BC Speech Language Communication Blog

The Science and Art of Listening

Published: November 9, 2012 (A version of this op-ed appeared in print on November 11, 2012, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Science and Art of Listening.)

HERE’S a trick question. What do you hear right now?

If your home is like mine, you hear the humming sound of a printer, the low throbbing of traffic from the nearby highway and the clatter of plastic followed by the muffled impact of paws landing on linoleum — meaning that the cat has once again tried to open the catnip container atop the fridge and succeeded only in knocking it to the kitchen floor.

The slight trick in the question is that, by asking you what you were hearing, I prompted your brain to take control of the sensory experience — and made you listen rather than just hear. That, in effect, is what happens when an event jumps out of the background enough to be perceived consciously rather than just being part of your auditory surroundings. The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention.

Hearing is a vastly underrated sense. We tend to think of the world as a place that we see, interacting with things and people based on how they look. Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense. While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast.

This is because hearing has evolved as our alarm system — it operates out of line of sight and works even while you are asleep. And because there is no place in the universe that is totally silent, your auditory system has evolved a complex and automatic “volume control,” fine-tuned by development and experience, to keep most sounds off your cognitive radar unless they might be of use as a signal that something dangerous or wonderful is somewhere within the kilometer or so that your ears can detect.

This is where attention kicks in.

Attention is not some monolithic brain process. There are different types of attention, and they use different parts of the brain. The sudden loud noise that makes you jump activates the simplest type: the startle. A chain of five neurons from your ears to your spine takes that noise and converts it into a defensive response in a mere tenth of a second — elevating your heart rate, hunching your shoulders and making you cast around to see if whatever you heard is going to pounce and eat you. This simplest form of attention requires almost no brains at all and has been observed in every studied vertebrate.

More complex attention kicks in when you hear your name called from across a room or hear an unexpected birdcall from inside a subway station. This stimulus-directed attention is controlled by pathways through the temporoparietal and inferior frontal cortex regions, mostly in the right hemisphere — areas that process the raw, sensory input, but don’t concern themselves with what you should make of that sound. (Neuroscientists call this a “bottom-up” response.)

But when you actually pay attention to something you’re listening to, whether it is your favorite song or the cat meowing at dinnertime, a separate “top-down” pathway comes into play. Here, the signals are conveyed through a dorsal pathway in your cortex, part of the brain that does more computation, which lets you actively focus on what you’re hearing and tune out sights and sounds that aren’t as immediately important.

In this case, your brain works like a set of noise-suppressing headphones, with the bottom-up pathways acting as a switch to interrupt if something more urgent — say, an airplane engine dropping through your bathroom ceiling — grabs your attention.

Hearing, in short, is easy. You and every other vertebrate that hasn’t suffered some genetic, developmental or environmental accident have been doing it for hundreds of millions of years. It’s your life line, your alarm system, your way to escape danger and pass on your genes. But listening, really listening, is hard when potential distractions are leaping into your ears every fifty-thousandth of a second — and pathways in your brain are just waiting to interrupt your focus to warn you of any potential dangers.

Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload.

And yet we dare not lose it. Because listening tunes our brain to the patterns of our environment faster than any other sense, and paying attention to the nonvisual parts of our world feeds into everything from our intellectual sharpness to our dance skills.

Luckily, we can train our listening just as with any other skill. Listen to new music when jogging rather than familiar tunes. Listen to your dog’s whines and barks: he is trying to tell you something isn’t right. Listen to your significant other’s voice — not only to the words, which after a few years may repeat, but to the sounds under them, the emotions carried in the harmonics. You may save yourself a couple of fights.

“You never listen” is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.

Seth S. Horowitz, the author, is an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University and the author of “The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind.”

Traveling with a child with Special Needs- Testing Autism and Air Travel

The Following are highlights from an article on travelling with a special needs child:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, health officials say. And for the parents who struggle to navigate the nation’s airports and airlines with these children, aviation officials are providing more help.

Over the past two years, Washington Dulles International Airport, along with airports in Atlanta; Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; Manchester, N.H.; Philadelphia; and Newark, have offered hundreds of parents and autistic children “mock boarding” experiences, allowing them to practice buying tickets, walk though security lines and strap themselves into a plane that never leaves the gate.

