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October 2011



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Archive for October 28th, 2011

Repeat Bouts Of Depression Linked To Low Mastery And Smoking

Editor’s Choice
Academic Journal

Article Date: 26 Oct 2011 – 10:00 PDT


According to a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the risk factors for individuals experiencing repeat episodes of depression include daily smoking, lack of control over life situations (low mastery) and previous depression.


Depression is a common disorder in which feelings of sadness, anger, loss, or frustration negatively affect the individual’s quality of life. Approximately 65% of individuals with the condition have repeat episodes. In addition the condition can be linked with weight and dietary control as well as pain and inattention to other health issues.


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Rat Study Ties Antidepressants to Autism-like Brain Abnormalities

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 26, 2011

A new study shows that immature rats given a common antidepressant can exhibit brain abnormalities and behaviors characteristic of autism spectrum disorders.

Researchers believe the findings suggest that taking a certain class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy may be a factor in the rise in childhood developmental disorders.

“We saw behaviors in the treated rats and neurological problems that indicate their brains are not properly conducting and processing information,” said Rick C.S. Lin, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study. Lin is a professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“However, based on this study alone it would be premature to conclude that a pregnant mother should stop taking SSRIs. A pregnant mother may do more harm to her baby through untreated depression than by taking prescribed SSRIs. This study is a starting point and a lot more research needs to be done.”

The study appears online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Antidepressant Use Up 400 Percent in US


By Janice Wood Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 25, 2011


The rate of antidepressant use in the United States increased nearly 400 percent over the last two decades, according to a report released Oct. 19.


The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 takes an antidepressant, with about 14 percent taking the medication for more than 10 years.


The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages from 2005 to 2008 and the most frequently used medication by people between the ages of 18 and 44.


The study also found that women are two and a half times more likely to take antidepressant medication as males, while 23 percent of women ages 40 to 59 take antidepressants, more than in any other age or sex group.


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11% Of US Adults And Teens Take Antidepressants


Article Date: 19 Oct 2011 – 13:00 PDT


Antidepressants were taken by 11% of Americans over the age of twelve years during the period 2005-2008, according to a CDC report issued today. Antidepressants are the most common prescription drugs taken by individuals aged 18 to 44 – nearly one quarter of all females aged 40 to 59 take them, the reports informs.

The authors report that teenage women are two times as likely to take antidepressants as adult males. Usage among people aged 12 to 17 is about the same in both sexes.


A higher percentage of over 40s take prescription drugs for depression, compared to those in the 12-39 age group.


Below are some highlighted data from the report:


Read More …


11 Ways to Help a Loved One in Denial

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor


What if your friend, mother, sibling, or father-in-law is severely depressed but refuses to recognize it?


Most of us have been there at least once in our life: the awkward spot where you know a loved one has a mood disorder or drinking problem, but is too stubborn to admit it and to proud to get help. You might see the consequence his behavior is having on his children, his job, or his marriage, but he is blissfully blind or is in too much pain to see the truth.


What can you do, short of taking the person by his shoulders, shaking him, while screaming, “Wake the hell up and see what you are doing?!?”


It’s very complicated.


Because people are different.


Mood disorders vary.


And families are as unique as the illnesses themselves.


After doing a bit of research and consulting with a few mental health professionals, I have compiled this list of suggestions, to be read as merely that: suggestions.


1. Educate yourself.


The first responsible thing you can do is to educate yourself. Because you can’t really spot a type of disorder without knowing its symptoms. In guessing that a sister is depressed, you should know if there have been any significant changes in her diet, sleep, energy, and so forth. You can’t really assume your brother-in-law is bipolar based on Matt Damon’s performance as a pathological liar/bipolar freak in “The Informant!” or that a friend is obsessive-compulsive because her behavior resembles Jack Nicholson’s in “As Good As It Gets.”

Educating yourself is not only going to help you gather the facts that you need in order to know how sick your loved is, but it is going to help you feel more in control of the situation—so that you can guard yourself against the fruitcake that will be hurled at you come Christmas dinner. It won’t be a TOTAL surprise.

2. Gather the information.


Here comes the fun part. You get to pretend you are a detective for a month or so and gather any facts you can about the person without a) invading her privacy, or 2) bringing on an awkward confrontation. If you think she is depressed, ask about her diet. “Are you still eating Chipotle’s Burrito Bowl for lunch? No? Why not? Are you still playing tennis on Tuesday nights? Why have you stopped? What book are you reading for your book club? Have you hosted any of the meetings recently? It’s helpful to get together with any mutual friends and/or family members who would have additional information, so that together you can get a truer picture of what’s going on. The person may tell you something that contradicts your sister’s information, and the discrepancy can be even more significant than either of the answers. After studying the symptoms of the disorder that you think your loved one has, you will better know the information you need to find out.


