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). 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Recovery from mental illness

recovery from mental illness
Recovery to meaningful functioning after even severe mental illness is the present standard of care in mental health treatment. Recovery is made possible by medications that are now widely available at a reasonable cost. Planning and persistence with treatment need to be ensured to achieve a quality recovery.

Recovery from mental disorders is a process of change through which individuals
  1. improve their health and wellness
  2. live a self-directed life
  3. strive to reach their full potential
The road to recovery from mental illness has four components that together give meaning to life.
1. Health
Overcoming or managing the disease and living in a physically and emotionally healthy way.
Start with the basics - medication, meals, sleep and exercise. Establishing routines for these basic health tasks are essential for recovery of function. Medication is the corner stone on which recovery is nurtured. In the absence of medication frequent relapses and recurrences disrupt basic functions that protect the individual from the illness producing effects of daily stressors.
2. Home
A stable and safe place to live.
In daily practice we see persons with the most severe mental illnesses putting aside their disturbing thoughts, controlling their behaviours and getting back to school or work; while others with a milder illness are unable to leave their preoccupations and move ahead with life. Trusting relationships are quite often what they lack. Trust makes the home feel safe.
3. Purpose
Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society.
A person needs something to recover to. Amazing recovery can be sustained in a supportive job environment. Some bosses give this support naturally. It may be it is in their outlook; they see the illness as just one aspect of the persons identity. Vice versa, others with good symptom recovery without stigmata are unable to function in a hostile work place, and are unable to integrate with society  and lead meaningful lives.
4. Community
Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
From volunteering at the community bookshop to joining a local football team; community interactions bring many otherwise isolated individuals into useful contact with others. These valued interactions are based on a personal identity which is not connected to their mental illness.
Recovery is a process towards achieving ones potential. The first small steps result in giant gains. Without them the individual is unable to reach any level of meaningful recovery. The first step for persons with serious mental illness is medication. Without medication, recovery from serious mental illness is long-drawn, stigmatising, and characterised by frequent relapses. Medication is the pillar around which recovery is fostered. A supportive home, work-place and community further augments this process. Recovery from severe mental illness is a process, it does not happen overnight, but for those who stay the course it brings the meaning back to life.

  1. SAMHSA’s Definition and Guiding Principles of Recovery – Answering the Call for Feedback
     Accessed 04-Jan-2012

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Drinking and driving

Alcohol and driving don’t mix. In a flashback to Alex’s drug influenced joyride in A Clockwork Orange, a Pune youth bumped into four people at different points on his late night drive through the city. When chased and caught he was found to be under the influence of alcohol.

In this post we take a look at the effects of alcohol on driving. We have already discussed some of the long term effects that necessitate imposing legal age limits for alcohol consumption in order to mitigate its neurotoxic effects on the developing brain.

30mg% is the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving. Limits are a safety requirement to counter the adverse effects of alcohol on driving ability. The 30mg% level is often panned as being too low. Most countries have settled at a 50mg% threshold, some at 20mg%, others (considered very liberal) at 80mg%. Lets take a look at the effects on driving at these various blood alcohol concentrations (CDC 2011).

BACEffect on driving
20mg%Visual deficits (problems with tracking of a moving object), Decline in multitasking ability (talking to a passenger while driving)
50mg%Reduced coordination, difficulty steering, increased reaction time for braking by more than a second (Siliquini 2011)
80mg%Problems with concentration, short term memory loss, reduced information processing capacity, impaired perception

How long after drinking alcohol is it safe to drive?
You need to wait at least as many hours as the ‘chota pegs’ (1oz or 30ml) you consumed. Alcohol is digested by the liver. The liver has a fixed capacity to metabolise about 8gms of alcohol in an hour. This is the amount of alcohol in 30ml of whisky, vodka, rum or gin. The equivalent dose is 250ml of beer or a glass (150ml) of wine. Each of these is considered as a ‘unit’ of alcohol.  However, consuming any quantity of alcohol within 6 hours prior to driving is associated with a doubling of the risk for a road traffic accident (Di Bartolomeo 2009). This effect of alcohol is present even at intake of 1-2 units which works out to a BAC of approximately 50mg%.

