TRUE STORY: The Hiatus is Over!


Has it been a year already? NO! It can’t be that long since the last post!

After over a year of not writing, we are BACK! We have been busy with projects of immense application of Execu-Sensory and Neuropedagogy principles around numerous families (and cities), we have taken back to the sharing and contributing our experiences to the journal.

What we can confirm while starting application projects and coordinating with educators, therapists and families is this: we are not done learning yet. Neuroplasticity has given us the avenues to demonstrating and imparting information on the endless possibilities of connections. We collectively are creating untraditional tools and schools of thought that, if given consistency in attention and care, will be self-sufficient in their evolution. A self-starting collective body of work expanding slowly while nurturing their brains in the process.

Another thing we can confirm is this: whatever it was that we had learned from a year ago, we have now pruned to a much more dynamic body of work. What was once the gold standard of bringing brain science into the classroom is in silver place — we have evolved and unlearned as professionals both educationally and therapeutically. We can say with conviction, for example, without a person’s state-to-temperament emotional regulation in check, neurotransmission of any kind of cognitive information is haphazard at best. Deep Brain Learning is risking, and risking requires commitment outside of Pre-Frontal Cortex comfort zones.

We have older brains, but we have richer connections. We have decided that in the long run, we will proceed to be non-neurotypical with our writing so you can appreciate the discoveries we stumble upon. Check out some of the newest people and organizations we have been working with:

Pathways Children’s Services – New York City

Pathways NYC Writers on WordPress

We will be writing again soon. Stay Tuned ESNPers.

See this case study published online at the International Brain Injury Neurotrauma newsletter for June 2015!


Authors: Dechantal C. V. Montano, OTR/L, Sara T. Naegele, MS Ed,  Ronald C. Savage, Ed.D.


Children with acquired brain injuries face an array of cognitive, behavioral, and sensory-motor problems.   In particular, many of these children have problems with sensory processing, which, in turn, interfere with their neuro-development. Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that exists when sensory signals do not get organized into appropriate responses. Dr. A. Jean Ayres (Ayres, 2005), an occupational therapist and developmental psychologist, pioneered work in sensory integration dysfunction in the 1960s. She proposed that in order to function the brain needed to receive and interpret sensory information correctly using a seven-sense sensory system, which includes the tactile, visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, vestibular and proprioception systems. She likened sensory dysfunction to a neurological “traffic jam” because problems occur when sensory input is not processed or misrouted in the brain. “SPD is not one specific disorder…but rather an umbrella term to cover a variety of neurological disabilities,” explains Carol Kranowitz (Kranowtiz, 2005), an educator and expert in sensory processing and integration. Children with SPD, especially children with acquired brain injuries, will find it difficult to process and act upon information received through their senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Learning difficulties, motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.

SPD is not presently recognized as a distinct and separate group of disorders in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V but is recognized as occurring in individuals with other neurological disorders. Most research to date involving SPD has involved individuals with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Few isolated studies on how Sensory Processing Disorder manifests as an image of brain dysfunction have been conducted. This could be in part because its existence as a separate and distinct neurological disability is still quite controversial. According to a recent policy statement put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the amount of research regarding the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy is limited and inconclusive,” (2015). However, Owen et al. (2013) in a landmark study showed that children who met criteria only for sensory processing disorder have anatomical differences in their brain structure than children who do not present with sensory processing difficulties. Owen and her colleagues at The University of California San Francisco found that children affected specifically with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have abnormal white matter microstructure. This is the first time that a biological basis for the disease, which sets it apart from other neuro-developmental disorders has been found. According to the researchers, one of the reasons SPD has been overlooked until now is that it often occurs in children who also have ADHD or autism. This study also shows that SPD may in fact be a distinct disorder that affects individuals with and without other neurological disabilities. Therefore, more research into this disorder as well as treatment for this disorder needs to be further explored in other populations.

As mentioned above, the common pediatric conditions of study with Sensory Processing Disorder are Autism and ADHD; therefore, the uniqueness of this study is that it focuses on SPD in a population other than those previously studied. The subject is a 14-year-old female who has had early biological insults to the developing brain via infantile stroke and the condition Electrical Status Epilepticus of Sleep (ESES). This is a rare form of epilepsy that produces subclinical (unseen) seizures during sleep. This type of epilepsy is characterized by the presence of generalized 1-3 Hz spike-wave discharges occupying 85% or more of the EEG of non-REM sleep. Overall, she presents with a neuro-developmental disorder due to an acquired brain injury (ABI) occurring both in utero and continuously due to the ESES. Ungerleider (1995) states “recent functional brain imaging studies in humans indicate that learning and memory involve many of the same regions of the cortex that process sensory information and control motor output.” This study shows that there is a potential for a positive correlation between SPD, learning and memory.      Furthermore, findings from a study by Tarapore et al (2013) support the hypothesis since “disruption of the long-range communication between brain regions, as measured by reductions in functional connectivity, would be found in patients [with TBI] compared with matched controls.” The results from this study and Owen et al show that both individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and SPD have reduced connectivity between brain regions. Therefore, SPD could be a prevalent issue either dependent or independent of the brain injury for individuals with ABI; subsequently, the intervention for SPD could be effective for individuals with ABI.

Given the lack of research in the area of SPD for acquired brain injury populations coupled with the researchers’ combined therapeutic and educational experiences an interest was taken into studying the relationship between increased sensory processing skills and academic achievement for a 14-year-old female with infantile stroke and Electrical Status Epilepticus of Sleep (ESES) among other neurological disorders. The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between an increase in sensory processing alertness/engagement and academic achievement for a subject with neuro-developmental disorders specifically ESES. Since there was evidence that Sensory Processing Disorder was indeed a neuro-developmental brain disorder, and manifested in a neurologically similar way as ABI, it was hypothesized that the similarities between the deficit manifestations could respond to an external intervention previously used for individuals with SPD and ultimately improve cognition and learning. As previously stated very few studies have been conducted to investigate this theory; however, Polatajko et al (1991) found that a sensory integrative intervention was as effective as perceptual-motor training,  “when administered for 1 hour, once a week, for 6 months…in improving academic and motor performance in children with learning disabilities associated with SI dysfunction.”

Subject Background
The subject was internationally adopted at seven months old. Her hospital records contained insufficient documentation of parental pre-adoption history; however, according to medical records, her weight was reported to be 700 grams, and she had APGAR scores of 3, 5, and 5. Her hospital birth records noted the amniotic fluid smelled fetid.  It was later that an analysis of an MRI of her brain indicated interruption in blood flow to the brain. This occurred at approximately the 23rd week of gestation.  Based upon a CT scan taken at 9 months, doctors estimated she had lost approximately 30 percent of brain matter. Subject’s current head circumference is 43.3 cm, which is considered to be in the first percentile for a 20-month-old girl and indicates microcephaly.Her motor and cognitive developmental milestones were all delayed or never occurred.  In regards to her gross motor development, her records indicated that she began standing alone while holding onto a stable object at 3.5 years; she began to walk independently on a flat surface at 4.5 years, and was able to navigate stairs with assistance at 6.5 years. In regards to her cognitive development with a focus on communication, her records indicated, she was interested and attracted to sound at 7 months, she spoke her first word at 3 years, she spoke unintelligible words and phrases at 9 years, and began speaking in some intelligible short simple sentences in combination with a high-tech communication device at 13 years.

When initial researchers’ interventions with the subject began, formal education had stopped for an entire academic year. The subject was instead receiving traditional out-patient therapies (OT, PT, and speech), and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Training for her Dynavox device for approximately 20 hours each week.

Researchers gathered baseline academic achievement through scores indicated on her Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from September 2013. The scores were taken from an independent psycho-education evaluation. Additionally, modified testing using the Brigance Inventory of Early Development III (2013) was completed in order to corroborate results specified in her IEP. Tests included: color identification, identifies uppercase letters, identifies basic personal information, rote counting, reads words from common signs, word recognition grade placement test (modified). Subject responded to questions utilizing her AAC device and verbal responses to closed questioning. Additionally, researchers collected baseline sensory systems data. Both cognitive and sensory intervention was delivered in school and home with participation of medical, educational and technical staff.

Research clinicians used an experimenter designed 7-sense diet and tracking sheet to measure outcomes from the Experimenter Sensory Diet, based on the sensory diet theory from research conducted on subjects with sensory defensiveness by Occupational Therapist Patricia Wilbarger in 1991. “A sensory diet is a form of a home program intervention plan that incorporates organizing sensory input, or utilizes already existing sensory input, into everyday life in order to assist the person to maintain a regulated behavioral state, such as the calm, alert state required during certain school activities (Wilbarger, 1991). Multiple sensory diet strategies may be implemented at regular intervals throughout the day. In particular, these strategies may be performed prior to times that may be considered challenging, in order to prepare or set up the body to maintain an organized state throughout the activity, or they may also be used during activities in order to assist the client to maintain an organized state throughout the activity (Williams & Shellenberger, 1994). In this study, the diet tracking sheets were designed by the research clinicians to measure the observable sensory strategies via Levels of Engagement (LoE) and Levels of Alertness (LoA) on a 5-point scale, and were recorded by a trained technician on specific diet adjustments dependent upon the various phases of the research.

Direct Instruction coupled with aspects of strategy-instruction was utilized during individual/small group instruction. Glang et al (1991) found that after 12 hours of direct instruction, “both Subject made substantial academic progress in their targeted instructional areas.” Direct Instruction is a teacher-directed method of instruction in which cognitive skills are broken down into very basic components and explicitly taught. “Specific techniques include: breaking down the instructions and tasks into small steps, teaching modeling of skill or task, administering feedback repeatedly…allowing independent practice and individually paced instruction. “ In addition, aspects of Strategy Instruction such as “verbal modeling, questioning, reminders to use strategies or procedures,” (Sohlberg, M, et al, 2005) were utilized. Direct Instruction was utilized because it is one of the only researched methods of instruction shown to be effective in teaching Subjects with Acquired Brain Injury.  Glang et al (2008) concluded in a literature review that “Two instructional approaches—Direct Instruction and cognitive strategy intervention—have significant evidence supporting their use with many populations of children, with and without disabilities, and address many of the common needs and learning characteristics of Subjects with TBI, thus showing particular promise for these Subjects.”

Review of Process
Modified 7- sense (visual, tactile, auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive, olfactory, and gustatory) sensory diets were assigned in three phases: The Introductory Phase, The Second Phase (Extremity-Specific Phase), and The Third Phase (Subject Initiation Phase). In the first 4 months, diets were implemented up to 6 times a day on the subject (Head, Upper and Lower Extremities). During the next 8 months, diets were scaled back and implemented to 3 times a day.

During all of the phases, a modified 7-sense tracking sheet was aligned to the specific extremity and the protocol order with (Levels of Alertness) LoA and Levels of Engagement (LoE). Likert Scales for LoA and LoE were developed by the researchers and attached to the protocol.  LoA were measured as: 1 (deep sleep); 2 (sleepy/intentional eye closure), 3 (calm/neutral/awake); 4 (wide-awake); and 5 (hyper-active). LoE were measured as: 1 (unengaged); 2 (engaged 25%); 3 (engaged 50%); 4 (engaged 75%); 5 (engaged 100%). In addition, pictures accompanied each Likert demarcation for added clarity of the descriptions.

In the Introductory Phase, a Proximo-distal, hierarchical arrangement of the sensory protocol was performed on both upper and lower extremities at one session.  The hierarchical arrangement included, in order: modified milking massage (15 repetitions on every extremity), modified Wilbarger brushing (unidirectional, from proximal to distal, 15 repetitions on every extremity with moderate pressure), localized extremity joint vibration with battery-operated 4 prong Homemedics handheld massager (Proximal to distal: UE shoulder, elbow, wrist; LE hip, knee, ankle, 15 counts per joint), modified auditory integration program (50% volume on source, Sound Health Series mix, Sennheiser Closed 202 headphones). Each sensory diet lasted between 15 to 30 minutes in total length.  Each part of the diets was labeled and defined to the subject by provider prior, during and after the diet was completed. This lasted for the first 3 months.

The Second Phase was a division of the Introductory Phase into extremity-specific sessions. One 15- 30-minute session would be dedicated to the Upper Extremity protocol; another 15-30 minute session would be dedicated to the Lower Extremity protocol. Both types would use the modified Auditory Integration Therapy respectively. Diets lasted between 15 to 30 minutes in total length, and these were repeated up to three (3) times a day respectively. Diets were labeled and defined by provider prior, during and after the diet was completed. This was initiated immediately after the Introductory Phase, the next 3 months.

The Third Phase required Subject determination and use of communication strategies embedded in her AAC device. The provider would inquire what body extremity (UE/LE or R/L), and what specific diet was preferred. Diets lasted between 15 to 30 minutes in total length, and these were repeated up to five (5) times a day respectively.  Diets were labeled and defined by Subject choice prior, during and after the diet was completed. This came immediately after the Second Phase, the last 3 months.

Direct Instruction coupled with aspects of strategy-instruction was utilized during individual/small group instruction. The aspects of strategy-instruction included verbal modeling, questioning, and verbal reminders to use support strategies. When subject mastered content with at least 80% accuracy over five consecutive sessions, new topics were introduced. Previous skills were consistently revisited during the first five minutes of lessons as well as incorporated into lessons when applicable to the new skill being taught. Subject’s academic program took place five days a week and consisted of two-three formal 30-minute individual or small group  (2-3 Subjects) periods, and two formal 30-minute whole group (6 Subjects) periods over the course of 480 minutes per day for 12 months.

Post-Test academic achievement and sensory processing was taken one year after baseline. Post-Test academic achievement was taken again via an independent psycho-educational testing and modified Brigance testing which was completed in October 2014. Brigance testing included: knows personal information, Identifies parts of the body, word recognition grade placement test, counts by rote, reading comprehension grade placement, recognizes quantity, understands qualitative concepts, identifies common signs, reads words from common signs, recognizes quantity, adds numbers, subtracts numbers, multiplies numbers, divides numbers. Subject responded to both assessments utilizing a combination of AAC device, open and close verbal questioning and a touch screen device.  A case study by Kirsch, et al (2004) concluded, “ATC interventions can facilitate functional performance and contribute to learning of specific adaptive skills. Wireless, interactive, Web-based interventions appear particularly suited to tasks in the home and community, permitting remote intervention and monitoring of task status.”

At baseline, the subject presented with aversion to the diet protocol (0% for both levels of engagement and alertness). The subject required maximal technical assistance for 2 months (October-November 2013) prior to responding positively to the diet protocol; the protocol was narrowed from a 7 sense to a 5 sense during this time period to accommodate the subject’s sensory processing needs as recorded by the technician on the LoA and LoE tracking sheets. From December 2013 to January 2014, a segmented protocol was introduced, also known as phase-two, to isolate sense stimulation with the head and extremity stimulation. From February 2014-May 2014, the subject continued with phase 2 and the technician recorded trends of responses.

It was also noted at baseline that the subject tested at a pre-kindergarten level for word recognition and kindergarten level for computation. Results corroborated with the independent psycho-education evaluation.

Evidence from assessments demonstrated a positive correlation between increased and consistent levels of alertness and engagement during improvements in segmented diets and academic achievement.

Post-Testing Sensory Diet Tracking results in May-June 2014 showed the subject to be alert at level 3 (calm/neutral/awake) for 86.7% and at level 2 (sleepy, intentional eye-closure) for 13.3% of the recorded sessions. The tracking sheets also showed the subject to be engaged at level 4 (engaged for 75% of the activity) for 68.3%, at level 3 (engaged for 50% of the activity) for 26.7% and at a level 2(engaged for 25% of the activity) for 5% of the recorded sessions. This is in comparison to the results from baseline upon introduction of the protocol for which the subject responded aversively and therefore was reported to be at 0%.

In addition, post-testing cognitive results via the modified Brigance testing had subject at a 3rd grade level on word recognition and computation (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), in comparison to subject’s baseline testing which was respectively at a Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten level.

Based on the results, this case study shows a positive correlation between increased sensory processing alertness/engagement and increased academic achievement when sensory diets are administered. It is showing a significant change in percentage of optimal alertness and engagement for this 14-year old with neuro-developmental disorder specifically ESES Subject who displayed an 87% LoA (wide awake) and 68% LoE (engaged 75%) in the sensory diet protocol with an improvement in performance in modified Brigance testing from a Pre-K work recognition to 3rd grade, and K Comp to 3rd grade. This reveals a 4 and 3-grade level jump, respectively, over the course of one year. This case study validates the hypothesis that increased sensory processing alertness/engagement plays a part in increasing academic achievement in an adolescent female with neuro-developmental disorder specifically ESES.

This study utilized a single-subject design, which strengthens the internal validity of the study; however decreases the external validity of the study as it is not generalizable to other individuals within this population as it only pertains to the change evidenced with this particular subject. Furthermore, it needs to be noted that additional traditional therapies, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy including augmentative and alternative communication therapy as well as modified conductive education, a program designed for children with motor dysfunction, which integrates education and rehabilitation into one program with the goal of achieving ortho-function–the capacity of individuals to respond to biological and social demands (Darrah, 2003)–were performed throughout the Subject’s day, which decreases the internal validity of the study as these interventions were not controlled for and may have played a role in her overall increase in academic achievement.

However, the results of this study indicate that a comorbidity of SPD and subsequent interventions for SPD need to be further explored for individuals with ABI as a way to increase sensory processing and academic achievement. Further work on the efficacy of sensory processing skills needs to be studied within a clinical based setting to determine if the benefits are generalizable to other children within this population as well other populations. Future studies should control for factors including but not limited to therapeutic interventions and duration of interventions on a daily basis.

Finally, according to a recent policy statement put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the amount of research regarding the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy is limited and inconclusive,” (2015). Therefore, more clinical based research regarding SPD as a distinct diagnosis and as a co-morbidity with the ABI population needs to be conducted in clinical based settings in order to address the controversy and limitations surrounding diagnosis and interventions for SPD either as a distinct or co-morbid diagnosis. This case study and the few that proceeded serve as first step in a relatively unexplored field that stands to yield significant benefits for both individuals with and without ABI.

Ayres, A. Jean. (2005). Sensory integration and the child. Torrance, CA: Western Psychological

Brigance, Albert H. (2013). The inventory of early development III. North Billerica, MA:
Curriculum Associates, LLC.

Darrah, Johanna et al. (2003). Effects of conductive education intervention for children with a
diagnosis of cerebral palsy: an AACPDM evidence report.

Glang, Ann et al. “Using Direct Instruction with Brain Injured Subjects.” Direct Instruction News.
Fall 1991: 23-28.

Glang, Ann et al. (2008). Validated instructional practices: applications to Subjects with    traumatic brain injury. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 23(4), 243-251.

Kinnealey, M., Oliver, B., & Wilbarger, P. (1995). A phenomenological study of sensory defensiveness in adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy49(5), 444-451.

Kirsch, Ned, L. et al. (2004). Web-based assistive technology interventions for cognitive

impairments after traumatic brain injury: a selective review and two case studies. Rehabilitation Psychology, 49(3), 200-211.  

Kranowitz, Carol S. (2005). The out-of-sync- child: recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Owen, Julie, P. et al. (2013). Abnormal white matter microstructure in children with sensory
processing disorders. NeuroImage: Clinical, 2, 844-853.

Polatajko, Helene, J. et al. (1991). The effect of a sensory integration program on academic achievement, motor performance, and self-esteem in children identified as learning disabled: results of a clinical trial. The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 11(3), 155-176.

Shellenberger, S., & Williams, M. (2002). How does your engine run?. The Alert Program for self-regulation. In A. Bundy, S. Lane, E. Murray (Eds.), Sensory integration: Theory and practice, 342-345.  

Sohlberg, McKay, M. et al. (2005). Instructional techniques in cognitive rehabilitation: a  preliminary report. Seminars in Speech and Language, 26(5).  268-279.

Tarapore, Phiroz E., (2013). Resting state magnetoencephalography functional connectivity   in traumatic brain injury. Journal of Neurosurgery. 118(6), 1306-1316.

Ungerleider, Leslie, G. 1995. Functional brain imaging studies of cortical mechanisms for memory. Science, 270(5237), 769-775.

Wilbarger, J., & Wilbarger, P. (2002). Clinical application of the sensory diet. Sensory integration: Theory and practice. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: FA Davis Company, 339-341.

True Stories: “There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go. ” – Tennessee Williams

I walked over to the shell-shocked boy. He was in his 3rd grade ELA class but it was evident that he was not concentrating on the lesson.

“Are you alright, Peter?”stagesofgrief

He shrugged his shoulders, but he didn’t look at me. His face was turning sullen, and it was becoming clearer to me that it finally hit him; the words finally settled in and shock was quickly turning into disbelief.

“I guess…I guess, I’m more sad really,” and he shrugged his shoulders again and his face, slowly flustered, gave way to tears.

I gave his shoulders a squeeze. The last thing he needed was for everyone to see the mix of emotions his body was displaying, turning up the confusion that had occurred with the staff hours earlier.

I whispered in his ear, “Let’s step outside for a moment.” He stood up and followed me into the hallway. By the time he stepped outside his door, he broke down into silent sobs. It was clear to me, he finally fully processed what had just happened into the last fifteen minutes.

“I am feeling very, very sad. I spent four years in this school!!”

th82K68TPH“I know, Peter, I can imagine this is very difficult for you,” and pulled into a bear hug. He felt comfortable enough to let his defenses down and feel vulnerable; nothing else mattered than the feeling of loss and change he knew was about to happen whether he  liked it or not. Or whether he had a say about the change to begin with.

Earlier in the day, I was doing my student rounds when my support coordinator  warned me that three siblings I see may not finish the  last 14 days of school.

“How come?”

“Well you know how they have been trying to find permanent housing? I think they finally got placed however it is not close to the school.”

“Oh wow. Are we  talking about an outer borough? Long Island?”

“Worse.  Staten Island.  They told me this morning that the commute was terrible. I am hoping they would finish the last two weeks of school.”

“I hope so too. I mean, there are three siblings here… may as well get this school year to end properly with them.”

That conversation was three hours ago… and now a sobbing Peter just had his whole world come crashing down. His father came in the afternoon and single handedly made the decision: the commute was not worth the years invested by the  kids in the school. Without proper notice, he went into his kids’ classrooms, tapped them on their shoulders and whispered: “You’re not coming back here tomorrow, do you understand??”

Fast forward to the hallway,  I released Peter from the hug. I could see he needed something or someone more than what I could give him.

“Would you like to see your counselor? Talk things through with her?”departure

He nodded. I walked with him in the noisy hallway, his head was down as he passed the lower grades. When we got to the to the counselor’s office, I could tell she was expecting him.   And with that, I gave Peter one final hug and whispered, “It may not seem like it now, but this is going to feel better somehow.”

Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation Abstract May/June 2015 Publication!

Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation
doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000150
Original Articles: Abstracts

North American Brain Injury Societys 12th Annual Conference on Brain Injury

Silver, Jonathan MD; Ziejewski, Mariusz PhD


0018 A Case Study on the Relationship Between Sensory Processing Skills and Academic Achievement in a 14 year old Female With Electrical Status Epilepticus During Sleep (ESES)

Category: Neurorehabilitation- Case report/Clinical Research

Author’s preference: Oral

Dechantal Montano, Sara Naegele

ESNP Educational Consulting, Brooklyn, NY, USA


This case study shows a relationship between increased sensory processing skills and academic achievement for a 14-year-old female with infantile stroke and electrical status epilepticus of sleep (ESES) among other disorders. The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between an increase in sensory processing alertness/engagement and academic achievement for a student with ESES.


An independent psychoeducational evaluation, modified Brigance Testing, and 7-sense diet tracking were used to gather baseline data. Diet measured levels of engagement (LoE) and alertness (LoA) on a 5 point scale. Modified 7- sense sensory diets were implemented up to 6 times a day in the first 4 months lasting for 15-30 minutes, and up to 3 times a day for the last 8 months. The academic program was two to three formal 30-minute individual, or small group, periods, and two formal 30-minute whole group periods for 12 months. A direct instruction model was used. Post-test academic and sensory processing achievement was measured one year after baseline was determined.