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‘Trading Places’ Most Common Pattern for Couples Dealing With Male Depression

ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2011) — University of British Columbia researchers have identified three major patterns that emerge among couples dealing with male depression. These can be described as “trading places,” “business as usual” and “edgy tensions.”

Published in the Social Science & Medicine journal and led by UBC researcher John Oliffe, the paper details how heterosexual couples’ gender roles undergo radical shifts and strain when the male partner is depressed and the female partner seeks to help. Depression, a disorder often thought of as a women’s health issue, is underreported in men, and little is known about how heterosexual couples respond when the male partner is depressed.

“Overall, our study underscores how women play a key role in helping their male partners manage their depression,” says Oliffe, an associate professor in the School of Nursing whose work investigates masculinities and men’s health with a focus on men’s depression.

Read More …



New Psychotherapy Helps Depression Patients Cultivate Optimistic Outlook Instead Of Traditional Therapy Focus On Negative Thoughts About Past

Article Date: 20 Oct 2011 – 2:00 PDT

Patients with major depression do better by learning to create a more positive outlook about the future, rather than by focusing on negative thoughts about their past experiences, researchers at Cedars-Sinai say after developing a new treatment that helps patients do this.

While Major Depressive Disorder patients traditionally undergo cognitive-behavior therapy care that seeks to alter their irrational, negative thoughts about past experiences, patients who were treated with the newly-developed Future-Directed Therapyâ„¢ demonstrated significant improvement in depression and anxiety, as well as improvement in overall reported quality of life, the researchers found.

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Too Much Undeserved Self-Praise Can Lead To Depression

Article Date: 20 Oct 2011 – 3:00 PDT


People who try to boost their self-esteem by telling themselves they’ve done a great job when they haven’t could end up feeling dejected instead, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.


High and low performers felt fine when they assessed themselves accurately, probably because the high performers recognized their strengths and low performers acknowledged their weaknesses and could try to improve their future performance, according to a study in the October issue of the APA journal Emotion.

“These findings challenge the popular notion that self-enhancement and providing positive performance feedback to low performers is beneficial to emotional health. Instead, our results underscore the emotional benefits of accurate self-assessments and performance feedback,” said lead author Young-Hoon Kim, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania.

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Depressed Teens Listen to Heavy Metal Music in Unhealthy Way

By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 20, 2011

Youth at risk of depression are more likely to listen habitually and repetitively to heavy metal music, according to research by Dr. Katrina McFerran of the University of Melbourne.

For the study, McFerran, a senior lecturer in Music Therapy at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, conducted in-depth interviews with 50 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 and combined this information with a national survey of 1,000 young people.

Her goal is to create an early intervention model that can be brought into schools to positively impact teens before behavioral problems occur.

“The mp3 revolution means that young people are accessing music more than ever before and it’s not uncommon for some to listen to music for seven or eight hours a day,” she said.

“Most young people listen to a range of music in positive ways; to block out crowds, to lift their mood or to give them energy when exercising, but young people at risk of depression are more likely to be listening to music, particularly heavy metal music, in a negative way.”

“Examples of this are when someone listens to the same song or album of heavy metal music over and over again and doesn’t listen to anything else. They do this to isolate themselves or escape from reality,” McFerran adds.

“If this behavior continues over a period of time then it might indicate that this young person is suffering from depression or anxiety, and at worst, might suggest suicidal tendencies.”


Read More …



10 Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor

CBS News and Health.com published a nice gallery listing what you should and shouldn’t tell a depressed love one.


I have my own list. Here are 10 things you definitely don’t want to say, a collection of the gems that I heard when well-intentioned people opened their mouths and said something really stupid to me the two years I was in sorry shape.


1. It’s all in your head. You need to think positive.


Upon hearing this, I wanted to throw a life-size figure of Tony Robbins at them. Because, while optimism is certainly important in training the brain, studies have shown that people who are severely depressed or acutely anxious only activate their amydalas (fear center of the brain) by forcing positive thinking.


