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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

I read an interesting (read nonsensical) piece of Research result, in New Indian express, bangalore Edition, dated 7th Feb 08,  found out by the Italian scientists. I call it ‘junk research’ as the results of such researches do more harm than good to woman-kind!

They have found out that wearing high heeled shoes can boost a woman’s sexual desire, as walking with high heeled shoes improves the strength of pelvic floor muscles thus upping her sex life!!!

Can anything be more stupid than advising wearing high heel shoes to improve strength of pelvic muscles? Are there no better exercises to improve ones muscles than to resort to heeled shoes?? Have we all not heard of people breaking their back bones by falling down, unable to balance themselves with a pair of high heels? How many ladies suffer twists in ankle bones, tear in the ligaments, postural faults, all because they could not manage their steps while climbing stairs or by walking on uneven surfaces with these shoes on?

Podiatrists (foot specialists) say that the anatomical position of a heeled shoe wearer is abnormal. This causes lot of stress to the feet as well as to the back bone. This leads to many stress fractures to the foot bones. This also leads to foot ailments, swelling of toes, shooting pain caused by injuries to foot nerves, swelling of the balls of feet etc.

When such is the long list of ‘rewards’ for the high heeled shoe wearer, was there any need to pump in funds to this kind of research to declare another ‘attractive’  result of increased libido for the wearer?! I wonder which woman would want to break her bones, have plastered limbs, be bed-ridden with a ‘high- libido’ !

Any takers???

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Two days ago we all learnt about a suicide bombing at Baghdad’s two pet markets, in Iraq, that killed nearly 75 people, wounding 150 people and hundreds of birds and other pet animals. Many of you may not even have read it as these days we have all become immune to such suicide bombings and killings as they have become the daily news in all news papers! and we have lost the sensitivity to even grieve over such matters.

But the most horrible fact about these two bombings were the two suicide bombers were girls with Down’s syndrome! and a person with Down’s syndrome does not have normal intellectual capacity and he/she is a mentally challenged person. How can such a person willingly give consent to be a suicide bomber? Surely, the girls here must have been tricked into it! and that is the most tragic part of the whole incident. How can this be an act of “jihadi”? Would Allah praise such an act??

Many of you may have heard of the term “Down’s syndrome”, but may not know what exactly the term refers to. Let me briefly explain.

Down’s syndrome is a life long condition of disability that results in mental retardation. The retardation can be of mild/moderate/severe degree. It is a chromosomal anomaly called “Trisomy 21” in which there occurs                  3 chromosomes in set 21 instead of 2 chromosomes. Human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 in total) in each cell of the body, except in sex cells, eggs and sperms, where only 23 chromosomes are present. These 23 become 46 when the egg and the sperm  get fertilized to procreate and the species continues with 46. These 46 chromosomes are arranged in pairs of two and there are 23 such sets. But in Down syndrome child, the 21st set of chromosomes contain 3 chromosomes instead of the usual two (totalling to 47) and this excess genetic material in each cell results in a dsabling condition called Down’s syndrome, named after the scientist Langer Down who described this anomaly.

I have mentioned Trisomy 21 as the cause of this disability. In a small 2 to 3% of Downs syndrome, the cause is Mosaic Trisomy 21 that appears not in all body cells but only in few of the cells. Whether it is plain Trisomy 21 or mosaic, the features are the same and the degree of disability does not depend on the kind of the cause.

All children born in this condition share very similar facial characteristics that make them all look alike. They generally have a round, flat face with slanted eyes. They slant upwards and they have an extra skin fold on their eye lids that accentuate this slant. But they can have normal vision like anybody else. The babies have poor muscle tone and are floppy at birth. Slowly their muscle tone improves as they grow. It is also observed that these kids have a single crease running on their palm instead of the usual three deep ones that run on our palms (some normal kids also have only one crease on their palm, but not have down’s syndrome). They also have a large gap between their big toe and the second toe that usually grips the sandal. Their tongue usually protrudes outside as they have a smaller oral-cavity and a larger base of the tongue that keeps their mouth slightly open always. This may make them vulnerable to many respiratory infections.

