Monday, March 10, 2014

Light Sensitivity is Often Overlooked When Determining the Causes of a Reading or Attention Issue

Although the exact cause of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome has yet to be established, it appears to be a visual-perceptual problem. It is possible that it could be originating either in the retina of the eye or in the visual cortex of the brain. Other symptoms that may or may not coexist along with the visual distortions include becoming very sleepy and experiencing auditory distortions. There is some suspicion that what is termed Scotopic Sensitivity may actually encompass more areas of the brain than just the visual cortex for some. The following is a hypothetical explanation, based on current research into Scotopic syndrome.

In the visual system, there are two separate visual processing pathways, the Magnocellular, or Fast, and the Parvocellular, or Slow. The Fast pathway does not see colors, and is responsible for discerning movement, depth and high contrast images. The Slow pathway determines color, fine details and resolves low contrast images. The Fast pathway is also responsible for inhibiting the slow pathway when the eyes are moved, so that the image of what was previously being looked at does not persist. It appears that in people with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, the Fast pathway is disabled to some extent. This seems to affect the ability of the Fast pathway to inhibit the Slow pathway, which in turn, results in images persisting when the eyes are moved. As a result, the brain perceives overlapping images. In severe cases, when the brain tries to interpret these images, it perceives images that aren't there. The individual may "see" letters moving on the page, blurring or forming strange patterns. In less severe cases, the misperceptions do not occur or may be suppressed, but the brain expends more energy in processing the images than is required by most people, resulting in headaches, eyestrain, and/or fatigue. These problems generally get worse the longer a person tries to read, or do other visually intensive activities.

Bright lights, fluorescent lights, or glossy paper will often make the problems worse, as the extreme contrast will increase the problem of persistent images. Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome manifests itself most strongly when reading words or music, because of the repetitive patterns on the page. When the eyes scan across the page, the patterns of words on the page and persistent images will jumble in a manner that is difficult for the brain to interpret properly. An individual can be assessed with a wide array of color overlays to find the most suitable color. The color filters appear to act by blocking some of the light which would normally activate the Slow visual pathway, in effect taking over the inhibitory role of the Fast pathway, and thus appear to reduce or eliminate the persistent images. The filters stop the confusing signals from being sent to the brain, and the individual will see the page more normally and easily. This treatment may also be helpful to individuals who experience other related problems, such as faulty depth perception or night driving difficulties.

It has also been found that Scotopic syndrome may also appear when the reader is reading words that are non-picture words. When the brain becomes confused it will go back to earlier developmental stages to find a way to cope with the stressor. Confusion over non-picture words can also cause the text to appear to move.

Determining if the effects of text appearing to move is originating from the visual cortex, or from the area of the brain in charge of visualizing images, may be key to resolving this issue.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Is the Ability to Move to a Beat Related to Reading Ability?

The ability to synchronize movement to a steady beat relates to the brain’s response to sound. Musical training with an emphasis on movement synchronization to musical beats may improve brain synchrony, with the potential to benefit children with reading difficulties and other auditory- based language impairments.

In a recent study, Northwestern University researchers Tierney and Kraus tested the tapping ability of high-school students ages 14-17. The participants tapped with their fingers, along with a metronomic drum sound. While their tapping performance was being measured, their brainstem EEG brain wave recordings were collected. Accuracy was calculated based on how closely the participants’ tapping rate tied with the metronome beats.

The findings revealed that beat synchronization is related to the timing in speech-evoked (auditory) brainstem responses. Consequently, if a child has difficulty with rhythmic timing this may delay the development of their auditory awareness and reading ability. The authors state “This is the first evidence linking beat synchronization ability to individual differences in auditory system function.”

Activities set to a beat offer exercise to the auditory system, potentially supporting the sound-to-meaning associations which are essential to learning to read.

Journal Reference: Tierney A, Kraus N (2013) “ The Ability to Move to a Beat Is Linked to the Consistency of Neural Responses to Sound”  The Journal of Neuroscience 33(38):14981–14988.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Did You Know Playing Jacks with Your Kids Can Help Them in School?

