Monday, 30 August 2010

Mummy knows best!

With thanks to Richard Gray of the Telegraph.


 Mothers are said to hold a special lifelong place in their children's hearts, but it also appears they have a unique significance in their brains too.  Scientists have discovered that when adults look at their mothers' faces, it triggers a stronger response in the brain than when they look at pictures of strangers - or even of their fathers.

 Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, the researchers measured the brain activity of volunteers as they were shown photographs of their parents, strangers and celebrities.
When images of the participants' mothers were shown to them, the scientists found that it "lit up" key areas, associated with recognition and emotion.


The findings suggest that mothers produce a complex and lasting emotional and cognitive response in their children's brain, as a result of the bonding experience that takes place between them and their children, as babies.


Scientists believe the findings shed new light on the extent to which humans experience "imprinting" - a phenomenon observed in many birds and animals in which youngsters form very strong attachments to the first creature they see after being born.  As a result, the youngsters follow their mother around and can rapidly learn from her characteristics and behaviour, which are said to be "imprinted" on them.


Human babies do not undergo such rapid imprinting, but many scientists believe the bond between mother and child can have crucial implications in later life and even into adulthood.
The new study, which is reported in the scientific journal Brain and Cognition, involved 20 volunteers with an average age of 35.


Dr Marie Arsalidou, from the University of Toronto, in Canada, who carried out the research along with academics from the University of Winchester, in the UK, said: "Differential activity to mothers' faces may be attributable to greater exposure to one's mothers face during critical childhood years."  She added: "The fact that this activation is even seen in adults who have lived away from their parents for many years does suggest that it is certainly a very long-term effect."
Fathers faces produced a strong response in an area deep inside the brain known to contribute to feelings of affection but failed to produce anywhere near as much brain activity when compared to the volunteers' mothers.


Celebrities faces prompted far less brain activity than images of parents, but greater activity than in strangers faces, mainly due to the recognition and memories those faces induced.
Professor Ann Buchanan, director of the Oxford Centre for Research into Parenting and Children at Oxford University, said: "This brain research is giving a physical understand for things we know emotionally.
"It seems like the brain is born like a disk that has been formatted but nothing has been put into it.
"This crucial interaction between the primary carer, which is usually the mother, is crucial for brain development and later emotional development." 


You might ask what relevance this has for Snowdrop and it's work?  A good question.  Well, in terms of stimulating development, particularly language development, it means that crucial parts of a programme of developmental stimulation might be more effective if carried out by mummy!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Parent - Professional Relations.

A major problem faced by many families who have as a member a child with developmental disabilities, whether they pursue alternative treatments or not, is the response to the family of the healthcare professionals. Many parents report negative experiences in dealing with professionals, especially if they are following a course of action with which the professional disagrees. One family reported an incident to us, which frankly is typical!

Their trouble began with a physiotherapist who regularly visited their home to treat their four-year-old son, who suffered from profound brain-injury. Soon after they had begun a programme of developmental stimulation, - a situation by which this particular therapist obviously felt threatened, she began to make derogatory comments about the fact that their son would occasionally incur a minor rub or bruise from trying to crawl. This is a situation, which is unfortunate, but it occasionally happens. The bruises were not frequent or severe and one would expect a well, uninjured toddler to pick up such bruises in the course of stumbling about the house. At first, the parents studiously made no response to the remarks, but the increasing malevolence of the words was building to a crescendo. The ‘tipping point’ occurred when, at the end of one visit the therapist disparagingly said “I wonder what social services would make of those marks on Gareth’s leg?” This was simply too much for the family to take and they confronted the therapist, asking precisely what point she was trying to make. 

As is always the case with bullies, the moment they are confronted, or asked to justify their words, they ‘turn tail’ and run! As she quickly disappeared through the door, she mumbled something about ‘joking’ and not taking her seriously. She apparently never uttered another remark about Gareth’s minor scrapes.