As of now, Jet Blue, AirTran, Continental, Frontier, Southwest and United Airlines have participated.

The early word suggests that the programs, which are free, seem to help. Autism experts and parents say that increased familiarity with busy airports helps autistic children and their caretakers travel more comfortably. And airport and security officials say they gain a better understanding of the difficulties experienced by autistic travelers.

…Hoping to avoid such unpleasant experiences, many parents are developing their own survival strategies. Some carry letters from doctors describing their child’s autism diagnosis, pack noise-canceling headphones and dress their children in brightly colored T-shirts that declare “autism awareness,” trying to make the invisible disability visible.


Taking a child on an airplane for the first time is often a stressful experience, but for parents with children with autism, that stress is multiplied. What follows are some suggestions on how to minimize the anxiety and the potential for surprises.

• Pick a short flight — an hour or so.

• Visit the airport ahead of time to familiarize your child. If possible, participate in a mock boarding experience. If none is available, call your local airport to see if they will allow you to show your child the ticketing counters, security lines and waiting areas in advance. Parents interested in participating in a mock boarding experience at Boston Logan International Airport, either Nov. 3 or next spring, can use this link —http://bit.ly/W7zNh9 — to register. Washington Dulles International Airport plans to offer additional mock boarding experiences in the spring. Check the “What’s New” section of the airport site — mwaa.com/dulles — next year for information.

• Call the TSA Cares hot line — (1-855) 787-2227 — 72 hours before your flight to alert them that you might need assistance going through security. Some parents ask to go through the handicapped line with children who have difficulty in crowds or waiting in long lines.

• Call the airline ahead to alert them that you might need to board early or require additional assistance onboard.

• Tell your child what to expect, including delays and long waits, in the airport and on the airplane. Philadelphia International Airport offers a story —www.phl.org/passengerinfo/Accessibility/Documents/SocialStories.pdf — that can be read to children to help them prepare. It is designed for mock boarding experiences, but can be adapted to any trip.

• Pack a carry-on bag with anything that might be soothing during a rough patch. Be sure to include documentation of your child’s diagnosis that you can share with security and airline personnel.

Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, offers a page — http://bit.ly/lZXYba — with additional online resources and travel tips.

Tips for Parents on Purchasing Toys for Children with Special Needs

Author: Timothy Benson

October 25, 2012 in All Blogs, Autism, Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, Conditions, Developmental Delay, Down Syndrome, Education and Parenting, Guest Posts, Our Blog, Stroke

In certain cases, toys can be helpful tools to help a child learn and develop. To help you with choosing toys that suit your child’s needs and skill level, here are a few key tips that can guide your search.

Speak with the child’s doctor or physical therapist to see what he or she recommends. He or she sees many other patients and has likely seen other patients that are very similar to your child in regards to abilities and specific special needs in question. Toys and activities that were successful for the other children will likely be successful with your child.

Keep it fun. By definition, toys are supposed to be fun, so parents should not lose sight of that primary objective. Parents are inundated with toy commercials that promote the next big thing and instantly grab a child’s interest. They may not provide much value beyond the initial
interest, but they can certainly be a positive factor in socialization with peers. Promote those interests so your child notices the commonality between him or her and other children rather than the differences. No matter what the disability may be, no child wants to only have “special
needs” toys.

Toys also need to be functional and within a child’s ability level. Find toys that provide children with special needs an opportunity for skill development. It should offer a challenge without becoming frustrating. For example, a child with underdeveloped muscles can benefit from a lightweight ball that is designed to be easy to throw and catch. The child still has a challenge, but it also allows for fun and gross motor development.

Offer a mix of objectives. The last thing any parent wants is for a child to feel discouraged, so it is important to offer toys with a variety of open and closed ended objectives. Toys with open-ended objectives, such as a colorful set of building blocks, take away any risk of failure while building fine motor skills. Toys with definite solutions, such as puzzles, help children develop problem-solving skills while also boosting a child’s sense of accomplishment when he or she achieves the objective.

What are your experiences with purchasing toys for your child? Share your own tips and advice below!

About the author

Timothy Benson wrote one article for Enabled Kids.