At baseline, the student presented with sn aversion to the diet protocol (0% for both LoE and LoA). The student tested at the pre-kindergarten level for word recognition and computation and kindergarten level for rote counting. For post-testing the student had to be alert 86.7% at level 3 (calm, neutral/neutral/awake) and 13.3% at level 2 (sleepy, intentional eye-closure) and engaged 68.3% at level 4 (engaged for 75% of the activity), 26.7% at level 3 (engaged for 50% of the activity) and 5% at a level 2 (engaged for 25% of the activity). Modified Brigance-Testing had her at 3rd grade on word recognition and computation (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).


This case study shows positive correlation between increased sensory processing alertness/engagement and academic achievement when sensory diets are administered. Increased sensory processing alertness/engagement plays a part in increasing academic achievement in children with ESES. Please note that additional therapies were performed throughout the student’s day and may have played a role in her overall increase in academic achievement. Further work on the efficacy of sensory processing skills needs to be studied within a clinical based setting to determine if the benefits are generalized to other children within this population, as well as to other populations.

Electromagnets and the Servings of Hope

So got the latest iPhone and accessories? That will definitely speed productivity and social connections. Do you have children who are electronically savvy with these devices? Depending on who is doing the research, there may be a mixed bag of OOOHS and OH NOOOs.

EMF1Here we explain. Most of our speedy, high tech devices are powered by Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs). Cindy Sage, MA, and Nancy Evans, BS explain in their handout prepared for a website called Healthy Schools in 2011 in detail the kinds of EMFs that we encounter everyday:

Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) are generated from appliances and other items that  use electricity (power frequency fields).

Radiofrequency (RF-EMF) is generated by wireless technologies such as cellular and cordless phones.

“Dirty electricity” is a term used to describe low kilohertz frequency fields that can be thought of as an unintentional RF pollutant on electrical wiring and into living space. Power is “dirty” or polluted when it contains the high frequency signals flowing through overloaded wires, and not just the clean 60 Hz power that’s created at the source.

We are all aware of the benefits of modernization and upgrading to the latest gadgetry. We are able to cram as much work/leisure/information as possible in the shortest amount of time. It improves productivity, increases quantity of life skills, and promotes connectivity only science fiction writers used to dream about.  Ironically (good or bad), in 2010 MIT neuroscientists have now shown they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region — a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality. The researchers, led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT assistant professor
of brain and cognitive sciences disrupted activity brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp.  The researchers used a noninvasive technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to selectively interfere with brain activity in the right TPJ. The magnetic field applied to a small area of the skull creates weak electric currents that impede nearby brain cells’ ability to fire normally, but the effect is only temporary.

They found that the subjects’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions was impaired. The researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.

So EMFs literally can assist in changing our minds, literally. How about our health? And our young people’s development?

A report commissioned by T-Mobile and Deutsche Telecom MobilNet GmbH prepared in 2000 reviews effects such as gene toxicity, cellular processes, effects on the immune system, central nervous system, hormone systems and connections with cancer and infertility. This was utilized by the Commonwealth Club of California’s Program on Health Effects of Cell Phones, Wireless Technologies & Electromagnetic Fields With Leading Experts in November 2010.

In their study, Dr Kerstin Hennies, Dr H.‐Peter Neitzke and Dr Hartmut Voigt in behalf of the Telecom companies found:

1. Given the results of the present epidemiological studies, it can be concluded that electromagnetic fields with frequencies in the mobile telecommunications range do play a role in the development of cancer. This is particularly notable for tumours of the central nervous system, for which there is only the one epidemiological study so far, examining the actual use of mobile phones.

2. Damaging effects on the immune system which can aid the development of illnesses as demonstrated higher secretions of stress hormones in humans.

3. Effects of high frequency electromagnetic fields on the central nervous system are proven for intensities well below the current guidelines.

4. The terms ‘electrosensitivity’ or ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ describe disturbances of well‐being and impairments of health, such as they are suffered by certain sensitive people when working with or being in the presence of devices and equipment emitting electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic fields.

They also conclude: “A particular problem in this exposure group is posed by children and adolescents, not only because their organism is still developing and therefore particularly susceptible, but also because many cp-radiationadolescents have come to be the most regular users of mobile phones. Advertising towards this population group should be banned. Furthermore, particular efforts should be made to lower the exposures during calls. It would be recommendable to conduct (covert) advertising campaigns propagating the use of headsets. It would also be important to develop communications and advertising aiming at minimising the exposures created by carrying mobile phones in standby mode on the body.”

That was in 2000. That is not the case in 2015. Covert would not be the word for the in-your-hand ads aimed to the youngest demographic possible (e.g. no more teen data overages…hint hint). So what to do?

Here’s the practical, scientific approach recommended by experts: Use a corded phone (land line) as your regular telephone. If you need to use a cordless phone or cell phone, use a headset (wired only) whenever possible and/or use your phone on speakerphone. Text rather than talk. Keep your calls very brief, and hold your cell phone away from your head and body, especially when the phone is connecting your call. Children should not use cell phones or cordless phones. Studies show children have a five-fold risk of malignant brain tumors in a shorter time than adults. 

hope1The other recommendation? Healthy servings on Hope. The brain on hope supports a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness. What it shows could fuel a revolution in psychology, as the field comes to grips with accumulating evidence that our brains are constantly being shaped by the future.

Findings from a study  conducted a few years ago with prominent neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and Tali Sharot suggest that directing our thoughts of the future toward the positive is a result of our frontal cortex’s communicating with subcortical regions deep in our brain. The frontal cortex, a large area behind the forehead, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It is larger in humans than in other primates and is critical for many complex human functions such as language and goal setting.

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, the researchers recorded brain activity in volunteers as they imagined specific events that might occur to them in the future. Some of the events were desirable (a great date or winning a large sum of money), and some were undesirable (losing a wallet, ending a romantic relationship). The volunteers reported that their images of sought-after events were richer and more vivid than those of unwanted events.

This matched the enhanced activity observed in two critical regions of the brain: the amygdala, a small structure deep in the brain that is central to the processing of emotion, and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), an area of the frontal cortex that modulates emotion and motivation. The rACC acts like a traffic conductor, enhancing the flow of positive emotions and associations. The more optimistic a person was, the higher the activity in these regions was while imagining positive future events (relative to negative ones) and the stronger the connectivity between the two structures.

The positive physiological effects of hope are well-documented, most recently by CNN in 2013  in Jerome Groopman’s “The Anatomy of Hope,” where he writes: “Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry.”  His research also showed that during the course of illness, belief and expectation have an impact on the nervous system which, in turn, sets off a chain reaction that makes improvement and recovery more likely. Groopman observed that hope does not just involve a mind-to-body connection, but also a body-to-mind connection, where neural input about one’s physical condition serves as a moderator of positive and negative emotions.

hope2Shane Lopez, author of the new book “Making Hope Happen,” believes hope is the stuff of change, recovery and healing. Hope is half optimism, Lopez explains. The other half is the belief in the power that you can make it so.There is a profound difference between hoping and wishing, he continues. Wishing encourages passivity, whereas hope represents an active stance.

“Wishing is the fantasy that everything is going to turn out OK. Hoping is actually showing up for the hard work.”

And it is hard work to find moderation between technological use and traditional, generalist methods of living. A line needs to be drawn for generations after us to have a chance at a future before they can manipulate it, or else all the forward thinking and efficiency cramming we did in our heyday for them is mismatched and misaligned. Balancing between picking up a book with pages AND including one or two websites for research creates a nifty scale bridging the survival rate of the future and wisdom from longevity of the past.

Play, Just to Play

The computerized calendar shows grey dots everyday of the week. The day starts at 7:00 am and ends sometime around 9:00 pm; perhaps with 30 minutes for lunch, an hour for dinner and sometime in between it all for commutting from one obligation to the next. Sound familiar? This over-scheduled schedule not only belongs to adults, butBusy-Calendar-2 to many children as soon as their old enough to enter a school-type program. And ending around 9:00 pm may be a conservatitve estimate, especially for middle and high-school aged students. 9:00 is when some finally arrive home to begin their homework or are continuing to work on it because despite their best efforts it stillis not done. The best efforts may even include working with one, two perhaps three different tutors in one evening. What appeared to be parents encouraging natural talents in music or sports has given rise to a hyper-focus on areas of specialization and the building of child prodigies in the arts, athletics or academics. However, very little, if any, of these budding ‘careers’ are related to the child’s school day. Perhaps the long standing problem America faces with education has as much to do with poor schooling as it does with student burn-out. A burn-out that appears to be occuring much earlier and in more extreme ways than senioritis–perhaps now an obsolete term. This critical look at the extrememly scheduled, programmed and packed days of school aged children leaves one questing begging to be asked:  What ever happened to having time to play?

In the past two decades, what began as involvement in extracurriculular activities that have shifted into activities to keep children busy, out of the house or off the streets. It it challenging for working parents to be home when children are home or trust them to be able to watch thsemvles at home. Gone are the days of the latch-key kids. However, statisitics are showing that 3 out of 4 children who were involved in sports before first grade are bored, tired of and deciding to no longer participate in sports after middle school. David Elkind of Tufts University, believes that children are not simply bored, but burned out. Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, he believes that there is a fine, yet undefined line, between having children involved in extracurricular activities and over scheduling. Rosenfeld believes children are bored not because they don’t have anything to do, but because they have never had to develop the skills to figure out to entertain themselves, given that their lives have been scheduled from waking to sleeping. Now add the conveiences and accessiblity to technology even commuting from school to soccer provides a quiet structured activity of games on an tablet or a movie playing on the backseat of the driver and passenger sides nicely crafted with headphones so everyone can be appeased.

Dr. Suniya S. Luthar believes that scheduling extracurriculars is the problem. Porblems arise when “…what parents want is over the top…When children feel that their parents disproportionately value personal successes (in today’s grades or tomorrow’s careers), far more than they value their personal decency and kindness, the children show elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety. Parents might think it’s okay to keep the pressure on because they eat dinner together and attend all their children’s athletic events and performances. But such positive gestures do not cancel out criticism.” Over-Scheduled or the New Norm?

According to children may:

  • feel tired, anxious, or depressed
  • complain of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of sleep
  • fall behind on their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop

Dr. Luthar adds substance abuse, truancy, anxiety among other internalizing behaviors to list or problems over-pressured face.

From a brain-based perspetive, these various symtpoms cause increase in cortisol or cause damage,  which impacts access to the pre-frontal cortext and the very necessary executive functioning skills that students rely on not only during their after-school activites but during their school day and in their social relationships.

All experts agree that the solution is NOT taking away all of the extracurriculuars, but finding a balance between them, school and downtime or the expectations surrouding the activiites. Children need unstrutured activity to allow their brains to not only rest, much like the necessity of sleep, but to have truly free time to play, which research shows helps develop the higher order thinking skills.

John Hamilton from reports, “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” claims Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says. It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork. But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.”

This is the same part of the brain that children are unable to access due to sleep deprivation, stress, depression. The lack of

Pressure free play

play is not only impacting the devevelopment of these essential skills, but it is preventing them from having access.  Simultaneous to this occurance is the increase in acadamic expectations and demands because adolescents are graduating from high school unprepraed for the academic standards at a collegiate level. But is it that they are not ready or simply not capable because their brains were not given the time, opportunity to develop the skills necessary to be prepared for college? Is the solution as simple as, children will be able to do more by doing less?

A shift needs to take place somewhere; because more often than not incomplete homework accompanied with a parent note detailing a child’s inabiltiy to complete it due to three hour rehearshals after school, too many other assignments or they spent

4 hours on homework and were still unable to finish it. Or even worse, when six year olds express they have too much to do. Yet the shift cannot occur in a vacumn or simply exhange extracurriculars for screen time. Perhaps part of the solution is a cultural shift. A shift in what is determined important, worthy of time and essential. Currently the focus seems to be success, financial gain, fame, a full-schedule. Maybe it is time to realize family time, play and even boredom are critical not only to prevent burn-out before the age of thirteen, but to enable the upcoming generation to be developmentally ready to take on what the current generation will ineveitably leave behind.


Silence2Think of one place in the world that is still completely silent. Deep ocean perhaps? That must still be relatively silent. Is there any country in the world that is silent?

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board released a series of photographs of lone figures in the wilderness, with the caption “Silence, Please.” An international “country branding” consultant, Simon Anholt, proposed the playful tagline “No talking, but action.” And a Finnish watch company, Rönkkö, launched its own new slogan: “Handmade in Finnish silence.”

“We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing,” explains Eva Kiviranta, who manages social media for

So Finland 4 years ago decided to capitalize on their silent status seeing that the world thrives on noise. However on the scientific front, the sound of silence stimulates a bigger response in the brain of a listener than music itself.  According to research, silence provides intriguing support for modern composers who put as much emphasis on a lack of sound as sound itself.

Led by Dr. Vinod Menon of Stanford University School of Medicine, the researchers published their findings in 2010 in the journal Neuron. The team showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory.

In what has to be one of the most pleasant brain studies on record, researchers asked subjects to listen to symphonies by the 18th century English baroque composer William Boyce, chosen because they are relatively short and comprise well-defined movements, punctuated by pauses.

As the subjects listened the researchers scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging. This widely used technique involves using harmless magnetic fields and radio waves to measure blood flow in brain regions, which reveals the amount of activity in those regions.

But while music may soothe the savage beast, the brain responds efficiently to the sound of silence. Peak brain activity occurred during a short period between musical movements, when seemingly NOTHING was happening. Two distinct networks of brain regions on the right side of the brain were involved, suggesting it was excited at the anticipation of more to come, or predicting the next movement.

“Our study suggests that silence, appropriately structured, is a device that allows the composer to achieve certain goals,” Dr. Menon told The Daily Telegraph. “It can arrest the listener’s attention and create conditions that facilitate anticipatory processes related to previously heard sequences of sounds. I suspect that silences inserted by composers such as Stockhausen and Philip Glass can elicit intense physiological and brain responses, although how long these responses can be sustained and manipulated is not yet clear. Modern brain imaging techniques might help to clarify how silence can be manipulated to create novel musical experiences.” Silence1

Karlheinz Stockhausen, a German musical composer discussed these experiences, for example in one composition where there are silences up to about one minute. “I discovered a new way to prepare for a certain duration of silence by what happens just before the silence, so that one can hear again, like an echo, the figures or structures before the silences. I think there is a very secret science of musical composition in knowing what one has to do before a silence in order to make the following silence meaningful.”

A team of University of Oregon researchers isolated an independent processing channel of synapses inside the brain’s auditory cortex that deals specifically with shutting off sound processing at appropriate times. Such regulation is vital for hearing and for understanding speech.

The discovery, found in the Feb. 2010 issue of the journal Neuron, goes against a long-held assumption that the signaling of a sound’s appearance and its subsequent disappearance are both handled by the same pathway. The new finding, which supports an emerging theory that a separate set of synapses is responsible, could lead to new, distinctly targeted therapies such as improved hearing devices, said Michael Wehr, a professor of psychology and member of the UO Institute of Neuroscience.

To do the research, Mr. Wehr and two UO undergraduate students — lead author Ben Scholl, then a graduate student at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and Xiang Gao — monitored the activity of neurons and their connecting synapses as rats were exposed to millisecond bursts of tones, looking at the responses to both the start and end of a sound. They tested varying lengths and frequencies of sounds in a series of experiments.

“It looks like there is a whole separate channel that goes all the way from the ear up to the brain that is specialized to process sound offsets,” Mr. Wehr said. The two channels finally come together in a brain region called the auditory cortex, situated in the temporal lobe.

The research team also noted that responses to the end of a sound involved different frequency tuning, duration and amplitude than those involved in processing the start of a sound, findings that agree with a trend cited in at least three other studies in the last decade.

It became clear with the findings that one set of synapses responded “very strongly at the onset of sounds,” but a different set of synapses responded to the sudden disappearance of sounds. There was no overlap of the two responding sets, the researchers noted. The end of one sound did not affect the response to a new sound, thus reinforcing the idea of separate processing channels.

“Being able to perceive when sound stops is very important for speech processing,” Mr. Wehr said. “One of the really hard problems in speech is finding the boundaries between the different parts of words. It is really not well understood how the brain does that.”

As an example, he noted the difficulty some people have when they are at a noisy cocktail party and are trying to follow one conversation amid competing background noises. “We think that we’ve discovered brain mechanisms that are important in finding the necessary boundaries between words that help to allow for successful speech recognition and hearing,” he said.

Mandy-Hale-Silence-QuotesThe research conducted aimed to provide a general understanding of how areas of the brain function. These findings could also prove useful in working with children who have deficits in speech and learning, as well as in the design of hearing aids and cochlear implants. He also noted that people with dyslexia have problems defining the boundaries of sounds in speech, and tapping these processing areas in therapy could boost reading skills.

In the course of developing the human capacity, movement and noise require a cease and desist button for either of them to matter in the first place. In spite of the brain’s 24/7 processes, most of them we actually only experience, not hear. Thus the point of silence — it is the definition of a fulfilled experience that personalizes what otherwise would be lost in the noise.

State Testing, Tuesday Morning

The small independent all-girls middle school in New York City bustles with activity at 8 am on a Tuesday morning in April. I am immediately greeted, “Good Morning…”Hi”…when I walk into the building.  It is the first day of the EnglELA_test_for_web_t670ish-Language Arts New York State Test–a day that has been kept in the back of students’ minds since September. The girls bustle about in their homerooms turning in homework, gathering books and pencils, highlighters and water bottles. Anything within reason that will help them sit anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours and 15 minutes answering questions about topics that bear very little relevance in their lives.

8:20: “I got chills, they’re multiplying, and I’m losing control, ‘Cause the power, you’re supplying, it’s electrifying! You better shape up, ’cause I need a man. And my heart is set on you. You better shape up; you better understand to my heart I must be true. Nothing left, nothing left for me to do. You’re the one that I want; you are the one I want, Oo, Oo, Oo honey! You’re the one that I want; you are the one I want Oo, Oo, Oo honey! You’re the one that I want; you are the one I want, Oo, Oo, Oo, the one that I need; oh yes indeed!” plays on speakers throughout the school signaling it is time for assembly–a 15 minute period that offers a chance for the entire school to come together as one, offering inspiring words, making announcements, taking attendance and closing with a prayer. The girls file out of their homerooms giggling, talking, sharing stories while streaming into the assembly room. Yellow walls, painted with inspirational quotes from the school’s namesake adorn two of the walls. The third wall houses statistics on dark blue plaques highlighting the success of the school’s girls.

as56318:23: The girls sit down in orderly fashion by grade level. The staff file in as well and sit on benches around the perimeter. Assembly begins. 4 girls get up in the front and begin to sing, “Let it Show, Let it Shooow, Let it Show!” followed by other witty lyrics referring to their ability

to succeed and do well on the upcoming tests. Overtime the chorus begins. Both staff and students start singing along and arch their right, then left arms in the air. After a giant applause, the girls return to their seats.

8:27 The principal says, Attendance.” Two sixth graders, begin “Good Morning to the staff and students. “Good Morning…and proceed to greet every staff–much to my surprise I am included, despite the fact that this is my first time in assembly in years. After staff, all 80 girls are greeted by name.  This is followed by announcements. Teachers raise their hand and are called on by the principal. They announce the beginning of track practice and the start of baseball season. They are reminded they need permission slips to start either. They are reminded there was no homework club. After announcements, the principal moves the assembly along to prayer, “It’s time for prayer,”

8:30: A teacher stands at the front of assembly room and says, “Congratulations!” She pauses briefly before continuing,  “you’re probably wondering, why I am telling you congratulations. Well, yesterday when I was thinking about prayer, I remembered when I was in the 7th grade, and my teacher came up to me before my tests and told me Congratulations. I looked at him confused; I hadn’t yet picked up a pencil to start and was actually worried I may have spelled my name wrong because I was so nervous about the test. What had I done to deserve a congratulations? He then tells me, you have done all the hard work. You were doing the hard work back in September, and on through November and into January. You continued the hard work through the early months of the new year and now here you are. Ready. You just need to show what you know. You’ve done all the hard work–Congratulations.” She paused again and finished her prayer, “Congratulations.”

8:32: The girls file out of the assembly room, giggling, talking, sharing stories while settling into lines by grade outside of their classrooms. Chatter continues, until a teacher stands in front of the two groups, “I know you all know how you need to be acting right now; you do this every morning. Once you are in line you need to be quiet so you can hear the directions.” The sixth graders quiet down and walk into their rooms to await the directions for test day one. Their teacher proceeds to read directions and in a semi-silly semi-serious voice lists all of the electronic and electronic related devices they are not allowed to have. This is followed by him passing out answer sheets, test booklets and reading more directions. I have been leaning against the doorframe observing this scene amused and impressed. It is a few minutes before a major test, and these girls are smiling and calm.

8:42: I step fully into the sixth grade classroom, before he reads the final set of directions, I interrupt, “Excuse me Mr. S, I need Julie, Maria, Ellie, Joy, and Catherine.”  The girls get out of their seats and line up armed with water bottles, sticks of gum and a granola

joybar–testing fuel. They are all entitled to take the test in a separate environment with limited students, distractions and receive extra time. Some of the girls who are staying give final “good lucks” as we walk out the door and down the stairs.

Two hours and 30 minutes later, I walk out feeling happy and light thinking about the woman who started it all over 20 years before; her spirit, her joy, her laughter live on. I turn right onto First Avenue and into the warm spring New York sunshine.

The Burned Out State of Mind

Let’s say you watch a movie in a theater where the protagonist is caught in what we would consider an abusive situation. Specifically, the hero is required to work through two situations: one bad, the other worse. Neither situation is a choice that will make the hero better, however there doesn’t seem to be any immediate relief aside from choosing between the two options. Because neither situation is optimal, our hero chooses the the lesser evil and proceeds to believe it’s the only option. The constant exposure to an abusive situation leads to his resignation of his fate, an uncaring despot, until the climax of the movie saves the day.

burn out

Ultimately our lives are far less condensed in drama, however the phenomenon of burnout  is more common in our modern lives than we recognize or give it credit for.

The term ‘burnout’ was initiated in the United States about 35 years ago. The psychoanalyst Freudenberger, for example, published one of the first scientific descriptions of the burnout syndrome as psychiatric and physical breakdown. According to one of the first more extensive characterizations by Susan E. Jackson  and  Christina Maslach, burnout is the result of chronic stress (at the workplace) which has not been successfully dealt with. It is characterized by exhaustion and depersonalization (negativism/cynicism) and is found predominantly in caring and social professions (e.g. social workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists). A later definition based on the MBI and which is in widespread use today, describes exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced satisfaction in performance as the decisive elements of burnout syndrome.

Contrary to earlier observations regarding the epidemiology of burnout, it has been noted that the syndrome is not associated with certain workplaces, circumstances, sex or age. The occurrence of burnout syndrome has been described in diverse occupations, e.g. in social workers, advisors, teachers, nurses, laboratory workers, speech therapists, ergo therapists, doctors and dentists, police and prison officers, stewardesses, managers, and even in housewives, students and unemployed people. Psychological explanations assume that in most of these occupations the combination of caring, advising, healing or protecting, coupled with the demands of showing that one cares, is of central importance.

In the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) the term ‘burnout’ was described in Problems related to life management difficulty under Z.73.0 as ‘Burnout-state of total exhaustion‘. In addition to the question of a uniform, generally accepted definition, etiological and pathogenetic aspects are the subjects of much controversy. It is generally believed today that ‘negative stress’ (distress) probably represents a key phenomenon in the etiopathogenesis of burnout. Other important pathogenetic factors are thought to be ‘being swamped by daily routine’ and ‘disappointed expectations’. Most of the theories and models for the development of burnout syndrome are published in the psychological, psychosomatic and psychiatric literature.

Burnout - Concept for Business

 A. Weber and A. Jaekel-Reinhard discuss in their paper on burnout that depending on the duration and severity of the burnout, there are often further negative social consequences. These include, from the point of view of the individual, withdrawal at the workplace (so called ‘inner resignation’) or effects on private life (partner/ sexual problems, social isolation). From the perspective of society, there is an increased risk of repeated or long periods of absence from work and early invalidity.