Yet another confrontation between one of my clients and the ranks of the ‘professionals’ emerged when a new paediatrician asked a particular family to pay her a visit in her office, as she wished to get to know their daughter and become acquainted with her problems. (at least this was what the doctor stated on the telephone!) She gave the impression of being supportive towards the family and appeared to be genuinely interested in what they were trying to achieve for their daughter. Suitably lulled into a false sense of security, the parents happily took their daughter, Julie along to see the doctor. However, when they arrived in her office, she told them plainly that she fundamentally disagreed with what they were doing in terms of therapy and what was more, were they to continue, she would “not touch Julie with a barge pole!” The family simply could not believe the complete turnaround in the woman’s attitude and asked her to tell them precisely what it was about Julie’s therapy that offended her so much. Of course, as has been the case with every single member of the medical profession I have encountered, she was unable to substantiate her view of the parents choice of therapy with any evidence. - She was unable to say what she found disagreeable because she did not actually know anything about what it was she so violently disagreed with!

Again, as is typical of many ‘professionals’ I have encountered, she was merely reacting to rumour and heresay generated from within her profession and being the unimaginative sheep, which some of them undoubtedly are, their opinion must mirror that of the flock! Why allow truth, fact and evidence to spoil good prejudicial opinion?

The woman then continued to accuse the family of being “on a high” stating that her perception was that they seemed to be enjoying their daughter’s disabilities! What kind of twisted, warped personality could imagine that parents would enjoy their child’s difficulties? In this particular case, all the family were trying to do was to undo the harm, which had been inflicted upon Julie through medical negligence at birth; - medical negligence fostered by just this kind of conceited arrogance.

The most horrific incident, of which I am aware, involved my own family and a ‘professional’ and was played out in our absence, but was reported to us by a friend. Just prior to our son beginning a programme of developmental activities, we had moved away from our old neighbourhood to an area approximately fifteen miles from where our son had been born. Obviously, via the ‘professional’ grapevine, news of our family embarking upon a different type of therapy had travelled back to where we formerly lived and other parents of children with developmental disabilities, who attended the same clinics, which we formerly attended with our son began asking questions about us and our new programme. One of these parents, with whom we had become friendly during our clinic visits, telephoned one evening in great concern to ask how we were both coping with the divorce proceedings! Of course, no such event was occurring at all! Apparently, desperate that other parents did not follow in our footsteps, one ‘professional’ had elected to inform the other families that the new programme on which we had embarked was so stressful, it had broken up our marriage and we were in the process of going through a particularly acrimonious divorce! The friend was assured that this was not the case, that although the programme was indeed hard work, our relationship was more solid now than it had ever been.

To this day, I have difficulty believing that an adult human being, particularly one claiming to be a ‘professional’ in the caring services, would be so vicious and nasty. I feel these remarks were made out of fear; - a fear borne out of inadequacy at having no solutions to the difficulties our children face. A fear borne out of viewing a therapeutic intervention, which was outside their jurisdiction as a threat to their professional competence!

The professional attitude towards parents reported by parents themselves is one, which appears to be peppered with arrogance. Parents, instead of being viewed as partners and valuable information sources more often feel as though they are viewed as an integral part of the problem. Unfortunately, this means that whatever parents say will not be taken seriously, if it is listened to at all! It is probably this display of arrogance and contempt, which is instrumental in parents wanting to seek ‘alternative’ solutions to their children’s problems in the first place. In other words doctors, it is often your attitude, which drives families away from you!

Yet another ‘showdown’ was reported to me when another doctor called at the home of one of our families to perform a routine, periodic developmental assessment on a child. According to the family. during his visit he did his level best to explain in his ‘doctor knows best’ voice, what a terrible mistake the family were making by following the developmental programme I had devised for the child. He stated that, in his opinion, this type of therapy was scientifically unfounded and simply would not work. The family asked him what it was precisely, about their son’s programme that he objected to. – Surprise, surprise, he could not provide an answer to this question as he possessed no real knowledge of what the family were doing.

He was then provided with several research papers from eminent psychologists, verifying some techniques within their son’s programme, which demonstrated the validity of the approach. Faced with hard evidence, provided by reputable academics, this buffoon still tried to argue that the family were wasting their time! Notably, unlike the family carrying out our programme, he provided no evidence to substantiate his argument.

