National Autism Awareness Month

Five Facts about Autism (Plus Links to Stories and Articles You’ll Want to Read)


April is National Autism Awareness Month and chances are, you know of someone diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Did you know ASD is the fastest growing development disability, rising 10-17% every year? About every 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum (about 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls).

Unfortunately, there is no single medical test to detect autism since symptoms are vastly different between individuals. There are, however, characteristics that are particularly common, including sensory processing challenges, speech/language delays and impairments, weak social cognition, and self-esteem issues.

Since 2007 a simple questionnaire that asks parents about their children’s motor skills, playtime behavior, and responses to social cues, called the Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), has been used to screen children for autism between 18 and 24 months of age. According to researchers, the most promising tools that are being explored for diagnosing autism in the future include eye tracking, blood tests, brain imaging, and online tests.

Since autism is so complex and differs between every child, there are certain things that every parent should know about the disability:

  • Autism is a genetic disorder, not the result of improper parenting.
  • For a child with autism, behavior is a form of communication and occurs for a reason.
  • Communication comes in many forms, so be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation, or other signs that tell you something is wrong.
  • Social interactions may be difficult for the child.
  • Sensory overload is real. An ordinary environment to you may be overwhelming for someone with ASD.

To get a deeper understanding of real-life struggles of those with autism, as well as the challenges their loved ones face, check out this list of journalism pieces. Articles include the story of a father who discovered a surprising way to connect with his autistic son, the story of the first person diagnosed with autism, a look at dating and autism, and the riveting story of a massive state-wide search for a nonverbal eight-year-old autistic boy lost in an 80-acre state park.

The best thing you can do to help individuals or families impacted by ASD is to become educated, and Autism Awareness month offers many opportunities to learn more about ASD. And for help in improving the learning, reading, memory and attention skills of someone you love with autism, follow the link to find a LearningRx Center near you

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Award-Winning Science Journalist: Families Say Traditional Tutoring Didn’t Help, but LearningRx Made a “Major Difference”



Dan Hurley is the award-winning science journalist who, last year, wrote The New York Times article “The Brain Trainers” in which LearningRx was featured. His latest book, Smarter, has just been released. In the book, Hurley takes a look at the science and the methods associated with what he calls the “new field of intelligence research.” In the process, he devotes six pages to describing his visit to a LearningRx center and his conversations with various parents and students.

His observations are fascinating. After a couple paragraphs in which he points out the need for more published research (he also seems to find it odd that LearningRx is organized as a franchise, “like MacDonald’s”), Hurley dives into talking about two of LearningRx’s most important distinctives: the one-on-one training model, and the dramatic results experienced by LearningRx clients.

Hurley seems impressed with the one-on-one approach that LearningRx takes to brain training, observing that it offers definite advantages over digital products when it comes to motivating students and helping them persevere

But where this journalist really begins to shine is in telling the stories of the LearningRx parents and students he interviewed. He quotes parents saying they tried everything else under the sun, but nothing worked until LearningRx. He describes real-life gains, including making honor roll, better performance in marching band, increased confidence, and getting off ADHD medication. He tells the story of one teenager who, since LearningRx, got a job promotion and even landed his first girlfriend. He quotes another teen who says her grades shot up, her memory is better, and even tough classes are easier. He quotes a dad who says the cost of the program was a financial strain, but that it’s made a change in his son and that if it gives him a leg up in life, “you can’t put a price on that.”

Hurley also talks about the pre- and post-testing LearningRx does conducts on every student, and the fact that there is extensive pre- and post-results on more than 30,000 students. He also writes about Dr. Oliver Hill’s independent study of LearningRx results, and how those findings support the claims that LearningRx makes.

He adds that, searching online, he found a handful of complaints about us, but not that many, really, considering the number of franchises we have. He goes on to add, “But the families I spoke to all had positive stories, many of them insisting that traditional tutoring had been of little benefit but that the exercises practiced at LearningRx, as odd as they seemed, had made a major difference.”

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Beyond the Breakfast Table

Real Life and Reading Comprehension


When you read a newspaper article at the breakfast table then think, “What did I just read?” it’s annoying. But what if the same was true at work when you read an important document before a big meeting? Or when your boss asked for your opinion of written text on the spot? Surely you don’t want to have to read something three times while he looks on!

