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August 2011




Archive for August, 2011

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William Kotarski has Aspergers Syndrome and has just achieved a first in a maths masters degree.

Published on Friday 5 August 2011 11:00


OBTAINING a first class masters degree in maths is a huge achievement for anyone.


But the success is particularly sweet for Dunstable graduate William Kotarski, who has Asperger’s Syndrome – and was only diagnosed with the condition two years ago.


Although very bright, the 22-year-old maths whiz, of Sundown Avenue, has always struggled with social pleasantries and communicating with strangers.


And simple things like going to the shop or using public transport requires lots of preparation.


Mum Hilary told the Gazette: “We’ve had to train him to do things. If he wanted to go to the shops we had to walk him through it first.”


And William agreed. He said: “I went to Reading on the train at the weekend and I had to do a trial run with my dad to start with. That sort of thing used to be really hard but I’ve got a bit better at it.”


William – a former Hadrian Lower, Millvale Middle and Northfields Upper pupil – showed signs of Asperger’s from a young age, but it was only when he went to the University of Reading that he was encouraged to see a doctor by a friend who was also on the autistic spectrum.


He said: “I thought that it made sense for me to have Asperger’s but I didn’t want to self-diagnose.


“If you read the list of symptoms of Asperger’s, most teenagers might think ‘oh, that’s me’. But my friend almost physically dragged me to the disability office for an assessment.”


His parents were asked to bring a medical history and meet with staff and just one hour after the assessment, William was told he has Asperger’s.


“We weren’t surprised,” admitted Hilary. “I didn’t want him to have a diagnosis but he did. I didn’t think he should have a label but he’s proud to have it because it makes him the person he is.”


And William can now also call himself master of maths after collecting a first class masters at his graduation recently.


He will head back to Reading in October to start a PHD.


William, who was awarded a prize for his dissertation, said: “I thought I’d try for a 2:1 but in my first year I got firsts for everything so I thought I should aim higher and aim for a first.


“I didn’t like school, it was boring. But university maths was really interesting.”


Hilary said: “We are really proud of him.”




5:30 AM, Aug. 17, 2011


WEST NYACK — Ever since his bar mitzvah, Jacob Machlis has wanted to be a stand-up comedian. Robin Williams is a professional idol, as are the fast, frantic ad-libbers on “Whose Line Is it Anyway?”


In conversation, Machlis, 17, of Tappan likes to tell jokes to warm up the room. His act is clean. His monologues touch on topics such as George Washington’s wooden teeth.


Machlis, who is entering his senior year at Tappan Zee High School, also has Asperger syndrome. This might be considered a disability for some, but the aspiring comic regards it as an asset in the unscripted world of improv comedy.


“If you have Asperger’s, you tend to talk without thinking,” he said, pausing for a beat as he worked up to a punchline: “In improv, you always talk without thinking.”


Machlis was one of 14 Rockland County teens who graduated Tuesday from the Total Teen Experience, a new summer program that teaches social skills to high-functioning teens with Asperger syndrome.


The six-week pilot program was developed this year by Michele Koenig, director of clinical programs at Jewish Family Service, after a parent expressed a need for special resources to help the teens. Koenig also runs a social-skills group program for people with Asperger’s with the nonprofit family service agency.


Asperger syndrome is a mild form of autism that affects how a child responds to social cues. Children with Asperger’s are awkward around others or will show a single-minded obsession on a particular subject, such as baseball statistics or train schedules.


But children with Asperger’s also often function successfully in scientific or technological careers, where the intense concentration and well-regulated routines fit their personalities.


“These kids are extremely intelligent,” said Koenig, who noted that many teens with Asperger syndrome go on to graduate from college. “It’s just the social stuff that gets in the way.”


The teens met for six hours a day, five days a week at the Jewish Community Center in West Nyack. During morning sessions, they worked in the JCC’s administrative offices, as well as the fitness center and cafe. Two of the teens interned at People to People, a food pantry in Nanuet.


