive feedback loop to encourage continued progress.
  • Brain Chemistry: The brain produces chemicals called neurotransmitters in response to both internal functions and external stimuli that affect how we feel. Chemicals that have been associated with positive moods include dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. One way to enhance production of these neurotransmitters is through physical activity. Thus, scheduling challenging subjects immediately following phys ed class and recess can help students channel their positive brain chemistry toward learning.

This body-brain power connection also offers a helpful metacognition strategy for students. Remind them that when they get hung up on a problem while doing their homework or independent study, they might try going for a run or taking an exercise break, and then return to the problem with their brain recharged.

The CIA Model for a Positive Approach to Learning

To make the most of their power to steer their brains toward positive learning outcomes, it may be helpful to introduce students to what we call the CIA model, which stands for control, influence, and acknowledge.
  • Control: By being conscious of our thoughts and actions -- that is, being metacognitive about what we are thinking and doing -- we take change of steering them in a positive and productive direction. For example, when students feel their thoughts drifting toward negativity or distractions, they can assume control to stay focused on achieving their learning goals.
  • Influence: At this stage of the CIA model, we should consciously consider the many influences that may steer us in both positive and counterproductive directions. We should choose to focus on those influences that can enhance our optimistic outlook and sustain our belief in our ability to succeed through hard work and persistent effort. Some students may harbor unacknowledged assumptions that they aren't as smart as their peers or that they lack the ability to improve in certain subjects. Have you ever heard a student say, "I'm just bad at math," or "I'm not a good reader"? As a gentle rejoinder to these negative self-assessments, remind students that they can become good, even great, problem solvers and readers if they keep practicing, aim for steady progress, and believe that they can succeed.
  • Acknowledge: Finally, it is useful to recognize the areas where we have limited control. As noted previously, about half of our baseline outlook toward optimism or pessimism is determined by genetic predisposition. In addition, we have little control over negative situations and people who prefer to focus on the downside. But we can direct our attention on the aspects of our outlook that are within our control, and we can move past setbacks and negativity.

The message for students is that they should strive to minimize time and energy expended on situations and factors where they have limited control and influence. If a student in their learning group goes off task, for example, they can't control that student's actions, but they can focus their own attention on learning.

By reinforcing that students can take charge of their outlook on learning and life, and by guiding them to develop metacognitive tools to do so, we empower self-directed learners to pursue a positive path.

  • Conyers, M. A., & Wilson, D. L. (2015). Positively smarter: Science and strategies to increase happiness, achievement, and well-being. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin.


Editor's note: This post is co-authored by Marcus Conyers who, with Donna Wilson, is co-developer of the M.S. and Ed.S. Brain-Based Teaching degree programs at Nova Southeastern University.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Stressed-Out Students: A Presentation on Anxiety January 13, 2016

From the Tyngsboro SEPAC

December 20, 2015

A discussion of how to identify and manage anxiety in children of all ages and abilities. Parents and teachers will learn what they can do to help prevent or alleviate stress for all students.

NESCA's Dr. Angela Currie will also cover what can be done when there is concern about the severity of a student’s anxiety, and include an overview of school-based recommendations and therapeutic interventions.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Where: Tyngsborough Middle School Library
                   50 Norris Road #2, Tyngsboro, MA 01879

Speaker: Angela Currie, Ph.D. of NESCA

Free and open to the public. No pre-registration required.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning

From Edutopia

By Judy Willis, M.D.
July 18, 2014

"Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen -- literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research. Shouldn't it be our challenge and opportunity to design learning that embraces these ingredients?"

The realities of standardized tests and increasingly structured, if not synchronized, curriculum continue to build classroom stress levels. Neuroimaging research reveals the disturbances in the brain's learning circuits and neurotransmitters that accompany stressful learning environments.

The neuroscientific research about learning has revealed the negative impact of stress and anxiety, and the qualitative improvement of the brain circuitry involved in memory and executive function that accompanies positive motivation and engagement.

The Proven Effects of Positive Motivation

Thankfully, this information has led to the development of brain-compatible strategies to help students through the bleak terrain created by some of the current trends imposed by the Common Core State Standards and similar mandates.

With brain-based teaching strategies that reduce classroom anxiety and increase student connection to their lessons, educators can help students learn more effectively.