2. You need to get out of yourself and give back to the community.


This is one that certainly made bad things worse. Because now, in addition to feeling severely depressed, a person also feels guilty and self-absorbed. Yes, giving back is important, but only when a person is healthy enough to hold a ladle at a soup kitchen.


3. Why don’t you try and exercise?


This is good advice. Exercise has strong antidepressant effects. However telling someone that they need to exercise is a little like telling someone their butt looks fat in those jeans. You need to hint at it, but not put it directly on the table, or else the person may very well take up kick-boxing and practice with you.


4. Shop at Whole Foods and you will feel better.


Why does this get me? Because 1) I don’t have the money to shop at Whole Foods, and 2) although I know that my diet affects my mood, and the more organic the better, I resent your telling me that my Frosted Flakes is what’s causing power outage in the left frontal lobe of my brain.


5. Meditation and yoga are all you need.


Correction: meditation and yoga may be all that people experiencing mild and moderate depression need. Both are important tools to reduce depression. However, acute anxiety and severe depression are different animals altogether. In fact, my suicidal thoughts worsened with yoga.


6. Get a new job.


Maybe the job is making your loved one depressed. Stress is never a good thing for our health, and especially our emotional health. It pours toxins into our bloodstream. But don’t encourage a major decision while the person is depressed. A balanced perspective is needed.


Read More …



Dutch Study Shows Cannabis Tied to Risk of Depression in Youth

By David McCracken, MA, LPC Managing News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 17, 2011

Young people who are genetically vulnerable to depression should be extra careful about smoking marijuana: A new study out of the Netherlands suggests cannabis use can lead to increased risk of developing depressive symptoms.

According to researcher Roy Otten at the Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University Nijmegen, two-thirds of the population have the gene variant that makes one sensitive to depression.

Many young people use cannabis in the Netherlands, where adult residents can legally smoke cannabis in “coffee shops.” Nearly 30 percent of 16-year-olds indicate they have used cannabis on at least one occasion, and 12 percent that they have used it during the past month.

But besides hindering academic performance, recent studies have also found the use of cannabis increases the risk of developing schizophrenia and psychosis, particularly for those with a genetic predisposition to the disorders.

Smoking hashish and marijuana have been suspected to increase the risk of depression, but no conclusive evidence has been found. Otten said this is partly because earlier studies failed to consider individual genetic vulnerability to depression.

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Antidepressant-Induced Mania Similar to Bipolar Disorder

By Candace Czernicki Managing News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 13, 2011

Depressive patients with antidepressant-induced “manic switches” show similar clinical features as individuals with bipolar disorder, research shows.

The findings suggest that people who were previously diagnosed with clinical depression and who have these manic switches might be better classified and treated as actual bipolar patients.

Antidepressant medication can induce a “manic switch” in patients with depression, but manic-switch episodes are currently not considered bipolar disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, the reference book used to classify and diagnose mental disorders.

Bipolar disorder is broken down into two major types — type I and type II. Type I is characterized by the presence of full-blown manic episodes, while Type 2 is characterized by less extreme manic episodes called hypomania. People with either type of bipolar disorder also experience at least one episode of clinical depression.

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Low GABA Levels Hinder Teens from Experiencing Pleasure

By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 8, 2011

Teens with anhedonia — a symptom of depression marked by an inability to experience pleasure — are found to have lower levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in a vital mood-regulating section of the brain, according to a NIMH-funded study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.  Anhedonia is found in up to 59 percent of depressed teens.

In young people, symptoms of depression can be highly varied and often overlap with symptoms of other disorders. This tends to make adolescent depression more difficult to study when using conventional research tools and methods.  However, by focusing on specific symptoms and using various kinds of measuring systems, researchers may be able to discover the pathways and processes underlying depression and other mental disorders.

Guided by research on adults, Vilma Gabbay, M.D., of New York University School of Medicine, and a team set out to focus on the neurotransmitter GABA, which plays a vital role throughout the body and is involved in regulating brain cell communication.

Abnormalities in GABA production or function in the brain have been linked to anhedonia and several other mental disorders, including schizophrenia, postpartum depression, and possibly learning disorders.

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By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Have you ever been chased by someone in your dreams? Been naked in public? Flown like a bird around a city? Or just felt utterly lost in a maze-like building?

Psychologist and dream researcher Patricia Garfield asserts that these examples are part of 12 basic dreams that all of us dream, regardless of who we are, what we do or where we live.

