Karg Academy Comprehensive Disability Definitions (a work in progress!)

AD/HD:   Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neuro-developmental disorder involving the areas of the brain involved in regulating behavior, including the prefrontal cortex.  ADHD is characterized by a level of persistent impulsivity, hyperactivity, and/or inattention sufficient to disrupt everyday life that does not fluctuate with emotional states.  Divided into four category subtypes, ADHD can be: Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive (criteria include:  fidgeting, restlessness, climbing, running, interrupting or intruding, & difficulty with patience, waiting, sharing, or taking turns); Predominantly Inattentive (criteria include:  difficulty sustaining attention, listening, following directions or routines, organizing tasks, misplacing items, and distractibility); Combined Hyperactive/Impulsive and Inattentive (meeting both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive criteria); and Not Otherwise Specified/NOS (meeting an insufficient number of criteria to reach a full diagnosis). To be accurately diagnosed with the disorder, at least 6 out of the 9 criteria symptoms included in each subtype category must be demonstrated for at least 6 months to a degree that is significantly greater than that of typically developing children of the same age. Causal factors include genetic, neurological, and environmental components.  Genetically, one diagnosed parent can increase the risk of inheritance in their children by as much as 50%, siblings of diagnosed children are 5 times more likely to develop the disorder, and as many as 80% of identical twins share the diagnosis of ADHD. Environmentally, prenatal exposure to toxic substances (tobacco, alcohol, lead) and/or specific damage to the executive functioning areas of the brain can increase the risk of ADHD.  Neurologically, overproduction of the neurotransmitter "dopamine" in the prefrontal regions of the brain results in the inability to control or inhibit responses; & an increased number of dopamine receptors in males may be the reason boys are diagnosed with ADHD almost 4 times more often than girls.

AGITATION:  a clinical state of extreme emotional disturbance in bipolar disorder, occurring during both manic and depressive episodes, that involves non-productive, repetitive physical actions (restlessness, pulling or rubbing on hair, skin, or clothing, changing positions, pacing, fidgeting, unusual throat-nose-mouth noises, or other such compulsive motor activities) accompanied by emotional outbursts or inner tension (racing thoughts or speech, yelling, crying, hallucinations, guilt, frustration, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, confusion,uncharacteristic language, morbid or suicidal ideation), increased energy or strength, marked under- or over-sensitivity to pain, and a significant lack of safety awareness.

ANOREXIA:  an eating disorder involving significantly reduced body weight (at least 15% below normal body weight), a distorted body image, an obsessive fear of gaining weight or being fat, and extended menstrual cycle disruption (amenorrhea) typically manifesting during early adolescence in approximately 4% of middle to upper middle class Caucasian women, or about 1 out of every 100 teenage girls.  Neurological factors suggested by anorexia studies have included genetic components, hypothalamus dysfunction, neurotransmitter imbalance, serotonin disturbances, and/or reduced blood flow to the temporal lobes.  Psychological factors suggested have included high levels of anxiety and depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, personality disorders, mood disorders, childhood abuse, poor self image, and a possible link to autism. 

APGAR:  the method to quickly evaluate the health of newborn children immediately after childbirth developed in 1952 by anesthesiologist, Virginia Apgar, involving a simple scoring system (on a scale of 0-2, resulting in an APGAR score ranging from 0-10) of the five criteria making up the APGAR mnemonic acronym: Activity, Pulse, Grimace, Appearance, and Respiration.

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY (AT):  an "Assistive Technology Device" can be any item, piece of equipment, or product system – excluding surgically implanted medical devices -- that can be used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability (ie service animals, wheel chairs, voice recognition software, FM systems, etc., etc..).  As such, Assistive Technology Devices are the tools used to compensate for any student disability that interferes with or denies access to the general curriculum and activities of daily living, empowering independence in those students in performing functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.  "Universal Access Assistive Technology" can describe any product or system that is designed to benefit the entire population (ie:  dropped curbs at street crossings = increased maneuverability of any type of mobility device with wheels, including wheel chairs, infant/toddler strollers, shopping carts and wheeled briefcases and luggage).  An "Assistive Technology Service" is any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.  State and Federal regulations for assistive technology in special education dictate that the public school district assess the student’s AT needs, acquire the necessary AT devices, coordinate the appropriate AT use in every area of the student's educational environment, and provide the necessary training for the student, the student’s family, and the appropriate school personnel - including teachers and other service providers -- to ensure the AT device is being used effectively.

