Thursday, August 30, 2007

Identify language problems early on

Sarah Steedman, Louise Porteous

Language delay is one of the most common developmental problems seen in general paediatrics. Speech-language difficulties can have a considerable impact on a child’s development and learning. Language is the medium of education, it is how we learn about the world, interact with others, and express our thoughts and feelings.

Early identification of speech-language delay is important, because 90 per cent of brain growth takes place in the first three years of life, with the critical period for language development beginning prior to birth and waning in the fourth year of life. Therefore, the earlier problems are identified and managed, the better the outcomes.

Exact figures for language and speech disorders vary according to the definition and population used. However, there is a generally accepted range of between 3 and 10 per cent in preschool children. A smaller proportion has more severe and persistent problems.

Who is at risk?
The exact cause of speech-language difficulties is still unknown. However, being a boy is a significant risk factor! Overall, as with other developmental difficulties, boys are around three times more likely to have speech-language difficulties than girls.

A family history of speech-language difficulties is significant. The incidence in families with a history of specific language impairment is estimated at 20 to 40 per cent compared with around 4 per cent in the general population. There can also be reading or spelling difficulties in other family members.

Other risk factors include genetic disorders, eg, Down syndrome and sex chromosome disorders. Biological risks include in utero exposure to alcohol, ie, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and damage to motor pathways, eg, cerebral palsy. Children born prematurely have a higher incidence of speech-language problems, and cognitive skills will also affect a child’s ability to understand and use language.

There is still some uncertainty about the exact impact of chronic otitis media on speech-language development. Some studies suggest there is no compelling evidence for otitis media being associated with significant deficits in language development. Others believe, while otitis media is rarely the primary or sole cause of significant language impairment, it may be a substantial contributory factor.

Environmental and social factors can also have a significant effect. Children from economically deprived backgrounds are at significant risk of language delay. It is more common in families where there are several children, multiple births and higher levels of family stress, including parental mental health problems and in situations of neglect.


I Hear Trumpets... Trumpets in the Sky

August 30, 2007

imageThe shift for the mega-popular strip For Better or For Worse from real-time soap opera into a hybrid strip of frozen-in-time framing sequences around older runs of the feature will come sooner rather than later. Really sooner. Universal Press Syndicate has announced that the new format begins Monday, September 3.

That the strip's current format would end soon had been a rumor for a couple of years and an announced reality since last Winter. A September date for the shift had been bandied about for quite some time. Still, nothing had been 100 percent confirmed until this week. In fact, Johnston's recent talk about giving the controversial Anthony/Liz romance plot more space had led some folks -- myself included -- to believe that the strip would continue for at least a few weeks longer. Oddly, Johnston has continued to assert that the Anthony/Liz relationship needs more time to develop. Whether this makes it something she wants to do within the hybrid format, or if we're supposed to believe the cartoonist simply hasn't wrapped her mind around the forthcoming change or if it's supposed to indicate that tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday will cover an astonishing amount of ground, I couldn't pretend to know.

The first flashback will use Michael and his kids as a framing device and cover the romance between leads John and Elly.

Editor & Publisher has a lengthy article about the various issues around the shift and on Lynn Johnston in general, folding an older and informative piece about the switchover into its body.

Update: This will teach me to read all of my daily sources for links before posting and going back to bed. Brad McKay writes in to inform me that Alan Gardner at Daily Cartoonist has already solved the Anthony/Liz fate problem:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In a foreign land - life with aphasia

If you meet Christy Campbell when she's well-rested, it's not apparent that there's anything wrong with her. But if she's tired - and she tires easily - her speech starts to fall apart.

Two years ago, when she was only 31, Christy had a stroke that affected the left side of her brain. Initially, she was completely paralysed on her right side and couldn't speak or swallow.

"The doctors showed her parents and me her CT scan," says Christy's partner, Sean Standing. "There is this big, black hole in her brain."

Up until then, Christy had been vibrant, healthy and physically active. There was no family history of strokes or high blood pressure. The day before the stroke, Christy was at a conference in downtown Vancouver related to her job in Environment Canada's environmental assessment program. There she suffered a trans-ischemic attack, or TIA, a mini-stroke. For about 30 minutes, her right side was paralysed and she was unable to speak. But both functions came back and Christy took a taxi to her doctor's office and later went to Lions Gate Hospital for a CT scan that was normal.

The next morning, when Sean tried to wake her up, Christy's mouth was drooping. She couldn't sit up or talk. Christy ended up at Vancouver General Hospital and began to regain the use of her right side. But her speech was slow to return. A few weeks later, when she was transferred to G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre for six weeks of intensive physical and speech therapy, Christy could say only one word - Yes.

By the time Christy moved back to their North Vancouver condo, she could walk short distances. But she could only say about 10 words. She still couldn't say No. She couldn't say her name. She couldn't say 'help.'

She had to wait a few weeks before there was a space in the outpatient, speech-therapy program at Lions Gate Hospital. All the time, an invisible clock was ticking. Traditional wisdom is that stroke victims only improve for the first six months; whatever functions they regain within that period is all they're ever going to get. Christy and many others have proven it wrong. But that's what medical professionals tell people after strokes.

"You're left with this tick, tick, tick, tick for six months," says Sean. "You think every day, 'If I'm not helping her get better, I'm wasting seconds and it's taking away from her future.'"

Says Christy, "I kept saying to Sean, stop pushing me!"

At the hospital and at G.F. Strong, there was a seemingly daily dose of 'You should also be doing this . . . .' In the outpatient program, where she got a half-hour of speech therapy three times a week, Christy's speech continued to improve.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wired music: from PLOrk to ChucK and beyond

Wired music: from PLOrk to ChucK and beyond


As part of an hourlong feature on wired art, New Jersey Public Television’s State of the Arts will be broadcasting a piece tonight produced by Eric Schultz on the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, otherwise known as PLOrk.

The piece was actually recorded last year, shortly after PLOrk gave its world premiere performance, to much acclaim. So what have PLOrk cofounders Perry Cook and Dan Trueman been up to in the meantime?

Cook is making music with a lithophone originally created with sculptor Jonathan Shor for Quark Park. Drawing upon his digital music expertise, he also is researching an inexpensive way to screen patients for the risk of having a stroke and developing technologies to help those who suffer from aphasia.

Trueman has spent the last year as a Guggenheim fellow in part working on his Cyclotron, which he describes as a “tool for tweaking time” and “a visual interface for experimenting with rhythmic cycles.” Trueman invented his Cyclotron more than a decade ago. But during his sabbatical he decided to figure how to hook it up to ChucK, a new music programming language written by Ge Wang, who just finished his Ph.D. under Cook’s supervision and in the fall will join the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics as an assistant professor.

Last year Wang got high praise for ChucK from Linden Lab chief technology officer Cory Ondrejka (aka Cory Linden), who wrote in his blog that that he was blown away by ChucK when he came to Princeton to talk at the invitation of Ed Felten about Linden Lab’s 3-D virtual world Second Life.

By the way, the Educational Technologies Center at Princeton is building a campus on Second Life. Blogger Aleister Kronos — who recently got a sneak preview and tour from Princeton’s charming virtual tourguide, Persis Trilling — describes it on 3pointD, where you can take a peak at Nassau Hall’s virtual doppelganger. Just below is the Second Life version of Princeton’s Chancellor Green, where PLOrk gave a fabulous in-the-round performance last May. Surely PLOrk will be headlining on Princeton’s Second Life campus sometime soon.

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