Like in any other condition of mental retardation, these children also show delayed developmental milestones. Their motor (movement), speech and language, social and cognitive development are all slow. The condition can be detected at birth itself by the pediatrician and it is obligatory on their part to inform the baby’s condition to the parents at that time. But unfortunately in India, many Downs Syndrome births go undetected or uninformed to parents that it may jeopardize early interventional strategies that can mitigate the damages to a large extent.

The condition can not be cured. But their abilities can improve to a very large extent by training that is given in special schools. A positive and an accepting attitude on part of parents, siblings and other relatives can help the child to a very large extent to improve its skills. These days many early intervention programmes are taken up at various special centres to children of a much younger age, as soon as it is identified. Physio therapy programmes can improve their muscles’ and joints’ strengths that improve their mobility skills and their gross and fine motor skills (bigger muscles and smaller muscles of the body). Most of them have speech delays and speech problems. They may lack clarity in their speech, articulation problems, language reception and expression problems that can be reduced through speech therapy. Most of these children are friendly by nature and they draw attention from others through their smiling face and readiness to strike friendship with others. This also makes them very vulnerable and children need to be protected from any kind of abuse. Their social skills make them very endearing to all and they are very helpful in nature. Many of them love music and dance. Depending on their intellectual level, they can be taught functional academics that teach them the basic reading and writing skills. They are soon trained in vocations of their interest and later on as adults they can work in sheltered workshops under supervision. Some downs syndrome adults can lead fairly independent life.

As I mentioned earlier, they are prone to many respiratory diseases and many children have congenital (by birth) heart defects too. These children may have to undergo heart surgeries at a later date when they can withstand the surgery.

Coming to the sexuality aspect, they also have normal sexual desires like any other person. But their cognitive deficits may make them vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. And as adults, they get isolated from the mainstream and this loneliness also makes them vulnerable to any kind of affection offered by the abusers. They need to be given sex education like any other person. The fertility rate is reduced in women with Downs syndrome and researchers believe that males may be sterile. But one case of a downs male fathering a child has been cited in journals. Many females with Downs are fertile and there are many instances of them carrying their pregnancy to term and successfully delivering kids – either downs child or a normal child. These are cases from abroad and in India, it is very difficult to get such a person married and expect to carry out the responsibility of a marriage relationship and rearing a child. But it is not impossible with family support. Just because somebody is disabled, we can not deny them their marital and sexual rights. It is purely their family decision.

When such are the abilities/differences in their ability levels of Downs syndrome persons, it is highly condemnable that two downs syndrome girls’ vulnerability was used and abused by the terrorist gang in Iraq and they have now fallen victims to their suicidal bombing pact!

Our heartfelt condolences to the families of these two innocent Down syndrome girls.

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The following is the letter to the TOI editor that mr vidyaranya bellur emailed, but unfortunately the letter was highly edited and published on 28/01/08. since he had emailed a copy to me, i thought of publishing it here unedited so that it might interest my readers and they may write their comments on this:

 

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Your news item “Sweden to study belching cows TOI dt. 23-1-08” is not only hilarious but epitomizes height of senselessness on part of research funding agencies. Cows every where have been nurturing from time immemorial on naturally grown greens and have been yielding milk that is nourishing human kind ever since civilization. Also, it is a well known fact that cow dung is an excellent manure that enriches the soil solely because it’s herbivorous nature. We may recall here how processed meat & bone were fed to these poor herbivorous animals which resulted in spread of mad cow disease in Europe which in turn lead to the butchering of thousands of innocent cows.

Now we hear of this crazy research being carried out on these poor bovines’ belchings which is supposedly contributing to the emission of green house gases! Instead, I strongly suggest the funding may be diverted to measure the emissions under the pants of junk food eaters where the results would indicate the contribution of human methane levels that would far exceed those of bovines’ belching!

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

B.S.Vidyaranya

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In my last post I had written about the various difficulties that children with LD face while reading. Most of these difficulties occur because of visual and auditory perceptual problems. Let me explain.