To the family’s credit they pursued this point further by asking him what he thought of the prospects for their son if they decided not to do anything to help him at all, instead being prepared to leave him trapped in a body which he couldn’t control? The parents stated that in their eyes they considered that approach to be cruel! Staggeringly, his response was that their son was happy enough now, so why not leave him? – This attitude says it all!   I tell you this, although I harbour no criticism of parents who decide not to follow any treatment methodology with their child, there is one inescapable truth to be told: - Doing nothing is likely to achieve nothing!

Surely to be a scientist, (which so many health professionals love to claim to be) means that one should approach a situation with an open mind and only be swayed by evidence; - instead this man was listening and subscribing to prejudice and hearsay.

When a family embark upon an alternative therapy programme, as long as the approach cannot cause harm to the child, their decision should be respected. Parents do not make this type of choice because they wish to elicit open confrontation, or with the aim of excluding treatment and advice from health professionals. Parents should not have to consider that anyone might be upset by their decision to turn every stone to help their child.  This however is the way in which health care professionals often seem to interpret such decisions. The very people, who even if they disagree with parents, should continue to offer their support and advice, often react with nothing short of hysteria and open hostility.

In another instance, one family asked why their paediatrician had been so offensive about their chosen course of therapy for their son, Mark. The doctor replied that she disagreed with the intensity of the programme and had seen marriages broken apart by such regimes. The family pointed out that they were only working with Mark for two hours per day, which was all the time they could commit and that the activities in which they were involved were actually more akin to play sessions and were not intensive at all. They highlighted that if Mark attended school, which legally he could, he would then be exposed to a six - hour day educational programme. The paediatrician simply would not listen and the encounter ended with them asking to be referred to another doctor.

Some families become tired, bored and frustrated with the constant hostility which some ‘professionals’ throw in their direction. Apparently some of them act in this way because in trying their best to help their child, parents are not following the doctor’s wishes. Therefore, it seems, in some cases it may be a matter of loss of power and control, not medical concern, which are the motivating factors behind medical reaction. Most parents have enough to do and enough problems to deal with, without having to put up with narrow minded criticism from so called ‘professionals’ who seemingly possess few solutions themselves!

In my opinion, this doctor was fundamentally wrong; - a marriage would be more likely to encounter difficulties if the couple were forced to sit back and merely watch, as their child simply did not develop at all, or even deteriorated.

It is clear by the contents of the letter written by this doctor after her visit, that the information she was given about the intensity of Mark’s programme, was simply not comprehended!’ This was no surprise to me at all, as I have realised from bitter experience that parents simply are not listened to!

In her letter she writes:-
“When I saw them, I expressed my extreme concern about this type of intensive physiotherapy.”

Well, for a start, if she had actually read the information provided for her prior to her visit, she would have realised that the programme was absolutely nothing to do with physiotherapy, and as was explained to her it was not intensive at all!

It is clear to see in the academic literature and it is a view, which has been reinforced by every parent to whom I have ever spoken, that the major source of stress which families face is not their child’s disability, but the relationship with the people who should be there to support parents: - the healthcare professionals!

As far as marital problems are concerned, there is no evidence that embarking upon a particular type of therapy with a child is likely to place a marriage under any extra duress. The most prevalent factor within the situation seems to be pre-existing stress between all members of the family, which may adversely affect family relationships. This is not caused by a type of therapy, but by the inbuilt stresses caused by the child’s problems. A child who has developmental disabilities, who does not sleep, has problems taking in sufficient sustenance, is difficult to handle physically and has associated behavioural, toileting and medical difficulties, will not create a situation where parents are calm relaxed and happy!

The difficulties brought about by the child’s developmental disabilities, (note, not by any form of therapy), can affect the way in which the parents not only react to one another, but to other family members. Many authorities agree that the presence of a child with developmental difficulties within a family most often has the effect of ‘cementing’ an already strong relationship, or breaking a weak one. 

One leading paediatrician to whom I spoke confirmed this view. He claimed after a few months of getting to know the family, he could usually make an accurate guess as to which relationships would not survive the ordeal. He asserted that in his experience, the presence of the child intensifies the pattern the relationship already has.

