Dec 12

Holy MTHFR!

If I say MTHFR, then Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase are the two words that pop into your brain, right? No? Well, hopefully after reading this, you’ll see more than that swear word that caught your attention.

If I next mention bipolar struggles, rapid mood swings, depression, anxiety, heart disease, strokes, macular degeneration, miscarriages – and any of these issues hit home for you, then read on, because you might just want to know about MethyleneTetraHydroFolate Reductase – better known by its abbreviation – MTHFR.

MTHFR is a gene and like all genes, it acts as a light switch – turning on or turning off various body processes. In this case, MTHFR takes folate (vitamin B9) and methylates (converts) it into methylfolate (5-methylTHF). Hardly seems like a big deal, does it? Yet, if you belong to an autism, Pandas, Lyme or chronic fatigue group, you’ve probably noticed a big buzz around this thing called methylation. While the past decade has seen MTHFR studied in terms of cardiovascular disease and cancer, it turns out it might also be a very big deal for those raising kids with developmental, neurological or behavioral symptoms and for those fighting chronic infections.

Methylwhat?

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Apr 03

Understanding Bloomers

A recent article by Linda Carroll, Outgrowing Autism? Study Looks at Why Some Kids “Bloom” highlights a new Pediatrics study of 6,795 California children showing that “about 10 percent of children who are severely affected by autism at age three seem to have ‘bloomed’ by age eight, leaving behind many of the condition’s crippling deficits.”

This article got my attention because my own twins, although never diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, showed symptoms associated with Asperger’s by age 18 months but now, having just celebrated their eighth birthday, those symptoms seem like a distant bad dream we’d all like to forget.

Could I be the proud mother of a couple of bloomers?

Carroll’s article goes on to explain that when researchers looked at the characteristics of the bloomer’s families they found a few commonalities: bloomers tended not to have intellectual disabilities and their parents had more education and financial means to get early, intensive therapy. Mothers (fathers weren’t studied) had at least a high school education and came from a “higher socio-economic class.”

The anthology Easy to Love But Hard to Raise is full of parent’s stories, including my own, that share our ambitious, creative, and persistent search for solutions to our children’s behaviors and disorders, alongside the myriad of feelings that came with their diagnoses.

Parents who have been through it might question the use of the term “grown out of it” because it implies that the child might have shed their diagnosis simply with the passage of time. This article from February that studied 1,366 parents of autistic children suggests that 33 percent of children may downgrade their diagnosis to Asperger’s or shed their autism diagnosis altogether by age seven, but not without intensive parental support. Other previous studies have suggested that number lies between 3 and 25 percent. Parents of ETL kids understand that our children have improved because of our early, tenacious efforts and the help of teachers and professionals.

Another article published in Pediatrics in January supports the finding that children that “grow out” of autism tend not to have other physical and psychological diagnoses. Children with a hearing impairment were the most likely to shed the autism diagnosis because once their issues were addressed, the other autism-like symptoms resolved. This fact sheds light on the potential for misdiagnosis, which certainly exists when trying to diagnose children of preschool age and younger.

Can the study of autistic bloomers be extrapolated to children with other disorders? The answer seems to be the dreaded “it depends.” Psychologist Dr. Ari Tuckman’s video blog for ADDitude Magazine suggests that some children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) improve because they learn to better manage their symptoms and their brains continue to develop and “tighten up” into their early 20’s. However, the majority of those with anxiety disorders report that severity can increase with age, although medication and cognitive behavioral therapy can help.

And what’s so magical about age seven or eight, the age by which these children are “growing out of” autism? Age seven is the beginning of a brain development phase termed The Period of Concrete Operations, a milestone of sorts, which lasts until around age twelve, where logic, organization, and problem-solving expand and egocentricity declines. Could more children be helped if diagnosed earlier? It’s too soon to tell but most studies suggest that the earlier the intervention, the greater potential for results. Fortunately, the average age of autism diagnosis has gradually come down to age four, but also means that many children are still diagnosed much later.

To help our eight-year-old twin boys, we sought the advice of physicians, naturopathic doctors, occupational therapists, ophthalmologists, and speech and language pathologists, while reading every relevant library book and web site under the sun, investing a small fortune, and spending the equivalent of a part-time job focused on their improvement. Many of my blog posts here have focused on the therapies we’ve tried. My husband and I do have more than a high school education and although we wouldn’t consider ourselves of “higher socio-economic class” we are frugal, resourceful, and willing to learn and faithfully execute the therapies we can do at home, avoiding expensive appointments when possible.