Children will have normal vision, normal hearing ability, but may have difficulty in:

visual and auditory discrimination – they may be unable to discriminate between similar looking letters, like, ‘b’ and ‘d’, ‘p’ and ‘d’, ‘q’ and ‘p’, ‘m’ and ‘n’, ‘n’ and ‘u’, ‘m’ and ‘w’ etc During the developmental phase, young children can recognize the object ‘chair’ as a chair in whatever position it is – upside down, sideways or turned in any other way – it still remains a chair. As they grow up and enter the school age of 2 1/2 to 3 yrs, they start looking at letters in books and are made to understand that certain letters may look similar, but the direction of the strokes and curves differentiate them from each other. Children with visual perceptual problem will not be able to understand this concept and hence unable to discriminate between similar looking letters and confuse one for the other. Reversal of letters, reversal of words – mirror reading and writing occur because of this perceptual issue.

They may have difficulty discriminating the geometrical shapes, between an oval and a circle, between a square and a rectangle and have more confusions with polygons. They may find it extremely difficult to copy drawings from science lessons. The minute differences go unnoticed.

Coming to auditory discrimination, children with LD may have problems perceiving minute differences between sounds, like in words ‘tin’ and ‘thin’, ‘sign’ and ‘shine’, ‘pin’ and ‘bin’. This difficulty is more pronounced in our regional languages where there are ‘mahaa praanaas’ and ‘alpa praanaas’.

They may not be able to understand the nuances of speech like pitch and tone and hence their reading a passage sounds very monotonous.

Children may have visual and auditory memory problems. It becomes difficult to keep in memory the order of letters in a word and hence have spelling problems. When the teacher writes notes on the black board, these children may not have enough short term memory or working memory to keep the words they have seen on the black board in their memory and bend down and transfer it to their notebooks. Their notes always remain incomplete. While writing dictation, they may not have sufficient auditory memory to keep the words in mind and write them. Or while listening to a story, they may have difficulty connecting the various pieces they have heard as they may forget many things inbetween the narration. Also, because of comprehension difficulties, many things that they hear or read or write remain as isolated fragments of information, unconnected and meaningless that they soon forget.

Figure-ground perceptual problem that I have explained in my previous post is another kind of perceptual difficulty that these children may face.

Apart from sequential difficulties mentioned in another post, they may sometimes have difficulty in categorization. This is evident in their writing when they mix up upper case letters with lower case letters. They may find it difficult to sort out pictures of vegetables, fruits and flowers. They find it difficult to write long answers to questions because of their inability to organize matter, categorize them according to themes and present it. In higher classes, it may become difficult for them to classify the elements and compounds, or classify the animal kingdom into reptiles, birds, mammals etc

Visual and auditory closure is another perceptual difficulty many of these children face. We are able to read a word or a sentence even if some letters or words are missing inbetween or the print is hazy. We have the ability to picturize the whole even if parts are missing from a figure or a story. But kids with LD may not. Presented a piece of poem in between, children may find it difficult to know from which poem it is extracted or how to complete it.

………………… to be continued

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We will continue with the identification features of Learning Disability in Children. Many of these features may be present in a child below the age of 8 as part of their developmental phase. There are developmental norms in various domains of child development and children differ in their pace of attaining these norms. If they persist beyond the age of 8, then special assessments for LD need to be done. Below the age of 8 if these problems are seen, it may indicate that the child is  ‘at risk’ of developing LD and suitable remedial measures are taken to alleviate the problem earlier.

We will now see what are the various errors that a child with “Reading Difficulty” or “Dyslexia” may commit:

Children with reading difficulty generally show a reluctance when suggested to read a book. They may give excuses like, “these are not taught to us in the school” or “we will first do some other activity and then do this”.

They may struggle so much to read that the pace of reading becomes very slow.

They may need to finger-point each and every word in order not to miss the position in the text while reading. They may skip words or skip sentences.

They may make errors like omitting words, adding words not in the text, guessing the words (team as time, clock as cloth, paper as pepper), calling out each letter and unable to blend them, reversal of letters in a word – on as no, was as saw, dog as god, tap as pat, pin as nip.

They may jumble up the soundsin a word, like, saying aminal for animal, pheletone for telephone.

They may find it difficult to ‘attack’ an unfamiliar word and get it right.

They may read a whole passage in a monotone and also pay no regard to the punctuations. This can be due to lack of comprehension.