ASPERGER SYNDROME:   a neuro-developmental disorder involving the left hemisphere of the brain included in the category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs) or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) that was first described in 1944 by Austrian pediatrician Dr Hans Asperger.  Almost always diagnosed after the age of 3, Aspergers is characterized by qualitative impairments in social interaction, social communication, abstract imagination, sensory processing, and executive functioning accompanied by a significant intolerance to change, obsessive/inflexible interests, unusual speech patterns, delayed motor development and a compulsive need for perfection, despite normal to advanced cognitive and language development.  Although they share the same diagnostic category and similar criteria, Aspergers differs from Autism both genetically and neurologically.  Genetically, children with Aspergers are more likely to have relatives with depression and schizophrenia.  Neurologically, Aspergers is defined more by abnormal brain function than abnormal brain growth, with reduced frontal lobe activity noted during tasks involving social judgment and emotional expression & abnormal levels of specific proteins similar to those found in obsessive/compulsive disorders. Boys are diagnosed with Asperger’s at a rate almost 4 times greater than girls, and twin studies have suggested a further genetic component.  

AUTISM:  a neuro-developmental disorder involving a pattern of deficits indicative of a significant left hemisphere dysfunction included in the category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs) or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). The symptoms of Autism can begin as early as birth, are always present before the age of 3, and vary widely from person to person.  Symptoms are characterized by qualitative impairments in social interaction, social communication, abstract imagination, sensory processing, and executive functioning accompanied by a significant intolerance to change, obsessive/inflexible interests and attachments, unusual speech patterns, and significantly delayed motor, cognitive and language development.  Autism affects all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic levels, with boys being diagnosed at a rate approximately 4 times greater than girls.  Suggested causal factors for Autism include genetic, environmental, and neurological components.  Genetically, one diagnosed sibling increases the risk of a second sibling developing Autism from 1 in 500 to 1 in 20; two diagnosed siblings increases the risk of a third sibling developing Autism to 1 in 3; and if one identical twin is autistic, there's a 90% chance that the other twin will also have the disorder.  Genetic mutations can be inherited or spontaneous, with placental growth pattern abnormalities often the first indicators of the neurological growth pattern abnormalities that are so common to this disorder.  Preterm births (<33 weeks) and low birth weights (<5.5lbs) seem to be the only factors increasing the risk of Autism more for girls than boys.  Environmentally, pre- and post- natal exposure to toxins (including mercury and artificial sweeteners) and food allergies (especially wheat & dairy) are thought to increase the severity of symptoms; as have vitamin and nutritional deficiencies from gastrointestinal mal-absorption, viral infections, and immune system deficiencies.  Increased age of the father and certain psychiatric disorders diagnosed in the mother have also been suggested to increase the risk of Autism.    Neurological components include abnormalities in pre- and post-natal brain growth, structure, and function (especially involving the cerebral cortex and the amygdala), and metabolic imbalances.


BIPOLAR DISORDER: a neurological disorder involving the cerebral cortex and the limbic system of the brain that causes unusual patterns and levels of mood, energy, and activity that significantly disrupt daily activities. Causal factors include genetic, neurological, and environmental components, with specific stressors often responsible for triggering latent symptoms.  Genetically, about 50% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have been found to have at least one family member diagnosed with some type of mood disorder; one parent diagnosed with bipolar disorder can increase the risk of inheritance by as much as 25%; and identical twins are 8 times more likely to share bipolar disorder than fraternal twins.  Neurologically both specific and related levels of neurotransmitters (especially norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin) are indicated in the progression of bipolar disorder, as are increased sensitivities of the neuro-receptors of nerve cells and overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol.  Environmental factors act primarily as triggers for latent genetic or neurological predispositions for bipolar disorder, with significant life stressors, altered health habits, alcohol or drug abuse, hormonal imbalances, and certain medications triggering the it’s onset.  


