What Would Molly Ivins Say?

Oh, boy howdy! This article by Laura Hibbard, “Texas Republican Party Calls For Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Corporal Punishment In Schools” nearly made me choke on my cuppa tea. She described just a few of the details the 2012 Republican Party of Texas wants for their state schools. (The article also includes a nicely scrollable copy of their entire Platform Report.)
You know me, I’m a science person, with keen interests in education and social justice.  And I was flabbergasted. It’s like a car crash — you can’t help but gawp in horrified fascination. Well, I had the day off work, so after a house-painting break, scanned through most of the document. It’s one thing to hear soundbites on the radio or in video, but quite another to actually be able to read an entire position. For one thing, it gives a person the chance to notice internal inconsistencies, and look things up.
In addition to the aforementioned items listed in the title of Hibbard’s article, the Texas GOP’s document lists a lot more in their “Educating Our Children” section. For example, they also want to eliminate preschool and kindergarten, and require daily pledges of allegiance to the US & Texas flags (because that somehow makes one patriotic).
Ooh, get this:

“Classroom Expenditures for Staff – We support having 80% of school district payroll expenses of professional staff of a school district be full-time classroom teachers.”

You realize that means giving the ability to hire a number of part-time classroom teachers (and paraprofessionals if they opt to include some) who can be paid WAY less, which will keep a district’s budget way down. “Fiscal responsibility” as a loophole for loading up on part-time staff. Who of course often don’t get benefits — unfortunately, a common practice in education and other industries. (Yes, I’m calling education an industry.)
And of course, this next incredible ::head-desk:: concept that (for me) underpins a great deal of their platform:

“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Because you know, mastering the subject material and learning how to think critically will undermine the GOP’s fixed beliefs and enable challenging authority. Any challenges to authority will be dealt with accordingly:

“Classroom Discipline –We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.”

Under the “Promoting Individual Freedom and Personal Safety” section, this concept continues as, Continue reading What Would Molly Ivins Say?

Set the Wayback Machine

to 1994. Just the ordinary sort of 1994, when my children were two and six years old.
We are watching X-Men during Saturday morning cartoons. My son is really into super-heroes, and in case you don’t know, the X-Men are mutant super-heroes.
My daughter asks me, “What’s a mutant?” I take a deep breath, trying to figure out how to explain genetic mutation to a six-year old. Thankfully, with my children this wasn’t too difficult.
“Remember the other week when I told you what DNA is? The instructions that tell the different parts of your body how to grow?” She remembers. “Sometimes the DNA changes, and that’s called a mutation. A Monoceratops changing into a Triceratops s a mutation.”* We watch some more of the cartoon.
She asks me, “Are all mutants weird like the X-Men, and have super powers?”
“No. That’s just the cartoon part. If you always have yellow flowers and suddenly get a red flower, that’s a mutation. In fact, everything in the world started out as a mutation, or else there would be nothing but itty-bitty plants floating in the ocean.”
She decides that would be boring.
“Why do those people hate the X-Men? The X-Men are good guys.”
“They hate them because they’re bigots. ‘Bigots’ means when people hate other people because of something like what church they go to, or where they’re from, or how they look. The people hate the X-Men because they look different, and can do different things, and they’re scared of them.”
“But that’s not fair,” she complains, “The X-Men are nice.”
“That’s right. Bigotry isn’t fair, and it isn’t nice.”
“I like Storm the best.”
Storm is a black woman with long white hair who can control the weather, and fly. “Me, too.” I answer.
“I want to be Storm for Halloween.”
“O.K.”
A few nights later, we are reading The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. This is one of my favorite stories from when I was growing up, a tall tale about a Triceratops dinosaur that somehow hatches from an egg laid by a chicken, and the consequences for the boy in the story. She has loved dinosaurs since she was a mere tot of two. We read two chapters into the book. She read a few paragraphs, sounding out new words, and then realised, “The chicken laid a mutant egg!”
This is why you should watch television with your children. In one Saturday morning cartoon, we have covered biology and bigotry, and made a tentative Halloween costume decision.
__________
* I know, I know, it’s more complex than that. All you evolutionary biologists out there will have to work with me on that. (-;