The Burnout Phenomenon is so prevalent that it has warranted its own branch of research. This research is being carried out in many countries around the world, so it is clear that burnout has global significance. Recently, there has been a growing interest in developing interventions to reduce burnout, from government agencies and organizations in both the public and private sectors. Without a doubt, burnout poses a major challenge for society. Given the ongoing importance of the burnout phenomenon, and the rising interest in making real progress in alleviating it, there is a need for a primary venue for the many research contributions being made.

To highlight further importance on the alarming rates of burnout, the scientific community came together in April 2015 and created the Burnout Research Journal. This is a peer-reviewed international journal aimed at presenting basic, translational and clinical high-quality research related to the phenomenon of burnout. As the first journal dedicated to understanding the causes of burnout and potential solutions to the problem, Burnout Research welcomes original research articles, review articles, case reports, and opinion pieces. The goal of the journal is to publish the top research in three major areas: Cutting-edge research that lays out new directions for the burnout field, including new research paradigms and measures, new theoretical models, and new collaborations between researchers and practitioners. Critical reviews that provide comprehensive and integrative analyses of key themes (such as cultural or occupational differences in burnout), or meta-analyses of major datasets. Translational research studies that assess promising interventions for preventing burnout and building engagement.

Burnout-cc-LINS1From an educational perspective, the days when academia was a low-stress working environment are over, with “burnout” levels now comparable with those in other service sectors, according to a 2011 study, “Burnout in university teaching staff: a systematic literature review.”  This study was published in the journal Educational Research and was led by Noelle Robertson, senior lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Leicester, and a master’s student there, Jenny Watts. The researchers, who describe their work as the first survey of the extent of burnout among full-time, non-medical university teaching staff, report that younger staff appeared more vulnerable, suffering from greater “emotional exhaustion.”

The analysis is based on 12 peer-reviewed studies in the United States, Britain, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands,  and likens levels of burnout among those who teach in higher education to those of schoolteachers and health professionals. The authors also attempt to pinpoint the key factors that push some academics into a state characterized by “the depletion of emotional reserves (emotional exhaustion), an increasingly cynical and negative approach towards others (depersonalization) and a growing feeling of work-related dissatisfaction.”

These results could also be because younger staff have more contact with students, but also because more experienced colleagues have developed better coping strategies.Gender seemed to have most impact on the way burnout revealed itself, the study suggests. Male lecturers typically had higher depersonalization scores, for example, while their female peers tended to suffer more emotional exhaustion.This probably reflected, the authors suggest, the draining effect on women who were having to “juggle multiple roles at work and at home,” on the one hand, and their reluctance to adopt “a distant, indifferent professional persona” on the other.

The research indicated that “staff exposure to high numbers of students, especially tuition of postgraduates, strongly predicts the experience of burnout.” However, they suggest that lecturers with qualities that might make them particularly suited to the job suffered more than their less engaged colleagues. The quality of “openness” may “make appealing tutors, encouraging greater interaction with students,” but it also appeared to “predispose teachers to burnout,” the paper says.

In a separate analysis of professional burnout among professors in the United States, a Texas Woman’s University Ph.D. candidate found tenure track professors had more significant symptoms of workplace frustration than their tenured and non-tenure track faculty counterparts.

Janie Crosmer, who conducted the survey of more than 400 full-time faculty across the U.S. in December 2008, said she was unsurprised that the high stresses of pursuing academia’s most coveted status led to burnout. She utilized the Maslach Burnout Inventory in her survey, which measures burnout in three categories. A faculty survey found professors, on average, fell within the average burnout range. See the Inventory Table Results Below:

Emotional Exhaustion (Range 0-54)Teacher-Burnout
• < 13: Low Degree of Burnout
• 14-23: Average Degree of Burnout
• > 24: High Degree of Burnout
• Full Faculty Survey Sample: 20.1

Depersonalization (Range 0-30)
• < 2: Low Degree of Burnout
• 3-8: Average degree of burnout
• > 9: High Degree of Burnout
• Full Faculty Survey Sample: 6.3

Personal Accomplishment (Range 0-48)
• > 43: Low Degree of Burnout
• 36-42: Average Degree of Burnout
• < 35: High Degree of Burnout
• Full Faculty Survey: 35.99

Crosmer said she was struck by the candor and, at times, negativity manifested in faculty comments. Professors complained about massive red tape, inflexible mandates for holding office hours, low morale, health concerns and insufficient travel funds. And while Crosmer would still like to land a faculty position in the future, she was disheartened by what she heard.

“By reading that, you were [thinking] do I really want to teach ever? Some of the comments were, oh my goodness.”

As with just about any industry, professors also said they felt they should earn more money. One respondent opined, “We are the most highly educated people in the country and among the worst paid.”

Take the BURNOUT TEST below and see for yourself what you rate:

BurnoutTest1 BurnoutTest2

Attention (is to Thinking) and Sustenance

Stop. Listen to a song, podcast or have a conversation with a friend—for 30 seconds. That is about the length of time a child with severe attention issues is able to focus on any given piece of information coming from one sensory source at any given moment. Regardless of whether the time felt long or short, children today are required to not only pay attention, but pay_attentioncomprehend and take notes on the important information being delivered through a primarily one-dimensional sensory source for at least 5 minutes, but many times 20 or 30 minutes at a time.

Sustained attention is the ability to direct ones attention to a specified source without losing focus despite potential distractors. Children and adults greatly struggle with sustained attention today; the environment no longer demands it and, in many instances reinforces, the opposite. From the 10-second news clips, to the demands on attention from multiple sources ranging from text messages, to email, to the never-ending checklist of tasks needing to be completed. The length one is expected to pay attention has significantly decreased in the digital age of instantaneous communication and access to information. However this change has not only affected the world of adults and adult occupations. It has infested itself down to the youngest of children. Dr. Straub discusses what Dr. Dimitri Christakis found in a Baby Einstein episode “A Day on the Farm”, seven scene changes occurred in a 20 second period of time compared to no scene changes in a clip of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Taken one step-further, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was the only show that had no impact on children’s attention span later in school when compared to children who watched no TV. Dr. Straub theorizes this is because the show was designed to increase attention span by requiring the sole focus to be on one person. Other television series, including Baby Einstein and Sesame Street had a negative impact on attention spans in school-aged children. The theory behind this is known as the overstimulation hypothesis, which states, “That is, prolonged exposure to rapid image changes during a child’s critical period of brain development preconditions their mind to expect high levels of stimulation, which leads to inattention in later life.” While pediatricians and child development experts dissuade children from being exposed to television, computers, etc., these changing demands on attention can be found in other modalities. Toys that light up, blink, play songs, talk, move all at the push of various buttons are not effectively aiding children in improving his/her sensory processing, but rather decreasing his/her ability to focus on any given stimulus sources for more than 30 seconds. This short snippet of required attention is reinforced throughout a child’s early development.

Then school happens. Children are suddenly required to pay attention for 5-15 minutes with major distractors—wiggly bodies, children and adults talking, chairs being pulled out and pushed in, etc. If these same children have been exposed to children’s so called educational programs, smartphones, electronic toys, they have essentially been set-up to fail. Their muscle for sustained attention has not be developed and it has little if anything to do with ADHD; the pace of learning is simply too slow. Their brains have been wired to expect and therefore perform in a near opposite way for the first 5 years of their life; therefore, like most new tasks, one needs to practice in order to become successful. Children today, need practice at sustaining their attention. Oftentimes these students with weakened sustained attention are automatically labeled and sometimes mislabeled as having Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); however according to Dr. C. Thomas Gualtieri, et al “ADHD is not simply a disorder of sustained attention. Indeed, impairment in sustained attention is common to a certain extent to all children with psychiatric disorders. Neuropsychological studies of ADHD children and adults reveal subtle but clear impairments in ???????????????????????????????????????several complex functional systems: Selective attention memory; reaction time and information processing speed; motor speed and visuomotor ability; and executive control functions, like set-shifting, inhibitory control, and working memory.” Therefore, since one can have sustained attention weakness without having ADHD; it is essential for educators to be well-versed in understanding executive function skills as well as the vast array of researched and identified disorders that emerge during childhood. Quick fixes such as medication may not always be the best answer, especially if the cause is has been wrongly concluded.

Before wrongly labeling every attention-deficient student, steps to strengthen the sustained attention muscle are critical. One way to effectively do this is to incorporate state changes intentionally throughout the lessons in order to allow students to set-shift before becoming disengaged with the material because the content is being presented without a scene change and/or utilizing only one sense. State changes for all intensive purposes provide that ‘scene change’ the brain has become programmed to expect. Attention spans for elementary aged students range anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes; mini lessons are targeted at 5 minutes; however can easily go up to 15 or more. These numbers are based on what is average or typical; therefore there will be students whose sustained attention can barely make it to 3 minutes. Steve Roninette defines state changes as, “continually switching the sensory focus from visual to auditory to body kinesthetic and back again. This keeps students’ attention and gives them the opportunity to learn more as they tap into all their senses.” State changes come in a variety of forms and can become integrated into the lesson to enhance a particular point. They can be kinesthetic in nature and unrelated to any lesson, in which case it’s best to use them between lessons. Examples include: Brain Gym Activities, simple yoga poses, wiggle or dance breaks. Dr. Gerard Evanski explains the scientific reason behind the necessity and effectiveness of state changes, “The human brain does not store energy. The brain needs a constant blood supply, which brings it oxygen and nutrients. Dr. David Sousa has said that blood tends to pool in “our feet and our seat” when we sit for too long. Many of my state changes for students are designed to also energize them, and get their blood full of oxygen and flowing to the brain.” While kinesthetic state changes may be the most energizing, they are not the only option. State changes can also be verbal or auditory and related to the content, and therefore should be incorporated into the lesson right before students typically tune out. Examples include: turn and talks, think, pair, share, or any form of verbal/auditory recap of the lesson content. State changes can also be more passive and simply change the way information is being presented to students. For example, showing a video to reinforce the topic that was just presented.

In addition to state changes, increasing sustained attention through sustaining attention is another way. Meditation or attending to guided imagery exercises offer a non-academic way to increase sustained attention while also decreasing the cortisol release and overall levels of stress. A study conducted by Dr. Stephani Sutherland at University of Southern California, found that mindfulness training and continued practice improved sustained attention when compared to no interventchildrenion or the practice of physical relaxation, whereas there was no difference between the two groups when measuring changes in concentration and inhibition of distraction. This shows that simple and easy to use interventions can be utilized in the classroom to target and increase student’s sustained attention.

Overall, the demands placed on people in the twenty-first century significantly inhibit our ability to pay attention for long periods of time; however, the very system that educates our children and many occupations in which those same children enter demand just the opposite—an ability to focus for a duration of time and internalize information despite distractors. Until one or the other changes. It is crucial to build in opportunities to help strengthen weakened or never developed abilities to attend. Most children simply cannot come to school ready-made with a skill that is not only not expected of them or naturally reinforced in their environment, but the exact opposite skill is being applied on a daily basis. If training and teaching does not occur for children during their school-day, like many other shifts in the field of education, this will be one more that sets up children for failure instead of success.

Learning’s Many Costs, First Quarter 2015 Edition

Flipping channels, Dr. Phil comes onto the main screen and has a mother and daughter in opposite angles to him. The problems seemed to be typical psychological, reality-show formula: mom is overprotective of her teenage daughter, teenage daughter ‘rebels’ and begins a long distance relationship with a man 10 years her senior (who also happens to be a drug dealer still serving time), and the conflicts between them become unbearable. Dr. Phil in his infinite wisdom brought out his objectivity to the mother, and then to the daughter. It is however the explanation to the daughter that resonates with her: “Now remember, it is the Neocortex that develops last in the brain, and that means right now, you’re not able yet to have complete insight to all of the consequences of your actions. This is why you would need guidance with some of your decisions, including starting a relationship with a currently jailed drug dealer.”

Most of us have a familiarity with family drama played out on television.  Whether the purpose is to entertain or to educate, the family’s dysfunctional dynamic from one to the next seem to be rooted deep into social, educational and economic factors. How then is the brain development affected? Is Dr. Phil’s approach by combining the brain science with family dynamics warranted?


In the early online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience (March 30, 2015), investigators from nine universities across the country reports correlative links between family income and brain structure. Relationships between the brain and family income were strongest in the lowest end of the economic range, thus suggesting that interventional policies aimed at these children may have the largest societal impact. The study, led by researchers at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Columbia University Medical Center.

In the largest study of its kind to date, the researchers looked at 1,099 typically developing individuals between the ages of 3 and 20 years as part of the multi-site Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition and Genetics (PING) study. Associations between socioeconomic factors (including parent education and family income) and measurements of surface area of the brain were drawn from demographic and developmental history questionnaires, as well as high-resolution brain MRIs. Statistics (controlled for education, age and genetic ancestry)  showed that income was nonlinearly associated with brain surface area, and that income was more strongly associated with the brain than was parental educational attainment.

First author Kimberly G. Noble, MD, PhD says, “Specifically, among children from the lowest-income families, small differences in income were associated with relatively large differences in surface area in a number of regions of the brain associated with skills important for academic success. ” Dr. Noble is an assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the Neurocognition, Early Experience and Development (NEED) Lab of Columbia University Medical Center. She is also an associate professor of Neuroscience and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Conversely, among children from higher-income families, incremental increases in income level were associated with much smaller differences in surface area. Higher income was also associated with better performance in certain cognitive skills; cognitive differences that could be accounted for by greater brain surface area.

“While in no way implying that a child’s socioeconomic circumstances lead to immutable changes in brain development or cognition, our data suggest that wider access to resources likely afforded by the more affluent may lead to differences in a child’s brain structure,” said Elizabeth Sowell, PhD, director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory, part of the Institute for the Developing Mind at CHLA.  “Family income is linked to factors such as nutrition, health care, schools, play areas and, sometimes, air quality,” added Dr. Sowell, indicating that everything going on in the environment shapes the developing brain. “Future research may address the question of whether changing a child’s environment — for instance, through social policies aimed at reducing family poverty — could change the trajectory of brain development and cognition for the better.”

From the socio-economic factors, we take a look at socio-psychological factors, some of which affect our ability to create meaningful connections. A recent study from the University of Georgia shows differences in brain structure according to how trusting people are of others.

The team of researchers used two measures to determine the trust levels of 82 study participants. The participants filled out TRUSTING CHILDa self-reported questionnaire about their tendency to trust others. They also were shown pictures of faces with neutral facial expressions, and were asked to evaluate how trustworthy they found each person in the picture. This gave researchers a metric, on a spectrum, of how trusting each participant was of others.

Researchers then took MRI scans of the participants’ brains to determine how brain structure is associated with the tendency to be more trusting of others. What researchers found were differences in two areas of the brain.

“The most important finding was that the grey matter volume was greater in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, which is the brain region that serves to evaluate social rewards, in people that tended to be more trusting of others,” said the study’s lead author Brian Haas, an assistant professor in the department of psychology.

“Another finding that we observed was for a brain region called the amygdala. The volume of this area of the brain, which codes for emotional saliency, was greater in those that were both most trusting and least trusting of others. If something is emotionally important to us, the amygdala helps us code and remember it.”

The long term hope for the research may have implications for future treatments of psychological conditions such as autism. Future studies may focus on how, and if, trust can be improved and whether the brain is malleable according to the type of communication someone has with another. “There are conditions, like autism, that are characterized by deficits in being able to process the world socially, one of which is the ability to trust people,” Dr. Haas said. “Here we have converging evidence that these brain regions are important for trust; and if we can understand how these differences relate to specific social processes, then we may be able to develop more targeted treatment techniques for people who have deficits in social cognition.”

So what can we do as a community with fragile families who have young children in such a fast-paced, competitive, and digitally plugged world? Begin the developmental awareness young for a firmer foundation with research-backed programs.

Supporting this is new research from UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) revealing high-quality early education is especially advantageous for children when they start younger and continue longer. Not only does more high-quality early education significantly boost the language skills of children from low-income families, children whose first language is not English benefit even more.

“These findings show that more high-quality early education and care can narrow the achievement gap before children reach kindergarten,” said Noreen M. Yazejian, principal investigator of FPG’s Educare Learning Network Implementation Study. “Children from low-income families can improve their standing relative to their middle class peers.”

Ms. Yazejian said previous research has shown language skills are most malleable for children before age 4, which in large part explains high-quality early education’s powerful effects. Her study examined children’s receptive language skills–the ability to hear and understand words–because these particular skills are an excellent predictor of later academic success.

According to Yazejian, Educare classrooms offered the chance to study children enrolled in high-quality early education and care from the earliest ages. Educare is an enhanced Early Head Start and Head Start program for low-income, high-needs children from 6 weeks old until entry into kindergarten. The model has been replicated in 20 schools nationwide over the last 15 years.

“Educare’s comprehensive approach to early childhood education aims to level the playing field for children living in poverty,” said Portia Kennel, executive director of the Educare Learning Network. “This new study confirms that we need to include the earliest years of life as part of our nation’s education system. Quality early education prepares vulnerable children for success by preventing the achievement gap that appears long before kindergarten.”

Many people traditionally have viewed early care for infants primarily as a support for mothers who want to work and not as an essential component of early schooling. However, findings from the FPG study add to a growing body of research revealing better outcomes for children from low-income families who start high-quality education earlier and stay in it longer.

Earlier research has shown the English language skills that dual-language learners develop prior to kindergarten can predict educational achievement through eighth grade, but keeping skills in the home language also is beneficial. Home language skills are related to long-term social, emotional, cognitive, and academic outcomes.

“Most dual-language learners in this study were in classrooms where English was the primary instructional language but in which one staff member could use their home language as needed to support learning,” Ms. Yazejian explained. “It’s not surprising our findings show they quickly acquired skills in English. That’s why it’s reassuring that our study found that the acquisition of English language skills in Educare classrooms does not come at the expense of Spanish skills.”

The number of young children who speak a language other than English at home is growing, and this study contributes valuable new information to the field. “It’s encouraging to see that dual-language learners are making strides that form the critical foundation for later learning,” according to Ms. Kennel.

Ms.Yazejian encourages the thinking that more than one year of high quality early care and education brings greater benefits for children. “The differences we found in this study, extrapolated to thousands of children–especially dual-language learners–could add up to lasting effects and lower public education costs.”


ESNP Podcast 8: User-Friendly Interpretation on Sensory Processing Science and The Learner’s Consciousness: Part Two

True Stories: At 12:30 PM

This is the start of a new section in our writing…we want to share what we have found in our professional travels to be poignant, humorous, or strange. Others may just be plain appalling or sad, however whatever the case may be, they are share-worthy.

This piece we will call “At 12:30 PM.”   Under control

Second grade students walk four flights of stairs from recess to get to their floor. Their classroom is two double-doors down from the 4th floor entrance; I stand waiting by their doorway. I hear familiar chatter, and one distinct voice screaming, “But, but, but HE PUSHED ME.”  I shake my head, it’s a boy we will call Jack.  Jack is in a room with two teachers, an Integrated Co-Teaching setting. One of them, who we shall call Ms. Sophia, says to Jack, ” Would you stop touching him! I don’t want to hear it!” Jack of course pleads and begs for her to hear him but she proceeds to the front of the line and signals the class to start rolling into the classroom. All 26 of them are here today, present, chatty from lunch and recess, and are not looking forward to ELA (English Language Arts).

HUUUUMPHHHHH! ” Jack cried. ” He wrinkled his forehead and stomped into the classroom. He folded his arms and then walked toward Liam, and without cause, pushed his back. “HUUUUUUMPPHHHH!

“What is your deal?” Liam screamed and then pushed him back. I stood up from my chair where I had begun to work with Madelyn as I was anticipating a mini brawl. “JACK, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Miss Sophia shrieked as she was heading toward his direction. At this point I had reached Liam and held him in a bear hug, whispering, “Let it go, buddy, let it go, ” over and over till I could feel his body calm down.

It was 12:40 PM; I glanced at the clock. Before Miss Sophia could reach Jack, he had stomped and marched to another student, “GET OUT OF MY WAY!!! HUMMMPHHHH!” This time, he pushed Madison, a girl who was no-nonsense and potentially able to take him herself if she had the opportunity. Madison didn’t say anything and instead, stood where she was, turned around and pushed him back with all her might.

STOP! Oh my God! Madison you know better. You can’t follow what Jack does.”

“But he did it first. I was just standing there.”

The classroom paraprofessional, Miss Harper, at this time had overheard the ruckus and came over to Madison, “What’s the matter, huh? Go calm down. You know better. Here’s your paper. Have a seat.”

At this point, I had walked Liam to his chair, and he was calm, focused and ready to begin the ELA work. I glanced at the time, 12:46 PM. Sigh. This class has rough transitions up from lunch almost everyday; wish there was more that could be done to get them calm enough to settle in… As I was thinking these thoughts, I walked back to my seat by Madelyn. She had begun to make sense of her writing sheets, which were spread all over her shared desk.

YOU ALWAYS SAY THAT! You never keep what you say! ” and with that scream I looked up and saw pencils flying from outside the door into  the classroom. That was Luke, another one of the students who came up later than the rest of the class, and who was accompanied by the other ICT teacher, Miss Mackenzie. “Luke, I don’t understand. What happened? We had a good talk downstairs, and I explained to you…”


“Hey, wait, calm down, I do listen to you, what do you mean I don’t listen to you…”

Luke decided to walk to his corner bookshelf and threw whiteboard markers that were lying on the floor. One of them hit his classmates leg, however it didn’t faze the classmate.  He simply kept on working on his ELA sheets as if nothing were happening in the room. The noise level at that point would be a 5 out of 10, fluctuating easily to an 8.

Miss Mackenzie bent down to where Luke was at, and proceeded to talk to him in a calm voice. His face appeared distraught and inconsolable, however no tears flowed. He walked up and out of the corner and ran out of the room; Miss Mackenzie immediately ran after him.

“Aria why are you up? Did I not tell you to stay in your seat? This is independent work!”

“But Miss Sophia, he’s bothering me!!! I told him to stop and he won’t!!”

Miss Sophia, mind you, was unable to mobilize herself momentarily as she was ensuring that Jack was sitting at his desk working. The only way this could be accomplished was for her to sit beside him, for at least 15 minutes. Aria continued to scream at the classmate who was bothering her and then, tears started flowing her face, “I HAVE NO FRIENDS!!!

My eyes locked Miss Sophia’s and she blurted, “Can you believe my life right now?” I sighed and attempted to refocus on working with Madelyn when Aria ran toward the desk we were working at, tears streaming down her face. When she was finally in front of me she said, between sobs, “When am I going to be on YOUR LIST??? I want you to pick me up!!”

Calmly I replied to her, “Aria it is not up to me. I don’t make the list, your school does. But tell you what, you can join us when we are done working on our packet.” Madelyn at this point was irritated that her writing time has been interrupted, and that she even had to write in the first place. Miss Harper, who had been working with a different group of students, called out to Aria from where she was sitting, ” ARIA, ARE YOU SERIOUS? Wipe those tears and get over here! Don’t bother them; they’re working and so should you. Where is your packet?”

I looked up, 1 PM. It was time for me to move on to the next classroom. Another day in the second grade room of 12:30 PM.

'Your classroom management techniques work in practice but not in theory. That worries me.'

ESNP Podcast 7: User-Friendly Interpretation on Sensory Processing Science and The Learner’s Consciousness: Part One

You. Don’t. Know…

It is 7:30 a.m.; you’re in your classroom, preparing the materials for the day. The classroom is quiet except for the music in the background–it’s become a routine you started a few weeks back to ground you in the day. No one ever told you teaching would be THIS hard. How does time pass by simultaneously both lightening speed and a snail’s pace? It’s your sixth week of teaching already. You glance up at the clock 7:32. Relief sweeps over you! 28 more minutes until students arrive enough time to finish what stockistockstresshelpchalkboardphotojuly2012youneed to do. You print out your lesson plans and the lay out the work for the morning periods. Another grounding staple of your day, now you know exactly what you planned to say and can see everything you planned to give. Your mind shifts to your students; will she be here today? She’s your most challenging student; feedback flashes through your mind, “Just ignore the behavior; its attention seeking.” “You’re too cold in the classroom; she’s reacting to that.” “She doesn’t like change, and you’re a new teacher.” you for her out of control behavior. What’s the right answer? None of this feedback feels reflective of your experience with this student. You’re at a loss as to what you should do. A part of you wills her to be absent today. 8:00, students walk in right on cue. You look up from the computer and see her with a big smile walk in. You remind yourself to breathe.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This idea feels almost like a theme in the field of education, administrators and educators alike–new educators in particular. It seems that the idea of not knowing or being told you don’t know is often received defensively as an offense. When in fact, it is actually more akin to a free pass for commonly made mistakes or assumptions–on made by teachers and administrators–and an invitation to learn. However, the willingness to learn means admitting to not knowing or worse: imperfection. Yet this ability to stand back and look with a critical and personal lens at the breadth of knowledge possessed and honestly admit that gaping holes exist does not come easily to many. Perhaps, because this exercise in humility requires both metacognition and mindfulness.

