Posted by: Ticktock | March 27, 2013

Pollakiuria, Anxiety, and the Google Problem

I want to be a “proper” skeptic, to use my reasoning skills as a method of filtering out the nonsense in this world, but I have a Googling problem.

Using a search tool to find answers may be lazy skepticism, but we all do it to some extent, don’t we? Search: “Rash on armpit” and any number of results can appear, but which are most relevant and reliable? Usually, it’s easy to tell a better web site when it cites proper sources, but you can never be too sure about the accuracy of any anonymous content.

Plus, it’s still fairly impossible to know whether the answer you’re seeking about a rash involves lymph nodes or deodorant. For that, you need a doctor, but is it worth bothering a doctor about a rash? What if it’s nothing? What if it goes away? What if you can fix it yourself?

I don’t have a rash. I do however have family members who have anxiety-related issues.

Lately, my daughter has been revisiting a condition called Pollakiuria, otherwise known by it’s descriptor “Frequent Daytime Urination”. I know she has Pollakiuria because I googled the symptoms and that is the condition that matches perfectly. I have looked into the alternative diagnoses, but they don’t seem to fit.

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Her symptoms of constantly feeling the need to pee are exactly the same as last year when we went to the urologist at the Children’s Hospital. They never officially diagnosed her with Pollakiuria, probably because it’s a scary sounding name; but, I’d rather have a name to something than vague answers and shrugged shoulders. Anyway, the urologist just told us that the sonogram indicated that she was mysteriously not voiding her bladder appropriately and suggested some kegel exercises for her to try. The problem lasted a month or two, and then it vanished as quickly as it came with no rhyme or reason.

Now that the symptoms are back a year later, I want the answers that Google and the Urologist can’t provide.  The problem with Pollakiuria is that the root cause is unknown. Some of the research seems to suggest that the cause is stress related, but the stress that my daughter experiences on a daily basis doesn’t seem to be anything more than the typical adolescent worries and concerns. There are very few alternative explanations other than stress, which seems like a shot in the dark rather than a sure thing.

What I have noticed are signs of anxiety that are related to the fear of not finding a bathroom. She is afraid to take long walks for fear that she won’t find a potty. She is afraid to take long car trips because she knows we will be annoyed at stopping for bathroom breaks. I can’t imagine the feeling of sitting in classroom and wondering how long she can wait before asking the teacher if she can go to the bathroom… again! And I’m sure the panic sets in when she realizes that if she waits too long, there could be a terribly embarrassing puddle to explain.

Anxiety and panic are the hardest problems for which to find definitive answers. I remember when my dad repeatedly visited the hospital with symptoms of heart attack before he was finally diagnosed with “Panic Disorder”. This was before the age of Google, so it was especially frustrating in our household to understand this thing that was happening. There were all sorts of sub-symptoms like phobic avoidance (eliminating foods or activities that seemed to cause panic) and agoraphobia (avoiding places for fear of dying in public). We also spent our fair share of time trying to figure out why and how it all happened. 

Even now that we have an idea of that the root causes are an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, it can still be frustrating. There aren’t good answers for what causes an episode, why an episode occurs, or how the panic can suddenly make his blood pressure or pulse so erratic that it necessitates a trip to the ER. Even medications such as xanax are not completely helpful. Meditation and mindfulness seem to help, but panic is hard to eliminate. Like an addiction, it can control you and change your behavior. It is very frustrating when something has control over you, rather than you having control over it.

There may be some easy answers out there for these conditions that are just waiting to be discovered. For now, anxiety-related disorders are extremely frustrating for people like me who seek to understand the natural world.

If you reached this article via Google… I encourage you to make an appointment with a specialist. These are not the answers you’re looking for… move along, move along.

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With all the witches and munchkins and flying monkeys, it can be easy to miss the humanist message in The Wizard of Oz: the power to overcome difficulties is within because the “great and powerful” deity doesn’t really exist. That may seem like an extremist way to interpret a whimsical story, but it doesn’t take much effort to sort out a message for freethinkers in Baum’s original story, especially with a con artist wizard behind the curtain.