Music to Bounce By

My five-month old grandson, AKA Tigger or Mr BoingBoing, has loved to bounce from the get-go.  Even when he was in utero, my daugher remembers how the sonography technician ended up sighing when she visited, because the baby was so mobile that it was hard to get a measurement.  Later on, the mom-to-be said that although the baby book bore the reminder to make sure that the baby moved each day, she never had to bother to check.
“I hope he learns how to sit for half an hour by the time school starts,” I mentioned, with ADHD concerns hanging unspoken in the air.
“He does have a great attention span.  I just hope he starts sleeping better soon,” added the proud but perennially tired mom.
“There are some children that never do sleep much.”
“But I don’t want one of those …”  The idea of spending the next decade or more taking turns sleeping was almost too much to contemplate.
“No one ever does!”
Thankfully, the lad loves his doorway bouncer.  Not only has his bouncy seat just been retired because he can he roll over and out of it, he’s even started getting on his hands and knees.
In my familial role as Bouncy Lady, I put together an iTunes playlist of “Music to Bounce By” for bouncing him on our knees, as babies love music, it’s generally more entertaining for all, and slightly less tiring for the adult if they don’t have to sing.  We want to expose him to a variety of music.  Right now, “Wipe Out” by the Ventures is a favorite.  (I’ve included links to a couple of pieces that are not well known, but are worth checking out.)

  • Good Vibrations    The Beach Boys
  • Ticket To Ride    The Beatles
  • Will It Go Round in Circles    Billy Preston
  • That’l Be The Day    Buddy Holly & The Crickets
  • Superstition  Stevie Wonder
  • Working In The Coal Mine    Devo
  • Satin Doll    Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
  • Crocodile Rock    Elton John
  • Think    Aretha Franklin
  • Sing, Sing, Sing    Benny Goodman
  • Mouse Jigs    Flook
  • Barracuda    Heart
  • Tijuana Taxi   Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
  • Immigrant Song    Led Zeppelin
  • Dancing On The Ceiling   Lionel Richie
  • Another One Bites The Dust    Queen
  • Burning Down the House   Talking Heads
  • Shake Your Tailfeather    Ray Charles
  • Four Sticks    Sones de Mexico Ensemble
  • Pride And Joy   Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Wipe Out     The Ventures
  • Hawaii Five-O    The Ventures
  • Linus And Lucy    Vince Guaraldi

Every few songs we have something a bit less frenetic, to keep from getting too fatigued.  And of course, we never get through the whole list in one pass; just a few songs at a time.
At least there’s one thing that he’ll sit still for:  watching Star Trek!  But that’s a story for another day …

Compatibly yours

“Ow!” Exclaimed my daugher, who was playing with her 4-month old son.  “He loves standing up, but he’s grabbing my glasses.  Or my hair.  And that hurts mummy, boo-boo.
She’d already given up wearing earrings.  But it was going to be a while before the lad could be taught “touch gently” for petting cats or family members.
“Well,” I offered, “you could always try Incompatible Behaviors.”  In the world of behavior modification, this is usually used in the sense of rewarding the preferred alternative.  But I was thinking in the more concrete sense, meaning, if you’re doing one thing, then you can’t do the other (undesired) thing.  “If you give him something else to hold onto, then he can’t grab your hair.”
This has proven so useful, she has wisely taken the idea to other situations.  At nap time, the lad is still so wound up that he gets agitated from playing with his hands.  So she gives him a stuffed animal or blanket to hold onto, and the babe’s able to calm down.
Now she’s discovered the joy that is watching a child learn new skills, especially as he practices sitting up and playing with the extra plastic measuring cups stored in an old plastic ice-cream tub.  “Today he learned that if he knocks the cups against the tub, they make noise!”
I chuckled, knowing what was coming up next, and we chorused in dismay, “Today he learned that if he knocks the cups against the tub, THEY MAKE NOISE!”
“And that’s why I never give anyone’s kids toys that make noises,” I nodded sagely.
“I’m going to just pass along some of those things that were handed along to us,” she confided.
As all parents know, if you give your children quiet toys, they will have to work imaginatively to figure out how to make noises with them.

