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Last modified: Tuesday, July 31, 2012

IU Health & Wellness: Back-to-school issue

Research and insights from Indiana University

July 31, 2012

The back-to-school issue of IU Health and Wellness discusses the following topics:

Whooping cough: Why -- and when -- adults need a booster
Extreme homesickness on the college campus
Getting serious about passwords
Helping children with autism spectrum disorders get off to a good start

Whooping cough: Booster shot isn't just for kids


Creative Commons photo by r.f.m II

Whooping cough cases on the rise

The United States is experiencing its worst outbreak of whooping cough since 1959 and Washington state is in the lead with seven times the national average of cases. Explanations vary but Deanna Willis, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said part of the outbreak is due to the fact people lose the immunity created by the vaccine as they age. She advises that adults get a pertussis booster shot when they get their next tetanus booster. One pertussis booster as an adult should be adequate.

Willis, who is president of the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians, said that people who did not get vaccinated for one reason or another also have added to the severity of the outbreak. As immunization recommendations changed over the years, there are groups who fell through the cracks because the vaccine wasn't recommended and there also are people who oppose childhood vaccinations.

Adults who contract whooping cough usually have a mild cough but for children, the disease can be deadly. Whooping cough is highly contagious and can cause a violent cough that persists for months.

Willis recommends DTap (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine -- a five-dose series -- for children under 7 years of age. In addition, adolescents ages 11 to 12 years old should get a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) booster shot. Adults, up to the age of 64, should substitute Tdap booster for one dT (dpitheria, tetanus) immunization during their adult life.

To speak with Willis, contact Mary Hardin at 317-274-5456 and Top

Extreme homesickness on the college campus

Robert Billingham

Robert Billingham

Print-Quality Photo

It's a new generational issue, part socialization and part tech. More and more college students are experiencing severe homesickness, which interferes with their ability to function successfully in college.

"A lot the kids who are preparing to come to college are people who have been in constant, immediate communication with their parents," said Robert Billingham, a family studies expert at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. "Their parents, for whatever reason, instead of teaching kids how to solve their problems, how to handle their friends on their own, have taken over solving their children's problems for them. "

Billingham said the majority of college students embrace independence. But for a growing number, it can be troubling. Many of these students, he said, have trouble relating to their peers and others in the college community when they are no longer the center of attention.

Billingham said it is important early on for parents to have their children perform chores so they can feel success at completing the work. He also said parents should help their children become problem-solvers.

"As much as possible, when a child talks about a problem or conflict, parents should turn it over to the child by asking, 'What do you think you should do? How do you think you should handle it?'"

Parents should also talk with their children about limits for phone use. If a teen wants picked up from a party because of inappropriate behavior or activity, a phone call would be in order. Not so, however, if the child just wants to vent about someone else wearing a similar outfit.

And the limits should go both ways.

"Parents use technology to stay connected, and often times are far more controlling of their children's lives than was possible historically."

Billingham can be reached at 812-855-5208 and Billingham is associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of Public Health-Bloomington, formerly the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Top

For a strong password, don't use these

Password graphic

Strong passwords are important

Passwords are everywhere. They can provide secure access to things like our email, bank account, and even hardware like a computer. Time for an experiment --count to six. Do you know what you just did? You just cracked the world's most popular password.

In a study of some 32 million passwords that had been breached, 1-2-3-4-5-6 was the overwhelming favorite. That means there are literally millions of people who use those six numbers -- in order -- as their primary password. That barely edges out words like "password" and "iloveyou" as popular choices. Those are terrible passwords as they're unbelievably easy to guess -- and hack. Experts at the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University offer these tips:

  • A good password is at least eight characters long. Those eight characters should be a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols that don't have significant meaning. Using birthdates and anniversaries are too obvious. Pick combinations that you can remember, but are tough for others to guess.
  • A good password is one that doesn't contain a word. Dictionary attacks are one way hackers gain access to passwords that are incredibly easy. A dictionary attack--as the name implies--searches for words within your password to help crack it. Words are easy to remember, but also easy to guess.
  • A good password is one that you can remember. Passwords that are so complex that you can't remember them aren't good, because it means you've likely written down or stored the password somewhere near your computer. That makes for an easy target to steal.
  • A good password is only used in one place. The password for your Bank of America account should be different from your email account. Never use the same password across multiple sites. You use different keys for your house, office, and car. Websites should be treated just the same!
  • A good password is changed regularly. If you can't change them all every month, at least change them a few times each year.
  • Consider using a passphrase. Rather than a series of characters, use a phrase at least 16 characters long. It can be a passage from a book, a favorite quote, or something completely random. Passphrases are becoming more popular because they are more difficult to crack.
  • If you have trouble remembering various passwords, you may consider using password management software. There are many applications that store all of your passwords in an encrypted database that is unlocked with one password. That way you only have to remember one password instead of multiple. Do a search for password management software to find various options depending on the type of operating system you use.