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gillard 110811

Julia Gillard visits a children’s support centre in Melbourne. Picture: Stuart McEvoy Source: The Australian


AUSTRALIA will have a National Disability Insurance Scheme after Julia Gillard yesterday declared her unequivocal support for the key social policy and the Productivity Commission said any hostile state could be bypassed.


The Prime Minister’s support for the historic reform came in response to the commission’s final report on disability care and support, which strongly endorses a commonwealth-run, no-fault NDIS.


“I certainly want to see a national disability insurance scheme. I share the vision of a national disability insurance scheme as the right way forward for our country,” Ms Gillard said.


But the Prime Minister said there was a lot of policy work still to do before the scheme, estimated to cost an additional $6.5 billion beyond current disability funding, could be rolled out. She said it could be seven years before the scheme was up and running.


Ms Gillard also warned that the new system must be “fiscally sustainable”, saying “We’ve got to get the money right and that will take time”.


Fierce resistance from some states to the mining tax, the carbon tax and aspects of health reform have dogged the federal government’s recent reform agenda, leading to concerns over its ability to deliver major policy.


But a disability insurance scheme, along with large-scale, aged-care reforms proposed earlier this week, could be the circuit-breakers the government is looking for. The NDIS has received bipartisan support, with the federal opposition and most states backing the measure. Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten, a former parliamentary secretary for disabilities, said the NDIS was a key plank of social policy.


“There are four pillars which assure the quality of Australian life for all – the minimum wage, the age pension, compulsory superannuation and Medicare. The National Disability Insurance Scheme has the potential to be the missing fifth pillar,” he said.


The Productivity Commission’s final model released yesterday calls for a full federal takeover of disability care and support from the states with the creation of a single agency – the National Disability Insurance Agency.


It says the current system is “underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient”.


Under its proposed reform, all Australians would be covered in the event of a significant disability and about 410,000 people with existing disabilities would receive funding support.


NDIS funding would cover such issues as physical and psychological therapies, domestic help with cooking and shopping, home and vehicle modifications and personal care needs such as help with showering and toileting.


It said an additional $6.5bn a year would be needed to fund the scheme, proposing that the money come from consolidated revenue, with the states agreeing to cut some of their more inefficient taxes such as stamp duty.


The commission also recommended the creation of a separate National Injury Insurance Scheme that provides no-fault insurance for anyone suffering a catastrophic injury such as the loss of a limb, an acquired brain injury or a spinal cord injury. The extent of a person’s coverage currently depends on which state they live in and how the injury was caused.


Ms Gillard said an NDIS not only had social benefits, but economic benefits to the nation as well, allowing both people with disabilities and their carers to play more active roles in the workforce.


“Our focus is on giving them the keys that they need to be full participants in the life of our nation, including in work, and of course if we can do better in services, that does make a difference for carers who now are out of the workforce entirely,” Ms Gillard said.


Federal opposition disabilities spokesman Mitch Fifield said the commission had come up with a “good model” that should be “funded from core government spending”.


NSW and Victoria broadly backed the idea of an NDIS and a move to a federal takeover, with Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu saying it was now up to governments to work together to make it a reality.


But West Australian Premier Colin Barnett attacked the plan, saying the federal government’s bungled reform efforts meant it shouldn’t expect the states to fall in line on this policy.


“Those days are finished because of the complete shambles of the commonwealth in key areas like the GST, the mining tax, the carbon tax and even the health package,” he said. “I am getting a little tired of schemes coming out of Canberra to take over areas of state administration only to find that they invariably fail.” However, the Productivity Commission report says the scheme could continue without the participation of one or more states.


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Everyone gets anxious from time to time: there’s public speaking, job interviews, the dentist and all the rest.


For about one in six of us this will cross over into what psychologists term a disorder at some point in our lives. This is when people are almost continuously anxious and find it difficult to concentrate, have trouble sleeping and become irritable and restless. Women are roughly twice as likely as men to suffer from an anxiety disorder.