Tim Benson is a former 7th grade teacher with several years’ experience teaching children with special needs. He is currently the lead copywriter for three educational toy websites: newhorizontoys.com, discoverthis.com, and babyclassroom.com.

Oxytocin Improves Emotion Recognition in Autism

Published on October 16, 2012 by Joshua Gowin, Ph.D. in You, Illuminated

Oxytocin helped Autism Spectrum Disorders recognize some types of emotions.
Earlier this year I posted on a study showing that oxytocin administration improves ability to detect the emotions people display through facial expressions. The authors of the study suggested that oxytocin may play a role in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) because individuals with ASDs tend to have lower levels of oxytocin on average and more difficulty recognizing emotions. Today at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference, Takahaski Yamada from Showa University in Japan looked more closely at the issue. He showed that for people with ASDs, oxytocin administration improves emotion recognition, but only for emotions that are difficult to identify.

For the experiment, Yamada recruited 19 men with an ASD and 19 men without any ASD as a control group. He tested the ability to recognize emotions after he gave them oxytocin and again after he gave them a placebo. Both the oxytocin and placebo were given through a nasal spray, a technique used in many oxytocin studies. Half the participants received oxytocin first, and the other half received placebo first.

He tested emotion recognition using the Reading the Eyes in the Mind (RMET) task, developed by autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen. In the RMET, participants see 36 pairs of eyes reflecting an emotion. They simply choose which of four choices of emotion they think the eyes are expressing. Some of the emotions are easy to recognize, such as fear, and some are more challenging, such as bewilderment.

Overall, the control group performed better on the RMET than the group with ASDs. They correctly recognized about 66 percent of the emotions on average, whereas the ASDs only recognized 55 percent. This is not surprising, as the test was designed to show that people with ASDs tend to have more difficulty recognizing emotions.

For both groups, oxytocin did not improve performance overall. Neither group recognized more emotions following oxytocin administration, which is a bit surprising given that a previous study showed that oxytocin improves performance on the test for healthy adults.

Both groups recognized fewer of the difficult emotions. The control group recognized about 45 percent of difficult emotions after placebo and the ASD group recognized around 35 percent.

Here’s where it got interesting. Whereas the control group did not improve for difficult emotions following oxytocin dosing, the ASD group showed a marked improvement. The control group got 45 percent correct, but the ASD group now recognized around 43 percent of difficult emotions. They improved about eight points compared to placebo, and almost matched the performance of the control group.

To understand the relationship between severity of ASD and improvement on the task, Yamada calculated how much better each person did at recognizing difficult emotions following oxytocin. He found that the individuals with the most severe ASDs showed the most improvement on the RMET after taking oxytocin.

His findings suggest a possible role for oxytocin in ASDs. Lower levels may be part of the reason why individuals with ASDs tend to have more difficulty recognizing emotions. However, the role of oxytocin may depend on the severity of the disorder.

Although Yamada tested oxytocin’s effect in a relatively small group, just 19 autists and 19 controls, he showed some evidence that oxytocin might be a target for better understanding ASDs.

Baby Communication Gives Clues to Autism

Baby Communication Gives Clues to Autism

ScienceDaily (Oct. 1, 2012) — Approximately 19 percent of children with a sibling diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will develop Autism due to shared genetic and environmental vulnerabilities, according to previous studies. For that reason, University of Miami (UM) psychologists are developing ways to predict the occurrence of ASD in high-risk children, early in life, in hopes that early intervention will lead to better outcomes in the future. Their findings are published in the journal Infancy.

The study is one of the first to show that measures of non-verbal communication in children, as young as eight months of age, predict autism symptoms that become evident by the third year of life. The results suggest that identifying children, who are having difficulties early enough, can enhance the effects of interventions.

“For children at risk of developing an ASD, specific communication-oriented interventions during the first years of life can lessen the severity of autism’s impact,” says Daniel Messinger, professor of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and principal investigator of the study. Before children learn to talk, they communicate non-verbally by using eye contact and gestures. These abilities are called referential communication and are in development by eight months of age. However, “impairments in non-verbal referential communication are characteristic of older children with ASD,” says Caroline Grantz a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at UM and co-author of the paper.