In the past two decades, neuroimaging and brain-mapping research have provided objective support to the student-centered educational model. This brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are relevant to students' lives, interests, and experiences.

Lessons can be stimulating and challenging without being intimidating, and the increasing curriculum requirements can be achieved without stress, anxiety, boredom, and alienation as the pervasive emotions of the school day.

During my 15 years of practicing adult and child neurology with neuroimaging and brain mapping as part of my diagnostic tool kit, I worked with children and adults with brain function disorders, including learning differences. When I then returned to university to obtain my credential and Masters of Education degree, these familiar neuroimaging tools had become available to education researchers. Their widespread use in schools and classrooms globally has yet to occur.

This brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are motivating and engaging. Positive motivation impacts brain metabolism, conduction of nerve impulses through the memory areas, and the release of neurotransmitters that increase executive function and attention. Relevant lessons help students feel that they are partners in their education, and they are engaged and motivated.

We live in a stressful world and troubled times, and that is not supposed to be the way for children to grow up. Schools can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide children with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge.

When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition.

Neuroimaging and EEG Studies

Studies of electrical activity (EEG or brain waves) and metabolic activity (from specialized brain scans measuring glucose or oxygen use and blood flow) show the synchronization of brain activity as information passes from the sensory input processing areas of the somatosensory cortex to the reticular activating and limbic systems.

For example, bursts of brain activity from the somatosensory cortex are followed milliseconds later by bursts of electrical activity in the hippocampus, amygdala, and then the other parts of the limbic system. This data from one of the most exciting areas of brain-based learning research gives us a way to see which techniques and strategies stimulate or impede communication between the parts of the brain when information is processed and stored.

In other words, properly applied, we can identify and remove barriers to student understanding!

The amygdala is part of limbic system in the temporal lobe. It was first believed to function as a brain center for responding primarily to anxiety and fear. Indeed, when the amygdala senses threat, it becomes over-activated. In students, these neuroimaging findings in the amygdala are seen with feelings of helplessness and anxiety. When the amygdala is in this state of stress-induced over-activation, new sensory information cannot pass through it to access the memory and association circuits.

This is the actual neuroimaging visualization of what has been called the affective filter by Stephen Krashen and others. This term describes an emotional state of stress in students during which they are not responsive to learning and storing new information. What is now evident on brain scans during times of stress is objective physical evidence of this affective filter.

With such evidence-based research, the affective filter theories cannot be disparaged as "feel-good education" or an "excuse to coddle students" -- if students are stressed out, the information cannot get in. This is a matter of science.

This affective state occurs when students feel alienated from their academic experience and anxious about their lack of understanding.

Consider the example of the decodable "books" used in phonics-heavy reading instruction. These are not engaging and motivating. They are usually not relevant to the students' lives because their goal is to include words that can be decoded based on the lesson. Decodability is often at the expense of authentic meaning to the child. Reading becomes tedious and, for some children, confusing and anxiety-provoking.

In this state, there is reduced passage of information through the neural pathways from the amygdala to higher cognitive centers of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, where information is processed, associated, and stored for later retrieval and executive functioning.

Additional neuroimaging studies of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the rest of the limbic system, along with measurement of dopamine and other brain chemical transmitters during the learning process, reveal that students' comfort level has critical impact on information transmission and storage in the brain.

The factors that have been found to affect this comfort level, such as self-confidence, trust and positive feelings for teachers, and supportive classroom and school communities are directly related to the state of mind compatible with the most successful learning, remembering, and higher-order thinking.

The Power of Joyful Learning

The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and "aha" moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.

With current research and data in the field of neuroscience, we see growing opportunities to coordinate the design of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in ways that will reflect these incredible discoveries.

Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen -- literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research. Shouldn't it be our challenge and opportunity to design learning that embraces these ingredients?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Upoming February/ March Workshops at The Ely Center: Be the Parents You Want to Be

From The Ely Center

December 17, 2016

Do you ever feel frustrated with your child? Find yourself shouting often and imposing punishments or rewards in reaction to challenging behavior? Do you wish you had a more effective parenting approach that also helps to build a better relationship between you and your child?