Metacognition according to Dr. Richard Guare and Dr. Peg Dawson is “the ability to take a birds eye view of oneself in a situation. It is the ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills  (e.g. asking: “How am I doing?” or “How did I do?”)  In order to fully be able to accept, acknowledge and understand that mind-fullyou don’t know what you don’t know you need to be able to step outside of yourself and view that self from a different perspective, yet also be able to be aware of yourself in each moment. Enter mindfulness. Dr. John Kabot-Zinn states, “mindfulness means

maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. In order to participate in these states of being, one needs intentionality, practice and an honest self-view, which is easier said than done, especially within institutions in which normed rolls have been established.

Learning, empathy and change cannot take place when conversations are entered into with established or implied hierarchical relationships, for example, the teacher and the learner. While exceptions exist, many institutions of education have an established dichotomy of superiors and inferiors. These can found throughout the school in different capacities. Yet, rather than promote an environment for learning by sharing knowledge and openly celebrating strengths and finding others to support weaknesses; a fake it until you make it attitude emerges, defenses are on high-alert and learning fails to take place.

Imagine how a conversation between an educator and administrator would go if both parties came to the table, coming clean about their knowledge gap.

The administrator would have to own up to the fact that she has very little knowledge about what happens on a daily basis in the classroom that may be enhancing or inhibiting classroom learning. A new educator may need to admit to not knowing the difference between off-task behaviors because a child is bored versus one who simply doesn’t understand. The point is both parties would be entering into a conversation with an honest self-view and the intention to truly listen and learn from the other.


This begins by admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know. People are imperfect, make mistakes, react to situations without thinking and often times hold others responsible for events they had just as much stake in. Inevitably it is easier to stay on the surface of one’s thinking, examine others but never oneself with a critical lens and turn off an awareness to oneself and the environment in which he is in. If this were not the case, “Ignorance is bliss,” would never have been excavated from Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,’ written in 1742 and still commonly used today.

However, through that course of thinking, much is lost: personal growth, human connection and most importantly systemic change. So stop and think. Step outside of your mind so often on autopilot. What do you see? Ask yourself, “How am I doing today?” Do not leave this answer constrained to the cursory “good” or “fine” or related to your job. Dig deep and ask yourself, “How. Am. I. Doing. Today?” Stop.

This time, don’t think. Feel. Let your body become fully aware of the sights, sounds, and smells, physical sensations that currently surround you know. Ask yourself again, “How am I doing today?” Stay outside of your mind. Breathe. Slowly. In and out. Again. In and out. Again, in and out.

Now ask yourself, “How did I do today? Could I have done better?”

What don’t you know, that you don’t know? Imagine the possibilities if you did.


When the Mind is Confronted with the Hardest Yes and the Easiest No

There is probably no parent in the world who tells their child not to follow their dreams. The encouragement given by a parent, as well as their approval, is what drives ambition and focus on young children even in parallel play and pretend play: occupational, dress-up games, role-playing games, and imaginary games,

Pre-School turns into School-Age and the dreams solidify into academics, socialization, and homework. Further on, there are co-curricular activities, and suddenly, more opportunities open to the maturing child. What once they thought they wanted to become and do from earlier years they may no longer want to become…from a doctor to a teacher, from a lawyer to a police offices, from an engineer to a musician.

And then there’s the climb to high school’s challenges — hormones, peers, carving of age-appropriate, stubborn independence leading to a power struggle. The senior year in itself ages a family unit by decades with these options to decide on: College? Scholarships? Hiatus? Travel?


What had begun as a sweet, idealized bonding moment picture of what the future was going to look like between a parent and a young child transforms into momenta stressors that sometimes families never recover from. Children become estranged either physically or emotionally from parents whose messages to them can either be too strongly delivered, or the exact opposite, too softly said.

And thus the parent-child dynamic evolves from a hurricane of dreams, responsibilities, and cultures. The Parental Mind is lent to the child and never lets go, unfortunately for the child. How many of us hear our parents’ positive and negative voices in our heads? That is their endowment to their children, apart from genetics and biology. Temperament in children are based off of the endowment, the complete package from the home that they subconsciously bring with them.

The Children’s Mind starts off self-centered and then self-actualizing; first to survive and second, to be heard. There is a subtle difference in generational stages according to developmental psychology as everyone ages toward the same age, and roles are mostly dependent on the modern societies that surround the research studies (mainly civilizations that have broken into the digital age). Then their minds begin a diverse, cross-cultural adventure and begin experiments that an adult, parental mind would find objectionable and abhor to, albeit forgetting that they too had some intense experimentation in their heyday.

Whatever decisions the Children’s Mind stores in its memory bank are repeated over time; whether they were borrowed from the Parental Mind or made repelling it. Their ownership of the decision becomes owned by them and molds their identity firmly with every repetition. Sometimes, these repetitive decisions lead them to the expected, structured life after school — the 9-5 job, the car, the apartment and so on. Occasionally, these decisions catapult them to extraordinary directions, from zero to one-eighty simply by creating, reacting, doing what it is that drives them.

And there are those stuck in the middle of the two worlds. Parental Minds often label these states as lazy, discontented, underperforming, and the common underachieving the potential. Children’s Minds have the flexibility of potential and possibility however when the message from the overarching, stronger parental voice, the rigidity is easily adapted and the confusion is clear in work, play and with their personal relationships. Confusion can be released as violence, oftentimes it can be cyclothymic mood swings. Those of us outside this dual mindset can only interpret from the objectivity of a third-party: maybe it’s just the child’s nature to be reactive than proactive and they need to learn to control themselves. Period.Hard Yes and Easy No

As observers however, we too have as much responsibility as the Parental Mind to take care with what messages we tend to impart with our body language, our emotional responses, our words, and our unintended non-verbal insinuations. There is a tendency for judgment to be drawn in the sand line with our interactions with them, and no matter what the age the Child is, the mind remembers everything even when language has no access to the memory. We all have been there…a name, a place, an unsettling situation once experienced is brought up from years ago.  Suddenly, this transports us to the familiar pangs of what could only be described as an uncomfortable, painful embarrassment that feeling is still around. The point of aging and moving through the stages of development is mainly TO DEVELOP, however we seem to be masters of reaching back in repression due to our own Child’s Mind and repetition of formative (toxic or otherwise) decisions.

Part of the decision-making cycle from Parent to Child is the reminder of responsibility, often to the point of being afraid to create a life. Ever wondered why it is easier for some to switch careers cold turkey while it is paralyzing for others? Citing the experts, the preschool exposure to multiple failing situations and allowing children to emancipate themselves from such situations lead to resilience in the attitude toward failure. Parenting the parent by reminding them of how they were once children requires practice and a humility in declaring that they do not know  everything, and that is more than ok.

pgWhat of the Child to Parent Mind? That is the abyss. The Child’s Mind remind the Parental Mind of their accomplishments and their inadequacies. They show which of the previous two is driving the voice of the Parental Mind:  the overachiever or the Passing the Inadequacy Torch (AKA Live my dreams for me because you can). With just enough checked boxes in their driver’s seat, balancing the driving shifts is not just challenging. It can be plain impossible. Using the digital age as the backdrop of this scenario, the Parental Mind is also juggling with financial, marital and social expectations that have certain ceilings. Anything placed on top of that, a nuclear explosion from within will reverberate past the Children’s Mind —  to immediate communities and societies as far as the digital age can reach.

Only then is reflection and quiet made mandatory, in hindsight, instead of while there is time for the mind to shift consciousness when confronted with the hardest YES and the Easiest NO.

User-Friendly Interpretation on Sensory Processing Science and The Learner’s Consciousness: Part Two

In the previous article, we discussed the science behind sensory processing skills, the brain centers involved, and the signs and symptoms of the modulation disorders. We also mentioned that the most efficient ways to encourage development of these skills was through a sensory diet targeted toward executive function skills. In this article, we shall break down these skills and match them with the suggested sensory diets that will not only enhance but continue to decrease chances of modulation meltdowns and difficulties with comprehending the overall environment.

First however let us define what we mean by Sensory Diet in the first place.

The term “Sensory diet” was coined by Occupational therapist, Patricia Wilbarger (1984), and can be defined as a carefully designed, scheduled activity plan, that provides the sensory input a person’s nervous system needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Each sensory diet is specially designed to meet a child’s specific sensory needs. Wilbarger and Wilbarger (1991) developed the approach to provide the “just right” combination of sensory input to achieve and maintain optimal levels of arousal and performance in the nervous system. The ability to properly identify and respond appropriately to sensations can be enhanced by a proper sensory diet.

There are certain types of sensory activities that are similar to eating a “main course” and are very powerful and satisfying. The most powerful and longest lasting activities on the nervous system include deep pressure touch, joint compression or traction, movement, and heavy work (Wilbarger, 1995).

The Wilbarger Approaches target the seven senses based on a person’s defensiveness or modulation symptomatology. The difference in the Execu-Sensory Diet that we utilize is the focus on the preparation of the sensory system for cognitive input. What that means is the diet is meant to support the growth of Executive Function Skills, no matter what the age or the need for a surrogate Pre-Frontal assistance from an adult.

Here are the major sensory components and the executive function skills they target:

1. Therapeutic Massage – Response Inhibition, Sustained Attention

Acure-Organics-Body-Lotion-Calming-Lavender-and-Lotus-Flower-854049002040Therapeutic massage is utilized to improve the tactile and proprioceptive systems. We utilize this on four extremities in an orderly fashion, and is usually done in a proximal to distal motion to desensitize the sensory nerves and ultimately send messages to the brain that a particular arm and/or leg is being isolated and given feedback. Usually also during the therapeutic massage, relaxing oils or lotions such as lavender chamomile scents that are hypoallergenic and have thick consistencies help reduce the friction and improve the natural biological feedback.Therapeutic Massage stimulates Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which is responsible for the sense of well-being, calming the nervous system down.

Response Inhibition is the suppression of a person’s actions that are inappropriate in a given context and that interfere with goal-driven behavior. For example, it is one’s ability to control calling out, storming out of a classroom, or touching others or other people’s property. Sustained Attention, or vigilance, as it is more often called, refers to the state in which attention must be maintained over time. It would be listening and attending to a classroom lesson or mini lesson for at least 5 minutes even when there are distractions in the room.

Therapeutic massage supports the development of these two skills by giving the extremities the grounding force to be able to attend to the task and decrease impulsive responses because the brain is able to map out where the person is in space and can maneuver the environment appropriately depending on what the current demands are required of them.

2. Therapeutic Brushing – Emotional Control, Flexibility

Wilbarger brushTherapeutic Brushing is more famously associated with the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol that is commonly used for people with tactile defensiveness, and for Autism-like presentations of touch sensitivities. The Therapeutic Brushing we utilize however does use the Therapressure Brush that the WIlbarger Protocol uses, however it is similar to the Therapeutic Massage wherein it is done proximal to distal and only on four extremities in an orderly fashion; whatever arm or leg that was started on with the massage will also be the same arm/leg that will initiate the brushing as well. We strongly suggest that the brushing technique be performed ONLY AFTER the massage in order for the sensory nerves to “zero out”  and not be stimulated to a negative “high” to where the fight or flight status of the brain becomes activated. The purpose of the Therapeutic Brushing is to increase awareness centers and promotes Serotonin in the brain, which is the neurotransmitter that helps improve mood and social functioning.

Emotional Control is defined by Dr. Richard Guare and Dr. Peg Dawson as the ability to manage emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behavior. People who struggle with emotional control tend to have angry outbursts or behavior outbursts such as destroying or throwing objects, aggression towards self or others, and threats to harm oneself. Flexibility on the other hand is the skill that is defined as the ability to adapt to new situations, improvise, and shift strategies to meet different types of challenges. For example, a child who may be expecting to see a movie at a particular time and would not be able to due to circumstances would be able to bounce back and restructure the day or be able to find a solution to the disappointing outcome in a more proactive manner.

Therapeutic brushing supports the development of Emotional Control and Flexibility mainly due to the release of Serotonin right after the GABA process from the Therapeutic Massage. The sense of well-being meeting the sense of mood stabilization, which includes digestion, appetite and overall memory in learning. Frustration tolerance improves with different situations and thinking processes are supported efficiently by the calming effects and mood stabilization brought about by Serotonin.

3. Joint Vibration – Metacognition, Working Memory, Organization

HOmemedics handheld massagerJoint Vibration is unique to the Execu-Sensory Diet because we utilize a battery operated 4-point massager which is gives out a medium vibration cycle to the major joints of the extremities, such as the shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers for the arm and the hip, knee, ankle and toes for the leg. As with the first two techniques, the extremity that was started on the first two will also be the extremity that will be utilized to initiate this technique. Of all of the techniques, this is the one that requires the most care; some people will react to the low-medium vibration as ticklish, while others will claim that it is painful and can incite fight, flight or freeze. Usually, however, the reason why this is the third step in the diet is because GABA and Serotonin have already been activated and the sensorimotor system is in ‘trust’ mode. This may not be true for students with extreme sensory processing deficits, thus training is essential for this particular modality.

The neurotransmitter that is released by Joint Vibration is Dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us to take action to move toward rewards that we see.

Metacognition is the awareness and understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning. The overused thinking about thinking is what pop culture uses to define this skill. Working Memory on the other hand, is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data. It is usually referred to as the RAM system of our cortices, constantly remembering tasks or sequences of skills that need to be rearranged and retrieved at any given moment. An example or using working memory is taking a test that requires one to have access to formulas in short term recall that can be used.

Lastly, Organization is considered the skill of putting things into a logical order or the act of taking an efficient and orderly approach to tasks. The ability to prioritize what should come first, next etc. is how organization is developed and displayed on a daily basis.

Now, Joint Vibration supports Metacognition, Working Memory and Organization by the release of Dopamine. With the sensation of the brain being rewarded by the experience of joint vibration, the calm of GABA and the stabilization of emotions by Serotonin, the efficiency in short-term recall, hierarchical assignment of tasks needing to be accomplished and the awareness of the processes involved in being efficient and organized are enhanced by the neurotransmission of Dopamine. Learning is equated as something pleasurable and positive.

4. Modified Auditory Integration – Goal-directed Persistence, Time-Management

Seinnheiser202Modified Auditory Integration is a modality that we use with children who have difficulty maintaining where they are spatially in relation to the environment and to others in their immediate proximity. We also tend to use the Sound Health Series at 50% volume with closed, supra-aural, dynamic hi-fi stereo headphones. Auditory Integration is based on the Tomatis Method which is to improve the auditory system, people who can hear sounds may not be able to take in the full spectrum of these sounds, which means they might find it difficult to listen properly. According to Dr Tomatis, this happens when muscles are not working properly and through auditory stimulation it is possible to retrain the muscles of the inner ear so that it can function without distortion. Overall, Auditory Integration initiates Dopamine release in the brain similarly to Joint Vibration however from a direct sensory system rather than from a joint receptor system. This is the only modality that is used from start to finish of the ESD.

Goal-directed persistence is the capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal, and not be distracted by competing interests. A good example would be when there is a game or a toy that the child may want, and a structured process of steps are put in place in order to ‘earn points’ to get closer to earning the reward, such as doing chores efficiently, or doing well in school allows the child to delay gratification and continue to persist toward the final achievement of the goal.

Time Management is ability to plan and control how you spend the hours in your day to effectively accomplish your goals, such as being able to gauge how long an assignment will take to finish or how much longer one needs to be able to get from one place to the next. The opposite of course to efficient time management is procrastination, and for some whose sensory processing systems limit their understanding of time, rigidity in multiple step task accomplishment.

Modified Auditory Integration supports development of Goal-Directed Persistence and Time Management by continuing the Dopamine release happening with the Joint Vibration protocol. It meets the joint receptors sense of reward by allowing the auditory system to ‘listen’ not only to the music but also to the body, and ultimately provide that platform to improve and build on sitting throughout the whole diet protocol; time management on the other hand is measured by the ability of the neurotransmission to relay the benefits from Serotonin, GABA and Dopamine thus signalling indirectly the beginning, middle and end of the protocol via the use of the Modified AIT.

5. Counting and Hierarchy – Planning/Prioritization, Task Initiation

Counting and Hierarchy involves a specific rote and tonal count in a calm voice from 1-15 for every single extremity and every single modality and technique used. The Hierarchy obviously provides predictability and structure to the diet, to a point that the child can self-direct the diet and ultimately tailor the diet according to his/her needs at given points in time, ultimately breaking them down into what has been coined as Sensory Snacks. 

Planning and Prioritization is when one organizes work, sets priorities, and determines resource requirements. In this case, the counting and the order of the diets assist with determining the generalized prioritization of the diet as well as anticipation of what is next, and last without increasing Acetylcholine release.

Task Initiation is knowing how to get started on a task and sustaining the attention and effort levels needed to complete the task, which in this case again is supported by the predictability of the materials, the diet protocol from one time to the next, the language, the tone of voice up to the signaling of when it is the end.

For more detailed information on training of the Execu-Sensory Diet, or for more related literature that supports this particular methodology, please email us or check out our published abstracts related to this topic. Hopefully this will provide you with some clarity on how the sensorimotor systems play an integral part in wholistic cortical development, especially in regards to supporting the development of Executive Functioning Skills.

An Anti-Prescription to Learned Helplessness

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe that bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe that defeat is just a temporary setback or a challenge, that its causes are just confined to this one case.” – Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism, 1991.

So true. But even before one becomes a pessimist, or an optimist for that matter, there is that tiny voice at the back of everyone’s consciousness reminding them of how imperfect they are. The incessant reminder that the laundry list of things to do is so far and wide, and that urgency is of utmost priority or else the consequences will be disastrous. It is the inevitable consistent pundit making Twitter-type remarks even when things are going well….the what-to-do-if-this-happens voice so preoccupied by what hasn’t or may not happen in the first place.

This is the sense of what we will coin here as negative classical conditioning, as part of an already established habit loop of past experiences and trauma that have turned into inadvertent never agains. Some of the conditioning may be so severe that one exposure to the stimuli would be enough for permanent negative response. For example, someone who had experienced drowning in open water one time in their life may prevent them from swimming in any similar context. Or one who has been bitten by a dog unexpectedly may not only choose not to own a dog but also possibly freeze when confronted with one on the street.

The Professionals LH Excuses

And there are those of course who are flooded by certain aspects of negative classical conditioning all day at either at home or at work that what had started as a tiny voice inside the head balloons into a faux déjà vu: a repetition of servitude behavior because the only option available seems to be submission. A horrible boss who reminds you of how slow or inefficient you are to be worth the use of company resources, or a teacher at every meeting being reminded constantly about all the things they do wrong and never acknowledged for the things that have been accomplished correctly.

Let’s just say for argument’s sake that there is an ‘out’ of the negative classical conditioning that is happening, what do you think would happen? If an escape was made possible and created clearly and sincerely so one would not have to ever be subjected to the consequences again, would they take it?

Chances are, probably not. After a multitude of exposures to such conditions, a person’s mindset will end up adapting and not resisting what was unnatural to their make-up or to their consciousness. They would have crossed over to the level of Learned Helplessness.

Learned helplessness occurs when a person is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that he/she cannot escape. Eventually, the person will stop trying to avoid or negotiate the stimulus and behave in a manner that is utterly helpless to change their situation. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any further action or reaction.

Societal Learned Helplessness

The concept of learned helplessness was discovered fortuitously by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. Initially, they had observed helpless behavior in dogs that were classically conditioned to expect an electrical shock after hearing a tone. Later on in their experiment, the dogs were placed in a shuttlebox that contained two chambers separated by a low barrier. The floor was electrified on one side, and not on the other. The dogs previously subjected to the classical conditioning made no attempts to escape, even though avoiding the shock simply involved jumping over a low barrier.

In order to further investigate this phenomenon, the researchers then did a follow up to the first experiment. They utilized three groups of dogs instead of just one. In group one, the dogs were strapped into harnesses for a period of time and then released. The dogs in the second group were placed in the same harnesses, however were subjected to electrical shocks that could be stopped by pressing a panel with their noses. The third group received the same shocks as those in group two, except that those in this group were not able to control the duration of the shock. It seemed for those dogs in the third group, the shocks were completely random and outside of their control.

Later on, the dogs were then placed in a shuttlebox from the first experiment. Dogs from the first and second group quickly learned that jumping the barrier eliminated the shock. Those from the third group, however, made no attempts to get away from the shocks in spite seeing the low barrier. The researchers concluded from both experiments that due to their previous experience, the dogs from the third group had developed a cognitive expectation that nothing they did would prevent or eliminate the shocks. (Seligman & Maier, 1967).

The Educator-Learner LH Cycle
The Educator-Learner LH Cycle

Thus it would be safe to say in education, this happens on both sides of the fence — on the educator side and on the learner side. The student who has had a negative condition from previous Math testing experiences will think, “No matter how hard I study for this test, I’ll always get a bad grade. Or a teacher who feels that there’s always struggles with the ability to enhance positive behaviors in the class he or she is assigned to be with during a transition would say, “Here it is again, the transition of this class, which I am never able to do right!” For either case, the thoughts are loud and constant that there is no escaping their destructive spiral; into anxiety, panic, cortisol, and the increase in the ACh neurotransmitter firing that ‘active’ thinking is now abandoned to reflexive autopiloting.

It is alarming, this phenomenon. While the educational system continues to evolve in whatever direction the wind blows, there are people who get so overwhelmed by the basic, the core tenets of connecting a teacher and a student via an education that the destination from the first day to the last day of school is daily battleground of repetitive mantra — usually leaning toward what is always being done wrong. Simultaneous to this interaction, there is an attempt at instruction geared at driving the students, no better yet, herding them towards the standards even as they may have needs for scaffolding, modified instruction, and/or a slew of other accommodations that may or may not warrant an Individualized Education Plan.

Is there then a solution?

Many have offered suggestions in the small victories and positive classical conditioning to reinforce the opposite of learned helplessness. This requires however a systemic change in the way of thinking from the internal classroom, to a hallway, to a school campus, to community school campuses, to city-wide school campuses and so on. Like anything else, it starts with ONE. ONE thought, and ONE person to power back up and participate in their own decision making processes again.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Children (Both Big and Small) Learn What They Live

Children Learn What They Live

By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

Many children spend more waking time in the presence of their teachers, than their parents and caregivers.  Therefore, it may be a safe assumption that children growing up in the twenty-first century are learning what they live based on their school experience–their teachers–just as much (maybe some cases more) as they are from their caregivers.  While teachers have been taught about behavior management, best practices and given scripts for curriculums, not many are required to take college courses on developing executive functioning skills or more specifically character. Yet, they may be responsible for a large part of character development for the students they teach on daily basis.

In recent years, this is become quite obvious as there has been the push for character education to return to school curriculums and the creation of character report cards that grade children on the development of their character. This is a useful tool if character is being taught, modeled and monitored throughout the semester.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

While the intent of these two movements are originating from different sources; they are sending a similar message: children today are not naturally developing and/or aware of their character. The former was in response to the increase in bullying and ostracization of students; the latter was the rude realization that while schools were producing high school graduates capable of earning a high school diploma and acceptance into college; these same students were not only struggling once they reached college, but were dropping out.

Enter Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth. Her research uncovered that grit and self-control are better predictors for academic achievement than IQ, socio-economic status (family income) among other factors. Her research states that “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007). Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Duckworth & Steinberg, in press). Her definitions for grit and self-control mirror two concepts found in executive function skills: goal-directed persistence and response inhibition. However, regardless of what they are called, the fact remains that these skills appear essential to success; yet adolescents today do not possess these traits upon graduation from high school and pay for it dearly. So some critical questions remain: Can anyone possess these characteristics or skills? How does one acquire them? Who is ultimately responsible for “teaching” them?

