Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tip 25: Music, Music, Music! Brain Building--Right, Left and Center

There are three parts of the frontal lobe that are stimulated by music – Broca’s area  on the left, the mirror-neuron system on the right, and the emotional center in the middle.  Watch a video from Dr. Daniel Levitin in Montreal, of the brain listening to Chopin to see the frontal lobe working, at this link:

The new research indicates that a large part of the impact of music on the brain has to do with emotion. No need to be a “Tiger Mom” to instill music appreciation – a love of music and the benefits it provides are its own rewards. And, you don’t need to push Mozart; all music is good for your child’s brain.

Lullabies – Ages birth to three years – Evidence points to all cultures using bedtime as a time to build a ritual of singing a baby to sleep. With infants, singing the same lullaby each night while you rock your baby stimulates the language and mirror systems while quieting the baby down to sleep and creating a bedtime routine. Any soft, lilting song will do. My children loved “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, but this is one opportunity you have to share your favorite song and create a family tradition.  With children over a year, a soft bedtime song after a bedtime story provides a special one-on-one opportunity for parents and child.

Car Sing-Alongs  -   Ages three to seven years When driving carpools to school, scouts, or other outings take along a CD of children’s songs, pop it into the CD player, and have the group sing along if they seem interested. By playing children’s songs while driving you can keep the group engaged and limit conflicts, especially among family members. The music also helps to mask the traffic noise from outside the car that can be a problem when you try to carry on conversations.

Name that Tune – Ages seven to eleven – Ask each child in the car to take a turn singing a few of the starting notes from a popular song they think others will know. See how many notes of the song it takes before someone can name the song. Once you have the name, sing a few lines and then let the next child take a turn.

Music Lessons – Five years and older Music lessons make children smarter.  New research conducted by Dr. Shellenberg and colleagues from the University of Toronto showed that  that children's IQ scores increase an average of 1 point per 6 months of lessons.  So, in theory, a child taking music lessons from age 7 to age 12 would have an increase of 10 points in their IQ due to the music.  We will be watching this research as details are released. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tip 24: Twist it out - for speech sake!

Try these tongue twisters as a meal-time or car-time competition to build speech accuracy and agility

Funny word flips - ages four to six - go for five in a row (counting on fingers)
Rickety wicket
Frying flies
Flying fries
Selfish shellfish
Real red leather
Try three twists
Shred Swiss cheese
Fred fed Ted bread
Six slick sticks

Sassy sentences - ages six to ten - repeat these or other familiar tongue twisters several times quickly stopping at the first mistake. Keep score for each player as number of correct repetitions in a row.
She sells sea shells by the sea shore
A cheap ship trip
Crisp crusts crackle crunchily
Rubber baby buggy bumpers
flash message!
A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits
Brad's big black bath brush broke
The six slick sleeping sheep
Twelve twins twirled twelve twigs

Why? You may have noticed in the movie The King's Speech that King George the VI practiced tongue twisters as part of his speech therapy preparing for his radio broadcasts. Tongue twisters have been used for decades by actors and public speakers to build speech precision. New neuroscience research has revealed that a crucial area of the left frontal lobe, Broca's area, is very important for speech planning, timing and sequencing.  When this area is exercised it may help strengthen important long brain pathways that link the back of the brain to the front. This might also help with development of other frontal lobe skills: planning the best response to a question or formulating written text.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Genius within: emerging from Autism - Story #1

Sitting before me is a three and one-half year old boy who has just spoken his first word, "O.K." This is unusual for a first word - most children start with names of important people in their lives, like "mama" or "dada" or even objects like "baba" for bottle. But Adam will start talking differently - he has been diagnosed as "autistic". After being silent for over three years, about three months of speech therapy has opened his world to the power of words. But not just words, he has begun to appreciate the pleasure of interacting with another person. Not only is he saying a few words, he is following my gaze, looking with me toward his mother to see if she is wearing glasses, like the woman in a photo that I just showed him. He is also imitating me for the first time and using gestures to show he understands the meaning of pictures - he puts a photo card of an umbrella over his head to indicate he knows how that is used.

