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Researchers Explore the Genetics of Dyslexia

By: NeuroNet

Dyslexia is a major cause of reading failure in school, and is one of the most common learning disabilities in schoolchildren in the U.S. In fact, about 20% of the U.S. population, or 1 in every 5 people, has been identified as dyslexic.

Early detection and intervention of dyslexia can help children keep-up in school, as well as minimize the negative effects of dyslexia. Researchers have begun to explore neuroimaging techniques to gain better insights into the reading and language centers of the brain and the role genetics play in dyslexia.

A current review, published in the journal Molecular Genetics and Metabolism, highlighted new neuroimaging studies of dyslexia and the mechanisms that underlie this prevalent disorder. Neuroimaging techniques have revealed the structural, connectivity, and functional workings into the brain’s reading and language abilities. These studies have shown strong differences between individuals with dyslexia compared to typically developing individuals.

Individuals with dyslexia display differences in their gray matter density and in their white matter connectivity. In addition to structural differences in the brain, researchers are beginning to identify gene-specific, location-specific dysfunctions that are related to dyslexia. These are also referred to as “brain gene expressions.” Pairing this type of information with imaging data can aid researchers in identifying where risk genes normally function, and the potential risk for family members inheriting this gene.

Current studies are combing various approaches and methods, such as behavioral, genetic, and imaging data, to further understand the brain regions that are associated with gene-specific effects of dyslexia. To date, there remains an incomplete view of the biological mechanisms underlying dyslexia. But, much progress has been made into identifying impairments that may contribute to the deficits observed in dyslexia, which will hopefully help with early detection and therapeutic interventions.

Journal reference:?Eicher, John D., and Jeffrey R. Gruen. 2013. “Imaging-Genetics in Dyslexia: Connecting Risk Genetic Variants to Brain Neuroimaging and Ultimately to Reading Impairments.” Molecular Genetics and Metabolism.

Photo credit:?The Noun Project


Princeton study reveals the brain's mysterious switchboard operator

Posted August 17, 2012; 01:30 p.m.
by Morgan Kelly

A mysterious region deep in the human brain could be where we sort through the onslaught of stimuli from the outside world and focus on the information most important to our behavior and survival, Princeton University researchers have found.

The researchers report in the journal Science that an area of our brain called the pulvinar regulates communication between clusters of brain cells as our brain focuses on the people and objects that need our attention. Like a switchboard operator, the pulvinar makes sure that separate areas of the visual cortex — which processes visual information — are communicating about the same external information, explained lead author Yuri Saalmann, an associate research scholar in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI). Without guidance from the pulvinar, an important observation such as an oncoming bus as one is crossing the street could get lost in a jumble of other stimuli.

Princeton University researchers have found that the pulvinar, a mysterious region deep in the human brain, acts like a switchboard operator to make sure that separate areas of the brain are communicating about the same external information most important to our behavior at a given moment. The pulvinar uses electrical impulses to synchronize and allow more effective communication between brain cells in the visual cortex, which processes visual information. The researchers produced neural connection maps that show the pulvinar's connection to these brain regions. In this scan, the pulvinar communicates with the occipital lobe and the temporal lobe individually, and with both.

Saalmann said these findings on how the brain transmits information could lead to new ways of understanding and treating attention-related disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia. Saalmann worked with senior researcher Sabine Kastner, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute; and PNI researchers Xin Li, a research assistant; Mark Pinsk, a professional specialist; and Liang Wang, a postdoctoral research associate.

The researchers developed a new technique to trace direct communication between clusters of neurons in the visual cortex and the pulvinar. The team produced neural connection maps using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), then placed electrodes along those identified communication paths to monitor brain signals of macaques. The researchers trained the monkeys to play a video game during which they used visual cues to find a specific shape surrounded by distracting information. As the macaques focused, Saalmann and his colleagues could see that the pulvinar controlled which parts of the visual cortex sent and received signals.

