Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
The latest statistics on the number of U.S. children affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD) shows a rise even from last year, with 1 in 50 school-aged children affected. The numbers come from the National Center for Health Statistics, and they are even more alarming than the data released last year by the Centers for Disease Control, which estimated 1 in 88 U.S. kids to have autism. USA Today has more on the new information, as researchers ponder whether the data reflects rising autism occurrence, or better diagnostic tools:
The present study asked 100,000 parents across the country a range of health questions, including whether their child had been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and whether he or she currently had the diagnosis. The autism spectrum includes autism, the most severe form, as well as Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The study looked at children ages 6-17 and was based on parent reports, while last year’s study looked at 8-year-olds whose diagnosis was noted in school district or other official records.
The fact that the new study found such high rates implies that “there will likely be more demand for (autism-related) services than we had previously thought,” said study author Stephen J. Blumberg, a senior scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics.
The new study, like most others, found that boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.
The parents’ answers to the two survey questions also suggests that 15% to 20% of children who were once diagnosed with autism no longer have the condition. Blumberg said the study cannot say whether they lost the diagnosis because they outgrew the condition, or because they were misdiagnosed in the first place.
The higher numbers recorded in the new study suggest that officials are getting better at counting kids with autism – not that more have the condition, several experts said.
“I don’t see any evidence that there’s a true increase in the prevalence of autism,” said Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Image: Boy, via Shutterstock
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Friday, February 15th, 2013
Some schools who offer award incentives to students who have perfect attendance are reconsidering their policies amid concerns that it might encourage ambitious students to come to school when they are contagious from the seasonal flu. More from NBC News:
Round Meadow Elementary School gives awards to the handful of students who make it through an entire school year with a perfect attendance record – that means no absences, no tardies, and no early sign-outs. (No exceptions.)
But the school, in Hidden Hills, Calif., may change its policy for the 2013-14 school year, says principal Jeremy Resnick. The flu has hit students and staff hard this year, and he doesn’t want to encourage kids to come to school, or their parents to send them, when they have a potentially contagious disease.
Despite automated phone calls reminding parents that their children should stay home if they have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea, “we think there are probably people who are sending their kids to school when they shouldn’t,” he says.
That’s one of the reasons many schools ditched that type of award because of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, says Andrea Vazzana, a child and adolescent psychologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center. And others, like Round Meadow, are reconsidering in light of this year’s flu and norovirus outbreaks.
For now, the award is in place, but Resnick says he tries to keep it low key – a paper certificate and maybe a gift certificate to a local restaurant – so as not to make it too tempting to come to school sick. Fewer than a dozen of the school’s 550-odd students get the award each year, and out of nine elementary schools in the district, Round Meadow is one of the only schools to still have an annual perfect attendence.
Schools are right to be cautious. Like offices, classrooms and hallways are great places for infectious diseases to spread, with close contact between students and plenty of shared surfaces. (Let’s not even talk about the nose-picking and pencil-sucking habits of younger kids.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children stay home from school until their temperatures measure below 100 degrees, without medication, for 24 hours.
Image: Girl wiping her nose, via Shutterstock
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Monday, February 11th, 2013
Boys who act out or otherwise misbehave in their school classrooms may actually be doing themselves an academic disservice, a new study published in The Journal of Human Resources suggests. The study found that in many classrooms, boys earned lower grades than their standardized test scores would have predicted, because their teachers hold their behavior against them. More from NBC News:
According to the study, disruptive behavior may indeed be working against the wiggle worms of the world.
[Study co-author Jessica] Van Parys and co-researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics involving about 6,000 mostly white, black and Hispanic students from around the country who were followed from kindergarten through fifth grade, starting in the 1998-1999 school year.
Students were given tests in reading, math and science, while teachers also rated students’ abilities in all three areas, as well as rated them on classroom behaviors. The study found that when assessing kids’ academic abilities, the teachers factored in their classroom behaviors.
This ultimately helped the girls and hurt boys. The girls scored about 15 percent higher in behavior (also called ”non-cognitive skills”), which meant they earned better grades than boys, even though they didn’t score as high on the tests.
“Our point is that teachers take into account other factors, either consciously or unconsciously, when they rate the child’s ability on all kinds of subject areas,” Van Parys said. “It’s hard for teachers to be completely objective when they’re giving an assessment.”
Image: Boy in school, via Shutterstock
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Education, Must Read, New Research
Thursday, February 7th, 2013
Some kids handle the pressures of their young lives–chiefly their abilities to score well on standardized tests in school–while others crumble under the anxiety of the pressure to succeed. An article in this weekend’s New York Times magazine looks at this fact through the lens of what it can teach us about anxiety and panic in children. The article chronicles a growing body of research on this question and concludes that though biology plays a role in a child’s ability to manage anxiety, it is far from the only factor in the equation:
An emerging field of research — and a pioneering study from Taiwan — has begun to offer some clues. Like any kind of human behavior, our response to competitive pressure is derived from a complex set of factors — how we were raised, our skills and experience, the hormones that we marinated in as fetuses. There is also a genetic component: One particular gene, referred to as the COMT gene, could to a large degree explain why one child is more prone to be a worrier, while another may be unflappable, or in the memorable phrasing of David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, more of a warrior.
Understanding their propensity to become stressed and how to deal with it can help children compete. Stress turns out to be far more complicated than we’ve assumed, and far more under our control than we imagine. Unlike long-term stress, short-term stress can actually help people perform, and viewing it that way changes its effect. Even for those genetically predisposed to anxiety, the antidote isn’t necessarily less competition — it’s more competition. It just needs to be the right kind.
Read the full New York Times article for details on the new research into childhood anxiety.
Image: Standardized test, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
A Philadelphia first-grader, Zora Ball, has become the youngest-ever person to develop a mobile game app. Ball attends the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, which is becoming renowned for training young, successful computer programmers and designers, including Ball’s old brother. More from The Philadelphia Tribune:
Ball has become the youngest individual to create a full version of a mobile application video game, which she unveiled last month in the University of Pennsylvania’s Bodek Lounge during the university’s “Bootstrap Expo.”
Seven-year-old Ball has also become a master of the Bootstrap programming language, and when asked, Ball was able to reconfigure her application on the fly using Bootstrap.
“We expect great things from Zora, as her older brother, Trace Ball, is a past STEM Scholar of the Year,” said Harambee Science Teacher Tariq Al-Nasir, who is also the founder of Harambee’s successful STEMnasium Learning Academy. “I am proud of all my students. Their dedication to this program is phenomenal, and they come to class every Saturday, including holiday breaks.”
Image: Smartphone, via Shutterstock
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