Author Archive

The role of the inner ear in Dyslexia and ADHD

Understanding how the vestibular works and, more importantly, how it affects our functioning makes it easier to understand why it is implicated in syndromes like dyslexia and ADHD.  It also helps to explain why and how certain, specific movements improve vestibular functioning and make positive differences to children struggling at school. 

The role of the inner-ear or vestibular system underlying cognitive and behavioral disorders and their treatment has been studied by many gifted clinicians and therapists. However, the role of both the inner-ear and cerebellum (the ‘small brain’ at the base of the larger cerebrum) in determining ADHD dates back to the pioneering dyslexia research of Frank and Levinson initially published in 1973, and then evolving over four decades. By recognizing that dyslexia and ADHD are significantly overlapping disorders characterized by imbalance and poor coordination, Levinson proposed that both disorders stem from one common impairment– a signal-scrambling dysfunction of inner-ear/cerebellar origin. His ADHD data and concepts were published in numerous papers and books.  Significantly, these concepts are consistent with the cerebellar research of Noble Laureate Sir John Eccles and outstanding others as well as inner-ear clinicians called neurotologists, hence gaining their support.

Levinson explained the ‘signal-scrambling’ as follows: “Just imagine the symptoms induced by spinning until dizzy. When dizzy you can’t properly read, write, speak, recall, think, plan, concentrate, orient, balance and coordinate. It’s as if the signals transmitted to varied brain structures are ‘dizzy’ or scrambled and so cannot be normally processed. They thus induce temporary dyslexic or ADHD-like states. It’s the dizzy or scrambled signals that are considered etiologically most important, not necessarily the conscious sensation or experience of dizziness which may lessen, disappear or be absent. “This analogy also explains how and why signal stabilizing medications, including inner-ear enhancing antihistamines and stimulants, are so effective in treating both dyslexia and ADHD. And it further explains the efficacy of anti-vertigo therapies in preventing the inner-ear triggered reading reversals (“space dyslexia”) and impaired concentration, orientation and balance (“space ADHD”) in orbiting astronauts.

There isn’t enough recent research to support Levinson’s findings but a 2013 study by Jean Hebert and colleagues published in Science provided important experimental evidence that a genetically induced inner-ear impairment in mice was linked to hyperactivity and thus might cause ADHD in humans.(http://www.einstein.yu.edu/news/releases/932/inner-ear-disorders-may-cause-hyperactivity/

 

Helping babies build their brains

 

In last week’s post, I wrote that a baby’s brain is very undeveloped at birth, owing to the relatively small size of a newborn’s head. In fact, the newly born child has all the brain cells (neurons) he will ever need but they aren’t able to communicate with each other very efficiently. 

 One of the most important developmental stages in these early days is for the infant to do what is necessary for these neurons to connect to each other. Eventually, he’ll end up with neural networks that are needed for learning and living.  These networks provide us with the ability to learn language, interpret sound and vision, control emotions, think and remember.  The quality of the brain cells themselves and the way they connect to each other will determine whether that individual grows up with an average or a really smart brain.

 Some of this will depend on the child’s genes but a great deal will depend on the environment you provide and in which the child will develop.  It’s not true that clever parents will automatically have clever children. Academic success and intelligence are hugely reliant on a growing environment that is characterized by lots of love, little stress, mental stimulation and a good diet.

 Mental stimulation is not provided by mindless facts. Many children can learn to count, recite the alphabet, give correct answers to learned questions and so on, but these don’t indicate a good brain.  Essentially, as Dr David Perlmutter points out in his book (see reference below), the goal of parent’s interactions with their young children should not be whatthe children learn but howthey learn it.   Stay away from activities that dull their brains, deaden their senses and put them at risk for later learning difficulties.

 It’s better for a developing brain to learn what letters and numbers represent rather than being able to spell or count.  In order for this to happen, they need to learn their shapes and understand that letters and numbers are symbols that carry meaning according to their shapes.

 It’s also important that the connections being made by the neurons are firmly cemented in place.  For this to happen, children need repetition of incoming mental stimulation.  Most seek this out automatically by insisting that parents reinforce learning.  Most of us know how a child will demand the same story over and over again, or be happy to watch the same film again and again. This is a good example of how children learn and how they strengthen the connections in their neural networks.

 Here’s one example of a brain-building activity given by Dr Perlmutter that will help the child to learn the meaning of numbers:

 For a child beginning at around age 12 months:  Find a puzzle containing pieces shaped from numbers 1 to 10.   Fitting the numbers into their correct places allows the child to experience the ‘feel’ qualities of numbers, which helps to ingrain the picture of the number into their brains.   You can enhance her experience by showing her what a particular number represents. For example, when she puts the number 2 into the correct place on the puzzle board, hand her two small balls and say “Two.”  Every time she puts back another puzzle piece, add balls to her collection until the puzzle is completed. This paves the way for early recognition of the symbolic nature of numbers.  This is far more beneficial than simply teaching the child to memorise counting from one to ten.

