A new study released in April 2012 in Current Biology has found a significant causal link between Visual Spatial Attention and Reading Acquisition. In plain English, what this means is that parents and clinicians may now be able to identify as well as intervene to better prevent a child from being held back by the handicap that dyslexia can cause for them as they grow older.
The study found that poor readers demonstrated an impaired ability to scan and search through visual material when they were prereaders. In addition, the study reports that 60% of poor readers displayed visual-attention deficits when prereaders. The causal relation was made that visual attention in preschoolers specifically predicts future reading acquisition.
This study can be tremendously helpful to parents, teachers, and clinicians in our ability to identify and help these children. Parents can take notice of their child’s ability to maintain visual attention and practice these skills in a fun manner such as ‘Visual Search & Find’ (i.e.: Where’s Waldo type games). Preschool teachers and programs can make it a point to incorporate such activities into their curriculum to help build these skills in children. Lastly, clinicians can focus greater attention on the use of visual scanning assessment tools as one of the various measures used to identify dyslexia at a younger age.
For parents who are interested in practicing these skills with their young children but who need some guidance in how to begin, a good starting place is to discuss it with your child’s teacher. Another option would be to work with a psychologist who specializes in educational assessments and can tailor a plan for you to work on these skills with your child. In addition, if your child is demonstrating significant difficulties in his/her visual attention at a young age (approximately 3-5), you may want to closely track their growth in attaining reading skills as they grow older and get them evaluated for dyslexia in early elementary school if you are concerned. Never dismiss your gut feelings as a parent… if you feel like something is not right, it’s important to get them evaluated early. After all, nobody knows your child better than you do.
We’ve all heard the saying ” I perform better under stress”. Although this may be true for some of us, it is not the case for everyone. A recent study from the University of Chicago found that during times of stress (measured by elevated levels of cortisol), people who tend to perform better are the one’s who have a higher level of confidence to begin with. However, people who are anxious and unsure of themselves tend to perform poorly when faced with situations of increased stress. It appears that the cortisol associated with stress helps individuals who are confident but it hinders those who are anxious.
This study is very helpful for individuals living with anxiety as well as for the general public. It also brings home the importance of self-confidence and esteem in future success. It appears that stress is a benign entity, but rather, it’s your mind’s interpretation of that stress that causes one to succeed or to fail. Confident people seem to interpret the stress as a driving force. On the contrary, anxious people interpret this same stress in a negative manner, engage in a series of negative thoughts regarding themselves, end up failing or performing poorly, and as a result of the poor performance, they increase their negative thoughts and level of anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed.
Psychological treatment can be very helpful for individual with anxiety. With the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, one can learn to identify the negative thoughts and work toward stopping and replacing them with positive ones. In addition, therapy can help one identify the source of their anxiety and work through those issues. In addition, this study brings up thoughts of the importance of positive parenting. More than ever, the research is showing us that the most important thing that we can give our children is a high level of self-confidence. It is more important for them to believe that they will be able to solve a problem as opposed to being the first to solve it. For example, it’s more crucial for the healthy development of a child for his/her parents to teach the child to believe that he/she is good at math as opposed to instilling in the child the need to get the answer correct every time. We can’t be next to our children at every moment to make sure that they do every problem correctly, but we can instill the self-confidence and positive thought patterns to help them get through those future stressful situations in a successful manner. It’s not the stress that causes us to fail; it’s how we interpret the stress that makes or breaks us…
I often see/hear discussions in the community regarding how children/adolescents are posting too much personal information on social media sites such as Facebook and I feel that this is legitimately a source of concern for parents. Therefore, I found a new study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science which addresses the issue to be very relevant. The study found that the amount of personal information that teens share on FB is actually similar to the amount of personal information that their parents share. The only difference is that teens spend more time on these kinds of sites. This, in turn, gives them more time to post content that is personal. On average, it was determined that teens spend 55 minutes per day on Facebook, whereas adults spend 38 minutes/day. However, the personal nature of the posts (i.e. pictures, locations, etc) between parents and children is similar in content.
One thing that this study brought to mind for me is that although the personal nature of the posts between the parents and children may be similar, that does not account for the content of the posts. In other words, although a parent may feel it appropriate to post a picture of him/herself with their spouse, the content of that picture may be more conservative than a picture that their teen may post of him/herself with their boy/girlfriend. I would appreciate a study that would further look into this issue regarding if the personal posts uploaded by teens place them in a more compromising position than the personal posts uploaded by their parents.