ADD-ing new perspectives

My daughter is sailing rather gracefully through her pregnancy — well, as gracefully as one can when they have reached the “beached whale” stage that is the third trimester.
And yet, as with many pregnant women, she is experiencing some “third trimester brain rot”, that intermittent or semi-chronic reduction in frontal-lobe functioning.  Meaning:

  • forgetting important things you meant to do
  • not packing things you meant to take with you somewhere
  • getting sidetracked and forgetting what you were doing a few minutes ago
  • moments of being adrift when you lose track of what you were about to do
  • dysnomic moments of losing words or names you normally have on the tip of your tongue
  • being spectacular at some higher cognitive facitilities (“Look at this great post-colonialist literary critique I just wrote!”) and then realising that you suddenly can’t remember how to do something really simple (“Why are my pants pockets wrong? Oh, my pants are on backwards.”)

I’ve yet to read why this happens, aside from sleep issues or “It’s The Hormones”, that generic disclaimer for all things annoying during pregnancy (or indeed, between menarche and menopause).
The good news is that the brain fog isn’t permanent.  I reassured her that “third trimester brain rot” usually starts to go away after the baby sleeps through the night.  She looked at me suspiciously; surely “third trimester brain rot” should go away after the baby is born?  But then I reminded her about the chronic sleep deprivation that is nursing a baby every two hours.  (Were it not a normal part of human development, such sleep deprivation would surely be outlawed under the Geneva Convention.)
Of course, it doesn’t help that she’s finishing up her college senior capstone project, and it would really be useful to get a solid night’s sleep, or to wake up from a long night’s sleep feeling more rested, or to be able to schlep all those literary refs around campus more easily, or to not spend 33.3% of her life preoccupied with peeing. But, there it is.
On the other hand, we have had some bonding moments that go beyond shared maternity.  One day she was complaining about the general forgetfulness and fogginess, and I pointed out, “Hey, now you know what it’s like for someone with ADD.”
“Omigosh, I couldn’t stand it,” she replied, dismayed at the idea of being permanently stuck in such a state.
“But the thing is,” I explained (somewhat defensively) “when you have ADD or ADHD, that’s what it’s always been like.  That’s what you’re used to.”  The point being that one doesn’t feel the same sense of loss when it’s a life-long condition, compared to a late-onset disability.
And despite the obvious impairments, there are some positive aspects to AD/HD, due to the different functioning patterns of the brain.  There’s the hyperfocus, abilities to make different associative and intuitive leaps, and often a visual thinking style that lends to a variety of design strengths.
Having done through a few re-iterations of this conversation, there seems to be less of an “Oh noes!” reaction, and more of an appreciation of the chronic difficulties that I and other people with ADD or ADHD face.  Not only that, but I think the reasons for some of my demands for structure and routines that I developed as she and her brother were young, are becoming more apparent to her.
Maybe there are just some “mom-things” that one doesn’t appreciate in quite the same way until becoming a parent.
On the other hand, there are still a lot of things I do that bug her, and we must ever keep re-negotiating our relationship, especially as we continue to live in the same house, but with changing roles.

Piques and Valleys

So, I’ve been rather absent from bloggery lately due to spending evenings sorting through vast boxes of paper archives, moving books, applying for jobs to keep a roof over our heads, or attempting to sleep off this virus. I now have removed a cubic meter of paperness from our house, and transferred a few hundred books from one room to another. I still have the virus (or maybe a second one, as our students have not the best hygiene), but not the second job.
(Now, if anyone is looking for an experienced secondary or college tutor or after-school care for special-needs children, let me know via andreasbuzzing care of my gmail account.)
But aside from all that, there have been some thought-provoking ups and downs in the news that I don’t want to let pass before they become “olds”:
In an brief article in the New York Times, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied some 11,000 third-grade students, and found that Continue reading Piques and Valleys

4 Stages You Don't Have to Go Through

A recent article landed in my Google news aggregater, “Child’s Autism Diagnosis: 4 Stages You Will Go Through”.  Unfortunately, for all of its cheery helpfulness, it still manages to perpetuate some common stereotypes and misconceptions about disabilities:

When you hear that your child has been diagnosed with autism, the worst thoughts come to your mind. You can feel scared, lonely and overwhelmed. All of these feelings are natural when dealing with a new situation, but it doesn’t have to be terrifying.