These “universal dreams,” as Garfield calls them, are far from a dream dictionary packed with generic terms from A to Z. On her website, Garfield writes: “Like a hearty stew that is rich with local produce, the universal dreams differ among different peoples, but they are all nourishing variants of the same wholesome meal. They are as old as humanity and as widespread as our globe. Possibly further.”

In her book The Universal Dream Key: The 12 Most Common Dream Themes Around the World, Garfield explains that dreams differ based on four factors.

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Was Sybil Faking Multiple Personalities?

By John M. Grohol, PsyD
Founder & Editor-in-Chief


Multiple personality disorder — now known in modern psychological lingo as dissociative identity disorder (DID) in the DSM-IV — is a fairly uncommon mental health concern. But it remains an intriguing one because of its nature: The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states. Each of these identities or personality states has its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self, and take alternating control of the person’s behavior.


Sybil is one of the most popularly known individuals who had multiple personality disorder, largely because of a book published in the 1970s that detailed her experience and that of her psychiatrist in trying to help treat her.


Now Debbie Nathan, writing in her new book, Sybil Exposed, suggests that the core diagnosis for Sybil — of multiple personality disorder — was made up by the patient to keep in the good graces of her psychiatrist.



NPR has the story, and describes how Shirley Mason — Sybil’s real name — came to have multiple personality disorder:


Shirley Mason, the real Sybil, grew up in the Midwest in a strict Seventh-day Adventist family. As a young woman she was emotionally unstable, and she decided to seek psychiatric help. Mason became unusually attached to her psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, and she knew that Wilbur had a special interest in multiple personality disorder.

“Shirley feels after a short time, that she is not really getting the attention she needs from Dr. Wilbur,” Nathan explains. “One day, she walks into Dr. Wilbur’s office and she says, ‘I’m not Shirley. I’m Peggy.’ … And she says this in a childish voice. … Shirley started acting like she had a lot of people inside her.”

So the implication by the book’s author, Debbie Nathan, is that ‘Sybil’ made up her diagnosis in order to keep the attention of her psychiatrist, Dr. Wilbur, and to gain the emotional rewards from such attention. Shirley Mason wouldn’t be the first patient to ever want increased attention from their therapist.


An interesting hypothesis. But is it true?


Read in Full:



Related Article

MindHacks “A Case of Simulated Fragmentation”:


Lorna Wing MD FRCPsych, the English psychiatrist, physician and one of the founding members of The National Autistic Society recently won the Outstanding Individual Achievement Award at The Charity Times Awards.


This award is given to someone who has demonstrated dedication, professionalism and integrity throughout their career, and who has had an identifiably profound effect on the sector through their work and/or management.


Lorna was recognised on behalf of people affected by autism, including helping to establish the concept of a spectrum of autistic conditions, and founding the NAS.


On awarding Lorna the Outstanding Individual Achievement Award, the Charity Times judges stated:


A clear contribution to the work of those with autism and helping society to understand autism over many decades.

Lorna is one of the world’s leading experts in autism. She became involved in researching the condition after her daughter was diagnosed in the 1950s, when autism was still a decidedly unheard of and misunderstood condition.


In 1962 Lorna founded The National Autistic Society with a group of other parents. Today the NAS is the UK’s leading charity for people affected by autism, with over 20,000 members and more than 100 branches. Every year we provide information, advice and specialist services to 100,000 people living with autism across the UK.


In 1991, Lorna set up the NAS Lorna Wing Centre for Autism, which was the first centre in the country to provide a complete diagnostic, assessment and advice service for children, adolescents and adults with social and communication disorders throughout the UK. Despite now being in her 80s and retired, Lorna continues to work as a consultant at the Centre.


Lorna’s numerous published works have challenged and changed in the field of autism.


Many congratualtions to Lorna on receiving the outstanding achievement award.





Unusual, psychotic-like symptoms, such as hearing voices, are not as rare among the general population as you might think. For example, it’s estimated that ten per cent of us hear voices that aren’t there, with only a small minority of hearers likely to ever receive a clinical diagnosis. According to a new study, this means that the factors that cause psychotic-like symptoms are likely different from those that lead to a diagnosis of pathological psychosis. Charles Heriot-Maitland and his colleagues argue that this distinction has been missed by the majority of past studies that hunted the causes of psychosis by focusing only on patients, neglecting those who live happily with their psychotic-like experiences.