In the study, a team of researchers tested two groups of children. One group was at high-risk for ASD and the second group was at low-risk. The evaluations took place during 15 to 20 minutes sessions, at 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18 months of life. The team measured the development of three forms of non-verbal communication:
•Initiating Joint Attention (IJA) — the way an infant shows interest in an object or event to a partner. For example, making eye contact and pointing to show a toy.
•Initiating Behavioral Requests (IBR)-the manner in which an infant requests help from a partner, by making eye contact to request a toy, reaching toward, pointing to, or giving the examiner a desired toy.
•Responding to Joint Attention (RJA)-the way infants respond and follow the behavior of a partner. For example, when the examiner points to something and the child follows the experimenter’s gaze to look at that an object. The results show that lower levels of IJA and IBR growth between eight and 18 months predicted the severity of ASD symptoms for children that had a sibling with Autism.

“Overall, infants with the lowest rates of IJA at eight months showed lower social engagement with an examiner at 30 months of age,” says Lisa Ibañez, research scientist at the University of Washington Autism Center and first author of the paper. Ibañez conducted the study as part of her dissertation research in the Department of Psychology at UM.

These results are important enough that the research team is following up the study with collaborator Wendy Stone, Professor of Psychology and Director of the University of Washington Autism Center.

The project was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Miami, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:
1.Lisa V. Ibañez, Caroline J. Grantz, Daniel S. Messinger. The Development of Referential Communication and Autism Symptomatology in High-Risk Infants. Infancy, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1532-7078.2012.00142.x

U.S. Kids Exposed to 4 Hours of Background TV Daily Reduces Cognitive Functioning

Written By: Michelle Healy

U.S. kids are exposed to nearly 4 hours of background TV a day. Younger kids, blacks and poor kids are exposed to more. Pediatricians say kids under age 2 should not be exposed to TV.

A number of studies have found evidence that too much television is bad for children’s development, even when it’s playing in the background and kids are not watching. Now a study has tracked just how much background TV kids get and it’s a lot — 232.2 minutes or nearly 4 hours worth every day.

The average amount is even greater among some, especially children who are younger, African-American or from the poorest families, finds the study in today’s Pediatrics.

The nearly four hours of background TV exposure “easily dwarfs” the 80 minutes of active TV viewing the average child in this age group absorbs daily, says the study.

“You’re looking at three times the amount, which is enormous,” says Matthew Lapierre, one of the study authors, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. “It’s really kind of shocking,” he says.

The study was presented in May at a meeting of the International Communication Association. It was conducted using a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,454 parents with at least one child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years old.

Among questions that parents were asked: how often their TV was on when no one was watching; whether their child had a TV in their bedroom and the number of TVs in the home.

It found that in addition to actual TV viewing, children under age 2 and African-American children were exposed to an average of 5.5 hours a day of a TV playing in the background; children from the poorest families were exposed to nearly 6 hours per day.

The finding among African-Americans “wasn’t unexpected,” says Lapierre noting that statistically, their households “are often found to be more TV-centric,” compared with other groups, with more TVs per household and more of those TVs in bedrooms.

He suspects that the high rate of background TV among very young children may have to do with parents and caregivers leaving the television on, even when they’re not actively watching, to “break up the monotony” of being with an infant or toddler for long stretches of the day.

The study notes that background television exposure has been “linked to lower sustained attention during playtime, lower quality parent-child interactions, and reduced performance on cognitive tasks.”

Heather Kirkorian, an assistant professor of human development and family studies a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has published studies on background television’s impact on both parent-child interaction and children’s play patterns, says “until now we could only guess at the extent of the impact in children’s day-to-day lives.” The new study “documents just how great the real-world impact may be, particularly for very young children.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 not be exposed to any television.

To reduce background TV exposure, the study recommends turning off the TV when no one is watching and at key points during a child’s day, such as bedtime and mealtime.

About the Author:
Michelle Healy, a veteran health and wellness reporter, focuses on pediatrics, parenting and family issues — topics close to her working-mom heart.

