Monday, April 18, 2016

ADHD and Me

ADHD and Me

Hi. I’m Jai. I’m 8 years old. This is my story. My doctor says I have an illness. I don’t feel sick. But I do know that grown-ups around me are annoyed with me most of the time. I’m constantly being told, “sit still’’, “stop dreaming”, “pay attention”. I can’t seem to be able to do just that.

In class, I seem to lose track of what the teacher says. I try to listen, I really do. I start doing what she says, then I notice the insect fluttering on the window pane, I see the boy in the row ahead tapping his fingers on the desk, the office boy walking down the corridor and the sound of laughter from the next classroom. I don’t realise I have left my seat till teacher tells me “Jai, return to your seat”.

My parents are frequently called to school to meet my class teacher. They are unhappy with my marks. They think I’m careless and lazy because I take all evening to do my homework. I tell my mother that I try hard. I feel sad and frustrated that she doesn’t understand or believe me. Some of the other children make fun of me specially when I can’t answer in class. Mostly, I haven’t heard the question. They don’t like to play with me as I get excited and can’t wait for my turn.

Things changed about 6 months back. My parents took me to a special doctor. The doctor seemed to understand that I was not being naughty or disobedient. He talked to me, looked at my exercise books and listened to my parents. He told my parents that I had an illness, ADHD. I needed medicines for treatment of ADHD to improve my focus and concentration. I also need structure and routine in my life. It was such a relief to know it was not my fault.

A lady at the doctor’s clinic gave me some puzzles and games to do. I liked her; she spoke slowly and clearly. She explained things one at a time and did not mind repeating herself when I did not get her the first time. She helped us draw up a time-table - we had such fun doing that because she made time for everything I want to do. Now I have a study time, a play time, TV time, all clearly written in the big chart I helped to make. It reminds me of what I have to do and gives me enough time to prepare for it. Mother says I sit quietly for longer periods. Teacher says I pay more attention and don’t disturb other kids in class. She is more patient with me too.

Understanding ADHD and Helping Me

Doctor says there are many children like me. Here’s what you can do to help me and others like me.

  • Help me focus. Make sure I’ve heard you and understood what you want me to do.
  • I sometimes don’t realise I’ve left my seat. Please remind me to stop and think.
  • I need structure and routine in my life.
  • I need to know what comes next.
  • Please give me time to adjust to any changes in my schedule.
  • Please let me learn at my own pace, I get confused and make mistakes when you ask me to hurry up.
  • Please give me instructions one step at a time. Make me repeat them.
  • Please give me short work periods and small goals to start with.
  • Please give me immediate feedback; did I do things the right way?
  • Do give me praise even if I succeed only partially. Please don’t wait till I’m perfect.
  • Don’t always find fault with me. Please praise me and reward me when I do something well.

Thank you for being patient with me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ADHD Diet - practical family meals

ADHD diet
Practical ADHD diet for the family


A high-protein, low-sugar ADHD diet can help improve ADHD symptoms in children. Parents of children with ADHD are overwhelmed with dietary advice that is often time-consuming and disruptive to the household. However, this need not be so. Research shows it is feasible to incorporate an ADHD diet as part of an ongoing ADHD treatment program. Medication with behaviour modification is the backbone of ADHD treatment. A practical diet can be incorporated into the family routine to supplement ADHD treatment.

High Protein

Foods rich in protein - poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, mutton and low-fat dairy products (milk, paneer, cheese) - may have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms.

Protein-rich foods are used by the brain to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increase hyperactivity. Giving your child protein for breakfast will help his body produce brain-awakening neurotransmitters. Combining protein with complex carbohydrates that are high in fibre and low in sugar will help your child manage ADHD symptoms better during the day.

Low Sugar

Eating simple processed carbohydrates, like white bread and jam, is almost the same as feeding your child sugar! Sugar surges are shown to increase inattention in children with ADHD. The body digests these processed carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) so quickly that the effect is virtually the same as eating sugar from a spoon.

For children with ADHD symptoms serve breakfasts and lunches high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fibre — like cereals, dalia, upma with vegetables and nuts, and a glass of milk. Peanut butter on a slice of whole grain bread would also be good. The sugars from these carbohydrates are digested more slowly, because protein, fibre, and fat eaten together result in a more gradual and sustained blood sugar release. The result? A child can concentrate and learn better at school.


Additive-free and oligoantigenic or elimination diets are time-consuming, disruptive to the household, and impractical. They have no proven role in ADHD treatment. Iron and zinc are best supplemented in children with known deficiencies. Omega-3 fatty acids supplements may be tried in some children with ADHD.

Greater attention to a healthy diet while omitting food that predisposes to ADHD symptoms, is perhaps the most effective and practical ADHD diet.


  1. Millichap JG1, Yee MM. The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics. 2012 Feb;129(2):330-7. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-2199. Epub 2012 Jan 9.
  2. Howard AL, Robinson M, Smith GJ, Ambrosini GL, Piek JP, Oddy WH. ADHD is associated with a “Western” dietary pattern in adolescents. J Atten Disord. 2011;15(5):403–411
  3. Wender EH, Solanto MV. Effects of sugar on aggressive and inattentive behavior in children with attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity and normal children. Pediatrics. 1991;88(5):960–966.
  4. Yehuda S. Nutrients, brain biochemistry, and behavior: a possible role for the neuronal membrane. Int J Neurosci. 1987;35(1–2):21–36

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mental Health and Academic Performance in Children

mental health and academic performance in children
10yr window to treat mental health problems affecting academic performance

Mental health & academic performance

Mental health has a direct impact on academic performance in children. Neglected childhood psychiatric disorders like ADHD and Learning Disorders adversely affect the child’s academic performance and educational attainment. Poor educational outcomes affect the child’s health, employment, and status as an adult. This is especially so for psychiatric conditions that are seen at 7 years and persist beyond 16 years of age.

Mental health disorders in children have a greater impact on academic performance than chronic physical illness. The presence of a single mental condition results in morel board exams failures and backlogs. This association is more than for chronic illnesses of the neurological, lung, heart, or digestive systems. Physical impairments are not associated with exam failures. More than half the teenagers who fail to complete their secondary education have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. Mental health problems in childhood impede academic performance as the student is unable to take advantage of learning opportunities at school and at home.

Poor academic performance may be a marker for mental health problems in childhood. We screened secondary school students performing poorly at academics for mental health disorders. 2/3 of these children had at least one mental health disability. ADHD and Depression were the most common mental health disorders in this population. One third of the children had more than one mental health disorder. Our study showed that screening children who had poor academic performance would help in the early identification of treatable psychiatric disorders. This in turn would improve academic performance and subsequent adult outcomes.

Mental health problems in children negatively impact physical health, employment and social status as they grow into adults. These adverse health, employment and social status outcomes are especially seen in those children with psychiatric disorders at age 7 that persist to age 16. There is a large window of opportunity between ages 7 to 16 during which psychiatric disorders can be addressed to prevent adverse outcomes in adulthood.

Mental health problems in childhood have a higher impact on academic performance than chronic physical conditions. Psychiatric disorders account for a large chunk of school failures in children. Poor academic performance in children may be a marker for the presence of undetected mental health problems. Treatment of childhood disorders like ADHD improves academic performance. There is a decade window between the ages of 7 and 16 years to prevent adverse impacts on physical health, employment and social status by treatment of mental health problems that are resulting in poor academic performance.

