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November 2011



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Archive for November, 2011

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Let’s face it: We tend to over-complicate the holidays and put a lot of pressure on ourselves (and possibly others) in the process.

“People often have an image of how the holidays should be,” according to Darlene Mininni, Ph.D, MPH, author of The Emotional Toolkit, who works privately with individuals and speaks nationally on topics related to emotional health and well-being.

And those shoulds usually translate into pursuit of the perfect holiday. We try to find the perfect presents or plan the perfect parties, said Master Certified life and career coach Kristin Taliaferro. And since perfection is impossible, all we end up doing is getting disappointed and stressing ourselves out.

Keeping things simple this holiday season can help you stave off stress and focus on what counts. Each person may have a different idea of what a simple holiday looks like, depending on your traditions, family life and financial situation.


But we can probably all agree that a simple holiday is one with fewer obligations and headaches and more relaxation and joy. Here are nine ways to enjoy just that.

1. Don’t take the holidays so seriously.

Realistically, a lot can go wrong during the holidays. But instead of getting distressed and being disappointed, “keep a sense of perspective and humor about the madness of parking lot traffic jams, weird in-law vibes, crazed children jacked up on sugar and other stimulants, packed stores, long lines, credit card denials, you name it,” said Rick Hanson, Ph.D, a neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.

2. Focus on what’s truly important.  

Sometimes, we get wrapped up in the superficial parts of the holidays. Take gift shopping, which is a big stressor and another way we complicate life for ourselves. “Rather than feel guilty if you’re not buying your child a Nintendo 3DS or surprising your mate with a special extravagance, step back and look for the deeper meaning of your celebration,” Mininni said.

That deeper meaning lies in our relationships. “That’s because science shows that relationships are the key to happiness, regardless of your income,” she said. She suggested readers ask themselves this year: “How can I use the holidays to strengthen my relationships with others?”

Also, you might focus on other holiday perks like the time off and profound principles like gratitude, generosity and the religious and spiritual aspects (if they’re significant to you), Hanson said.

3. Simplify gift-giving.

It’s the simple things—not extravagant gifts—that can help you deepen your connections with others. Mininni suggested giving loved ones framed photos (that include those family members or friends) or writing personal letters. “Tell them what they mean to you, or thank them for what they’ve given you,” she said. “It’s a keepsake they’ll treasure longer than a sweater.”

4. Have potluck dinners.

Mininni also suggested people have potlucks with their friends and family. Not only do these events provide the opportunity to connect and make memories, but because everyone is pitching in, you only need to make one or two dishes. (That makes it great for trimming your to-do list!)

5. Commit to less.

The fewer commitments you make, the simpler your holiday will be—especially when you consider that you’re piling on activities and tasks to what’s likely an already full plate. Don’t worry about disappointing others if you can’t make it to a certain event or prepare a special dish. Overextending yourself just leaves you more stressed. (And a lot less fun to be around!)

6. Volunteer.

“Giving to others and building a community strengthens your feelings of connection and your sense of happiness,” Mininni said. And it’s a simple way of making a big difference.

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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on November 23, 2011

Psychiatric disorders are believed to be a barrier for appropriate and timely medical care among vulnerable populations.

A new investigation studied if pre-existing depression (with and without anxiety) would influence the time to diagnostically resolve an abnormal mammogram and/or Pap test.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) discovered suffering from depression was not associated with a prolonged time to diagnostic resolution in a vulnerable population of urban women.

Cancer outcomes are influenced by the time to treatment after an abnormal cancer screen. Some studies have found that women with psychiatric disorders are less likely to receive cancer screening and may also have delays in diagnostic resolution after an abnormal screening test.

Vulnerable populations of women, as defined by low income or with racial/ethnic minority status, are less likely to receive standard preventive health care, which contributes to worse breast and cervical cancer outcomes.

Depression is prevalent in these populations, and may lead to worse health care outcomes.

