Monday, June 25, 2012

Great Blog by Kevin Roberts on ADHD Camp

Training Your Dragons

We have just finished Day 1 of our Training Your Dragons Camp for ADHD boys (7-11).  The camp is rooted in scientific data that suggest that frequent rewarding of target behaviors in ADHD children produces significant, behavior-changing outcomes.  There is one staff member for every two campers.  Each staff member monitors the two boys under his or her tutelage throughout the day.  Every time the boy hits a target behavior, like listening to staff or waiting his turn, he is given a “dragon dollar,” a plastic gold doubloon.  This dragon currency can then be used to buy snacks from the treasure chest, or to purchase games and prizes.   We find that after only one day of this system, we do not have to chastise, criticize, or correct.  Flashing a coin serves to remind them that they are missing an opportunity.
We engage the boys in intense, adventure-oriented activities throughout the day.  We play games like sharks and minnows, capture the flag, kick ball, flag football, and go on frequent scavenger hunts and team-building exercises.  The boys are reminded that every activity affords them an opportunity for reward.  It is astonishing to see how weaving reward into the fabric of every activity and every decision creates behavioral consciousness, a certainty that every action is an opportunity to get something good.  This is a crucial chasm that we are bridging because ADHD people do not respond the same way to rewards as non-ADHD people.  ADHDers, especially children, generally choose a small, but immediate, short-term reward over a larger long-term one.  So, sitting in class and being attentive does lead to the long-term reward of higher grades, but telling a joke and making classmates laugh leads to immediate attention, reward, some of which is negative.  The ADHD child will usually follow the latter path.  This camp fills in the gap by giving an immediate reward for behaviors that are generally rewarded only in the long term.  By repeating this over the duration of the camp, and encouraging family members to follow suit, these behaviors become more firmly rooted.  We also offer monthly follow-up outings throughout the school year so that the learning takes hold and continues to blossom.
ADHD people learn differently.  This camp, which conceptualizes challenges in life as our “Dragons,” offers a learning system that works for ADHDers.  These children are not yelled at, shushed constantly, or marginalized, as they often are in school.  They realize they are capable of more successfully controlling their behavior.  This discovery makes them feel more confident and able to take on the challenges of school and life.  The lesson I take from this camp is that we can craft systems and structures that take into account the realities of the ADHD brain. We can help them succeed in a way that is in line with their true, not against it.
The camp is in its third year and was started by myself and Drew Yanke, a psychologist in private practice who brings enormous passion, playfulness, and power to the camps. He is a white hot champion of children who learn differently.  His wife, Kimber Bishop-Yanke, has been a source of inspiration, organization, and stability. Kimber is a powerful teacher and innovator in her own right, having created numerous self-esteem building workshops and camps for children, along with bully proofing.  I thank both Drew and Kimber for bringing this vision into reality and serving ADHD children.  We would like to take this camp to different areas and are open to partnerships and volunteers.  One last point, every one of our staffers also has ADHD.  They come out feeling more empowered about their own abilities as well.
Incidentally, a lot of the ideas we employ at the camp can be found in my recently released book. Here is the latest review.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Certain Personality Types Drawn To Facebook

Your personality type plays a role in how you interact with social networks, and can factor into how much time you spend on sites like Facebook and Twitter, what kind of information you post and how much you regret posting material that others may consider questionable. While research in the area is preliminary, future studies could be crucial for companies looking to target users who are most likely to comment on a brand page or recommend products to friends through social networks.
The findings of the most recent study in the field were recently published in the academic journal Computers in Human Behavior. While limited in scope - the study included 143 college students who completed both phases - researchers Kelly Moore and James C. McElroy said theirs was the first to make use of actual usage data.
The personality study disputed some findings of earlier studies, where researchers had relied on self-reported data from Facebook users. That allowed Moore and McElroy to analyze the actual content that users were posting and see which types of personalities did what when they went online.
Previous research had suggested that the Five Factor Model used to assess personality was the best predictor of Internet activity. The model covers five personality factors, including extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to new experiences. Moore and McElroy also factored in gender considerations (women tend to spend more time on social networks, post more photos and have more Facebook friends, while men tend to check them more often).
What they found is that personality played a much bigger factor in how people use social networks than previously thought. While personality only accounted for a 6% difference in self-reported time spent on Facebook, it accounted for a 14% variance in regret over Facebook posts and interactions, a 16% variance in postings about one’s self and a 41% variance in postings about others.