Indeed, it is unfortunate that the problems which are posed by the child’s difficulties (not a therapeutic intervention), can cause considerable marital conflict and even, in some instances divorce! One of the foremost difficulties seems to be that parents simply do not have as much time to devote to each other, because the child’s problems are so demanding. (Clarkson et al, 1987).

Therefore, reviewing the actual evidence, it is the child’s condition, which causes marital stress, not any particular therapeutic intervention, which the parents may choose to follow with their child.

The evidence refutes the claim of this particular doctor that programmes such as those prescribed by Snowdrop and other clinics cause untold stress within families. It is simply not the truth! According to the evidence, such stress is caused by the child’s condition and the parents’ relationship with healthcare professionals! Two studies in particular demonstrate that mothers of children with cerebral palsy (studies in which the children are not following any particular form of treatment!), suffer significantly more psychiatric symptoms than do ‘ordinary’ mothers. (Clarkson, 1987; Hirose, 1990).

Surely, a developmental programme of the type we are discussing, would help to alleviate such stress, because parents would at least feel that they were trying to achieve something positive. They would be more likely to feel that they were productively trying to help their child.

These are the genuine difficulties, which have been uncovered by academic research, they are not problems invented by the dreaming of a doctor, who quite simply merely wishes to stop you seeking valid alternatives for your child.

Therefore, contrary to medical opinion, Snowdrop type programmes are likely to decrease the social isolation and stress felt within families of children with developmental disabilities.

An interesting study, commissioned in the nineties, cross–referenced the psychological well being of siblings with the amount of interaction between them and their brother or sister who had developmental problems. The results of this research supported the theory that children who are encouraged into greater interaction with their injured sibling are more self–confident than children who do not receive such encouragement. It was also noted that there was an overall improvement in family interaction patterns and a functional change for the better in the child suffering from the disabilities. (Craft, 1990). Kind of an argument for family involvement in some sort of programme isn’t it?

Another major concern, which for most parents causes untold heartache, is the reaction of other people to their injured child. Parents seem to pass through definable phases in their reactions to strangers, initially wanting to talk, to tell the world all about their child. Indeed, I remember being a complete and utter bore concerning my own son. Someone would only have to mention his name to elicit a three-hour lecture on the ills of cerebral palsy!

Of course, this is not only a sign that parents feel isolated, it is also a sure sign that they need someone to talk to. It is yet another unfortunate failing of our healthcare system that often strangers have to fulfil the role of counsellor.

Later it seems, parents wish to be left alone and even resent inquiring strangers. Again, I can vouch for this as it mirrors my own experience and the experiences of many other parents to whom I have spoken. As the years passed and the problems faced by my own son became more and more visibly obvious, people would naturally look at him. I never liked this, but do understand that it is difficult not to take a look at someone who appears so different. The problem with which I always grappled, was that some people would come back for a second look, or make it obvious that they were scrutinising my son. Some people simply have no class! There is an old saying; - You can dress a pig in a suit, but you can't stop it grunting!

Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop programmes should go to our website at http://www.snowdropcerebralpalsyandautism.com

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Brains of Children with Dyslexia Can Be Re-wired

This research is very encouraging and justifies Snowdrop's position on dyslexia, - that it is a phonological processing problem. This means that the majority of people who suffer dyslexia have difficulties in decoding certain aspects of the 'sound system' of language and corresponding the visual symbols on the page to those sounds. This is why Snowdrop offers programmes of 'phonological awareness' for children and adults who suffer dyslexia - just as is suggested by this research.
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Fairly recent research by Carnegie Mellon Psychology Professor Marcel Just investigates the cause of dyslexia — and it's not a visual scrambling of letters and words, as has long been believed.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Just and research fellows Ann Meyler and Tim Keller measured blood flow to different parts of the brain in real time. They now know that the reading disability involves underactivation in the part of the brain that decodes the sounds of written language.
As a normal reader sounds out words, this area of the brain (just above the left ear) lights up brightly on brain scans. The same area appears much less active in poor readers.
"With the right kind of intensive instruction, the brain can begin to rewire itself and overcome reading deficits, even if it can't eliminate them," said Just.
His view is based on Carnegie Mellon research that involved scanning the brains of kids who had received a year of concentrated reading instruction.
"[The children] showed 40 percent more activity in the word-decoding area of their brains after receiving the instruction," explained Just. "But while the results are hopeful, it's important not to be overly optimistic."
While dyslexic children and adults can often improve their accuracy and understanding of individual words after intensive instruction, it is rare that they can ever read as quickly as the average reader.
"All education is a matter of training of the brain. Learning to read is just one case where a particular brain area sometimes is not performing as well as it might, and remedial instruction helps to shape that area up," said Just.
"Reading is one of the few kinds of shared cultural expertise that we have," he said. "It's not as though we can all program computers or we can all play basketball, but almost everybody reads, so you're out of luck if you don't learn to do it."