To sum up, a good password is long and uses multiple characters. It is easy to remember but tough to steal. And a good password is changed often.

For more tips and information on passwords, visit For more additional assistance, contact James Boyd at 812-855-0156 and Top

Helping children with autism spectrum disorders get off to a good start

As fall approaches, parental concerns such as, "Will my child be successful in the new school year both academically and socially," and "Will his/her new teachers command a good understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASD)," seem magnified with all the unknowns that the new school year brings. At times, parents might know staff and have a good working relationship with them. Other times, staff is unknown.

Cathy Pratt, director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University, offers tips to help parents become a proactive and positive advocate for their children. Information specific to the experiences of college students on the spectrum can be found in this IRCA article, which includes a succinct summary.

  • Many teachers may have had limited or no experience with students with autism spectrum disorders. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism's (IRCA) website has several articles that can help educators better understand ASD. Topics addressed include the learning characteristics associated with ASD and teaching strategies. Parents need to proactively educate but not overwhelm educators with too much information. Identify your special education planning district's autism leader, who might be able to assist with training or support. The list can be found at:
  • Staff will need information about how autism impacts your son/daughter. This item includes a form that can be completed and shared with teachers. This form provides specific information about learning styles, communication systems, medical issues, behavior supports and other topics. Make sure to describe the student not only in terms related to their ASD (e.g., sense of humor, kind, gentle, smart). Ask that information be shared with relevant staff including cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, the school secretary, the school nurse, and administrators. The form is brief so as not to overwhelm staff.
  • Request information about the school routine and resources. This can include bus schedules, parent teacher organizations, and available resources such as counselors, social workers and nurses.
  • Alleviate the unknown. Before beginning the school year in a new school, parents can take steps to alleviate any anxieties they or their children might have about the new setting. Preparation for this move can be facilitated by obtaining a map of the school, a copy of the students' schedule for the fall, a copy of the student handbook and rules, and a list of clubs/extracurricular activities. Ask to take a tour with your son/daughter before the school year begins. Request a list of school supplies, locker combination, and clothes needed for physical education. Practice getting up in the mornings and eating breakfast.
  • Visit the lunchroom. Parents can help their children learn how to navigate the lunchroom, where to sit, and the rules of the lunchroom. Work with the staff to develop a social narrative or visual task analysis if needed.
  • ID a mentor or helper. Ask the school to identify key people or identify a mentor the student can contact if she/he is having a difficult time adjusting or understanding a certain situation. Ask for the name and contact information for this person. This is especially important if your son/daughter is in middle or high school.
  • Pictures. If possible, obtain pictures of your student's teachers, staff, bus driver, cafeteria workers, etc.
  • Classmates of the new student also may need information. This should be provided in a respectful manner and without stigmatizing the student on the autism spectrum. Talk to the teacher about how classmates will be informed. IRCA has articles that can help with educating elementary and secondary age students.
  • Establish communication system. At the very beginning of the new school year, establish methods and a schedule for communicating between home and school. Suggestions for maintaining ongoing communication include journals, daily progress notes, mid-term grades, scheduled appointments or phone calls, e-mails, informal meetings, report cards, or parent teacher conferences. Inform teachers of the method of communication that works best for you. These forms can be used to facilitate home school communication.
  • Be clear and proactive about your expectations for the school year. When parents and school staff collaborate, the students are the ultimate winners.
  • Rumor management. At times, rumors can circulate about a district, school or personnel. Go to the source of a rumor and have a conversation. Not everything on listservs, Facebook, and in emails is accurate. Do not jump to judgment. Parents' only goal should be to ensure that everyone works collaboratively on behalf of the child.

The ultimate goal is to promote a successful experience for children and parents. By proactively and positively working with the school, challenges can be minimized and trust built.

Pratt can be reached at or 812-855-6508. For more information about the Indiana Institute, visit Top

For additional assistance with these news items, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and