  1. Case, Anne, Angela Fertig, and Christina Paxson. "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance." Journal of Health Economics 24.2 (2005): 365-389. 
  2. Stoep VA, Weiss NS, Kuo ES, Cheney D, Cohen P. What Proportion of Failure to Complete Secondary School in the US Population Is Attributable to Adolescent Psychiatric Disorder? Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 2003, 30(1), 119-124.
  3. Neville Misquitta, Sayyara Ansari. Prevalence of ADHD, Depression and Dysgraphia in School Children. 15th IACAPAP. New Delhi. 30-Oct-2002

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Conduct Disorder and Behaviour Problems in Children

conduct disorder

Conduct disorder and behaviour problems in children make the news when a 5-year old or a grandmother is killed while extorting money. Aggression in children  is just one of the offenses associated with conduct disorders . The seemingly lesser offenses of stealing in thousands from the home, or smoking 'weed' with their friends, pale in contrast. At the lowest end of the spectrum are those children who repeatedly confront authority in school or at home. Dubbed as 'monster kids' these children are viewed indulgently as being mischievous, naughty, 'bad', or 'delinquent'. Very seldom are they seen as having a mental health problem - a conduct disorder.

What is Conduct Disorder?

Behaviour problems that are persistent, violate the rights of others, go against societal norms, and disrupt family life, indicate a conduct disorder and merit psychiatric assessment. Conduct disorder is amongst the commonest childhood disorders seen in our clinic. Every one of us knows or has heard of a child with conduct disorders . Conduct disorder is characterised by the following behaviour problems .
This child (maybe a 2 year old preschool cherub) picks fights, bullies, or physically hurts younger siblings at home. He is frequently taken to the principal's office for fighting in school. When this child enters the park the other children get ready to leave. He has often used a weapon (stick, cricket bat, stone or brick) to deliberately assault a person or hurt an animal.
Destruction of property
These children are wilfully destructive. They are the ones who scratch the paint off your new car, slash the seats of parked 2 wheelers, deface the lift, cut up a mothers dress, and tear the library book. More seriously they set fire to clothes and in extreme cases to vehicles.
Lying and deceit
These are children who steal from parents, grandparents, and classmates. They forge their parent's signature on school reports, cheques, and credit cards.They lie,  cheat and pilfer from shops.
Violation of rules
They stay out until late at night against home rules and curfews. They 'bunk' school to hang out with other antisocial friends, and run away from home overnight.

What happens to children with conduct disorder behaviours ?

Most parents feel a child will outgrow behaviour problems and conduct disorders .  However studies show this is not so. If not addressed and treated, children with conduct disorders are suspended from school, and have brushes with the law. Half of these children also have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) which further impacts their schooling. Broken relationships and marriages, and substance abuse including alcohol and cannabis abuse are common. As adults children with behaviour problems develop antisocial personalities and lead a criminal lifestyle. In the extreme a child with conduct disorder will murder his grandmother or a hapless neighbour's toddler.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ADHD treatment improves academic performance

ADHD treatment
ADHD treatment improves academic performance

ADHD medication enhances academic performance when started early. ADHD drug treatment improves reading ability in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dyslexia. New research shows that drug treatment of ADHD also improves maths ability especially when started early - at least by the 4th standard. Children starting treatment a year or two later show progressively greater declines in academic performance.

ADHD is characterised by inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviour. Parents who bring their children to the clinic are focused only on issues arising from the child's hyperactivity. Impairments due to inattention are not immediately apparent in the pre-school years. Depending on the severity of ADHD, inattention is unmasked when the child enters academic life in primary school or during the transitions to middle school, high school, and college. At each  of these stages an increasing demand is placed on the cognitive faculty of attention which the child's brain is not capable of meeting.

Children with ADHD fail to absorb formative academic concepts in primary school. However, rote learning or tutoring by the parents helps the child clear these initial stages. It is only later when the cognitive load exceeds the child's capacity to concentrate that academic problems become manifest. By this time the child's academic progress has already taken a downward trajectory. Reversing this trend and repairing the negative impact on the child's self-esteem entails considerably more effort, time and sustenance at these later stages. The earlier treatment for ADHD is initiated, the better.

Inattention in ADHD is due  to altered brain proteins. These are involved in modulation of the neurochemical - dopamine. This results in reduced dopamine in the synapse (fluid filled space that transmits information from one brain cell to another).  Altered dopamine modulation in the frontal lobe of the brain makes the child impulsive and distractible. ADHD medications act on dopamine and noradrenaline receptors to keep each dopamine molecule longer in the synaptic cleft. Dopamine is then available to stimulate the receptors for longer.

Parental concerns regarding side-effects of ADHD drug treatment on the developing child are largely unfounded. There is now evidence that shows long-term treatment with therapeutic doses of ADHD medication does not affect the developing brain or other standard measures of growth. ADHD drug treatment also does not increase the risk for addiction. As with any other medication side effects can arise at the start of treatment. Adherence to the review schedule will help monitor and mitigate these. All medication is prescribed after carefully weighing the risks and benefits. In the case of ADHD the risks are poor academic functioning and subsequent narrowing of career options at best, to dropping out or expulsion from school and subsequent delinquency at the worst. The benefits of treatment are highlighted in the  report card shown above.

Drug treatment of ADHD enhances academic performance and learning by reducing the inattention and hyperactivity of ADHD. The child with ADHD has attentional and impulse control issues. Inattention and hyperactivity interfere with classroom learning. The earlier ADHD treatment is started the better the outcome in terms of academic achievement. Many children have experienced these benefits.

  1. Kathryn E Gill, Peter J Pierre, James Daunais, Allyson J Bennett, Susan Martelle, H Donald Gage, James M Swanson, Michael A Nader and Linda J Porrino. Chronic Treatment with Extended Release Methylphenidate Does Not Alter Dopamine Systems or Increase Vulnerability for Cocaine Self-Administration: A Study in Nonhuman Primates. Neuropsychopharmacology , (18 July 2012) | doi:10.1038/npp.2012.117
  2. Penny Corkum, Melissa McGonnell and Russell Schachar. Factors affecting academic achievement in children with ADHD. Journal of Applied Research on Learning. Vol. 3, Article 9, 2010.
  3. Zoëga, et al. A Population-Based Study of Stimulant Drug Treatment of ADHD and Academic Progress in Children. Pediatrics 2012;130:2011-3493

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cannabis, teenagers and schizophrenia


Cannabis or marijuana use by teenagers and adolescents is highly associated with the onset of psychosis and schizophrenia. Cannabis goes by many names including hash, pot, grass, weed, or ganja. This gateway drug is falsely thought to be innocuous and as having no lasting effects. Cannabis use by teenagers is often not recognised as a problem. Cannabis is cheap and easily accessible in most student populations. Pune is a major hub for the cannabis drug trade. This week a quarter tonnne of ganja was found dumped in a well. Cannabis use is rampant in Pune colleges and hostels, where students assiduosly guard and maintain their 'stash'. During the 57th National School Games the highest number of students testing positive for marijuana came from Maharashtra.