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Sam Raimi’s new film “The Great and Powerful Oz” expands upon the story of our antihero, Mr. Oscar Diggs (AKA Wizard of Oz). We see him as a common carnival magician conning the gullible citizens of Kansas into believing in his uncanny abilities. He uses all the classic techniques of deception: accomplices planted in the audience, hidden doves up the sleeves, and trapdoors. The only event that stops Oscar dead in his tracks is a disabled child who believes in his magic and asks him for the impossible – to make her walk again. It’s this conflict between his perceived power and his actual lack of power that drives the themes of the movie.

Oscar is motivated by money and women, objects of desire which he pursues in both Kansas and in Oz. His greed for treasures are only exceeded by his lust for innocent women (and witches). Clearly, we have a flawed protagonist, but there are lessons in these flaws that I was able to share with my daughters on the way home from the movie. The first lesson was on skepticism toward anyone who claims to have magic powers. By this time, they’re used to me giving this lesson.

As for the second lesson, as my girls get older, I will take any chance to warn them against placing too much trust in the charms of boys (a lesson for when they’re old enough to have real boyfriends).

The best part of the movie for me was seeing Oscar struggle to save his ass in the fantastical dangerous world of Oz, where supernatural is natural. All the tricks in the world can’t save a carnival magician from flying baboons and a witch who can shoot green electricity out of her hands. Oscar admits that he’s not the wizard Glenda was expecting, and she tells him that she already knows. She says, “If you can make them believe, then you are wizard enough.”

If the original Wizard of Oz was offering a humanist message about the dangers of faith, this prequel is more a humanist message about the dangers of following saviors. The quadlings and munchkins of Oz need to believe that the prophecy of a great wizard is fulfilled because they feel helpless against the dangers of an evil force; they follow this new wizard, despite his lackluster abilities because they don’t trust in themselves

Oscar says that people don’t have magic powers where he comes from, except for scientists like Edison who he name checks as a personal hero. It’s upon this revelation of the magic of science that the humanist message really kicks into high gear with natural contraptions overcoming supernatural opponents. And of course, it wouldn’t be a true humanist movie if the antihero didn’t learn to be a good person along the way.

Go see this film and enjoy the colorful characters and special effects, but be sure to appreciate the humanist themes throughout! It was quite enjoyable for all those reasons and more.

Posted by: Chris | December 20, 2012

Stop scaring children…

Sorry I have not been active for a while. It has been kind of a trying year, but hopefully things are looking better.

But I do need to comment on the issue of the day, yet another prediction of doom and destruction.

This is something that I feel quite personal about because one day in 1967 I spent the day looking out the sliding glass doors of our quarters in Ft. Ord, CA because I was scared that all of us were going to die. That was because I saw an article somewhere that psychic Irene Hughes had said:

Earthquakes shaking California this year, leading up to a cataclysmic earthquake in 1979 that will cause great loss of life and land.

Of course, being an eight year old kid I only saw the headlines on the tabloids and did not read that we were going to fall into the ocean until 1979. This was at a time when I looked across Monterey Bay and thought Santa Cruz was actually China.

That was only one of many times that predictions of doom and destruction have turned out to be wrong, wrong, wrongety wrong. Our planet’s destruction has been predicted so often, it should be just noise in the background. But it is not. And children are listening.

Almost ten years ago when my kids were elementary school they and their friends were freaked out about Planet X (which has come up again!). Some were genuinely scared. I did my best to calm the fears of kids who asked me. But I should not have to do that.

NASA has been hit hard with queries about the end of the world, and hear is their response addressing many of the false stories. They should not have to do that.

It is simple, folks: stop making claims without real evidence, especially if it scares kids. Don’t believe in psychics, religious “prophets” or those who channel either ancients or aliens.

By the way, it is already December 21, 2012 on part of this planet and we are still here. Give your kids an extra hug, they have better things to think about.

Side Note: I had used the Googles often to figure out where I had heard that our bit of California was going to fall into the ocean, but had failed. I finally found the connection when Doubtful News posted this article with the appropriate link. Thanks Sharon!

Posted by: Ticktock | December 16, 2012

A “Dear God – Violence in Schools ” Top Ten

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1. Don’t do this. This senseless massacre of children should never be used as an evangelical wedge issue. Take some time to grieve and pray for the families of the deceased. Take a rest from insulting your atheist friends and family with a t-shirt that your own god would despise (Deu 18:20).

