Blog Archives

Secrets Unlocked Within the Autistic Mind

Patience. Patience. Patience. Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the gifts autism has given me. It may be true that I’m not good at eye contact or conversation, but have you noticed that I don’t lie, cheat at games, tattle on my classmates or pass judgment on other people? Also true that I probably won’t be the next Michael Jordan. But with my attention to fine detail and capacity for extraordinary focus, I might be the next Einstein. Or Mozart. Or Van Gogh.

– Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew 

Recently, there has been talk of the advantages of autism as research sheds light on the assets of this debated disability. Many autistic rights movements have sprung up over the years, stating that autism is not a disability but a different approach in thought.

In the past, research has emphasized on their incapabilities. These days, they are discovering that past research has been biased and unfair. The accounts that most of the autistic population are suffering from mental retardation are proven to be based on data from intelligence tests which “overestimate autism”.

A psychiatrist at the University of Montreal, Laurent Mottron, thinks that autism “is perhaps just a different way of looking at the world that should be celebrated rather than viewed as pathology.”

Intelligence tests, like the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), seem to highlight the abilities that autistic kids lack the most. For example, the WISC is a timed verbal test that constantly references on social knowledge. These types of tests will prove to be difficult as autistic kids are impaired in communication and social comprehension and are easily distracted by sensory input.

However, there are other intelligence tests that can fairly evaluate an autistic child, such as Raven’s Progressive Matrices and the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI). They asses the child’s ability to complete designs and patterns through nonverbal instructions.

Isabelle Soulieres, a researcher at Harvard University, has discovered a 30% leap when a group of autistic kids write the Raven’s test as opposed to WISC. Some kids were able to jump up by 70%. This includes the entire spectrum as both high and low-functioning autistic kids were able to score in the average percentile.

Getting down to the bigger picture, WISC is widely used among school. As a result, autistic kids are branded as slow and unable to learn when the fact is that they only learn in a different way. We are starting to realize that their potential lie in pattern recognition, logical reasoning and picking out irregularities in data or arguments.

 “It doesn’t mean that it’s easy for them in everyday life, or that it’s easy for their parents or teachers, but it shows that they have this reasoning potential, and maybe we have to start teaching them differently and stop making the assumption that they won’t learn.”

– Isabelle Soulieres

For more info, check out:

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids: Scientific American.


Magnetic Therapy Helps Stroke Patients

New theraputic treatment has significantly helped stroke patients recover their speech.

Brain Anatomy & Function

We all know that the brain is divided into a left and right hemisphere (and if you didn’t, you do now), the left hemisphere controls logic interpretation and is considered to be more involved with language, mathematics, abstraction and reasoning. The right hemisphere is responsible for “holistic” functioning (controlling body and soul as a whole) and is involved in spatial abilities, face recognition, visual imagery and music.

To put it simply, the left is logic and the right is arts.

However, there is much more divisions within the brain, each responsible for certain functions. I will just be giving a simple overview of the brainstem, cerebellum, frontal lobe, temporal lobe, occipital  lobe and parietal lobe.

At the back of the brain is the occipital lobe, this region of the brain processes all of the information that you see. It is responsible for visual recognition of shapes and colours. Any information collected by the eyes are delivered directly to opposite side of the occipital lobe. For example, the left eye sends its information to the right side of the lobe for visual interpretation.  Any damage in this lobe will cause visual deficits, such as loss of vision or inability for visual recognition.

The parietal lobe is behind the frontal lobe and is further divided into left and right. The lobe as a whole controls sensory information and body orientation. This lobe processes stimuli related to touch, pain, pressure and temperature. Damage to the right side causes visuospatial deficits (difficulty with finding your way around), while damage in the left causes inability to understand language.

The temporal lobe is located on both sides of the brain, near the ears which dominates their function. These lobes are in charge of auditory processing but are also responsible for memory storage and smell. The right lobe has authority over visual memory while left controls verbal memory. If the temporal lobe is damaged, hearing deficits will develop.

The frontal lobe is obviously located in the front of the brain as indicated in the name. This is where the more complex cognitive (mental) functions happens, such as planning, organizing, problem solving, selective attention, behavior and emotions. This region of the brain is separated into the prefrontal and premotor cortex by the central culcus. Damages causes inattentiveness, inability to concentrate, behavior disorders, difficulty in learning new information and lack of inhibition.

The prefrontal cortex determines your personality and controls your judgement.

The premotor cortex fine tunes the motor movements made by the motor area and are responsible for planning, selection and initiation of action.

The brainstem is considered the highway for fibres and nerves connecting the brain and the spinal cord. The brainstem is made up of 3 parts; pons, midbrain and medulla oblongata.

The pons connect the medulla and the brain, acting as a relay station. They are also a respiratory centre.