Think:Kids' Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach, based in MGH's Department of Psychiatry, provides parents with concrete tools to better understand and parent their kids in the face of day-to-day challenges – e.g., getting to school, homework, screen time, bedtime – and more serious challenges.

It’s based on the understanding that many kids lack the skill, not the will, to behave well – specifically skills related to problem solving, flexibility and frustration tolerance.

Parents who attend the CPS overview learn to:
  • Shift their thinking and approach to foster positive relationships with their child;
  • Reduce their child’s challenging behavior;
  • Solve problems collaboratively and proactively;
  • Help their child develop skills related to self-regulation, communication and problem-solving.

When:    10:00am - 12 noon, 5 Tuesdays,
                    January 12 - February 9, 2016; and,

                    6:30 - 8:30pm, 5 Wednesdays, March 2 - 30, 2016

                    84 Rowe St, Auburndale, MA 02466
                    (617) 795-1755

For more information and to register for 2016 sessions, please visit: http://www.betheparentyouwanttobe.weebly.com.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Report: Non-Academic Skills Are Key Ingredient To Student Success

From WBUR 90.9 FM's Blog
"Learning Lab"

By Peter Balonon-Rosen
December 8, 2015

There’s little doubt that skills that can’t be measured by standardized tests still play a pretty big role in a student’s education.

Skills like self-confidence, the ability to work well with others, attitudes toward learning, and control over one’s emotions. Beyond making day-to-day life easier to navigate, these skills have long term effects in one’s life.

They’re associated with high school and college success, likelihood of future employment, higher earnings, positive health and smaller chances of incarceration. In fact, being proficient in those non-academic skills can result in impacts 40 years down the line, according to a report released Tuesday by Boston-based education nonprofit Transforming Education (TransformEd).

“The skills students need to become successful not just in school, but in their careers and their lives, include, very significantly, a set of skills that are not the focus of schools when [schools] only look at test scores,” said Christopher Gabrieli, TransformEd co-founder and chairman.

Gabrieli, a one-time gubernatorial candidate, is also co-founder of the National Center on Time & Learning and a major player in the expanded learning time movement. He says his work in expanding the school day raised a very specific question: What skills do students really need?

While there is mounting evidence from researchers of the importance of these non-cognitive skills, there are a number of challenges when it comes to deliberately teaching, learning and measuring them in schools.

Intrapersonal Skills

Research and case studies that measure “soft skills” like self-control, openness to learning and teamwork show that mastery over these abilities can result in significant impacts in students’ lives.

Gabrieli says learning all of the skills are important, but finds some to have more profound lasting effects than others.

“Intrapersonal skills,” Gabrieli said. “In particular, conscientiousness and self-management.”

A long-term study of roughly 1,000 children born in 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand, found that levels of self-control strongly predict outcomes later in life, like high school graduation, adult earnings and absence from criminal activity.

Researchers gleaned data from participant self-reporting, plus teacher and parent reporting.

According to the Dunedin study, almost all of those who rated themselves as having high self-control went on to earn a high school diploma, while just over half of those who said they didn’t have much self-control earned a diploma. The study says those who say they have low self-control are 2.5 times more likely to smoke by age 15, eight times more likely to drop out of high school, and four times more likely to be an unplanned parent.

“Those measures of self-control have extraordinary predictive power over the lifetime of these students,” Gabrieli said. “[It’s a pretty] major deal, both for the person themselves and for society.”

Notably, studies also show that self-control is a better predictor of whether a student improves academically over a school year than a student’s IQ.

But self-control can change; it’s not static and, in many cases, it improves. So if we canteach students self-control, they’ll do better at school and in life, right?

Well, kind of.

While the Dunedin study doesn’t prove that an outside influence, like a school-based program, would effectively change a student’s self control, it shows that long-term benefits are in place when a student’s self-control does change.

The report also finds that students’ mindsets about their intelligence can predict academic achievement. Research shows that students who have a “growth mindset” — meaning they believe intelligence can increase through practice and effort — do better than students who think their intelligence is fixed at a certain level.

“Saying to a kid who does well on a test ‘You’re smart’ is actually associated with negative developments versus praising a child, regardless of how they did, for where their effort shown,” Gabrieli said.

