These kids spell-to-communicate
A population of non- or minimally speaking individuals living with autism and sensory disorders are testing a new method of communication. Called “spell-to-communicate,” it teaches individuals the purposeful motor skills necessary to spell as an alternative means of communication by trying to achieve syncrony between brain and body. At the Growing Kids Therapy Centre in Washington, DC, activities include making “eco-graffiti” boards to display the alphabet, using paint rollers and stencils to show letters and words. According to therapists at the centre, as learners catch on to these alternate communication methods, they’re able to let others know what’s on their mind.
A unique element of this method is the incorporation of movement into non-speaking communication. The acts of physically reaching out, pointing, painting, touching or using a stick in the sand create a motor-sensory difference. And, while practice doesn’t make perfect, it does make permanent, according to researchers who are exploring the method’s early positive results. Of course, the ultimate goal is to use a hierarchy of verbal and gestural prompts to allow kids with non-speaking conditions to be part of the conversation, rather than the subject of it.
Read more in an article called “Autism makes it difficult for these students to speak. So they spell,” by Claire Thornton on usatoday.com
Is PANDAS gaining ground?
Short for “paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections,” the number of PANDAS diagnoses has been increasing over the past several decades. But the field isn’t without controversy or dispute.
Said to have emerged around 40 years ago in the wake of a resurgence of rheumatic fever in one US state and the subsequent development of Sydenham chorea or (Saint Vitus dance) in some children, PANDAS began to be considered by some scientists and family members as a separate condition to autism or ADHD.
In 1998, paediatric neuro-psychiatrist Dr. Susan Swedo proposed five criteria to diagnose PANDAS and differentiate it from a late presentation of autism:
1. The presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder or a tic disorder (as in Tourette’s syndrome)
2. Sudden onset prior to puberty
3. A waxing and waning pattern of trait severity
4. An association between strep throat and behavioural traits
5. Neurological abnormalities such as jerking movements or problems with co-ordination
PANDAS continues to be surrounded by naysayers, but Swedo marches on in her quest. In 2019, she left the National Institute of Mental Health and joined the PANDAS Physicians Network as its chief science officer.
Rainy with a chance of depression
There is research that tells us that the weather has little to do with mood, but most of the evidence suggests the contrary.
Rainy days can affect highly sensitive people a lot, and inclement weather can sometimes bring both us and our kids down. We tend to prefer sunshine and warmer climates but, despite it often bringing cheerier moods, researchers have found that hot weather actually makes many of us more aggressive. One study even estimated a four per cent increase in interpersonal violence and a sizeable 14 per cent increase in intergroup conflict with temperature increases.
Another research team found that with high levels of humidity, men achieved lower scores on concentration tests and reported more sleepiness. Elsewhere, scientists discovered that our happy spring vibe often dips in April and May. The theory is that as we adjust to sunlight, allergies and toxins in the air, and feel the pressure of more or limited
social interactions, our moods change.
In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers followed 600-plus people and found that pleasant, warmer spring weather was related to a better mood, sharper memory and a greater appetite for creativity and exploration as time spent outside increased.
The moral of the story for you and your kids: Make hay while the sun shines, stay out of strong heat and humidity, and prep some fun, mood-boosting activities for those wet and stormy days.