Reading comprehension may be poor. They may find it difficult to understand what they read. Most of these children would be struggling to blend letters into words or join words together to make a sentence that it becomes difficult for them to give attention and grasp the meaning of what they are reading. The same children, if they are read to, can listen well and understand what has been read out as they are spared of the struggle to read! That is the reason why many of these children insist that their mother read out the question and answers of lessons while they sit and listen and understand.

Reading is a process of de-coding. The letters that go into the formation of words are nothing but symbolic representation of sounds that we produce through speech. Each language has its own coding in the form of letters of alphabet. The difficulty to read arises because of an inability to decode the letters or associate the sounds (phonemes) with the respective letters (graphemes) and blend these sounds to make meaningful words. This difficulty is more evident in English language where the phonemes and the graphemes have no connection at all. The letters b-a-g that make the word ‘bag’ are in no way connected to the sound that we make as ‘buh’ – ‘aah’- and ‘guh’ that blend together to make the word ‘bag’! The words ‘put’ and ‘but’ have different sounds associated with the letter ‘u’. Some letters make more than one sound. For ex: the letter ‘a’ makes different sounds in different words like apple, car, lake, again. Letter ‘g’ has a soft sound as in the word ‘gem’ and a hard sound in the word ‘gate’. Letter ‘c’ also has two different sounds as in ‘cinema’ and candy’. And there are many words where certain letters become ‘silent’. This leads to lot of confusion in a child’s mind who has difficulty in understanding a new language that he has not been previously exposed. Many of the regional languages of India, like Hindi, Kannada and others have their grapheme and phoneme the same. The letters we write represent the same sound and become easy to blend together to make a word. Though the grapheme-phoneme confusion is not there in these languages, the enormity of ‘kaagunithas’ and ‘ottaksharas’ make these languages difficult to learn for these children. 

We need to understand that dyslexia is not just a difficulty to decode letters and words. It is a whole problem of processing language to make sense out of it.

Children learn reading through sight first. They just look at whole word, listen to the sound of the word, associate it with a picture of an object or the real object that they see and understand their meaning. When you gradually remove the picture, they are still able to recognize the word as their brains would have stored these words and sounds like photographic memories. You can see young children reading out big billboards of advertisements that have been made familiar to them through advertisements on Television. Later when they enter school, letters are taught and they automatically recollect the earlier sight-reading and slowly pick up the skill of decoding the words. In many schools, the sounds of english letters are taught first – “phonetic way of teaching reading” – instead of A B C D they are taught ‘aah’, ‘buh’, ‘kah’, ‘duh’ etc. They believe that this is a better way of teaching letters of the alphabet as children can easily decode the words at a later stage. There is also the other school of thought that says “whole word approach” is a better way to start off where children blindly pick up whole words, sounds and their meanings. In fact this was the way we were all taught reading long long ago. But children who have been taught reading through phonetic way find it easier to attack unfamiliar words, however long they are.

Many children with LD have the problem of “figure-ground perception”. In any picture or music or a story, there is a fore-ground and a back-ground. Generally we all pay attention to the foreground and ignore the background thus able to grasp the main theme running through it. But these children are unable to distinguish between the important and the unimportant or the relevant and the irrelevant details. Hence when they read a long passage or listen to a long narration or look at a picture, they may miss out on important points and give attention to the irrelevant. They may not be able to sustain their attention and concentration for long to catch the main theme. Hence reproduction of a task becomes difficult for them.

…………………… to be continued

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In my first post on Dyslexia, I had mentioned that some children will have difficulties in the psychological processes of acquiring language, understanding and using it. Let me mention which are those psychological processes:

  • Attention
  • Sensory input or sensation
  • Perception (integration of all the sensory inputs inside the brain and making sense of them)
  • Cognition (understanding the information and associating it with the earlier information/experience and expanding the knowledge bank)
  • Memory and retrieval when required
  • Expressing this knowledge – either orally, through reading or speech, or in writing

The above steps are involved in any learning. If a child has problem in any of the above mentioned steps, learning becomes difficult. Many children have problem in focussing their attention and sustaining that attention for the required amount of time to understand it. Some of them may have a problem called “Attention deficit Disorder” (ADD) or “Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder” (ADHD). They will be unable to focus their attention and they will not be able to sit in a place for long. They are very distractible, fidgety and impulsive. They impulsively act without thinking of the consequences that can be dangerous sometimes, like, suddenly crossing the road to fetch a ball or jumping from heights during play etc. Inattentivity, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the hallmarks of ADHD. Any one, two or all the three can be present in a child with ADHD. More on ADHD here. Because of their attention deficit children will not be able to pay attention and learn the expected task.