Saalmann explains the Princeton findings as follows:

"A fundamental problem for the brain is that there is too much information in our natural environment for it to be processed in detail at the same time. The brain instead selectively focuses on, or attends to, the people and objects most relevant to our behavior at the time and filters out the rest. For instance, as we cross a busy city street, our brain blocks out the bustle of the crowd behind us to concentrate more on an oncoming bus.

"The transmission of behaviorally relevant information between various parts of the brain is tightly synchronized. As one brain area sends a signal about our environment, such as that a bus is approaching, another brain area is ready to receive it and respond, such as by having us cross the street faster. A persistent question in neuroscience, though, is how exactly do different brain areas synchronize so that important information isn't lost in the other stimuli flooding our brains.

"Our study suggests that a mysterious area in the center of the brain called the pulvinar acts as a switchboard operator between areas on the brain's surface known as the visual cortex, which processes visual information. When we pay attention to important visual information, the pulvinar makes sure that information passing between clusters of neurons is consistent and relevant to our behavior.

"These results could advance the understanding of the neural mechanisms of selective attention and how the brain transmits information. This is a necessary step in developing effective treatment strategies for medical disorders characterized by a failure of attention mechanisms. These conditions include ADHD, schizophrenia and spatial neglect, which is an inability to detect stimuli often observed following stroke.

"For our study, we trained monkeys to play a video game in which they paid attention to visual cues in order to detect different target shapes. We simultaneously recorded brain activity in the pulvinar and two different areas of the visual cortex. We could see a clear connective path from one portion of the cortex to another, as well as connective paths from the pulvinar to the cortex. When the monkeys paid attention to the visual cues, the pulvinar sent electrical pulses to synchronize particular groups of brain cells in the visual cortex to allow them to communicate effectively.

"A challenge in this study was that we needed to record the activity of cells that were 'speaking' directly with each other so we could trace the line of communication. But there are billions of brain cells. Traditionally, finding a cell-to-cell connection is as likely as randomly selecting two people talking on cell phones in different parts of New York City and discovering that they were speaking to each other.

"To 'listen in' on a direct cell conversation, we developed a new approach of using electrodes to record groups of brain cells that were anatomically connected. We first mapped neural connections in the brain via diffusion tensor imaging, which uses an MRI scanner to measure the movement of water along neural connections. We then used these images to implant electrodes at the endpoints of the neural connections shared by the pulvinar and the visual cortex.

"Our mapping of these communication networks and our finding that the pulvinar is vital to attention prompts a new consideration of the mechanisms behind higher cognitive function. We challenge the common notion that these functions depend exclusively on the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain responsible for decision-making, attention and language, among other abilities. It also suggests that the prevailing view that visual information is transmitted solely through a network of areas in the visual cortex needs to be revised to include the pulvinar as an important regulator of neural transmission."

The paper "The Pulvinar Regulates Information Transmission Between Cortical Areas Based on Attention Demands" was published Aug. 10 by Science, and was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

After producing neural connection maps, the researchers used electrodes (blue arrows and green crosshairs) to monitor the direct communication paths (yellow-orange) between the pulvinar and clusters of brain cells, which in this case are in the temporal lobe. Image courtesy of Science/AAAS
Information for news media

Saalmann is available to discuss his research with interested members of the news media and can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 609-258-8318, or through Princeton University science writer Morgan Kelly at 609-258-5729 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Feeding the Sensory System Early

When it comes to infants, most people just cannot help but love the pudgy rolls of fat on their legs and arms, the way that they smile and coo, or how they can just cuddle up on your chest. They just seem to put a smile on your face because babies are just cute!

But as parents, therapists, and family members, we often are concerned about what we are doing and whether or not it is "right" for the baby. There is so much information out there these days...from how to put them to sleep, to when to introduce them to foods and in what order, to when they should be achieving each milestone. Sometimes, it is enough to drive us crazy. But an underlying area of concern that feeds into all of the above-mentioned areas is a happy and healthy sensory system. And sometimes that one is overlooked. You cannot have a child sleep properly, tolerate the foods we introduce or use their body the way he or she is supposed to with an underdeveloped sensory system.

