Autistic Children Sensitive to Stereotypes


autism awareness

Autism is treatable

  Children with autism, who are unable to grasp the mental states of others, can nonetheless identify with conventional stereotypes based on a person’s race and sex, researchers report in the June 19th issue of Current Biology, published by Cell Press.

 “Even with their limited capacities for social interaction and their apparent inability to orient to social stimuli, these autistic kids pick up and endorse social stereotypes as readily as normally developing kids,” said Lawrence Hirschfeld “One take-away point is that stereotypes are very easy to learn and very robust. They don’t require higher order attention, or apparently even attention to social stimuli, to develop. Stereotypes can be learned even in the face of damage to the ‘social brain’ and under extraordinarily constrained conditions.”

 The profound inability of children with autism to engage in everyday social interaction, as well as impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication, had been attributed to a severe delay in “theory of mind” (ToM) development—the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own. If the use of stereotypes and mental states were part and parcel of the same underlying cognitive process, then autistic children would have similar difficulties with both.

 In fact, the researchers found that autistic children who have a verbal age between 6 and 7 years—and who fail ToM tasks—know and use gender and race stereotypes just like normal children. Hirschfeld said he suspects the stereotypes originate within subtle and seemingly incidental messages that saturate the culture—for example, through advertising or biased attention by the media. The kids might also learn about stereotypes from parental behaviors, such as locking car doors when in certain neighborhoods, even if parents carefully monitor what they say about race to their children.

 Stereotypes are not inherently negative, he said. “We wouldn’t be able to think without social categories,” he said. “Stereotypical roles are important for navigating everyday interactions. Finding a plumber would be difficult if we thought of people only as unique individuals. Getting through the check-out line would be unwieldy if we didn’t have simple scripts about the roles that both shoppers and cashiers play.”

 The results suggest that different kinds of social reasoning occur through independent mechanisms in all people. The autistic children’s surprising ability to recognize broad categories of people might also lead to new methods for helping them improve their ability to function in society, he said.

 Caregivers today often attempt to teach children with autism ToM skills, particularly techniques that make them more sensitive to other people’s mental states. Capitalizing on the kids’ strengths in understanding social categories might offer an alternative and easier learning method for interpreting the behavior of others, one that doesn’t involve “swimming upstream,” Hirschfeld said.

A couple of programs that may help categorize emotion are available. The first one is free  and focuses on positivity which may help if the person needing training is sad or has anger problems and the second one is reasonably priced and an excellent tool for learning emotion for normal and autistic individuals . This can be trial tried online with no sign up. It is important to stress that people with autism are individual people who have autism and different paths will work depending on their individual qualities

If you live in Florida in the Broward or West Plam Beach Areas. There is a brain optimization center in Boca Raton where autistic children and adults have been successfully treated. It is called Sparks of Genius

Brains Hardwired By Music?

Brains, Music  and Learning (Web Weaver Clip Art 2009)

Brains, Music and Learning (Web Weaver Clip Art 2009)

By Amy Price PhD

In 2007 colleagues and I conducted a 42 participant study as part of a research school experiment on working memory and cognitive loading. We explored using music as a strategic intervention to alter working memory loads. The premise was music could aid in more effectual encoding to increase learning potential.  As we learn extraneous or intrinsic cognitive load is invoked. Extraneous working memory loading is experienced by learners as they interact with instructional materials. Intrinsic cognitive load is the inherent level of difficulty associated with instructional materials (Chandler and Sweller 1991). More learning cues such as using pictures as well as words, learning with a song or even allowing student’s hands on instruction helps decrease this load. The more unnecessary information it takes to deliver your point the more extraneous cognitive load is produced. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words!  (Ayres 2006) states that when intrinsic or extraneous cognitive load is high, working memory is overloaded and learning is adversely affected.

This process happens as we learn new skills that we later do with some automaticity such as driving, riding a bike, learning a musical instrument or even doing algebra. The forming of efficient categorization and schemas is called germane load (Paas et al 2003, Sweller et al 1998).  

