Proud graduate overcame brain injury

After Rosanne Wong was in a horrific car accident 11 years ago, doctors said her brain was so badly damaged she would not be able to do anything for the rest of her life, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 21. She was, according to them, in a persistent vegetative state.

Saturday, Wong stood on a podium at York University’s Keele campus wearing a flowing black gown as she graduated with a BA in sociology. Her remarkable achievement was made possible with the help of York’s Office for Persons with Disabilities.

“When disabled students register at the University, they meet with case counsellors first,” said Karen Swartz, director at the Office for Persons with Disabilities at York. Case counsellors review the students’ difficulties and then build a plan based on what kind of accommodations they need to proceed through their university career.

In the 2007-2008 academic year, 2,533 students were accommodated for their disabilities at York. Of these, about 50 had brain injuries, Swartz said.

After Wong failed courses in the Information Technology program, a neuropsychology assessment suggested that parts of her brain that process information related to math and science had been destroyed along with her short-term memory. That indicated she should change her major. “She is very hard working and dedicated,” said Annette Symanzik, a case counsellor at York.

But before her transition, Wong faced another shock when her mother died from a heart attack. “She was so close to her mother and was so depressed that she wasn’t able to do things properly,” said her father, Ray Wong. She received therapy and was eventually able to recover from the grief. “It was a big loss for me,” she said. “My mother really wanted to see my graduation day.”

Wong is independent now, and looks forward to starting a job in her field, wrote the Star.

Jealousy begins in the cradle, York psychologist finds

Just because they can’t sit up or grab a rattle doesn’t mean babies are too young to feel jealous, a York University researcher has found, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 21.

A study by Maria Legerstee, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health who specializes in infancy and theory of the mind, shows that even at three months old, babies will kick and holler when mom’s attention turns to someone else. And the behaviour, she says, is nothing to worry about. “It’s a normal and appropriate reaction.”

Legerstee’s research is contrary to earlier developmental theories, which have suggested that jealousy and other “complex emotions” are synonymous with the “Terrible Twos” and first emerge during the second year of life.

When Legerstee spoke to the mothers in a monologue, the babies didn’t react much. But as soon as their mothers became engaged with her, talking and laughing and excluding them, they reacted strongly. “They got so upset, they would turn around in their seats and vocalize intensely and angrily,” Legerstee said.

And what should parents make of this? If a baby shows signs of jealousy, try to interrupt your conversation and pay attention, she said. “The baby gets fearful. You don’t want to accentuate it, but you shouldn’t worry about whether it’s normal or not – it is.”

  • Babies can be cute and cuddly, cranky and colicky, wrote The Canadian Press Oct. 20. But now, a study suggests that babies as young as three months old exhibit signs of something not commonly associated with such tender souls: jealousy.

The research wasn’t undertaken to study jealousy; the goal was simply to find out what babies understood about the communicative motives of adults, says Professor Maria Legerstee of the Department of Psychology in York University’s Faculty of Health.

“Do they understand what we are intending when we talk to them? Are we willing, are we unable to talk to them?” she wondered. Altogether, Legerstee and her team studied close to 50 babies who were brought in to her lab by their mothers.

In describing one experiment, Legerstee said the baby would behave in a way that they had never seen before in their research. “And in a very different way than I had ever experienced, that I’d ever seen in my 20 years in front of the infant chair,” she elaborated.

It’s not the first time that what appears to be jealousy has been observed and studied in babies – Legerstee says her colleague found it at six and 12 months. “But I’m the first who has confirmed the evidence in kind of comparing the jealousy evocation condition, as we call it, with all kinds of other conditions, to affirm that it’s not simply a response to a lack of attention or the baby becoming tired or the baby being bored.”

  • The research focused on infants of ages three, six, and nine months; their mothers sat close by as a female researcher interacted with them, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Oct. 21.

Infants reacted negatively – looking sad, smiling less and looking away – when the researcher showed an unwillingness to communicate. When the researcher was simply busy, infants didn’t mind. But when the researcher talked with mom, actively excluding baby, the results were surprising. The babies got very upset and did everything they could to get attention, including kicking, yelling and squirming in their seats.

  • Legerstee’s study was also featured on radio and television reports across Canada.

Making Parliament more representative

In several recent books, proportional representation has been identified as the single best way to eliminate child poverty and build a secure welfare state, yet the Star opposes it, wrote Dennis Raphael, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, in a letter to the Toronto Star Oct. 21. This provides much insight into liberal approaches to poverty reduction: talk about it but do nothing to implement it.

Advertisers wary of proposal for Google-Yahoo Link

Canadian advertisers fear a proposed agreement between Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. will stifle competition and result in higher costs to advertise online, wrote the National Post Oct. 21. While the deal’s opponents say it will give Google too much sway over advertisers, there are no real entry barriers being created, said York University Professor Alan Middleton, of the Schulich School of Business at York University. “Online advertising is still a very small part of the overall advertising business,” he said.

On air

  • Craig Heron, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the history of alcohol in Canada and his book Booze: A Distilled History, on CBC Radio afternoon programs in St. John’s, Sydney, Fredericton, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Yellowknife Oct. 20.
  • Jose Etcheverry, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about rising water rates and other water issues in Toronto, on CBC Radio’s "Metro Morning" (Toronto) Oct. 20.
  • Graham Potts, CUPE Local 3903 chief negotiator, spoke about the strike vote by York teaching assistants and contract faculty, on CFRB-AM Oct. 20.