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Today's Alphabet News"Alphabet Fitness programs and games are wonderful! My son has an expressive language disorder...a traffic jam of words that are difficult at times to articulate. Problems as a young child involved his motor skill ability and agility, difficulty with balance, and using writing implements. Alphabet Fitness embraces all types of issues that children face from literacy to mobility."
- L. Kessel, PA
As a fundamental communication tool, have fine-motor, alphabet communication systems altered human well-being?
- Karen Voght, Wellness, Inc.
September 2009Understanding that autism is frequently classified as a complex communication disorder, Wellness, Inc. is working to expand its Alphabet Fitness Program findings to autistic research. In its efforts to help prevent increases in communication and learning disorders, Wellness researches the potential long-term impacts of repetitive learning tools on the body and the brain. Since alphabets are the primary building blocks of instruction and communication, Wellness has researched the developmental history of alphabets for clues to autism and other communication disorders.
This research (www.alphabetfitness.org) led us to conclude that the standard format of fine-motor, sedentary alphabet education needs to be updated in a manner that more actively and comprehensively maps language onto the whole brain. Thinking is internalized movement,1 and an imbalance of fine-motor learning and communication skills can slowly redefine the motor links between the body and brain. The potential long-term side effects of over reliance on fine-motor learned alphabet intelligence may include deconnectivity between body and brain, and increased susceptibility to distractions and stressors.
Carried to its extreme, consequences of over concentration on fine-motor alphabet communications just may lead to what Courchesne E. & Pierce K. discuss in their article, Why the Frontal Cortex in Autism Might be Talking Only to Itself: Local Over-Connectivity But Long-Distance Disconnection.2
In line with the following research, Wellness now seeks to apply its Alphabet Fitness programs to help autistic populations. We are looking to break the long-term monopoly that fine-motor alphabet education has had on the body and its brain through our gross-motor Alphabet Fitness Programs, kinesthetic body fonts, reinforcement products and games. Our programs and fun alphabet tools cross-train the child's brain and ease the transition from gross-motor to fine-motor communications systems. Just like practicing athletes, children physically condition the sounds, images, and spelling of words directly into their body's stronger, gross-motor memory. This alphabet fitness language learning format offers alternative prevention, intervention, and communication tools for autistic children and their families as it becomes part of each family's daily routine. Its body-oriented ABCs help enable the child to focus in a world filled with distractions.
1 Velmans, M. 2000. Understanding consciousness. Routledge.
2 Courchesne E, Pierce K. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Volume 15, Issue 2 , April 2005, Pages 225-230 Cognitive neuroscience.
Brains of People with Autism Recall Letters of the Alphabet in Brain Areas Dealing with ShapesNIH / National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development, 2004-11-29
Web Address: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041129112511.htm
In contrast to people who do not have autism, people with autism remember letters of the alphabet in a part of the brain that ordinarily processes shapes, according to a study from a collaborative program of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.
The study was conducted by researchers in the NICHD Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. It supports a theory by CPEA scientists that autism results from a failure of the various parts of the brain to work together. In autism, the theory holds, these distinct brain areas tend to work independently of each other. The theory accounts for observations that while many people with autism excel at tasks involving details, they have difficulty with more complex information.
The study and the theory are the work of Marcel Just, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Nancy Minshew, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and their colleagues. The study is scheduled for on-line publication November 29 in the journal Neuroimage, at www.sciencedirect.com.
This finding provides more evidence to support a promising theory of autism, said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD.If confirmed, this theory suggests that therapies emphasizing problem solving skills and other tasks that activate multiple brain areas at the same time might benefit people with autism.
People with autism typically have difficulty communicating and interacting socially with others. The old saying, unable to see the forest for the trees, applies to people with autism, describing how many of them excel at matters of detail, yet struggle to comprehend the larger picture. For example, some children with autism may become champions at spelling bees, but have difficulty understanding the meaning of a sentence or a story.