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If viewed from an executive functioning perspective, the answer to the fist two questions is relatively straightforward. Yes, anyone can possess them; some people appear to demonstrate more natural strengths or abilities in particular skills than others, but strategies to strengthen or accommodate areas of weakness exist and yield successful outcomes. The last question is more difficult to answer.

If viewed from a character perspective, researchers and the U.S. Education System answer the first two questions in a similar fashion. Anyone is capable of possessing these characteristics. They are acquired through direct instruction, modeling, and life experience. They also offered a straightforward answer to the third question: it is the responsibility of both schools and parents to teach character.

What happens then, if teachers themselves have never been taught or simply demonstrate a weakness in the character traits they are expected to teach and model? Or what happens if parents and teachers view these skills through different lenses?

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

Mostly likely, that is happening right now. Character traits like grit and self-control may or may not be taught in schools and in homes. If they are taught, perhaps they are taught differently which leads to children experiencing mixed-messages and putting a hybrid of the two into practice. This may work for some, but for others it leads to dropping or failing out of high school or college. The origins of character education are synonymous with an academic education. Character education changed in the 1960s and 1970s when the focus shifted to the process of making moral decisions versus the content of morality. It has now reemerged in the past decade most likely as a result of the publicized findings on college success rates of KIPP Academy students and theories as to why it was so low.

Yet, the re-introduction of the curriculum does not mean the mastery of skills by those expected to teach it. If teachers haven’t been taught, are never asked to self-reflect and evaluate their own areas of strength and weakness the result inevitably is they don’t know what they don’t know. So, how can they teach it?

The oversimplified truth is they can, just not effectively. It has been shown that children not only learn what they live, they live what they learn. Teachers are children all grown up; they too now live what they learned. And they can only be expected to teach what they have been taught. Maybe it is time to share the focus on how we teach our children with how we teach our teachers.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

The Balancing Act Homework and Extracurricular Lives in School-Aged Children

For every generation of parents who have school age children, there is a theme that binds parents from the past to present: either there is too much homework, or too many extracurricular activities. Modern life has sped up the pace incredibly, especially in metropolitan cities around the world, making the demands after the school day on the family become even more stressful.

And it isn’t actually an unusual complaint or observation from a parent. The perception that homework has increased in recent years is supported by the results of a research study from the University of Michigan in 2000. The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found that time spent on home study by 6- to 8-year-old children more than doubled between 1981 and 1997 (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2000). Their results found a 146% increase between 1981 and 1997 in the time that six- to eight-year-old children (generally in grades K-3) spent on home study. In 1981, time diaries that were used to record homework times indicated that primary-grade children spent an average of 52 minutes studying per week; this figure increased to 128 minutes per week in 1997 (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2000). The proportional increase seemed very large because the baseline measurement—time spent on study in 1981—was very small. Moreover, the ISR study found no substantial increase in home study time over the same period for nine to twelve-year-old children (generally third to sixth graders). Their average weekly home study time was 3:22 in 1981 and 3:41 in 1997— a difference that was not large enough to achieve statistical significance.(Hofferth & Sandberg, 2000)


In 2003, The Journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis published a study by Brian P. Gill and Steven L. Schlossman entitled,  “A Nation at Rest: The American Way of Homework.” The researchers found that the great majority of American children at all grade levels then spent less than one hour studying on a typical day—an amount that has not changed substantially in at least 20 years. High school students in the late 1940s and early 1950s studied no more than their counterparts did in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Gill and Schlossman have also concluded that changes in educational opinion on homework over the last half century prior to 2003 have had little effect on student behavior, with only two notable exceptions: a temporary increase in homework time in the decade following Sputnik, and a new willingness in the two decades before the 2000’s to assign small amounts to primary-grade students. Does this signify then that homework is dictated by current events and/or standings of students when ranked side by side their peers from other countries?

As a standard, homework recommendations from the National Education Association conclude that, “The National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take.”

They also cite that homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension; the purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students’ existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child’s learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement. (Review of Educational Research, 2006).

The Review of Educational Research published a comprehensive survey of all the studies on homework and achievement performed between 1987 and 2003. A strong connection was found between the two particularly in high school. In elementary grades, homework helps youngsters establish healthy study habits and keeps parents connected to what their children are doing at school. Homework in high school also lead to higher scholastic success. However, more recently in 2014, a Stanford researcher found that too much homework can negatively affect kids, especially their lives away from school, where family, friends and activities matter. The researchers used survey data to examine perceptions about homework, student well-being and behavioral engagement in a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities. Students in these schools average about 3.1 hours of homework each night.

Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education co-authored a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education with Mollie Galloway and Jerusha Conner, found that too much homework is associated with:

• Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.

• Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. 

• Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicated that spending too much time on homework meant that students were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.

In places where students attend high-performing schools, too much homework can reduce their time to foster skills in the area of personal responsibility, the researchers concluded. “Young people are spending more time alone,” they wrote, “which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities.”


On the flipside, there are students who value time to engage in their interests and communities via extracurricular activities on top of homework. Participation in activities such as sports, clubs, private lessons, and religious activities enrich students’ lives by supporting social skills.  Several studies emphasize the benefits of extracurricular activities and homework, while others focus on the negative consequences of each. Overscheduled children may not have as much time to complete homework assignments, leading to a decline in academic achievement. According to the critics too much involvement in extracurricular activities takes away from time that could be spent studying or completing homework.  On the other hand there were many students who also felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.

A bit of history on the extracurricular path into student lives. Extracurricular activities began in the United States in the 19th century. At first they were just an additional part to the normal academic schedule for the year and usually had some practical or vocational interest that was included into the activities. The first extracurricular activities that were well known in schools started at Harvard and Yale University. They were literacy clubs that consisted of different debate clubs and Greek systems such as fraternities and sororities.

Students in American schools were the first to initiate athletic clubs which soon became popular while literacy clubs began to decline. Around the time of World War I, schools started adding clubs such as journalism, and newspaper. (Casinger, J. 2011) Now these clubs have become popular and many public high schools and grade schools have clubs for all interests. In the year 2010, about 1 in 4 students participated in academic clubs. (Miller, Zittleman, 2010).

To determine the relationship between extracurricular involvement and homework performance,  a research study was conducted by Rachel Johnson and Ryana Moulden entitled, “A Correlational Study of Extracurricular Involvement and Homework Performance of Third Grade Students.”  Data was collected in two third grade classes for the four-week study in two elementary schools. For the first two weeks, math homework scores were recorded, and the second two weeks, language arts homework scores were recorded. No significant correlation was found between the number of hours spent in extracurricular activities and math homework performance, however the results revealed a significant negative relationship between the number of hours spent in extracurricular activities and language arts homework performance.

In his article, “Extracurricular Activities,”  Fred C. Lunenburg states, “Extracurricular activities serve the same goals and functions as the required and elective courses in the curriculum. However, they provide experiences that are not included in formal courses of study. They allow students to apply the knowledge that they have learned in other classes and acquire concepts of democratic life.”(2010)  The positive effects that extracurricular activities have on students’ education are behavior, better grades, school completion, positive aspects to become successful adults, and a social aspect. Higher grades and positive attitudes towards school are secondary effects that extracurricular activities have on students. Self esteem can be a predictor of academic performance. Students who don’t like school won’t do as well as the students who do like school because they are not motivated to succeed. The students who don’t like school usually feel as though they are not succeeding or that they can succeed.

A study done by the United States Department of Education revealed that, “Students who participate in extracurricular activities are three times more likely to have a grade point average of a 3.0 or higher. This is higher than students who did not participate in extracurricular activities. This is regardless of their previous background or achievement.” Students that participate in extracurricular activities also showed positive changes in students self confidence, teacher perception, and greater confidence, and then developed positive school related adult attachments. Extracurricular activities increases a students connection to school, raises their self esteem, and positive social natures.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,241 adults (of whom 457 have school-aged children) surveyed online between June 11 and 17, 2014. With parents of K-12 students reporting their children spend an average of 38.4 hours per week on scheduled activities during the school year (including school time, extra-curricular school activities and other scheduled commitments), while maintaining an average of 19.1 hours of free time, this finds America’s school-aged children with a roughly 2:1 ratio of scheduled to free/leisure time.  Perhaps not surprisingly, parents whose children have 15 or more hours per week of combined extracurricular and other “scheduled” time are much more likely than those whose children have under 15 hours to report feeling pressured to put their child in activities that other children are doing (21% <15 hours, 36% 15+ hours). They are then also more likely to worry their child is “over-programmed” (18% and 35%, respectively).


At the end of the day, it is a balance between time and aptitude between homework and extracurricular activities, as both are a part of character and brain development for students. In the Harris Poll where some adults see a crowded calendar, others see the opportunity for new experiences, and nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) wish they had the opportunity to have as many varied experiences as children do today. This sentiment is significantly stronger among those with school-aged children (73%) than among those without (62%).

Please Share This Resource With Parents

Thank you to the parents of East Harlem Scholars Academy in New York, NY for coming to a seminar today on campus.  This brochure was provided to them by one of ESNP’s therapy partners to the parents as a quick reference to help their children at home. If you would want to use this free resource, or want to use the information in the brochure, just contact us via email or through this site.



Special Education: Redesigned and Redefined

BFyjIO4CMAAXatbWhen a bright eyed and idealistic teacher walks into the classroom, she does not have any pre-conceived notions that the mission statement of the school will be vaguely if at all reflected in the daily battle called teaching. The act of teaching is a juggernaut of sorts: between the principals, the administrators, the board members, and/or the politics — that it may feel like a fluke if the teacher maintains sight of the student, or if the student can honestly say that the teacher is, well, teaching.

Now, add a dash of one, or maybe three of the 13 special education classifications in the mix of students in a classroom of 28 to 30 students. This teacher may or may not have any background knowledge on educational disabilities, best practices for children classified with these disabilities; however it is a safe assumption that within this classroom of students, those who are not or cannot conform will stand out. And by the year’s end, the previously idealistic teacher may be anything but. Additionally, she may have fallen into damaging stereotypical thinking and labeling because she was never given the opportunity or education to think differently.

Most education professionals are aware of the studies that reveal teachers’ negative bias toward students labeled as having a learning disability. These studies have concluded that teacher’s rate behaviors more negatively, put less effort into educating these students and recommend them less for gifted education, even when given evidence of giftedness. Unfortunately, the why behind this occurrence is relatively easy to answer. Despite the progress at the federal level for children with disabilities since the 1970s, the stereotypes associated with the Special Ed label remains engrained in the general public as well as general ed mindset. Gaining access to a free and appropriate public education has done only that. The doors have been opened and the children welcomed in. Yet, the question begs to be asked: “are these students being taught?” Perhaps it is not the students we should be labeling as disabled or unable to learn, but rather the schools and the education system as a whole.

L30009e5et’s take a snapshot of the current system: schools invest thousands of dollars in curriculums that align to the common core standards, which tout an increase reading and math proficiency. Yet these curriculums are changed yearly because student scores do not increase at the expected rate. Some schools banned use of textbooks and teachers, who have been supposedly taught how to teach are also now expected to create curriculums or piece together a decade worth of rejected curriculums oftentimes for either multiple grades or multiple subjects. And within this disorganized system, children who struggle to learn within a traditional classroom, for reasons neuropsychologists are still trying to determine, are expected to adapt and learn in the same way, at the same rate with the same retention as their typically developing peers. Administrators and teachers alike, are allowed to overlook this since their academic background never afforded them an opportunity to learn nor required it of them. Yet the perfectly typical students with atypical brains become the ones punished for this oversight. Not only do teachers have decreased expectations, which leads to decreased effort; being labeled as special ed is shown to have a negative impact on self-esteem.

Taylor et. al found that students with generic special education labels had significantly lower self esteem compared to children with specific labels such as dyslexia. Furthermore, there was no difference in self-esteem between those identified and labeled as dyslexic to those without a special education and/or disability label. The authors concluded that children with a general label “offers very little in the way of an explanation for the child’s academic difficulties and because targeted interventions are not as available for those with a less specific label” This shows that it is the lack of transparency, discussion, effective interventions given to children with non-specific learning disabilities that play a major role in decreased self-esteem. Additionally, it was noted that there was stigma from peers more often associated with classroom labels of resource room and special class than the label of a generic or specific disability.  These conclusions indicate that environment, misconception, lack of discussion, transparency, and inclusion building measures within a community are to blame for decreased self-esteem, ridicule and teasing among students with disabilities, not the disability itself.

This reinforces the notion that schools and the education system are disabled and disabling those students who learn differently. Ideally, teachers and students alike would be equipped and well versed in what ilabeling-kidst means to have a disability, the strengths and weaknesses associated with that disability and strategies in which that student can overcome barriers within academic institutions in order to find success. However, this is next to impossible when teachers are not required to learn more than simple terminology associated with educational disabilities such as IEP, learning disability, and maybe related services. In 2013, 13% of school-aged students in public school were classified as having a learning disability. That means 4 students in a class of 30 will have an IEP and receive special education services of some sort. However, there are typically students who have not been identified or whose parents do not want them classified and receiving services specifically because of the stigma associated with it; therefore, it is safe to assume that approximately 1out of every 5 within a class of 30 students will have some form of a a disability. Yet, the teacher in the general education classroom is not required to have any prior knowledge about the disability, how to teach effectively to students with that given disability or even what supports that child might need; those responsible fall to the special education teacher of the Special Education Support Services Teacher who is typically with the student for about 5 hours a week. The additional 25 -30 hours, the student is left to his or her own devices in how to mange.

In no other profession, would a business that provided an qualified employee on average 13 – 17% of the time be considered “appropriate” to meeting the needs of the business or consumers. Yet, under the current law, for students with disabilities placed in inclusion classrooms, this is considered just that. Perhaps it is time to stop dis-abelling students and start enabling our education system by educating educators to actually teach to the brains, the bodies and the minds of the learners in their classrooms. This would of course require general education teachers to take courses about educational classifications, differentiation, and special education law, but all teachers to demonstrate proficient knowledge in the developing brain, body and mind including neuroanatomy, neuropsychology and cognitive psychology to name just a few. It is time to enable not only students, but teachers and administrators, by un-labeling teachers as general or special education and in turn removing the stigmatizing labels from students. No education should just be general; in order for all students to achieve their true potential, all education should be special and built on a scientific and wholistic foundation of knowledge. 

So until the time schools either have an alleviated pressure to pack classrooms to the maximum capacity, and/or the testing rigor is substituted with individual performance aptitude (similar to portfolio based measurements), the sting of bias and the risk of a child’s learning falling through the juggernaut remains at large.

T’is the Season for Depression, And How to Shake it Off

It is definitely the heart of winter, mid-February, and we would be lucky if we had a week that didn’t have frigid temperatures, snowfall and blizzard-type winds, and long nights. Compared to the spring and summer seasons, winter in the northeastern hemisphere of the United States challenge even the happiest of people — weather conditions force us to stay indoors as much as possible, unless we emancipate ourselves from the city during these times into a cabin in the woods with hot cocoa and recreational activities meant for the season.

I am willing to bet however we aren’t all as lucky; city life and the responsibilities that come with it keep us close to it even in the harshest winter weather conditions. Compound that feeling of being trapped with heavy layered clothing, dangerous walking and commuting conditions, and gray, dreary short days that at 5 pm remind you it is wintertime with it’s pitch black quick nightfall.

Understandably this time of year, after the holidays have passed, depression sets in full force. There are those of us, however, who suffer a more consistent, cyclical type of depression this time of year called Season Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD has been recognized and included in the diagnostic classification system of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition as major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern. In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, for those people with the opposite pattern, meaning have symptoms that begin in spring or summer may be suffering from a major depressive disorder.

Let’s look at this table below, courtesy of information from the Mayo Clinic:

Mayo Clinic Table

There is a clear difference identified between Major Depression affected by SAD, Fall and Winter SAD stand alone, and then a category that actually has a Spring and Summer SAD! Obviously, the most popular kind is in the fall and winter, however there are those who have difficulties thriving in the Spring and Summer and display the symptoms listed above.

After serving a distinguished career at the National Institute of Mental Health researching cyclical mood patterns, Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, currently a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and Medical Director of the Capital Clinical Research Associates, in Rockville, Maryland, sheds light on the topic in an interview  with Psychiatry (As published in NICH website).

Dr. Rosenthal claims, “Every year, as the days become short and dark, people with SAD develop a predictable set of symptoms. They slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches, and they gain weight. Their concentration suffers, and they withdraw from friends and family. As you can imagine, their work and relationships suffer, and they can become quite depressed. This symptom cluster often lasts for four or five months until the days become longer again. Since the syndrome is linked to a lack of light, people with SAD may become depressed during cloudy weather at any time of year, or if they are confined to windowless offices or basement apartments.”

He also says that SAD in its full form affects productivity in work or school, affect interpersonal relationships, and causes a marked loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. There is a milder form of seasonal disorder which is called the winter blues and yields similar symptoms of decreased energy and increased appetite.  This can also affect enthusiasm and productivity. For instance, people with SAD report sleeping an average of 2.5 hours more in winter than in the summer, whereas people with winter blues sleep 1.7 hours more (the general population sleeps 0.7 hours more in the winter).

So how do we combat depression, SAD or otherwise?

Typical Major Depression that is not directly affected by SAD are affected by Dopamine and Serotonin levels. A Study in the International Journal of Neuroscience in 2005 by TIFFANY FIELD, MARIA HERNANDEZ-REIF, MIGUEL DIEGO, SAUL SCHANBERG, and CYNTHIA KUHN determined that in studies cortisol was assayed either in saliva or in urine, significant decreases were noted in cortisol levels (averaging decreases 31%). In studies in which the activating neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) were assayed in urine, an average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine. These studies combined suggest the stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences. They suggest that massage therapy improves overall wellness that can be utilized as an external source of increasing the happy neurotransmitters.

In some cases, Norepinephrine was also tagged to be part of the major depression cycle. See the image below:

Norepinephrine-Dopamine-Serotonin Venn
Norepinephrine-Dopamine-Serotonin Venn

The three neurotransmitters combine to maintain mood, focus and learning. Interestingly enough however, the serotonin-norepinephrine connection is what mostly determines the increase in depression, while dopamine-serotonin here is claimed to be highly involved in learning. Would it be safe to say then if the focus was on new learning and equipping one with new skills, that this may also offset major depression with chemical intervention to stabilize the serotonin-norepinephrine channels? New learning has been related to initially boosting dopamine which attracts wellness and confidence, and in turn effects the serotonin levels and pulls away from the norepinephrine pull to depression.

However, learning something new is only a small part of the solution. There are many more complex factors in major depression such as genetics, environmental situations, lifestyle choices which includes work-rest-exercise balance, diet and sleep.

For those with SAD on either the Fall-Winter Seasons or the Spring-Summer Seasons, Dr. Rosenthal says commonly used therapies include Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications are the main treatments for SAD. Also, stress management and exercise programs can be helpful. Although the first controlled studies of light therapy were conducted only 25 years ago, this treatment has subsequently become the mainstay of SAD therapy throughout the world.

Mayo clinic also indicates that one’s biological clock (circadian rhythm) is part of what is affected by SAD sufferers. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD.The changes in the season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.

Dr. Rosenthal agrees with the need for therapeutic sunlight. He says, “Sixty to 80 percent of SAD sufferers benefit from light therapy. The amount of light varies from person to person. The best light therapy units are about 1ft by 1.5ft in surface areas and use white fluorescent lights behind a plastic diffusing screen, which filter out ultraviolet rays. Mornings seem the best time for light therapy to work, although the treatments can be divided during the day. Most people respond to light therapy within 2 to 4 days of initiating treatment. Although the amount of time needed varies, most people need between 30 and 90 minutes (10,000lux) of light therapy per day.”

In the New York Times article by Roni Rabin in 2011, “A Portable Glow to Help Those Winter Blues,” it quotes a 2006 multicenter double-blind randomized controlled trial that compared bright-light therapy head to head with the popular antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) in 96 subjects found the two treatments equally effective for alleviating winter depression, though light produced results faster, usually within a week, and with fewer side effects.

Presently, popular companies like Verilux, Nature Bright, and Northern Light Technologies have come up with consumer based light boxes that can be used all year round at home and in other locations with lack of light. Dr. Andrew Weil, a doctor and author who focuses on holistic health recommends SAD sufferers must sit in front of the light for about a half an hour per day. Light therapy is reputed to work in 80 percent of all cases of SAD. This treatment can relieve symptoms within a few days, but sometimes takes as long as two weeks or more. He cautions that  while light boxes can be purchased without a prescription, a physician or other mental health professional can provide guidelines as to how to use a light therapy box for maximum effectiveness and may recommend a particular light box (you may need a doctor’s prescription if you’re seeking insurance coverage for the cost of a light therapy box).

Exposure to natural sunlight as well during the long winter months is recommended as well as a walk outside during the morning hours, however that is dependent on lifestyle and weather conditions unfortunately. The bottomline is this: whether it is major depression or SAD that causes you to be frozen in your own life, aiming for the serotonin-dopamine increase will ultimately be the key to off-setting the symptoms and hopefully improve the quality of living in the long run.

Love with the Brain, the Mind and the Body

Sitting at a table at Tillie’s, my favorite, independent Brooklyn café, I find myself easily distracted. The people are much more interesting to watch than my work is to complete. A guy of about 23 years walks in. He’s nearly 6 feet tall, very thing, longer, thick wavy dark hair—in a word attractive. I decide to watch him. What is his story? Does he go to school? He orders a large Raspberry Iced-Tea…or I assume that’s what he’s ordered because it looks exactly like mine, and that is what I ordered. He takes out his phone and fiddles with it. Boring. I got back to my work. About thirty minutes later, a girl walks in. Tall, dark olive skin, black long straight hair, very thin—in a word attractive. She is carrying a medium size white bag, most likely with food in it. He looks up and tries very hard to hide the smile the smile that is growing inside of him at the sight of HER, her walking through the door weaving among the chairs toward HIM. She hands him the bag and sits down in one swift smooth motion, maybe she’s a dancer, She, too, cannot hide the smile. The bag is more than a bag, perhaps an expression of love. She leaves to get something to drink. He immediately opens the bag and pulls out a small note—filled front and back—about the size of post-it—the smile trying so hard to stay hidden returns. He reads the note, more in lover with her than ever.

Love. Almost as essential as breathing. Why? Because love is ubiquitous. People love with their entire self: their brains, their minds, their bodies; No one loves with just their hearts.

According to Helen Fisher at Rutgers University, there are 3 stages; lust, attraction, and attachment. Robert Sternberg proposes a similar idea: the love triangle. The love triad includes: intimacy, commitment and passion, which Sternberg demonstrates is found in the seven different types of love determined by the power of each point of the triad:

1. Consummate: highest level of level, equal presence of intimacy, commitment and passion

2. Infatuated: Includes only passion

3. Fatuous: Includes equal amounts of passion and commitment

4. Empty: Includes only commitment

5. Companionate: Includes intimacy and commitment

6. Romantic: Includes intimacy and passion

7. Liking/friendship: Includes only intimacy

However, each researcher’s theory on love show the impact of love on they brain, the mind and the body.

The Brain on Love

Love literally changes our brain.

The brain on love is akin to the brain on drugs given the release of hormones that occur especially in Helen Fisher’s second stage of love: Attraction. In this is stage, greater than normal levels of dopamine are released in the brain. Dopamine release triggers the reward and pleasure center in the brain; the same chemical released when using cocaine. In addition, to dopamine, many other neurotransmitters and/or hormones are released: cortisol, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. The release of these neurotransmitters are literally changing the wiring and firing of the neurons. Therein, changing the brain, which changes the mind and the body. In Sternberg’s love triad, commitment, the active decision to stay in the relationship, represents the brain. A connection to people’s evolved pre-frontal cortex and executive function skills such as goal-directed  or task-directed persistence. Loving only with the mind would be considered empty love according to Sternberg.

The Mind on Love

The mind on love leads to sharing, trust, and intimacy.
The mind on love leads to sharing, trust, and intimacy.

