visit to M.I.N.D. institute

speech at NLDA annual meeting

speech at STARS conference

new research planned



Visit to the M.I.N.D. Institute, at U. Cal. Davis,

Where Innovative Interventions and Cutting-Edge Research Happens

The M.I.N.D. Institute at U. Cal. Davis conducts cutting edge brain research with this overriding goal: to understand and help the learning disabled.

Recently featured on 60 Minutes for its ground-breaking early diagnosis and treatment of autism, the M.I.N.D. Institute is also a leader in research and therapies for those with Fragile X, Chromosome 22q11.2 deletion and many other learning disabilities. As 60 Minutes put it, “researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute . . . believe, if they can catch it early, they can change the way a child’s brain develops.”

We at Sarah’s Place have been talking to researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute about what they might do with our support to help those who have trouble processing visual/spatial information and numbers—people with what we call GPS [link to what is GPS] or Nonverbal Learning Disorder or any of the other set of disorders that affect the visual/spatial/numeric cognitive domain. After talking for months, it was time to pay them a visit.

In mid-March, Susan Koniak, President of Sarah=s Place, and Tom Ross, Secretary, spent two days at the M.I.N.D. Institute. Much of that time was spent visiting with Dr. Tony Simon, Director of the Cognitive and Brain Imaging Laboratory.

Dr. Simon gave Susan and Tom a detailed presentation on his research and latest finding replete with hot-off-the-imaging-machine pictures and hot-out-of-the-genetic-lab representations of subgenetic anomalies.

Sarah's Place has an ambitious research project planned, and the M.I.N.D. Institute is a place we have identified as capable and qualified to conduct some of the work we have in mind. As Dr. Simon’s work is work we intend to build upon, it was a natural first stop as we initiate our GPS Project. CLICK HERE to learn more about our GPS PROJECT and Dr. Simon’s visual/spatial research at the M.I.N.D. Institute.

The M.I.N.D. Institute folks also wanted to learn from us. They put Susan’s brain through its paces, having her complete experiments designed to assess visual/spatial processing. They took vials and vials of blood and a genetic pedigree to try and identify a genetic cause for Susan’s cognitive impairments. Dr. Randi Hagerman, one of this nation’s leading experts on Fragile X, gave Susan a neurological exam and interviewed Susan to get a medical and cognitive history.

Next, the M.I.N.D. researchers put Susan in their high tech MRI machines, to capture functional, structural and connectivity information on Susan’s brain. And what they have already found from that is quite astounding and may well challenge some of the conventional wisdom on visual/spatial deficits, namely the idea prominent in the NLD literature that visual/spatial/numeric problems are RIGHT brain-centered problems. The pictures of Susan’s brain show much more significant brain matter deficits on the LEFT side. As amazing given Susan’s achievements, the pictures show a brain that is quite “damaged.” The M.I.N.D. Institute folks said they would be showing Susan’s pictures to parents for the rest of their careers as proof that even the most damaged-looking brains may be capable of great things. CLICK HERE for a look at these astounding pictures and easy to follow instructions on how to read them. (For comparison, you can also view Functional MRI scans of Susan's brain taken in 2005)

Most important, Dr. Simon and his colleagues at the M.I.N,D. Institute listened and took notes as Susan explained how she managed to compensate for the significant cognitive impairments that she has. Susan explained just how she completed the various cognitive tests she was given by the M.I.N.D. Institute team. We hope that this information will prove helpful to them in treating others with cognitive impairments in the visual/spatial/numeric domain.

The dedication of the people we met at M.I.N.D. was inspiring.

We thank all of them, particularly, Dr. Simon and Dr. Hagerman, for their warmth, collaborative spirit and enormous generosity. We look forward to many years of fruitful collaboration with these dedicated professionals and the Institute that they call home.