Monday, November 18, 2013

Exercise----How Many Reasons Do We Need?

It just keeps piling up.  The reasons to exercise are creates mountainous volumes of research.  But my favorite is the one I read about today (and I have read a LOT of studies about exercise and the brain).  Researchers at Princeton University (shout out to the quarterback there!  He's one of the best young men I've ever known), have shown exercise to help us be more resilient to stress!  H-E-L-L-O!  Who doesn't have stress?  Who doesn't have too much stress?

We're coming upon the holiday season and it is so easy to be too busy to take care of ourselves.  DON'T SKIP YOUR EXERCISE.  That yelling was directed at me.  It's been too long since I have been consistently exercising.  And, by the way, I can tell.  I am not sleeping as well.  I am too sleepy when I wake up in the morning.  I don't feel great.  And it is time to get back in gear.

I am glad I read this article about the study today.  I NEED the benefits of regular exercise in my life.  But most especially I need to have the reserve of being resilient in times of stress.  It's free---something as simple as going for a walk.  But a fast walk.  Every day.

My friends who are the most "together" all have "regular exerciser" on their common traits list.  

Be a friend to your brain, and it'll be a friend to you---especially during stressful events.  Go for a walk or a run or take an exercise class.  

You can read about the study here:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dyslexia---It's NOT What You Thought

Reading problems are often lumped together under the category or diagnosis "dyslexia".  A completely UNscientific poll of my acquaintances (all of whom had college degrees) revealed that many reasonably intelligent and informed folks (who also happen to all be parents) believe dyslexia is where your eyes jumble up the words and letters, making it difficult to read.  Of course the popular t-shirts and Facebook memes contribute to the proliferation of this myth:

As clever as they are, they misrepresent what people with reading difficulties really experience.  Dr. David Sousa, in his book "How the Brain Learns to Read", identified one of the key components of reading difficulties (p. 46) "How well a child comprehends a written text is determined by how well that child comprehends the same text when it is spoken."  Yes, it is true and has been proven time and time again. (Aside:  For those of you who thinking "reading" and "comprehending" are different, I disagree.  There is no purpose in reading if you can't understand what you are reading.  It will not inform you in any way and will have no pleasurable value.  It is my position that you can't read any better than you comprehend what you read.  Saying a word is speaking, NOT reading---even if you saw it on a piece of paper before you said it.) Dr. Sousa's book (published in 2005) explains the important role of understanding in reading.  

Now we have a new study from Georgetown University Medical Center and funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute (it is always important to know WHO FUNDED studies) gives additional insights.  And they are important insights into understanding how the brain functions---not limited to dyslexia or reading.  Senior author, Guinevere Eden, PhD, explains:
 “In fact our results confirm that differences do exist in the visual system of children with dyslexia, but these differences are the end-product of less reading, when compared with typical readers, and are not the cause of their struggles with reading.”
Yes, there are differences in the visual processing of children with reading difficulties, but they are the RESULT of the reading difficulties, NOT the CAUSE.  The research went onto show how intense phonological training caused the children to improve in their reading AND also their brain imaging then closely matched that of skilled readers.

What does this mean for parents whose children are struggling with reading?  There are MANY things which could be underlying this difficult.  The first place to look, in my opinion and experience, is auditory processing.

If my child had reading difficulties, I would do this:
1.  Have their hearing tested
2.  Upon receipt of a "clean" hearing test, I would pursue issues regarding auditory processing.  A neurodevelopmental evaluation can show parents at what level of the brain there is difficulty AND give parents the tools to stimulate auditory processing in that area.

I said "IF" my child had reading difficulties---which isn't entirely truthful.  "WHEN" my daughter had "dyslexia" and couldn't read beyond the primer level at the beginning of second grade, I did just what I recommended.  And I followed a program for her that would stimulate this function.  And by the end of second grade, she was reading on a 5th grade level with a 100% comprehension level.  Her teacher had not, in 18 years of teaching, ever seen a child progress this quickly.  And the reasons are clear----we addressed the ROOT CAUSE of her strugggles.  And at age 17, she now reads for pleasure and is in Honors classes.