It is important to develop a proper sensory system, not just for a child's tolerance to stimuli, but a well-balanced sensory system plays a key role in the motor development of a child. It will be impossible to cover the whole sensory system development in great detail in this newsletter, but use it as a starting to point for making sure you are not overlooking some major areas. Sensory concerns in children are more than just a child hating to get his hands dirty or refusing to wear certain clothes.

A well-balanced system helps with an infant's tolerance to his or her environment, interaction with toys and people, ability to sleep according to the recommended schedules, and feed properly.

It should be noted that all children do develop differently, so as with any area of development, there is no cookie-cutter recipe. In addition, it is very important to be able to read the cues of your child, especially in terms of over-stimulation. An infant's tolerance to one particular stimuli or activity is short. So, when he or she begins to get fussy, it may be time to change what you are doing. Even if they do not initially enjoy the input, it is still okay to continue introducing them to it in short spurts, for example, when trying to do activities on the tummy. Continued introduction to the input will help them develop tolerance and in time allow them to integrate it into their sensory development.

For newborns and infants, so much of what we do naturally to take care of them is helping to feed their sensory systems. Holding them close to cuddle and swaddling them provides deep proprioceptive input, while gently rocking or swaying them is giving them the vestibular input that they crave. Oral input is provided on a regular basis as they partake in frequent feedings and they as explore their hands and toys with their mouths. Tactile input is provided every time you touch your baby, so take the time to enjoy the bare baby skin during diaper changes and bath time.

Introduce them to the various textures of toys and fabrics. Your ongoing talking or singing to them provides them with excellent auditory input. And the introduction of your face, simple toys and books helps give them natural visual input. When it comes to auditory and visual input, we need to be conscious of how much we are throwing at them. If we have them in their swing with 4 or 5 toys attached, the music going and the television on in the background while grandpa is having a loud conversation at the kitchen table and grandma is in your child's face, your child may shut down or get over stimulated and begin to cry. So, more is not always better in terms of sensory input. And we need to think about what is going on in the background, not just what is strictly being provided to the child.

On the flip side, if you place your child in a stabilize seat, with no toys or interaction with you, and allow them to stare at a white wall, then you providing very little input to his or her sensory system.

As your infant begins to grow you will be able to see how he or she uses a balanced sensory system to interact with the environment. The child with a well-developing sensory system will naturally try to explore with movement, enjoy looking at books and toys with smiles and giggles, want to be snuggled and held, and enjoy moving to solid foods. Also, these children will tolerate and enjoy the introduction of new things. This is all prefaced with the fact that there is no other underlying concerns and take into account your child's personality. But for the child who, after introduction to a particular input in various ways, still does not tolerate the input by always becoming over-stimulated or shutting down, then you may need to seek out some help with an occupational therapy evaluation.

So, now as you enjoy time with those little bundles of joy in your life, or as a therapist you are trying to help parents through developing the sensory system of their child, take the time to look at some of those natural activities and understand the importance the sensory system plays during an infant's early development.

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Reprinted with permission from Southpaw’s Paw Print newsletter,



Being Retarded

All around me, people use the word retarded without a second thought.  Sometimes, I’ll say “Um, dude, really?” and they’ll say “Oops, my bad!  But really!  I was being so retarded!”

Sometimes, I let it slide.  I realize that it’s a word that’s ingrained in our society’s vocabulary and people use it without a second thought to its meaning.

But what does it mean to be retarded?  Well, I know what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite 100 choices in front of you.

It doesn’t mean not being able to find your car keys.

It doesn’t mean saying the wrong thing to a person.

It doesn’t mean forgetting your best friend’s birthday.