CENTRAL AUDITORY PROCESSING DISORDER (CAPD):  a neuro-developmental disorder involving the central nervous system and the speech/auditory processing centers in the left temporal lobe of the brain that has a direct effect on the ability of the brain to process auditory information.  Unfavorable acoustic environments and competing background noise significantly increase the negative effects of CAPD on receptive language comprehension, expressive language production, and learning.  Causal factors include genetic, environmental, and neurological components impacting the development or maturation of the central auditory pathway, such as pre-term births, low birth weights, traumatic and acquired brain injuries, viral encephalitis, pre and post natal exposure to environmental toxins (especially cigarette smoke and alcohol), Lyme disease, and or pre- or post-natal anoxia.


CT SCAN:   Computed Axial Tomography Scans (CT scans) use a rotating x-ray device to create detailed cross-sectional images (or slices) the area being scanned, to be used in identifying neurological injuries, conditions and diseases, and determining the progress of a previously diagnosed disease.


DSM-IV (DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL OF MENTAL DISORDERS) the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association and utilized by mental health professionals that contains a listing of psychiatric disorders and their diagnostic codes accompanied by a set of diagnostic criteria and information about the disorder, such as associated features, prevalence, familial patterns, age-, culture- and gender-specific features, and differential diagnosis.   No information about treatment or presumed etiology is included. 

DEPRESSION:  a neurological disorder involving a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters in the cerebral cortex and the limbic system of the brain that causes excessively low levels of mood, energy, and activity that significantly interfere with daily activities. Otherwise known as Major Depressive Disorder, the diagnosis this disorder requires at least five of the criteria symptoms (fatigue, lack of energy, restlessness, agitation, irritability, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, disturbed sleep and eating patterns, feelings of anger, inadequacy, discouragement, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, morbid thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, and anhedonia - a marked decrease in interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities) experienced every day for at least two weeks.  Severe episodes can include psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, delusions, or hallucinations.  Depression affects up to 5% of men and women of all ages, races, and economic levels, however it is more often diagnosed in women.  There are several subtypes to this disorder, including Seasonal Affective Disorder (the recurrence of the symptoms during certain seasons), Postpartum Depression (occurring within the first year after giving birth) and Dysthymia (chronic depression with often less severe symptoms lasting nearly every day for at least 2 years)

DYNAMIC THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT:  In an extension of the nature vs nurture debate, the Dynamic Theory of Development postulates that neurological development is determined just as much environmental experience as it is by genetic predisposition.  To clarify, this theory describes the process or evolution of development to be dependent on the neurological stimulation created by "active" or "dynamic" interaction with a specific environment; that in turn encourages or enhances the neurological development of only those specific skills necessary to succeed in that specific environment.   This process of selective or stimulated development is now being used to enhance the development of children with neuro-developmental disabilities, by offering planned, interactive academic challenges and social experiences specifically designed to stimulate the neurological development of the functional skills necessary for academic and social success, with planned "practice sessions" to ensure retention and maintenance of the newly developed skills and encourage "carry over" to other areas of development and other environments.


DYSLEXIA a neurological learning disability involving specific dysfunction in the left hemisphere of the brain -- specifically those areas critical for translating visual and auditory information into understandable language -- often accompanied by neurological efforts to compensate from less efficient systems in the right hemisphere.  Also known as Developmental Reading Disorder (DRD), Dyslexia is the most commonly diagnosed childhood learning disability, affecting up to 80% of school aged children.  Dyslexia is diagnosed when children with otherwise normal vision, hearing, and intelligence have specific difficulty interpreting the spoken and written components of language, despite an advanced capacity for abstract thought and often superior comprehension of multi-dimensional concepts and complex ideas.   Symptoms of Dyslexia can include significantly below age level reading; difficulty with processing rapid or complicated speech and/or multi-step directions; difficulty with sequencing, organization, spelling, decoding, rhyming, letter sound relationships, contextual cues, calculation; and letter/number reversals past the age of 8.  Dyslexia can also include the inability to effectively translate thought into written language and/or correctly sequence written symbols (numbers/letters).  Dyslexia affects all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic levels, with boys being diagnosed more often than girls.  Causal factors include genetic and neurological components, though environmental factors have been shown to exacerbate the severity of symptoms.  Genetically, one parent diagnosed with Dyslexia can increase the risk of inheritance by as much as 50%, while one diagnosed sibling can increase the risk of another sibling being diagnosed with the disorder by as much as 60%; and identical twins 80% more likely to share the diagnosis.  Neurologically, dyslexic brains have been found to have specific structural differences in the left hemisphere.  Dyslexic brains also have a tendency for the size of the dominant hemisphere of the brain to be either equal or smaller in comparison to the non-dominant hemisphere; while the dominant hemisphere of the typical brain is usually larger than the non-dominant hemisphere.


