Archive for the 'Research' Category

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Reading comprehension help for ADHD high schoolers

In “Improving the Reading Recall of High School Students With ADHD,” Joseph W. Johnson, Robert Reid, and Linda H. Mason report the results of an intensive study in which they examined the effects of teaching high-school students a comprehension strategy as a part of a self-regulated strategy development model. They found that systematically preparing the students to use what they dubbed the “Think Before Reading” (TWA) strategy helped the students with recall of passages’ main ideas and details connected to them.

Students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty with reading comprehension. This multiple baseline across participants design with multiple probes study examined the effectiveness of a multicomponent reading comprehension strategy (TWA: Think Before Reading, Think While Reading, Think After Reading) taught following the self-regulated strategy development model on social studies expository text recall of three high school students with ADHD. Results showed improvement in the number of main ideas and percentage of supporting details recalled. Gains were maintained and some improvement occurred at 2- and 4-week follow-ups. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.

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DBA conference June 2011

The British Dyslexia Association holds its eighth international conference in June of 2011. There is an outstanding list of presentations by authorities, including talks by Margaret Snowling, Bruce Pennington, David Saldaña, Joel Talcott, and many others. Download a copy of the announcement directly or jump over to the Web site where you can explore the list of speaker, learn about bookings, register, and so forth.

Procedural learning theory of dyslexia and dysgraphia

In “Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Procedural Learning and the Cerebellum,” Roderick Nicolson and Angela Fawcett present a fascinating and, to me, strong argument for unifying theoretical views of dyslexia and dysgraphia. To be sure, their analysis is preliminary and basic, but my first read left me feeling as if they’d hit lots of good points. They’ve emphasized impairment of automatic procedural learning in the cerebellum at the level of neural circuits, but in dysgraphia the problems are with motor circuits and in dyslexia they are in the language circuits. In developing their case, they integrate a broad range of neurological and psychological research.

In this review we focus on the developmental disorders of dyslexia (a disorder of reading) and dysgraphia (a disorder of writing), considering their commonalities and differences with a view to reflecting on the theoretical implications. Interest in dysgraphia was stimulated by the distinction between phonological and surface dyslexia (Castles and Coltheart, 1993), which claimed that orthographic problems (spelling) were separable from phonological reading problems. While this distinction has received mixed support ([Snowling et al., 1996] and [Stanovich et al., 1997]) it led to a fruitful analysis not only of the underlying causes of orthographic difficulties, but also to the widespread recognition of developmental difficulties in handwriting control ([Deuel, 1995], [Manis et al., 1996] and Sprenger-Charolles et al., 2000 L. Sprenger-Charolles, P. Cole, P. Lacert and W. Serniclaes, On subtypes of developmental dyslexia: Evidence from processing time and accuracy scores, Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology-Revue Canadienne De Psychologie Experimentale 54 (2000), pp. 87–104. Abstract | Full Text via CrossRef[Sprenger-Charolles et al., 2000]). The result of this theoretical and empirical progress is that there are two usages of the term dysgraphia. One takes dysgraphia to refer to errors of writing that are analogous to errors in reading (e.g., surface, phonological or deep dysgraphia corresponding to surface, phonological and deep dyslexia), the other relating to difficulties in handwriting control. Furthermore, despite these attempts at differentiation, there remains some controversy in the literature as to whether motor difficulties in handwriting should be subsumed under the label dyslexia.
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LearningRx in the popular press

Sandy Hausman, Charlottesville (VA, US) reporter for WVTF (one of the local public radio stations available in my listening area), carried a story about LearningRx and Learning Disabilities this morning. Unlike the credible coverage provided by many reporters for popular-but-unproven therapies for LD and other disorders, Ms. Hausman provided a sensible and balanced story about LearningRx. Here’s the blurb from WVTF’s Web site

Americans spend millions of dollars keeping our bodies in shape. Now a Charlottesville man is offering a workout for the brain. His center–part of a nationwide franchise–promises to help children and adults improve their concentration, memory, reasoning, and other mental skills. Sandy Hausman has the story.

Unlike many reporters who too-often fall for pop-psych and pop-ed theories (as regularly noted in other posts here on LD Blog), Ms. Hausman gets many facts right (e.g., prevalence of LD), phrases her report carefully (describes LearningRx reports as “internal studies”), includes appropriate caveats along with personal-interest angles, and even incorporates alternative explanations from the experts she interviews.

This is an example of journalism done better. Listen to an MP3 of Ms. Hausman’s report and explore

Willingham making sense of brain research

In what will be his last guest column for the Washington Post education column, “The Answer Sheet,” cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham advises people to be skeptical about the poppycock that masquerades as scientific advice about brain-based education. Under the headline “Willingham: 3 brain facts every educator should know,” Professor Willingham explains clearly and with the force of evidence and plain, ordinary reason why “most of what you see advertised as educational advice rooted in neuroscience is bunkum.”

Professor Willingham contends that there are three facts educators should know.
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More on smoking and neuropsych disorders

New research shows that using nicotine during pregnancy affects genes involved in myelination and, consequently may help explain why the children of mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to develop such psychiatric disorders as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, autism, and even drug abuse. In a paper presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Professor Ming Li, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA, US) reported that when rats were given nicotine during pregnancy, their offspring manifested changes in myelin genes for the limbic system, especially the prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for decision-making.

“Our research shows that gestational treatment with nicotine significantly modifies myelin gene expression in specific brain regions that are involved in behavioral processes,” according to Professor Li, leader of the study. “Myelin deficits have been observed in adults with various psychiatric disorders. Our findings suggest that abnormal myelination may contribute to the psychiatric disorders associated with maternal smoking.”
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Fletcher paper about identifying LD

The RTI Action Network published a paper by Jack Fletcher about identification of Learning Disabilities in the context of response to instruction (or intervention; RTI). Professor Fletcher, who has been a leading proponent of RTI since the 1990s, makes a strong case for the importance of examining instruction as a part of determining eligibility for LD services.
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Preliminary evidence of link between maternal smoking and risk of child problems

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (AL, US) presented a paper at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in which they reported that exposure to nicotine during pregnancy leads to a decrease in adult stem cells and a change in synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus of the offspring. The synaptic changes could have lifelong consequences for the offspring. According to Professor Robin Lester of the Department of Neurobiology and lead researcher on the project, “These problems could include various cognitive deficits, learning difficulties, [and] ADHD.”

These are very preliminary findings. They come from research conducted with rats and will require extensive additional work to make the connections to human learning. Note that the mother rats apparently were also ingesting nicotine while nursing (first 10 days after birth) as well as during pregnancy. My reporting here is based entirely on press releases from UAB and the Society for Neuroscience (with abstract).

Sources: and
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ADHD prevalence in US nears 1 in 10

Telephone surveys of parents in the US about the health and well-being of 73,123 children and youths between 4 and 17 years of age revealed that at one time or another 9.5% of the parents said “a doctor or other health-care provider had … told [the parent] that [the] child had ‘attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactive disorder, that is, ADD or ADHD.'” This represents a substantial increase from the 7.8% of parents who responded in the same way to a similar question four years earlier.

I don’t have time to dive into the details of the study right now, but interested readers can chase it through the US Centers for Disease Control. It was published several days ago as “Increasing Prevalence of Parent-Reported Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Children — United States, 2003 and 2007” in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

A little sugar with your behavior?

Just as I did on EBD Blog, I’m encouraging folks to read Dan Willingham’s blog entry for the Washington Post regarding the persistent myth that sugar causes children to act hyper. Jump right on over to Dan’s post to read his full deflation of this popular balloon, then you can go back and catch my antique take down on the same topic at “Sugar High?