Children's Voice Mar/Apr 2006

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Bulletin Board

Heredity's Role in Autism

Five institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and three private autism organizations have formed a consortium to better understand and identify genes that may contribute to autism. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will administer $10.8 million in funding toward the project over the next five years.

With three to six new cases per 1,000 children, autism is more common than several other disabling but better-understood childhood diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and cystic fibrosis. Heredity appears to play a role in children developing autism, but experts believe environmental influences also contribute.

Researchers have already reported progress on the genetic underpinnings of autism, although, despite reports of several chromosomal regions associated with the disorder, few specific genes have been identified, according to NIH. The newly formed research consortium will study the relationship between genetics and autism by examining existing data for genes and gene variants that may lead to autism.

"New technologies in gene research can allow scientists to better understand the role genes play in the development of autism, and eventually lead to better treatments," says NIMH Director Thomas Insel.

In addition to NIMH, consortium members include the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, Deafness and Other Communications Disorders, Environmental Health Sciences, and Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and private organizations Cure Autism Now, the National Alliance for Autism Research, and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

Pre-K Funding on the Rise

For fiscal year 2006, 26 state legislatures and the District of Columbia city council have increased funding for prekindergarten by $600 million, the largest single-year jump in state pre-K funding in five years, a November report from Pre-K Now reveals.

"Pre-K is gaining momentum as a national education reform movement because state legislators now realize the early years are powerful learning years," says Libby Doggett, Executive Director of Pre-K Now, a public education and advocacy organization. "Children who learn how to learn are more likely to reach their full potential in school."

Nationwide increases in pre-K funding for FY 2006 ranged from less than 1% to 250%. Ten states increased their investments by more than 30%. Numbers for four states anticipated to increase funding were not available at the time Pre-K Now released its report. Only nine states flat-funded pre-K, and nine others still do not offer any pre-K programs. New Jersey and Vermont slightly reduced their pre-K funding.

Six of 10 states that increased funding by 30% or more were in the Southeast--Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

"The South offers more pre-K to more children than any other region in the country," Doggett says. "With the exception of Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi, every state in the region is moving toward serving more children in quality environments."

Flat pre-K funding was concentrated in the eastern half of the country, with seven of nine flat-funded states located east of the Mississippi River. Three of the country's most populous states--California, Michigan, and New York--also flat-funded pre-K.

"Pre-K has become an economic development issue, and it's time every state realized that access to pre-K cuts down on the need for remedial education and significantly lowers the likelihood of grade repetition," Doggett notes. "These pre-K savings constitute real dollars being retained in school systems."

Can Technology Turn Babies into Einsteins?

Technology has crept into nearly every facet of modern day life and for all age groups. Before babies even reach their first birthdays, they are being introduced to videos, DVDs and computers.

Media products specifically designed for young children include baby videos like Baby Einstein, computer programs like JumpStart Baby, toddler-friendly video game consoles like the V.Smile, interactive DVD systems such as InteracTV, and handheld game systems like the Leapster.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for babies before age 2, and no more than 1-2 hours a day of quality educational screen media for children 2 and older, many of today's media products are advertised as educational for kids. Seventy-six percent of the top-selling videos and DVDs listed for babies from birth to age 2 on Amazon.com, and almost all of the top-rated software and video game products, make educational claims, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief.

The issue brief highlights how frequently educational claims are made, explores the types of claims made, and investigates the degree to which the claims are validated through research on children's learning outcomes. Although some companies conduct in-house research to test the effectiveness of their products, there are no published studies on cognitive outcomes for any of the educational video or DVDs, computer software programs, or video game systems currently on the market for children from birth to age 6.

To read the full issue brief, visit www.kff.org/entmedia/7427.cfm.


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