The language pattern in autism is a microcosm for the disorder Dr. Just said. People with autism are good at a lower level of analysis but have a deficit at the higher level.
In the current study, the researchers used a brain imaging technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of 14 individuals with high functioning autism while they performed a simple memory task involving letters of the alphabet. Specifically, the study volunteers were shown a sequence of letters. After each letter, they were asked to name the letter that preceded it. In some cases, they were asked to name the letter that appeared two letters previously. The autism volunteers' brain activation patterns were compared to a control group of people who did not have autism, but were of a similar age and I.Q. level.
Both groups successfully completed the task. However, the fMRI scans revealed different brain activation patterns between the two groups. Compared to the control group, the volunteers with autism showed more activation in the right hemisphere, or half, of the brain, and less activation in the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere takes the lead in processing letters, words and sentences, whereas the right hemisphere plays a larger role in processing shapes and visual information.
Dr. Just said that the brain could interpret letters either spatially, as geometric shapes, or linguistically, by the names of the letters. The imaging data indicated that the volunteers with autism remembered letters as shapes, while the control group remembered them by their names.
The brain activation patterns of the two groups also differed in other ways. While performing the task, the group with autism showed less activation in the anterior, or front, parts of the brain, and more activation in the posterior, or rear parts of the brain. Dr. Just explained that the brain's anterior portions carry out higher-level thinking and reasoning while the posterior portion is more involved with perceiving details.
Compared to the control group, the different brain areas of the people with autism were less likely to work in synchrony (at the same time) while recalling the letters. Such synchronization between brain areas takes place during many kinds of higher-level thinking and analysis that prove difficult for many people with autism.
These current findings provide evidence in support of the theory developed by these researchers. Called the theory of underconnectivity in autism, it maintains that autism results from a failure of the brain's neurological wiring the fibers of nervous system tissue that interconnect the individual parts of the brain. Deprived of effective connections, the different brain areas must work independently, sometimes performing at a higher level individually than they do in people who do not have autism. This may allow some people with autism to excel at spelling and other detail-oriented tasks but make it difficult for them to comprehend more complex material.
The researchers published their theory in the July issue of Brain, in conjunction with the results of another MRI study of volunteers with autism. In that study, volunteers were asked a question about a simple sentence that they had just read. When the people with autism performed the task, their brains showed less synchronization than did the brains of the control group. Moreover, the brains of the group with autism had less activation in an anterior part of the brain that integrates the words of a sentence, and more activation in a posterior brain area that comprehends individual words.
Many behavioral therapies to treat autism stress rote learning, Dr. Minshew explained. Such strategies are helpful, particularly early in a child's development. However, if the theory of underconnectivity proves valid, therapies that stimulate brain areas to work in synchrony might also offer some benefit. Such therapies might stress problem solving skills and creative thinking, and attempt to foster flexibility in thinking.
Dr. Just noted that more evidence to support the theory might come from the group's on-going studies of other cognitive abilities. The researchers are attempting to determine if underconnectivity is a general feature of the brain in autism, and are using brain imaging studies to examine the brain's white matter in people with autism. White matter is the part of the brain that consists of the larger neurological connections spanning different parts of the brain.
REFERENCESin order of article presentation
1. Brains Of People With Autism Recall Letters Of The Alphabet In Brain Areas Dealing With Shapes
NIH / National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development, 2004-11-29
RECENT RESEARCHER COMMENTS ON ALPHABET FITNESS PROGRAMI have looked at your website. Any procedures which sharpen autistic children's motor capabilities, particularly when directly linked to language aspects, offer the prospect of speech improvement. Guided gesture has helped. It will be interesting to see the effect in practice of the body patterning linked to letter shapes in your system. - Dr. Robin Allott, The Great Mosaic Eye: Language and Evolution. 2001
It looks very interesting and certainly worthwhile. We certainly can always improve our methods for teaching and learning. Certainly the relationship between specific curricula and brain maturation deserves lots more attention. I wish you luck and success with your work. - Dr. Arthur W. Toga, Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA School of Medicine