Jacks Skills

Many games from the 60s and 70s that children played built good underlying skills. These games allowed the players to integrate both body and mind as skills were strengthened such as visual-motor perceptual, eye-hand coordination, rhythm, logic, reasoning, strategy, timing, concentration, and attention.

We use many of those older games to help our student build new skills as well as fill in missing skills they are lacking. We find these games are very beneficial for students with a wide variety of challenges.

Sets of Jacks that were produced in the 60s and 70s were small and made out of metal. Although those jacks were easy to handle and had a good weight, they can be a choking hazard for younger children. Many manufacturers in the last 15 years or so have made larger jacks that are rubber. These jacks are safer and do not hurt if you step on them however, they are more difficult to pick up especially when trying to pick up several at a time.

Playing Jacks is very integrating and bring a lot of benefit to the students but there are several skills that need to be in place first.


If the child has difficulty with small motor control or catching, use a racquetball first. Otherwise use a hi-bounce ball that will come with your jacks.

·        Bounce & catch ball with dominant hand on the table 10 times in a row without missing.

·        Bounce & catch ball with non-dominant hand on table 10 times in a row.

·        Bounce & catch ball switching from dominant hand to non-dominant hand 10 times in a row.

·        Bounce & catch ball from one hand to the other in a ‘V’ on a table 10 times in a row. (left to right, right to left)

·        Bounce the ball with the dominant hand, pick up a jack with the non-dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the dominant hand 10 times in a row.

·        Bounce the ball with the non-dominant hand, pick up a jack with the dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the non-dominant hand 10 times in a row.

·        Bounce the ball with the dominant hand, pick up a jack in the dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the dominant hand 10 times in a row.

·        Bounce the ball with the non-dominant hand, pick up a jack in the non-dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the non-dominant hand 10 times in a row.

Throwing and picking up Jacks

·        Throw 4 Jacks so that they spread out but are still fairly close to one another, within an inch to three inches.

·        Teacher or parent places two jacks 1 inch apart child practices bouncing ball and picking up two jacks at the same time.

·        Repeat with three jacks.

Playing Jacks

Level 1

·        Toss all the jacks on the table.

·        Bounce the ball with the dominant hand, pick up one jack in the dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the dominant hand.

·        Place the jack in the non-dominant hand.

·        Repeat until all jacks have been picked up.

Level 2

·        Toss all the jacks on the table.

·        Bounce the ball with the dominant hand, pick up two jacks in the dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the dominant hand.

·        Place the jacks in the non-dominant hand.

·        Repeat until all jacks have been picked up.

Level 3

·        Toss all the jacks on the table.

·        Bounce the ball with the dominant hand, pick up three jacks in the dominant hand, and then catch the ball with the dominant hand.

·        Place the jacks in the non-dominant hand.

·        Repeat until all jacks have been picked up.

If the child misses a jack or ball you can decide if they should continue, start over with that level, or if it is the parent or teacher’s turn.

You can decide how many jacks you want to play with. The typical Jacks games used to come with twelve jacks but now many of the larger rubber Jack games come with ten.











How Your Gut Microbes Can Affect Your Health

In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that the microbes in your gut play a much more vital role in your health than previously conceived. In fact, probiotics, along with a host of other gut microorganisms, are so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to "a newly recognized organ." Some interesting research to date includes:

1.     Behavior: A study published in Neurogastroenterology & Motility8 found mice that lack gut bacteria were found to behave differently from normal mice, engaging in what would be referred to as "high-risk behavior." This altered behavior was accompanied by neurochemical changes in the mouse brain. Researchers stated:

"Bacteria colonize the gut in the days following birth, during a sensitive period of brain development, and apparently influence behavior by inducing changes in the expression of certain genes."