It’s not something to describe yourself as when you’ve spilled your coffee, or tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s not something to describe your computer, car or phone.

According to  Merriam-Webster Dictionary  the word “retarded” means -

: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress

For me, it’s not just any old word – it’s my daughter.  My beautiful, bright, happy, loving, amazing daughter who is slow or limited in intellectual development and academic progress.

In our household, being retarded means something different.

It means not being able to fully care for yourself.

It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do to you.

It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts.

It means not being able to ride a two wheeler.  Or read.  Or ever be able to live on your own.

But ever the optimist, I also know that retarded means…

…never realizing the negativity behind the word retarded.

…never knowing the insensitivity surrounded the word’s usage.

…never realizing the ignorance of people.

…never knowing how other people view you.

Being retarded also means…

…loving unconditionally.

…finding joy in the smallest of things.

…being self-confident.

…not realizing that there are limitations.



This is Maura.  Her diagnosis?  Cognitively disabled.  Which means retarded.  When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my child stupid.  Because you use the word as just that – another form of stupid.

Let’s get something straight here.

My daughter may have cognitive issues.  She may have delays.  She may never live on her own.  Scratch that.  She will never live on her own.

But Maura is not stupid.

In her own way, Maura is very smart.  Maybe smarter than us at times.  She has more self-confidence than anyone I know who’s called themselves “retarded”.  She is the best judge of a person’s character than anyone else I’ve ever known.

Yes, she is slow to learn things.  But she is not stupid.

I know that most people don’t use the word “retarded” maliciously.  Most people I know use it in a self-depreciating way.  And when I point it out, they go “Oh wow!  I’m sorry!” and they truly feel like a heel. But the thing is, you’re still using it in the way that people who do use it maliciously use it as – to describe stupidity.

So why not just use the word “stupid” instead?  Because I know what “retarded” is.  I live with it in the form of my daughter.  And in our world “retarded” doesn’t equate to “stupid”.

5 January 2012 – feel free to read this companion post, which helps explain more of the “behind the scenes” view of this post – thanks!


Did You See "60 Minutes" on Oct. 23rd?



From:S.I. Focus Magazine's E-Newsletter....

Did You See "60 Minutes" on Oct. 23rd?   

Take 13 minutes and watch an amazing story of how the iPad is helping individuals with autism communicate. For years we have used picture boards and various devices to enhance the communication skills of people who struggle to communicate, but the iPad is engaging people with autism in a unique way.

Amazingly timely, was the release of a new book, Apps for Autism, with 200 apps reviewed and catalogued by a speech pathologist to help us find the right apps for the right person. Find out more below in our "Resources" section.
For the "60 Minutes" report and video.

Apps for Autism: Communicating on the iPad


Watch the Segment »

Autistic people whose condition prevents them from speaking are making breakthroughs with the help of tablet computers and special applications that allow them to communicate, some for the first time. Lesley Stahl reports.


"10 Ways To Alter Your Brain"

For much of the 20th century, science held that the human brain remained unchanging once it hit adulthood.

But in the early 1980s, neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, now a professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California San Francisco, showed through his research that the brain is plastic. In other words, the brain can alter itself depending on environmental input.

The real?life implications of this are several and varied. For instance, it means that the brain can regenerate itself after a neurological injury. Other research has found that stress?reduction practices like meditation help the brain reorganize.

Recently, Dr. Merzenich and his Brain Plasticity Inc. have begun to test whether brain training can help war veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. The idea, says Dr. Merzenich, is to use software to help damaged or sluggish brains to perform better and better until they've regained most of their cognitive ability. Sort of like physical therapy for someone who is paralyzed, but this time it's for the brain.

The initial results of Dr. Merzenich's study have been encouraging. The bigger application of this idea, though, is more exciting. it means that we can train our brains to prevent the onset of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's. Below is Dr. Merzenich's list of everyday things you can do to keep your brain fit.