 Acknowledgement is given to Dr David Perlmutter who wrote the informative book Raise a smarter child by kindergarten: Build a better brain and increase IQ up to 30 points.Available from Amazon books.

Food intolerances and behaviour

 

Food allergies in children are more widely recognised and treated than food intolerances.  Yet foods that a child’s body considers to be unfriendly and possibly harmful can and do cause all manner of undesirable, difficult to handle behaviours. The realization of this has dawned very slowly among many professionals and there are still medical people who find it hard to believe that such a wide variety of behaviours can be due to the food we give our families. 

Food intolerances affect not only behaviours and general health. Symptoms may not only be seen in ailments such as headaches, rashes and asthma but also in, for example, low muscle tone which may in its turn negatively impact coordination, handwriting, reading, speech, bladder and bowel problems.

One of the pioneers who paved the way to our current understanding is Sue Dengate.  If you’re interested, she has a brilliant website at www.fedup.com.au which makes excellent and informative reading. She designed the Failsafe diet, which has helped many food sensitive children around the world.

Here is a concise list of behaviours compiled by Sue that may indicate an intolerance to one or more foods:

Quiet children

Inattentiveness, forgetfulness, unexplained tiredness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, panic attacks.  Such children may be diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD.

Restless children

Irritability, restlessness, inattention, difficulty settling in to sleep, restless legs, night waking, night terrors.  Such children may be diagnosed with ADHD including hyperactivity.

Defiant children

Losing temper, arguing with adults, refusing requests and defying rules, deliberately annoying others, blaming others, touchy and easily annoyed, angry and resentful, spiteful and vindictive; kicking, biting, hitting, spitting and punching. Such children may be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).

 

Dyslexia – not just a reading problem

 

 

Dyslexia is not just a severe reading disorder characterized by reversals. It is a syndrome, meaning that it shows many and varied reading and non-reading symptoms such as:

READING

* Memory instability for letters, words, numbers

* A tendency to skip over or scramble letters, words, and sentences
* A poor, slow reading ability prone to compensatory head
tilting, finger pointing and rapid fatigue
* Reversals of letters such as b and d, words such as saw and was, and
numbers such as 6 and 9 or 16 and 61* Letter and word blurring, doubling, movement, scrambling, omission,
insertion, size change , etc.
* Poor concentration, distractibility, light sensitivity (photophobia), delayed visual and phonetic processing, etc.

WRITING

* Messy, poorly angulated, or drifting handwriting prone to size,
spacing, and letter-sequencing errors.

SPELLING, MATH, MEMORY, AND GRAMMAR

* Difficulties remembering spelling, grammar, math, names, dates, and
lists , or sequences such as the alphabet, the days of the week and
months of the year, and directions.

SPEECH

* Speech disorders such as slurring, stuttering, minor articulation
errors, poor word recall, and auditory-input and motor-output speech
lags.

DIRECTION

* Right/left and related directional uncertainty.

TIME

* Delay in learning to tell time.

CONCENTRATION AND ACTIVITY

* Impaired concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity, or
overactivity

BEHAVIOR, TEMPER, OR IMPULSE DISTUBANCES

BALANCE AND COORDINATION

* Difficulties with balance and coordination functions, i.e. walking,
running, skipping, hopping, tying shoelaces, and buttoning buttons.

OTHER RELATED ISSUES

* Difficulties with headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, motion
sickness, abdominal complaints, excessive sweating, and bed-wetting
* Feeling stupid, ugly, incompetent, brainless.
* Fears of the dark, heights, getting lost, going to school
* Fear or the avoidance of various balance, coordination, sports, and
motion-related activities.
* Mood disturbances.
* Obsessions and compulsions.

Because dyslexia is often mistakenly viewed as a severe reading
impairment rather than a syndrome of the above mentioned symptoms,
many believe that normal or even superior reading individuals can’t be
dyslexics – despite the presence of typical dyslexic – related
difficulties with writing, grammar, spelling, math, memory, speech,
sense of direction, and time, etc.

As a result, typical dyslexics with normal or superior reading scores
are termed Learning Disabled – as if dyslexia and LD were separate and
distinct disorders.

Several approaches, supported by research, believe dyslexia to be a
syndrome of many and varied symptoms differing in intensity. And thus
some dyslexics will have severe reading, spelling and speech
difficulties while others will have major problems with only math,
memory and concentration.

 

What many don’t realise is that many of the symptoms understood to be part of this syndrome are linked to irregular functioning of the vestibular system (better known as the inner-ear).   Not all Dyslexics are alike but many can be helped by activities aimed at improving vestibular functioning.  This means that particular, coordinated, slow movements can help many children who are struggling at school.