For the rest of us anxiety will come and go as part of the normal human condition. Whether it’s a constant or occasional affliction, dealing with anxiety effectively is important.


People are often prescribed drugs for anxiety but these are less effective in the long-term and have side-effects so relaxation training is often preferred.


Relaxation training comes in a variety of flavours, but the five methods which have much in common and the most evidence to support them are (Manzoni et al., 2005):


1. Progressive relaxation


The most commonly studied type of relaxation therapy may be familiar to you. It involves mentally going around the muscle groups in your body, first tensing then relaxing each one. It’s as simple as that. And with practice it becomes easier to spot when you are becoming anxious and muscles are becoming tense as, oddly, people often don’t notice the first physical signs of anxiety.


This is based on the idea that the mind follows body. When you relax your body, the mind also clears.


2. Applied relaxation


Applied relaxation builds on progressive relaxation. First you learn to relax you muscle groups one after the other. The next stage is to cut out the tensing phase and move straight to relaxing each muscle. Next you learn to associate a certain cue, say thinking ‘serenity now!’ (hello Seinfeld fans!) with a relaxed state. You then learn to relax really quickly. Finally you practise your relaxation technique in real-world anxiety-provoking situations.


Once again, mostly this is about mind following the body.


3. Autogenic training


Goes back to the 1930s and is another technique for progressively relaxing the muscles. To help you do this it has a mantra which you repeat to yourself as you go around major muscle groups: “my right arm is very heavy” and so on. A second stage involves inducing a feeling of warmth in the muscles. Once they feel ‘heavy’ from the first stage, you follow another mantra about warmth: “my right arm is very warm” and so on.


Further stages involve calming the heart and the abdomen and cooling the brow in much the same way.


Once again, you’ll notice that this is all about the mind following a calm body. As before practitioners recommend daily practice so that you can relax more and more quickly. With practice the simple intention to start the training will be enough to cause the body to become relaxed and warm.


4. Meditation


Here’s our old friend meditation which has so many different benefits. If you’ve been reading PsyBlog for a while you’ll have seen this come up in numerous contexts. There is certainly evidence that it can work for people who experience anxiety as well. I describe the basics of mindfulness meditation in this article about attention and meditation.


Read More …


We trawl the world’s journals so you don’t have to:


Resilience in schools (Psychology in the Schools).

Digit Ratio (2D:4D) and Individual Differences Research (Personality and Individual Differences).

Emotion and Morality (Emotion Review).

Neural Representations in Visual Word Recognition (Brain and Language).

Gender and relationships (British Journal of Developmental Psychology).

Educational Neuroscience (NeuroImage).

Probabilistic models of cognitive development (Cognition).

Remembering the 2005 London bombings: Media, memory, commemoration (Memory Studies).
[This post was compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.]





Article Date: 03 Aug 2011 – 0:00 PDT


The discovery of a mechanism in the brain explains for the first time why people make particularly strong, long-lasting memories of stressful events in their lives and could help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.


The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol’s Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience & Endocrinology (HW-LINE) in the School of Clinical Sciences, and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


The research found that stress hormones directly stimulate biochemical processes in neurons that play a role in learning and memory. The way these hormones stimulate these signalling and epigenetic processes in neurons is completely new and has never been shown before.


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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 4, 2011


A new Finnish study finds that combining music therapy with a standard treatment for depression — medication, plus psychotherapy and counseling — improves patient outcomes.


Researchers believe the addition of music therapy allows people to better express their emotions and reflect on their inner feelings.


The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.


Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä recruited 79 people between the ages of 18 and 50 years old who had been diagnosed with depression. Thirty-three of the participants were offered 20 music therapy sessions, in addition to their usual treatment for depression.


In Finland, standard treatment antidepressants drug therapy, five to six individual psychotherapy sessions and psychiatric counselling.