Blood alcohol levels as low as 20mg% impair driving ability under test conditions in a simulator. At 50mg% the impairments more than double the risk of an accident. The present 30mg% level may be legal but it remains impairing. Better to have a ‘designated driver’ - the person who does not drink for that particular evening. In case you want to we have already studied how to refuse alcohol.
DONT drink alcohol and drive
  1. Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange. 1962. (Various publishers including Penguin)
  2. CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/pdf/BAC-a.pdf. Accessed 15-Dec-2011.
  3. Stefano Di Bartolomeo Francesca Valent, Rodolfo Sbrojavacca, Riccardo Marchetti and Fabio Barbone. A case-crossover study of alcohol consumption, meals and the risk of road traffic crashes. BMC Public Health 2009, 9:316 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-316
  4. Roberta Siliquini, Fabrizio Bert, Francisco Alonso, Paola Berchialla, Alessandra Colombo, Axel Druart, Marcin Kedzia, Valeria Siliquini, Daniel Vankov, Anita Villerusa, Lamberto Manzoli and TEN-D Group (TEN-D by Night Group). Correlation between driving-related skill and alcohol use in young-adults from six European countries: the TEN-D by Night Project. BMC Public Health 2011, 11:526 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-526.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hope for dementia caregivers - ARDSI Conference Pune 2011

dementia caregivers training

Training for caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's disease helps address the distressing behaviours that arise in the affected person. Caregiver training also promotes wellness in caregivers by giving them the skills to  handle the relentless stress. Unfortunately most caregivers are unaware of the need or the availability of resources. The Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) held its 16th conference in Nov 2011 at Pune. This significant event marked Pune’s arrival on the national dementia caregiver stage. Pune is now the 16th Indian city with an ARDSI chapter of its own. How does this help people with dementia (PwD) and their caregivers? The ARDSI Pune chapter “develops, coordinates and renders services in the field of dementia care, support, and training”.

The training aspect is particularly interesting. Conversations with caregivers at the clinic usually swing around to the day-to-day nitty-gritty of dealing with dementia, the impaired activities of daily living (ADLs) - keeping the person engaged, getting them to bathe, preventing them from wandering. Members of other fully functioning chapters whom I met at the conference animatedly discussed the caregiver training workshops and courses they held on a regular basis. These local courses are exactly what the doctor ordered - education for understanding and hands-on caregiver training.

The Dementia India Report 2010 was extensively quoted by many of the conference speakers. This document has dementia related statistics specifically for India and its states, and is an essential resource to leverage for obtain funds for dementia related activities. It also has details of services available for people with dementia - unfortunately data on support groups is as yet not available.

Caregiver training is a thrust area in dementia management. The 10/66 Dementia Research Group has developed a training package with a set of manuals, detailed instructions and a training video for caregivers and caregiver training. These are available for anyone to download after providing an email id. They provide a template that can be used by any individual or organisation involved in caring for persons with dementia.

The ARDSI conducts two geriatric care training courses; a six month certificate course and a one year post-graduate diploma course at its centre in Cochin. The number of persons with dementia in India is assessed to be 3.7 million in 2010. The ARDSI and similar courses will provide a pool of trained workers to care for the needs of people with dementia and their caregivers. This pool of personnel is not just on paper. The conference was over-booked. Extra seating had to be provided to accommodate the 100+ last minute attendees in the 400 seater main auditorium. Most of them were trainee social workers entering the field in time to meet the growing demand for their services.

  1. 10/66 Dementia Research Group. Resources for caregivers and caregiver trainers
  2. Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (2010). The Dementia India Report: prevalence, impact, costs and services for Dementia. (Eds) Shaji KS, Jotheeswaran AT, Girish N, Srikala Bharath, Amit Dias, Meera Pattabiraman and Mathew Varghese. ARDSI, New Delhi. ISBN: 978-81-920341-0-2 

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.