Argosy University Blog

Rare Disease Awareness

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She was a beautiful child. She was so good-looking that her cuteness was almost a caricature. Her blonde hair fell straight onto her shoulders, with bangs that were cut to reveal her forehead, accentuating her big blue eyes. Her nose was small and turned up ever so slightly. She was petite, even for a seven-year-old. She looked me straight in the eye nearly continuously and was almost always smiling. Her mood was one of happiness and she was a joy to be around. If a cartoonist had set out to convey his conception of a living doll, this might have been the result. There were a lot of toys available in the room, but her attention was exclusively directed toward me. She seemed to be oblivious to the presence of her mother or the female doctoral student also in the room with us.

The child’s mother reported that her daughter loved music. With very little instruction the girl seemed to just intuitively know how to play the piano, her mother noted with some pride. The child had been a colicky infant, but she developed language remarkably well, and perhaps a little early, and she was now quite verbal. Despite some fine motor problems, the child was quite social in school, although mostly oriented toward the adults.

She continued to ignore the room full of toys and started climbing onto my lap. I have performed a great number of psychological assessments, but this is the only time that this happened. I must have looked startled.

“This is what happens,” her mother said. “She is overly friendly with strangers. She took a strange man’s hand in the mall and asked if she could go with him. Fortunately, I was right there.”

My student and I asked a few diagnostically important questions to evaluate some important hypotheses. There did not appear to be a history of abuse or exploitation, although the child was clearly at great risk. We could identify no other relevant psychological factors to explain the child’s profound impairment of social boundaries. We had no solution to this puzzle.

The mother revealed that she has been distressed by the child’s behavior for several years. The pediatrician thought that the child was mildly uncoordinated, but otherwise physically healthy. This family’s experience in the ambiguous world of rare disease had begun.

I had been involved in the broader issue of rare disease for many years through my association with the communities affected by Gaucher Disease and other lysosomal disorders. However, those experiences did not help me to understand this child. My rare disease experiences did tell me, though, that well-defined, enduring observations that appear to have little relationship with each other, may have a common cause.

Science, I learned many years ago, attempts to describe, explain, predict, modify, and control observed phenomena. And a good theory will explain the observations in the simplest manner. “A good theory is parsimonious,” I can still hear my professor saying. The answers are here, if we can only ask the right questions. And then we must separate the signal from the noise.


The Gaucher Disease experience, to use the example of the most common lysosomal disorder, required scientists to explain how a large spleen may be related to a painful leg, or how a nosebleed may be related to a flask-shaped long bone. All of those observations are united by a single explanatory theory: A diagnosis of Gaucher Disease. And in retrospect, when a diagnosis is confirmed, it is easy to wonder how it had ever been missed.

But the reality is that rare disorders are, well, really rare. The constellation of indicators is present, and evident to multiple observers. But the explanation is not handed to us. In a movie, the sets, costumes, props, dialogue, effects, and even the music are integrated to tell us a story. A scientist has a collection of observations, but no narrator to tell him where to look.

My young patient did not come to the clinic with a book about her life. Could there be a single theory to describe and explain my observations? I could not flip ahead to see how it all turns out. I would be helping to write her life’s story, and I am not ashamed to say that I too was distressed by the ambiguity. Families affected by rare disorders commonly wait almost five years until someone puts the pieces together. And a delay of decades is not uncommon.

Psychologists have some very good science-based methods of assessment, at least with regard to the most common issues affecting children and adolescents. Yet there was no single test or algorithm to put the observations together for us with this child. We still had observations that represented ill-fitted puzzle pieces. What does it mean for a good looking and happy child with a history of colic to have a friendly personality, exceptional musical ability, some impaired coordination, and an extraordinary absence of apprehension around strangers?