Regular cannabis use increases the risk for schizophrenia and psychosis by upto 4 times. There is increasing evidence that cannabis use can precipitate schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals. This is especially so with early onset use of cannabis. Cannabis also exacerbates symptoms of schizophrenia in those who have already developed the disorder. Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia involve disturbances in the dopamine neurotransmitter systems of the brain. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the key neurochemical in cannabis - interacts with dopamine to adversely affect its functioning by multiple mechanisms.

Teenagers are especially vulnnerable to the schizophrenia-inducing effects of cannabis. Cannabis like substances (anandamide) called endocannabinoids, produced by the body, play an important role in several processes of brain maturation. Regular marijuana use affects this process of brain maturation in teenagers. Schizophrenia is also a disorder of brain maturation. Disruption of the endocannabinoid system in the adolescent brain by exposure to cannabis interferes with brain maturation. This provides a mechanism to increase the risk for development of schizophrenia in adolescence.

How to cut down and stop cannabis use

  1. Write down a list of reasons for wanting to stop - you will need to review this at times when you are feeling low or experiencing craving.
  2. Tell someone you trust that you are quitting
  3. Get rid of the paraphernelia for smoking cannabis - the stash, wrappers, lighters, matches. You may be surprised at the number of places where small amounts are hidden. Get rid of it all.
  4. Take measures to prevent fresh procurements - avoid places and people associated with replenishments
  5. Make a list of things to do to occupy the time freed-up from procuring and using cannabis.
  6. Review your list of reasons and things to do when you feel low and when craving is intense.
  1. Paola Casadioa, Cathy Fernandesb, Robin M. Murray, Marta Di Forti. Cannabis use in young people: The risk for schizophrenia.  Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Volume 35, Issue 8, August 2011, Pages 1779–1787. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.04.007
  2. Degenhardt L, Hall W. Is cannabis use a contributory cause of psychosis? Can J Psychiatry. Aug 2006;51(9):556-65.
  3. Deepak Cyril D’Souza,Richard Andrew Sewell,and Mohini Ranganathan. Cannabis and psychosis/schizophrenia: human studies. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2009 October; 259(7): 413–431. Published online 2009 July 16. doi: 10.1007/s00406-009-0024-2

Monday, April 30, 2012

Aggression in children - need for parental intervention

Aggression is uncommon in school children and should be addressed

A Pune teenager was kidnapped and murdered by his school friends a few weeks ago. The victim was deliberately selected and his parents were manipulated for a ransom. Violence, theft and destructiveness are end stage behaviours of conduct problems in children and adolescents.

Trajectories of aggression in children

The commonest path of violence in children is 'adolescence-limited'. The antisocial behaviours usually occur when the adolescents are 'hanging out' in a group.  This type of aggression reflects an anti-authoritarianism. Anti-authoritarianism results from frustration over being denied the benefits of full adult independence despite reaching physical maturity. Adolescent limited aggression is less violent, relies on peer encouragement, and generally diminishes by adulthood  These adolescents are usually able to integrate into society as young adults.

A less common path of violence is 'life-course-persistent'. In this group of antisocial children, problem behaviors unfold in a sequence at home and school
  1. Early noncompliance - with excessive arguing and disobedience
  2. Poor rule adherence - staying out late, playing in prohibited locations
  3. Low frustration tolerance - temper tantrums, abusiveness, aggression
Aggression is common among preschoolers. The prevalence rate of aggression in children reduces dramatically once they enter school. Children whose fighting does not  reduce in the early school years are at high risk for persistent violent behavior. This important subgroup of proactively aggressive youth is profoundly indifferent to the consequences that their misbehavior has upon others. They rarely display genuine remorse. Their personality of 'callous-unemotional traits' is characterised by a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, and shallowness. As youths they are responsible for a large number of violent offenses. Their aggressive behavior is often persistent as features of psychopathic or sociopathic personality.

Parenting can prevent violence

  1. Make aggression irrelevant by modifying the setting
  2. Aggression is significantly affected by the parent-child relationship. Children with conduct problems tend to have acrimonious and negative interactions with their parents. The parent is perceived as just an agent of coercion. It is important to change this environment. Positive interactions between the parent and child serves to reinforce the perception of the parent as a source of positive attention, affection, support and encouragement. This makes the child responsive to parents' authority and to the rewards and punsihment that  the parent dispenses.
  3. Make aggression ineffective by modifying its consequences
  4. The reactions of others to the aggressive behavior sustains and reinforces it. They may give in to what the child wants, give up trying to get compliance, or even bar the child from school -  which may be exactly what the child wants. To render the aggression ineffective parents/ teachers have to respond by ignoring milder misbehaviour and handing out consequences. These include time outs, loss of privileges (TV, cell phone, Facebook) that the child will want to avoid, and limit setting (curfew times, restricting location).
    Parents need to establish  their authority and implement some of these measures in aggressive children. This teaches children that aggression is an ineffective means of fulfilling a particular wish. These lessons are better learned early under caring parents rather than later in a centre for juvenile delinquents.
Brennan LM. Toddler-age externalizing behaviors and school-age academic achievement: independent associations and the impact of parental involvement University of Pittsburgh. Thesis presented 27-Aug-2010.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Healthy Baby Contests - judging psychological development objectively


Psychological development is a key aspect of any ‘Healthy Baby Contest”. Pathfinder Clinic judged the psychological development of toddlers participating in one such local event. Healthy baby contests are among the most attractive activities organized by many preschools and communities. Assessment is a sensitive issue at any Healthy Baby competition. Parents of contestants are concerned regarding partiality and subjective errors. Judging a Healthy Baby Contest objectively is crucial to the credibility of the event.

Can psychological development be objectively assessed in 5 minutes?
Psychological assessment can be time consuming and difficult to operationalize. The child’s development is captured in speech, social interaction, and manipulation of every- day objects. Usually a child’s developmental milestones are judged ‘objectively’ based on the parents responses to available screening questionnaires.

We decided to get our knees dirty and go down to toddler level to get a direct assessment of where they were at. The caveat, the organisers wanted us out of the way in two hours. We judged 39 toddlers aged 2 to 4.5yr. We took three hours; less than 5 minutes per child on an average.


The atmosphere around the play rooms was intense -  mainly contributed by parental anxiety. Pre-school coordinators ensured each child walked into the room with their parents. Despite some adult anxieties each family was safely seated at toddler level. Every child was greeted and asked their name. They were then asked to point to and name parts of the body and animal figures;  draw age-appropriate figures; manipulate wooden blocks or coloured beads; and catch a large ball.

Children were assessed on these categories
  1. Speech and language
  2. Social function
  3. Fine motor function
  4. Gross motor function
  5. Cognitive function
The scores were entered into a proforma and results tabulated

Are healthy baby contests a waste of time?

Of course things didn’t always go smoothly, but under all the levity some serious assessment work was done. We learnt from the kids. Fans and lights are passe as objects to point out - a laptop will always bring out a prompt pointing index finger. The advantages are apparent
  • With a reliable scoring system, the results are easy and quick to interpret and more acceptable.
  • The results can be explained scientifically
  • The protocol can serve as a guideline for educating caregivers and teachers regarding simple criteria for monitoring the child’s health status. These also serve as a checklist for their activities.
  • Screening of at risk children - one child screened positive for autism (prevalence rate in the literature is 1 in 110). The parents were advised the need for follow-up.
  • Data obtained is used to establish local norms for child development

Healthy Baby Contests can have a positive impact on the community when conducted scientifically. Psychological development of infants and toddlers can be effectively judged through direct observation in a short time-frame.