Seriously.  The author assumes that the experience of getting a diagnosis is automatically horrifying; the first two sentence are loaded with negative words: worst, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, terrifying. Parents may feel these things at times, and for any number of things, including the sleep-deprivation of newborn care, or even dropping your child off for the first day of preschool or Kindergarten and experiencing the fallout of separation anxiety.  But the process of receiving a diagnosis is described like slogging through of an abyss of despair, with the “4 Stages” listed as 1.Denial, 2.Anger, 3.Grief, 4.Acceptance.
A problem with riffing on these “stages of loss” (familiar to anyone who has taken Psych 101), is that although there is evidence that many people do experience such upon receiving various diagnoses, the very presence of articles such as this may serve to reinforce the despair as much as they seek to lighten it.
How so?  Firstly, many people in various support industries related to disability (including educational and social work realms) are taught that Continue reading 4 Stages You Don't Have to Go Through

The Crystal Ball Crack'd

The Kid recently took the ACT test, which like the SAT, is frequently used by colleges to determine scholastic abilities, and in his case helped place him for which college writing class he needed.  He had to ask his sister what the test was like, and her impressions about its difficulty level.  I could not personally provide any opinions, because I had never taken the ACT or SAT.
I never took them because no one thought I would go to college.
They made massive assumptions about my abilities and my future. So here’s what happened, and something to think about. I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites.
My grades in secondary school grew worse over the years, and I had to re-take a semester in one class (English of all things, which in later years proved to be ironic when I became a freelance writer, with hundreds of items in print).
By this time in my life, my parents had divorced.  My dad lived in another state, and was even more of a non-player in my life.  Alas, my mother had spent years futilely trying to make me more “normal”, from requiring me to learn right-handed penmanship, enrolling me in a “charm school” at the local Sears & Roebucks to improve my feminine graces, and so on.  But as the years wore on, my faults (problems) became more and more apparent.  She no longer described me as “very bright”, but was quick to list all my failures and describe them in damning detail, until I was ready to vomit or pass out from the stress (though I never did, even though either would have been a relief).
By 9th grade it was apparent to all that I was not gifted scholastically, and the general consensus was that I was lazy, stupid at math, not trying hard enough, and acting up just to make her life difficult.  When she was drunk, my failures and interests and personality traits would be compared to her ex-husband’s, “you’re just like your father, the bastard”.  Even as much of a socially-clueless 14 year old that I was, I knew that these kinds of comments were untrue and inappropriate, and the problem was with her attitudes and her drinking.  But they still hurt, terribly.
I would not be diagnosed with ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, and Prosopagnosia until I was in my 40’s.  Such diagnosis hardly existed in those days; certainly my difficulties were not considered to be due to anything but my own personal failings.
No way, my family and school officials decided, could I be college material.  I could not keep track of my assignments, I still struggled to learn and remember my multiplication facts into 8th grade, and I flunked or barely passed classes.
Given my social difficulties and subsequent lack of dating, and even my utter lack of domestic abilities (mom warned me off taking a sewing class because doing so would “ruin my GPA” – grade point average), I was obviously not highly marriageable. This was the 1970s, and most people still thought along those lines — an astonishing number of girls went to college to “get their MRS”.
The goal then was to get me some kind of minimal trade training, so I would, as she fiercely reminded me many times, not be a burden on the family. It was made plain to me that once I graduated high school, and then later turned 18, I was to be out on my own.  I should not expect financial assistance from her.
So I was enrolled in typing, which was a miserable experience beyond the whole ordinary ordeal of learning to type on manual typewriters.  The room was a cacophony of noise.  The instructor was adamant about constant attention to task, proper posture, and graded with the intent on us producing perfection — as soon as a student produced a typographical error, then the score was made. (Additionally, the students’ pages were  held up to the light against her perfect copies to check centering and spacing). There were many days when I would produce an entire page that was otherwise perfect but for a typo in the second line, and my grade would be an F because I had such a low word-count.  Given my problems with developing manual speed, tracking text (near-point copying), attention, and transposing letters and numbers, I struggled to get a C grade.
But the clerical work that was deemed best for me also required taking bookkeeping.  Not surprisingly, this was also a very difficult class for me.  My aptitudes and interests were not really taken into consideration, because after all, even if writing and science and art were what I liked best, I had not done well in those classes, now had I?  Besides, clerical work was what my mother knew, so like many parents she expected me to follow occupational suit.
Unlike many such students, my story has a relatively happy ending.  I did manage to graduate high school, to everyone’s relief.  A year later, I even enrolled in an evening class at the local community college.  College classes were not easy, partly from my intrinsic difficulties, partly from not having the necessary study skills, and partly from not having a solid academic background.
But the glory of the American system is that such colleges provide opportunities for adults of all ages to acquire the these things, and to gain higher education. I worked hard, and slowly figuring out how I learned, which was not always in the ways that others thought I should study.  Sometimes I had to drop a class and re-try it later on, to finish it successfully. Later on in my 40’s I was to also get some of my issues diagnosed.
I now have a Master’s of Science. I teach college students.  No one would have expected this based upon my previous performance. (Employers who place near-complete trust in Behavioral-Based Interviewing, please note!)  And this point, amongst all the others about the perils of attribution errors, and learning disabilities, and dysfunctional families, this point is crucial:

A child’s future abilities cannot always be predicted,

when based upon their current abilities.