The mind on love is a result of the release of serotonin. Helen Fisher found that serotonin is responsible for the inability of one to stop thinking about his or her partner and the rose-colored glasses effect. The ability to see the object of affection as more desirable and the relationship as more unique than others. This can be equated to intimacy on Sternberg’s love triangle. Dr. Arthur Aron demonstrated the ability to create intimacy even within a lab setting when complete strangers were paired with one another and given approximately 45 minutes to discuss 36 questions. After the discussion participants were asked to look into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes without speaking. Two participants after this experiment ended up married. According to Sternberg, intimacy is critical in many types of love including: consummate, companionate, romantic and liking/friendship. Intimacy represents the mind on love because it has the ability to occur despite the absence of an end-goal or physical attraction.

The Body on Love

The Body on love is felt by the heart.
The Body on love is felt by the heart.

This is the most common reference to love because people associate love with their hearts. Indeed, loving another person involves a change in heart-rate. However, this due to the release of cortisol and norepinephrine. Yet, the bodily changes, which cue people to the fact that they are experiencing a strong and separate emotion from those on a daily basis is the most easily identifiable because it involves the body. According to Helen Fisher, body love is the first stage of love: lust. It leads to the other stages taking place. Dr. Aron, found that it takes only 90 seconds to determine if someone finds another attractive. The body on love associated with romantic love or what is perceived to be romantic love, but may in fact include: consummate, infatuated or fatuous types of love.

One does not fall ‘in’ or ‘out’ of love One grows in love. ~ Leo buscaglia


Regardless of how love is categorized, labeled, or defined, the experience of love, regardless of type is unique to very. Love is universally acknowledge, felt and expressed. The great equalizer so to speak; given the uncontrollable impact it has on the brain it can make the most eloquent speaker a mumbling mess or turn the introverted intellect into a dashing diva. Fall…leap…sneak…grow love in whatever form. Love is meant to be experienced with the brain, the body and the mind…not just the heart.

Celebrate. Love. Everyday.

Metacognition is to Mindfulness (Not Everyone Can Always Teach…)

Big buzz words, both of them in the title of this article. One featuring a significant process of the Pre-Frontal Cortex, and the other, affectation of awareness from the entire brain, based upon the driving of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. However, let’s simplify the language of Metacognition and veer away from the “thinking about thinking” cliché (albeit that is what that is, the repetitive use of the definition is overused).

Meta (after, or beyond) cognition (conscious mental activities : the activities of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering) is that ten second delay before the thinking is decided upon as the last answer or decision. It is the pulling yourself out of your own awareness to look at the process that is involved in your own thinking: from the first suggestion of an idea to the last decided action. Metacognition then is the conscious mental activity that is after or beyond the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering.

The Metacognition Phase
The Metacognition Phase

It’s what we commonly refer to as THINKING ON YOUR FEET. When you rely on the automatic responses of behavior that you tuck in the memory bank for the ‘rainy days’ and successfully combine these responses without reference to a specific technique or to a pattern, you have successfully practiced the art of metacognition. Most of us use the metacognitive process in its basest sense that its application is usually muted.

Labels, both rigid and tailored to testing have been directing the voice of education. Plotting one’s education based on the ability to test versus improving the quality of the inquiring mind has recently been winning the battle of what standards should look like and what ‘schooling’ should seem to be in the eyes of a successful community, and in the grander picture, what the world expects of a citizen belonging to a particular first-world geographical location. Teaching to the BRAIN inside the human being has been scoffed in skepticism and propaganda by purists of testing protocol, and worse, by those who insist that the BRAIN is a static piece of software that can only evolve in, well, the dog-eat-dog thriving situations to effectively learn (forgetting that the BODY is attached to it, inconveniently).

And yet, there are those who do acknowledge that there is a BRAIN that echoes its decisions on the shadow called a MIND (which apparently is highly controversial for those who have either no imagination, philosophical inclinations, or even quantum physical understanding of cause and effect). The MIND is not simply an artistic, metaphorical description of romantics or serialists.

The In-Between Phase: Anticipation From Metacognition to Mindfulness
The In-Between Phase: Anticipation From Metacognition to Mindfulness

Mind (the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels, and remembers) fulness (the eventual quality or state of being full). Mindfulness then is inherently a state of consciousness. Although awareness and attention to present events and experiences are given features of the human organism, these qualities can vary considerably, from heightened states of clarity and sensitivity to low levels, as in habitual, automatic, mindless, or blunted thought or action (Wallace, 1999).  Therefore, Mindfulness is the eventual quality, state or part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers that is full.

Conscious activities of thinking lead to filling up the state of a person that thinks, feels, reasons and remembers. Conscious and purposeful filling, which is aimed at harnessing powers of understanding from genetic, evolutionary biological cognitive methods, now contrast with teaching-to-test. Conscious and meaningful activities where learning is matched with the learner’s natural aptitude while harnessing multiple abilities of learning.

Teaching with the Meta-Mind process is the ideal, not necessarily realistic. The Teacher, broken as Teach (to cause or help a person to learn how to do something by giving lessons and showing how it is done) -er (person or thing belonging to or associated with something) fulfills this process with such subconsciousness if you ask him or her the process of the real teaching, they would have to pause and trace the Meta of how they begin. And when there are words to describe this magical process (taking away the paperwork load and the political requirements), the Teacher’s Metacognition  begins with an idea, a seed, a stage either theatrical, comical, empirical or thoughtful. The Teacher  is actively immersed in the conscious mental activity that is after or beyond the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering.  The preparation for every scenario entails an almost see something-say something proactiveness; student temperament will never be the same in spite of the occurrence in the exact classroom, having the exact community of students, and/or support through the same rules and regulations. Only homeostasis remains similar as learning experiences are emotionally, memory-dependent.

The students come, the dance begins of giving and taking…sometimes with upstarts and hiccups; however, with the arsenal from the Teacher’s Meta phase, the learning is curved to where it momentarily docks. After the last word on the subject, the wards attach the knowledge to a memory base, perhaps a mnemonic one for future reference. And the Teacher? He or She goes into the Mind phase: Mindfulness of students sharing, discovering, uncovering and maybe not fully comprehending what just had happened in the minutes before with the topic at hand. The Teacher in this phase enters into that eventual quality, state or part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers that is full.

The Mindfulness Phase: Is  it the Silhouette or is it the Canvass?
The Mindfulness Phase: Is it the Silhouette or is it the Canvas?

How then can the teacher be unreasonably requested to match the learning of a subject that is not only too cognitively complex for the developing brain of the current roster he or she is given, but also when there is a predetermination of the worded script, the presentation of the activity or knowledge base, and/or finely trimmed boundaries they are unable to be flexible with? How is that called common core really a commonality? The Meta-Mind cycle is interrupted, the learning process is artificial, and citizens are not created, rather parrots with haphazard training preparation for the competitively overflowing sea of professional niches. The Teacher ceases to have a democratic role in the abilities and skills he or she thought was hired to use in the classroom; amazingly, all that’s needed to do this newly reinvented job are professionals with paper pedigree to continually beat down their passion or dedication…unless the latter is just a bad dream someone decided to share with us.

Please allow the teachers to teach again. Respect the Meta-Mind Process of Learning.

User-Friendly Interpretation on Sensory Processing Science and The Learner’s Consciousness: Part One

We have touched on the subject on our previous articles on how negative behavior is often times intermixed or interpreted as willful or choice-driven, while in some cases, these behaviors have an underlying sensory processing root. To cite a specific example, let’s say that one  who utilizes public transportation when going to work daily is unable to tolerate other people’s conversations on the shared space and would require noise cancelling headphones to be able to survive the commute.  What we oftentimes call as our preferences or likes boil down to what ‘makes sense’ or ‘computes’ with the section of the brain that processes all of the sensorimotor experience: the temporo-parietal sliver that receives and interprets all of what surrounds us and is experienced within us.

Because these systems are so automatic, just as the heart beats without us having to remind it to do so, we often take it for granted that without the ‘correct’ interpretation of what is going on, we will not make the appropriate response. Majority of our reflexes also come from this section of automaticity due to either a retrieved and learned sensory experience (e.g. touching a boiling kettle once before will permanently recall the sensory experience of fight-or-flight burning pain on the particular body part).

The Sensory Processing of a Learner: Many Intelligence Types

Let’s Look at the two pictures below. On the left side you will notice that we have named the seven (7) senses of the body as primarily responsible in processing the information from the environment.  The vision,  hearing,  smell,  touch,  taste,  movement or kinesthetic sense, and proprioception or position in space sense all come together and interpret the environment for the person based on each of the sensation’s primary function. Thus we call this the Stimulation Source.  We will discuss the details of processing science in the next section. The Stimulation Source in the simplest sense is  the interpretation of the sensations in the brain after it had been given meaning by the cerebral cortex, specifically the temporo-parietal sections. These are the many directions an interpretation of the sensations can be expressed by a person: visual-spatial, bodily kinesthetic,  musical, interpersonal,  intrapersonal, musical,  linguustic, logical-mathematical,  and ecological. These were initially introduced into the mainstream by Howard Gardner in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  In our practice however we take it a step further and consider it as the Learner’s Response.  What we have seen is that the interpretation of the senses can only be expressed accordingly based on the abilities of the brain to coordinate the meaning of the sensations received,  thus the Learner’s Response is tied to a person’s natural inclination dependent on the correct release of the information to the external environment.

The Learner's Response: Sensations Transformed into Many Intelligences
The Learner’s Response: Sensations Transformed into Many Intelligences
The Stimulation Source:  Seven Bodily Sesnations
The Stimulation Source: Seven Bodily Senses Gathering Information from the environment

If we created an example from listening to ones ipod,  as soon as the brain realizes that  it’s the sense of hearing that is stimulating it, the sound is processed and given meaning by the cerebral cortex and then sent back out to the Learner. Depending on the Learner’s natural abilities, the responses will vary from person to person. One who is kinesthetic may decide to get up and dance.  One who is visual-spatial may decide to research the singer online for a live version of the song. While someone who is intrapersonal may become reflective and try too recall an association of the song with a memory or a personal thought. This explains why even if the senses are receiving the information from the environment accurately, the responses vary from  person to person depending on their natural ability.

Sensory Processing Science: A. Jean Ayres in User-Friendly Language

Dr. A. Jean  Ayres, the pioneering Occupational Therapist in sensory integration theory summed up best the process of  the body’s ability to process sensory input. She posited that there were 7 steps that went into the brain’s processing: reception, detection, integration, praxis, discrimination, postural responses and modulation. She also did say that these steps are done in heirarchy, in order. If one step is missing, then the processing becomes faulty and the brain will not be able to send out the accurate interpretation to the learner to respond to. And of all of these steps, it is Sensory Modulation that is externalized by the Learner; by having a sensory modulation disorder, that is the obvious signal there is a hiccup in the flow of the sensory system from the einformation gathering to the brain processing, to of course the Learner’s responses.

The Sensory Processing Science: User-Friendly Language
The Sensory Processing Science: User-Friendly Language

Focus on Sensory Modulation Disorder: Impact on Learner’s Consciousness

As was mentioned in the previous section, it is the Sensory Modulation Section that mist if not all sensory issues are evidenced, based on Learner’s Response.  Now there are several types of Sensory Processing Disorders: Sensory Modulation Disorders (Sensory Hypo and Hypersensitivity,  and Sensory Seeking), Postural Disorders, and Sensory Discrimination Disorders. Of all of these however,  it has bern shown that Sensory Modulation,  the very last step of the hierarchy of sensory pricessing has the most damaging effects on the Learner’s ability to process academic and social information.

For specific details on the manifestations of Sensory Modulation Disorder, we created a table using research information by Carol Kranowitz in her book, The Out of Sync Child.

Refer to the table below:

Synthesized Sensory Modulation Disorder Chart (As Based Off of Carol kranowitz)
Synthesized Sensory Modulation Disorder Chart (As Based Off of Carol Stock Kranowitz)

Now that we have made the connection between the Learner’s Response to Stimulaton Source, how then can we correct the sensory modulation deficits? The answer: An Executive Functioning- Sensory Based Diet of course, composed of targeted activities  from a sensation to cognitive develomental perspective that are aimed to correct the gathering-interpretation process in order to align the learning responses as well . That discussion will be part two of this discussion, the next post to this series. In the meantime, check out our ESNP Recommends tab for more resources and our articles under Body Breakthroughs for additional ideas.

A Body in Motion

“I hear and I forgot. I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.” ~ Confucius.

Throughout history, many thinkers have conveyed the sentiment that learning is synonymous with doing. Yet, the educational model in most educational institutions from kindergarten through graduate degrees is listening, looking, responding. The doing takes a back seat. Well, from an overburdened educator’s perspective it is easier to plan, move through more content and manage a room of students and lecturing can easily segue into discussion. Yet, what should guide the educational model: ease or  research? Are the conclusions in fact different? What does the research say about the impact of ‘doing’ or ‘moving’ on brain development, especially as it relates to learning?

In 1977, J. Prescott, found  there was a non-motor component to the cerebellum, particularly the section of the anterior cingulate. When rats engaged in novel movements, the area became very active, Additionally, when movement impairments are present, the cerebellum is negatively impacted. This fact that novel movements activated the cerebellar anterior cingulate as opposed to all movements, shows that region becomes active when the brain is engaged in something new aka ‘learning.’ The significance of this study is that the cerebellum had previously been solely associated with motor control.

Eric Jensen, cites in his book, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, multiple sources which showed the involvement of the cerebellum in more than just learning, dating as far back as 1994. Most specifically, a team of researchers identified a path from the cerebellum or what people call the primitive brain, to multiple parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, and spatial perception.

The support doesn’t end there. Further studies using primarily fMRI, showed a relationship between the cerebellum and the visual and language systems, which involved skills such as predicting, sequencing, ordering, timing, and practicing or rehearsing a task before carrying it out; essential skills in the learning process.

Evidence of the role movement plays in learning extends beyond what researchers are seeing in the brain. From a practical perspective, structured and purposeful physical activity has been known to improve mood, alertness, and physical health. These three factors alone, directly and indirectly increase a child’ learning potential. They directly increase through the simple fact that if children are happy, awake and not feeling physically ill, they are more likely to be able to focus in class and learn the information being presented.  Indirectly, these factors lead to decreased stress and cortisol release.

Cortisol is a stress hormone, that when released during times of crisis will trigger a person’s flight, fight or freeze response, located in the amygdala; furthermore, cortisol release, blocks the brain’s access to the pre-frontal cortex in an effort to conserve energy. The pre-frontal cortex houses executive functioning skills, essential in the learning process.

“Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember. Involved me and  I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

If so much of what is now known  supports the role of movement in learning, why remove, or demote the very programs that naturally allow students to move? Perhaps because peer-reviewed literature shows mixed results and standardized test scores continue to fall. “The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: A systematic review of the literature” was published in 2011, this peer-review showed that “slightly more than half (50.5%) of all associations examined were positive, 48% were not significant, and 1.5% were negative.” The conclusion then is it may help, it certainly doesn’t hurt. However, in 2012, another peer-reviwed article controlled for quality of study. The conclusions of this study were two-fold: additional quality studies need to be conducted to confirm, but there is a positive correlation between participation in physical  education classes and academic performance.
Moving more means learning more, not less.

Although, sometimes more is less. Let’s take a look at how the brain learns and what increased academic hours offer.

More and longer academic hours in the subjects of reading and math are not necessarily the best way to increase student proficiency in these subjects. Benedict Carey in How We Learn, discusses the strange yet proven ways that brains learn best, for example, retention improves when concepts are taught, then forgotten, review is strategically spaced out, concepts within one subject are interwoven, and sleep. Therefore, the learning that takes place during increased class time on subjects that we have already been exposed to during the day may decrease our retention for that information not increase it. While it is indirectly related to movement, a case is made for adding classes such as physical education, dance, and even recess time back into the schedule since these opportunities naturally lead to the very strategies that are shown to improve learning and retention.

Researchers across multiple studies found that spacing out information leads to overall increased and deeper retention, possibly because the brain becomes almost habituated to new information when repeated in succession during one period.

Education policy, Common Core and education programs will not change overnight; however, change can begin one teacher, one classroom, one school at a time. The solution is simple: incorporate movement into daily practices, which can be done in a variety of ways:

Yoga balls

While this idea is relatively new; when implemented intentionally, and slowly overtime, it will allow kinesthetic and vestibular learners to self-regulate, which will increase sustained attention, task persistence while ideally increasing endorphins and decreasing cortisol.

Brain Gym

Brain Gym is an example simple movement based program with activities which challenges students to use coordinated movements to cross mid-line. This increases brain lateralization and improves communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Students who possess the ability to cross midline are more likely to succeed on standardized testing.

Standing Desks 

Initial mainstream reports have shown these desks to be placed in offices; however, they also have a place in the classroom, especially for students whose primary learning style is vestibular or kinesthetic. These desks have been shown to decrease some student’s need to move; increase attention and task persistence. Additionally,  when adapted to be multi-funtional, the one-size-fits-all model is simultaneously embraced and debunked.

State Changes

State changes are literally changes of one’s current state. Children in elementary through middle school classrooms are known to have a static attention capacity of on average 10-15 minutes, this may be less for early elementary students. Class periods are typically 45-60 minutes longer and sometimes upwards of 90 minutes when schools implement block scheduling. An hour is a long time for adults to be expected to sit and pay attention to one source of stimulus, let alone children and adolescents. State changes, allow for this period to be broken up in intentionally and functional ways.

State changes can take the form of listening to a mini-lesson to engaging in a think pair share to completing an independent activity and then engaging in a whole group classroom discussion. Additionally, they can be the foundation of the activity after a lesson. For example, after teaching vocabulary words, students could break into pairs or small groups and develop a skit to act out one to two of their words while the rest of the class makes educational guesses as to what words they are demonstrating.

Movement Based Memorization Games

This type of activity most commonly is associated with math concepts and teaching. Since rhythm and counting are essentially one in the same. For kinesthetic and vestibular learners, activities that pair movements with multiplication, division, or even problem solving processes are often more easily remembered and retained. Here are a few resources to get you started:

While this thinking my not be entirely the blanket truth, the body’s truth lies within it. Children need to be engaged in order to learn. Moving and doing is a natural way to engage busy bodies and minds.

“We Learn . . .
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others.” 

~ William Glasser

The Article as seen in The Fundamentals of Neuropedagogy

Thanks to our friends at Brainblogger, here you can read the complete article. Happy reading!


Over the past decade, we have learned that for every student who is simple to understand or figure out, there are one or two who are a conundrum. Over this same decade we as separate and collaborative professionals have also discovered that the answer to these students’ needs being met is two-fold: 1. Education looks only at symptomology not etiology 2. Education fails to integrate disciplines effectively. Special education needs to stop being about labels and start being about the whole child.

Enter the practice of Execu-Sensory and Neuropedagogy. When we look at the child as a whole: brain, body and mind, we begin to understand that more than what teachers are taught in school is at play. Take child development, for example, this class may or may not be required to earn a Masters in Educations, especially if the focus is middle childhood rather than early or elementary.  Yet, the brain is not done growing, literally, until the age of 19 or 20 and the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until the age of 25. Not to mention, the developmental surge that takes places during adolescence is akin to the one which occurs during early childhood. How then are teachers prepared to teach the ever evolving whole child if they lack the basic knowledge of brain development.  The simple answer is they most likely cannot. The brain is a vastly complex system of electrical wiring and firing that is critical to understanding, given the goal is not only to teach, but teach effectively.

However for the purposes of this blogpost, we shall focus the discussion on the fundamentals of Neuropedagogy in practice with some aspects of Execu-Sensory components.

Structure of Neuropedagogy

Neuropedagogy in its most basic state begins with the executive function skills and the developing Pre-Frontal cortex. However when we attempt discussion with other educators, the typical response is,  “Executive what in the where? Neuro?”

Understandable response, seeing as this predominantly European concept is commonly referred in the United States as Educational Neuroscience or Neuroeducation--or perhaps more commonly not discussed among educators at all. It was introduced during an educational summit in 2009 at Johns Hopkins University simultaneously with a “Learning and the Brain” wherein organizers and educators alike agreed there needed to be an interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, psychology and education to create improved teaching methods and curricula. It was bringing into focus new links between arts education and general learning, how learning physically alters the brain, and what goes wrong in students with learning disabilities.

Neuropedagogy however went further than Neuroeducation. The European definition of Neuropedagogy is when science and education meet and whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. It is targeted at stimulating the brains of all types of learners, not only those with students who have learning disabilities. Dr. Judy Willis a practicing neurologist made a conscious transition to the classroom as an educator feels that there needs be research about the brain’s neuroplasticity and the opportunities we have as educators to help students literally change their brains — and intelligence. To become a teacher without understanding the implications of brain-changing neuroplasticity is a great loss to teachers and their future students.

Based on the experience and the research we have done on current classroom structures in New York City, we have found that the most effective use of Neuropedagogy was in three sections: Brain Element Neuropedagogy, Body Element Neuropedagogy, and Mind Element Neuropedagogy. The hierarchy of training is dependent on the prior knowledge of brain function, thus beginning the discussion with the brain was the most functional and useful approach. The body then and it’s organic processes were the next step in the training and understanding connections between innervation and control, and lastly the mind which not all fields of classroom instruction fully develop or are able to reach without the clear understanding of how the brain and the body encompass the physics of the mind.

To say the least, one would need basic brain to facilitate the body and change the mind.

The Brain Element Neuropedagogy

The most obvious reason to share information is for learning, and learning can only be achieved if there is sufficient brain function. In our practice, we lay the foundation for understanding the Central Nervous System (CNS) neurotransmission, the utilization of approximate brain mapping of the cerebral hemispheres, and raise awareness of the unmistakable impact of the digital society on the organic brain.

By organizing the hierarchy of understanding based on the processes involved from brain neurotransmission in each section of the cerebrum at any given time, we shed more light into the powerful effects of neuroplasticity, the endless ability for the brain to change itself. There are four that have been identified for learning: Acetylcholine (ACH), Serotonin, GABA, and Dopamine. Ultimately these are the communicators responsible in delivering the information to all the lobes, including the Pre-Frontal Cortex. The PFC is not currently recognized as a lobe; however, the role that it plays in learning and behavior have been measured via Executive Function Skills.

Many definitions for executive function skills exist and they all essentially make the same point. The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines executive function skills as,” mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information… [it is the ability to use] information and experiences from the past to solve current problems.” These skills are critical to understand because when they are weak or delayed in developing, they can mask themselves as an educational disability which may lay the groundwork for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as determined by a mutlidisciplinary team.  For example, let’s say a child is referred for an evaluation for special education services because he is showing consistent negative behavior, such as being unable to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, constantly calling out, and failing to complete homework, all of which lead to decreased academic gains.  The child will most likely be mis-classified as having ADHD or a learning disability, which ultimately leads to inefficient or worse ineffective solutions. If the interventionists applied an interdisciplinary Neuropedagogical Approach, a different and more effective outcome may have played out.

Now, let’s add a layer of dynamic complexity to Neuropedagogy. Neuroscience has looked at the brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born after 1986 and compared them with brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born before 1986. The studies show a significant difference between the two. The over-arching difference: access to the digital world.  The first group is digital natives; the second digital immigrants. Digital natives have brains that have weakened pathways for interaction, decreased activity in anterior cingulate gyrus and medial orbital frontal cortex, increased isolation, aggression, passivity, loneliness, etc, increase in cortisol due to excessive brain fatigue, decreased hippocampal size. Digital immigrants, the ones who have the capacity to hand down life experiences effectively via examples and who can communicate thoughts personally are ones who are usually comfortable with familiar technology and shy away from change in that department. They have been found to have faster PFC circuitry as they have had abilities to strengthen neuronal circuits with numerous life experiences, including delaying gratification.

WIth all of the Brain Element Neuropedagogy, one can proceed to appreciate understanding the Body and it’s unique processes.

The Body Element Neuropedagogy

In our modern society, people are perceived initially from the way they present themselves. Usually what is displayed from the external body is what immediately connects one person to the next. The body’s senses take in the physical and external world, neuronally process the input and in the cortex it’s given meaning.

From a learner’s perspective, the body is both intake and output. As interdisciplinary brain-based practitioners, we shed light into the Sensory Processing Systems, the limitless potential of a person’s Multiple Intelligences and Emotional Quotient (EQ), culminating on the influence of what we have managed to call the 3 External E’s (Ergonomics, Economics, and Environment).  The body by itself is a complete sensory organ, however it has been proven by evidence-based practice that the seven (7) senses are the checkpoints of the body: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, movement and position in space. Research in this area was pioneered by Dr. A. Jean Ayres and current practitioners include Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and Carol Kranowitz all of who have contributed to the education and learning landscape. One simply cannot function by brain alone!