Now imagine your child (or teen) going through the same thing at school. They read much slower than their classmates, or read quickly but have no idea what they just read. This is a common problem – even among “good” readers — and it’s about weak reading comprehension. In fact, 37 percent of fourth graders tested at “below basic” in their reading skills and one out of four eighth graders is functionally illiterate!

So how can a smart kid be a good reader but have poor comprehension? It’s simple: the reading skills we’re taught at a very young age are more about decoding, that is, putting the sounds together to understand the words. But reading comprehension isn’t about learning HOW to read but rather WHAT you’ve read.

Luckily, there is help. LearningRx has just released a groundbreaking reading comprehension program called ComprehendRx. It targets the seven core skills needed for reading comprehension and students graduate the program reading faster and with stronger tools to grasp, analyze and retain content. Your child will dramatically improve their understanding, retention and application, which will help them in school, college, work—and even reading the newspaper at the breakfast table!

To learn more about ComprehendRx, click HERE

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LearningRx Announces New Reading Comprehension Program


We read for meaning. But for some kids (and even adults), reading comprehension is a struggle. 

For some, decoding the words on the page takes so much energy that fully comprehending the meaning of the words takes a back seat. For others, the meaning is grasped but not retained. In fact, research by the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that one out of four eighth grade students, when asked to read age-appropriate material, can’t understand what they just read.

After several years in development, LearningRx is releasing a groundbreaking reading comprehension program called ComprehendRx. ComprehendRx incorporates the research and personal brain training techniques that have made LearningRx the largest one-on-one brain training company in the world. ComprehendRx begins where typical reading programs (which focus on decoding) leave off, targeting seven core skills critical for reading comprehension. Students not only read faster, they have stronger tools to grasp, analyze and retain content. The result? Dramatically improved understanding, retention and application.

For readers who lack reading speed, who read well but can’t remember what they’ve read, or who have to read something more than once to grasp the meaning, ComprehendRx offers a proven, life changing solution. Click on the link to read more about how ComprehendRx improves reading comprehension.

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A Doorway to the Heart

Stare into Each Other’s Eyes to Fall (and Stay) In Love

Stare into Each Other's Eyes

Love at first sight? Thousands say it has happened to them, while skeptics just roll their eyes. But what if the adage “there’s more to it than meets the eye” is true about the connection between visual contact and romance?

Research studies show that locking eyes nourishes relational intimacy and is a dominant theme in couples falling in love in cultures across the world. Early theologian St. Augustine described the eyes as “the windows to the soul.” With deep, personal eye contact you are inviting another to look beyond your retinal lens into your thoughts and emotions.

The eyes are a central focus of poetry, music lyrics and prose through the ages. Irish poet Juliet or W.B. Yeats penned, “love comes in at the eye.” Shakespeare’s Romeo declared romantic affection as “a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes.” Those sparks you feel when looking into a love interest or partner’s eyes? Scientists today explain the sparks as your brain neurons firing in response to your positive emotions.

One study reveals that love is in the air when a man gazes longer than 8.2 seconds at a woman. (Women, on the other hand, held eye contact equally with men they found interesting and those they did not). Other research shows that a sustained eye connection signals the body’s natural “bonding hormone”, oxytocin. The chemical, which boosts mood and increases trust and empathy, is released when couples gaze into each other’s eyes.

To build and maintain intimacy with someone special, try this 2-3 minute practice:

            Find a quiet spot to focus solely on each other.

            • Lower the lights so the pupils expand.

            • Relax your facial muscles and gaze softly.

            • Breathe deeply. No talking is necessary.

            • Think about things you appreciate about your partner.

Perhaps actress Audrey Hepburn said it best: “The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.

If the eyes are indeed the doorway to the place where love resides, don’t be shy. Go ahead. Stare deeply into those baby blues (or greens, or hazels) belonging to the one you love. Or maybe belonging to the one you’d love to love.

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A Loving Touch

The Cuddle Hormone isn’t Just for Moms (And Bears). You Need It, Too.


Everyone knows not to go anywhere near a mama bear and her cubs. The maternal bond is truly fierce, and not just in animals! Human moms share a strong bond with their babies, too (so strong that particularly protective mothers are often compared to their furry animal counterparts!)