Once you understand HOW the brain processes information, culminating in reading, dyslexia is no mystery.  The question that remains is, "What are you going to do to help your child who is struggling?"

Contact Parents With Purpose for a free consultation---we'll explain how we can help you help your child.

You can read about the Georgetown University Medical Center research here:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Looking at the Best

A recent article about a Danish company named Specialisterne really caught my attention.  This company works to find employment opportunities for people labeled with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  While I believe in working to find where the need for stimulation to a specific brain is----I am delighted to read of a man actually looking at the ABILITIES for these folks instead of the DISabilities. Bravo to you,  Thorkil Sonne!!

Mr. Sonne helps find ways for the workers with special needs to have their coping skills accepted in the workplace.  Things such as earplugs, clear written policies/rules, personal breaks, and others, help workers with ASD's work around their challenges and still contribute their own personal genius.

Looking at people as people and acknowledging what they can actually accomplish and contribute----I love it!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sleep---Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel!

According to the UK Millennial Cohort Study (MCS), irregular bedtimes are associated with poor performance in reading, math and balance studies in both boys and girls. Some part of me says, "Really????  We have to have a study to tell us parents should put children to bed at the same time every night?"  What used to be such common practice now has to be dissected, studied, put back together in flowery language and what do we get?  Didn't we know all along that children between the ages of 3 and 7 should be in bed by 7:30- 8:30 every night?  I guess we didn't (but I did).

So, in case you, or someone who takes care of children you love (read you are the grandparent,aunt, uncle, neighbor, teacher, etc) doesn't "get it", here it is.

Young children need sleep.  Their sleep cycles should be orderly.  That means they should go to bed at the same time every night.  Waking up is a little different---this can be a time where they get needed extra sleep during times of stress, sickness and/or growth spurts.  Naps can also help close those gaps when extra sleep is needed.

An orderly sleeping pattern.  Couple that with healthy, home-cooked food, playing outside for extended periods of time and a mother and father in the same household and what do you have?  Leave It to Beaver!  The American idyllic childhood.  And what do those childhoods produce?  HEALTHY, WELL-ADJUSTED CHILDREN WHO THRIVE.

I don't mean to be so brash, but it is frustrating me to no end that young mothers (collectively, not individually) discard the wisdom of the previous generations and hang on every syllable published under the guise of "research".   I talk to LOTS of new grandmothers and they unanimously tell me they aren't allowed to offer advice.  Really?  They have successfully raised children, but advice must come from pediatricians (who are in an office with children for 5 minutes at a time, not home raising them) and researchers (see previous parentheses)??  

Consider, PLEASE CONSIDER, if you are a young mother, listening to the wisdom of someone who has actually raised children.  Someone who has successfully completed the same task you are beginning should be considered a reliable source of information.  PLEASE.  Because if you don't, we're going to have to spend money researching and proving what every seasoned mother already knows.

And, by the way, it's 8 pm CDT----are your kids in bed?

You may read the study referenced here:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Brain Mapping

Hardly a day seems to go by without reading of another study proving a certain area of the brain is responsible for a certain function----often the functions are emotional, such as love, empathy, anger, etc.  And many times the conclusion is that this new key piece of research will aid in the development of a new drug to treat associated disorders.  While I do pay attention to and read them, I have just never been able to get too excited about them.  And today, I learned I'm not the only one!  Scientists from Case Western University today issued a "scathing rebuke" of brain mapping as a basis for isolating specific functions to limited areas of the brain.  Their basis for this rebuke is detailed in the link, and you can read all about there.  Thank you, CWU, for rethinking this. 