Once attention is paid, sensory inputs reach the brain and perception occurs. We can make sense of what we have seen or heard or touched or smelt or tasted. This sensation gets associated with the memory of earlier experiences and our knowledge expands. This is the cognition stage. This once again is assimilated with other information and gets stored as memory in different areas of brain. When the information is required to be put to use, our brain retrieves the information.

For all this to happen, the necessary neural pathways in the brain need to be well connected or wired. If there is any problem at any stage of the wiring, learning may not take place properly or what has been learnt may not be recalled when needed.

Since our whole education system demands children to express whatever they have learnt through writing in an exam, many of these children would find it extremely hard to pass. And we readily label them as “dull”, “dumb”, “useless”, “good for nothing” “lazy” and what not? Does any parent or teacher these days have patience to look for the cause of this difficulty? Do they ever wonder why a child, who is otherwise intelligent and smart in other activities, fail to perform in academics? Does any child purposely want to earn the wrath of its parents or teachers? No, definitely not. Not without a strong reason behind it.

Here it is very important for us to distinguish between learning disability per se and learning difficulties that can be due to factors like, any impairment in the functioning of the sensory organs ( blindness, deaf and muteness), due to intellectual impairment or mental retardation, due to emotional deprivation because of family problems, or due to non availability of learning environment at school or at home (lack of infrastructure or facilities, poor teaching, lack of learning support from parents who are illiterates themselves etc), lack of stimulating environment etc. Sometimes vision problems, like, short sight, in young children go unnoticed by elders and children may have lot of problem reading a book or copying from the board because of poor vision. It is important to rule out all these conditions first and then check the child for learning disability.

Children with learning disability typically have average or above average intelligence, but there are glaring discrepancies between their apparent capacity and achievement levels. Since everybody sees ‘smartness’ in these children in their oral expression, in the way they collect information about something that interests them (they can reel out the cricket scores of various teams or list all kinds of dinosaurs or all models of motor cars) elders conclude that their low academic achievement is due to their disinterest in the subject or due to sheer laziness. But it is not so.

………………. to be continued

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By now most of you readers would have seen the movie “Taare Zamin Par”, directed by Aamir Khan. I am sure it has touched the viewers’ hearts and has been successful in bringing awareness about a condition called “dyslexia“. But many cinema goers forget the whole message once they get back to their other pressing commitments. But I would like to make use of this forum to explain this condition in detail to all of you so that many parents and teachers  can be sensitized to this issue faced by number of school going children

The word Dyslexia means difficulty with lexicon or words. “Learning disability” is a much broader term that explains the difficulties that many children face in the areas of reading, writing, spelling, calculating, thinking and reasoning and memorizing. A child can experience the difficulty in one or two or more of the above mentioned areas of learning.

These children may experience difficulty in acquiring, understanding and using the language to express their thoughts through speech or writing. Learning disability is also known as developmental dyslexia (as it typically occurs during the child’s developmental years). Difficulty in reading and understanding the words is referred to as dyslexia, difficulty in writing is referred to as dysgraphia and difficulty in understanding the concept of numbers and calculation is referred to as dyscalculia. And the latest phrase coined to explain the child’s difficulty experienced at school is “academically abused”! A very strong term that can make all of us sit up and think over deeply.

Because of the learning difficulties that bog down a child, many secondary difficulties may arise in the form of poor motivation, poor interest in activities, loss of self-worth, low self-esteem, social withdrawal and occasionally speech difficulties too. All this frustrates a child to such a level that it can lead to anger and rage and aggression or it can be the other extreme of depression and suicidal ideations!

……………. to be continued

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