2. Have you read the bible? It’s filled with examples of god-sponsored genocide, including women and children.

“And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.” – Deuteronomy 2:34

“And we utterly destroyed them, … utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city.” Deuteronomy 3:6

“And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” Joshua 6:21

“Thus saith the LORD of hosts … go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” 1 Samuel 15:2-3

3. You want to know why God isn’t “allowed” in the schools? Go ask Westboro Baptist Church who will be picketing the school and celebrating the death of the godless children!!! Should we allow the god that Westboro believes in? Or the one that you believe in?

4. Is the t-shirt saying that peace in school REQUIRES that god be allowed? Because what kind of powerful god would allow children (many of whom surely go to church) to be massacred, even if he weren’t “allowed” in the schools? Seriously… we must suspend our constitutional rights to receive protection from god? And there is absolutely NO violence in religious schools? Bullshit.

5. Maybe the shirt is saying that God randomly picked these students to be instruments of his wrath against secular America?  It wouldn’t be the first time that the biblical god brought wrath upon innocent children (2 Kings 2:23-24), but those stories of a jealous/angry god are just some of the reasons that I’m not a christian.

6. I keep coming back to this question… which god should we allow in public schools? Maybe we should ask the many Muslim nations whose god doesn’t allow girls to attend school. Those nations turned out fine, right?

7. Maybe I read the news story incorrectly, but wasn’t this tragedy caused by a young adult who unlawfully entered the school, and not any lack of morality within the school? Doesn’t this fact render this irritating facebook meme irrelevant?

8. Public schools don’t have the privilege of selecting the students who can afford them. Why is there (seemingly) more violence in public schools? Maybe because poor kids are dealing with some poverty-related issues that the wealthy students at religious schools don’t encounter.

9. The crusades called and said “LOL… you’re joking, right?”.

10. Dear God: Why did you allow kids to be sexually abused in so many catholic schools. Dear concerned student: Touche!

Posted by: Ticktock | October 4, 2012

Parenting Within Reason is Back!

When my new friend Noelle George said she wanted to resurrect Parenting Within Reason, I nearly had a panic attack. The podcast was an amazing experience and a proud accomplishment, but it was a lot of work with very little reward. The hosts and producers of PWR were busy parents with jobs and responsibilities, but we managed to squeeze in time to speak to amazing guests: Paul Offit, Lenore Skenazy, TMBG’s John Flansburgh, and many other authors and experts. We exhausted ourselves and the show faded out silently.

Noelle George wanted to make her own parenting podcast for freethinkers, but when she discovered the existence of Parenting Within Reason she decided to join forces and begin the resurrection. Noelle is the Operations Manager for Foundation Beyond Belief, she has a little baby daughter, and she is taking on the daunting task of producing the newest incarnation of Parenting Within Reason. This time around, we are making sure that we have a funding model, including sponsors and listener contributions, so that we can pay for things like microphones, editors, and hosting. Please chip in to help us maintain our sanity and our bank accounts.

We’re also sending the podcast in a new direction. Our focus is going to lean more toward issues that are important to secular humanist families, rather than the previous incarnation’s focus on science and skepticism. Obviously there is some overlap. We will not lose any skeptical values, but we will embrace atheism as a focus more than before.

I am saying “we”, so you can guess that I’m staying on as a host with Noelle. In order to simplify the production, there won’t be a panel of co-hosts like before. We will, however, be including some guest co-hosts in the future.

Episode 1 of PWR 2.0 is NOW AVAILABE on our NEW WEB PAGE! We are still currently under review with itunes, so stay tuned for resubscription information.

Our first guests for episode one are SNL Alum and atheist activist Julia Sweeney and “Atheist for Dummies” author Dale McGowan! Thanks for listening!

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Posted by: Ticktock | August 24, 2012

The Irrationality of Intolerance and Fear

My city has been going through some drama lately. Last week, a man was walking home from the liquor store when he was severely beaten by six young teenagers. They pummeled him so hard that he was put in the hospital for four days. The kids had no other excuse for their behavior than boredom, and by all accounts, they seem to be proud of their crime.

Here’s the twist to the story that has everyone in a tizzy. The boys were black, and the victim was an unemployed white man. People were quick to point out the hypocrisy of not charging these boys with a hate crime. Flip the script: if it were six white kids who beat up a black guy, we would have Jesse Jackson flying in to demand justice.