2.     Gene Expression: Researchers have also discovered that the absence or presence of gut microorganisms during infancy permanently alters gene expression. Through gene profiling, they were able to discern that absence of gut bacteria altered genes and signaling pathways involved in learning, memory, and motor control. This suggests that gut bacteria are closely tied to early brain development and subsequent behavior. These behavioral changes could be reversed as long as the mice were exposed to normal microorganisms early in life. But once the germ-free mice had reached adulthood, colonizing them with bacteria did not influence their behavior.

In a similar way, probiotics have also been found to influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner.

4.     Diabetes: Bacterial populations in the gut of diabetics9 differ from non-diabetics, according to a study from Denmark. In particular, diabetics had fewer Firmicutes and more plentiful amounts of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria, compared to non-diabetics. The study also found a positive correlation for the ratios of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes and reduced glucose tolerance. The researchers concluded:

"The results of this study indicate that type 2 diabetes in humans is associated with compositional changes in intestinal microbiota."

6.     Autism: Establishment of normal gut flora in the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of your baby's immune system. Hence, babies who develop abnormal gut flora are left with compromised immune systems and are particularly at risk for developing such disorders as ADHD, learning disabilities and autism, particularly if they are vaccinated before restoring balance to their gut flora.


Arnold, C. (2013, 8 21). The verge: Gut feelings:the future of psychiatry may be inside your

stomach . Retrieved from

Behavioural Neurotherapy Clinic. (2013). Cellular malnutrition and intestinal dysbiosis in

autism. Retrieved from

Campbell-McBride, N. (2010). Gut and psychology syndrome. Medinform Publishing.

Donaldson, S. (2013, 9 12). Retrieved from


Mercola. (2012, 12 17). “american gut” - one of the most important health projects of the

Ross M.D., C. C. (2012, 10 23). The dirty on good bacteria. Retrieved from



Friday, February 7, 2014

When Should the General Ability Index (GIA) be Administered?

WISC-IV (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) is an IQ test used with children ages 6-16. Like other IQ Tests, the WISC-IV is designed to measure skills and abilities, rather than grade-level subject knowledge. It can be given to both readers and non-readers as it is both verbal and visual. Within the WISC there are four categories of subtests: Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory, and Processing Speed.

The problem with using the WISC-IV to test some students is that sometimes the Full Scale IQ scores are excessively lowered by their Working Memory and Processing Speed scores, when averaging out the scores from all the subtests. This is unfortunate for gifted students, Dyslexic and Dysgraphic students, and gifted Dyslexics, all of whom may do poorly on Working Memory and Processing Speed.  

In an attempt to provide an alternative to this test, the General Ability Index (GAI) was implemented, which provides an IQ score derived only from the Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Comprehension indices of the test.

When there is a statistically significant difference between one's Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning IQ Scores, and their Working Memory and Processing Speed scores, the GAI can be calculated and reported as a representation of cognitive ability, without the influence of Working Memory and Processing Speed. This score is important because it highlights certain aspects of cognitive ability necessary for advanced or gifted placement. Thus, schools often use this score to place children in different classes (e.g., gifted or special ed.) or to predict future academic success. Processing Speed and Working Memory are both important areas of one's cognitive proficiency, however the GAI gives psychologist's an alternative method of reporting "intelligence" when these areas are weaker for many due to a variety of reasons.

The full scale IQ (FSIQ) score should not be reported if the variance from the highest to the lowest composite score is 23 or more points and if the Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning Indices vary by less than 23 points. In this case, the GAI should be used instead.

copyright 2014   Hands On Learning Solutions – an educational diagnostic learning center.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Could Thumb Sucking Past the Age of 3 be an Indication of Future Learning Struggles?

Thumb sucking should be considered normal under the age of 4. It becomes a concern once the child is 6-7 years old because secondary teeth are starting to erupt and thumb sucking can change the shape of your child’s mouth, resulting in crooked teeth or an overbite.