  1. Bhat G, Pardeshi S, Kakrani V, Pratinidhi A. Making healthy baby contests more objective. Indian J Med Sci [serial online] 2001 [cited 2012 Mar 23];55:553-8. Available from:
  2. M.L. Kulkarni, G.L. Mohan. Healthy Baby Contests-Beyond show, Beyond Objectivity Towards Health Education Indian Pediatrics 1999; 36:417-418

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mental health checklists and screening tests for rampaging bus drivers

pune bus
Checklists and psychological screening questionnaires for mental illness are effective, easy to use and widely available. Pune was shocked into considering the need for mental health screening of its bus drivers after one of them wilfully killed eight people and injured 32 others. He hijacked a bus at the depot and mowed down victims in broad daylight. Amidst the protests, and outrage the Pune administration has decided that all its bus driver undergo psychological testing.

We have already looked at screening of police personnel for mental health problems, and also screening of teenagers for alcohol and drug abuse. Here we specifically examine the feasibility of regularly screening the 8600 PMPL staff and Pune bus drivers for mental health problems.

Mental illness in bus drivers

  • Mental health problems are higher for bus drivers who suffer from back pain, are dissatisfied with their jobs or undertake long-distance driving. This is more so for employees who have worked for >10 years. (Issever et al 2002)
  • Aggressive bus drivers have more anxiety, hostility, and anger. They display competitiveness when driving aggressively, and display anger at slow drivers and traffic obstructions (Galovski 2002). Aggressive drivers with Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) endorse more assaultiveness and resentment. They display more impatience, hostility and have an angry temperament.
  • Bus drivers have higher hospital admissions with diagnoses of mood reactions, paranoia and non-specific psychoses. (Ugesker 1989)

Ideal mental health screen

Easy to administer
it is to be conducted regularly without consuming excessive time
Culturally acceptable
anything stigmatising will be shunned
picks up potentially vulnerable persons
excludes those who do not have mental health problems
Easy to interpret
results should be available immediately
The aim of mental health screening is to identify individuals who require a more detailed examination. One counsellor will never be able to carry out any evaluation of 8600 staff.

Mental health checklists and screening instruments

There are already valid (test identifies persons mental illness) and reliable (results remain the same when administered by different testers and on re-testing) checklists for mental health screening. Two mental health screening instruments that satisfy many of the ideal criteria are the COOP/WONCA charts and the WHO-5 questionnaire. Both have high diagnostic accuracy for mental disorders. Specificity, sensitivity and positive predictive values range from 0.85 to 0.87 (Anything more than 0.7 is good).


The COOP/WONCA measures six core aspects of functional status: physical fitness, feelings, daily activities, social activities, change in health and overall health through six charts. The charts have been successfully used in illiterate populations, and have guidelines for translation where required. The average time for completion is less than five minutes. One-time assessment with the COOP/WONCA Charts is a valid and feasible option for screening for mental disorders at the primary care level.


The WHO-Five Well-being Index (WHO-5) is a set of 5 questions that can be used when six charts are too much.

A mental health check is most acceptable as part of the regular or annual ‘health check’. Those who score above the cut-off are taken up for detailed assessment by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional. No additional man-power is required. The process will not cost in crores. Our roads will be safer.
We need to use available checklists and screening tests for early detection of mental illness in Pune’s bus drivers.
  1. Galovski T, Blanchard EB. Psychological characteristics of aggressive drivers with and without intermittent explosive disorder. Behav Res Ther. 2002 Oct;40(10):1157-68. 
  2. Issever H, Onen L, Sabuncu HH, Altunkaynak O. Personality characteristics, psychological symptoms and anxiety levels of drivers in charge of urban transportation in Istanbul. Occup Med (Lond). 2002 Sep;52(6):297-303. 
  3. Joao Mazzoncini de Azevedo-Marques, MD, PhD1 and Antonio Waldo Zuardi, MD, PhD. COOP/WONCA Charts as a Screen for Mental Disorders in Primary Care.  Annals of Family Medicine 9:359-365 (2011) doi: 10.1370/afm.1267
  4. C. van Weel, C. König - Zahn, F.W.M.M. Touw - Otten, N.P. Van Duijn, B. Meyboom - de Jong. Measuring functional status with the COOP/WONCA charts: a manual. Northern Centre of Health Care Research 1990. ISBN 90 72156 33 1 
  5. WHO. WHO-Five Well-being Index (WHO-5) Accessed 17-Feb-2011 
  6. Ugeskr Laeger. Psychiatric admissions among city bus drivers. A prospective study. Ugeskr Laeger. 1989 Jan 30;151(5):302-5. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dyslexia - Difficulty with Reading, Maths & Spelling

dyslexia LD testing

Difficulty with reading, spelling and maths is rampant among Indian students. Two recent reports have highlighted this academic underachievement. The academic infrastructure is definitely a major contributor. However, unrecognised dyslexia or other learning disability also needs to be considered by every concerned parent and enlightened teacher. We have already discussed the management of dyslexia. Here we underline the urgent need for action.

India ranked 72nd of 73 countries in a comparative international survey (PISA) of 15-year-old students. All students were assessed on the same test for knowledge and skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. A sample of more than 5000 students from 200 Indian schools were assessed in this program. In none of these categories did more than 17% of Indian students scored above baseline levels as compared to 81% of students from OECD countries (US, UK, Australia etc).

15-year-olds scoring above baseline 

Test India China OECD avg
Reading 11-17 % 95.3% 81%
Mathematics 12-15% 94.5% 75%
Science 11-16% 96.3% 82%

The Annual Status of Education Report (2010) paints an equally dismal picture.
Reading ability
  • Only half the students in Class 5 can read the Class 2 text
  • Only a third of Class 1 children can recognise numbers 1-9
  • Only a third of Class 3 students can do subtraction in two digits
  • Only a third of Class 5 students can do simple division
  • A third of Class 8 students could not use a calender

This may be a scathing indictment of our education system, but it also reflects the presence of unrecognised Learning Disorder in our students. Learning Disorder affects 5-10% of students worldwide. Learning Disorder manifests in varying combinations and severity of difficulty with reading, spelling and arithmetic.

If your child has difficulty reading, spelling or in mathematics
  • Have them assessed for dyslexia or other learning disability
  • The earlier remedial teaching is instituted the more likely the child is to benefit
  • Identification of dyslexia or learning disability entitles your child to waivers at the 10th and 12th board exams.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) of 2009 lays down the duties of government, local authorities and parents; the responsibilities of schools and teachers; and the norms for schools. These norms include the number of teachers, buildings, minimum teaching hours, teaching aids, library, and recreational equipment. However, the teaching to be done is not mentioned and nor is it monitored. Rote learning is emphasised. Students fail to acquire basic reading, writing and calculation skills that are required to continue learning as adults.

