Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Autism symptoms reversed in lab

BBC news story
Symptoms of mental retardation and autism have been reversed for the first time in laboratory mice.
US scientists created mice that showed symptoms of Fragile X Syndrome - a leading cause of mental retardation and autism in humans.

They then reversed symptoms of the condition by inhibiting the action of an enzyme in the brain.

The study, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Observer: Back to basics: the simple lessons I learnt about good schooling

Interesting piece in Sunday's Observer penned by one of Blair's former aides, Peter Hyman, who quit to become a teacher.

This paragraph in particular struck me

While wanting total freedom himself to get on with things and without the local education authority or the government breathing down his neck, Alan's policy within the school is not based on letting go, but on tight control. Consistency is one of Alan's big themes. Homework set at the start of each lesson rather than in a rush at the end of a lesson, seating plans for every class, books marked regularly and using the same format to show students how to make progress, a consistent approach to pastoral support that picks up early on students with problems. All this may sound obvious, but too often it does not happen. 'Consistency is not dull, it's liberating,' says Alan. 'If you get the baseline right you can start being creative.' He believes that all of his rules have an intellectual basis - they have been shown to support learning.

Read the whole article here:,,2110198,00.html

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Highly recommended: You're smarter than you think: A kid's guide to multiple intelligences

I highly recommend reading this book with your child.
You're Smarter Than You Think: A Kid's Guide to Multiple Intelligences
published by Freespirit publishing

I'm sure many of you have heard your child talk about themselves negatively. I'm stupid, this type of thing. As you've spent years lavishing praise and encouragement upon your child it's completely demoralising to hear such statements from them.

Here's a book that will actively challenge them to think differently about themselves. Armstrong describes in clear and accessible language multiple intelligences: listing them as Word Smart, Music Smart, Logic Smart, Picture Smart, Body Smart, People Smart, Self Smart and Nature Smart.

We've been reading the book together to great success and a warm response from the child, whose embracing the concept heartily. It's very interactive. Each intelligence begins with a list of questions and the child enjoys answering them and as they answer they explain things about themselves aloud. Gradually as Armstrong unravels all the different intelligences the child begins to identify his/or her strengths. He then goes on to explain what the various intelligences can do for the child and suggests ways to be come Word smart, or picture smart.

What's distinctive and different about this book is it's written specifically to be read to a child, but equally it's not patronising and doesn't underestimate them.

It's an essential for the bookshelf to be reached for time and time again to reiterate to the child when despair strikes. Equally it's a book that teaches us to appreciate and celebrate difference in others, so as you read you can think of other children who may have different intelligences and you can bring home the idea that all children have special, sometimes hidden, talents. I think it's useful to counter this ten out of ten means I am smart culture.

UK story: Disabled children targeted by bullies

Children with learning disabilities are twice as likely to face bullying as other youngsters.

Eight out of 10 youngsters with learning disabilities are either bullied at school or when they go out in the evening, according to a report out today.

read rest of story from The Independent here

Behaviour drugs for children 'ubiquitous'

Canadian children are being widely prescribed antipsychotic drugs for behaviour and mood problems, with a significant proportion of the powerful drugs going to children under the age of nine, new research shows.

Ninety-four per cent of 176 child psychiatrists in Canada surveyed are prescribing drugs known as atypical antipsychotics for a variety of disorders and symptoms, including anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and "poor frustration tolerance

Monday, June 11, 2007

Jeffrey Moore case: Government challenges special needs decision

Lawyers to question finding that claims schools' failure to meet children's needs is discrimination

The plight of students with severe learning disabilities will go before a B.C. court today as government lawyers challenge a human-rights finding in 2005 that the failure of public schools to meet those children's needs amounts to discrimination.

The man who set the case in motion a dozen years ago said he regrets that the Ministry of Education and the North Vancouver school board are resisting a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal order to identify and support all students with severe learning disabilities.

"It's a shame, really, that the ministry and the board felt they had to appeal because it just means a further delay in implementing the tribunal's decision and that will result in many more learning-disabled children falling by the wayside," Rick Moore said in an interview.

Read the story here: I will be posting updates on the outcome.

Suffice to say there has been to my eyes little or no improvement in the funding and implentation situation by both the government and school boards (who always hide behind the govt funding argument, but need to be made accountable for the lack of provision for Learning Disabilities). There was a recent round of cuts which will impact on Learning Assistance services.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

UK: More School Stories: social class/ exams

Two news stories worth a read and a ponder:

End exams for children under 16, says watchdog
In evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee's inquiry on pupil assessment, the GTC says most children take an average of 70 different exams or tests before the age of 16, making them the most tested in the world.