In recognition of these variables, researchers conducted a retrospective chart review of electronic medical records to identify women who had a diagnosis of depression or anxiety in the year prior to the abnormal mammogram or Pap test.

They used time-to-event analysis to analyze the outcome of time to resolution after abnormal cancer screening.

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Article Date: 24 Nov 2011 – 0:00 PST

A patient’s viewpoint of the severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms can be influenced not only by physical symptoms of IBS but broader psychological problems, according to a new study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

“Clinicians who face pressure to treat patients in a cost-effective manner within tight time constraints and at a satisfactory level are likely to find that patient-reported outcome data can increase their understanding of what patients mean when they describe how they function or feel,” said Jeffrey Lackner, PsyD, of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and lead author of this study. “To maximize the utility of patient-reported outcomes, it is important to know what they measure and what influences patients’ perceptions of their symptoms when gastroenterologists ask them about their symptoms. Our study suggests that irritable bowel syndrome patient-reported outcomes are not simply about gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Patient-reported outcomes (PROs) are used to describe symptoms, inform treatment planning and gauge the benefit of treatments for gastrointestinal disorders, including IBS. In this study, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, researchers explored two different PRO rating scales that measure IBS severity, and identified psychological factors that might bias PRO ratings by affecting how patients interpret symptom severity. They found that a substantial proportion of the variation in the PROs (50 to 55 percent) could be explained by three distinct gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms: pain, bloating and defecation.

While the study showed that GI symptoms explain some of the variance in overall IBS severity scores, there was a large proportion of variance that was not attributable to symptoms that may be explained by psychological factors. For example, pain catastrophisizing (the belief that pain is awful), somatization (converting distress into physical symptoms) and anxiety sensitivity (fear of arousal symptoms) had a direct association with GI symptoms, but not with overall IBS severity. This suggests that psychological factors affect severity through their impact on GI symptoms.

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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on November 23, 2011

A new report concludes that people with anorexia nervosa struggle with questions about their real, or “authentic,” self.

Researchers believe an understanding of the conflict has implications for compulsory treatment. Clinicians believe an approach that explores ideas of authenticity may represent a new therapeutic avenue and could provide insights into whether compulsory treatment can be justified.

Researchers in the UK interviewed 29 women who were being treated for anorexia nervosa at clinics throughout the south of England. In the interview, women were asked about how they viewed their condition, including their understanding of it, how they feel about compulsory treatment, and their thoughts about the impact of anorexia on decision-making.

Although the researchers did not ask about authenticity or identity, almost all of the participants spoke in terms of an “authentic self.” Moreover, researchers report that, “for almost all, the relationship between anorexia nervosa and this authentic self was a significant issue.”

Participants characterized this relationship in different ways. Many saw anorexia as separate from their real self. Some expressed the idea of a power struggle between their real and inauthentic self. Others said that other people could provide support to enable the authentic self to gain strength within the struggle.

The discovery that patients view their illness as separate from their authentic self is viewed by researchers as a sign of hope.

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Featured Article
Academic Journal

Article Date: 25 Nov 2011 – 2:00 PST

In most cases, autism is caused by a combination of genetic factors, but some cases, such as Fragile X syndrome, a rare disorder with autism-like symptoms, can be traced to a variation in a single gene that causes overproduction of proteins in brain synapses, the connectors that allow brain cells or neurons to communicate with one another. Now a new study led by the same MIT neuroscientist who made that discovery, finds that tuberous sclerosis, another rare disease that leads to autism and intellectual disability, is caused by a malfunction at the opposite end of the spectrum: underproduction of the synaptic proteins.

Mark Bear, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience and a member of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and colleagues write about their findings in the 23 November online issue of Nature.

It seems puzzling that underproduction of synaptic proteins and overproduction of those same proteins lead to the same disorder, but it does fit into the idea that autism is caused by a wide range of problems to do with brain synapses, as Bear tells the press in a statement:

“The general concept is that appropriate brain function occurs within a very narrow physiological range that is tightly maintained.”