Don't just wait for the government 
Act NOW to secure your child's place in a global future

  1. ASER 2010 - Rural. Annual Status of Education Report (Rural)Date of publication: January 14, 2011
  2. Maurice Walker. PISA 2009 Plus Results: Performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science for 10 additional participants. ACER Press. Victoria. 2011.  ISBN: 978-1-74286-067-1
  3. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Talk - not TV - for your toddler

No TV for babies
Turn off the television and speak to your toddler. Talking is the best thing you could do today for your child’s psychological development. Talking is an interactive process in which your child exercises a core feature of being human - communicating through speech. Your child's vocabulary is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend talking.

Talking primes your child for independence. Speech evolves through attempts to communicate needs and feelings. Infants and toddlers are driven by evolution to master this complex process. You, the parent, play a key role in this two-way interaction. Infancy and toddler-hood are stages for developing secure bonding and attachment. The child is primed to bond with the mother or caregiver. The initial bond is secured by direct contact with the caregiver - through warmth, touch and voice. A secure attachment bond enables the infant seeks to explore the environment by attempts to crawl and later walk. The exploring toddler returns often to the parent to re-experience attachment security. It is here that talking plays a crucial role in maintaining the attachment bond at a distance. The child is then able to explore the environment away from direct contact with the parent.

Your one-year-old is psychologically unable to follow or learn from video. Some parents are convinced that certain TV channels are ‘educational’ for their toddler. The ability to comprehend video arises between 18 to 24 months of age (Pempek 2010). Prior to 2 years of age TV has little or no educational impact on the child, whatever the claims by media groups vying for their ‘eyeballs’. TV programming meant for 2-year-olds delays language and vocabulary development (AAP 2011, Zimmerman 2007).

Television is not a substitute for parenting. Parents leave the TV on to distract the child while they are engaged otherwise. Television holds the toddlers attention through its series of changing visual stimuli. This visual stimulus is powerful and distracting. While interacting with parents with the TV on in the background, the toddler is forced to shift attention to the TV once every 20 seconds. Even in adolescents, background TV adversely affects mental processing, memory and comprehension. Having the TV always on in the toddlers home interferes with unstructured play time that is critical to developing problem-solving skills and creativity. Repeated research has shown no developmental benefits for television exposure in infancy (Schmidt 2009, ).

Talk to and play with your children. Television is a medium that encourages passivity. TV delays vocabulary growth and language development in toddlers. Turn off the TV.

  1. Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement. Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. Council on Communications and Media. PEDIATRICS Vol. 128 No. 5November 1, 2011. pp. 1040 -1045 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1753)
  2. Pempek TA, Kirkorian HL, Richards JE, Anderson DR, Lund AF, Stevens M. Video comprehensibility and attention in very young children. Dev Psychol. 2010 Sep;46(5):1283-93. 
  3. Schmidt ME, Rich M, Rifas-Shiman SL, Oken E, Taveras EM. Television viewing in infancy and child cognition at 3 years of age in a US cohort. Pediatrics. 2009 Mar;123(3):e370-5. 
  4. Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA, Meltzoff AN. Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. J Pediatr. 2007 Oct;151(4):364-8. Epub 2007 Aug 7. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Learning Disability - academic underachievement

learning disorder
Impaired spelling and arithmetic in Standard 3 boy with Learning Disorder

Learning Disorder (LD) is characterised by impaired acquisition of academic skills. This impairment in scholastic skills is not due to intellectual disability, physical disorders, emotional disturbances, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

There is a gap between ability and application. The child may know what is asked, is able to explain it verbally, but is unable to put it down in writing. Learning Disorder could affect any of the three scholastic Rs – Reading, wRiting or aRithmetic.

Types of Learning Disability

  1. Dyslexia – is the commonest learning disability (80%). It is marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and understand written words.
  2. Dyscalculia – problems with doing math, understanding time, using money.
  3. Dysgraphia – problems with handwriting, spelling.
  4. Dyspraxia – problems with hand-eye coordination and balance, difficulties with fine motor skills.

Signs and Symptoms

Most children with a Learning Disability are not diagnosed until they are in Standard 2-3 or 7-8 years of age. Remarks like ‘can do better’ or ‘handwriting needs to improve’ are often the first warning signs to appear in the report card. Many of these children would have been the stars of their nursery or kindergarten class. The transition to assessment of written output in primary school is what unmasks the disorder. The aware teacher is able to help the parents understand and put the parents on the path to remedial teaching.

Parents should watch out for

  • Reading may be slow or there is repeated rereading or skipping of an entire section. In the lower classes the child learns to memorise and reproduce entire chapters. Later the child is unable to hold the increasing amounts of material in memory, grades plummet, and confused parents are left searching for answers.
  • Problems in copying from the blackboard or a book. This is a frequent complaint of the teacher. Classwork is left incomplete. The child tries to copy from their partner and is punished for distracting the class.
  • Poor handwriting or drawing – their exercise books are messy, with frequent scratching out and erasing. This is especially so when the child writes on blank paper. It is also a reason why the child performs poorly in exams – they just cannot write quickly enough. They run out of time before they reach the last few questions.
  • Other signs in more severe conditions
    • Reversing numbers and letters while reading or writing - For example, confusing ‘b’ and ‘d’
    • Mixing the order of letters or numbers. Writing ‘twon’ instead of ‘town’.
    • Skipping letters in spelling. The child says ‘grass’ but writes ‘gas’.
    • Forgetting words they know well.
    • Weakness in mathematics.

Conquering Learning Disorder

  • Approach a centre undertaking diagnosis of learning disabilities.
  • A complete history of the child’s birth, milestones, health and academic record
  • Physical exam to exclude problems related to vision and hearing
  • Psychometry - to demonstrate specific academic problems that are not associated intellectual disability
  • Psychiatric assessment - to address associated anxiety, phobias and depression that arise out of repeated academic failures.
  • Psychiatric assessment - to exclude or address Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) a common comorbidity. 15-40% of children with ADHD also have dyslexia.
  • Remedial teaching is essential to overcome learning problems 

Drug treatment for dyslexia?

There is a growing body of research to show that at least in children who have both ADHD and dyslexia there are significant improvements in reading ability with ADHD medication. These improvements in reading ability are not related merely to improvements in attention. The brain systems responsible for therapeutic improvement in children with ADHD + dyslexia are probably different from those in children with ADHD alone. The finding that selective areas of working memory can be enhanced by these medications is important, as poor working memory function appears to be a mental constraint on academic learning.

  1. Schulte-Körne G. The Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Dyslexia. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010 Oct;107(41):718-26; quiz 27. Epub 2010 Oct 15
  2. Sumner CR, Gathercole S, Greenbaum M, Rubin R, Williams D, Hollandbeck M, Wietecha L. Atomoxetine for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children with ADHD and dyslexia. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2009 Dec 15;3:40..

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Parental supervision of children and adolescents

parental supervision and injuries in children with high intensity behaviour
Parental supervision protects boisterous children from injury:
More time unsupervised corresponds to more injury 
“To my parents we were just two girls in the bedroom”. What exactly was going on? Without adequate supervision the parents of this teenager never found out; the memories returned to haunt her in adulthood. Studies comparing children with and without parental supervision show that lax parental supervision is associated with injury in toddlers and preschoolers; conduct problems in school going children; and road accidents, addictions, gambling and sexual risk taking in teenagers.

