Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years. Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:
In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.
Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.
The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.
“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.
Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock
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ADHD, Autism, brain chemistry, chemicals, dyslexia, fluoride, pesticides, toxic chemicals | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Trends
Monday, September 23rd, 2013
E-reader devices may help children with the learning disability dyslexia learn to read. The technology in an e-reader screen was found in a new study to make text more legible to children who otherwise would struggle to read. One reason for the finding may be that lines of text are shorter in e-readers than in books. Fox News has more on the study:
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The study’s authors said they are excited about the potential for e-readers to supplement traditional methods of therapy for dyslexic students.
“The high school students we tested…had the benefit of many years of exceptional remediation, but even so, if they have visual attention deficits they will eventually hit a plateau, and traditional approaches can no longer help,” said study author Matthew H. Schneps, director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and lead author of the research, in a news release. “Our research showed that the e-readers help these students reach beyond those limits.”
Dyslexia is characterized by an inability to concentrate on letters within words, or entire lines of text on a page, and it affects 10 percent of children in the U.S.
Thursday, March 7th, 2013
A study conducted by Italian researchers has found that playing action-packed video games and manipulating the devices used to play may help children with the learning disability dyslexia improve their performance in reading by training children to focus their attention and examine the game for both speed and accuracy. More from The New York Times:
The small study, published online last week in Current Biology, involved two groups of 10 dyslexic children. One group played action video games for nine sessions of 80 minutes each, while the other followed the same routine with nonaction games. The researchers bought the games in retail stores and have no financial interest in any video game company.
Age, I.Q., reading speed, error rates and phonological skills were similar in the two groups at the beginning of the study. The researchers measured the attention and reading skills of the children before and after the game sessions and then compared them.
Those trained on the action games scored significantly higher than those who played the nonaction games by various measures: combined speed and accuracy, recognizing pseudo-words made of random letters, and reaction time. The action game players also scored higher on tests that measured attention by inserting distractions as the children tried to accomplish various visual and auditory tasks.
Image: Teen playing video game, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, August 4th, 2011
Dyslexia, the learning disability that affects reading and spelling skills for an estimated 15-20 percent of the American population, may have an auditory component, a new study has found. The findings could have implications for how dyslexic children are taught in school. The New York Times reports:
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A study published last week in the journal Science suggests that how dyslexics hear language may be more important than previously realized. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that people with dyslexia have more trouble recognizing voices than those without dyslexia.
John Gabrieli, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, and Tyler Perrachione, a graduate student, asked people with and without dyslexia to listen to recorded voices paired with cartoon avatars on computer screens. The subjects tried matching the voices to the correct avatars speaking English and then an unfamiliar language, Mandarin.
Nondyslexics matched voices to avatars correctly almost 70 percent of the time when the language was English and half the time when the language was Mandarin. But people with dyslexia were able to do so only half the time, whether the language was English or Mandarin. Experts not involved in the study said that was a striking disparity.
“Typically, you see big differences in reading, but there are just subtle general differences between individuals who are afflicted with dyslexia and individuals who aren’t on a wide variety of tests,” said Richard Wagner, a psychology professor at Florida State University. “This effect was really large.”
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a director of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale University, said the study “demonstrates the centrality of spoken language in dyslexia — that it’s not a problem in meaning, but in getting to the sounds of speech.”
That is why dyslexic children often misspeak, she said, citing two examples drawn from real life. “A child at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox said, ‘Oh, I’m thirsty. Can we go to the confession stand?,’ ” she said.