Benefits of Yoga for Kids with Special Needs

By Sari Ockner, OTR/L

Occupational therapists help children with special needs build the underlying skills necessary to promote their success and independence in daily activities. This includes building their physical strength and endurance, while regulating their activity level, behavior, and emotions. Additionally, occupational therapy facilitates and feeds each child’s creativity and imagination.

Now lets talk yoga:
If you are a yoga enthusiast, such as myself, you can likely already imagine all the benefits of incorporating yoga into a child’s life. I have recently been trained and certified by Shana Meyerson, owner of mini yogis®, to teach yoga to children. I have started to incorporate yoga activities within my typical OT sessions, and WOW, not only do the children love it but I clearly see progress in each child with a few simple additions to what we were already doing.

Physical Benefits
Yoga promotes physical strength & muscular endurance, encouraging children to use all of their muscles. It helps to build balance, coordination, flexibility, and body awareness. Almost every position or asana incorporates the use of the core muscles, which ultimately promotes better posture. Yoga also teaches a child how to feel their breath and how the breathing physically impacts their bodies.

Motor Planning
Yoga positions incorporate using the body in different ways and across all planes of movement. Repetition, an important key in building new motor skills, is incorporated to help children master new movements. An important part of praxis or motor planning is coming up with novel ideas. Yoga encourages ideation skills and imagination, as children assist in picking different asanas and stringing together different sequences.

Yoga can help to build a child’s self esteem, as no positions or ideas can be “wrong”. Unlike many physical activities, there is no winning or losing when practicing yoga. It is fun and playful!

So many of our children with special needs have difficulty regulating their arousal level, which leads to hyperactive and perceived aggressive behaviors. Yoga incorporates teaching breathing techniques and poses that require stillness. Yoga teaches a child to become more self aware of how their mind and body are connected and what it feels like to be still and calm.

Yoga teaches individuals to be thankful, present, and kind to others. When building sequences children take turns and can build upon the ideas of others.

There are a variety of ways to work with children and incorporate yoga. Yoga with kids, especially younger ones, does not look like an adult class. It is all about incorporating a variety of fun tools to entice a child to be an active participant. Such components may include toys, games, songs, story books, or an obstacle course.

A session may start with sitting in a cross legged position and working on breathing, what a fabulous time to bring out whistles or bubbles to give that child sensory feedback on how their breath works! Maybe creating a sequence on how a tree grows (leading up to a one-legged tree asana) or how a super hero flies around the world to save his friends from trouble (flying on stomach with legs and arms raised high). A child’s yoga practice in this context is not “acting out” the actions but using yoga poses in a sequence to tell the story. Lastly, often the best part, shavasana. A time for stillness & teaching children an appreciation for quiet time, a skill necessary in school during teaching instruction or when going out in the community to places like a movie theater.

As the school year begins and parents are deciding which after school activities are best for their child, yoga is a fantastic option. Its fun, creative, and active!

Featured Contributor: Sari Ockner, OTR/L and Kidz Occupational TherapySari received her degree in Occupational Therapy at from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1998, in their extended Occupational Therapy program with an emphasis in her fieldwork studies in the scope of pediatrics. Sari began her practice in New York City and is currently living and practicing in the Los Angeles area. She has over 13 years of experience working with children with special needs in schools, clinics, and home-based settings. Sari is certified in Sensory Integration Theory and Practice (SIPT) and specializes in handwriting and child development.Follow Kidz Occupational Therapy on Facebook or follow Sari on Twitter at Sari_KidzOT for on-going information to support children in school, at home, and in the community. For further information visit : www.KidzOccupationalTherapy.com

“Little Evidence Supports Autism Treatment Options in Adolescents”- More Research Needed

“Overall, there is very little evidence in all areas of care for adolescents and young adults with autism, and it is urgent that more rigorous studies be developed and conducted,” said Melissa McPheeters, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of Vanderbilt’s Evidence-Based Practice Center and senior author of the report, a systematic review of therapies published by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Zachary Warren, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, said, “There are growing numbers of adolescents and adults with autism in need of substantial support. Without a stronger evidence base, it is very hard to know which interventions will yield the most meaningful outcomes for individuals with autism and their families.”
Key findings:

The researchers systematically screened more than 4,500 studies and reviewed the 32 studies published from January 1980 to December 2011 on therapies for people ages 13 to 30 with autism spectrum disorders. They focused on the outcomes, including harms and adverse effects, of interventions, including medical, behavioral, educational and vocational.