Exercise Your Peripheral Vision

Actively challenging your peripheral vision improves brain performance and helps you navigate the world safely.

Recent studies shows that drivers stay on the road longer and have fewer accidents after actively training their useful field of view.

Memorize A Song

Developing better habits of careful listening will help your ability to understand, think and remember.

Reconstructing the song requires close attentional focus and an active memory.

When you focus, you release brain chemicals like the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that enable plasticity and vivifies memory.

1Learn To Play A New Instrument

Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound).

Don't Rely On Crossword Puzzles And Sudoku

Heavy crossword players show the same rate of cognitive decline as people who do few crossword puzzles.

Turn Down The Volume On Your Television

Think of this: You can't get rid of radio static by turning up the volume. Many people raise the volume because their listening has become "detuned" ?? a little fuzzy.

Matching TV volume to a conversational level can help you catch every word when talking with others.

Reacquaint Yourself With The Ball

Practice throwing and catching a ball up in the air.

People who master these kinds of sensory?guided movement activities can hone their brains' visual, tactile and hand?eye coordination responses, with widespread positive impacts for the brain.

This type of activity has been shown in MRI studies to thicken parts of the brain's cortex.

Learn To Use Your 'Other Hand'

If you're right?handed, use your left hand for daily activities (or vice?versa) like brushing your teeth and eating.

Doing such activities can drive your brain to make positive changes.

Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand!

Choose Bumpy Surfaces

Walking on bumpy surfaces, such as cobblestones, improves the vestibular system of the inner ear, which plays a central role in balance and equilibrium.

Cobblestone walking challenges the vestibular system in ways that improve its function, which translates into better balance ?? the key to preventing serious injuries.

Make A Jigsaw Puzzle

Mentally rotating the shape of each piece in your head helps brain fitness.

Become A Child Again

Start paying attention to the physical world around you. Start noticing things and make an active effort to find new details even in a familiar situation.

When you stop learning, your brain stops growing.



The Life Unexpected-Raising a Special Needs Child


To Whom it May Concern,

I am the parent of a special needs child.  I was overwhelmed, confused, heart broken and struggling to unravel the complexities before me.

Please do not pass judgement of me without knowing why I did not attend the school PTA breakfasts or community picnics.  Please take a few minutes to understand why I did not take you up on your offer to have lunch or grab a cup of coffee.  Although we see each other in the supermarket or at school functions, I don’t think you really ever knew me, actually, I can guarantee that you did not know me because just as my child was different, so was I.

I was in survival mode to keep my family in tact and to give my child the best quality of life possible.

I was presented with parental decisions that have torn me apart and kept me up more nights than I can possibly remember.

I had spent most days of the week at therapy and doctors appointments and most nights up researching treatments and medication options.

I was forced into isolation at times due to the stigma and misconceptions that are epidemic in our society.

I became proficient at prioritizing my life and learning to let the little things go, to look at others with compassion instead of tabloid material and to turn a blind eye to the stares or ignorant comments.

I did the best I could.

I survived.

I am one of the lucky ones, my child has blossomed and has exceeded all our expectations.

I have now become strong, I have become confident and I have become a fierce advocate for parents of special needs children.  The growth did not come without much pain and many tears but it came.

So I ask you, please

The next time you see a parent struggling with a raging child, a child terrified to go into school, a child making odd movements or sounds, a child that seems to be in a world of their own… .Be kind.  Give a smile of recognition for what that parent is going through.  Ask if there is anything you can do to help, give them a pat on the hand or offer for them to go ahead of you on line.

The next time you have a birthday party for your child remember that their child has a hard time with a lot of sensory issues and social situations.  Please send their child that invitation and know that more times than not they will not be able to attend but appreciate being included.  Understand that in order for their child to go to the party they may need to stay for a little while and please make them feel welcome.  When they let you know that their child cannot make the party consider inviting that child for a one on one playdate or an outing at the park.

