American Morning

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December 9th, 2009
09:22 AM ET

Virginia school separates students by gender

Editor's Note: In part three of American Morning's special series, "Inside the Child's Mind," Kiran Chetry reports on how gender affects children when it comes to learning.

By Kiran Chetry, CNN

We know boys and girls develop at different stages as they grow, but there is growing research showing how boys and girls are wired differently when it comes to learning.

I visited one school where teachers are putting that to the test with single gender classrooms. It has its critics, but the school says test scores have shown improvement.

Faced with a gender gap in test scores, Woodbridge Middle School in Virginia formed single gender classrooms – testing the growing school of thought that boys and girls are hard wired to learn differently.

Dr. Leonard Sax, author of "Why Gender Matters," says the solution is to split them up.

“The best way for the boys is not the best way for the girls. The best way for the girls is not the best way for the boys,” says Sax. “The brain research is showing us quite clearly that the brains of girls and boys develop along different trajectories.”

Sax says math skills develop earlier in boys and language skills faster in girls.

“The surprising finding is that the coed classroom ends up disadvantaging both girls and boys, ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes. The girls end up thinking that abstract number theory is for boys, the boys end up thinking creative writing is for girls.”

Related: Would you choose your child's gender?

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December 8th, 2009
10:26 AM ET

Autism: A journey of recovery

Editor's Note: New cutting-edge research is helping to unlock the mysteries of the child's brain and could give autistic children a whole different future. Watch part three of our special series, Inside the Child's Mind, tomorrow on American Morning.

By Kiran Chetry, CNN

As a baby, Jake Exkorn was everything his parents hoped for – happy and healthy.

“He hit all of the developmental milestones. He walked, he talked, he played,” says Jake’s mother Karen Exkorn.

But at 17 months, Karen says the light began to fade from Jake's face.

“At first he stopped responding to his name. And then he stopped playing. And then by his second birthday, he stopped speaking entirely.”

Karen worried it may be a hearing problem, or a speech delay.

“I never expected to hear the words, your child has autism. … It was completely devastating. It meant that there was no hope for my son. And yet I was determined to help my son in any way that I could. I knew that I wanted treatment for Jake that had science behind it. And a lot of treatments don't. But the one that had the most science behind it was a treatment called ABA.”

ABA – applied behavior analysis – is an intensive approach that uses repetition and rewards to teach autistic children the things that come naturally to most kids.

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Filed under: Health • Inside the Child's Mind
December 7th, 2009
10:00 AM ET

Inside the Child’s Mind: Understanding autism

By Kiran Chetry, CNN

Eight-year-old Zander Pridy has no trouble reading big words.

“I read books of science and watch this cool show called ‘Nova,’” he tells me.

Today Zander is helping scientists make some discoveries of their own. Zander has an autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger syndrome.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are using a MEG machine – short for magnetoencephalography – to study the brain waves of children like Zander with autism disorders.

“We're trying to study how children's brains respond to stimuli – to sounds, to words, to speech,” says lead researcher Tim Roberts.

They are hoping to unlock the mysteries of how an autistic brain works. Roberts says new clues are already emerging.

“When you hear a sound, the brain responds. When a child with autism hears a sound, their brain responds too, but a little bit later. … So what we're seeing is a fraction of a second, a split second delay in recognizing that sound.”

How does that play out in how children with autism learn and communicate?

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Filed under: Health • Inside the Child's Mind