We considered that since music aids in efficient categorization perhaps learning and music together could decrease cognitive loading and increase germane ability by lightening the load. We tested this by having participants first listen to music designed to entrain concentration. According to (Doman 2007) entrainment can occur in as little as one minute. Music with specific timbres and rhythmic structure has demonstrated an increase in effectual category formation, (Ostrander1994, Rose1997) and can aid visual spatial perception, (Ruvenshteyn and Parrino, 2005) (Orel, 2006) Music is shown to aid in hemispheric transfer or communication between both halves of the brain (Taut et al 2005). We felt participants in the auditory condition would increase germane load and decrease extraneous load. The decrease in extraneous load is expected because of the neuronal changes evoked by entrainment (Pouliot 1998) (Carter and Russel 1992)

 What were our findings? Approximately 50% of our participants immediately increased their ability to sustain cognitive load by 150%. The other 50% decreased in this ability however many of these reported greater clarity of thought later in the day and improved their testing scores considerably. The lesson we learned from this is that for music to be effective at least for ½ the population consistency is the key. Many individuals need a consolidation period where learning is categorized and music is internalized.  

In fact, there are long term benefits of listening to music, notes Dan Levitin in This is Your Brain on Music.

“Music listening enhances or changes certain neural circuits, including the density of dendritic connections in the primary auditory cortex…The front portion of the corpus callosum—the mass of fibers connecting the two cerebral hemispheres—is significantly larger in musicians than non-musicians, and particularly for musicians who began their training early…Musicians tend to have larger cerebellums than non-musicians, and an increased concentration of grey matter…responsible for information processing.” In the end music is like exercise, starting later in life is better than not starting at all and may confer neuroprotective benefits…but that is another study!



Ayres, P.L (2006) “Impact of reducing intrinsic cognitive load on learning in a mathematical domain”, Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol.20, 99 287-298.

Carter, J & Russell H. (2002) A Pilot Investigation of Auditory and Visual Entrainment of Brain Wave Activity in Learning Disabled Boys Stanford University USA

Chandler, P. & Sweller, J. (1991). “Cognitive Load Theory and the Format of Instruction”. Cognition and Instruction 8 (4): 293–332. doi:10.1207/s1532690xci0804_2. 

Clark, R., Nguyen, F., and Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN 0-7879-7728-4. 

Conway, A. R. A., Jarrold, C., Kane, M. J., Miyake, A., & Towse, J. N. (Eds.). (2007). Variation in working memory. New York: Oxford University Press

Doman A, (2007) ABT conference Miami Fl. Advanced Brain Technology 5748 South Adams Avenue Parkway Ogden, Utah 84405, USA

Naish, P. 2005, Perceptual Processes ‘Attention’, Cognitive Psychology, Braisby and Gellatly, (eds) Open University in association with Oxford University Press UK

Orel, P., (2006) ‘Music Helps Students Retain Math’, Rutger’s Focus, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Jersey USA

Ostrander, S., Shroeder, L., and Ostrander, L. (1994) Super Learning New York, Delacorte Press, (1994)

Paas, F. Tuovinen, J., Tabbers, H., and Van Gerven, P., (2003) ‘Cognitive load measurement as a means to advance cognitive load theory’, Educational Psychologist, Vol 38(1), 63-71.

Pike and Edgar (2005) Perceptual Processes ‘Perception’, Cognitive Psychology, Braisby and Gellatly, (eds) Open University in association with Oxford University Press UK

Price A, Kessler R, 2006 “Sparks of Genius Recovered?”, Thinking Pays Boca Raton FL USA

Price A, Kirkpatrick M, Groszek M, “ 2007, Just practise? Or can ergonomic brain instruction or musical entrainment lighten the cognitive load to increase working memory performance and working load stamina?” Open University, Milton Keynes UK

Sweller et al (1988, 1989, 1993) Sweller, J., and Chandler, P., (1994) ‘Why some material is difficult to learn’ Cognition and Instruction, vol.12, pp185-233.