“If you exceed that range in either direction, you have an impairment that can manifest as this constellation of symptoms, which very frequently go together – autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and epilepsy,” he adds.

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Article Date: 25 Nov 2011 – 0:00 PST

In the 19th century, Francis Galton noted that certain people who were otherwise normal “saw” every number or letter tinged with a particular color, even though it was written in black ink. For the past two decades researchers have been studying this phenomenon, which is called synesthesia. In an “Unsolved Mystery” article and accompanying podcas published in the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology, David Brang and VS Ramachandran strive to bring synesthesia into the broader fold of biology and to the scientific study of the arts through understanding its evolutionary basis.

Ramachandran and colleagues have demonstrated that synesthesia is an authentic and repeatable phenomenon, and that it has a sensory basis rather than a high-level mental association. For grapheme-color synesthesia (where colors and numbers evoke perceptions of colors), they suggested that this occurs through cross activation between sensory brain regions concerned with color and number. However, showing that the phenomenon is valid and caused by enhanced connectivity in the brains of synesthetes still left open the questions of how and why synesthesia evolved in the population.

As Dr. Ramachandran points out, one possible answer comes from the fact that synesthesia is purported to be 7 times more common in artists, poets and novelists than in the rest of the population. Dr. Ramachandran suggests that “if the mutant gene was expressed diffusely throughout the brain (not just in color and number regions) and concepts and ideas are also represented in distinct brain regions, then a more ‘cross-wired’ brain would have a greater propensity to link seemingly unrelated ideas.” This ‘hidden agenda’ of the synesthesia gene (making some outliers in the population more creative) gives rise to one possibility of why it has survived.



If you’ve got just two minutes to spare you could learn first aid to help someone having a seizure thanks to a video from Epilepsy Action.

The acting is a little stiff, if you’ll excuse the pun, but it’s two minutes of your time very well spent.

You’ll notice in the video that the bystanders make a range of common but daft suggestions (‘hold them down’, ‘put something in the mouth to stop them biting their tongue’) that should be avoided as they could endanger the person having the seizure.

It has to be said that well-intentioned bystanders can sometimes be more of a danger than the seizure itself. Unless the person is likely to fall into a fire, fall off a bridge or get eaten by lions, the appropriate steps are just to protect the person, cushion their head, check their breathing and stay calm.

You only need to call an ambulance if the seizure continues for more than five minutes or you know this is the first seizure they’ve ever had.

The video just focuses on generalised seizures (‘having a fit’) but there’s info on other seizure types further down the page.

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Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – The holiday season can be a particularly challenging time for both children with autism and their families. The value of planning for the holidays cannot be overestimated for those with sensory sensitivities, who thrive on routine, and are easily disoriented. The holidays are filled with sights, sounds, and smells. The average household is turned into a busy, frantic, festive place. The stores are brightly lit, excessively noisy with holiday music and busy with shoppers rushing in every direction. All of these sudden and dramatic changes for a child on the spectrum can easily create a sensory overload, making the holidays a difficult time for both the child with autism and their parents.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20111123/DC12006LOGO ) 

These parents need our support and encouragement because they are humans that have been given an assignment intended for saints. Autism affects each individual differently and at different levels of severity. The following statistics helps us to better understand why thoughtfully planning for the holidays is so important.

  • *1 out of 91 children has been diagnosed Autistic
  • *92% of Autistic children wander
  • *The number one cause of death among Autistic children that wander is drowning

Remember, there is no right or wrong answers and what works for one family may not work for another. But by reducing or eliminating potential triggers for wandering and adding an effective program to quickly locate and rescue individuals who tend to wander, you will keep your child safe and give yourself the peace of mind you deserve.

Project Lifesaver International is the premier organization nation-wide providing law enforcement and first responders with the training and technology to quickly find individuals with cognitive disorders who have wandered. Following the signal from a small transmitter placed on the patient, first responders from “Member Agencies” who have been trained and certified by Project Lifesaver quickly track to the location of the wanderer. Recovery times for individuals in the Project Lifesaver program averages 30 minutes, compared to nine hours for individuals without a tracking system. To date Project Lifesaver’s success rate is 100%.