Many parents of children who have developmental disorders worry that their children will never be able to attend school, or finish school, or go on to college, or hold a job, or live on their own, or be loved by a partner, or have a family, or talk, or be potty-trained, or any number of milestones.  Just because the child cannot do the same things that their age peers can do, or are expected to do.
This is one of the biggest points of contention or discussion between the “autism community” (parents of autistic children) and the “autistic community” (children, teens and adults who are autistic, and many of whom are parents as well).  Even beyond the farcical assumptions that either community is monolithic with regards to attitudes and knowledge and politics et cetera, there are inherent issues that need to be mutually addressed.
One of the best resources for the autism communities are the autistic communities.  If parents go around just talking to other parents, especially those other parents who are consumed by the “Terrible Tragedy and Selfless Suffering Families” world-views, they may fall prey to this easy assumption:  If my child can’t do it now, he’ll never be able to do it, and our lives will be ruined.
Sure, not everyone takes it to that extreme.  Sure, there are a few children who do not achieve many of those life-goals.  But those lack of achievements does NOT automatically mean that their lives are ruined, or their families’ lives are ruined. They do NOT automatically mean that people cannot live relatively happy, healthy, and productive lives.
Please do NOT assume that not being able to use speech as a reliable means of communication is the same as not being able to think, or not being able to communicate, or not having anything to communicate.
Please do not assume that because a child does not learn in a traditional manner that they are learning “the wrong way”, or that they cannot learn at all, or that they must be taught “remedial learning lessons”.
Please do know that even when children have problems, and are slower to acquire skills, they are not doomed.
Please do not give up on them.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”

~First words (at age 35) of an autistic man [quote source]

I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites. Kindly see the newly-updated “NOTES TO COMMENTERS” box in the top of the left sidebar for important information. Continue reading The Crystal Ball Crack'd

Prescription for Thought

This belated post is especially for Debora, who asked for my impressions about ADD/ADHD medications for children.  (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television.)
Medicating kids or adults for ADHD is a sticky topic.  Everyone has opinions!  Like many topics of heated discussion, usually everyone has several good points to make, and there are always a few people who take things to absurd extremes.  So let’s look at these points individually.  (I’ve boldfaced the points, so if you’ve already reached a state of analysis on that point, you can skip to the next one.)
Does ADD/ADHD even exist?  Is it just some scam made up by drug companies to make money?
Some years ago I received an email from someone who had decided the latter. I replied back with the following, which I have updated to reflect new information: Continue reading Prescription for Thought

You Don't Say

“How can you not tell me when you are flunking English?!”
“Can’t you ever do anything right?”
“Do you really want to fail 8th-grade math and take it over again?!”

There is no answer that is going to be acceptable to anyone. I mean, would you go up to your parents and say, “I really want to fail beginning algebra so I can sit through units on order of operations and inequalities all over again”?
Of course not! What makes these so hard to answer is that they really aren’t questions at all. They’re accusations: You are flunking a class and didn’t care to tell me about it. (Given that my mom was angry and yelling and all but shaking me in an arm-bruising grip, it’s not surprising that I did not care to divulge the news.)
Because these are not questions, they are not really spoken to elicit answers. Woe to the literal-minded aspie child who tries to make up for the transgressions by actually attempting to answer, “I’m trying—”
“You certainly are! You’re a very trying child.”
What is being demanded is a promise that somehow everything will be made better. You wish that were so, too, and feel even more powerless to change the situation. Beyond feeling inadequate to the task at hand, you also know that attempts to communicate problems will also be met with anger, hostility, contradictory messages, and impossible demands. No matter what you do, you won’t be able to succeed.
How do you answer questions like that?
The answer is that you can’t. These are Continue reading You Don't Say