Multiple Intelligences Theory was pioneered by Howard Gardner, a developmental neuropsychologist,who played the violin well, wondered if a tool, aside from the Intelligence Quotient (IQ test), could be developed to measure additional attributes to determine a person’s complete intelligence. Another factor we considered was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) as this too plays an important factor externally; even as the limbic system is brain centric in it’s processing of emotions, the manifestation on the outside is clearly body centric.

Education in the twentieth and now twenty first century tends to teach to two types of learners: visual and auditory. Yet, research has shown that multiple types of learners exist, not just two. Teaching methodologies need to start designing lessons, activities and classrooms not only for the typically forgotten or ever present kinesthetic learners, but for the quiet introvert and the shy extrovert and multiple combinations of them.

Simple modifications such as state changes, strategically planned brain gym breaks or yoga ball chairs have shown to improve the executive functioning skills of sustained attention and task persistence. Additionally, when inserting brief yet planned breaks of any type, students are given an opportunity to work on set-shifiting a skill in high demand in the modern digital-world.  Modifications for the introvert include quiet spaces in the classroom or projects with an option to work alone.  The shy extrovert, may benefit from group projects with assigned jobs. However, this type of differentiated instruction is believed to be fitting only to the special education population. The rest of these students, rather than adopting a label that may or may not fit, they are instructed to adapt their bodies to fit because that is what the ‘real world’ will expect of them. Meanwhile, that potential intelligence lays mostly dormant because teachers are not teaching to them, and were probably never taught how. Neuropedagogy recognizes the learning process that processes from a brain and proceeds into the body offers perspective and solutions to teaching with the body in mind.

The Mind Element Neuropedagogy

Of all of the Elements that we train, it is the Mind Element that is the most challenging to explore.The brain and the mind are used interchangeably in the realm of education; however, scientists have discovered that although they do seem to be influential of the other, the brain and mind affect each other in very different but significant ways. The psyche in psychology practice have also been associated with the mind, and pop culture usually uses the word mind loosely as choice or state of one’s mental being.

In referencing the brain, it  is the material organic matter that has the physical manifestation of the neuronal processes while the mind is where consciousness and active thinking occur. However a thought may occur from consciousness which may alter the neuronal process that was intended to happen and vice versa. The mind discussion includes: theory of mind, the belief-desire reasoning in learners, and neuroplasticity in the habit loop, Behavior Modification and Habit Routine change that can have both positive and negative effects.

Neuropedagogy of the mind starts with the premise that the mind of a child is complex. The Belief-Desire Reasoning from H.M. Wellman’s The Child’s Theory of Mind Mechanism shows just that.  Thinking, perception, sensations, beliefs, cognitive emotions, physiology, basic emotions are all interconnected and simultaneously interacting to produce desires, intentions, actions and inevitably reactions. Actions are merely the tip of the iceberg to the ongoings of a child’s, and ultimately a learner’s mind. Educators who understand and teach with Executive Function Skills such as Metacognition, Emotional Control and Response Inhibition in mind, essentially have x-ray vision, which provides them the insight to ask the questions that will reveal the iceberg. Intention is marked by a WHOLE person, a product of perception, inception and conclusions.

Conclusion: The Neuropedagogy Synthesis

ESNP's Unique Neuropedagogy Synthesis
ESNP’s Unique Neuropedagogy Synthesis

When science and education meet it is called Neuropedagogy, whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. The information that is presented here may appear overwhelming and less comprehensive in practice however it the changing the lens and perspective that allow best practices to occur, to remind those involved in direct service that people are not formulaic in their learning.

The Neuropedagogy synthesis demonstrates just that. One of our current partnerships, The Teaching Firms of America Professional Charter School in Brooklyn, New York applies these principles by tying choice and action to their basis in the brain, Theory of Mind, and most importantly, the brain has the ability to change.  They empower their scholars to be thinkers and owners of their actions and choices by giving them knowledge from the world of neuroscience.  Finally, the utilize the principles of Neuropedagogy to guide and inform their instruction, interactions and interventions. It is a common occurrence to hear students say, “I can change my brain.” From initial classroom set-up to end of day classroom clean up, they created and continue an atmosphere of curiosity and intellect, which always seems to start and end with the brain.

Brain Molecular Connections in Neurodevelopmental Disorders: The Interventions

With the findings from the latest local and international research cited in our previous post, it is without a doubt that there would be a direct intervention that could bridge and ultimately correct the molecular genetic brain protein aberrations and eliminate neuronal misfiring. Current methods available however continue to border on the traditional drug therapies, behavioral therapies, and recently, an upsurge for use of adjunct and alternative therapies.

Just like any treatment however, we STRONGLY recommend to check with your physician or medical professional before embarking on any therapy or regimen. In spite of efficacy studies on these treatments, results may vary from person to person.

Adjunct therapies for neurodevelopmental disorders range from lifestyle changes to alternative therapies and diet manipulation. According to the Autism Centre in the UK, published information in 2009 suggests that a Magnesium deficiency in the electroyte serum, resulting from a magnesium deficient diet, or a diet high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats, can have an effect on neural efficiency- neuronal homeostasis-, leading to conditions on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. In view of this apparent relationship there is justification to consider supplementing the diet of newly pregnant mothers and those contemplating pregnancy with easily digestible magnesium compounds where deficient. It is in the same relationship that folic acid supplementation is proven to be efficient in reducing neural tube defects.

Other Adjunct Therapies, also called Complimentary and Alternative Therapies by the University of Maryland Medical Center, recommend Diets, Vitamins and Minerals, and even Herbs have been seen to alleviate Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity in children alongside the traditional Drug Therapies.

The Medical Center discusses in detail the different dietary options people with neurodevelopmental disorders may try, including the Feingold diet. The Feingold diet was developed in the 1970s by Benjamin Feingold. He believed that artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, as well as naturally-occurring salicylates (chemicals similar to aspirin that are found in many fruits and vegetables), were a major cause of hyperactive behavior and learning disabilities in children. Studies examining the diet’s effect have been mixed. Most show no benefit, although there is some evidence that salicylates may play a role in hyperactivity in a small number of children.

Other dietary therapies may concentrate on eating foods that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates, and eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners from the diet. One study found increased hyperactivity among children after eating foods with artificial food coloring and additives. However, there are no conclusive studies show no relation between sugar and ADHD as there were results that children whose diets were high in sugar or artificial sweeteners behaved no differently than children whose diets were free of these substances. This was true even among children whose parents described them as having a sensitivity to sugar.  However, there are some researchers believe that chronic excessive sugar intake leads to alterations in brain signaling, which would contribute to the symptoms associated with ADHD.

Some of Vitamins and Minerals recommended by The University of Maryland Medical Center:

Magnesium (200 mg per day) — Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include irritability, decreased attention span, and mental confusion. Some experts believe that children with ADHD may be showing the effects of mild magnesium deficiency. In one preliminary study of 75 magnesium-deficient children with ADHD, those who received magnesium supplements showed an improvement in behavior compared to those who did not receive the supplements. Too much magnesium can be dangerous and magnesium can interfere with certain medications, including antibiotics and blood pressure medications.

Vitamin B6 — Adequate levels of vitamin B6 are needed for the body to make and use brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the chemicals affected in children with ADHD. One preliminary study found that B6 pyridoxine was slightly more effective than Ritalin in improving behavior among hyperactive children. However, the study used a high dose of B6, which could cause nerve damage (although none occurred in the study). Other studies have shown that B6 has no effect on behavior.

Zinc (35 mg per day) — Zinc regulates the activity of brain chemicals, fatty acids, and melatonin, all of which are related to behavior. Several studies show that zinc may help improve behavior, slightly.

Essential fatty acids — Fatty acids, such as those found in fish and fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) and evening primrose oil (omega-6 fatty acids), are “good fats” that play a key role in normal brain function. The results of studies are mixed, but research continues. Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for heart health in adults, but high doses may increase the risk of bleeding.

L-carnitine — L-carnitine is formed from an amino acid and helps cells in the body produce energy. One study found that 54% of a group of boys with ADHD showed improvement in behavior when taking L-carnitine, but more research is needed to confirm any benefit. Because L-carnitine has not been studied for safety in children, talk to your doctor before giving a child L-carnitine. L-carnitine may make symptoms of hypothyroid worse, and may increase the risk of seizures in people who have had seizures before.

Recommending herbs for ADHD may help strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As per the University of Maryland Medical Center Resource Center,  the use of herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 – 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 – 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 – 4 cups per day. Tinctures alone may be used or in combination as noted.

Several herbal remedies for ADHD are sold in the United States and Europe. Only a handful of scientific studies have investigated whether these herbs improve symptoms of ADHD. Some of the more popular herbs and teas in the United States are as follows (Please note the interactions that the UMMC have indicated below):

  • Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Chamomile may cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to Ragweed. Chamomile may have estrogen-like effects in the body and therefore should be used with caution in people with hormone-related conditions, such as breast, uterine, or ovarian cancers, or endometriosis. Chamomile can also interact with certain medications.
  • Valerian (Valerian officinalis). Valerian can potentially interact with certain medications. Since valerian can induce drowsiness, it may interact with sedative medications.
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon balm may interact with sedative medications.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Passionflower may interact with sedative medications.

Other herbs commonly contained in botanical remedies for ADHD include:

  • Gingko (Gingko biloba) — used to improve memory and mental sharpness. Gingko needs to be used with caution in patients with a history of diabetes, seizures, infertility, and bleeding disorders. Gingko can interact with many different medications, including but not limited to, blood-thinning medications.
  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) and gingko — One study suggests that gingko in combination with ginseng may improve symptoms of ADHD. American ginseng should be used with caution in patients with a history of diabetes, hormone-sensitive conditions, insomnia, or schizophrenia. It can interact with several medications, including but not limited to, blood-thinning medications.

Relaxation techniques and massage can reduce anxiety and activity levels in children and teens. It was determined in one study that teenage boys with ADHD who received 15 minutes of massage for 10 consecutive school days showed significant improvement in behavior and concentration compared to those who were guided in progressive muscle relaxation for the same duration of time.

Also in a study of 43 children with ADHD, those who received an individualized homeopathic remedy showed significant improvement in behavior compared to children who received placebo. The homeopathic remedies found to be most effective included:

  • Stramonium — for children who are fearful, especially at night
  • Cina — for children who are irritable and dislike being touched; whose behavior is physical and aggressive
  • Hyoscyamus niger — for children who have poor impulse control, talk excessively, or act overly exuberant

Brain Molecular Protein Connections in Neurodevelopmental Disorders: The Research

It is not news to us in the field that researchers looking to determine causation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders have zeroed in on Molecular Proteins in the brains. To be specific, these disorders (namely Epilepsy, Intellectual Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are being hailed as brain-based disorders due to the surging evidence in the last 2 years that indeed, some molecular proteins are atypical in both brain origin and development.

Let’s begin the survey in August 2013 where genetic studies were initiated in large scale. An international study on the genes involved in Epilepsy Disorder had uncovered 25 new mutations on 9 key genes behind a devastating form of epilepsy disorder during childhood. Among those were two genes never before associated with this form of epilepsy. One of these genes previously had been linked to autism and a rare neurological disorder, for which an effective therapy had previously been developed. With the findings of this research, the direction for developing genome-wide diagnostic screens for newborns to identify who is at risk for epilepsy improves potentially development of precise therapies for the condition.

“The limitations of what we currently can do for epilepsy patients are completely overwhelming,” said Daniel Lowenstein, MD, a UCSF neuroscientist and epilepsy expert. Along with Ruben Kuzniecky, MD from New York University, the pair was overseeing the Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project (EPGP). “More than a third of our patients are not treatable with any medication, so the idea of finding specific drug targets, instead of a drug that just bathes the brain and may cause problems with normal brain function, is very appealing.”

“We knew there was something happening that was unique to these kids, but we had no idea what that was,” said Elliott Sherr, MD, PhD. He a pediatric neurologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and is the principal investigator of the Epi4K Epileptic Encephalopathy (EE) project. He was responsible for the development of this group of the target research patients within EPGP.

The team identified in in their research children with two classic forms of EE – infantile spasms and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome – in which no other family member was affected. They excluded children who had identifiable causes of epilepsy, such as strokes at birth, which are a known risk for this group of disorders. Of the 4,000 patients whose genomes are being analyzed in the Epi4K, 264 children fit that description. The Epi4K sequencing team, led by David Goldstein, PhD from Duke University ran a genetic scan on the children and their parents.  They compared their scans to thousands of people of similar heritage without epilepsy,  used a cutting-edge new technique called exome sequencing. This method focuses on the exome, which is the 2 percent of our genetic code that represents active, protein-making genes. Those 25,000 genes are considered to be the code for what makes us unique, and is also responsible for disease mutations.

The genetic analysis revealed 439 new mutations in the children, with 181 of the children having at least one. Nine of the genes that hosted those mutations appeared in at least two children with EE and five of those had shown up in previous, smaller EE studies. Of the four other genes included, two may have been coincidental, the researchers found. But two new genes never before associated with EE – known scientifically as GABRB3 and ALG13 – each appeared with less than a one-in-40-billion statistical chance (p = 4.1×10-10) of being connected to EE by coincidence.

The findings implicated GABRB3, for the first time, as a single-gene cause of EE, and offered the strongest evidence to date for the gene’s role in any form of epilepsy, Sherr said. Knowing this about GABRB3, which is also involved with Angelman’s Syndrome, also offers the possibility that children with mutations only in this gene might benefit from the existing therapy for Angelman’s.

Another new gene, ALG13, is key to putting sugars on proteins, which points to a new way of thinking about the causes of and treatment for epilepsy.

‘The take-home is that a lot of these kids have genetic changes that are unique to them,” Sherr said. “Most of these genes have been implicated in these or other epilepsies – others were genes that have never been seen before – but many of the kids have one of these smoking guns.”

From GABRB3 and ALG13 genes in Epilepsy to misfiring neurons in the ADHD brain, the evidence continues to mount on how one size results do not fit all.  In June 2104, Neuroscientists collaborating from the Mayo Clinic in Florida and  rom Aarhus University in Denmark have shed light on why neurons in the brain’s reward system can be miswired, potentially contributing to disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In their study, scientists looked at dopaminergic neurons, which regulate pleasure, motivation, reward, and cognition, and have been implicated in development of ADHD. Together they unveiled a receptor system that is critical for correct wiring of the dopaminergic brain area during embryonic development. However they also discovered that after brain maturation, a cut in the same receptor, SorCS2, produces a two-chain receptor that induces cell death following damage to the peripheral nervous system.

It is the SorCS2 receptor that functions as a molecular switch between apparently opposing effects in proBDNF. ProBDNF is a neuronal growth factor that helps select cells that are most beneficial to the nervous system, while eliminating those that are less favorable in order to create a finely tuned neuronal network. The reserchers also found that some cells in mice deficient in SorCS2 are unresponsive to proBDNF and have dysfunctional contacts between dopaminergic neurons.

“This miswiring of dopaminergic neurons in mice results in hyperactivity and attention deficits. A number of studies have reported that ADHD patients commonly exhibit miswiring in this brain area, accompanied by altered dopaminergic function. We may now have an explanation as to why ADHD risk genes have been linked to regulation of neuronal growth,” says the study’s senior investigator, Anders Nykjaer, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida and at Aarhus University in Denmark.

On the other hand, a study published by Cell Press in the October 2014 issue of  The American Journal of Human Genetics shows that Neurodevelopmental Disorders caused by distinct genetic mutations produce similar molecular effects in cells. This suggests a unique perspective in that a one-size-fits-all therapeutic approach could be effective for conditions, ranging from seizures to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Neurodevelopmental disorders are rare, meaning trying to treat them is not efficient,” says senior study author Carl Ernst of McGill University. “Once we fully define the major common pathways involved, targeting these pathways for treatment becomes a viable option that can affect the largest number of people.”

Ernst and his team used human fetal brain cells to study the molecular effects of reducing the activity of genes that are mutated in two distinct autism-spectrum disorders. Changes in transcription factor 4 (TCF4) cause 18q21 deletion syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual disability and psychiatric problems. Mutations in euchromatic histone methyltransferase 1 (EHMT1) cause similar symptoms in a condition known as 9q34 deletion syndrome.  “Our study suggests that one fundamental cause of disease is that neural stem cells choose to become full brain cells too early. This could affect how they incorporate into cellular networks, for example, leading to the clinical symptoms that we see in kids with these diseases,” Ernst says.

So far, we have learned about breakthroughs in genetic studies in Epilepsy, discoveries of misfiring of neurons in ADHD and in long lasting effects of mutations of certain brain cells leading to Intellectual Disability or psychiatric problems. Now let’s take a closer look at Austism Spectrum Disorder. Would we find some molecular or genetic aberration? Stanford University researchers in December 2014 mapped an entire molecular network of crucial protein interactions that contribute to autism.

While “much work remains to be done,” Dr. Charles Auffray of Université de Lyon who collaborated with the researchers, states this  is “a bold attempt to leverage a number of rich sources of data and knowledge and to complement them with relevant additional measurements to unravel the molecular networks of ASD.”

Though further research is needed to fully understand autism’s origins, this study “contributes to the development of an openly shared methodological framework and tools for data analysis and integration that can be used to explore the complexity underlying many other rare or common diseases,” Auffray said.

In this current study of autism, the scientists did not just look at genes, they also looked at gene expression — the protein interactions — in patients with autism. After they had identified a “protein interaction module,” the researchers sequenced the genomes of 25 patients to confirm its involvement in autism.  They then validated these findings with data from 500 additional patients. In the next step, the team examined gene expression within the module, partly by using the Allen Human Brain Atlas.

It was in this stage that the researchers discovered the brain’s corpus callosum and oligodendrocyte cells  made important contributions to ASD. Developmentally, the oligodendrocyte cells help form myelin, the insulating sheath of brain cells necessary for high velocity nerve conduction. And for patients with autism, for instance, these cells exhibited extensive gene mis‐expression in the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers connecting left and right brain hemispheres.

The findings from the Stanford University study were not only supported in 2014 by the Heidelberg University but also given more specificity in the mutations not only for those with ASD, but for neurodevelopmental disorders in general.  These German Researchers posited that generally, these disorders are multi-faceted and can lead to intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and language impairment. Mutations in the Forkhead box FOXP1 gene have been linked to all these disorders, suggesting that it may play a central role in various cognitive and social processes.

Dysfunction of motor, social, sensory and cognitive aspects play a major role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID). A high comorbidity is often observed between these disorders, suggesting that mutations in critical genes can cause a spectrum of neuropsychiatric phenotypes. The Forkhead box transcription factor FOXP1, for example, has been linked to various cognitive disorders. FOXP1-specific deletions, mutations and chromosomal breakpoints interrupting the gene have been reported in patients with Intellectual Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder, speech and language deficits, and motor development delay.

They were interested to examine the behavioral phenotype of our Foxp1 KO mice, as FOXP1 mutations are associated with various behavioral deficits in humans, including social unattainability, hyperactivity, altered learning and memory, and specific obsessions.Results showed:  Foxp1 KO mice have a reduced ability for short-term recognition memory and memory for spatial contexts, which have been described before in ASD patients and in mouse models of ASD. The effect on spatial memory may be explained by the CA1 hippocampal deficits we observed in Foxp1 KO as the hippocampus is important for spatial memory. The disruption of the striatal region in Foxp1 KO mice may also contribute to the deficits in learning and memory. It has been shown that striatal lesions and infusion of the striatum with a dopaminergic antagonist results in impaired performance in spatial learning tests, while object recognition is impaired by administration of glutamate antagonists to the striatum. Interestingly, the striatum has previously been associated with the pathology of ASD in both mice and humans.

Foxp1 KO mice also displayed a higher occurrence of repetitive behaviours, in accordance with previous findings in mouse models of autism. Repetitive motor behavior is associated with abnormal activation of dopaminergic cortical-basal ganglia circuitry and therefore might partially be explained by the morphological disruption we observed in the striatal region.

They also recorded a striking reduction of social interest  in Foxp1 KO mice. Difficulties communicating and interacting with other people is a key feature of human ASD, and reduced social interaction as well as hyperactivity has been reported in mouse models of ASD before. A strong PPI deficit was observed in Foxp1 KO mice, indicating impaired abilities for sensorimotor integration. Reduced PPI has been previously reported in ASD patients. This effect on PPI in Foxp1 KO mice may be partly explained by the reduction in the striatal region as a cortico-limbic-striatopallidal circuit is involved in the circuit regulating PPI.

Excitatory and inhibitory imbalance is a hallmark brain feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Several studies have reported that ASD-related mutations selectively impact glutamatergic or GABAergic synapses without affecting the other, leading to an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory inputs. WIth their research, they have ultimately shown that the amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents but not miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents is larger in Foxp1 KO CA1 hippocampal neurons. This suggests that  Foxp1 KO neurons receive a disproportionate magnitude of excitatory to inhibitory input. In addition, excitability of CA1 pyramidal cells was reduced in Foxp1 KO mice.

With all this information, it is possible to hypothesize that treatment protocol will also change to a more direct, molecular level based on the genetic misfiring or aberration. In the next post, we will discuss the current therapeutic interventions available for these disorders.

You Need Education, not Motivation

Your hand swings up from your side to grab your phone and shut off the music. It was your favorite song, now you hate it. “What was I thinking? A good song isn’t going to miraculously give me the energy to get up and out of this bed.” It’s 7:00; time to wake up. Actually already later than the time you should be getting up. Yet, you simply just can’t. You set the timer on your phone. 3 minutes. Because maybe in three minutes you’ll have the motivation to rise up and face the day. You roll back over, knowing full well it is wishful thinking. Hey… at least it’s 3 more minutes of delaying the inevitable.
Neuroplasticity, for all its positive attributes, has a dark side in the form of bad habits, monotonous routines, and personal, motivation1professional ruts to name a few.  Maybe it’s motivation to get up in the morning and go to work, or  spend time with friends, or go to the gym. Perhaps you feel stuck in a bad habit like an unhealthy relationship or smoking or drinking more than you should. Often times when these dark forms take over your life, they do so at such a slow, sneaky pace, you fail to notice until a friend makes a comment about your mood, behavior, health, or weight. You immediately jump to your own defense; however, later you take a long hard look into a literal or figurative mirror and a wave of panic and self-realization washes over you: she was right. Your mind flips and begins scanning for solutions to this problem. You select the only answer that could possible explain how you have landed in this inexcusable place: You have NO motivation. Obviously this is the problem.

But, what is motivation? Why is it not always the answer?

Motivation can be defined as “the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Therefore, it is easy to assume that people need motivation in order to make a change, since typically people don’t change without a reason. Reasons may include a health scare, vanity, sick or being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Why even with reasons pushing people to change, is change still so difficult? Let’s take a look at what is happening in the brain when people are motivated. A study conducted by Mathias Pessiglione and a team of researchers at INSERM, found that the  ventral striatum was a general motivational system in the depths of the brain. The ventral striatum was activated during both physical and cognitive activities when participants were incentivized or motivated 2000px-Dopamine_pathways.svgwith money. Additionally, the level of activation showed a positive correlation with increased incentives. This essentially means the more motivating the reward, the more the ventral striatum was activated.  However, further studies have shown the involvement of dopamine in motivation is quite complex. Dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens when people have near-successes as well as when they are successful–this occurrence plays a role in addiction.  Additionally, the nucleus accumbens is activated when people are motivated to avoid unpleasant experiences as well. Now let’s add one more blockade to our motivation to change. Researchers at CalTech and UCLA learned that different areas in the brain are activated when people are thinking about how to do something than when they are thinking about why they are doing something. Additionally, the areas in the brain do no appear to fire simultaneously and actually have shown a negative correlation in activity. In short, you need more than motivation to make a change.

Not having motivation and knowing this, is one step closer to change, however; relying on the factors that supposedly will motivate you to change may lead you nowhere except down the same path. If you focus too much on the how, the brain cannot   move onto the why; if you focus too much on the why, the brain cannot plan the how. Furthermore, the mere talking, thinking or move towards change may be enough change for dopamine release and an activated nucleus accumbens, which in your brain is enough to lead to a sense of satisfaction.