Nursing provides many ways in which the mouth and brain can mature and gain skill for eating, swallowing, speaking, and emotional bonding. However, sucking on a pacifier or thumb is a different action than sucking on a nipple, using different muscles and having a different effect on the development of the palate. Non-nutritive sucking (i.e. sucking but not feeding) tends to lead to a high, narrow palate. This in turn can lead to several problems such as crooked teeth, mouth breathing, speech development, and recurrent ear infections.

The anterior, posterior, sphenoidal and mastoid fontanelles are membrane type gaps formed at the corners of the parietal bones of the skull. Described as small springs, or fountains, the fontanelles fluctuate or move with changes in intracranial pressure (pressure to the skull) and allow for cranial molding during the birth process.

The temporal and sphenoid each consist of three membrane segments, which will continue to develop and unite during the first year of life. Excessive force applied to these structures during pregnancy, labor or assisted delivery (i.e., forceps, vacuum extraction and/or the Ritgen maneuver) may distort the membranous segments and alter the function of the associated soft tissue. Thumb sucking action acts like a pump on the cranial bones and allows them to shift into a more comfortable relationship.

Symptoms may go unnoticed until the infant exhibits any number of affects, one of which may be chronic otitis media or chronic ear infection. This may result in persistent retraction and Eustachian tube patency which is the opposite of blockage, where the Eustachian tube remains excessively open for a prolonged period.

If the (tensor vali palatine) muscle becomes hypotonic, as in the case of glue ear, there will be no counter balance for the other side (levator veli palatine) and the patient will eventually demonstrate a high dental arch (an excessive elevation of the palate) just below the sphenoid. The patient will have difficulty getting the tongue flat against the hard palate, which will result in abnormal breathing, swallowing and speech patterns. The patient will habitually suck his thumb to enhance his ability to swallow and nose breath.

A balancing of the occiput will result in a reciprocal change in the position of the cranial plates that articulate with the occiput, especially the parietals, sphenoid and temporal plates. Seeking care from a chiropractor or craniosacral therapist could result in the subtle movement which is usually enough to restore normal motion to the plates. When this occurs, the muscles that attach to those cranial plates will be affected and a change will occur in their state of tonicity.

Continuous thumb sucking may result in movement of all related musculature and cranial structures. Restoring movement to these structures by thumb sucking enhances the flow of cerebral spinal fluid and nutrient exchange to the central nervous system. Therefore reported mouth breathing and thumb sucking could indicate that the tensor vali palatine muscle is in a hypotonic state and the levator veli palatine muscle is in a hypertonic state.

Many parents of children with learning struggles have found success with craniosacral therapy.

A note about head banging

From a structural perspective, head banging, head rolling, thumb sucking, and other repetitive behaviors may be indica­tive of cranial subluxations either causing or resulting from meningeal stress. These subluxations/meningeal stresses are often the result of neurological damage caused by pre-natal or birth trauma, accidents, chemical stress, or emotional stress. Anger and other extreme emotions tighten the meningeal system and increase brain pressure; consequently, head banging is sometimes associated with tantrums. Repeti­tive rocking appears to be an attempt to release pressure on the brain and nervous system


Source: ICA Cranias I by Dr. Carol J. Phillips

Friday, January 24, 2014

Food Intolerance - Is There Water in Your Gas Tank?

The consequence of having water in the gas tank of your car can range from poor engine performance to engine failure. Poor engine performance is the usual complaint when water is suspected. Your engine will not run efficiently, which will cause it to use more fuel, and potentially even lose power. If you live in a very cold climate, and the temperature drops low enough, your gas lines may freeze, causing your engine to die and stop running. Others things that can go wrong with water in the gas tank include ruining an electric fuel pump, clogging up the lines, and rusting the interior of the tank over time. Water can also corrode other parts of a car's engine, particularly the pistons and combustion chamber. Even if the owner doesn’t believe water in the gas tank will affect it, the car will still stop running. Consequently, it is important to remove water from a car's tank as quickly as possible.
The fix?
It is important to remove the water if possible and then prevent additional water from getting into the gas tank. After you have removed the water and a few tanks of gas have gone through the system, you should be good to go.
This is the same concept as when someone eats a food their body is unable to process correctly. We’ve all heard about food allergies in which the reaction can be mild, such as a rash, to life threatening. However, there is also something called food intolerance. Food intolerance to certain foods can show up anywhere in the body. This means that food intolerance can manifest in the most superficial layers, such as in the skin, and it can even show up in the deepest layers of the body, like within the joints.