The GTC wants "sampling" of standards, covering a few primary and secondary schools, to guide national policy, along with internal school exams held by teachers when they thought appropriate.

Class divide hits learning by age of three

Disadvantaged children lagging a full year behind before they start school

By the age of three, children from disadvantaged families are already lagging a full year behind their middle-class contemporaries in social and educational development, pioneering research by a London university reveals today.
A "generation Blair" project, tracking the progress of 15,500 boys and girls born between 2000 and 2002, found a divided nation in which a child's start in life was still determined by the class, education, marital status and ethnic background of the parents.

Even more reason why learning assistance and support services need to be properly funded by the government.

Labels etc

I've done some further reading and thinking on this whole dyslexia debate and wonder if the thrust of what Julian Elliot is saying is getting mired in high octave headlines and cranky responses, with little or no detail of his actual findings, which may be useful if only to get more specific labelling where it's required.

Watching the GMTV debate in person he seemed to be saying something more sensible than reported in those various articles. I cannot find the controversial Dispatches programme online, so am missing a chunk of the argument that caused all the outrage in the first place.

I can't help applying it close to home, therefore consider the following:
- I had no trouble learning to read.
- I didn't experience letter reversals.
- I read quickly and extensively
- Testing showed my language skills to be in the superior range.
- Have good short term memory

- I cannot fathom left and right. Had to give up driving as a result.
- I have terrible spatial troubles. Cannot read maps. Cannot turn objects in my head. Can't measure or estimate space by looking.
- My spelling is very dubious.
- My punctuation is absent. I've no concept how to apply the rules of punctuation despite reading several books and being taught the rules at school.
- I could not add up until I discovered the abacus a month ago. Failed basic maths twice and decided to live a fulfilled life without it.
- Organisation is generally a terrific struggle.
- Struggle with activities that involve a sequence of steps like cooking

Am I dyslexic? Probably not. So what am I?

Equally my child thus far
-does not struggle with reading and shows superior language and comprehension skills in two languages
-did and does reverse letters and curiously, numbers.
-even though the child reads accurately will not break down words and has no visual sense of how a word might be spelled. His spelling has lots of consonants and few vowels.
-hasn't grasped capital letter at beginning of sentence and full stop at end.
-struggles with written output and physical writing
-has working memory issues
-is ambidextrous.

What are we? People like us might be labelled inaccurately, say, dyslexic. This perhaps does a disservice to those who truly are dyslexic. We are something. These kinds of struggles impede our progress. Are we the kinds of people he's talking about? Is he saying there are a plethora of possibilities? or is he saying accept your limitations and underachieve? Based on those articles it's difficult to discern.

British Dyslexia site

Here's a link to an interesting British dyslexia site, which also has forums.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

More on the dyslexia debate

GMTV debate about the recent article

Professor Julian Elliott, who has raised doubts before about whether dyslexia exists as a medical condition, said he believes the label is used by middle-class parents terrified their children will simply be classed as low achievers.

(I should add that in the debate his point of view is actually not as grim and daft as the above quote suggests. He seems to call for more specific labelling and that some people present with symptoms that are too broad to be called dyslexia)
Watch the debate here

Dyslexia facts :

The word 'dyslexia' comes from the Greek and means 'difficulty with words'
Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty, mainly affecting reading and spelling. About 10% of the population are affected by dyslexia to some degree.
Dyslexia tends to run in families; it is known that there are several genes that contribute to a genetic risk of dyslexia.
Dyslexic people usually find it difficult to analyse and work with the sounds of spoken words, and many have difficulties with short-term memory, sequencing and organisation.
Dyslexia is not the same as a problem with reading. Many dyslexic people learn to read, but have continuing difficulties with spelling, writing, memory and organisation.

Possible difficulties you may experience being dyslexic :

Reading hesitantly
Misreading, making understanding difficult
Difficulty with sequences, e.g. getting dates in order
Poor organisation or time management
Difficulty organising thoughts clearly

The ideal thing to emerge from this debate would be more research into learning difficulties, more excavation on the specifics rather than it fading to a bunch of mudslinging in three newspaper articles.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Dyslexia: article

These kinds of articles frustrate me

Firstly, I find it slightly far fetched that people would invent dyslexia symptoms to get longer to do their exams. If that's the case it's a flawed administrative system that's the problem.

Secondly it's disingenuous to suggest dyslexia is merely about being crap at reading. Instead of attacking the notion or existance of dyslexia, people should try to focus on the self esteem of the individual child which is constantly eroded everytime he/she looks at the page of the kid beside him. The aim should be to ensure no child feels hopeless, never mind this pointless clap trap.