But here, you get to read MY ideas about brain imaging and its limits.  I have had parents offer to bring me multiple imaging reports and actual images before an evaluation of their child.  I gratefully acknowledge the offer and then decline.  To me, it is all about function.  I have seen children with perfect MRI's who are in a wheelchair with a feeding tube and a trach---and on the flip side of the coin have seen children who can walk, talk, run, jump and only have issues with attention and focus who have serious deformities in specific regions of the brain.  How can this be?  Well, honestly, I don't know.  And frankly, neither does anybody else.  Nobody.  And here is why:

The brain is a very complex network of neural connections.  Because of this, it is almost impossible to assign function to one small location.  Often times studies are only looking at the cortex (the only area of the brain that can be "mapped" with the cap full of electrodes) and ignores the fact that the cortex functions SOLELY on information from the lower regions of the brain.  This is a common trap that not only imaging researchers, but also tutors, physicians and therapists fall into.  But it is a mistake---and that mistake is a blog post for another day.  :)

Back to function----While imaging shows up if there is activity in a region of the brain, it does not show the quality of that activity.  It doesn't show if it is speedy and efficient or slow and sluggish.  It doesn't show what happens if environmental factors change, such as the amount of background noise or eating something with red dye in it.

The imaging also ignores the principle of neuroplasticity.  Especially in young children---but shown to be possible in anyone---alternate regions of the brain can pick the function of injured or even removed sections.  And we ALL need to rely on neuroplasticity constantly.  This is how our brain improves and repairs.  Certainly not something to be ignored.

If you are in a traumatic injury situation, stay out of the way.  Let the doctors do their thing.  Trauma professionals are VERY good at what they do.  If they want imaging, you wouldn't catch me arguing the point. 

I am not saying imaging is never good.  I am saying for chronic neurological issues, it should not be the only basis for moving forward in children.  Function is the goal and where I focus in designing programs of stimulation and organization for my clients.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

We Can't Help It, It's Genetic

I've had parents tell me many times that their child cannot improve their brain function because they have a condition that is genetic.  Never mind that 99% of these parents are labeling their child's struggles "genetic" based merely on the fact that parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc have also struggled with reading, paying attention, sleeping well, etc.  (NOT a very scientific measure, if I may say so).  

However, new research is confirming that your DNA is NOT written in stone.  Your DNA changes based on environmental conditions---including what you do, what you eat, etc.---throughout an undetermined period of your life, but AT LEAST throughout your developmental years. 

This is such critical information to understand, and is the foundation for an attitude shift---
Our DNA does not make conditions in our life unchangeable!  We influence our DNA constantly and need to take that power into our conscious decisions.

What message would you like to set into YOUR DNA?

Monday, July 8, 2013

No Age Limit!!!

In a study published on July 3 in an American Academy of Neurology online issue of the medical journal Neurology, new research suggests reading, writing and other brain stimulating activities could preserve memory, regardless of age.

I have many, many people who ask me the same question, "What is the age limit for improving your brain?"  It's a crying shame to me that there seems to be some need for an "age limit" at all.  So now let me participate in the killing of this myth!  There is no age limit---never too young, never too old.

So what are these "brain stimulating activities" everyone is talking about?  Here are the ones I recommend:

I am NOT an advocate of drinking alcohol---quite the opposite---I think it is harmful.  But there is an advertisement that incorporates "the most interesting man in the world"---it shows a very grayed man surrounded by very young people who want to be around him socially.  This guy is shown, in a series of ads, doing a HOST of varied activities and none of them seem to involve watching television or mindlessly sitting in front of a computer.  I promise that watching cats doing something ridiculous does NOT stimulate your brain.  This guy is not fading with age, he is becoming MORE interesting because he's had more varied experiences.  And this is something that seems to be lost on a lot of folks.  Getting older SHOULD mean getting more interesting, not less.

So there is the equation, plain and simple---MOVE a lot, EAT WELL, READ, WRITE, do INTERESTING and VARIED activities!  

And here is the key:  KEEP DOING IT UNTIL YOU DIE!!!  Don't decide that you're just too tired or too old for new and interesting activities.  There is no age limit.  Your brain wants and NEEDS you to keep variety and movement and stimulation in your life.  You will never regret making these investments in yourself.