“If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.” Jim Rohn

How can you use motivation to change?

The answer is unglamorous and gruesome: you can’t. Change takes more than motivation.  It takes work–cumbersome, agonizing work. You will be miserable, hate your life, those around you and pretty much everything related to the change you are trying to make. In addition, you will begin being haunted by reminders of change. All of this a direct result of the very comfortable habit loop you have essentially disrupted. In other words, the dark side of neuroplasticity.

But here’s the lesson: If you push through and put in the work, motivation will come. It will also sustain the new healthy habit you developed because once the change occurs, dopamine as a reward system will kick in when you engage in that new behavior.  Your brain, body and mind will begin craving the new healthy habits because the synaptic connections are now wiring and firing together in addition to the other positive outcomes gained from the change in behavior. Motivation alone won’t  change your behaviors. Instead, educate yourself on how to change and use those motivating factors to help you persevere to see that change through.

Your hand swings up from your side to grab your phone and shut off the music. It was your favorite song, now you hate it. “What was I thinking? A good song isn’t going to miraculously give me the energy to get up and out of this bed.” It’s 6:00; time to wake up. I really don’t want to, but unless I do, I never will. Change is hard, but I know now it won’t always be this difficult to wake up in the morning. I just need to push through one day at a time and the motivation will come.

The Rollercoaster Ride That is Tolerance (Including Frustration)

The act of being able to tolerate, or imbibe tolerance historically has never been easy to carry over. Either it be willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own definition or the the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant definition, there are no guarantees of progressive thoughts of tolerance making formulaic and consistent headway (however having laws in place to guide tolerance in society does help).

Dr. WIlliam Glasser, MD posited ten axioms on human behavior called Choice Theory. The axioms are:

  1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
  2. All we can give another person is information.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
  5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
  6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
  7. All we do is behave.
  8. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
  9. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
  10. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like

Based on these, there is then no cookie-cutter, logical explanation to the rise in overall intra and interpersonal disharmony due to intolerance…unless we consider tracing the frustration explosion phenomena to axiom number 3: ALL LONG-LASTING PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS ARE RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS. The inability to communicate one’s thoughts and be heard, the ability to differentiate between being assertive and aggressive, and to tie one’s rights over other’s personal space all blurring the lines of the collective unconscious which is present a form of the unconscious (part of the mind Dr.Carl Jung proposed contained memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind and originating in the inherited structure of the brain.

What then if the collective unconscious has been relegated to crevices of mini mental villages and worlds as the highly technological world is creating biological changes in the apportions of appendages (e.g. functions of the thumb due to device usage) and dysregulated exposure to speed and graphics?

Choice Theory also says in axiom 7: All we do is behave. Behavior is situation and environmentally dependent, a thrive and strive response with surviving as the initial aim and contributing as the end goal. If one is not equipped with the tools to compete in the circles that are surrounding him or her, there is the tendency to withdraw, the flight, fight and freeze phenomenon courtesy of the cerebral Acetylcholine (Ach) all to preserve one’s sanity and self. Behavior is an output, both genuine and malicious. If however there is an aberration of brain function, behavior will also mirror the bizarre processes; the anticipation of learned helplessness via anger or hurt habituates the brain into assuming this is the ‘normal’ state of being.

We don’t need to go to extremes however to be in learned helplessness — being in a job that is meaningless, a relationship that is not working, difficulties with parents or with children — all daily, common struggles experienced by us which push and pull stressors in one’s coping mechanisms. And our eventual responses can range from being on the high frustration tolerance (HFT) or low frustration tolerance (LFT), as per Dr. Windy Dryden, a leading Cognitive Behavior Therapist (CBT) in the United Kingdom.

He says that high frustration tolerance beliefs are rational in that they are again primarily flexible and not grossly exaggerated. These beliefs are expressed in their full form, thus: ‘Failing my college exam would be difficult to tolerate, but I could stand it’. The stronger a person’s unmet preference, the more difficult it would be for her to tolerate this situation, but if the person holds an HFT belief it would still be tolerable. That would mean an HFT belief is consistent with reality, and is logical since it again makes sense in the context of the person’s preference. It is like a preference and an anti-awfulizing belief. Overall, it is constructive since it will help the person take effective action if the negative event that is being faced can be changed and it will encourage the person to make a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. HFT displays often are celebrated in Olympians, in academicians, or in service above and beyond required expectations of job descriptions.

Low frustration tolerance beliefs, on the other hand, are irrational in the sense that they are first and foremost grossly exaggerated. They are couched in such statements as ‘I can’t stand it. ‘I can’t bear it., ‘It’s intolerable. When a person has a low frustration tolerance belief, it means one of two things: (i) the person will disintegrate or (ii) the person will never experience any happiness again. Since these two statements are obviously untrue, an LFT belief is inconsistent with reality.

Even Dogs Do It....
Even Dogs Do It….

It is also illogical since it is a nonsensical conclusion from the person’s implicit rational belief (e.g. ‘Because it would be very bad if I failed my college exam, I couldn’t stand it if I did fail’). Finally, like musts and awfulizing beliefs, it is unconstructive since it will interfere with the person taking effective action if the negative event that the person is facing can be changed and it will stop the person from making a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. Extreme examples of LFT displays end up in news headlines: aggression by the bullied, the angry, the fundamentalists.

If we brought these concepts of frustration to Education, we would refer to a recent graduate study by April Vian in 2012 from Kaplan University that looked at,  “Teacher Frustration Tolerance and Disruptive Behavior of Special Education Students.” Teachers completed the Munich Personality Test with its measure of general frustration tolerance and a survey designed for this study of frustration tolerance for special education students. Results demonstrated negative correlations between teachers’ general frustration tolerance and numbers of student discipline incidents among both general and special education children. Results also indicated that teachers found specific disabilities to be more frustrating than others and that frustration tolerance of certain disabilities may predict numbers of discipline incidents for these children.

Ultimately, the direction of the correlation was the inverse, with teachers having the greatest frustration tolerance for special education students also evidencing the greatest numbers of discipline incidents among these students. Among several explanations considered by the researcher, it was suggested that the school administrator in the facility where this study occurred was aware of teachers’ with high levels of frustration tolerance for special education students and thus assigned the most difficult students to these teachers. These lead teachers to have the greatest number of associated discipline incidents among special education students.

Knowing how neurotransmitters are affected by bodily and emotional processes, it is then no surprise that levels of frustration can be influenced by these as well. As the focus in brain training is on strengthening the Pre-Frontal Cortex and Executive Functioning Skills, there also needs to be a heightened awareness for the environmental expectations to not demand more than what the developmental brain can muster, including in ourselves. Irrational beliefs usually stem from irrational or negative emotions that have been learned over time, over habitual exposure to situations that an individual deems impossible to control or comprehend, natural or society-caused.

Humor Always Helps
Humor Always Helps

Education, Meet Neuro

Careers in Education span from being a one to one teaching assistant, which may or may not require education beyond high school, to holding a doctorate in education with the hopes of changing policy, running a school or teaching future teachers at prestigious universities. The paths to becoming an educator therefore, are as multi-faceted–ranging from the vocational training as a one to one teaching assistant to trial by fire  in teacher-certification or principal training programs. Arts_Education_KoreaLogoMany who enter the field, hold the ideals of wanting to change the world and to contribute to the education of the future generation; however, many of those same inviduals leave the field after a long and albeit arduous career,  with little to no passion for the profession they entered or beliefs they had about changing the world.

Why the phenomenon? Our colleagues have narrowed it down to the lack of support overall, both in background preparation and in workplace coaching. No one from either area really says flat out to a teacher-to-be, guess what, your classroom is a mini neighborhood, and you are expected to be town policeman, mayor, judge and parent. Maybe it is time to add therapist and neurologist to this list; skills possessed by these individuals may actually benefit an educator’s craft.

Currently, the majority of the programs that prepare our teachers discuss education theory, history and pedagogy. Many programs have teachers spend an entire semester creating a unit plan of about 5 lessons, when in reality many teachers need to create multiple lessons for multiple grades or multiple subjects in any given day. In addition, they teach to learners ranging from gifted and talented to those struggling to learn–classified, diagnosed or otherwise.

If schools of education added a fraction of the courses required to graduate with a degree in a related therapeutic service, psychologist and neurologist, perhaps it would not only change the approach taken to teaching, but also preserve the mentality educators have at the beginning of the field when they finally leave the field. An even greater outcome is teachers would change the world, at least the world for the children who they had the privilege of teaching. This is the potential of neuropedagogy. Neuropedagogy Synthesis

Neuropedagogy blends psychology, neuropsychology, neuroscience, school psychology, educational neuroscience and pedagogy into one, which results in a more complete understanding of the whole child in regards how children learn, how the brain functions and the role emotions play in both. Essentially, neuropedagogy explores the brain, body and mind of a child and takes all into account when teaching in a classroom.  However, the first step in teaching from a neuropedagogical point of view is to understand the anatomical brain, the power of neuroplasticity, and what is happening in brains of struggling learners.

Some schools have begun teacher training programs that explore this very notion, Harvard offers a Master’s Degree in Mind, Brain and Education. Courses include: cognitive neuroscience, statistics, educational neuroscience, atypical neurodevelopment, applying cognitive science to learning among other more typical education courses. The Teacher’s College at The University of Columbia offers a Master of Science degree in Neuroscience and Education and the courses are similar to those offered at Harvard. Finally The School of Education at John Hopkins offers a Mind , Brain and Teaching Certificate. The School of Education at John Hopkins has started an entire neuro-education initiative, which aims to inform teaching practices about the the research from neurosciences and how it can positively impact teaching practices. Most likely more programs are out there and gaining steam; however, these programs are all optional specializations in schools of education, not required. Educators or other professionals enrolling in these programs most likely have an understanding and background in the role neuroscience plays in teaching.

It is not enough. This is a fundamental disconnect, which poses  to lead to irreparable damage not only for the United States’s educational system as a whole, but for the ability of students to learn and learn to their optimal potential. Little understanding exists on the long-term effects of technology on developing minds, especially given the rate at which children are exposed to it in the 21st Century. Some doctors like Dr. Gary Small have begun studying the impacts. He has found less than positive outcomes on the development of essential executive functioning skills, which require a developed pre-frontal cortex and access to that cortex in order to employ them. Excessive exposure to technology threatens that entire process. Yet, teachers are expected to teach and children are expected to learn. How?

Teachers (and children for that matter) need to understand the brain and how that brain develops a mind and how both affect the body because all impact how a child learns, thinks, behaves and reacts. Take the Child’s Belief-Desire Reasoning developed by Dr. Henry Wellman, from The University of Michigan.  This complex thought process occurs instantaneously, and provides a glimpse as to why understanding the brain, body and mind is essential to successful teaching.  Child's Belief-Desire Reasoning

Common Core (for better or worse) changed the standards for our children; yet the change occurred before equipping educators with the ability to meet those changes armed with the required knowledge.  An education program would not be approved if they failed to teach lesson planning, educational theory, and areas of specialization–whether early childhood or advanced calculus. Neither should they be approved if they don’t teach teachers about the anatomy of the brain, how it functions, and how children learn.

The challenge therefore is to stop separating education from the very field it uses most. Education, meet Neuro.

The Mental Ability to Always Hope: Priceless

As there is the promise still of a new beginning,  a do-over in the resetting of the previous year, that uplifting feeling and positivity can collectively be described as Hope. Hope is not necessarily the same for everyone; however, at some point every person in the world has experienced the internal dialogue and introspection and pushed the positive thoughts out into the universe hoping on hope. And maybe a mantra some of us call prayer.

From a brain perspective,  hope  is activated and is influenced from the  neurotransmitter Dopamine.

The two specific receptors we will focus on here are D1 and D2 receptors. These receptors assist in the faciitation of the sense of well-being, which we label as hope. These have been implicated, along with oxytocin receptors, in both the maintenance and formation of social pair bonds, respectively. The density of these receptors in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens plays an important role in both mating and social bonds. The D2 type receptor is necessary to initially form the pair bond between two monogamous animals.

Hope then based on this study is not only a singular experience,  or a personal experience.  Rather, it’s a  collective biological, mindful collective unconscious that connects from the youngest child to the oldest human.

A study that supports the social aspect of hope was one on primates conducted by Morgan et. al., 2002, Nature Neuroscience. They had singly housed monkey brains scanned for D2 binding capacity (n = 20). Then,  the primates were allowed out of their individual cages for the first time so all the animals were now together, which meant there was an opportunity to create a social hierarchy.

After a stable hierarchy was formed the researchers re-scanned the primates brains. The high ranking animals D2 binding capacity increased by approximately 20% (the authors believe based on rat studies that singly housed animals have a lower than normal D2 levels at baseline, and therefore suggests that falling lower in the social hierarchy would cause a reduction in D2 levels if the animals start at a ‘normal’ baseline), however D2 levels in the low ranking individuals did not change.

In order too see if the changes in D2 levels had a functional effect in these animals, they  offered the addictive drug cocaine to the animals.

The high ranking animals with high D2 levels were resistant to addiction while the low ranking animals with low D2 levels were more  susceptible to addiction. These results are consistent with a large body of additional research that find low D2 levels is related with higher addiction rate.

Can one then be addicted to the feeling of hope or the idea of it?  Can it be strong enough to actually influence the consciousness of one’s mind?

Not directly seems to be the response from the scientific community. Without an external supplement to the dopamine such as cocaine, maintaining the sense of hope to a point of addiction is controlled by the D1-D2 synaptic dance.  The brains ability of course to regulate and maintain biological boundaries.

Efforts to investigate dopamine’s role in addiction and normal biological processes have been complicated by the fact that the nervous system contains multiple kinds of receptor molecules for dopamine as well as different types of nerve cells that use dopamine.

“Research in humans and other species has shown that increased vulnerability to drug addiction correlates with reduced availability of D2 dopamine receptors in a brain region called the striatum,” explains David M. Lovinger, Ph.D., chief of NIAAA’s Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience. “Furthermore, healthy non-drug-abusing humans that have low levels of the D2 dopamine receptor report more pleasant experiences when taking drugs of abuse.”

On another front,  Quantum mechanics has determined that if you think it, it is.  The thought of hope and the end product of hope are one and the same.

Quantum physics specifically states in the act of observing an object (events, conditions and circumstances) the cause for the thought to be there and the outcome is based only on how we observe it. An object or thought cannot and does not exist independently of its observer.

The Quantum Field is an “Infinite” field of potential. Anything and everything that has, does or will exist, begins as a wave in this field and is transformed into the physical realm, limited only by what can be conceived as truth by the observer.

Following this line of thinking,  one can only hope for an experience that is being craved or an object that has not yet been retrieved.  All within the realm of the subjective experience of what hope looks like to one person: from positive to hope-imagenegative hopes. Antithetical as this may sound,  there’s a reality out there for negative hopes.

That would be best explained with a philosophy of thought called the Theory of Mind.

This theory has roots in philosophy, particularly in the groundwork for a science of the mind laid down by René Descartes (1596–1650). The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896– 1980) suggested that before the age of 3 or 4 egocentrism prevents children from understanding that other people’s thoughts and viewpoints may differ from their own. And in 1978 Nicholas Humphrey proposed that introspective consciousness has a specific function as it enables social animals to predict each other’s behavior.

Theory of mind is a theory as it is believed one’s mind is not directly observable. The presumption that others have a mind is because each human can only intuit the existence of his/her own mind through introspection, and no one has direct access to the mind of another. It is typically assumed that others have minds by analogy with one’s own, and this assumption is based on the reciprocal nature of social interaction, as observed in joint attention, the functional use of language, and understanding of others’ emotions and actions. Having a theory of mind allows one to attribute thoughts, desires, and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions, and to posit their intentions.

Without a mind, one would either have negative or no hopes. Someone with a theory of mind (ToM) impairment would be someone having difficulty with perspective taking. This is also sometimes referred to as mind-blindness. This means that individuals with a ToM impairment would have a hard time seeing things from any other perspective than their own. Individuals who experience a theory of mind deficit have difficulty determining the intentions of others, lack understanding of how their behavior affects others, and have a difficult time with social reciprocity.

In the end,  no matter which of these you adhere to, the ability to hope is a truly human faculty. Hopefully if will be one hopeful year for those of you with priceless hope.

Change Your Brain; Change your Life and Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Is your new year a blank canvas…

With the end of 2014 looming near, and 2015 appearing like a beautiful blank canvas, or dark vacuous black hole, regardless of perspective, resolutions for the new year always emerge. It may be to brush them off and refuse to make even one or to enter the new year with a list of 10 fully intent on keeping every one. Even with the best of intentions, resolutions are difficult to keep because change is hard. It may help to understand why change is so difficult, then steps can be taken in order to counter the brain’s resistance to change and perhaps the realistic resolutions on that list of 10 can be kept.

or a black hole?

It’s now common knowledge that  brains are plastic and have the ability to change. This change is called neuroplasticity Dr. Doidge explains in his book The Brain that Changes Itself that scientists began seeing “if certain ‘parts’ [of the brain] failed, then other parts could sometimes take over.” However, neuroplasticity not only plays a role when areas in the brain are damaged. It is essentially the basis of all hardwired habits: good and bad. The common phrase reads: neurons that fire together wire together. That wiring together forms the near unconscious behavior that often leads to self admonishment or accolades: the mindless hand movement to eat one more fry, even after feeling full, the compulsory turning off the alarm clock to sleep for 9 more minutes, the turning to go to the gym, even after a 10 hour work day, or the grabbing a bottle of water instead of soda when thirst calls.   Therefore, unwiring or unlearning the bad habits and rewiring the good habits will be the ticket to the annual question: How long before the New Year’s Resolution is broken?  A day? A week? Two weeks?  Use the principles of neuroplasticity, and the Charles Duhigg’s Habit Loop and the response may be 12 months, 2 years, forever.

Charles Dughigg’s Habit Loop

Step 1. Identify a craving; this is essentially the reward.

Step 2. Create or uncover a cue, which will lead to Step 3.

Step 3. Establish or change or a routine so the craving/reward is met.

Charles Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop: Cue, Routine, Reward.  When completed consistently over time, neuroplasticity is the result. The neurons firing together during this three-step process, become wired together and the ‘habit’ becomes automatic. The length of time for a new habit to become just that is dependent upon the source. Decades ago, people misinterpreted Dr. Maltz’s 21 days, which has become the most common number, others say repeat a behavior like working out 10 days in a row and it will become a habit. Charles Duhigg stated that his new habit took a few weeks; however he took many weeks to identify the source, test out new routines and so on. Overall, these numbers are a bit liberal. Phillippa Lally at the University of College London, found that it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit. The average length of time was 66 days for the behavior to become automatic.  Additionally, it was noted that missing a day or two throughout did not negatively impact the formation of a new behavior. What did affect the time to habituate a behavior was the complexity of the behavior, the behavior of the person and additional environmental circumstances.

Going back to New Year’s Resolutions, begin by identifying the bad habits to kick this year or the good habits to begin. That bad habit or good habit is the routine. In order to change that routine, the reward needs to be identified. For example, smoking is a routine; the reward could be socializing with coworkers during a cigarette break,

New Year’s Resolutions are habits in disguise.

taking a break from the job, relaxing. According to Charles Duhigg, it may take some experimenting in order to identify the reward, pick 2-3 possibilities to try. Next find the cue. When does the habit kick in? Is it a specific time? Event? Person? After the cue is identified replace new routines that address the hypothesized reason for the ‘bad habit.’ Afterward, determine if the reward or craving achieved by the bad habit has been achieved with the good one. If so, keep trying it out for a few weeks; if not, try another new routine until the reward has been met.

Once the new routine is ready; a new habit can be formed and the 66, 18 or 254 days or some number in between can begin. Remember, a few missed days here and there does not equate with failure or having to start over.  The brain is plastic and just as neurons take time to wire together, they take time to unwire. Given this information, Charles Duhigg’s few weeks is in fact possible, just not common.

Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions is changing your brain, which can change your life. Deciding to change and taking that first step is the most challenging. People often pick the first day of the New Year to begin, but it is never too early or too late to change. The brain is after all plastic and will change at anytime when the effort is put in. Hopefully that cliché has a little more clarity and the first step will lead to 65 more.

What brain changes will you make this year?

Happy 2015! Here’s to a New Year and a New You.

The Powerful Necessity of TOUCH

Hugs communicate a lot more than you think
Hugs communicate a lot more than you think

If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you have had the pleasure of using public transportation to get around. Buses or trains, or both, and the many others who accompany you in the journey to and from destinations. In these modes of transport, rush hour can get harrowing; packed like a can of sardines until it wouldn’t even matter if you had a bar to hold on to to maintain your balance. The sheer volume of people in your personal space is enough to keep you stuck wherever you are sitting or standing.

And if this is most human touch you experience per day, that may not be enough. Reason: our brains are wired to be touched.

University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute in early 2014 had done extensive research in the area of human touch.Their results have revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. In the Institute’s studies, they discovered touch lessened pain, improved pulmonary function, increased growth in infants, lowered blood glucose and improved immune function. Human touch is extremely important for all ages, but by the time children reach their teen years, they receive only half as much touching as they did when they were infants. Adults touch each other even less.

The researchers in Miami also found that touch with moderate pressure stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. This produces a state that is relaxed, less closed off, but more attentive. Even the Institute’s medical staff and students that received massages for 15 minutes a day over the course of a month were more accurate and took less time on math performance tests than their counterparts who did not receive massages, more proof that touch also decreases stress hormone function and boosts immune systems.

It is then no surprise to learn of evidence pointing to the levels of aggression and violence among children is related to lack of touching.

Cross species touch speak volumes
Cross species touch speak volumes

Touch Research Institute conducted two separate studies, one with French children and one with American children to determine the degree of touch they received from their parents in relation to displays of aggression. The researchers found that French children received more touching from parents and their peers and were less aggressive than their American counterparts. American children on the contrary had less physical interaction with their parents and tended to touch themselves more than they touched their peers (e.g. playing with hair).

And in 2009,  DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein studied the person’s ability to interpret emotional content via other non-verbal means with the sensory cortex.  Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch, of which many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. “This is a touch-phobic society,” he says. “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”

The result? They did touch, all for the benefit of science after all. The results suggest that for all our Pre-Frontal Cortex caution about touching, we are hard-wired with the capacity to send and receive emotional signals solely by touching, one of our sensory systems. Herenstein was surprised at the results, thinking that the results were going to be at a chance level of 25 percent. Instead, participants were able to clearly identify and communicate eight distinct emotions (anger, fear, disgust, love,gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness)  all with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.

Even for those who suffer from seizures can benefit from therapeutic touch.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as combining Acupuncture and Massage Therapy have been found to reduce seizures. Results from studies in China and Germany as per the College of Oriental Medicine have also proven to control abnormal brain activity that causes the seizures.

For the rest of us, average touch is relative. There is debate as to how many hugs one is required to receive per day to stay emotionally and mentally healthy — a range from 8-11 per day. And that is something we can all aim for, in spite of the speed we travel, the inconvenience of daily living, and the noise all around us.

Even they know...many hugs a day keeps one healthy!
Even they know…many hugs a day keeps one healthy!

Let’s have the animals teach us how it’s really done.

The University of Florida recently suggested that animals really wanted human contact after all. Lindsay Mehrkam, a University of Florida doctoral student in psychology with psychology professor Nicole Dorey have published a paper in the journal Zoo Biology that examined different types of enrichment preferences specifically in zoo-housed animals. 

For this study, the pair chose three tortoises at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida named Larry, Moe and Curly. They were given four choices of keeper interaction: playing with a large rubber ball or under a water sprinkler, or having their shells scrubbed or necks rubbed. The zookeepers had used all of these amenities at least twice a month for several years at the zoo.

The inanimate object and the human were placed on opposite sides of the enclosure while the tortoises were released from the barn and had five minutes to make a choice. Consistently, they chose their human companion over the object!

Mehrkam said, “Not only did they prefer keeper interaction overall compared to the traditional forms of enrichment, but the individual tortoises had preferences for the kind of interaction they wanted. Larry and Curly like having their necks rubbed. Moe liked the shell scrubbing.”