Emotional Stability, Personality and Facebook Use

The study confirmed previous research that showed people with less social stability reported spending more time on Facebook, while more emotionally stable and more introverted users primarily used Facebook to keep up with friends. The study also lent some credibility to the theory that introverts often use Facebook to make up for a lack of interpersonal communication.
Previous, self-reported studies had suggested that extroverts spent more time on Facebook and tended to post more personal posts - think of the dreaded “this is what I had for breakfast” status update. But Moore and McElroy turned that notion on its head. In fact, people who scored high in the agreeableness of the personality test tended to be the ones most likely to offer status updates about themselves.
Based on previous studies, the researchers also predicted that conscientious people would likely spend less time and have fewer friends on Facebook. The reasoning was that people with those personality characteristics believe Facebook will not drive efficiency or production.
The study, however, upended that notion, showing that scoring highly for conscientiousness in personality tests was not a reliable predictor of Facebook activity.

What It Means

Moore and McElroy warned that further research is needed and said future studies should work on developing a theoretical framework explaining why some people spend more time and energy on Facebook and social networks than others.
Advertisers are getting wise to the idea that, unlike traditional mediums, social media requires them to find influencers who can effectively make word-of-mouth recommendations for their products and brand. Future research in personality type may not only make it easier to find the people most likely to do this, but firms could develop ways to identify those people based on their social network posts.