In a study cited in the report, the math grades of seventh graders with a so-called growth mindset increased over a two-year period, while those who believe intelligence is fixed stayed relatively flat. Other students who say they have a growth mindset are more likely to graduate than peers who don’t.

“When you look at all of that, you see these [skills] are really strongly validated,” said Gabrieli.

Measuring Up

Validated or no, how do you measure these types of non-academic skills? How do we know how a student is doing with self-control or whether they have a growth mindset?

To answer this question, Gabrieli and TransformEd turned to surveys. And this past spring, 450,000 students in California school districts took them.

“It turns out that just as we would have expected, these measures predicted the outcomes you would expect,” Gabrieli said. “Kids who rated themselves lower in self-management had higher absentee rates, suspensions and the like. Kids who rated themselves higher in growth-mindset had higher GPAs.”

Still, Gabrieli knows that surveys pose challenges. They’re hardly the same measures of hard skills typically used in schools.

“It’s a little bit like asking someone if they’re good at math,” said Gabrieli. “They may be roughly right … but most people feel a lot more comfortable determining whether you’re good at math by asking you to do math problems, not your opinion of whether you’re good at math.”

Still, TransformEd’s measure of students’ non-cognitive skills comes at a time when the national dialogue seems to be switching away from a focus on standardized academic testing toward embracing and supporting other measures of student success. Schools in all of Massachusetts’ so-called Gateway Cities now conduct classroom-based social-emotional learning programs each year.

And draft language from a new federal education bill would require all 50 states to add at least one non-academic measure to the mix when assessing schools.

“If we began to measure these things routinely, we could begin to identify where there are pockets of success above what you’d expect,” said Gabrieli. “There’s plenty of intervening already, it’d be nice to know which of that is working better than the others.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For Dyslexia, Writing is Often on the Wall from Birth

From the Boston Children's Hospital Blog

By Nancy Fliesler
December 7, 2015

Some 5 to 17% of all children have developmental dyslexia, or unexplained reading difficulty. When a parent has dyslexia, the odds jump to 50 percent.

Typically, though, dyslexia isn’t diagnosed until the end of second grade or as late as third grade — when interventions are less effective and self-esteem has already suffered.

“It’s a diagnosis that requires failure,” says Nadine Gaab, Ph.D., an investigator in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience.

But a new study led by Gaab and lab members Nicolas Langer, Ph.D., and Barbara Peysakhovich finds that the writing is on the wall as early as infancy — if only there were a way to read it and intervene before the academic, social and emotional damage is done.

In 2012, the Gaab Lab showed that pre-readers with a family history of dyslexia (average age, 5½) have differences in the left hemisphere of their brains on magnetic resonance image (MRI). “The first day they step in a kindergarten classroom, they are already less well equipped to learn to read,” Gaab says.

Some researchers have proposed that the difference reflects being raised by a dyslexic parent — perhaps, for example, being read to less. But could the difference be innate? To get at this question, Gaab and colleagues performed advanced MRI brain imaging on 14 infants with a family history of dyslexia and 18 infants of similar age with no such family history.

Since infants need to be completely still inside the scanner, this required an elaborate protocol, developed with the help of Ellen Grant, M.D., director of the Fetal-Neonatal Neuroimaging and Developmental Science Center at Boston Children’s. Parents brought their babies in for scanning before their best naptime, early enough that they wouldn’t fall asleep in the car, and settled them in a space that tried to mimic the babies’ home sleep environment.

Time was built in to allow babies to get used to the sound of the MRI machine. Finally, once parents got their babies off to sleep, Gaab’s team carefully slid the infants into the scanner. This strategy works about 70 percent of the time.

The MRI scan included an advanced technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). It measures the flow of water molecules along the brain’s fiber tracts, and gives a good indication of how the fibers are structured and oriented and how well information is flowing in the brain.

The arcuate fasciculus in a child with a family history of
dyslexia (L), versus no family history (R), as seen on DTI

As reported today in the journal Cerebral Cortex, the scan found alterations in a particular structure called the arcuate fasciculus, a bundle of fibers that connect the posterior cortex, which is involved in mapping sounds and word/letter recognition, with the frontal cortex, which integrates and comprehends this information.

Detailed segmentation of the images revealed that fibers in certain areas of the arcuate fasiculus, shown at right as red bands, were consistently less organized.

