Saturday, 23 July 2011

Can how a baby cries predict his or her future language skills?

Thanks for this piece of wisdom, which reminds me of the first question on the Snowdrop language development profile.  "Did your child have differentiated cries in response to his / her varying needs?"
According to a Japanese proverb: “A crying child thrives.” A recent studythat examines the complexity of an infant’s cries in relation to his or her language development seems to offer a scientific basis for this folk wisdom.
For babies whose cries exhibited complex melodies by the age of two months, the study, published in the The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal, says the probability of a language delay greatly decreases. Those whose cries were less complex had a greater chance of  language delays by two years.
In addition, the study examined the language development in infants with cleft lip and cleft palate. The findings suggest distinguishing characteristics heard in the cries of those infants with a cleft and those without. This research is important because the findings may offer new treatments to help language development for infants with clefts.
The psychology of crying is nothing new. In study after study, scientists have documented thecatharsis that only a good cry can bring. For infants, crying is the sole form of communication and there are three distinct types: A “basic cry” is a rhythmic pattern consisting of a cry followed by silence; an “anger cry” is similar to a basic cry but with more volume due to the release of excessive air through the infant’s vocal chords; and a “pain cry” is a loud cry followed by periods of breath holding.
Infants also exhibit what is called a “simple cry melody” – a crying arc consisting of a single rise and then a fall. According to researchers, it is the segmentation of these melodies by momentary pauses and respiratory movement that leads to syllable production.
Tell us something we don't know!!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Time-Lapse Imaging Charts The Change Taking Place In Brain Circuitry During Development

Although it annoys me when people refer to autism as a 'disease,' this research in its references to the effect of environmental inputs upon the developing brain, supports everything we do at Snowdrop when we provide programmes of increased environmental stimulation for children who have neuro-developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy and autism.  With thanks to Medical News Today.


Dr. Ed Ruthazer is a mapmaker but, his landscape is the developing brain - specifically the neuronal circuitry, which is the network of connections between nerve cells. His research at The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital - The Neuro at McGill University, reveals the brain as a dynamic landscape where connections between nerves are plastic, changing and adapting to the demands of the environment. Dr. Ruthazer is the winner of the inaugural Young Investigator Award from the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, which recognizes outstanding research achievements. His laboratory uses time-lapse imaging to chart the changes that take place in brain circuitry during development in the hope of advancing treatments for injuries to the central nervous system and therapies for developmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. These diseases are widely held to result from errors in brain wiring due to a disruption of the complex interactions between genetic and environmental influences during brain development. 

Astoundingly, nearly one out of every 100 Canadians suffers from one of these disorders, which have been estimated to cost the Canadian economy over $10 billion annually in addition to inflicting a devastating impact on patients and their families. Two of Dr. Ruthazer's recent publications in prominent science journals advance our knowledge of how the brain develops, which is vital to developing advanced therapies, treatments and even early intervention. 

Nature versus nurture 

His new study, published in the prestigious journal Neuron, vividly illustrates the effect of environmental inputs on the developing brain. Exposure to just 20 minutes of intensive visual stimulation during development led to enhanced visual acuity and higher sensitivity to finer and smaller visual targets than non-conditioned controls. 

"There is no room for inaccuracy in the mature brain," says Dr. Ruthazer. In the developing brain, there is an initial overproduction of imprecise connections between nerve cells. During development and learning, these connections are pruned, leaving connections that are stronger and more specific. This refinement occurs in response to inputs from the environment. "Our study shows that intense visual stimulation renders nerve cells more receptive to subsequent learning and refinement." 

Importantly, Dr. Ruthazer's group identified the molecular mechanisms underlying the changes in the nervous system. Environmental stimulation activates the production of a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, which plays a major role in the plasticity of neurons and has two forms: proBDNF facilitates the weakening of inaccurate or poorly targeted connections and mature BDNF strengthens appropriate, effective connections. In this case, in response to environmental activity, these processes led to refinement of nerve cell connections involved in the visual system and required for visual acuity. "This indicates that sensory experience during development leads to rapid production of key proteins used at nerve cell connections to confer long-term stability and increased efficacy at appropriate connection points, while simultaneously helping to eliminate inappropriate connections." 