• Some evidence revealed that treatments could improve social skills and educational outcomes such as vocabulary or reading, but the studies were generally small and had limited follow-up.

• Limited evidence supports the use of medical interventions in adolescents and young adults with autism. The most consistent findings were identified for the effects of antipsychotic medications on reducing problem behaviors that tend to occur with autism, such as irritability and aggression. Harms associated with medications included sedation and weight gain.

• Only five articles tested vocational interventions, all of which suggested that certain vocational interventions may be effective for certain individuals, but each study had significant flaws that limited the researchers’ confidence in their conclusions. The researchers’ findings on vocational interventions will be featured in the Aug. 27 issue of Pediatrics.

As recently as the 1970s, autism was believed to affect just one in 2,000 children, but newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Boys with autism outnumber girls 5-to-1, which estimates that one in 54 boys in the United States have autism.

“With more and more youth with autism leaving high school and entering the adult world, there is urgent need for evidence-based interventions that can improve their quality of life and functioning,” said Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education and lead author of the report.

Additional investigators on this report include Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Pharmacology and Kennedy Center investigator; Dwayne Dove, M.D., Ph.D., fellow in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics; Nila Sathe, M.S., M.L.I.S., program manager, Institute for Medicine and Public Health; and Rebecca Jerome, M.L.I.S., M.P.H., assistant director, Eskind Biomedical Library.

Their research, published in the report, Interventions for Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Effective Health Care Program and conducted through Vanderbilt’s Evidence-Based Practice Center.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Vanderbilt University.

Journal Reference:
Julie Lounds Taylor, Melissa L. McPheeters, Nila A. Sathe, Dwayne Dove, Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, and Zachary Warren. A Systematic Review of Vocational Interventions for Young Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics, August 27, 2012 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0682

Study: Father’s age a likely factor in autism

Written By: Jim Axelrod

(CBS News) The cause of autism is one of the great mysteries of medicine, but we found out something new and important Wednesday.

A report in the medical journal “Nature” says it is the age of the father at the time of conception, not the age of the mother that can raise the risk of autism in a child.

With more men becoming fathers later in life, it could help explain the rise in autism.

The study’s senior author – a scientist in Iceland – writes: “Conventional wisdom has been to blame the developmental disorders of children on the age of mothers”… but “it is the age of fathers that appears to be the real culprit.”

Dr. Delores Maldespina, a psychiatrist at New York University, said she finds the research eye opening.

“This study shows that new mutations are frequent enough as men age that fathers aging alone can explain the increase for the risk of autism,” Maldespina said.

The study says a father’s age could account for 15 to 30 percent of cases of autism, and perhaps other disorders like schizophrenia as well.

Common myths about having a child later in life
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Temple Grandin: Understanding autism

“This study shows that when these diseases present without a family history, the origin is in the sperm of the man and that the risk goes up as the man ages,” Maldespina said.

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control indicate the rate of autism has doubled in the last six years from 1 in 162, to 1 in 88.

The number of men 40 and older who father a child has increased by more than 30 percent since 1980. The study is the first to quantify the consequence of a father’s age: For every 1-year of age, two genetic mutations were discovered in offspring that could be traced to the father, and up to 65 mutations in the offspring of 40-year-old men. The average number of mutations traced to the mother was 15, no matter what her age.

But Yale researcher Dr. Stephan Sanders warns it’s too soon to definitively say the father’s age is the top factor.

“So I think it is fair to say increasing father’s age does increase the instance of autism but that effect is small,” Sanders said.

Accompanying the study in the journal “Nature” was an editorial suggesting that if the findings hold up, that young men collecting and storing their sperm for later use could be what they call “a wise individual decision.”