We definitely believe that our boy’s significant improvement over the past four years is due to the incredible, early support, education, and advice we’ve received from teachers, professionals, and fellow struggling parents, and for that, we are eternally indebted.

Although focusing on the 3 to 33 percent that are bloomers may leave some parents whose children are over age eight, suffering from multiple diagnoses, or lacking access to resources feeling hopeless, it’s my firm belief that clearly understanding what enables bloomers to thrive could eventually increase the number of children abandoning a diagnosis in the near future.

Animation courtesy of Gifbin.

Jan 10

Reading Readiness Is Linked to Movement

kids need to move, movement linked to pre-reading,

CC BY-SA 3.0 via Flickr Joe Shlabotnik

Today’s children sit more than ever. Babies spend hours confined in car seats and carriers rather than crawling, toddling, or being carried. As they get older their days are often heavily scheduled between educational activities and organized events. Children have 25 percent less time for free play than they did a generation ago, and that’s before factoring in distractions like TV or video games.

Left to their own devices, children move. They hold hands and whirl in a circle till they fall down laughing. They beg to take part in interesting tasks with adults. They want to face challenges and try again after making mistakes. They snuggle. They climb, dig and run. Stifling these full body needs actually impairs their ability to learn.

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Dec 05

Half Empty Or Half Full?

 

we are what we perceive, attitude is everything, what you see in others,

Take a moment to describe three people you know. Perhaps your kid’s coach, your neighbor, and a close friend.

Tally up the negatives and positives. What do they indicate?

Actually, they say a lot more about you than the people you’re describing.

Research indicates what we perceive in others has a lot to do with who we are. According to a study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the tendency to positively assess people in our social networks is linked to our own enthusiasm, happiness, kind-heartedness, politeness, emotional stability, life satisfaction, even how much others like us.

A lead researcher says, “Seeing others positively reveals our own positive traits.”

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Dec 05

How You Can Promote Autism Research

Autism Science Foundation (ASF) has launched their a year-end fundraiser called Recipe4Hope, running throughout the month of December. Fully 100% of donations will fund pre- and post-doctoral autism fellowships, encouraging the brightest young scientists to pursue autism research.

Grantees from 2010 and 2011 are studying a number of variables that can better identify and intervene as well as understand the causes of autism.

There are all sorts of way to raise money to support these efforts. You might hold a bake sale, sell a few unused items on eBay, or skip buying a gift. It’s a way of investing in the future through the work of young scientists.

 

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives on a small farm with her family where they raise bees, cows, chickens, and the occasional ruckus. Laura writes about learning, sustainability, and peace for print and online publications. Connect with her at www.lauragraceweldon.com

 

Nov 01

Educating Too Early

damage of early academics, direct instruction limits learning, free play,

CC BY-SA 3.0 emilygoodstein Flickr

Look at promotional material for preschool and daycare in your area. Chances are, there’s an emphasis on math, pre-reading, and other academics. And why not? We’ve been told for years that our little ones should play with educational toys and attend enrichment programs designed to boost learning. Well-intentioned parents follow this advice. We do this because we believe that learning flows from instruction. Logically then, early instruction will help maximize a child’s potential.

But learning in young children (and perhaps at all ages) has much more to do with curiosity and exploration. Recent studies with four-year-olds showed, “Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning.” It also limits a child’s creativity, problem solving, and openness to ideas beyond the situation at hand. This is true when the instruction comes from parents as well as teachers.

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Sep 25

Ever Heard of P.A.N.D.A.S.?

I’d never heard specifically about P.A.N.D.A.S. (an annoyingly cute acronym for Psychiatric and Neurologic Disorders Associated with Strep) until Adrienne Ehlert Bashista posted  this article from Psychology Today on the Easy to Love But Hard to Raise Facebook page.

The article suggests that infections by bacteria of the Streptococcus family may initiate or exacerbate predispositions for many disorders that we currently understand poorly, including Tourette’s syndrome, tic disorders, OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, ADHD, and anorexia nervosa. Possible connections to lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis are also being studied.

As often seems to occur, researchers in other countries have been trying to establish links for over a decade and the information is now trickling in to the U.S. medical community, however slowly.

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Aug 18

Children’s ADHD symptoms + impact on parents’ feelings + behavior

image by flickr user Evil ErinThe following study was first published in Attention Research Update, a newsletter published by Dr. David Rabiner of Duke University.  I’ve bolded the parts that I think are most fascinating. It’s definitely worth a read, and I don’t think JUST applies to parents of kids with ADHD – any parent of a child who expresses his or her neurological difference in a behavioral difference can get something from this article.

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