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February 2011



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Archive for February 8th, 2011

Gamer Girl

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on February 2, 2011

In a new study of 11- to 16-year-old kids, Brigham Young University researchers found girls who played video games with a parent seemed to profit in a variety of ways.

The girls behaved better, felt more connected to their families and had stronger mental health, said the scientists.

“The surprising part about this for me is that girls don’t play video games as much as boys,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Coyne. “But they did spend about the same amount of time co-playing with a parent as boys did.”

The study is found in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The findings come with one important caveat: The games had to be age-appropriate. If the game was rated M for mature, it weakened the statistical relationship between co-playing and family connectedness.

The study involved 287 families with an adolescent child. “Mario Kart,” “Mario Brothers,” “Wii Sports,” “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” topped the list of games played most often by girls.

“Call of Duty,” “Wii Sports” and “Halo” ranked 1, 2 and 3 among boys.

For boys, playing with a parent was not a statistically significant factor for any of the outcomes the researchers measured (positive behavior, aggression, family connection, mental health). Yet for girls, playing with a parent accounted for as much as 20 percent of the variation on those measured outcomes.

Coyne and her co-author Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker offer two possible explanations for what’s behind the gender differences.

Read in Full: http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/02/teen-girls-benefit-from-video-gaming-with-parents/23116.html



Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced doctor who claimed a link between MMR and autism, planned secret businesses intended to make huge sums of money, in Britain and America, from his now-discredited allegations, according to a British Medical Journal investigation.

The scheme is exposed in the second part of a BMJ series of special reports, “Secrets of the MMR scare,” by investigative journalist Brian Deer. Last week we revealed the scientific fraud behind the appearance of a link between the vaccine and autism. Now Deer follows the money.

Drawing on investigations and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the report shows how Wakefield’s institution, the Royal Free Medical School in London, supported him as he sought to exploit the MMR scare for financial gain.

It reveals how Wakefield met with medical school managers to discuss a joint business even while the first child to be fully investigated in his research was still in the hospital, and how just days after publication of that research, which triggered the health crisis in 1998, he brought business associates to the Royal Free to continue negotiations.

One business, named after Wakefield’s wife, intended to develop Wakefield’s own “replacement” vaccines, diagnostic testing kits and other products which only stood any real chance of success if public confidence in MMR was damaged.

Documents reveal the planned shareholdings of Wakefield and his collaborators, and how much Wakefield expected to receive personally. Financial forecasts made available for the first time today show Wakefield and his associates predicting they could make up to £28 million ($43,367,082; €33,290,350) a year from the diagnostic kits alone.

“It is estimated that the initial market for the diagnostic will be litigation driven testing of patients with AE [autistic enterocolitis] from both the UK and the USA,” said a 35 page “private and confidential” prospectus obtained by Deer, aimed at raising an initial £700,000 from investors. “It is estimated that by year 3, income from this testing could be about £3,300,000 rising to about £28,000,000 as diagnostic testing in support of therapeutic regimes come on stream.”

Deer’s investigation also reveals today that Wakefield was offered support to try to replicate his results, gained from just 12 children, with a larger validated study of up to 150 patients, but that he refused to carry out the work, claiming that his academic freedom would be jeopardised. His research claims have never been replicated.

Journal Reference:

  1. 1.  B. Deer. How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money. BMJ, 2011; 342 (jan11 4): c5258 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c5258

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110111184129.htm

Light Sensitive

The Government has decided to make ‘old style’ incandescent light bulbs unavailable, causing concern among groups representing people who suffer from light sensitive conditions, such as migraine, epilepsy, Lupus and other auto-immune disorders.

For these groups, new energy saving forms of lighting can prove problematic.

There are anecdotal accounts of new forms of lighting causing sensory difficulties for some people with autism - but the scale of this problem is unknown.

We have been asked for our view on how the decision to make incandescent light bulbs unavailable affects children and adults on the autism spectrum. Our view will be provided to officials at the Department of Health who are currently considering this issue with the group Right to Light.

This is not currently a NAS campaign  – but we would very much like to have your views.

Please email richard.mills@nas.org.uk under the heading ‘Autism Lighting Survey’ by 14 February 2011 answering the following questions:

1. Are you or your child adversely affected by new forms of energy efficient lighting:

  • not at all
  • a little
  • a great deal
  • very severely

2. Do you keep a stockpile of incandescent light bulbs in your home?

Please also include your own comments and (optional) your name and address.