The midbrain contains the visual and auditory reflex centre.

The medulla oblongata contains the cardiac centre, respiratory centre and vasomotor centre. They also control reflexes like coughing, gagging, swallowing and vomiting.

The cerebellum, also known as the “little brain”, is responsible for motor coordination, adaptation to the environment and balance. If the little brain is damaged, there could be tremor, ataxia (lack of coordination) or nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eye).

The brain is a complex organ that regulates breathing, walking, controlls homeostasis (internal functioning) and development. Many people live their whole lives without understanding or giving credit to this evolutionary masterpiece.

Untangling the Brain

This video describes the Human Connectome Project, where scientists try to map the neurons and connections within the human brain.

Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot?

Plants have been waging a war with animals-and humans alike-for a long time. As herbivores and omnivores rely heavily on plants for nutrients and survival, they can easily live on without us. Due to this, many plants have developed techniques to rebel animals from eating them (e.g. vile smell, thorns, unappealing, difficult to reach, etc.). However, other plants will try to attract animals (e.g. colourful, sweet smell, etc)  to eat their fruits so as to spread their seeds and germinate.

So what makes hot peppers so special?

This peculiar fruit attracts animals through its bright colours and sweet scent. However, as we all know, these signs are misguiding as they fill our senses with a fiery explosion of pain.

The reason for this pain is due to the chemical, capsaicin, which attachs to receptors called vanilloids which are found at endings of trigeminal nerve (sensory and motor fibres in the face). These receptors are typically found inside the mouth and-when bound by capsaicin-creates a sensation of pain.

Hot Peppers

As researchers began studying on the reasons for this “backwards” phenomenon, they discovered that vanilloid receptors are found in all mammals but not birds.

In this article Bora Zivkovic talks about how:

 Back in 1960s, Dan Johnson had an interesting proposal he dubbed “directed deterrence” which suggested that some plants may make choices as to exactly which herbivores to attract and which to deter. 

Following this proposal, researchers found out that mammals tended to chew, crush or semi-digest the seeds. While birds are able to eat through to the seeds and keep them fertile even after digestion.

For more details, check out:

Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot? | A Blog Around The Clock, Scientific American Blog Network.

Is clinical neurology really so difficult?

According to this study published by The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Neurology has developed a reputation of being reserved for the elite, a difficult career path among difficult career paths. This study narrows down on the factors that could be responsible for the spread of this reputation. Below, the graphs A, B and D are based on a survey of 345 replies from 101 are medical students from St George’s Hospital, 85 medical students from the Royal Free Hospital , 100 SHOs (Senior House Officers-junior doctors undergoing training in a certain specialty), and 59 general practitioners. While graph C is based on 159 responses from general practitioners and SHOs.

Histograms showing questionnaire results based on 159 replies. Car, cardiology; End, endocrinology; Gas, gastroenterology; Geri, geriatric medicine; Neu, neurology; Res, respiratory medicine; Rhe, rheumatology.

In Graph A, they depicted the responses to the question of what their current level of knowledge was in the areas; cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, neurology, respiratory medicine, and rheumatology. They were given a chance to rate each area from 0-5. As you can see, Neurology was rated as one of the least known subjects.

0 = not known or other; 1 = little or none; 2 = some; 3 = moderate; 4 = fair; 5 = great.

In Graph B, they were asked to rate the difficulty of each subject from 0-5. As expected, Neurology was rated as the most difficult among the subjects.

0 = not known or other; 1 = very easy; 2 = quite easy; 3 = moderate; 4 = quite difficult; 5 = very difficult

Graph C is based on the responses of SHOs and general practitioners who were asked to rate there clinical confidence in diagnosing or performing surgery in each one of the areas from 0-5. Once again, Neurology was rated as the subject that doctors are least confident about.

1 = very uneasy; 2 = uneasy; 3 = averagely competent; 4 = confident; 5 = very confident.

However, in Graph D, when applicants were told to rate their interest from 0-5, 5 being the highest. Neurology turned out to be the 3rd most interested area of study.

As researchers dug deeper for the reasons of “neurophobia” (a fear of the neural sciences and clinical neurology held by medical students and doctors), they discovered that most of the applicants blamed poor teaching for the difficulty of the subject. They mention that the curriculum needs to emphasize on what is “simple, basic, straightforward, and important”.

Remember that this survey is based on how difficult neurology is FELT to be. It does not necessarily mean that students or doctors actually know less neurology, do worse in neurology questions in examinations, or handle neurology cases less adequately.

For more details on the study, check out the link below:

Is clinical neurology really so difficult? — Schon et al. 72 (5): 557 — Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry

Do any of you guys have any input on why neurology is percieved as so difficult?