There will be more information about this in following posts.

 

Building a better brain in babies

 

 

The early years of life are vital for laying the foundation of learning success. Most parents get it right – and that’s because it isn’t as difficult as you might think.

I get lots of enquiries from people wanting to know what programmes to buy or what activities to do with their infants to ensure good brain development.  The reason is that they want their children to do well at school and in good tertiary institutions so that they will enjoy a lucrative career later in life.  While their motivation is pure, they are often trying too hard to stimulate their children.  Expensive equipment, costly academic packages and too-early school admittance simply aren’t needed.  Instead, providing lots of love and spending lots of time playing games and talking to your babies while ensuring that their diet is as good as you can afford are the ingredients for a healthy brain.

 The brain is very underdeveloped at birth. This is because human mothers could not give birth to an infant with a fully developed brain – it would simply be too big.  So from the moment of birth, everything in the infant’s environment will impact on the development of the neurons (brain cells) that comprise the brain. Genetics do play a role in intelligence – but the nurturing received after birth is vital.  In his book ‘Raise a smarter child by kindergarten’, Dr David Perlmutter writes that ‘great brains are made, they are not born. From birth to age 3, up to 30 IQ points are up for grabs.’

 He goes on to list some simple things that parents can do to ‘claim’ those IQ points for their child:

 Breastfeeding for at least twelve months

  • Making sure your toddler eats brain-enhancing ‘real’ food
  • Engaging your baby in mentally stimulating activities from the first weeks of life throughout childhood – not with artificial or ‘educational’ media but simply through games you play with her. Think ‘Peek a boo’; ‘Where’s mommy gone?’; singing songs and telling or reading stories
  • Limit TV and DVD watching and playing video games
  • Training a child to use a computer, however, can improve cognitive function and better prepare her for school
  • Introduce youngsters to formal music training by aged 4 years. This helps develop future future maths and science ability
  • Be aware of possible toxins in your home and environment that may cause learning problems (pollution being one)
  • Provide a warm, loving, low-stress environment with lots of attention from you

 In the next few articles, I’ll be focusing on what happens in a baby brain when we provide a nurturing environment and also on good, brain-building activities.

Food allergy or intolerance – similar but very different

 

Some people use the terms ‘food allergy’ and ‘food intolerance’ as synonyms but this is incorrect. Some of the signs of food intolerance and allergy are similar but the difference between the two are very important.  Eating a food to which you are intolerant can leave you feeling miserable. A true food allergy, however, could be life-threatening.  Either way, a child whose body reacts negatively to something in her diet will find it more difficult to focus on schoolwork and do her best.  It’s worth considering whether or not she has a food intolerance.

Let’s first consider the differences between the two conditions.   If you’re allergic to a food, your immune system will consider the food as an enemy invader and defend the body with antibodies.  These antibodies produce symptoms that can cover a range of conditions like hives, eczema, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, excessive winds and vomiting. More severe symptoms are termed anaphylactic and may include difficulty breathing, dizziness or loss of consciousness. Without immediate treatment – an injection of adrenalin – anaphylactic can be fatal.

A food intolerance, on the other hand, doesn’t involve the immune system.  It takes place in the digestive system and is usually due to an inability to properly break down a particular food.  This could be due to enzyme deficiencies, sensitivity to food additives (colourants and flavourants) or reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods. The symptoms are sometimes vague and can include a combination of gastrointestinal problems such as bloating and wind, diarrhea, nausea and indigestion and aggravation of eczema and asthma. These symptoms often take long to emerge, often several hours or days so it is difficult to pinpoint what foods may be causing the symptoms.  The symptoms too may take a couple of days to go away.

Almost any food can cause an intolerance but there are some types that occur more than others.  Common culprits are dairy, gluten and foods that can lead to gas buildup, such as cabbage and beans.   A specific type of intolerance can develop to the protein in wheat and other grains called gluten. This condition is called Coeliac disease.

The tricky thing about intolerances is that they are dose-dependent. This means that a certain amount of the offending substance has to be consumed before symptoms appear.  Small quantities of the food may be handled by the body, unlike people with allergies, who must stay away from even the tiniest trace of the trigger food. Everyone is different, so the amount tolerated will vary from person to person.

If you suspect that your child has a food intolerance, you can try an elimination diet to decipher what food is causing problems. Keeping a food diary is useful because you need to be able to look back to see what might have been eaten a few days before.

What you need to remember is that while a food allergy will probably make itself conspicuous with the more severe symptoms, many food intolerances go unnoticed and ignored.  Try to remember that these can negatively affect learning and behaviour – and if your child shows puzzling challenges, keep in mind that food might be the reason.  Next week, we’ll list some behaviours that may indicate an intolerance to one or more foods.

 

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