The other 46 participants received standard treatment, and acted as the control group.


The one-on-one music therapy sessions each lasted 60 minutes and took place twice a week. Trained music therapists helped each participant to improvise music using percussion instruments and drums.


On average, each participant attended 18 music therapy sessions. Twenty-nine individuals (88 percent) attended at least 15 sessions. The participants in both groups were followed up at three and six months and assessed for symptoms of depression and anxiety.


In the final analysis, researchers discovered that after three months of participation, individuals who received music therapy demonstrated significantly fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and scored better on general functioning.


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By Psych Central News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 1, 2011


New evidence suggests an intriguing link between chronic physical problems later in life with an early childhood mental disorder diagnosis, or other childhood psychological problems.


Researchers led by Kate M. Scott from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, examined data from 10 countries that participated in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys program. These cross-sectional community surveys were conducted in person by trained lay interviewers.


Early childhood mental disorders — primarily depression and anxiety — were assessed by the definitions and criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Other childhood adversities included abuse, neglect, loss of a parent through death or other means, divorce, parental substance use, parental criminal behavior, family violence and family economic adversity.


Each of the early-onset mental disorders included was associated with adult onset of three chronic pain conditions: osteoarthritis, chronic back or neck spinal pain, and frequent or severe headache.


Physical abuse as a child was associated with six chronic diseases: heart disease, asthma, diabetes, osteoarthritis, chronic spinal pain and headache.


After adjusting for childhood adversities, early-onset mental disorders were still associated with adult-onset chronic physical conditions.


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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 1, 2011


Experts are proposing a new, lower cost method to treat depression — teaching people to practice positive activities.


The naturopathic technique is an extension of decades of social psychology research.


Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Duke University Medical Center proposed the new treatment approach, termed Positive Activity Interventions (PAI), in a paper published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.


PAIs are intentional activities such as performing acts of kindness, practicing optimism, and counting one’s blessings. The philosophy is based on extended research on how happy and unhappy people are different.


Researchers believe this new approach has the potential to benefit depressed individuals who don’t respond to pharmacotherapy or are not able or willing to obtain treatment.


The technique is less expensive to administer, is relatively less time-consuming and has yielded rapid improvement of mood symptoms, holds little to no stigma, and carries no side effects.


The discovery of a low-cost method to treat depression is timely as more than 16 million U.S. adults – about 8 percent of the population – suffer from either major or chronic depression.


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By Ronald Pies, M.D.


Dear Mrs. ——-


You have asked me about the cause of your mood disorder, and whether it is due to a “chemical imbalance”. The only honest answer I can give you is, “I don’t know”—but I’ll try to explain what psychiatrists do and don’t know about the causes of so-called mental illness, and why the term “chemical imbalance” is simplistic and a bit misleading.


By the way, I don’t like the term “mental disorder”, because it makes it seem as if there’s a huge distinction between the mind and the body—and most psychiatrists don’t see it that way. I wrote about this recently, and used the term “brain-mind” to describe the unity of mind and body.1 So, for lack of a better term, I’ll just refer to “psychiatric illnesses.”


Now, this notion of the “chemical imbalance” has been much in the news lately, and a lot of misinformation has been written about it—including by some doctors who ought to know better 2. In the article I referenced, I argued that “…the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”1 Some readers felt I was trying to “re-write history”, and I can understand their reaction—but I stand by my statement.


Of course, there certainly are psychiatrists, and other physicians, who have used the term “chemical imbalance” when explaining psychiatric illness to a patient, or when prescribing a medication for depression or anxiety. Why? Many patients who suffer from severe depression or anxiety or psychosis tend to blame themselves for the problem. They have often been told by family members that they are “weak-willed” or “just making excuses” when they get sick, and that they would be fine if they just picked themselves up by those proverbial bootstraps. They are often made to feel guilty for using a medication to help with their mood swings or depressive bouts.


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