DYSPRAXIA:   a neuro-developmental disorder involving the motor cortex, cerebellum, and vestibular system of the brain characterized by serious impairments in the ability to use visual spatial and sensory motor information to organize, plan, initiate, and execute purposeful movement.  The Dyspraxic brain is unable to process information effectively, resulting in inefficient or incomplete transmission of the neural messages traveling from the brain to the body and back again.  Important to note is that this disorder effects both ideation praxis (the thinking, organizing, and planning of a sequence of coordinated movements to purposely achieve a specific goal) and motor praxis (the initiation, maintenance, and termination of the planned purposeful movement toward achieving the known identified goal).  The inability to organize functional movement to achieve a predetermined purpose then adversely impedes the acquisition of new skills.  Also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), Perceptual-Motor Disorder, and Motor Learning Disorder (& previously termed Clumsy Child Syndrome or Minimal Brain Damage) Dyspraxia can affect any area of development - physical, intellectual, emotional, social, language, and sensory - significantly interfering with activities of daily living and impairing the normal process of learning despite normal to often advanced cognitive development-  and thus is included in the category of Specific Learning Disabilities.  Dyspraxia is not a unitary disorder (all affected sharing a common set of symptoms), instead affecting each person to different degrees individually at different ages and stages of development. It is also inconsistent, in that symptoms may be severe one day but minimal the next.  Clinical symptoms indicate deficient or delayed neuro-motor development, including a general unsteadiness or shaking, the occurrence of significantly elevated "active" muscle tones despite normal "at rest" muscle tones, awkward styles of movement, poor coordination, unusual strategies for performing motor tasks, perceptual-motor difficulties and motor learning deficits not due to an otherwise recognized medical condition or pervasive developmental disorder.  Prevalence of some degree of Dyspraxia is found in 10-20% of the population; while approximately 2% demonstrate more severe characteristics of the disorder.  Four out of every 5 children diagnosed with Dyspraxia are boys.  Causal factors are quite similar to ADHD, and include genetic and neurological components.  Environmental and emotional stressors significantly exacerbate symptoms.

EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT:  most often a licensed teacher or therapist with a graduate degree in education, who focuses their efforts on accurately interpreting state and federal special education regulations and researching the most effective evidence-based teaching methods, supports, services and assistive technology to be used in developing appropriate individualized education programs and placements for children with disabilities.  Educational consultants also create and conduct professional development workshops and training for parents and teachers; participate in education committees and conferences; monitor progress; and administer Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs); all in the interest of  promoting the intellectual, social, and functional well being of students with disabilities.


EEG:   ElectroEncephaloGraphs (EEGs) document abnormal electrical brain wave activity or patterns in the cerebral hemispheres that can be used to identify neurological dysfunction.


ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOMMODATIONS:   physical devices or physical changes to the educational environment specifically designed to improve the inclusion, independence and productivity of students with disabilities.  Environmental Accommodations can include changes in space (size of classroom, arrangement of equipment and supplies, number of children), position (proximity to teacher or chalkboard, type of seating or support), and/or environmental stimulation (reduced or increased auditory and/or visual information), as well as the use of assistive technology devices to increase the student’s access and participation in the general curriculum. 

EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING:  governed by the Cerebral Cortex -- the “command and control” center of the brain -- executive functioning involves the higher order processes of the brain, including but not limited to impulse control, decision making, planning and executing movement, regulating emotion, prioritizing, sequencing, establishing goals, monitoring progress, paying attention, remembering details, beginning, starting and completing tasks, strategizing, and problem solving.


504 PLAN: The rights of students with disabilities who need environmental accommodations to succeed in their Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) are covered under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and require a 504 Plan.  504 Plans are written plans developed by the district 504 committee, including the parents of the student for whom the 504 Plan is written.  They identify the student’s specific disabilities and the specific accommodations that will be implemented by the school to address the disabilities.  504 Plans are updated at least annually.  The district 504 coordinator is responsible for contacting all of the school staff involved in the implementation of the specific disability accommodations for each student with a 504 plan.

GRANDIOSITY: an exaggerated sense of superiority in importance, power, knowledge or identity, often with religious overtones often experienced by those in a manic episode.

HYPERLEXIA:  a neuro-developmental disorder involving the left hemisphere of the brain characterized by an almost spontaneous and exceedingly advanced ability to decode or read words with little or no formal instruction or reading comprehension, an intense fascination with letters or numbers, and unusually strong auditory and visual memory accompanied by marked deficits in sensory processing, verbal and non verbal communication, language acquisition, abstract comprehension, and social interaction.  Children with hyperlexia demonstrate many of the symptoms often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders, including ritualized, repetitive self stimulatory behaviors, unusual resistance to change, difficulty with transitions, echolalia, and unusual and intense phobias and anxieties.  Causal factors include genetic and neurological components, though environmental factors can exacerbate the severity of symptoms.  Genetically, twin studies have suggested a possible link to high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders in some variants of Hyperlexia.  Neurologically, some studies have shown higher levels of activity have been noted in the left hemisphere of Hyperlexic brains, while others studies have suggestive that Hyperlexia may be the true opposite of Dyslexia.

HYPERSEXUALITY: a symptom of bipolar mania characterized by obsessive thoughts about sex often accompanied by compulsively seeking and/or engaging in sexual activity to the point of addictive behaviors, or neglecting important social, occupational or recreational activities in favor of continual sexual activity despite the negative consequences involved, including loss of health, job, marriage, or freedom.


IEP:  The rights of students with disabilities who need specialized instructional modifications to the general curriculum as well as environmental accommodations to succeed in their Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and require an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).   IEPs are written plans developed by the district IEP TEAM, including the parents of the student with the disability for whom the IEP is written.  They are more involved than 504 Plans because in addition to the student’s disabilities and the environmental accommodations, they have to identify the specific instructional modifications to the general curriculum that will be implemented to address the disability, and the specific special/regular educator or service provider responsible for implementing each of the environmental accommodations and instructional modifications included in the IEP.  IEPs are updated annually as well.  It is the responsibility of the district special and regular educators, administrators, and service providers to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the provisions of each IEP for each of their students with disabilities throughout the school year. 

IEP TEAM:  IDEA Regulations for Special Education define Individualized Education Program (IEP) TEAM as a group of individuals (including the parents, regular and special education teachers, a representative of the district knowledgeable about the district resources and qualified to supervise the provision of special education services, individuals who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, and at the discretion of the parents any other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child) who are responsible for developing, reviewing, or revising an IEP for a child with a disability.

INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION (IEE): The United States Code of Federal Regulations for Special Education defines an independent educational evaluation as "an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.” (34 C.F.R. 300.503)

INSTRUCTIONAL MODIFICATIONS:  a change in instructional routine, method, or approach specifically designed to compensate for cognitive skills or abilities that an individual lacks with the goal of improving the inclusion, independence and productivity of students with disabilities.  Instructional modifications can include but are not limited to: calculators, spell checking or grammar correcting software, reduced assignments, graphic organizers, study guides, digitally recorded lessons, tutoring, and the use of concept integrity reading material presented at a reduced level of reading difficulty.


INVISIBLE DISABILITIES: The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) refers to neuro-developmental disabilities such as AD/HD, Dyslexia, and Asperger’s Syndrome as "invisible disabilities.” Symptoms or characteristics of “invisible disabilities” are often very subtle or can appear very similar to those of other types of disabilities, making accurate identification difficult.  Neuropsychological assessments are necessary to identify any significant deficits of attention, reasoning, processing, memory, communication, and coordination.