To make a start rectifying this situation, Heriot-Maitland’s team interviewed six patients with psychosis (recruited via psychosis teams in SE England) and six “healthy” non-patients, who reported similar unusual experiences (recruited via UK networks involved with spiritual or psychic phenomena). Across both groups, these experiences included: receiving visions from God, hearing voices, and feeling that their body had been taken over. Based on their symptoms alone, you couldn’t tell which group a participant belonged to – clinical or non-clinical. The researchers asked all the participants open-ended questions about the circumstances that led to the onset of their unusual experiences, how they felt about them, and how their friends, relatives and other people had responded.

Using a qualitative method called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, the researchers looked for emerging themes in the participants’ answers. Both similarities and differences emerged. In both groups, their unusual psychotic experiences had started after a period of negative emotion, most often accompanied by feelings of isolation and deep contemplation about the meaning of life. However, the groups differed in how they responded to and perceived their odd experiences. Members of the non-clinical group had been more aware of non-medical interpretations of their symptoms; they viewed them as transient and desirable; and people close to them shared this non-pathologising perspective. By contrast, the patients encountered invalidating, medical interpretations of their experiences and were themselves less able to accept their experiences and to incorporate them into their personal and social worlds.


Read More …


As soldiers return home from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, America must cope with the toll that war takes on mental health. But the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is becoming increasingly expensive, and promises to escalate as yet another generation of veterans tries to heal its psychological wounds.

New hope for preventing the development of PTSD has been uncovered by Prof. Joseph Zohar of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center, in collaboration with Prof. Hagit Cohen from Ben-Gurion University – and the key is a single dose of a common medication.

When a person suffers trauma, the body naturally increases its secretion of cortisone. Taking this natural phenomenon into account, Prof. Zohar set out to discover what a single extra dose of cortisone could do, when administered up to six hours after test subjects experienced a traumatizing event. The results, which will be published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology in October 2011, indicate that the likelihood that the patient will later develop PTSD is reduced by 60 percent.

Opening the window of opportunity

In most psychiatric conditions, it is impossible to establish a precise point of time at which the disorder manifested, Prof. Zohar says. But PTSD is unique in that is has an easily established timeline, beginning from the moment a patient experiences trauma. This makes PTSD eligible for treatment in the “golden hours” – a medical term that defines the precious few hours in which treatment can be most beneficial following a trauma, heart attack, stroke, or medical event. Receiving treatment in this window of opportunity can be critical.

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Tom Jackman

Tom Jackman


Published on October 22, 2011

Danette Dooley

Special to The Telegram

Tom Jackman showed up for an interview with The Telegram toting a case full of books, movies, speeches and pamphlets about Asperger syndrome.

Although he often speaks about his experiences living with the autism spectrum disorder at conferences, the 34-year-old is more comfortable corresponding with people by email than face-to-face.

People with Asperger syndrome often find it difficult to interact with others. They pay particular attention to detail, thrive on routine and repetitious tasks and aren’t big fans of change.

“If somebody is going to move the furniture around the room, they should tell me on Monday if they’re going to do it on Wednesday so I don’t just walk into the room on Wednesday and see it all changed around,” Jackman explained.

When speaking at conferences, Jackman uses humour to break the ice.

At a Targa Newfoundland event on Sept. 17, he quipped: “Whose idea was it, anyway, to ask the socially awkward Asperger’s person to give a speech. … I am glad I can read this to you and not have to make eye contact, since making eye contact is something Asperger’s people find difficult to do.”

Jackman is on the Autism Society’s Newfoundland and Labrador board of directors and chairs an Autism Society of Canada advisory committee.

He was in Winnipeg this month to speak at a conference hosted by Asperger Manitoba Inc.

“I am glad I got the call up from St. John’s to Winnipeg. I am sure that many of the St. John’s Ice Caps AHL players would love such a call up to Winnipeg this winter,” he said in his speech.

In addition to the jokes, Jackman always gets his serious message across. People should look at Asperger syndrome as a difference rather than a disability, he says.

“By not letting it hold me back too much, I have developed into a talented and unique individual,” he told his Winnipeg audience.

Meeting the Australian-born psychologist Tony Attwood was the highlight of his trip to Winnipeg. Attwood is author of “The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome” — which Jackman had Attwood sign.

While he’s not comfortable in unfamiliar situations, Jackman says there are occasions when he’ll “come out of his comfort zone.”

That happened during his trip to Winnipeg.

Travelling alone, he became anxious waiting for his flight to take off and decided to show one of his books to a flight attendant.

“Then, when I was getting off, she asked me if I knew which gate I had to go to.”

Having someone check on him from time to time helps him feel less stressed, he said.