Source: http://www.autism.org.uk/news-and-events/news-from-the-nas/light-sensitivity-and-other-related-problems.aspx

"Symphony of Colours" Redland, Qld

FROM online men’s sheds and iPads to data mining for diagnosis, the national depression initiative beyondblue has seen it all since it was established a little more than 10 years ago.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” recalls beyondblue’s chairman, former Victorian premier and Hawthorn Football Club president Jeff Kennett. “I never expected it to be a period of enlightenment for me, but it’s certainly been that.”

For Kennett, that means enlightenment about human nature above all: “There have been some sad stories, there have also been a lot of good stories.”

The initiative originally was envisioned as a five-year project, but Kennett believes that what kept it going is a willingness to embrace new forms of communication, such as the Shed Online, an electronic version of the men’s shed movement.

As reported in Weekend Health in August 2009, men’s sheds are places where men can get together to discuss physical and mental health issues. There are now about 400 nationwide.

According to Kennett, the success of the sheds led to the Shed Online project. It’s like a Facebook site designed exclusively for men. Updated continually, it allows men to talk to each other, share experiences, enjoy companionship and obtain information on topics such as gardening and carpentry.

Kennett admits depression affects men and women equally, but believes men find it harder to talk about. “Men, particularly those in rural Australia, are born to be tougher than John Wayne,” he says. “They don’t worry about their health or seek help about it as much as women.”

The Shed Online is an important gateway for men too shy to speak about health issues in a face-to-face environment for those geographically isolated.

“You might find in time that men on the oil rigs or working in the mines will take a great interest in it,” Kennett says. “You’ll find men on construction sites who can get on through their iPad or iPhone, as well as people who are isolated by circumstance in metropolitan areas.”

Gordon Gregory, executive director of the National Rural Health Alliance, thinks both types of men’s sheds are a good idea, especially in regional areas: “Mental health services are distributed disproportionately in city areas and large towns”.

While evidence suggests rates of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, may not be higher in rural areas, Gregory claims the effect is more severe, partly due to the lack of specialist professionals and facilities.

He says there are different means of communication in rural areas. “People don’t read billboards, they don’t watch the same amount of television in the same way, and they meet in different sorts of places,” he explains.

When combating depression in country towns, it should be recognised that cases are not only different from the cities, but also from one another, he says.

While depression has geographical as well as individual differences, some causes clearly cut across urban-rural and demographic boundaries, however. A case in point is the recent flood damage in Queensland and NSW.

Chris Wagner is a spokesman for Lifeline, the crisis support group. He says the group’s telephone hotline has seen a 50 per cent increase in calls since the start of the flood crisis, including a 68 per cent increase in calls from heavily flood-affected areas such as Brisbane, Ipswich and Bundaberg. “It’s pretty normal for people to feel a range of emotions in connection with natural disasters,” Wagner says, “and that’s why we would always encourage people to jump on the phone and give us a call.”

Beyondblue will also be heavily involved in the aftermath of the floods. “We need to have programs in place to help people through the reconstruction period,” Kennett says.

Read in Full: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/web-of-services-helps-battle-the-blues-depression/story-e6frg8y6-1225991969173

"Let There Be Light" Manly, Brisbane, Qld

[Australia]  A Federal Case For Substantial Change: Mental Health Reform

THERE’S no doubt 2010 was a big year in mental health, from beginning to end. In January, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry was appointed Australian of the Year, while December brought the emotional trauma of the disastrous floods in Queensland.

On the upside, opposite ends of the political spectrum, from the Greens to the conservatives, committed to big increases in spending on youth-friendly, early intervention services.

Reflecting the view of more than a third of Australians who rated mental health as one of their key concerns — coming just after the economy and climate change — Julia Gillard made mental health a second-term priority. She also appointed Mark Butler as the first ever federal Minister for Mental Health.

On the downside, the Rudd government neglected the comprehensive work of the Hospital and Health Reform Commission and allocated only 2 per cent of the $7.4 billion health reform monies to mental health. This followed the pattern of its other major infrastructure investments, worth more than $3bn, in acute hospitals and other traditional winners such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and infection. They too were underfunded.

The last time we saw genuine national leadership was in 2006 when John Howard and the then NSW premier Morris Iemma initiated a five-year national mental health plan under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments. But while the commonwealth made substantive new investments, there was little co-ordination with the states, and most of the money reinforced outmoded styles of practice.