Eight Awesome Rehab Solutions Made Possible by NASA

Written By Amy-Lynn Engelbrecht in Occupational Therapy | Physical Therapy | Speech Language Pathology

Unless you’ve spent the last few weeks under an earth-bound rock, you’ve become familiar with the name “Curiosity”. NASA’s rugged and technologically astounding rover landed safely on the surface of Mars last week and began tweeting as soon as it’s wheels hit the dusty surface. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration‘s latest achievement has electrified the world, spurring thousands and thousands of discussions on social media outlets in multiple languages. Unfortunately, a thread of discussion has been rearing it’s ugly head again, as it has every time NASA is in the spotlight: “Why should we spend money on NASA when there are so many problems here on Earth?”. I could easily churn out a list of hundreds of cool inventions made possible by NASA, including memory foam, scratch-resistant lenses, insoles, cordless tools and long-distance telecommunications, but I thought I’d do some digging to see what kinds of things they’ve done to help rehab professionals in particular treat patients and improve lives.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computer-Aided Tomography (CAT)

Digital signal-processing techniques, originally developed to enhance pictures of the Moon for the Apollo Program, are an indispensable part of Computer-Aided Tomography (CAT) scan & Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technologies used today worldwide. The need to find imperfections in aerospace structures and components, such as castings, rocket motors and nozzles led to the development of a medical CAT scanner which searches the human body for tumors or other abnormalities.

Cooling Suits

Inspired by the space suits Apollo astronauts wore to survive the moon’s harsh climate, the custom-made cool suit that circulates coolant to lower body temperature. The suit helps patients with multiple sclerosis and heat-related neurological disorders manage their symptoms by lowering their core body temperature and dramatically improves symptoms of multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other conditions.

Cochlear Implants

Adam Kissiahhe utilized the technical expertise he learned while working as an electronics instrumentation engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the basis of his invention. This took place over 3 years, when Kissiah would spend his lunch breaks and evenings in Kennedy’s technical library, studying the impact of engineering principles on the inner ear. In 1977, NASA helped Kissiah obtain a patent for the cochlear implant.

Artificial limbs

NASA’s continued funding, coupled with its collective innovations in robotics and shock-absorption/comfort materials are inspiring and enabling the private sector to create new and better solutions for animal and human prostheses. Advancements such as Environmental Robots Inc.’s development of artificial muscle systems with robotic sensing and actuation capabilities for use in NASA space robotic and extravehicular activities, are being adapted to create more functionally dynamic artificial limbs. Other private-sector adaptations of NASA’s temper foam technology have brought about custom-moldable materials offering the natural look and feel of flesh, as well as preventing friction between the skin and the prosthesis, and heat/moisture buildup.

Voice Controlled Wheelchair

In 1977 NASA developed a robotic wheelchair manipulator that responds to 35 one-word voice commands, helping patients to perform daily tasks like picking up packages, opening doors, and turning on appliances.

Shuttle 2000-1

NASA research and development of training programs and machinery to prepare, maintain and rehabilitate astronauts has contributed substantially to the general body of knowledge on physiology. It has also resulted in commercially available, NASA-inspired exercise and physical therapy equipment. Contemporary Design licensed the technology from NASA and produced a commercially available piece of equipment called the Shuttle 2000-1. Primarily found in diagnostic and rehabilitation environments, it’s one of the few machines to be used by patients on bed rest. Not only does it keep these patients’ hearts healthy and their blood flowing properly, the Shuttle 2000-1 prevents seldom-used bones and muscles from atrophying.

Anti-Gravity Treadmill

AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill provides support for physical rehabilitation patients with diminished lower-body strength. But there’s one big difference between it and the NASA model, because, technically, the treadmill does on Earth the opposite of what it does in space. In space, the air adds weight and provides healthy resistance. On Earth, it unloads weight. Today, the G-Trainer is used widely in rehab centers, military hospitals and in the training facilities of both professional and college sports teams.

Secure Ambulation Module (S.A.M.)

S.A.M. is a wheeled walker with a unique harness that supports the patient’s body weight and controls the patient’s pelvis without restricting hip movement. Electronic linear actuators raise and lower the harness, varying the weight placed on patients’ legs.

So why should we continue funding NASA or any space exploration? Steinn Sigurdsson (Dynamics of Cats) says it better than I ever could:

“Because: we look out, and wonder, and explore; and we do what little we can on the margin of our busy lives to explore the bigger universe, today; and that is one of the things that makes life worth living, and gives us hope that the future can be better, for us and for future generations.”