That said, I believe that social media is a territory that parents need to address and discuss with their teens. It is not something that is going away anytime soon and generally speaking, can actually be a great way for teens to express themselves. However, like any other aspect of raising teenagers, limits and boundaries need to be set around its use and occasional monitoring is needed. Most importantly, it is critical to talk to your teens about the consequences of the information they choose to post on social media sites and the permanent nature of the content they place on the internet. Open communication and trust are vital aspects in a parent and teen relationship. This does not mean that you should treat your teenager like they are your friend but that you are there to be a sounding board for them if/when they are having issues. If your teen then chooses to follow a path that you disapprove of as a parent, that it when it is necessary to give them a consequence. If you are struggling in communicating effectively with your teen, it is important to address the issue by seeing a psychologist before it gets out of control. However, just try to keep in mind that they are going through a difficult time in their lives in which they are trying to determine how their personal values/beliefs align with the social environment in which they exist and how to go about being accepted in light of who they are. For some, this struggle does not end in adolescence, but is a lifelong journey…
-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian
ADHD and it’s link to substance abuse is a topic that has been discussed at great length in both the media as well as the world of scientific research. However, I felt that this particular study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital is significant in that it is one of the only longitudinal studies that followed the participants for over a decade to determine the risk of substance abuse. In addition, this study specifically examined whether any of the specific symptoms of ADHD such as impulsive behavior, cognitive problems, school problems, accompanying conditions such as bipolar disorder or conduct disorder, or family factors were each individually responsible for the risk or whether it was the diagnosis as a whole.
The results of the study found that participants diagnosed with ADHD had a one and a half times greater risk of developing substance abuse than did control participants. In addition, it was determined that the factors of gender, cognitive difficulties, mood disorders, or school problems were not responsible for the risk. Having been diagnosed with conduct disorder, however, increased the chances of substance abuse by three times when coupled with ADHD.
What this study tells us is that there is scientifically a significant link between having ADHD and being more susceptible to substance abuse. For this reason, it is imperative that children who may be exhibiting behaviors associated with ADHD undergo an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional to determine if they, in fact, have ADHD. Some of the symptoms of ADHD include, but are not limited to, impulsivity, inattention, forgetfulness, hyperactivity, difficulty with time management, etc. If an individual is diagnosed with ADHD, early intervention and being proactive with that child can be the determining factor in whether they will fall into the group that uses substances to self medicate or the group that employs healthy and functional tools to succeed. The risk may already be there, but what is done to derail them from heading down a path of substance abuse is up to you.
Have you ever felt confident in your level of knowledge regarding a certain topic only to feel yourself getting anxious before the test and blanking out? If so, this is more common than you think. Test anxiety can be your worst enemy when you are in school. It can literally be the obstacle between you and the career that you are meant to pursue. The truth of the matter is that the majority of professional career paths require you to participate in a great deal of standardized testing as a means of achieving the end result… obtaining your license.
The good news is that test anxiety is not something you need to live with or accept. You do not need to give up on achieving the career you have always dreamed of due to fear of failure caused by anxiety. There are a variety of therapy techniques to treat test anxiety. As with most other forms of anxiety, the most common approach is cognitive behavioral. This orientation focuses on addressing the negative thoughts which give rise to the feelings of anxiety. It also looks at the repertoire of behaviors that are associated with the anxiety and focuses on changing those behaviors. The basic idea is that if you change your thoughts and behaviors, then your feelings and reactions will change also. Other routes of treatment may focus on how your previous life experiences have shaped your reactions to testing situations and have resulted in this pattern of feeling significantly anxious before a test. Whichever modality fits your needs best is a decision that you and your therapist will need to make together.
The take away message of this post is to make students aware of the fact that ignoring the issue of test anxiety will not make it go away… it needs to be addressed. There are many options available to treat this issue, but the first and most important step is to acknowledge it, ask for help, and talk about the problem with a therapist. Recent research from the University of Chicago has found that even the mere process of journaling feelings of anxiety for 10 minutes before a test has resulted in students improving their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point. That is a BIG DEAL! When you give yourself the opportunity to identify, acknowledge, and process the feelings that are holding you back from achieving your dreams, they lose the power that they have over you. All emotions feel significantly heavier when they reside inside of you and are not allowed to be expressed. Once people express these feelings, they will often feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they are then able to tackle the real issues behind it.