At Snowdrop, my reading programmes acknowledge the fact that the road to reading has two pathways, one of which involves developing an understanding of the sound system of a language, otherwise known as 'phonological awareness!'  What most people don't realise is that the developmental chain goes back even further to the initial precursors of language development which are developed in the newborn baby.  If we get these right, then phonological awareness has a chance to develop and so does literacy, - ignore them and all sorts of problems can manifest themselves, such as lack of spoken language, or spoken language anomalies such as the 'aphasias,' in addition to the dyslexias and the dysgraphias.

Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop's work should contact us on snowdrop_cdc@btinternet.com or visit our website, where you can ask questions at http://www.snowdropcerebralpalsyandautism.com 

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Treatment for Brain Injured Children. - Patterning.

Patterning is a treatment rationale utilised by various clinics accross the globe, with many variations in it's application. It is a methodology which has come in for a great deal of criticism from many authorities and is judged to be one of the more 'controversial' therapeutic approaches, - so let's examine this 'controversial' approach to treatment.

There are many organisations applying many variations of patterning treatments, so much so, that it is impossible to attribute all theoretical standpoints to one particular organisation; - Some adhere to some theories, whilst others denounce the same theories. Necessarily then, this is a generalised review.

One theoretical standpoint is the 'recapitulationist' theory. Some patterning organisations hold the belief that 'ontogeny' recapitulates 'phylogeny.' - All this means is that they hold to the idea that the development of a child from conception to maturity is a replay of the evolutionary development of our species. Of course it is absolute nonsense and allow me to demonstrate why?

The theory says that at any point in his development the movement patterns of the human child will resemble the movement patterns of species which are lower down the evolutionary ladder. This seems an attractive theory and on the surface it does appear to have some truth in it. After all, does a newborn baby not wriggle like a fish? Does a seven month old child not adopt the same movement when crawling that an amphibian does when it moves?  Does a child who is crawling on his hands and knees not adopt the same movement pattern as a reptile? When a child first starts to walk, does he not hold his arms up in the air like an ape? The answer is yes, to all these questions. However, some of the proponents of patterning go further than to note these resemblences and attribute participation of definite levels of the brain to these developments. - This is where the theory falls apart!

According to recapitulation theory,the following logic applies.

(i). Because they claim that the dominant level of the brain operating in a fish is it's medulla, and the fish produces wriggling movements, this means that the dominant level of the brain in a newborn baby must be the medulla!

(ii). Because they claim that the dominant level of the brain operating in an amphibian is the pons and the amphibian produces 'homolateral' movement patterns (moving the arm and leg on the same side of the body simulatneously), this means that the dominant level of the brain of a young child who produces these patterns of movement must be the Pons!

(iii). Because they claim that the dominant level of the brain operating in reptiles is the midbrain and the reptile produces a movement pattern called the 'cross-pattern,' then the young child producing the same pattern of movement, must be operating at the level of the midbrain.

You get where I am going with this?

What seems to be forgotten in this simplistic view of development is that although yes,we do share the same brain structures as species lower in the evolutionary scale, in human beings the functions of those structures have been transformed! According to the proponents of patterning then, because the human cortex developed from the olfactory bulb, human beings must think by smelling! It is patent absolute simplistic nonsense!