Parental supervision has three dimensions (Gitanjali 2004)
  1. Attention - watching or listening 
  2. Proximity - within or beyond reach 
  3. Continuity - constant, intermittent, or not at all 

Two factors determine the degree to which a child would be left unsupervised (Morrongiello 2008)
  1. Parent’s conscientiousness - the more conscientious the parent more the supervision
  2. Child’s propensity for risky behaviour - the more impulsive and sensation seeking the child the more likely the child will be kept in direct view. 

Distinguishing adequate from neglectful supervision is not straight forward. The consequences of lower levels of supervision are not uniform for all children. The consequences depend to a great extent on child attributes. For children with high sensation seeking, even close supervision is not adequate to prevent injury. For children who are high in behavioural control, even not supervising does not elevate risk of injury.

Whether or not children comply with their parents’ requests to behave in safe ways is a complex interaction of parenting style, attachment style,  and child temperament. The level of supervision necessary to ensure a child’s safety should finally be based on the child’s characteristics. The only reliable maxim is that the time children could be safely left unsupervised generally increases with child age.

Parental supervision of an adolescent differs from supervising a younger child (DeVore 2005). Direct parental observation gradually gives way to indirect parental ‘‘monitoring’. This indirect supervision involves ongoing communication between parents and adolescents about the adolescents’
  • Whereabouts
  • Friends they are with
  • Schedule to return home
  • Contact information enabling parents to directly communicate with adolescents. 
Effective supervision entails active participation of the adolescent, and honest communication between adolescent and parents.

Parental monitoring buffers negative peer influence. Strong peer attachments and increasing independence from the family is a normal part of adolescent development. Unfortunately, youth whose peers engage in high-risk behaviour are at high risk for the development of similar behaviours. Not only are high levels of monitoring protective, low levels of parental monitoring have been associated with numerous risk behaviours.

More unsupervised time is associated with more sexual activity in youth (Cohen 2002). In one urban study more than half of sexually active youth had sex at home after school. For boys, sex and drug-related risks increase with amount of unsupervised time. Trust and communication did not predict decreases in problem behaviour as strongly as did monitoring. Parental monitoring may be particularly protective for high-risk young urban adolescents; those who spend a significant amount of non-school time unsupervised. 

  1. Cohen DA, Farley TA, Taylor SN, et al. When and where do youths have sex? The potential role of adult supervision. Pediatrics 2002; 110:e66 
  2. DeVore ER, Ginsburg KR. The protective effects of good parenting on adolescents. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2005 Aug;17(4):460-5. 
  3. Gitanjali S, Brenner R, Morrongiello BA, Haynie D, Rivera M, Cheng T. The role of supervision in child injury risk: Definition, conceptual, and measurement issues. Journal of Injury Control & Safety Promotion 2004;11(1):17-22. 
  4. Morrongiello BA, Klemencic N, Corbett M. Interactions between child behavior patterns and parent supervision: Implications for children’s risk of unintentional injury. Child Development 2008;79(3):627-638.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Inclusive education for children with autism in Pune

inclusive education for children with autism and developmental disabilities
Inclusive Education
Inclusive education for children with autism and other developmental disabilities is now approaching reality in Pune. Nine children with autism appeared for the Maharashtra 10th standard (SSC) board exam. The accommodations and waivers granted to these students reflect an infusion of the fresh breath of inclusion into the corridors of the board of education .

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in Maharashtra

The Education for All Movement, the central government’s flagship SSA, seeks to ensure that every child, including those with special needs, is provided an elementary education. As far as disability is concerned the SSA has adopted a zero rejection policy. It provides for universal access to infrastructure and curricula in schools. Maharashtra is at the forefront of this scheme. In all 380000 teachers from Maharashtra attended workshops on inclusive education through the SSA. 414277 children with special needs were identified and 380723 enrolled under the SSA in Maharashtra as of Jun-2009, . Of these about 9000 children were provided a home-based education.

Beyond elementary school it is up to the state education boards to ensure access to further education. For this the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) initiated accommodations and waivers in 2009. This year for the first time, 9 students with autism from Pune division and 10 students from Mumbai appeared for the Maharashtra SSC 10th standard board exams. Lets look at why this is a significant social event.

Modern education of children with disability traces its history to Jean-Marc Itard a French physician. On the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries Itard attempted to educate Victor, a feral child discovered in the forests of Aveyron. Although Itard himself judged his work with Victor a failure, this renowned experiment marked the first time that anyone considered the possibility that persons with disabilities could be educated.

Edouard Seguin (mid 1800s), a French educator, developed a method for teaching children with intellectual disability in order for them to take their rightful place in the societies of their day. The early training schools were based on these concepts. The schools were small and homelike with 8 to 10 residents. The original goal was the return of children to their families after a period of intervention.


Despite these early efforts, it was later concluded that educational and therapeutic approaches had failed. Persons with intellectual disability were scapegoated and regarded as the root cause of many social problems. Institutionalisation and segregation into special schools became the principal means of ‘protecting’ intellectually disabled persons from society and also for ‘safeguarding’ society against the social ill thought to be caused by an expanding population of defectives (Jackson 1999).


Lloyd Dunn (1968), a special educator, declared that most children with mental retardation could be "mainstreamed" in classes with typically developing age-mates. He questioned the need for segregated special education classes for most children with mental retardation. He highlighted the lack of evidence to show that children with mild mental retardation learn any better in special education classes than in regular classes. Lloyd Dunn pointed out that educational techniques had advanced sufficiently to allow the effective schooling of most children with retardation alongside other typical children.


Wolf Wolfensberger (1972), a scholar, activist and prolific author in the field of development disabilities extended the idea of normalization to the service delivery system itself. He called on all residences, schools, and other services for persons with retardation to be as normative as possible. Parent and professional advocacy groups also fought hard for legislative and legal victories to decrease the size of large institutions.


Inclusive education seeks to overcome every barrier - physical and academic- to ensure the child is educated with their peers (Sigafoos 2003). It stresses the importance of peer interaction in the final outcome for the child who is to enter into the adult world on a level playing field. To this end academics is given a secondary role. The child is supported for all physical needs to enable participation in the classroom experience with their peer group. Academic difficulties are addressed by a remedial teacher or special educator attached to the class who helps the child in parallel with the regular curriculum. The child may be learning at a level many grades below the rest of the class but has the benefit of meaningful social interaction.

It has taken 200 years for the vision of Itard to reach the SSA, the national inclusive education program. The universal principles of justice, fraternity, and equality secured for all citizens by the constitution are driving us to ensure children with autism and other disabilities are educated alongside their peers. That is why nine children with autism have appeared for a board exam in Pune. That is why this is a significant social event.