 Thaut, M., Peterson D., and McIntosh G. (2005) ‘Temporal Entrainment of Cognitive Functions: Musical Mnemonics Induce Brain Plasticity and Oscillatory Synchrony in Neural Networks Underlying Memory’, The Center for Biomedical Research in Music, Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Neuroscience Programs, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA

 Tomatis, A. (1991) The Conscious Ear, Station Hill Press, Paris, (1991)

Price A, Kessler R, 2006 “Sparks of Genius Recovered?”, Thinking Pays Boca Raton FL USA

Price A, Kirkpatrick M, Groszek M, “ 2007, Just practise? Or can ergonomic brain instruction or musical entrainment lighten the cognitive load to increase working memory performance and working load stamina?” Open University, Milton Keynes UK

Rose, C. & Nicholl, M. (1997) Accelerating Learning for the 21st Century. New York: Dell Publishing (1997)

Roure, R., et al. (1998) Autonomic Nervous System Responses Correlate with Mental Rehearsal in Volleyball Training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 78(2), 99-108

  Ruvinshteyn M and Parrino L, (2005) Benefits Of Music In The Academic Classroom

Parkinson’s Disease and Stem Cells

By Amy Price PhD
I found an interesting addition to the Parkinson’s post’s in the form of an article from Nature. Many thanks from helpful individuals at the Open University in the UK for passing this on.
In the article in Nature Suchowersky O. Transplantation therapy for Parkinson disease: the good, the bad and the enigmatic. Nature clinical practice. Neurology. 2008 Sep;4(9):465
Parkinson disease (PD) affects an estimated 1 million cases in North America . Motor symptoms in PD initially
respond well to dopaminergic replacement medications, but because PD progresses the drugs gradually lose effectiveness after about 10 years resulting in gait dysfunction and complications such as dyskinesias
PD is not just a disorder of the dopaminergic system but involves other neurotransmitter systems which inform autonomic dysfunction, mood disorders, fatigue, pain, sleep disorders and cognitive function. Dopaminergic cell replacement, even if successful is thought capable of treating only motor symptoms.
Over 20 years ago, transplantation of fetal ventral mesencephalic cells into the putamen was
performed on a small sample of participants with reportedly good results. Regrettably further studies with larger participant pools failed to confirm the initial reports (Freed CR et al. [2001] N Engl
J Med 344: 710–719). PET and pathological analyses revealed adequate survival of grafted
neurons, and there was untreatable runaway dyskenesia. However clinical benefit was seen in
a small subset of patients, 16 years on autopsy results are available Mendez et al. showed survival of
grafts without PD pathology for 14 years in five patients (Mendez I et al. [2008] Nat Med14: 507–509). Another patient showed good clinical improvement l 5 years plus, before gradual worsening of motor function and development of gait and balance problems (Kordower JH et al. [2008] Nat Med 14: 504–506). Autopsy results from this patient 14 years after transplantation showed great graft survival but grafted neurons had pathological
changes typical of PD, including Lewy bodies and activated microglia (cell scavengers) were seen in large numbers
Liet al. reported similar graft pathology in three patients up to 16 years after transplantation (Li JY et al. [2008] Nat Med 14: 501–503). These results indicate that for stem cell therapy to be effectual long term in D research needs to be initiated to investigate the spread to youn grafted neurons and determine strategies to resolve this issue. I would hope that advancement in the area of Adult Stem Cell research will make this possible in the near future.
I am finding the stem cell story is not so new. I did hear about a very young women stricken with metasticized spinal cancer who was treated at Sloan Kettering with grown out adult stem cells taken from her own bone marrow over fifteen years ago. She is now a successful professional with no trace of malignancy in her body. I also remember twenty five years ago in Canada I knew three terminal patients who underwent adjustments to the bone marrow transplant protocol that involved growing out their own bone marrow cells. One person enjoyed a year free from blood cancer and then relapsed but the other two lived. It is strange that when I go to Pub Med , Google Scholar or even the University library there is no trace of this research performed for “humanitarian reasons”
There is also a lot of interest in the London Project where stem cell trials are close to human trials for those with macular degeneration. Pfizer is quoted as expected to announce backing of stem cell therapy, apparently with joint labs in Cambridge Mass and Cambridge UK but on the Pfizer site I didn’t see this in place.
Individuals are reporting encouraging success for adult stem cell treatment where they are thier own donors particularly for orthopedic and cardiac applications. These treatments are largely privately funded. It would be great to see this in the mainstream covered by insurance and available for people regardless of income levels