The next time you are grading homework papers please understand that their child struggles, some with learning disabilities others with the exhaustion of  their disorders or the obsession with perfectionism.  The Perfectionism is not necessarily to have the answers right but to have it “feel” right for them.  They have spent hours doing what most can do in ten minutes. A paper returned with red circles and comments only hurts a child’s self esteem and causes school anxiety. Please understand that when they see the school come up on their caller ID their hearts sink, remember to tell them about all the gains their children are making as well as their deficits.  Take a minute before that call and know that they appreciate all you do and want  a collaborative  relationship in their child’s education.

The next time you are in the teachers lounge, please do not discuss their child.  Please do not make negative comments about their parenting or their child’s behavior, it gets back to them and it gets back to other parents in their community.

The next time you pass the cafeteria and see their child sitting alone please consider inviting that child to eat lunch in your classroom and be your helper that period.  Consider working with  guidance counselor to set up a lunch buddy group in a different area.

The next time they are at the CSE meeting planning their chid’s IEP know that they are educated, informed and confident knowing special education law.  Know that they have found the courage to stand up to conformity and will explore every option to give their child the differentiated educated that will show their gifts and not just their disabilities.  Understand that educating a child with special needs is one of the most difficult tasks a parent can face,  know that the last thing they want is an adversarial relationship.  Please show them the same respect they show you.


The next time you are creating an educational plan please take into consideration that their child may have specific interests or obsessions.  Foster those interests, instead of taking away that art class for a resource class consider adding an art class instead. Think outside the box, these parents do.

The next time you see that child in a wheelchair unable to speak or control their movements, don’t stare, don’t look away, say hello.  Do not assume that because this child is nonverbal that they are not intelligent or do not understand the awkwardness that you feel.  Take a moment out of your day to show kindness, support a parent enduring incredible pain and just give them a smile.

The next time your child comes home telling you how Johnny or Susie is so weird, take the time to teach about differences.  Take the time to talk  about compassion, acceptance and special needs. Please remember that your child learns from you.  Be a role model, mirror respect and discourage gossip.

The next time you hear a comment about how out of style these kids are, educate about tactile sensitivities and the fact that these kids cannot tolerate many textures and fits.  Imagine what it would feel like to have sandpaper in your stilettos or tight elastic holding on your tie.

The next time you see an out of control child do not assume it is bad parenting.  Understand that many of these disorders have an organic basis, are biological and are real illnesses. When you hear the word mental illness, take out the “mental” and remember  ”illness”.

Know that it is this generation that can stomp the stigma and create a world of acceptance.

The next time other parents are talking about “Those Kids” be our heroes, stand up for us.

The next time you see a special needs child know they are not just special in their needs but in their brilliance as well.

Take the time to meet our children.  Take the time to know us.


AFTER POST:  Thank you for the tremendous response to this writing and requests to post or share on your blogs, websites or educator sites.  Feel free to copy in its exact form and use author credits to comply with copyright.




Heading North to Canada to teach Bal-A-Vis-X

Looking forward to working with our friends in Moncton, New Brunswick. We will be teaching Bal-A-Vis-X Level I, II and adaptive. Can't wait to get the balls bouncing!

News report on Bal-A-Vis-X

Bal-A-Vis-X can be hard to understand sometimes. This news report on one school using Bal-A-Vis-X gives a good overview and what a difference it can make for students. If you would like more information on how we can bring Bal-A-Vis-X into your school please get in touch with us today.


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(603) 434-9115


Windham, N.H.

UpComing Classes

Bal-A-Vis-X Session A Training
(17 contact hrs.)

When: October 25-27, 2019
Time: Friday 4-8pm, Saturday 8am-5pm, Sunday 8am-2pm (Class size limited 16-18 due to space)

Location: MRC 535 West. St. Rockport, Maine

Fee: $299.00 a person or $279.00 for a group registration of 2 or more

For more information please download the Course Description and Registration form.

pdfCourse Info and Registration - PDF