JAUNDICE: a condition in 50-60% of all newborn babies, and more often with prematurely born babies, characterized by yellowish discoloration of the skin and conjunctival membranes of the eyes caused by the inability of the newborn liver to sufficiently filter bilirubin out of the blood.  Normally jaundice is resolved quickly as the newborn liver adjusts to the task of filtering the blood, but excessive bilirubin levels can cause permanent damage to the nervous system and very rarely can result in a condition called kernicterus, which can result in deafness, delayed development, or a form of cerebral palsy.

LANGUAGE PRAGMATICS: the ability to understand and use the rules of social language appropriately and successfully in social situations.  The social use of language is divided into three main categories:  when and how to use language for specific purposes (ie:  greeting, providing information, giving directions, making requests); when and how to change language to meet personal or situational needs (ie: formal, informal, age appropriate, respectful, or protective language); and when and how to follow the rules for conversation (ie: taking turns, introducing topics, staying on topic, verbal & non-verbal communication, personal space, facial expressions, and eye contact).


LEARNING DISABILITY:  a disorder characterized by an inability to process and store information caused by specific areas of neurological dysfunction and/or an inability of the brain to form new connections and generate new brain cells in response to experience and learning. Learning disabilities are usually divided into respective areas of processing:  Motor disorders (Dyspraxia), Math disorders (Dyscalculia), Written and Spoken Language disorders (Dyslexia), and Writing disorders (Dysgraphia), as well as Sensory Processing Disorders, Auditory Processing Disorders, and Visual Processing Disorders.    


MRI:   Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnetic fields and radio frequency pulses to produce detailed pictures of the different soft tissues of the body, creating much higher resolutions and much clearer images than are possible from X-rays and CT Scans.


MANIA:  the manic phase of bipolar disorder during which chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the cerebral cortex and the limbic system of the brain cause excessively high levels of mood, energy, and activity that significantly interfere with daily activities.  Mania is characterized by physical hyperactivity, highly disorganized thoughts and behaviors, and abnormally elevated states of mood, arousal, and energy levels, with rapid speech, hypersexuality, euphoria, impulsiveness, grandiosity, and an obsessive interest in completing egocentric, goal-directed activities with very little thought or consideration for negative consequences, and therefore very little restraint exercised.  Racing thoughts can cause excessive distractibility and preoccupation with seemingly trivial or unimportant stimuli, which makes keeping track of time difficult, adding to the decreased ability or need for sleep. 


MIDLINE CROSSING: If you imagine the ‘midline’ as a straight line down the center of your body dividing the right side from the left, then “crossing the midline” means extending your reach or vision from one side of the body into the space of the other side.   Crossing the midline requires effective Bilateral Coordination skills (the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time) and Cross-Lateral Motion skills (the ability to move opposing limbs --  left arm and right leg or  right arm and left leg -- at the same time). Children who experience difficulty with crossing the midline of their body often have trouble with reading and writing.

MOOD SWINGS:  the frequent and intense fluctuations of mood from mania to depression common to bipolar disorders


NEURO-DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS:   any disability that results from delayed or compromised growth and development of the brain or central nervous system, and can have numerous causes, including genetic and congenital disorders, metabolic disease, immune system disorders, nutritional factors, environmental toxins, and/or acquired or traumatic neurological damage.  Early identification of neuro-developmental disorders is essential for early intervention to prevent or limit sustained impact on intellectual and functional capacity. 


NEUROLOGIST:  a Neurologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who is board certified in neurology, a specialty field of medicine. Neurologists study the structural and physiological aspects of brain injury, brain damage, and brain disease, and utilize a pharmacological regimen of treatment to address the functional impact of such neurological conditions.

NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST:  a Neuropsychologist has a doctoral degree in highly specialized disciplines of psychology (Psy.D.) or philosophy (Ph.D.).  Neuropsychologists are licensed to provide clinical and diagnostic opinions regarding the presence, scope, and treatment of cognitive and behavioral disorders and mental illness that result from  neurological injury, disease, or dysfunction in relation to short and long-term memory functioning, verbal and non-verbal problem-solving and reasoning abilities, attention span and orientation to time, place, and space, expressive and receptive language function, visual-motor and sensory-motor coordination, and the ability to plan, abstract, and synthesize information in all sensory modalities

NONVERBAL LEARNING DISORDER (NLD/NVLD): a neuro-developmental disorder involving the right hemisphere of the brain characterized by advanced auditory processing skills and verbal IQs in comparison to marked deficits in visual processing, executive functioning,  social interaction and communication, sensory processing, motor coordination, and fine and gross motor development that significantly impair academic performance, social functioning, and emotional well-being.  In comparison, nonverbal learning disorders seem to be diagnosed much less frequently than the language based learning disabilities, and also seem to be diagnosed more often in girls than boys. Causal factors include genetic and neurological components, though environmental factors can exacerbate the severity of symptoms.  Genetically, family studies support a possible genetic link with NLD.  Neurologically, studies have indicated both damage to the right hemisphere and insufficient or dysfunctional white matter resulting in inefficient communication between the right and left cerebral hemispheres, with the severity of symptoms relative to the amount of damage or dysfunction.

OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD):  a neurological disorder involving a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain (specifically serotonin) characterized by recurrent, unwanted, anxiety producing thought patterns that can only be controlled by performing repetitive, ritualistic behaviors (compulsions) that consume both time and concentration to the point of disrupting normal activities of daily life. Unfortunately, relief from the obsessive thought patterns only lasts as long as the compulsive behaviors are being performed.  Obsessions and compulsions often center on themes, the most common of which are fear of contamination, the need for order and symmetry, and the preoccupation with sex, religion, or aggressive/horrific acts.  OCD sufferers often recognize their thoughts and subsequent actions as irrational, increasing their anxiety and perpetuating the cycle.  More than 2% of the U.S. population suffers from OCD, making it more prevalent than both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Early onset Obsessive-compulsive disorder often begins around the age of 10, while adult onset OCD typically begins around the age of 21. Causal factors include genetic and neurological components, although symptoms can be triggered or exacerbated by environmental stressors.  Genetically, familial and twin studies have suggested an increased risk of OCD with diagnosed parents, siblings or other family members.  Neurologically OCD brains often have significantly less white matter beneath the cerebral cortex than normal brains, suggesting a widely distributed brain abnormality resulting in less intracranial communication.  OCD brains also exhibit increased rates of metabolic activity in direct proportion to the severity of the disorder in the frontal lobe and the orbital cortex (the worry center of the brain). The serotonin deficiency has been supported by the success of OCD medications that enhance the action of serotonin. 

PANIC DISORDER:  Panic disorders involve panic attacks, or a feeling of sudden terror accompanied by physical sensations such as a pounding heart, sweating, nausea, chest pain or compression, and feelings of faintness or dizziness. If left untreated panic disorders can lead to a pattern of avoidance of places or situations where panic attacks have occurred, leading to elective isolation and/or agoraphobia. Panic disorder is one of the most treatable forms of anxiety disorders, responding effectively to medications and psychotherapy.

PERVASIVE DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDER (PDDs): The diagnostic category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), also known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), refers to a group of neuro-developmental disorders involving a pattern of deficits indicative of a significant left hemisphere dysfunction.  Symptoms vary widely from person to person, are usually present before the age of three, and are most often characterized by qualitative impairments in social interaction, social communication, abstract imagination, sensory processing, motor development and executive functioning accompanied by intolerance to change, abnormal interests and attachments, unusual speech patterns, self stimulatory behaviors and varying language and cognitive development.  Autism is the most well known and researched of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders, which currently include Asperger's Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Syndrome, and PDD/NOS.


PSYCHIATRISTS are medical doctors (M.D.) who specialize in the physical and neurological foundations of emotional and mental disorders and follow the medical model of treatment:  mental disorders result from physical dysfunction, and so should be treated medically.  Their level of education and training provides them with an in-depth knowledge of the benefits and limitations of specific types of medications in treating specific types of mental illness, allowing them to prescribe medication as a treatment modality

PSYCHOLOGISTS have doctoral degrees in philosophy (Ph.D.) or psychology (Psy.D.), and specialize in the psychotherapy mode of treatment: negative thought and behavior patterns are resolved through cognitive and behavioral intervention.  Clinical psychologists have the most rigorous training in psychotherapy, and can administer and report the results of psychological testing. 