Monday, June 11, 2012

ADD and the Seduction of Screen Time

The Seduction of the Screen

This blog is an interview with Kendra Wagner, who has devoted herself to helping ADD people succeed, especially in becoming better readers. This blog offers great insights into why ADDers have a penchant for the “screen,” and offers some great solutions on how to confront that.
How can we help ADD-ers become engaged with non-screen activities?
That is a long answer, and much of it ties in to the list of common-sense treatments for ADD that the experts have drawn up for us. We need to take care of our whole selves, we always hear. Screen time takes care of well, our need for retreat, and helps eye-hand coordination. Research shows little more than that for the positives. As ADD-ers we know we need train our brain to crave down time, to insert physical activity into our day, to take medication, supplements, or both. The “pull” of TV, movies, video games, online activities, and cell phones is especially strong for ADD-ers, because it is the novelty and newness factor is ever-present. You can switch channels in TV, fast forward in movies, switch levels in video games, and switch entire websites on the internet. Oh yes, and text several people at a time on phones. So for those of us who dread tedium or slower pacing, screens are very enticing.
What is a screen addiction?
A screen addiction is characterized by insatiability and also an inability to gauge your time spent online, or in front of a particular game or program. Screen addiction means that use of the screens are mood-altering and the addict is dependent on it—that they have an anxiety or identity crisis (no matter how small)when they try to stop using screens for a day or two.
How does screen addiction impact learning?
We take in a lot every moment through the eyes, more than more than a few decades ago, which is only part of how we learn. Kids in school in their average day take in a lot visually and auditorally but to really learn something we need more. Screens cannot take us there. Also, the rate in which kids in school process what is coming in needs to vary in pacing or rate.  Varied rates of processing are necessary because we are all individuals. Some kids need fast/slow/average pace, and some need all of that, with repeated exposure, depending on their own brain make-up, or the subject being learned.
Neurologically, how are we wired to learn?
The three ways we learn are:
Visual: through the eyes
Auditory: via the ears
Kinesthetic: through the skin, this includes touch, internal sensations, and hands-on experience.
As a culture we are not encouraging kinesthetic learning as much as we could be. A child who is watching the world of today sees people interacting with screens and concludes that is how to communicate, learn and to entertain oneself.
How do screens hijack the learning process?
Often screens with video games, TV shows, or movies, and many educational websites or software, have very fast moving images. The speed of the images does not mirror the pace that our human brains are wired to move or process. In the same way that pornography doesn’t mirror the natural pace of a relationship, video games do not mirror the natural pace of engaging with the world or learning something deeply. So then the child or adult addicted to screens grows to expect that pace to be how off screen life responds to them.
Children and teenagers can become frustrated with the steps and time required to develop mastery. They will ask “can’t I just go to another game?” when playing an educational game that requires mastering a subset of skills before moving on. In a video game you can always start over and often you are able to go to a level you are comfortable. There are even “cheat codes” that can be used to “fake” mastery.
Can you talk about frustration tolerance and screen addiction?
For adults, frustration tolerance is required for creating a personal change. For children, it’s required when learning a new social or academic skill. Frustration tolerance is a willingness to have small, micro failures or frustrations while keeping an end goal in mind. Kids and adults without long term gratification skills (AKA Frustration Tolerance) expect things to be instantaneous. They also lack “gray area” thinking and will assign rigid categories to themselves and others such as smart/dumb and then not want to keep going with effort once they have put themselves in these boxes.  I’ve noticed that my clients who have screen addictions don’t take real interpersonal risks.  Right, because in real life there is no “reset” button.
So what do you suggest?
We are in a world of screens so we don’t want to pretend they don’t exist. I suggest that parents have a good mix: provide an equivalent amount of face to face time that matches the screen time your children have. A four hour play date equals four hours of screen time, on the weekend. And I always suggest no video games during the school week. That honors the fact that school and homework are the child’s “job” and the weekend is their time off, so to speak. Also it is harder to get addicted when you have five days without it.
Research shows that kids learn best when screen exposure is short. An enormous part of learning, in both reading and in doing, from sports to medical school, involves making pictures in your head. Apraxia, an uncommon learning disability, and related disorders of language comprehension, is becoming more common because the part of the brain that creates images is “getting less exercise” in screen culture.
Visual processing (seeing and making sense of images) is different than generating (creating one’s own image based on imagination) processing. We know this from brain imaging research. So with screen over-use, that part of the brain is not going to the gym.
If we want to become an expert in anything or to feel we have a special skill, then we need to give our attention and a slower pace to that learning process. Screens are a tool in being a learner. They cannot substitute for mentors, concentrated time, or kinesthetic learning.
Kendra Wagner is a learning specialist in private practice in North Seattle, who primarily teaches children reading, writing, and thinking skills. She also consults in schools and advocates for children. Her specialty in ADD and Dyslexia grew out of her work in schools as a reading specialist and consultant, when she saw so many students being mislabeled, mistreated, and mis-instructed. She has a particular interest in how the brain develops, learns, and adapts to family and school environments.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Preventing Digital Burnout

5 Tips to Prevent Digital Burnout and Maintain Good Mental Health

The Internet's reach is so pervasive, it feels as though it has always been around. The reality is that the web is still in its infancy, and we don't really understand the risks it poses to our mental health. In fact, various experts, such as Larry D. Rosen, a psychologist and author of "iDisorder," believe that personal gadgets are making us mentally ill and are exacerbating other problems such as narcissism, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other mental health professionals have already identified disorders ranging from "Facebook depression" to "phantom vibration syndrome."
Realistically, most of us don't have the luxury of disconnecting from the Internet, particularly communication professionals whose work depends more and more on it. However, there are various things you can do to curtail the negative effects it may have and prevent digital burnout.

1. Disconnect Once a Week

Pick a day of the week where you can focus your attention 100 percent on "real life." Shut off your computers, tablets and, if you are courageous enough, your phone. This day should be about giving your brain time to slow down and rest -- constant stimulation is not only addictive, but exhausting. On this day, focus on being present on the now, and engage in physical activity. You could go on a hike or walk in the park, or enroll in an art class. The point is, do something with your body that doesn't involve electronic devices. (For more on taking a "Technology Sabbath," read this related report on MediaShift.)

2. Schedule Your Social Media Consumption

Social media is like a black hole and time warp. Once you're connected, it's very hard to get out, and you may find yourself wondering where the past three hours went. Limit the time you spend on social media by only accessing it at a predetermined time every day. For example, maybe you check it 30 minutes in the morning at 9:00 a.m., and 30 minutes in the afternoon at 4:00 p.m. If you find yourself too tempted to break your schedule, there are many tools to help you limit your social media consumption, such as a Firefox extension that blocks Facebook for 45 minutes each hour.