This may not seem like much to parents or grandparents whose children are developing in a typical fashion, but for Adam there was a breakthrough. Only a few months before he had screamed when he entered my room. He flailed and hit me when I tried to get him to play with toys on the floor. He could not tolerate touch. He would not look at my face, hold my hand, or respond when I spoke his name. But gradually, by combining behavioral techniques to reinforce his socially appropriate responses while incrementally moving from toys he would play with, like Thomas the Tank Engine, to unfamiliar cars and trucks, I was able to help him escape from his world into the world that others enjoy. With that came two very important capacities - language and social interaction.
But, the real story of Adam is not his emergence from his inner world to ours, it is the story of who Adam has become today --a college graduate pursuing a science career with a girlfriend whom he hopes to marry in a few years.

I think there are many Adams. Adults who as children struggled to learn what comes very naturally for others: language, social skills, play. Most of us know about a few famous "outliers" like Temple Grandin, a child diagnosed as autistic who pursued a doctorate in animal husbandry and lectures around the world on what it is like to grow up with the autism label. She has had her story told by others and has told us her version herself. But there are likely thousands of untold stories. Some who never were given a diagnosis but nonetheless forged through life with loving, non-judgmental parents and found their "niche" in a world of music, art, or science. At a very early age they may have been perceived as misfits or "loners."  Yet, they were somehow able to break free of life-limiting labels to explore their unique passions and in the end delight the rest of us, neurotypical humans, with their unique sense of humor, artistic vision or scientific creativity. Others may have been assigned a label, received some kind of therapy like psychotherapy, occupational therapy or speech and language intervention that enabled them to bridge two worlds -- the social world most of us inhabit, at least some of the time, and their elaborate inner world of intense interests in computers, nano particles, dinosaurs or Thomas the Tank Engine.

These are stories of metamorphosis - how children who are locked in their own worlds emerge. But more important, they are the stories of unlocked genius. The very complicated set of disorders we call autism specturm disorders, it turns out, are for some, hidden gifts that open a world the rest of us cannot appreciate. Adam is just one such example of the genius within.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tip 23 - For rePeat's Sake! - Repetition builds fast brains

Have you ever wondered why young children love to hear the same bedtime stories over and over? Or why a two year old will become upset if you skip a page from a favorite book?  The brain is actually designed to use repetition to build strong, fast pathways. So developing predictable routines in the home around activities where repetition level is high, not only makes for a calmer home it helps build brain speed and capacity.
Bedtime routines – Ages 6 months through ten years
Mealtime or other family routines – all ages Many of today’s families are so busy with afterschool activities and events that a dinner routine is all but impossible, especially during the pre-teen and teenage years. But try to find at least one meal or activity a week where the entire family is together and
In the last blog I talked about the importance of prediction. New brain research is showing that the brain uses repetition to build this capacity to predict and that build’s the brain’s ability to handle familiar information quickly so that complex, changing information can be handled more quickly as well. Dr. Paula Tallal, at a neuroscience conference last week explained it this way – an accomplished musician practices scales everyday; a golfer practices repeated strokes at a driving range; most writers keep daily logs.
WHY?  Because research shows that the brain is a statistical processor that uses repetition and frequency of occurrence to prioritize information for storage.  Through repetition of highly familiar activities the brain stays primed to handle that information quickly so that complex processing can proceed with less effort.
To see firsthand the value repetition in early learning, watch this video of young twins speaking to each other. Notice that they do not have real words yet, but obviously through hours of listening to their parents talk they have learned the value of speech melody (intonational contour) and communicative interaction. In a few months frequently repeated words made of easy to say combinations like “mama’ and “dada” will creep into to their dialogue.