I derive a very special type of joy from seeing a student do our work better than me. And my almost-a-psychologist student developed the explanation that we call a theory or, as in this case, a diagnosis. As my student discovered, hidden within the pages of references on behavioral genetics, fewer than 1 in 10,000 people will have a certain deletion on chromosome 7. And such people are sometimes described as elfin, musical, and socially uninhibited.

There is a certain satisfaction, but also some distress in learning that the symptoms fit a known pattern. At a follow-up meeting, the mother cried when we told her that the constellation of her daughter’s characteristics matched Williams Syndrome, one of the rare genetic disorders.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders,

People with rare diseases have tremendous unmet needs, including misdiagnosis, a long time to finally receive a correct diagnosis, and when they do, 95% have no treatment with ZERO CURES (http://rarediseaseday.us/).

Research will help us to find the answers. And we have a lot of work yet to do.


Author Bio

Dr. Wayne Rosenfield worked for many years in Connecticut to develop and implement inpatient treatment programs for persons with chronic and debilitating mental disorders. His interest in addressing the most intense problems led him to disaster mental health deployments with the Red Cross following the 2001 terrorist attacks, and then to crisis work in hospital emergency departments. He was again with the Red Cross in Newtown the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Engaged with Connecticut’s response to Sandy Hook he was part of a statewide initiative to treat trauma in children. Having relocated to Florida, he is part of a research team examining a novel treatment for combat PTSD, and he performs psychological assessments for a group practice. He is a frequent speaker in the US and internationally on the subject of rare diseases. He is an adjunct instructor at Argosy University Sarasota , who teaches School Psychology in the College of Education . His highly rated book, Great Necessities, is available on Amazon.com.

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Black History Month 2018: Remembering African American Mental Health Professionals & Advocates

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Black history month is upon us. During this time we focus on the accomplishments and inventions of those of the past and present. From the invention of the cotton-gin to the stoplight, these advances along with advocacy and social justice have provided an avenue for all individuals today to prosper. In the field of mental health, there are individuals that should be celebrated for what they have done to further the field.

Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914 2005) - First African American president of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Clark, along with his wife, famous for the “Doll Study” experiment which looked at responses of more than 200 Black children preferences in the selection of white or brown dolls. Dr. Clark’s finding concluded that segregation was psychologically damaging which was a determining factor in the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) – First African American woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University. Along with her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, her research on race and child development helped in desegregation efforts especially in the Brown vs. Board of Education. Understanding the need of mental health services for the African American community, Dr. Clark and her husband opened “The Northside Center for Child Development” in Harlem, NY in 1946.

These are just two out of the many people who made a pathway for individuals to learn a new way of thinking, explore new options, and give back to a community. This month provides an opportunity to look at the accomplishment of these heroes of the past and present while, challenging those to make a positive change for the future.


Written by: Dr. Joseph Campbell

Dr. Joseph Campbell is currently the Director of Training in the Counselor Education & Supervision program at Argosy University, Chicago . He obtained his Masters of Arts degree in School Counseling from Concordia University where he specialized in working with adolescents and young adults. Dr. Campbell’s research interest includes social justice and advocacy in classrooms and communities, and the integration of technology into the counseling field.

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SMART-PHONE ADDICTION | How to stop being addicted to your smartphone and tear away from intensity scale usage

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Whether it’s you, a friend, or kids…applying a few easy steps can help!

Viewed from aperture lens via “BodyParts Fitness” concerning human physical well-being; recent investigations have shown that smartphone users tend to report pain in the neck, shoulder and thumb. In addition, the severity of the symptoms exacerbates as the total time spent using smartphone increases. In other words, be very careful of prolonged smart phone usage! It can effect disposition of individuals to have faulty posture such as forward neck and slouched posture ( Lee S, Kang H, Shin G: Head flexion angle while using a smartphone. Ergonomics, 2015, 58: 220–226).

The good news about this social media picture: Note that sitting caused the largest head flexion than that of other task conditions, such as standing while using smartphones! Per Keith A. Spencer’s article, the word “ADDICTION” is used to describe how people are affected by social media! It’s a ‘strong’ word, but it helped to get the attention in my household and bring awareness of what is actually happening to my family.