There is a biological reason for the ferocity of the maternal bond: oxytocin. During childbirth, the mother’s pituitary gland, which is a tiny almond sized gland towards the back of the brain, produces oxytocin, pumping it throughout the body. As the mother’s brain is flooded with oxytocin, a number of fascinating things happen. Oxytocin acts as a muscle contractor, speeding up labor. It plays a role in preparing the mother’s body to breastfeed. Finally, it fosters an emotional bond between mom and baby that is so strong, researchers say it actually dims the memory of the pain of childbirth.

Oxytocin has always been thought of as a childbirth hormone. But oxytocin is actually responsible for the sense of bonding in any relationship, not just the relationship between moms and their children. Even men produce oxytocin. In fact, oxytocin is referred to as the love or cuddle hormone because it is released during any type of physical touch. Believe it or not, even petting an animal can cause your body to produce the hormone!

If you’re not a new parent, how do you benefit when your body produces oxytocin? You’ll be glad to know that oxytocin lowers stress, brings down blood pressure, and reinforces feelings of love, trust and generosity. 

In honor of Valentine’s Day this month, naturally increase your levels of the love hormone with physical touch. Hugs and kisses are always a great idea, but even a rub on the back can boost your oxytocin production. And if you’re lacking in the “significant other” department, spend time petting an animal or even flipping through an old photo album and reminiscing about people you love. All these things can cause your “love hormone” meter to spike, nurturing the biological factor that brings us all together. 

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Could Your Eating Habits Be Affecting Your Brain?

This Is Your Brain on Junk Food

Junk Food

We’re not going to tell you junk food is bad for your body (you already know that).

We’re not even going to tell you junk food is bad for your brain (you probably figured as much). 

But what you might not know is how junk food is bad for your brain. Turns out, there’s actually quite a lot going on in that head of yours when you fuel your noggin with fatty, sugary foods.

For one thing, a new study suggests that a diet high in fat and sugar (for even a relatively short length of time) changes the chemical activity in the brain. After just six weeks of being fed a diet high in fat and sugar, mice showed chemical changes in the brain associated with depression. The mice also showed signs of anxiety, and higher levels of stress hormones, as well as higher levels of a molecule associated with patterns of reward and withdrawal.

Last year, another study linked eating foods high in trans fats with reduced brain performance and decreased brain volume!

According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, companies that manufacture food are already working to reduce the amounts of trans fats in food products. McDonalds, for example, stopped using trans fats to fry French fries a number of years ago.

Still, trans fats are so bad for your body and brain that the FDA is taking preliminary steps to further restrict or ban the sale of food containing trans fats.

In the meantime, what can you do? Do we even need to say it? Stop eating so much junk food.  Eat fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy grains instead. You’ve heard it before. But if you want to enjoy a healthy body and good brain performance as you continue to grow or age, it’s advice worth listening to.



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Classic Case of Christmas Brain

Want a Healthier Holiday Brain? Here are 5 Seasonal Pitfalls You Should Avoid

XmasThis time of year may be filled with Christmas cheer and holiday goodwill, but there are other seasonal factors that can have a less-than-pleasant impact on your brain. How can you keep your brain happy and healthy through the holidays? Here are five seasonal dangers and how you can avoid them:

1. Not Enough Sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects about 11 million people each year. Despite the colder weather, getting outside and into natural sunlight can help your mood. Taking vitamin D—known as “the sunshine vitamin”—and other supplements can also help beat those blues.

2. Too much food.  Let’s be honest, over-eating is a time-honored tradition at Christmas time. And while our holiday favorites are delicious, no one likes that groggy, full feeling hours after. To enjoy the holidays and be kind to your body and brain at the same time, treat your sweet tooth in moderation, choose beverages wisely to limit sugar and alcohol, if you eat out consider splitting a meal with someone, and try to manage your overall stress level so you’re not as drawn to the comfort food. Remembering these tips can help keep your energy high (and that top button on your jeans comfortably fastened).