“I like to be social and I like to make connections. It’s just hard to make friendships and relationships.”

Jackman volunteers with the annual Targa motorsport event and speaks intently and passionately about his work.

“I program in all the car numbers and that goes onto the clock. … I don’t have to communicate a lot and if something goes wrong, they’ll just tell me to stop putting in numbers.”

Jackman also volunteers with Rogers Television and will be behind the camera at the Ice Caps hockey games at Mile One Centre.

Read in Full:


The Special Learner


October 24, 2011, 4:28am

MANILA, Philippines — Question: My daughter has been seen by a developmental pediatrician and was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, including atypical autism).

She had months of session with an occupational therapist and she did improve. I enrolled her in a daycare center in our area and the teacher described her as this: may sariling mundo attitude because she likes to roam around the classroom and talk by herself. I’m now worried because next year, I’m planning to enrol her in the same school as my eldest son and she will probably be left behind and will not be able to follow other students of her age. Will she ever have a chance to be enrolled in a regular school, or she should just really be enrolled in a school handling special education? – Worried Mom

Teacher Tess says: Pervasive Developmental Disorders refer to a group of disorders characterized by delays in the development of multiple basic functions including socialization, imaginative activity, verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM -IV), five conditions fall under this category:

1. Autistic disorder

2. Rett’s disorder

3. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

4. Asperger’s Disorder

5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS

Education is the primary tool for PDD-NOS and your child is on the right path as early childhood intervention services are given to her such as occupational therapy. However, please take note that the most important elements of a quality educational program for your child must have the following. By working closely with the school and teachers, parents can do even more to help their children with the crucial skills for school success.

*Structured, consistent, predictable classes with schedules and assignments posted and clearly explained. Information should be presented visually as well as verbally

*Opportunities to interact with non-disabled peers who can model appropriate language, social, and behavioral skills

*A focus on improving a child’s communications skills using tools such as communication devices

*Reduced class size and appropriate seating arrangement to help the child with PDDNOS avoid distraction

*Modified curriculum based on the particular child’s strengths and weaknesses

*A combination of positive behavioral supports and other educational interventions

*Frequent and adequate communication among teachers, parents, and the other related service providers

*A knowledgeable teacher

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Top scientists team up to unravel mystery of Williams syndrome

By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 10/25/2011 7:28:06 AM ET

If they had their way, Tristan and Tyler Waldner would be friends with everybody.  

The 7-year-old twins from San Diego, Calif., have Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that makes them unusually social, so outgoing and gregarious that, to them, there’s no such thing as a stranger.

At the library, on the playground, and even with surprise guests at dinner, the blond boys are charming and chatty, brimming with questions — “Where do you live? Did you drive here or fly here? Do you have kids?” — but with none of the shyness or social reserve you’d expect from typical second-graders. 

“They love to meet new people,” explained the boys’ father, Fabian Waldner, 35, who has to watch them carefully in public. “We’ll be in a grocery store and they’ll just say ‘Hi’ to anybody who walks by.”

Researchers have puzzled over that extreme friendliness for decades, pondering the causes and complicated traits that go with the syndrome that affects 1 in every 10,000 people, says Ursula Bellugi, a researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who has studied the disorder for a quarter-century.

They’ve come to believe that Williams syndrome, which is characterized by unique genetic markers and distinct behaviors, may actually hold the secrets to understanding other better-known disorders — including autism.

‘Brink of a whole new world’

“We’re on the brink of a whole new world,” says Bellugi, 80, a professor and director of Salk’s Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Now, thanks to a $5.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bellugi and team of prominent scientists are poised to use Williams syndrome to decode the ties between human genes and the way people act. 

“We want to know: Are there links across the levels from the genes to behavior?” said Bellugi, who is leading a five-project program.

The aim is understand better how genes affect traits as vastly different as the super-social behavior of the Waldner boys and the withdrawn, alienated behavior of many people with autism.

“Even though Williams’ behavior is the opposite of autism, it may be influenced by gene activities that push it in a different way through a common process,” explained Ralph J. Greenspan, associate director for the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California at San Diego, who has joined the project.

Top scientists in fields as diverse as stem cell biology, brain neuroimaging, brain architecture and social cognition agreed to combine forces to investigate the ties between Williams syndrome genes and behavior. Using separate but related experiments, they’ll examine cells from Williams patients, detailed images of their brains and analysis of their behavior to see how they all fit together.

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Oct. 27, 2011