The second major belief of many patterning organisations is that of 'individual sequential development.' Put simply, this is the belief that the brain develops in definable stages, from bottom to top and that the brain stage above cannot begin it's development prior to the completed development of the stage below. In this view, beginning from the bottom of the brainstem and working upwards, the first brain structure to develop is the 'medulla oblongata.' The next stage above, - the 'pons' cannot begin it's development until the medulla has completed it's development. The stage above the pons, the 'midbrain,' cannot begin its development until the pons has completed its development. - This apparently continues all the way up to the cortex, which is the final stage of the brain to develop!

This of course is absolute nonsense! We know and can prove that the cerebral cortex exerts a controlling influence even in a newborn baby!

The next claim of some of the patterning organisations is that the brain is under-used; - that we only utilise a small percentage (the claim is usually 10%) of the total capacity of the brain. The proposed implications of this proposed under - use are that even a child who is profoundly brain - injured will possess sufficient spare brain capacity to make recovery of function a viable possibility.

Let's nail this myth!

The idea that we only use 10% of our brains is probably such an enduring myth because it's comforting to think we have spare capacity. The 'unused' 90% could take up the slack after brain injury or offer the possibility for miraculous self-improvement. This flexible factoid has been used not only to sell products to enhance our brain's performance, but also by certain psychics like to explain mystical cutlery bending powers.

Unfortunately the boring, tedious, but unavoidable facts point to this merely being a desirable myth.

Unfortunately there's four good reasons it is false (Beyerstein, 1999):

1. If we only use 10% of our brains then damage to some parts of our brains should have no effect on us. As any neurologist will tell you, this is patently not true.

2. From an evolutionary perspective it is highly unlikely we developed a resource-guzzling organ, of which we only use 10%.

3. Brain imaging such as CAT, PET and fMRI shows that even while asleep there aren't any areas of our brain that completely 'switch off'.

4. Parts of the body that aren't used soon shrivel and die. We know this is also true of the brain, - any neurons we weren't using would soon shrivel and die.

The structure of the brain and its metabolic processes have also been carefully examined, along with the diseases that afflict it. None of this work has suggested there is a hidden 90% that we're not using. Unfortunately.

Anyone who still maintains we only use 10% of our brains after this fusillade of fact has to come up with a counter-argument for each one of these. I see no valid argument to refute these facts!

However there is hope!  Although we have nailed the 10% myth, there is a phenomena called 'neuroplasticity.'  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain, even a damaged brain, to reorganise it's structure and functioning in response to stimulation from the environment. It does this by processes known as 'long term potentiation' and 'long term depression.'  Basically, all this is is the ability of a brain cell to form a new connection to another brain cell, or to prune a connection that is no longer used.  In doing this the brain builds new networks of connectivity called 'neural networks.'  These neural networks then act together to process, modulate and respond to stimulation from the environment.  It is not an overnight phenomena and takes time for the brain to build networks and to respond, but gradually in response to the demand from the environment, new networks are built and a functional response is constructed.  I see this all the time in children who are enrolled on Snowdrop programmes of developmental rehabilitation.

Evidence for the use of patterning.

There is no available evidence to support the use of patterning.

I feel on the basis of the evidence, that the approach to the treatment of brain injury known as 'patterning' can be viewed as being based upon several false premises and an overly simplistic view of brain function and child development.

Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop's work can go to http://www.snowdropcerebralpalsyandautism.com  Or they can email on snowdrop_cdc@btinternet.com

Or you can buy my latest book, 'Brain Injured Children.'

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Conductive Education.

Conductive Education is a system of treatment for which I have a great deal of respect.  It made it's big splash in the UK in the 1980's. I remember seeing children from the UK boarding planes for Budapest to visit the Peto Institute. I also remember one TV interview with a father of one of these children where he called the Peto Institute a 'miracle factory.' Well, what is conductive education and how effective is it in treating children with cerebral palsy?