Whether the reverse-racism claims are true, the boys are not going to be charged for a hate crime. Ohio doesn’t have a provision for hate crimes (SAY WHA???), and apparently the feds are not interested in prosecuting minors for hate crimes. Proving that this was a hate crime would be a near impossibility, unless you had a confession other than “boredom” as the primary motive.

A white supremacy group has become so enraged by this incident that they’ve decided to interfere in our evenly segregated city. They’ve put fliers on our cars directing their hateful message to the “white citizens”, and now they want to assemble in front of our police station (and mayor’s court) on the day that the kids are arraigned. Besides the obvious problem of having a hate group storm the city, there’s also the added problem of them rallying in the particular location they’ve selected: it’s within spitting distance of the middle school.

The superintendent has done everything he can to insure that the students will be safe. The school will be on lock down, the students will not be able to leave the building all day, the blinds will be shut so that they will not be subjected to the hate, and extra security will be provided by police and neighboring communities.

Despite the draconian measures being taken, some parents at the elementary school (near the hate rally but not in sight of it) are terrified to bring their kids to school on the day of the rally. My daughters report that many of their classmates will not attend, and that they think someone will shoot their school or climb in the windows to get them. Can you imagine?

These cowardly parents who are keeping their kids home are letting their fear of a two hour rally override their common sense, and they are inadvertently creating a panic for the students, many of whom are too young to understand any of this. Let’s be realistic. Even if the white supremacists act violently, they are rallying in front of a police station that will be surrounded by extra security. These schools will be locked down tighter than Alcatraz. If anything, students would be safer in the schools than at home or on the streets. In fact, allowing young teens with poor decision making skills to stay home may only create more trouble at this rally.

And the thing that bothers me the most is that none of these parents seem to be remotely concerned that the very individuals who committed the boredom-inspired act of violence that started it all are back at school enjoying the notoriety of being infamous. One of the suspects proudly bears the nickname “House Arrest”. Why aren’t parents afraid of their kids being stuck with remorseless criminal sociopaths as classmates?

Our community has been rocked by the events this week. The fear and panic partnered with the violence and intolerance have lowered our collective self-esteem. But, a group of citizens are fighting back peacefully by holding a “Unity Rally” (on the other side of town as the hate rally), where we show the better nature of our community. I will be at the Unity Rally promoting the school’s character education initiative. Hopefully, we will gain some interest in the initiative which will translate into money and volunteer time.

We need the help!

 

Posted by: Ticktock | July 8, 2012

School of Character: Part 2

The #1 suggestion from parents at the initial steering committee meeting was that the public school make discipline and character a top priority. After a series of meetings, they asked me to chair the newly formed character committee, and I’m taking the responsibility very seriously.

My first task was to find out as much information about character education as possible, and then synthesize what I’d learned into an action plan. I started with the perfect book: Character Matters by Thomas Lickona. The information in Character Matters is essential for anyone searching for guidelines for making character a priority. After reading the book, I’m way more confident about improving character education in my daughters’ school.

With any project, it’s good to start with a goal. My goal will be to transform our school into a “National School of Character”, which is an honor bestowed upon schools by Character Education Partnership, a national organization with the mission to help schools develop people of good character. They have an 11-point plan for achieving that goal, but I’ve signed myself up for a “National School of Character” workshop in Ohio to make sure that our school implements their plan successfully. I also intend to interview a neighboring school to see how they achieved such a recognition.

I stumbled upon a high quality character education organization in my research that happens to be located in my city. Winners Walk Tall is a character building program that enables parent volunteers to teach fundamental values and practical life-changing skills to students. The best part of the program is that the training and information is completely free, and that the organization empowers parents who should be the primary character influence for their children.

My plans for the character committee are tentative, but include:

  • Character virtues for each month of the school year.
  • A monthly parent-written newsletter that will highlight the monthly virtue and recommend activities or discussions.
  • Monthly movie night, featuring family-friendly movies that correspond with monthly virtues.
  • Finding two parent volunteers per grade to be our “Winners Walk Tall” representatives.
  • Bringing teachers on board for character curriculum infusion.
  • Writing a touchstone quote that encompasses all the virtues in one statement.
  • Asking the local city council to pass a resolution promising that the community itself will be a partner in character education. (I might have a friend in local government.)
  • Convincing the faculty to get on board the character train and to commit to the recommended changes.

