ChildsWork News, May 22, 2012: Autism, Emotional Intelligence, and Bullying Redemption

May 22, 2012

ChildsWork News, May 22, 2012: Autism, Emotional Intelligence, and Bullying Redemption

I have three great stories to share with you this morning. The first has been making a lot of waves in the scientific community (or at least the blogs I follow in the scientific community!). A new study released from Yale’s Child Study Center points towards oxytocin in autism treatment, most specifically in helping autistic children deal with their social-emotional deficits. This is a really exciting idea – what are your thoughts? Next, there has been some great research taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that has looked at making video games which emphasize empathy and compassion over violence. Children these days see video games as a fact of life, offering them the choice of games with positive outcomes could help parents and teachers to bridge the gap between positive behaviors and outcomes and recreation. Finally, the last article is a short brief from NBC News in San Diego, CA. It tells the story of a former victim of bullying who posted a poem on her class reunion website. In response to her heartfelt message, her former classmates have both apologized and put together a fund to fly her to her 25th class reunion. While most of the stories in the news about bullying today emphasize the tragic endings of victims, showing that there is life after bullying and that redemption is involved as well helps to give some hope to those who feel like there is none. [caption id="attachment_793" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Photo courtesy of Louisa Stokes"][/caption] Oxytocin Improves Brain Function in Children with Autism From Yale University Preliminary results from an ongoing, large-scale study by Yale School of Medicine researchers shows that oxytocin — a naturally occurring substance produced in the brain and throughout the body— increased brain function in regions that are known to process social information in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). A Yale Child Study Center research team that includes postdoctoral fellow Ilanit Gordon and Kevin Pelphrey, the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology,  will present the results on Saturday, May 19 at 3 p.m. at the International Meeting for Autism Research. “Our findings provide the first, critical steps toward devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism, which may involve a combination of clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin,” said Gordon. “Such a treatment approach will fundamentally improve our understanding of autism and its treatment.” Social-communicative dysfunctions are a core characteristic of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that can have an enormous emotional and financial burden on the affected individual, their families, and society. Gordon said that while a great deal of progress has been made in the field of autism research, there remain few effective treatments and none that directly target the core social dysfunction. Oxytocin has recently received attention for its involvement in regulating social abilities because of its role in many aspects of social behavior and social cognition in humans and other species. To assess the impact of oxytocin on the brain function, Gordon and her team conducted a first-of-its-kind, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on children and adolescents aged 7 to 18 with ASD. The team members gave the children a single dose of oxytocin in a nasal spray and used functional magnetic resonance brain imaging to observe its effect. The team found that oxytocin increased activations in brain regions known to process social information. Gordon said these brain activations were linked to tasks involving multiple social information processing routes, such as seeing, hearing, and processing information relevant to understanding other people. [caption id="attachment_1084" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of arztsamui"][/caption] Educational Games to Train Middle Schoolers’ Attention, Empathy From University of Wisconsin-Madison via Newswise Two years ago, at a meeting on science and education, Richard Davidson challenged video game manufacturers to develop games that emphasize kindness and compassion instead of violence and aggression. With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor is now answering his own call. With Kurt Squire, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Games Learning Society Initiative, Davidson received a $1.39 million grant this spring to design and rigorously test two educational games to help eighth graders develop beneficial social and emotional skills — empathy, cooperation, mental focus, and self-regulation. "By the time they reach the eighth grade, virtually every middle-class child in the Western world is playing smartphone apps, video games, computer games," says Davidson, the William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at UW-Madison. "Our hope is that we can use some of that time for constructive purposes and take advantage of the natural inclination of children of that age to want to spend time with this kind of technology." The project grew from the intersection of Davidson's research on the brain bases of emotion, Squire's expertise in educational game design, and the Gates Foundation's interest in preparing U.S. students for college readiness-possessing the skills and knowledge to go on to post-secondary education without the need for remediation. "Skills of mindfulness and kindness are very important for college readiness," Davidson explains. "Mindfulness, because it cultivates the capacity to regulate attention, which is the building block for all kinds of learning; and kindness, because the ability to cooperate is important for everything that has to do with success in life, team-building, leadership, and so forth." He adds that social, emotional, and interpersonal factors influence how students use and apply their cognitive abilities. Building on research from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at UW-Madison's Waisman Center, the initial stage of the project will focus on designing prototypes of two games. The first game will focus on improving attention and mental focus, likely through breath awareness. "Breathing has two important characteristics. One is that it's very boring, so if you're able to attend to that, you can attend to most other things," Davidson says. "The second is that we're always breathing as long as we're alive, and so it's an internal cue that we can learn to come back to. This is something a child can carry with him or her all the time." The second game will focus on social behaviors such as kindness, compassion, and altruism. One approach may be to help students detect and interpret emotions in others by reading non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body posture. "We'll use insights gleaned from our neuroscience research to design the games and will look at changes in the brain during the performance of these games to see how the brain is actually affected by them," says Davidson. "Direct feedback from monitoring the brain while students are playing the games will help us iteratively adjust the game design as this work goes forward." Their analyses will include neural imaging and behavioral testing before, during, and after students play the games, as well as looking at general academic performance. The results will help the researchers determine how the games impact students and whether educational games are a useful medium for teaching these behaviors and skills, as well as evaluate whether certain groups of kids benefit more than others. "Our hope is that we can begin to address these questions with the use of digital games in a way that can be very easily scaled and, if we are successful, to potentially reach an extraordinarily large number of youth," says Davidson. Esconditio Classmates Make Amends with Bullied Student From NBC News-San Diego It was on the Orange Glen High School 25th class reunion Facebook page where graduate Lisa Wallace read a poem that made her heart sink. "This poem touched me so bad I could not sleep…I cried," Wallace said, who never bullied Lynda but witnessed it. The poem was written by Lynda Frederick who graduated from Orange Glen High in Escondido back in 1987. She writes,"That little girl who came to school with the clothes she wore the day before.. instead of asking why.. you picked on her." It went on to talk about the pain she felt, not knowing why no one liked her. "That little girl had love in her heart to share with all.. but no one wanted it." Kristi Malone remembered Lynda and how brutal other kids were to her. "Looking at her being bullied horribly and thinking.. I feel so bad for her," said Malone.  "But never thinking in my head that I could stand up for her, and not once did anyone back her up." Over the past few weeks other classmates have read the poem and many felt an overwhelming guilt. "Just people in tears, like "How could we have done this to her," said Malone.  "(They) were just crying.. saying 'Why did I do that?'" Little did anyone know, Lynda's home life was just as rough as her school life. After graduating a semester early she moved to Seneca Falls, New York to get away from everyone. "Because there was just too much at home.. too much at school.. I had to get out," Lynda told NBC San Diego. But ever since Lynda posted that poem her classmates have been contacting her by phone and through Facebook.  All of them apologizing for how she was treated. "And I said.. Christ forgave me.. and I forgive you," Lynda said. Lynda has three children including a 14 year old daughter who is currently dealing with her own bullies at school. "I tell her to look at the people and say listen," Lynda said.  "If you don't like what I'm wearing, if you don't like the way I look.. don't look!" Whether her daughter's classmates ever do the right thing, Lynda's schoolmates are making amends. They collected more than $800 to fly her back to Escondido for the July class reunion. She has accepted and plans to stay for a week. "She really is my hero because she succeeded through all of this," Wallace said.  "I look up to her."



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