Conductive education as a system of treatment was founded by Dr Andras Peto, (although it's theoretical underpinnings go back to the great Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky).  It is described as a system for overcoming motor disorder. The goal of the system appears to be the creation of 'orthofunction.' Quite simply, orthofunction is the ability to function independently in the world despite one's underlying disability. (Sutton, 1989).  As such it does not attempt to attack the cause of the disability, - the brain injury, but to promote function despite the effects of the brain injury.

The proponents of conductive education (CE) therefore by definition are not promoting a cure. They are promoting function despite the disability, although Hari (1988), the leader of the Peto Institute speaks of "restoring children to health." - This seems at odds with the concept of orthofunction.

The major principle which underpins CE is that it is an educational approach, it encourages the child to develop through learning. This is a philosophy with which I totally agree and which has a great deal of evidence to support it's use.  However, it seems that the acknowledgement that learning can lead development has an effect upon which children are suitable candidates for selection to receive CE. Children who have no understanding of language, or whose developmental disabilities leave them unable to interact with others, would be judged to be not suitable candidates. Children with severe visual problems, autism and epilepsy would also not be suitable candidates because of the perceived constraints these conditions place upon learning. (Sutton, 1989. Todd, 1990)

So, by the admission of it's founders, Conductive education is not a form of therapy or treatment, rather it is a system of teaching and learning. It consists of several principles, a well known one of which is the ‘task series,’ which I employ in some of Snowdrop's programmes.

A task series is a more complex learning objective, which has been broken down into several simpler sub-tasks, which can be learned one at a time and then combined so that the more complex objective is completed. The way in which this is achieved is that tasks are ‘taught, learned, practiced, generalised and used.’ This philosophy comes directly from the theories of Vygotsky, who asserted that the way in which children learn is to firstly require the assistance of others, (teaching and learning).  When the assistance of others is no longer required, the task can be executed independently and then over time, becomes automatic (practice leading to generalisation).

I would argue that this principle for teaching brain injured children can be applied to a far wider population of children than the proponents of Conductive Education allow for.  If the information or task to be learned can be presented at a level, which is accessible to the child, then we make learning possible in even the most severely injured children.

Another principle of CE is that of rhythmic / verbal intention. This is again taken from Vygotsky’s research at the turn of the twentieth century examining the relationship between inner speech and the development of verbal thought and literacy and has a great deal of evidence to support it's use.  Again this Vygotskian principle is widely used in Snowdrop programmes

In Vygotsky’s observation of young children he noticed that younger than the age of six or seven, children have a tendency to talk to themelves quite a bit. He noticed that even when playing side by side, they would sometimes prefer talking to themselves rather than communicating with each other. Upon closer examination of these self directed conversations, he noticed that the children were actually giving a running commentary on the activities they were involved in. He called this running commentary a ‘personal monologue.’ He noticed that what was in fact happening was that the children were thinking out loud. They were using this verbal thought to monitor, guide and control the activity in which they were involved. He also discovered that by age seven, this verbal thought had disappeared or been ‘internalised’ to become ‘inner speech’ and verbal thought.  He argued that this was an important factor in the child developing the ability to read and write. (As you are reading this page can you not hear your own inner speech?)

Conductive Education takes this outward verbal thought and uses it as a tool to help children to monitor, guide and control developmental tasks and to master tasks, which are essential for daily living and independent function. They call it ‘rhythmic intention.’

Again, this is an excellent, if distorted use of a proven developmental process. The only differences I would have with the proponents of CE is that whereas they tend to focus upon teaching children tasks, which are essential for daily living, I believe its usefulness can be widened to incorporate teaching children with learning difficulties and it can be focused on more areas of development than it currently is!  Indeed I am already doing so!

The final major concept used within CE is that of the group. Group dynamics are harnessed and utilised to motivate the children towards achieving the goals which have been set by the conductor (the instructor who trains each group). In this ‘learning group’ the children not only learn from the conductor, but also from their peers. The advantages of working in a group like this can be seen from the plethora of research which has been carried out on group dynamics. Adherence to group norms and the power of social facilitation can be powerful factors in improving the performance of the individual.