PSYCHOTIC EPISODE:  an isolated episode during which a loss of contact with reality occurs, typically including delusions (false ideas about what is taking place or who one is) hallucinations (seeing or hearing things which aren't there) and/or paranoia (unusual or unrealistic fears).

SOCIAL WORKERS have graduate degrees in field of social work, and specialize in the social foundations of emotional and mental disorders.  Treatment plans involve all social aspects of their client’s lives and can include advocating and educating, teaching effective problem solving and coping skills, and providing direct links to essential community resources as well as counseling and protecting the rights of their clients. 


TOURETTE’S SYNDROME: a neuro-developmental disorder involving abnormalities in specific regions of the brain (including the frontal lobes and the cerebral cortex), first diagnosed in 1885 by French neurologist Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, and characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called "tics." Tourette's is categorized as part of the spectrum of tic disorders, which also includes transient and chronic tics. Though most often associated with the the relatively rare vocal tics comprised of socially inappropriate and derogatory words or remarks, Tourette’s usually involves the more common tics of eye blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing, and facial movements. Diagnosed approximately 4 times more often in boys than girls, the onset of symptoms most often occurs between the ages of 7 and 10 years, and effects people from all ethnic groups.  Most people with this disorder experience their worst symptoms in their early teens, with improvement occurring in the late teens and continuing into adulthood.  However, approximately 10% percent of childhood Tourette disorders continue to progress into adulthood.  Tics are classified as either simple (involving a limited number of muscle groups, such as eye blinking or throat-clearing) or complex (distinct, coordinated patterns of movements involving several muscle groups, such as jumping, words or phrases) with the most severe forms involving involuntary self injury, inappropriate words, and echolalia (involuntary repeating of words or phrases). Tics can be preceded sensation of urgency or premonitory urge in the affected muscle group that may require several tic repetitions to relieve.  Causal factors include both genetic and neurological components, although environmental stressors may trigger or exacerbate symptoms.  Genetically, twin and family studies have both suggested that Tourette’s is inheritable, and have suggested a possible link to ADHD.  Neurologically, inefficient neurotransmitters seem to be responsible for mis-communication among nerve cells and between regions of the brain. 

VISION THERAPY:  The ability to recognize letters on an eye chart at 20 feet does not guarantee the functional visual skills necessary for reading and learning.   In fact, the problems with visual alignment, teaming, focusing, and endurance which are likely to affect school work are easily missed in school screenings and conventional eye exams.  Children with visual processing deficits often have a history of underachievement and frustration, with significantly low self esteem and self confidence; due in a large part to feeling less able or intelligent than their peers.  Increasing visual processing speed and accuracy - which have such a marked impact on academic achievement - can therefore result in dramatic improvements in both performance and self esteem.  Traditionally visual therapy centered around orthoptics, with an emphasis on improving eye alignment by strengthening eye muscles, altering the anatomy of the eye through surgery, or compensating for vision problems with corrective lenses.  In comparison,  Vision Therapy is a type of neurological physical therapy designed to train the entire visual system to effectively recognize, interpret, and respond to visual information.  In this manner, vision therapy is an effective strategy to address reading and learning disabilities related to visual motor and visual perceptual deficiencies.  Vision Therapy activities stimulate visual-motor processing speed, accuracy, and endurance; and are reinforced through repetition and integration with motor and cognitive skills. With as many as 70% of the children receiving special education affected to some degree by visual deficits that impede learning, visual therapy offers a non-surgical and customized program of visual activities to improve visual processing skills, allowing affected children to benefit from academic remediation and achieve their full potential in the classroom.  


WISC:  The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children is an individual test for children 6-16 years of age that does not require reading or writing ability from the test subject to assesses the intellectual functioning in verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed, and provides a composite score that represents a child's general intellectual ability.