Anyone wanting more information about the Snowdrop programme should email or visit the Snowdrop website.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Brain Needs Vitamin C to Function

Personally, I think it is just a bit of a 'leap' to assume that just because GABA receptors in the retina function better with high doses of vitamin C, that this automatically applies to the rest of the brain. However, GABA receptors do supply inhibition so it would be interesting to see what effect vitamin C had on some children on the Snowdrop programme.

Nerve cells in the eye require vitamin C in order to function properly — a surprising discovery that may mean vitamin C is required elsewhere in the brain for its proper functioning, according to a study by scientists at Oregon Health & Science Univ. recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"We found that cells in the retina need to be 'bathed' in relatively high doses of vitamin C, inside and out, to function properly," says Henrique von Gersdorff, a senior scientist at OHSU's Vollum Institute and a co-author of the study. "Because the retina is part of the central nervous system, this suggests there's likely an important role for vitamin C throughout our brains, to a degree we had not realized before."

The brain has special receptors, called GABA-type receptors, that help modulate the rapid communication between cells in the brain. GABA receptors in the brain act as an inhibitory "brake" on excitatory neurons in the brain. The OHSU researchers found that these GABA-type receptors in the retinal cells stopped functioning properly when vitamin C was removed.

Because retinal cells are a kind of very accessible brain cell, it's likely that GABA receptors elsewhere in the brain also require vitamin C to function properly, von Gersdorff says. And because vitamin C is a major natural antioxidant, it may be that it essentially 'preserves' the receptors and cells from premature breakdown, von Gersdorff says.

The function of vitamin C in the brain is not well understood. In fact, when the human body is deprived of vitamin C, the vitamin stays in the brain longer than anyplace else in the body.
"Perhaps the brain is the last place you want to lose vitamin C," von Gersdorff says. The findings also may offer a clue as to why scurvy — which results from a severe lack of vitamin C — acts the way it does, von Gersdorff says. One of the common symptoms of scurvy is depression, and that may come from the lack of vitamin C in the brain.

The findings could have implications for other diseases, like glaucoma and epilepsy. Both conditions are caused by the dysfunction of nerve cells in the retina and brain that become over excited in part because GABA receptors may not be functioning properly.

"For example, maybe a vitamin C-rich diet could be neuroprotective for the retina — for people who are especially prone to glaucoma," von Gersdorff says. "This is speculative and there is much to learn. But this research provides some important insights and will lead to the generation of new hypotheses and potential treatment strategies."

Source: Oregon Health and Science Univ.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

USU study promotes reading without words

This research will feed directly into Snowdrop's programmes of developmental stimulation for children with developmental disabilities. 

With thanks to Megan Bowen

Language development is extremely important for children at an early age, which is why professors and students at Utah State University have conducted a study to help promote parent involvement in their child’s development.

This stemmed from a larger study, funded by the Department of Education, that focused on using “Family Book Making” to help parents deal with their child’s development delays. This particular study looked more closely at how mothers read to their children. Lisa Boyce, USU’s Interim Executive for Family Consumer and Human Development, was involved with the study and she said they found that mothers and children talked a lot more to each other when they were reading books without words.

Student researchers went into homes of participants and taped the interaction between mother and child while reading books with texts, and books without. Boyce said their hypothesis going into these homes was that parents would ask more questions and be more responsive to their children.

“Mothers were just talking a lot more, more back and forth communication, more responsive to what their children were saying,” Boyce said. “We got excited and looked at more videos to see if it was just a one time thing, and it wasn’t.”

Students presented their findings at a national conference, and Boyce said they are now working on getting it published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The literacy level of the parents doesn’t come into play in these scenarios and Boyce said that is something she is most excited about. She said parents can just pick up the books and talk about the pictures.

“They are able to follow the child’s lead which is important,” she said, “because if a child is interested in something, they are paying closer attention.”

This is something that parents do naturally and it is a good strategy to promote children’s language no matter what level they are at, Boyce said. The study focused on two year olds that were all were receiving early delayed development therapy. The majority of children had speech and language delays.