Did you know symptoms of food intolerance can include:
      acne                         eczema                    skin rashes                   nasal congestion

sneezing                   cough                       asthma                          bloating

cramping                  diarrhea                    constipation                  mouth ulcers

poor memory            brain fog                   headache                      anxiety

depression               insomnia                   arthritis                          reoccurring ear infections

The effect that food has in the body is not confined to the physical body. Food can also affect the mental and emotional aspects of our body. When we remove the offending food, suddenly our skin clears up, our outlook and energy improve, and we no longer have nagging aches and pains.
Intolerance can develop after the body has an immune response to a food, arises from a deficiency in digestive enzymes, or if we don’t have the right digestive enzymes.
Food intolerance can cause complications in our bodies similar to the problems caused by putting water in your gas tank.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is there an advantage in an intense approach when re-training the brain?

Is there an advantage in an intense approach when re-training the brain? I’ve seen research that shows a drastic improvement when a student completes a program that is 20 hours a week for 4-6 weeks. Is that a better approach versus a 3 hour a week program?

That is a great question! Improving the brain's processing and learning does require intensity, consistency, and frequency. We believe how much depends on the individual. Some children do not do well working for multiple hours a day. They just fatigue too quickly and then do not do as well for the rest of the time. The brain cannot learn if it is stressed. In addition, when working with a child for multiple hours a day, the individual may require more breaks and game time which takes up part of those hours you are paying for. We have serviced some clients with a lot of hours over a few months especially when they are not local and are here from out of town temporarily. At the same time, for some individuals, having an intense schedule can be beneficial and build the skills up very quickly.

A nice visual is to think about each of us having a bucket in our brain. That bucket can be filled with new learning and the size of the bucket will be different for each individual and sometimes for different learning skills. Once the bucket is full, it cannot hold any more and will begin to spill over. That is when you see a child who is frustrated, tired, or anxious. If you keep trying to put more into the bucket because the school district says you have to or because your time isn't up in your session, you are wasting your effort. The brain needs to integrate the new learning and empty the bucket so it will be ready again to receive new information.

We see this especially with children who have moderate to severe Dyslexia. We've had a few students that become sleepy and begin to lose consciousness after working in an Orton-Gillingham reading program after 10, 20, or 30 minutes. I know of some parents who have gotten functional MRI scans done that have actually shown the slow down or stoppage of activity in the brain when that 'bucket' is full. At that point there is nothing we can do, they are done for that day. Over time we can get the brain to last longer and learn more at a sitting, but it takes time to get there. That's why we customize everything we do from the programs we choose to the length of the sessions and what we do during the session.

Research does confirm that in order to make a difference, increase weak processing skills, and close the gap when a student is behind that the right program with intensity, consistency, and frequency is the key. The intensity and frequency depends on the individual and the program. We’ve seen huge changes in students’ abilities with three hours, six hours or twenty-two hours a week. With cognitive skills sometimes an individual also needs time for maturation and integration. If we were to provide cognitive enhancement for an individual over nine days at four hours a day we would not see as significant an improvement as doing it six hours over twelve weeks.


Welcome to the Missing Piece

If you are the parent of a child with special needs or a learning disability then you know how difficult it can be to get answers to your questions. For many of us we have been disappointed when we were unable to find others who could help identify causes and solutions that help. This can be a lonely journey and that is why we are here. Our desire is that this would be a source of information, hope and humor for those of you who are struggling on the same path.
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