3.Too much alcohol. Alcohol wreaks havoc with your brain in countless ways. If your holiday parties and gatherings include alcohol, make a plan. Set a drink limit for yourself and stick to it. If you find that difficult to do, think about creating new traditions by hosting or attending parties where alcohol isn’t served.  By avoiding binge drinking during the holidays (and throughout the year), you’ll stay safer, and your brain will be happier and healthier.

4.Too much time in front of the tube. Watching television during the holidays is enjoyable, but watching TV puts your brain waves into an autopilot mode that is highly suggestible (gee, do you think TV advertisers have figured that one out?). Some studies have even linked watching a lot of TV with attention and concentration issues. Playing board games with the family, going for walks, or spending time at the park are good alternatives that will allow you to have fun, get some fresh air, and keep your brain sharp.

5.Holiday Stress. Christmas time usually means family time, which can be nice, but can also mean an increase in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. What are some proven ways of managing stress? Exercise, meditation, laughter, and favorite music help, and don’t forget the common-sense practice of saying no to overcommitment. 

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Can Napping Resolve Some of Your Problems?

Fixing Painful Memories While You Sleep


When Todd was five, the neighbor’s cat went ballistic and gave him a really bad scratch. Twenty years later, Todd still steers clear of cats. In fact, areas of his brain involved in emotion and fear light up, and Todd starts to sweat and feel anxious, if someone even mentions cats

Can Todd train his brain to react differently? But now Todd has fallen in love with a woman who owns several cats and can’t imagine her life without her feline friends.

For years, people have sought relief from fearful or painful memories by exploring them in the safety of a psychologist’s office. There’s something about activating the regions of the brain involved in those memories—in settings where the anticipated outcome never materializes—that creates new associations. In other words, if Todd racks up enough scratch-free experiences talking about cats in the safety of a counselor’s office, seeing cats safely from a distance, or petting cats without consequence, the link Todd’s brain makes between cats and scratches will begin to weaken.

Scientists are figuring out a new way to desensitize the brain through these kinds of repeated, pain-free exposures. And they’re doing it during sleep. 

Researchers created fearful memories by delivering mild electric shocks to study participants at the same time the participants were shown pictures of faces and exposed to distinct scents, like lemon or mint. Pretty soon, all it took was seeing the pictures and smelling the scent and participants would break out in a slight sweat, their amygdalas on alert, anticipating the mild shock.

After training the brain to respond fearfully to certain images and smells, could researchers retrain the brain? Could they desensitize those memories? Create pain-free associations that would begin to diffuse the painful associations they had fostered? Even more intriguing, could they create pain-free associations while the participants were asleep?

They managed to do just that, and they accomplished it by having participants nap in the lab with electrodes on their scalps to monitor brain waves. During slow-wave sleep, when recent memories are most active, researchers repeatedly exposed the nappers to the same scents—lemon and mint—this time without any shocks.

At first, even while sleeping, participants responded the same way they had when they were awake, by sweating and with brain activity that indicated the same kind of negative anticipation. Before long, however, with repeated exposures, the volunteers began to show less negative reactions both in their bodies and their brains.

People who slept longer and received more “safe” exposures benefited the most from the treatment.

After waking up, participants continued to show decreased responses to the photos and scents, meaning the desensitization they demonstrated while sleeping stuck with them.

Will nap therapy replace talk therapy in the near future? Probably not. Although if the two approaches are ever combined, time spent on your psychologist’s couch might mean bringing along a pillow, as well.  

Is Your Teen's Texting Addiction Altering Their Brain?

Texting Alters Teen Brain Chemistry

texting vid

New data on teen texting is disturbing, to say the least. Over the past three years, teen texting is up 600%, with the average number of texts among teens hitting 3000 texts every month. Increasingly, doctors are treating teens for sleep disorders because one out of five teens wake up at night so they can text.

According to a report aired on ABC, doctors are describing the teen texting phenomenon as a physical addiction that can alter the brain.

Texting is addicting because the instant gratification of getting a text back floods the brain with dopamine, which is linked to pleasure and reward. In fact, the changes in brain chemistry are not unlike the changes that occur in the brain of someone addicted to drugs. Child neurologist Dr. Michael Seyffert explains that “Neuroimaging studies have shown that those kids who are texting have that area of the brain light up the same as an addict using heroin.”

You can watch the ABC report on texting here.  

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