3. Pick Your Social Poisons

Some people think that if they're not on every social network that ever existed, they're going to miss out on "something." Not only is this far from the truth, you may be spreading yourself out thin and missing out on the best opportunities social media has to offer. Most importantly, you may be heading for a digital overload. Pick which networks are the most important for your business and personal goals, and stick to them. If you're going to add a network, then ensure you remove one, or reduce the time you spend in an already existing network.

4. Establish Tech Etiquette and Guidelines

This might be one of the most important things you can do for you and your family. Guidelines allow you to create boundaries between your real life and your online life. Last year, frustrated with my addiction with technology, my husband made a rule: Under no circumstances were electronic devices permitted in the bedroom. Not only has this rule enabled us to make our sleeping quarters more peaceful, but it has improved our ability to unwind and rest. Another guideline that has proved useful is preventing the usage of smartphones during dinner, whether at home or out with friends. Whatever guidelines you choose, make sure you enforce them and that you don't cheat.

5. Stop Multitasking

By now if you still believe that multitasking is possible, then you may not be as efficient and effective as you could be. Various studies have shown that not only is multitasking a myth, but it can slow you down. When trying to complete a task, shut off all forms of entertainment, close your email, and put your phone on vibrate. You may find this difficult to do at first, but it's just a matter of retraining your brain to stay focused on something over a long period of time.
Internet addiction poster photo by Michael Mandiberg on Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.
Sandra Ordonez is a Web Astronaut who has been navigating the web since 1997. She provides digital strategy and community management consultation to a variety of clients. Currently, she serves as senior digital strategist to, and DigitalUNYC. She also serves as external communication lead to Joomla and heads up the NYC chapter of Girls in Tech. She is also the creator of Virgins of NY. You can reach her via Twitter @collaboracion.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The D.S.M. Gets Addiction Right

The D.S.M. Gets Addiction Right

For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.

WHEN we say that someone is “addicted” to a behavior like gambling or eating or playing video games, what does that mean? Are such compulsions really akin to dependencies like drug and alcohol addiction — or is that just loose talk? 

This question arose recently after the committee writing the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.), the standard reference work for psychiatric illnesses, announced updated definitions of substance abuse and addiction, including a new category of “behavioral addictions.” At the moment, the only disorder featured in this new category is pathological gambling, but the suggestion is that other behavioral disorders will be added in due course. Internet addiction, for instance, was initially considered for inclusion but was relegated to an appendix (as was sex addiction) pending further research. 

Skeptics worry that such broad criteria for addiction will pathologize normal (if bad) behavior and lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Allen J. Frances, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University who has worked on the D.S.M., has said that the new definitions amount to “the medicalization of everyday behavior” and will create “false epidemics.” Health insurance companies are fretting that the new diagnostic criteria may cost the health care system hundreds of millions of dollars annually, as addiction diagnoses multiply. 

There is always potential for misuse when diagnostic criteria are expanded. But on the key scientific point, the D.S.M.’s critics are wrong. As anyone familiar with the history of the diagnosis of addiction can tell you, the D.S.M.’s changes accurately reflect our evolving understanding of what it means to be an addict. 

The concept of addiction has been changing and expanding for centuries. Initially, it wasn’t even a medical notion. In ancient Rome, “addiction” referred to a legal dependency: the bond of slavery that lenders imposed upon delinquent debtors. From the second century A.D. well into the 1800s, “addiction” described a disposition toward any number of obsessive behaviors, like excessive reading and writing or slavish devotion to a hobby. The term often implied a weakness of character or a moral failing. 

“Addiction” entered the medical lexicon only in the late 19th century, as a result of the over-prescription of opium and morphine by physicians. Here, the concept of addiction came to include the notion of an exogenous substance taken into the body. Starting in the early 20th century, another key factor in diagnosing addiction was the occurrence of physical withdrawal symptoms upon quitting the substance in question. 