  1. CBSE. Amendments/Additions in Examination Bye Laws. 2009
  2. Dunn L M. Special education for the mildly retarded—is much of it justifiable? Except. Child. 35:5-22, 1968.
  3. Jackson, Mark. Mental Retardation In: A century of Psychiatry. Ed. Hugh Freeman. London: Harcourt Publishers, 1999.
  4. Sigafoos, Jeff, Michael Arthur, and Mark O'Reilly. Challenging Behaviour and Developmental Disability. London: Whurr Publishers, 2003.
  5. SSA, Inclusive education. Accessed 04-Jul-2011
  6. SSA. Kolkotta National Workshop. Accessed 04-Jul-2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Neurotoxic effects of alcohol on the adolescent and young adult brain

(or why the 25 year age-bar on alcohol consumption could be reasonable)

Does alcohol have specific neurotoxic effects on the adolescent or young adult brain? This question is the only important one for deciding whether the 25 year age-bar on alcohol consumption in Maharashtra is justifiable. While the debate rages two students from the premier medical college of India drowned in an alcohol fuelled swimming pool misadventure, and in an unrelated incident on the same night five inebriated youths were arrested for disturbing the peace in a residential area. We have seen how to recognise problem alcohol drinking in teenagers, and how to refuse alcohol. This article probes the specific effects of alcohol on the maturing brain.


Alcohol is a neurotoxin. It distorts the normal architecture of the developing brain. This distortion starts during pregnancy when imbibed maternal alcohol crosses the placenta into the foetus. In the foetus alcohol acts on the specially vulnerable immature insulating cells (oligodendroglia) of the brain. The child is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, characterised by irreversible mental retardation, a small head, small stature and facial abnormalities. Because the exact amount of alcohol required and the most vulnerable periods of pregnancy have not been definitively established all pregnant women are advised to abstain from any use of alcohol.


By the second year of life the number of connections between brain cells (synapses) are at a maximum. These synapses are gradually reduced to the adult number (synaptic pruning). This process is controlled by immature excitatory (glutamate) receptors in the synapses. These receptors differ from adult ones by allowing quicker and longer excitation. Immature glutamate receptors are vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Their over-stimulation distorts synaptic pruning (Johnston 1995).


In adolescence there is a rapid growth of gray matter and the formation of new connections (proliferation) in the brain. Elimination of some synaptic connections (pruning) enables the adolescent or young adult brain to change in response to environmental demands. Stability of these connections is enhanced through insulation of neuronal fibres (myelination). Myelination increases the overall speed of information processing within the brain. These maturational processes are critical for cognitive development. They are all adversely affected by alcohol (Guerri 2010).
These adverse effects specifically impact the frontal lobes of the brain and are highly associated with level of intelligence. In addition the brain area essential for working memory (hippocampus) is preferentially damaged by alcohol (De Bellis 2000). Gender effects render female adolescents more vulnerable than males to these alcohol effects.
The reward system of the brain is responsible for motivation and learning. The immature reward system has an adolescent-specific vulnerability for alcohol and drug addiction. Early exposure to alcohol sensitises the brain regions involved in drug addiction and alters gene expression in the brain reward regions (nucleus accumbens).
The pattern of brain electrical activity changes during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Alcohol also has a premature aging effect on brain electrical activity during wakefulness and sleep. Animal models have shown that even brief exposure to alcohol in adolescence can cause long lasting changes in brain electrical activity. These changes place the adolescent at a high risk for later substance abuse and addiction (Ehlers 2010).


Alcohol differentially impairs the young persons judgement and motor skills. The evidence for this is so robust that some administrations have placed a lower legal blood alcohol level limit on drivers less than 21 years old (Hingson 1994). This differential susceptibility to alcohol has been shown to persist up to 30 years of age when a specific impact is seen on frontal lobe functions related to driving skills (Domniques 2009).

Whether the authorities considered the neurotoxic effects of alcohol while imposing the 25 year age-ban on alcohol consumption is a moot point. However, educating adolescents and youth regarding these adverse alcohol effects should be the duty of every parent.

  1. De Bellis MD, Clark DB, Beers SR, Soloff PH, Boring AM, Hall J, Kersh A, Keshavan MS. Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2000 May;157(5):737-44.
  2. Domingues SC, Mendonça JB, Laranjeira R, Nakamura-Palacios EM. Drinking and driving: a decrease in executive frontal functions in young drivers with high blood alcohol concentration. Alcohol. 2009 Dec;43(8):657-64.
  3. Ehlers CL, Criado JR. Adolescent ethanol exposure: does it produce long-lasting electrophysiological effects? Alcohol. 2010 Feb;44(1):27-37.
  4. Guerri C, Pascual M. Mechanisms involved in the neurotoxic, cognitive, and neurobehavioral effects of alcohol consumption during adolescence. Alcohol. 2010 Feb;44(1):15-26.
  5. R Hingson, T Heeren, and M Winter. Lower legal blood alcohol limits for young drivers. Public Health Rep. 1994 Nov-Dec; 109(6): 738–744.
  6. Johnston MV. Neurotransmitters and vulnerability of the developing brain. Brain Dev. 1995 Sep-Oct;17(5):301-6.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

School bullying

School Bully

Bullying by children in schools has serious mental health effects on the victim and the bully. Up to 25% of high school students report being victimised by bullies. 13% of victims have considered suicide. In rural India 31% of middle school students report being bullied (Kshirsagar 2007). Bullying is twice more prevalent in coeducational schools than in girl schools. The prevalence of bullying increases from 13% in the 3rd grade to 46% in the 6th grade. Bullying is higher in classes with more retained students.

Bullying occurs in a variety of settings that are an extension of your child's school life. Bullying can occur face to face, by texting or on the web (cyberbullying). Bullying is not a phase of growing up, it is not a joke, and it is not a sign that boys are being boys. Bullying can cause lasting harm - to the victim, the bully and the bully-victim (children who are bullied and also bully other children).

Bullying takes many forms
  • Verbal: Name calling, teasing
  • Social : Spreading rumours, leaving people out of groups on purpose, breaking up friendships
  • Physical : Hitting, punching, shoving (5% in Indian schools)
  • Cyberbullying

When is it bullying? It’s bullying when there are three features to the interaction
  1. Imbalance of power: People who bully use their power to control or harm. The victims may have a hard time defending themselves.
  2. Intent to cause harm: The person bullying intends to harm the victim
  3. Repetition: Incidents happen to the same person over and over by the same person or group
It’s not bullying when there are
  • Mutual arguments and disagreements
  • Single episodes of social rejection or dislike
  • Single episode acts of nastiness or spite
  • Random acts of aggression or intimidation

Effects of bullying

Those who are victims are at a high risk for mental health problems
  • Higher risk of depression and anxiety with increased thoughts of suicide
  • More likely to have health complaints
  • Have decreased academic achievement
  • More likely to miss or drop out of school
  • More likely to retaliate (12/15 shooters have a history of being bullied)
Bullies are more likely to manifest behaivour problems that continue into adulthood when these behaviours manifest as criminality
  • Higher rates of alcohol/substance abuse
  • More likely to get into fights, vandalise property
  • More likely to be abusive towards partners, spouses or children later in life.
Bully-victims are the worst affected. They develop both mental health and behavioural problems

Is your child being bullied?