As always, I seek advice from my readers. Anyone out there undertaken the task of developing a program for character education? I’m eager for suggestions.

Posted by: Ticktock | July 1, 2012

School of Character Part 1

Now that I’ve been selected as the chair of the character committee for my daughters’ school, I’ve devoted much of my mental energy to preparing for the job. I’ve been reading books, reviewing web sites, and  consulting experts. When I give myself a project, I tend to bury myself completely and dig my way out.

The first person I wanted to consult was David Sloan Wilson, the author of The Neighborhood Project. David’s evidence-based advice for “The Good Behavior Game” was just the recommendation I had been seeking for an answer how to solve the disruptions in the classrooms. He was very kind to write me back and offer some suggestions…

I took David’s advice and contacted the Paxis Institute, and I was quite surprised to have my phone call answered by Dr. Dennis Embry, the director of the organization. Dr. Embry is a passionate developmental psychologist who advocates for evidence-based approaches to classroom intervention. Dr. Embry was very persuasive about the GBG, citing evidence that disruptions can go down by 90% when the game is applied appropriately. Unfortunately, there was a point when my skepticism kicked in, which is natural when someone tells you that they have the perfect solution. My internal conflict was with the very fact that the most vocal proponent for the GBG was also the very person standing to profit from it’s widespread use by branding the “PAX” name, promoting workshops, and selling instructional kits. I also have some doubts about the evidence, such as whether there were controlled trials that compared the GBG with other structured interventions, or if the comparisons were between the GBG and status quo. 

My skepticism aside, I’m still excited about the Good Behavior Game and the PAXIS approach to using “kernels” of evidence-based practices to maximize a school’s potential. But since I am not in charge of curriculum, I will leave the administration with my recommendation and let them decide if it’s worth it. They have a lot on their hands with training the teachers in Positive Behavior Support, which I hope will be an effective tool that is put to good use.

I was also pleased to have some advice on character education from one of my heroes, Dale McGowan, on his blog The Meming of Life. He recommended Meditations for the Humanist” by AC Grayling and What Do You Stand For? by Barbara Lewis. He also recommended that I contact the Unitarian Universalist church, which has excellent resources for character education.

My next article will be my tentative plans for the character committee, and my goals for the future.

Posted by: littlez2008 | June 24, 2012

Hey, I know that kid.

One of the central questions about the increase in autism diagnoses over the last few decades is whether there is any actual increase in autism due to some environmental factor, or if it is merely diagnostic substitution that has caused an apparent increase.  And often people on the autism as epidemic side of the debate will ask, “Well then, where are all the autistic adults?”

I think many of them might be in my family, for starters.  There’s my dad, who taught me the pythagorean theorem (or tried to anyway) when I was three, but does not know how to answer the question, “How are you?”  He will bore you to tears on any topic of his choosing, and you will find yourself unable to change the subject.  Then there’s his dad (my grandfather), who beat computers at chess, disgusted at their silly errors, but lived mostly as a recluse in his Manhattan apartment for as long as I knew him.  And I hear tell of Grandpa’s brother, who I never met, Uncle Jim who built robots and was, as they used to say, “odd.”

It would seem high functioning autism or Asperger’s runs in families, by my own anecdotal evidence.  But none of the men in my family were ever diagnosed with it until my son came along.  As you can imagine, I fall squarely on the diagnostic substitution side of the debate.

When my brother and I chat, it is often to try to figure out the crazy people we grew up with.  And as we got older, we wondered more and more if Dad might have been on the spectrum.  I brought it up once at a gathering of cousins, specifically my dad’s nephew, a physicist who worked for the Pentagon.  His wife, a speech therapist who often works with spectrum kids, jumped on the bandwagon.  She said she believed all the men in the family were on the spectrum, in perhaps some “subclinical” way.

Indeed, one could make a case for overdiagnosis.  My son has some issues, but are they worthy of state and federal funding for early intervention?  The local Regional Center believes so, and so does the school district.  But draw the lines differently, and he might be a bit different than most but not necessarily in a way that requires special classes.  It took evaluators longer than normal to figure him out.  Regional Center needed to observe him a classroom. Our private clinic asked for one extra session with him.  He’s a borderline case, really, but nevertheless we got the free services that should make him “better.”

