Thursday, 22 September 2011

Autonomous Self Regulated Learning - How Does it Work?

Autonomous education was one of the first words I was introduced to when we began our home education. My friend, who has been home educating her children for 6 years (now aged 8 and 12) explained that her children do not attend lesson, all their learning is self directed. Her children seemed bright, had great communication skills and seem very knowledgeable in a broad range of subjects. She said her children have learnt to read by being read to. She noticed that they both started to follow where she was on the page. They were not taught to read using phoenix but I suppose more by word recognition. I was skeptical about how a child could possibly learn anything without lesson styled learning.

At the time, I was sitting down with Owen and Anya for a few hours each day to cover English and Math. The lessons were informal and the kids didn’t seem to mind but didn’t seem to engage in the lessons with any passion. Both of them were barely reading and writing when they left school. They both refuse to read books even though I have tried hard to find books with an interest level at their age but a lower reading age. They both hate books which I suspect is a result of the atrociously boring books they were made to read at school. We used a specialist software application called Wordshark which is designed to help dyslexic children learn to spell. Both Owen and Anya tolerated 30 mins a day using this software but it didn’t seem to create any real interest or pride in reading or spelling. I noticed Owen had started watching Japanese Manga films with subtitles and seemed to be following the plot. Owen started to ask me how to spell words having shown no previous interest in spelling correctly. He was very interested in an online game called Roblox and was chatting with his online friends. I sat down with him to watch him play. He was typing at a tremendous speed with amazingly accurate spelling. So I decided to abandon the Wordshark and allow him to watch Manga subtitles for 30 minutes instead. His reading now seems pretty good (not brilliant but okay) and his spelling is very good. He still isn’t interested in reading books but is able to read whatever he needs to on his computer. He uses the internet to research and look up all sorts of information.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Moving House & Autism

Moving house is stressful for most people, but for someone with autism, for whom routine is important, change can be very difficult and lead to a lot of stress and anxiety.

I have found that preparing Owen for big events is the most effective way of reducing his stress.  I have spent the last few months preparing Owen for the move and including:
  • Explaining why we are moving
  • Showing him photos of the new house
  • Explaining what is involved in the move
  • Showing Owen the calender and reminding him of the move date
  • Packing a bag of essential toys, clothes and food/snacks for the first few days.

Social stories may also help autistic kids understand what is going on. 

On the day of the move we ensure the kids stuff was off loaded first and their beds and essential toys unpacked first.  Anya was brilliant and got on with unpacking her stuff.  Owen needed more support and help but managed well. 

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Oxytocin Improves Emotion Recognition

I have been reading some interesting research about oxytocin.  In a new study in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, Australian autism experts recruited adolescents with ASDs. Using a rigorous study design, they administered a single dose each of oxytocin and placebo via a nasal spray, received one week apart. Both times, the subjects were asked to complete a facial expression task that measures emotion recognition. Compared to administration of the placebo spray, the subjects' performance on the task was improved when they received the oxytocin spray. These findings provide the first evidence that "a brief and simple intervention can improve emotion understanding in autism, or in fact any clinical disorder associated with social dysfunction. It is also the first to show the benefits of oxytocin nasal spray in young people, suggesting potential for earlier intervention where there may be greater opportunity to improve development," explained author Dr. Adam Guastella. "This study, therefore, makes an important advance with the longer-term hope that oxytocin could be used to improve social function in everyday settings for clinical disorders associated with social dysfunction."

Oxytocin is not available as a drug to treat autism.  Even if it was I have never liked the idea of using drugs to treat autism.  

I have been looking into how the body produces oxytocin naturally and apart from the obvious (sex) I have found these:
  • Ingestion of food triggers oxytocin release by activation of vagal afferent nerves. Most likely, it can also be released by stimulation of other senses such as olfaction, as well as by certain types of sound and light. 
  • Purely psychological mechanisms can trigger the release of oxytocin. This means that positive interaction involving touch and psychological support may be health-promoting.
  • Oxytocin can be released by various types of sensory stimulation, for example by touch and warmth. Bloodstream levels of oxytocin have been shown to rise during massage.
 But I remember using a TENS machine during both my births.  Does a TENs machine produce oxytocin?  More research I think!