If your child has any of these features it is very likely they are being bullied in school
  • Comes home with torn clothing or missing belongings
  • Appears sad, moody, depressed or anxious especially on returning home from school
  • Prefers to be alone
These symptoms are also likely in victims of bullying
  • Is afraid of going to school
  • Vomiting
  • Sleep disturbances including insomnia and nightmares
These symptoms are commonest in victims
  • Frequently falling sick
  • Headaches
  • Bodyache is the next most common symptom in female victims. In male victims nightmares are the next most common.
Is your child a bully? Consider these common traits of bullies
  • Become violent with others, gets into physical or verbal fights
  • Get sent to the Principal’s office often
  • Has extra money or new belongings which cannot be explained
  • Will not accept responsibility for their actions
  • Need to win and be best at everything

Do’s and Don’ts

For parents whose children are victims of bullying (Carr-Gregg 2011)
  • Tell the your child to ignore the bullying. This allows the bullying and its impact to become more serious
  • Blame your child or assume that they have done something to provoke the bullying
  • Encourage retaliation
  • Criticise how your child dealt with the bullying
  • Contact the bully or parents of the bully
  • Communicate with your child
    1. Listen carefully. Ask who was involved and what was involved in each episode
    2. Empathise and reinforce that you are glad your child has disclosed this
    3. Ask your child what they think can be done to help
    4. Reassure your child that you will take sensible action
  • Contact the teacher and/or principal and take a cooperative approach in finding a solution
  • Discuss the matter in a face-to-face meeting. Stay calm. Take along any evidence you may have gathered. Ask three key questions
    1. How will this matter be investigated?
    2. How long will this investigation take?
    3. When will you get a follow up meeting to discuss the results?
  • Contact school authorities if bullying persists and escalate your communications up the chain of command. Here’s where your paper trail comes in useful
Every child deserves an education free of fear
  1. Carr-Gregg M, Manocha R. Bullying - effects, prevalence and strategies for detection. Aust Fam Physician. 2011 Mar;40(3):98-102.
  2. V .Y. Kshirsagar, Rajiv Agarwal and Sandeep B Bavdekar. Bullying in Schools: Prevalence and Short-term Impact. Indian Pediatrics 2007; 44:25-28

Monday, February 7, 2011

Social Networking - Psychological Effects on Teenagers

Parents worry that social networks like Facebook could have harmful psychological effects on their children. They seek consultation for social network related behaviour of their teenagers when academic grades fall due to excessive time spent on Facebook, when the teenager is subjected to cyberstalking, or when they themselves are disturbed by the online self-profile of their child. What do we know about some of these social networking behaviours that bring parents and their children to the Clinic?

Friends, self-presentation and self-esteem

Posting a profile assists the teenager in gaining self-awareness. Becoming self-aware by viewing one's own Facebook profile enhances self-esteem (Gonzales and Hanock, 2010).

A larger number of Facebook friends and  an exaggerated positive self-presentation does enhance the teenager’s well-being. However this is not necessarily associated with a sense of belonging to a supportive group. A more honest self-presentation does increase happiness and is also grounded in social support provided by Facebook friends (Kim and Lee, 2010). However, adolescents having more than 300 FB friends have increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, that makes them prone to depression in later life (Morin-Major et al, 2016)

Children whose self-worth is based on public contingencies (others' approval, physical appearance, outdoing others in competition) indulge in more photo sharing. People whose self-worth is contingent on appearance have a higher intensity of online photo sharing. Those with private-based contingencies (academic competence, family love and support, being a virtuous or moral person, and God's love) spend less time online (Stefanone et al 2010).

Facebook vs face-face

Impressions formed from face-to-face interaction and from personal web pages generally correspond. So, people liked in face-to-face interaction are also liked on the basis of their Facebook pages. Whether online or offline, people who are socially expressive are liked. People who express themselves non-verbally though gestures and body language in face-to-face interaction are also expressive online. The same goes with self-disclosure - when there is more disclosure offline there is more disclosure on line (Weisbuch et al, 2009).

Facebook and WhatsApp mostly act as an extension of face-to-face interaction. However, some users do rely on Facebook and WhatsApp for interpersonal communication more than face-to-face interaction (Kujath 2010).

Predictors of excessive use

  • Extroverted and unconscientious individuals spend more time on social networking sites and their usage tends to be addictive (Wilson K et al, 2010).
  • Shy people  also like Facebook and spend more time on it. However, they have few Facebook "Friends” (Orr et al, 2009).
  • Narcissistic personalities also have high levels of online social activity. They are recognised online  by the quantity of their social interactions, their main photo self-promotion, and attractiveness of their main photo (Buffardi LE 2008, Mehdizadeh 2010).

Needs satisfied by Facebook

The four primary needs for participating in groups within Facebook are socialising, entertainment, self-status seeking, and information (Park et al 2009). The majority of students use friend-networking sites for just that - making new friends and locating and keeping in touch with old ones (Raacke and  Bonds-Raacke 2008).

Negative outcomes

Broad claims of unwanted sexual solicitation or harassment, associated with social networking sites may be unjustified. The risk of victimisation for a teenage is more likely through instant messaging (IM) and chat (Ybarra and Mitchell 2008).

Parental supervision is a key protective factor against adolescent risk-taking behavior
Unmonitored internet use may expose adolescents to risks such as cyberbullying, unwanted exposure to pornography, and revealing personal information to sexual predators  (Pujazon-Zazik and Park 2010).
  1. Buffardi LE, Campbell WK. Narcissism and social networking Web sites.Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Oct;34(10):1303-14. Epub 2008 Jul 3. PubMed
  2. Gonzales AL, Hancock JT. Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed
  3. Kim J, Lee JE. The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Nov 30. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
  4. Kujath CL. Facebook and MySpace: Complement or Substitute for Face-to-Face Interaction?
  5. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
  6. Mehdizadeh S. Self-presentation 2.0: narcissism and self-esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Aug;13(4):357-64. PubMed
  7. Julie Katia Morin-Major, Marie-France Marin, Nadia Durand, Nathalie Wan, Robert-Paul Juster, Sonia J. Lupien. Facebook behaviors associated with diurnal cortisol in adolescents: Is befriending stressful? Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016. 63: 238–246. 
  8. Orr ES, Sisic M, Ross C, Simmering MG, Arseneault JM, Orr RR. The influence of shyness on the use of Facebook in an undergraduate sample. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2009 Jun;12(3):337-40. PubMed
  9. Park N, Kee KF, Valenzuela S. Being immersed in social networking environment: Facebook groups, uses and gratifications, and social outcomes. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2009 Dec;12(6):729-33. PubMed
  10. Pujazon-Zazik M, Park MJ. To tweet, or not to tweet: gender differences and potential positive and negative health outcomes of adolescents' social internet use.Am J Mens Health. 2010 Mar;4(1):77-85..PubMed
  11. Raacke J, Bonds-Raacke J. MySpace and Facebook: applying the uses and gratifications theory to exploring friend-networking sites. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2008 Apr;11(2):169-74. PubMed
  12. Stefanone MA, Lackaff D, Rosen D. Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site
  13. Behavior. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
  14. Weisbuch M, Ivcevic Z, Ambady N. On Being Liked on the Web and in the "Real World": Consistency in First Impressions across Personal Webpages and Spontaneous Behavior. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2009 May;45(3):573-576. PubMed
  15. Wilson K, Fornasier S, White KM. Psychological predictors of young adults' use of social networking sites. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Apr;13(2):173-7. PubMed
  16. Ybarra ML, Mitchell KJ. How risky are social networking sites? A comparison of places online where youth sexual solicitation and harassment occurs. Pediatrics. 2008 Feb;121(2):e350-7. Epub 2008 Jan 28. PubMed