Although key targets such as reduction in suicide, promotion of early intervention, increased access to timely care and prevention of re-hospitalisation were set, little real progress has been made.

So, in 2011 the question must be asked: Are we headed for real reform or is this just another false dawn? By July, we’ll be able to apply five key tests to answer the question. First, have all Australian governments agreed to a new national mechanism for reform? There are two options: another five-year COAG-led mental health plan; or, transfer of the responsibility for funding all community-based mental health services from the states to the commonwealth.

The transfer of funding responsibility to the commonwealth has already been resisted by the states and federal funders. In contrast, a five-year renewal of the COAG-led National Mental Health Plan, led by a new prime minister and new premiers, has real appeal. Mental health reform struggles when it relies on leadership by health ministers.

There’s a strong need to tie in treasuries — federal, state and territory –as well as employment, education, social services, legal and human rights, housing and accommodation into any serious reform process.

Read in Full: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/a-federal-case-for-substantial-change-mental-health-reform/story-e6frg8y6-1225991975684


His talent flows through his fingers. He literally rocks to the rhythm of the music he plays with an expert’s touch on the grand piano.

Yet Sky Mundell is blind, profoundly deaf, is autistic and has cerebral palsy.

The 19-year-old pianist wowed the judges and audience alike at the finale for Vancouver Island’s Got Talent Jan. 21, as he had throughout the competition, with two pieces dedicated to his mother and sister.

“It was a pleasure playing in this competition and I certainly will have a lot of fun performing in Las Vegas,” he said upon taking to the stage after event host Maria Manna announced him as the winner.

Mundell, whose goal is to pursue a career in the music industry, will get a head start on that dream thanks to his win.

He will travel to Vegas to sign a contract with the Nevada Talent Agency, will perform at Planet Hollywood there as part of V: The Ultimate Variety Show, will receive image consulting and a professional marketing package.

He also won recording time for a three-song demo CD, a professional photo shoot and help setting up a web and social media presence.

Singer Karissa Sovdi earned runner-up honours following the finale. The last show featured 10 performers: six singers, one band (Formally Casual), guitarist Dylan Smith, salsa dancers Adeesha and Michaela and Mundell.

The competition was also a fundraiser for the Maria Manna Bursary Fund, which will help pay for music lessons at the Victoria Conservatory of Music for young people whose families can’t afford them.

For more on the competition, visit www.vancouverislandsgottalent.com.



"Let the Children Play" Mural

Christie’s proposed segregated programs not the answer


Gov. Chris Christie’s recent proposal to create a state-funded autism school in every county has turned a lot of heads. Coming from a Republican governor in a time of fiscal austerity, many disability advocates have seen it as a welcome statement that some things are still worth spending money on.

Yet despite appreciation of Christie’s support for autism and disability issues, many advocates have serious questions about the wisdom of constructing new segregated programs when both federal law and an overwhelming body of research say that autistic students are best served in inclusive settings.

Over the course of the last 35 years, the undeniable direction of education policy for students with disabilities has been toward inclusion.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees students with disabilities, including autism, a “free and appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment,” meaning that unless it is not possible to do so, students with disabilities should be served in the same classrooms as their general education peers.

Furthermore, even when local public schools have not yet developed the capacity to serve students with disabilities, strong legal precedent exists requiring them to do so rather than opt for segregation.

Roncker v. Walter clearly states that “it is not enough for a district to simply claim that a segregated program is superior: In a case where the segregated facility is considered superior, the court should determine whether the services which make the placement superior could be feasibly provided in a non-segregated setting (i.e. regular class). If they can, the placement in the segregated school would be inappropriate under the act (IDEA).”

Research has repeatedly found that inclusion of autistic students in the general educational setting leads to significant gains in academic achievement and standardized test scores, adaptive behavior, communication, social relationships and interaction, and post-high school outcomes for those students.

In comparison, autistic students who are educated primarily in segregated or life-skills settings score lower on assessments, make less progress in reading and math, have fewer social interactions and positive peer relationships, communicate less, and have lower adult outcomes and more issues with generalizing skills and adaptive behaviors.

At a personal level, though, this issue is about more than just law and test scores. As an autistic adult who went through New Jersey’s special education system as a child, I experience firsthand the low expectations that are all too common in segregated settings for students with disabilities.