Language growth that is so critical early on in a child’s life, comes from interacting and talking to their parents, Boyce said. Children naturally have short attention spans, but she said when parents pause and ask questions about what they think will happen next, they are more likely to pay attention longer.

Most students who participated in this study were undergraduates at USU, and one student used this study for her master’s project. She said they were all really excited to follow through with their first thoughts to their data and research. Boyce said she will be incorporating these findings in her classroom, and the application of this study is what will continue on.

“The students have done a wonderful job. Just being in the family’s homes is just a rich opportunity for them to see beyond the text books and journals and apply it to real life,” Boyce said.

The research group will submit their findings in the Fall to be reviewed.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


I regularly get asked the question, "Can you guarantee that your programme will help my child." In fact I have faced this question twice this week. I understand from where the question arises and why, but unfortunately I cannot ever guarantee a thing.

I understand that parents have many concerns when looking around for therapy. One of these concerns is the number of disingenuous people out there who are prepared to give parents false hope. I will never do this and I am always honest and direct with my answer to the question, which is, "I don't know."

As a parent, I took my own son to clinics around the globe. Some were run by people genuinely trying to help families, whilst it later transpired that others were run by people who were less genuine, only serving their own interests. Only a couple of years ago, the founder member of one of the clinics where I took my son, was jailed for fraud.  He and an accomplice were raising money ostensibly for their charity, but really for themselves. How low is it possible to get, to siphon money destined for the treatment of brain injured children away from where it was intended, and to use it for your own personal gain. My family paid this man thousands of pounds in treatment fees and raised even more money to help his 'clinic.' When I heard what he had done, I felt used and betrayed.

I remember taking my son to the US, where we attended a clinic which appeared to promise miracles. Apparently, 27% of all brain injured children were 'normalised' by this clinic, - according to their own statistics. Again, this is an internationally renowned clinic, which on the outside looks slick, professional and beyond reproach.  However, the internet is a powerful tool for the truth and in this case it yet again uncovers the facts. There is NO brain injured child, who has EVER been 'normalised' by this or any other programme.

There are also other therapy centres throughout the world who are treating brain injured children on a woeful lack of qualifications and experience.  Here is one infamous example. - It turns out that back in the middle of the last century, these guys opened their own university, awarded themselves doctorates and opened their own clinic. Only in America!  There is also a clinic in the UK, where the highest qualification of the therapy staff is a degree in zoology!!!!  How that relates to neuroscience or child development is a question which I have not yet asked.

So, I understand why parents ask the question of me and I don't mind at all.  Parents are understandably wary of falling into the same traps which I fell into. All I would say in response is that these are the very reasons I set up Snowdrop. It is a response to the under-qualified, grandiose claim making disingenuous people and it is a response to the 'money go round.'  The people who charge thousands of pounds to parents and who's theories of brain function are sometimes quite frankly laughable.  If the area in which I work was effectively regulated and licensed, some of these people simply would not be able to operate.

I am a Dad myself and I have suffered most, if not all the stresses and traumas which you are suffering. My motivations are born of my own experience and caring for my own son. I don't seek profit and I don't seek notoriety. I cannot cure your child, but in many cases I do make a difference. There are parents out there who will testify that their child can now see because of my programme, or their child can now crawl, or talk.  Not a bad set of achievements, because Snowdrop is still young.  I also occasionally see children where progress is slower and I am honest enough to tell you that here.

 We still do not understand all that goes on inside a human brain. One day we will and that will be the day when I will know why a programme has more success with one child than it does the next. When we have that knowledge, we will be able to redesign the programme for the children where it has failed, so that it succeeds.  At the moment I am left to wonder in awe at an operating system, such as the human brain, which has one hundred billion operating units, (each capable of making up to ten thousand connections) and to try to calculate why!

Until the great day when such a system can be completely understood, there can be no guarantees!  What parents should do however is to very carefully check the track record of anyone who treats their child, in terms of their background, their experience and their qualifications.  If your child was ill, would you allow someone to treat them who didn't have a medical license?