People who have suffered damage to the arcuate fasciculus are known to have problems with expressive and receptive language and with phonological processing — the ability to manipulate the sounds of a language, a critical part of learning to read.

In infants with familial dyslexia, inherited genes may interfere with the development of the arcuate fasciculus before birth, says Gaab, impairing its structural integrity.

“The street could be full of potholes, or it could be the street is narrow or has a really crappy surface, or there might be a lot of intersections where you have to stop,” she says.

But biology isn’t necessarily destiny. Research shows that with early interventions, 50 to 90 percent of children with dyslexia can become good readers, says Gaab. There are even studies indicating that the interventions lead to normalization of white matter pathways in the brain’s left hemisphere. But although public health studies support early intervention for dyslexia, many schools shy away from screening, lacking the resources to test and intervene.

“We hope this study will help show that kids should get interventions before kindergarten,” says Gaab. “We’re not saying you should scan every kindergartener, but if you have a strong family history, you could potentially have a five-minute DTI scan to see if you are at risk.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New Report Finds 43 Percent Increase in ADHD Diagnosis for U.S. Schoolchildren

From George Washington University

December 8, 2015

12% of U.S. children and teens had a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2011, a number that has jumped by 43% since 2003, according to a large national study based on parental reports of an ADHD diagnosis.

12% of U.S. children and teens had a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2011, a number that has jumped by 43% since 2003, according to a large national study based on parental reports of an ADHD diagnosis.

This analysis suggests that 5.8 million U.S. children ages 5 to 17 now have this diagnosis, which can cause inattention and behavioral difficulties, says lead researcher Sean D. Cleary, Ph.D., MPH, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

The research also uncovered a surprising increase in ADHD among girls during the study time frame.

"We found the parent-reported prevalence for girls diagnosed with ADHD rose from 4.3% in 2003 to 7.3% in 2011. That's an increase of 55% over an eight year period," Cleary says, adding: "Traditionally, boys have been more likely to get a diagnosis of ADHD."

The report, published online in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, was based on data sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a National Children's Survey from 2003-2011.

Cleary and his co-author Kevin P. Collins of Mathematica Policy Research mined the data looking for trends in parent-reported prevalence of ADHD.

"We found rising rates of ADHD overall and very sharp jumps in certain subgroups," Cleary said, adding that for adolescents the diagnosis jumped by 52 percent since 2003. "Parents should be made aware of the findings in case they have a child or teenager that should be evaluated for the disorder, which can persist into adulthood."

This study was not designed to look at the underlying reasons for such changes in prevalence, Cleary said. The reported increase in the diagnosis could be a true increase in the number of ADHD diagnoses or it could be the result of a tendency to over-diagnose the condition.

Additional research will need to be done to find out why there has been a rise in the diagnosis, with special attention being paid to certain groups, Cleary said.

Cleary and Collins looked at data taken from the National Survey of Children's Health, a nationally representative cross-sectional survey that collected information on the health of children aged 17 and younger. They focused on a question in the survey that asked parents if a doctor or another health care provider had told them that their child had ADHD.

The researchers also kept track of race/ethnicity and whether the children were boys or girls and other relevant sociodemographic factors that have previously been found to be related to ADHD diagnosis.

There have been very few previous studies looking at the prevalence of this disorder among different racial or ethnic groups, Cleary said. This study did hone in on such subgroups, finding the prevalence of parent-reported ADHD had risen by about 83 percent in Hispanic youth during the eight year study period.

"Additional studies must be done to identify the underlying cause of the increase," Cleary says. In the meantime, he says that parents should be aware of all of the issues surrounding a diagnosis of ADHD, and talk to their doctor if they have concerns about a child's ability to focus or behavior.

The question of why the condition seems to be increasing is important because the diagnosis often comes with a prescription for a stimulant drug like Ritalin. Such drugs can help children and adults with ADHD focus and stay on task. However, critics worry that the drugs may be over-prescribed.

Children with ADHD may have trouble with paying attention in class or at home and they might also be impulsive or prone to making careless mistakes. They can also be forgetful and, if nothing is done, the condition can lead to difficulties at school, at home and in social situations, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The full report can be found HERE.