For several years of my childhood, instead of walking to the neighborhood public school a few minutes away from my home, a van took me an hour and a half away to a school for students with disabilities. There, academics took a back seat to social skills classes. A culture of low expectations dominated the educational environment.

Rather than try and give us the same opportunities as our non-disabled peers, our teachers assumed that as students with disabilities, our futures were limited to that which was given to us. Eventually, I successfully argued my way back to receiving both academic instruction and needed support services in a general education classroom. But I left behind me many other students who could have benefited from the opportunities inclusion brings.

My experience is not unique. In fact, students with disabilities in New Jersey are twice as likely to find themselves in a segregated school than students in other states. For autistic students, New Jersey uses segregated placements at almost three times the national average.

In light of this, construction of new segregated schools would take New Jersey in exactly the wrong direction. Instead, the governor should consider applying the energy, drive and innovative spirit he has given to other areas of public policy to supporting inclusion for New Jersey’s autistic students.

The funds that would have been spent on constructing and maintaining an autism school in every county could be spent on driving systems change in neighborhood schools across New Jersey.

For example, New Jersey could take a bold step forward by setting up a “Race to the Top” type program, where districts compete to better support students with disabilities in the general education classroom. At a time where most districts are cutting special education funding, Christie could offer funds to offset cuts — but only in exchange for real accountability and reform.

While Christie should be applauded for making students on the autism spectrum a priority even during a cost-cutting period, I urge him to revise and reintroduce his proposal. While the intent behind creating an autism-specific school, or “center for excellence,” in every community was no doubt noble, the idea is badly misguided. New Jersey must join the nation in moving toward inclusion rather than segregation for its autistic citizens.

Ari Ne’eman is president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and was recently appointed to the National Council on Disability as the first openly autistic presidential appointee in American history. Previously, he served as vice chairman of the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force. He lives in East Brunswick.

Source: http://www.app.com/article/20110128/NJOPINION03/101280312/Don-t-isolate-students-autism?odyssey=mod

First Published Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The vivid, intrusive visual images that are a hallmark of post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) are based on a separate memory system from intrusive verbal thoughts. That’s according to a new study that claims to provide empirical support for psychologist Chris Brewin‘s dual-representation theory of PTSD.

Brewin’s theory posits two memory systems, one that’s largely sensation-based, inflexible and automatically accessed and another that’s more deliberately accessible, containing material that is contextualised and can be easily put into words. By this account, a traumatic event can end up lodged in the sensation-based memory system, leading to sensory intrusions – ‘flashbacks’ – of the event being easily triggered by sights, sounds and smells that are reminiscent of the original experience.

The new study involved 79 participants watching traumatic video footage of car crash scenes, including commentary on the accidents and people involved. Crucially, some of the participants were told to keep still while they watched the footage and others were hypnotised so that they couldn’t move. Past research has shown that keeping still cranks up the trauma simulation, perhaps because it is reminiscent of being frozen in terror or trapped. A final group were free to move. For a week after watching the car-crash videos the participants kept a diary of intrusive verbal thoughts and visual images associated with the videos. The key finding was that participants who had to keep still while watching the videos had significantly more intrusive visual images than the participants who were allowed to move. By contrast, the number of intrusive verbal thoughts did not differ between the groups.

A second study largely replicated the first, except rather than some participants being allowed to move while others kept still, this time some participants watched a neutral film while others watched the traumatic car-crash film. The traumatic film led to more intrusive visual images, but not more intrusive verbal thoughts, than the neutral film.

In both studies, participants who reported feeling more anxious and horrified after the traumatic videos tended to also experience more intrusive visual imagery. In contrast, intrusive verbal thoughts were not connected to mood effects in this way.

Taken altogether Hagenaars and her team said their findings suggest that intrusive visual imagery is a separate phenomenon from intrusive verbal thoughts and can be manipulated independently. ‘Understanding these basic processes is likely to be valuable in developing more effective treatments for PTSD that focus on maximising change in verbal thoughts and intrusive images separately,’ they concluded.

Hagenaars, M.A., Brewin, C.R., van Minnen, A., Holmes, E.A., & Hoogduin, K.A.L. (2010). Intrusive images and intrusive thoughts as different phenomena: Two experimental studies. Memory, 18 (1), 76-84 DOI: 10.1080/09658210903476522

First Published Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Life through the lens of Asperger’s Syndrome.