This definition of addiction was not always carefully applied (it took years for alcohol and nicotine to be classified as addictive, despite their fitting the bill), nor did it turn out to be accurate. Consider marijuana: in the 1980s, when I was training to become a doctor, marijuana was considered not to be addictive because the smoker rarely developed physical symptoms upon stopping. We now know that for some users marijuana can be terribly addictive, but because clearance of the drug from the body’s fat cells takes weeks (instead of hours or days), physical withdrawal rarely occurs, though psychological withdrawal certainly can. 

Accordingly, most doctors have accepted changes to the definition of addiction, but many still maintain that only those people who compulsively consume an exogenous substance can be called addicts. Over the past several decades, however, a burgeoning body of scientific evidence has indicated that an exogenous substance is less important to addiction than is the disease process that the substance triggers in the brain — a process that disrupts the brain’s anatomical structure, chemical messaging system and other mechanisms responsible for governing thoughts and actions.
For example, since the early 1990s, the neuropsychologists Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson at the University of Michigan have studied the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives rise to feelings of craving. They have found that when you repeatedly take a substance like cocaine, your dopamine system becomes hyper-responsive, making the drug extremely difficult for the addicted brain to ignore. Though the drug itself plays a crucial role in starting this process, the changes in the brain persist long after an addict goes through withdrawal: drug-using cues and memories continue to elicit cravings even in addicts who have abstained for years. 

Furthermore, a team of scientists led by Nora Volkow at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to show that even when cocaine addicts merely watch videos of people using cocaine, dopamine levels increase in the part of their brains associated with habit and learning. Dr. Volkow’s group and other scientists have used PET scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate similar dopamine receptor derangements in the brains of drug addicts, compulsive gamblers and overeaters who are markedly obese. 

The conclusion to draw here is that though substances like cocaine are very effective at triggering changes in the brain that lead to addictive behavior and urges, they are not the only possible triggers: just about any deeply pleasurable activity — sex, eating, Internet use — has the potential to become addictive and destructive. 

Disease definitions change over time because of new scientific evidence. This is what has happened with addiction. We should embrace the new D.S.M. criteria and attack all the substances and behaviors that inspire addiction with effective therapies and support.
Howard Markel, a physician and a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, is the author of “An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Why is technology toxic to the mind of the autistic child?

Why Technology is Toxic for the ASD Brain
If we consider the relationship between technology and the autistic mind, we can see how the attention that is consumed through engagement with technology --  whether it be computer database searches (“research” on areas of special interest), repetitively watching YouTube videos, eBay shopping, video gaming, or searching for pornography – blocks the brain’s capacity to develop new mental processes which, in turn, undermines the possibility of remediating deficits in dynamic thinking and mindsight (insight + empathy).

Dr. Jane Healy, in her book The Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It, addresses the issue of neuroplasticity, attention and technology:

“Human brains arrive in the world with excess potential to make connections (synapses) between different types of neurons. As a youngster carries out certain types of activities, those connections are strengthened, whereas habits that don't get much stimulation or practice may lack a strong neural base. Repetition of an experience tends to "set" connections to make that particular form of learning more automatic …”

“Age-appropriate computer use may help establish some forms of connections, but inappropriate use may also build resistant habits that interfere with learning. Once set into the brains connectivity, such patterns are hard to break … Brains tend to become custom-tailored for skills that the environment promotes …”

“What kinds of connections will our children need most? I advocate giving them the widest repertoire possible so that they will be equipped to deal with multiple eventualities. A child with lopsided experiences is likely to end up with a lopsided brain.”

For those professionals who devote time to evaluating and treating children, teens, and young adults with ASD, the development of a lopsided brain is a reality and accounts for the failure to develop a wide variety of social, emotional, and cognitive competencies.

Ongoing use of computers, particularly Internet database searches and online gaming, produces intense and sustained states of pleasure, including euphoric experiences similar to the “high” associated with the use drugs.

The autistic child/teen -- who often feels overwhelmed by the complexity of social interaction and experiences pervasive alienation from typical peers -- can use the computer to escape into an endless variety of cyber fantasy worlds.