Admittedly, on numerous occasions (more than my husband and I care to remember), we have caught our kids sneaking in the middle of the night to play games and view, pre-approved-scope on social media. One other incident, during the weekend, after dinner, we wanted to learn--if no time limits were set, how long would our boys actually be engaged on their smart phones? In short, to our amazement, they both fell a sleep with device in hand... Before exacerbating their socialization skills to shut down completely, we realized these cited copious experiences might be detrimental and could possibly precursor warning signs of smartphone "ADDICTION".

As a parent of two boys; pre-teen/teenager, I have observed this important phenomenon become a fact! Let’s face it; this is the era of social media, which my kids fully embrace. And, rather than fight against a losing battle, I thought of a reprieve remedy: for every hour they spend on their smartphones, stop and exercise 20 minutes. Yes, you can imagine how fit my sons are today because of this "TRIGGER"!

To develop a successful “TRIGGER”, begin exploring new ways to change an unwanted behavior. Identify your end goal. For example, I want my kids to exercise more frequently. For this reason, I created a fun fitness routine to follow. However, they are not motivated to automatically exercise. Nevertheless, I want to master getting my boys to exercise 30 minutes to an hour (mostly) every day.

According to American Council on Exercise, pre-teens to adults can benefit significantly from physical activity--in fact, children and adolescents, who exercise more often and participate in fitness activities will be less likely to grow up overweight!

Specifically, aerobic activity should (strive towards) make up most of your child's 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day. Guidelines suggest including either moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or vigorous-intensity activity, such as running-intensity aerobic activity on at least 3 days per week.

To reinforce a reliable “TRIGGER”, first combat the M.E. Factor: Motivation and Emotions. First, rule # 1: keep the new behavior easy and motivation levels will have less effect. Second, rule # 2: the speed of habit formation is directly related to the immediacy and intensity of emotions you feel.

Consequently, after identifying easy exercises, I satisfied rule # 1. I also paired this task with using Smart-Phones in order to satisfy rule # 2. This connection is powerful because of noticing how excited my kids were when engaged on their smart-devices; PS4 Play Station, X-Box Video Games, etc. Therefore, combining rule # 1 and # 2, created the immediate new behavior pattern, which did not feel like a boring chore! As a result, as long as good grades are maintained, during school week, our kids have an hour interaction with devices and 30-minutes exercise. Of course, the ratio is extended on the weekends (Sat.), whereby three hours are spent on various devices and 60 minutes include exercising. Conversely, Sunday is a rest day; no devices, no exercise. The bottom line-social media is not raising our kids ( although, it does provide brief respite for parents and is filler for minimizing play-noise at home ).

In the long run, kids feel good, but are also healthier. In fact, this new habit has strengthened over time from repeating pattern actions. Now the custom match has caused my sons to instead, look forward to competing against each other. They challenge themselves to see who can do the most push-ups; rather than only focusing on what Nintendo games to play! Such scenario provides an opportunity to “not bypass” re-shaping additional behaviors in other areas. On the whole, applying guideline rules (#1 and # 2) yields a practical process for juxtaposing the pendulum in the direction of choice: either increasing/decreasing and/or favorable/unfavorable behavior.

Final Thought: Find the right sequence- what it comes before–or–after and you will no longer have to coax (ramp up motivation) someone to perform a particular task again!

What do you do to track time spent on the smart-phone and tear away from intensity scale usage?


Bio: Written by Dr. Cecilia Brantley: Bus. /Ed. Organizational Leadership 2013 ; Argosy University, Chicago Professor 2016 & Since 1991: Health-Wellness Entrepreneur of BodyParts Fitness Ltd * Behavior Change Coach # CEP78040 * Lifestyle Behavioral Coaching # CEP57068

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