So what does the research say about the success or failure of conductive education in improving the performance of children who suffer developmental difficulties? Well there has been a surprisingly small amount of research carried out on conductive education. Research which has been conducted shows mixed results.  As time goes by however, I feel that research will be able to demonstrate the usefulness of this approach.   I do feel very strongly and I feel that in future I will be able to prove that many of it's principles can be applied to a much wider population of children than it is applied to currently.  Snowdrop programmes are applying these principles now!


Sunday, 22 August 2010

Top Blog Award

This blog has just been awarded the accolade of 'Top cerebral palsy blog of 2010.'  Many thanks, it is much appreciated.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Brain Vision Filter Determines What We Pay Attention To.

One of the final statements of this article states that, "we're going to have to rewrite all the textbooks." Well again, I am not going to have to rewrite my book, because although it was written 18 months before this study was released, it speaks very clearly about the thalamus being hugely involved in the sensory filtering of incoming sensory information in addition to helping the cortex decided what stimulus to ignore and what needs further attention.
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London, October 6 (ANI): Experiments on monkeys have confirmed that the suggestion that a simpler structure in the brain, called the thalamus, contains a mental searchlight that filters what people pay attention to.
Kerry McAlonan and colleagues at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, say that this suggestion was made way back in 1984 by the co-discoverer of DNA Francis Crick.
The thalamus was once thought to be only a highway that connects the eyes to the brain’’s outermost layer and main site of consciousness, the cortex, which is responsible for housing the attention steering mechanisms that sort out all this sensory input.
During the course of the study, the researchers trained three macaque monkeys to pay attention to rectangular spots of light, each about the size of a thumb held up at arm’’s length.
Their results show a quick surge of activity in the part of the thalamus that relays information to the cortex and, a split second later, a drop in activity in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), a satellite structure known to turn off this superhighway of sensory information during sleep.
The researchers think that when one pays attention, the TRN glances at the “images” coming through the thalamus and selectively turns on and off relays to pass on only the bits that deserve attention.
“If the thalamus is the gateway to the cortex, the TRN is the gatekeeper,” New Scientist magazine quoted McAlonan’’s colleague Robert Wurtz, co-author on the paper, as saying.
Sabine Kastner of Princeton University, who has studied the structure in humans, said that the feedback loop emancipates the thalamus from its slavery to the conscious cortex.
“We”re going to have to rewrite all of the textbooks,” she says.
A research article on the study has been published in the journal Nature. (ANI)
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Snowdrop's work with children who experience sensory / perceptual difficulties has been acting upon the principles described in this study for a long time.

Anyone interested in learning more about Snowdrop's work should email snowdrop_cdc@btinternet.com or visit the website by clicking here.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sensory Abnormalities as Distinguishing Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders in young children.

Yet another research finding which supports Snowdrop's approach to the treatment of distortions of sensory processing in autism. 
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The purpose of the study was to explore the sensory profile of young children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum disorder), compared to young children with other developmental delays (DD) at first ASD assessment.

Results found that young children with ASD had more tactile and taste/smell sensitivities and difficulties with auditory filtering than young children with other DD. Moreover, sensory scores were significantly correlated with stereotyped interests and behaviors. (I was talking about the self - stimulatory sensory behaviours of children with autism many moons ago. - AB)

These findings support the hypotheses that young children with ASD show more sensory impairments than young children with other DD and that sensory symptoms are significantly related to stereotyped interests and behaviors. Results also suggest that sensory abnormalities are distinguishing symptoms of ASD.
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Seriously, apart from the fact that I have been saying all this since 1992 and I actually wrote about these problems in my book, 'Autism' in 2007, it is nice to have some actual hard evidence to support what I have been claiming.
This is why the first goal of a Snowdrop programme of developmental stimulation is focussed upon normalising the child's sensory channels.  Very often, when this is successful, the self stimulatory behaviours which are based upon these 'distortions' of sensory processing, die away.  We are after all, what we perceive, and our behaviour reflects our perception.

Anyone interested in learning more about this subject can purchase my book which is available through Amazon by clicking here, or it can be inexpensively downloaded by clicking here.
Anyone interested in Snowdrop programmes of neuro-developmental stimulation should email isnowdrop_cdc@btinternet.com or visit our website at http://www.snowdropcerebralpalsyandautism.com