Click here to follow us on Facebook & You-Tube at Plifesaver99

For more information about Project Lifesaver’s program and technology go to www.projectlifesaver.org


6:16 AM, Nov. 23, 2011

Written by

Jeff Barron

The Eagle-Gazette

LANCASTER — Four autistic children received early Christmas presents Tuesday, thanks to Fairfield Christian High School junior Michael Collier.

After raising $2,900 in a July 22 golf scramble, he bought Brooklyn Baker, 12, John Manley, 7, Nathan Moore, 9, and Dominick Staffey, 6, each an iPad.

Collier, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is a member of Boy Scout Troop 241 and did the good deed for his Eagle Scout project.

“The cynic in me wishes I could have helped more,” he said. “I kind of think about the ones I left behind in my choices. Maybe they’ll get them next year, but it’s really great to be able to help, at least in some way.”


He sifted through about 20 letters before deciding on the lucky four. He chose the iPad because of its reputation for working well with those who have autism.

Collier met with the children and their parents at the Southeastern Ohio Center for Independent Living with the intent of giving them the iPads. But the order was delayed, and the children won’t receive them until Monday.

That little detail didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, however. Three of the children are non-verbal, making the iPad that much more important, their parents said.

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Will Newman and his father, Steve.Will Newman and his father, Steve

5:32 PM, Nov. 23, 2011

Written by Barbara Blake


ASHEVILLE — Something incredible happened last summer in a big white house on top of a hill in a suburban South Asheville neighborhood.

It began in the heart of a 16-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome who loves his father beyond measure, and ended with a spectacular gift that may help change and even save the lives of countless people across the world.

How, you might ask, can a teen-ager with an autism-related disability change the world? Will Newman will tell you that anything is possible. If only you believe.

The story begins five years ago, when Will was 11 and traveled with his parents, Steve and Wendy Newman, to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Steve suffers from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an incurable, fatal disease in which the patient produces an overabundance of white blood cells. It is treatable, and most people can live many productive years after diagnosis. After six months of chemotherapy two years ago, Steve is now in full remission.

In Houston, Will met his father’s physician, Dr. Michael Keating, a man Wendy describes as “a cherubic, jolly Australian who has committed his life to finding a cure for CLL” as president and CEO of CLL Global Research Foundation.


“It was at the cancer center in Houston that Will “got the full sense of the gravity of Steve’s illness,” Wendy said. “And he was indelibly impressed with the men and women doing this work to find a cure for his dad’s disease.”

It was also there that the seeds were planted in Will’s mind that he could find a way to help those researchers carry on their mission. Five years later, he did.

A gift for music


Will Newman is an exceptional young man, both because of and in spite of Asperger’s, a syndrome on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Those with Asperberger’s typically struggle with social awareness, peer interaction, and reading and interpreting the body language of others.

You’d never know, unless you were told, that Will has any sort of disability, and much of that has to do with the patient and gentle training his parents provided in his younger years. Today, he is articulate, intelligent, charming, gracious and filled with a sweet and generous spirit that is undeniably genuine.

Will is an Eagle Scout, an honor student at Roberson High, an accomplished actor, a brown belt in karate, a level-six ballroom dancer and an award-winning photographer and writer.

Among those awards are four Gold Key and four Silver Key Scholastic Art Awards, the National American Visions Medal and a $1,000 Creativity and Citizenship Scholarship Award, a prestigious honor presented to only four students across the nation.

But those accomplishments almost pale against Will’s musical gifts, which have taken him to Carnegie Hall with his high school symphonic band and put him in the center of the local funk band Jazz the Ripper, along with performances at venues ranging from the Biltmore Estate to the Orange Peel to Bele Chere and Diana Wortham Theatre.

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