Posts Tagged ‘ 2012 ’

Cognitive Development: 2012 In A Snapshot

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Two areas of research caught my attention this year: 

Tips For Parents: We all know that it’s good for parents to play with their kids, and read to them. But new studies continue to point out specific methods that parents can use – like specific ways to talk to your toddler when reading to them, and ways to use your voice and fingers to promote reading skills. Other studies highlighted how basic kid activities – like drawing – are connected (in perhaps surprising ways) to later school achievement. While some of these findings may seem intuitive, parents of toddlers are flooded with all kinds of suggestions (including costly ones) on how to give their kids an academic “edge”. It’s very nice to see research demonstrate that parents can use some simple strategies that are fun (and cost nothing) which result in real promotion of their kids cognitive development – and also reinforce how beneficial it is for parents and kids to spend time together in an “old-fashioned” way.

Getting Kids Enough Play Time: In addition to parent-child interaction, kids need to play – and by play, I mean the running around kind. It’s good for their bodies, and it is directly and indirectly good for their cognitive development (both in the short and long term). Yet new studies continue to reveal that a number of barriers are reducing how much play kids get. The take-home message for parents is quite clear: make sure your kids have plenty of opportunities to play, and do what you can to ensure that this is the case in preschool and beyond.

Time For Review via Shutterstock.com

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ADHD: 2012 In A Snapshot

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Two themes stand out for me this year with respect to research on ADHD: 

Diagnosis: We continued to observe a potential paradox – ADHD may be overdiagnosed, yet many kids do not receive proper diagnosis and care. Here’s why. The overdiagnosis aspect comes about because kids are given a label of ADHD without going through a rigorous interdisciplinary evaluation. And that’s where some kids slip through the cracks – some kids with severe symptoms do not get evaluated properly and struggle for years without appropriate intervention. So even though studies suggest that the rate of ADHD is very high (like some of the data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), that does not translate into saying that all kids who may suffer from high levels of severity and impairment are getting the clinical services they need.

Treatment: The debate about using medications to treat ADHD got more extreme this year. A controversial opinion piece by a leading developmental researcher essentially negated the role of biology as a root cause of ADHD. On the other side of the issue, there were suggestions that kids as young as 4 years of age should start receiving medications to control their symptoms – and there were reports that in some (economically disadvantaged) areas of the country doctors are giving kids ADHD medication (without assessment and diagnosis) to try to improve their behavior and performance in school. Lost in the debate is the very real need for behavioral treatments that focus on parental strategies to help kids with ADHD function better both at home and in school. My viewpoint on all this continues to be that behavioral approaches should be tried first and should always be in place – and that once those effects are established clinicians and parents can have a more meaningful dialogue about the possible additional advantages of medication.

Time For Review via Shutterstock.com

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Autism: 2012 In A Snapshot

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

There were three big themes this year in autism research from my vantage point:
DSM-5: The ongoing debate and speculation about the diagnostic changes that have now taken hold in the upcoming DSM-5 was clearly the biggest story of the year. Proponents suggest that the change to a singular diagnostic category (which eliminates Asperger’s Disorder as a separable diagnosis) will provide clearer criteria and hence more precision. Those who disagree worry that some youth will no longer receive diagnoses – and hence access to services. Another concern is that even if children meet diagnostic criteria, the new severity ratings may prove troublesome when it comes time to receiving coverage for services. The only thing for certain is that it will take some time until we see enough data – and feedback from clinicians and parents – to know how this will all play out.
Causes of Autism: There were a number of studies which demonstrated the complexity of searching for the causes of autism. Genetic research continued to focus on rare mutations that may help explain a very small number of cases. Included here were studies suggesting potential links between paternal age and risk for spontaneous mutations. While these findings continue to appear in the journals, it is not clear if there are many other genes involved – and if a vast majority of cases of autism are due to many genes acting in combination with environmental effects. To that end, environmental studies pointed to prenatal influences, including use of antidepressants and exposure to the flu virus. The studies to date are preliminary, require replication and expansion in terms of isolating mechanisms, and again account for small increases in absolute risk (typically a magnitude of 1%). Overall, the pieces of the puzzle continue to be researched, but the puzzle remains elusive.
Early Intervention: While it is known that early intervention yields positive changes in development, new studies suggest that intensive intervention that is especially tailored to promoting reactivity to the social environment may hold considerable promise. One study showing changes in brain activity in response to faces after such intervention (the Early Start Denver Model) was particularly intriguing. While autism remains a mystery, the one thing we know is that early intervention is beneficial – and we can hope that it will become even more powerful in the future.
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