Right before Dad met our son for the first and only time, my husband and I had just taken Zack to his first dentist visit.  We got the news that Zack’s upper lateral incisors had not appeared in the correct order, and that this meant he would actually not ever get them.  But then a few days after the dentist visit, the left incisor came in.  The right never appeared, and the two teeth on either side grew close to each other.  So you really cannot tell that there is a tooth missing, unless you look closely.

The news about the tooth was hardly traumatic.  But it was conversation worthy, so I brought it up to my dad.  And as I was finishing the story, Dad said, “You mean like this?”  And he smiled and revealed that he is missing the exact same tooth, on the same side.  In my entire life I had never noticed.

And at that moment, my heart sank just slightly, because I realized that we can never escape the legacy of our genetics.  And right then, that was the very first time I wondered if Zack was going to be autistic.  It was long before we had any reason to suspect.

For a long time, we thought the echolalia would fade and he would start developing language more typically, or that he would just outgrow his extreme fear of loud noises, and that his preschool teachers’ concern over how he liked to play alone was just unwarranted–so what if he liked to play alone?  But now when I bring Zack to his weekly social skills play group, it seems so obvious that he shares traits with the other kids around him, although his are so much more subtle.  There is the girl who comes in showing off a toy she just got.  “Do you see my new toy that I just got in Little Tokyo?  I named him Yugi Shoko, which is a made up Japanese name.  Isn’t he cute?”  Without waiting for a response, she goes to the next person and says the exact same thing, in the same tone of voice, sing songy, too loud, a recitation.  My son does this sort of thing all the time, although his echolalia is thawing and he is able to converse somewhat now.  One of the preschool teachers told me, when Zack first started at his crunchy hippie preschool, that they had the same conversation, day after day, about his red lunchbox.  “I have a red lunchbox.  Do you have a red lunchbox?”  Same phrases, no variation.

The girl with the Yugi Shoko toy walks over to another girl who is slouched on the sofa, chewing on her hair, waiting for her playgroup director to arrive.  “I named him Yugi Shoko, which is a made up Japanese name.  Isn’t he cute?”  A pause.  The girl chewing on her hair has heard the Yugi Shoko girl recite this story about five times now.  Chewing Hair girl says, sardonically, “Well that’s awkward.”  And she is correct, but there is something about her delivery that suggests a repeated bit of dialogue from somewhere else as well.  She has trouble connecting, so she relies on a sarcastic attitude to see her through.

When we get into the playgroup room, my son plays with two other boys in his group.  One is a high energy kid who goes on and on about aliens and can’t sit still.  If any question about a letter of the alphabet comes up, he recites the entire alphabet and has to run around the room.

I recognize all these kids from my own elementary school.  I feel like I’ve met them all before.  They were the various odd kids we didn’t understand back then, the socially awkward daughter of our Girl Scout troop leader, the quiet boy with the terrible handwriting who was always getting criticized by the teacher of my “gifted” fifth grade class, the slouched over tall girl who shared the front of the line with me on picture days, but with whom I could never muster a conversation.

Both the directors at my preschool have told me their own sons would most likely have been diagnosed on the spectrum, if the diagnosis had existed when their sons were kids.  But one of them also insists, “We see so much of it now.  I think it must be environmental.”

I disagree, although I am not 100% sure.  I think we see so much of it now because we know what we are looking for now.

I don’t know if my dad repeated entire passages from television shows instead of coming up with his own sentences.  I don’t know if he could do puzzles fit for a 5-year-old before he was four, but at the same not was not able to answer simple questions about a picture in a book.  I’m not sure if he was ever considered impaired or handicapped as a kid.  I know he is a bit of a odd guy who I’ve never really known to have close friends.  And I could not officially diagnose him as high functioning autistic, although whenever evaluators have asked about a family history, I do mention him.

I believe it’s the diagnosis, not the incidence, that has increased, even as I catch myself wondering if I served too many meals on plastic plates or fed my kid breast milk somehow polluted with the legacy of my young adult life.  I don’t think I can stop wondering if there is an actual increase, and I’m certainly open to evidence that there might be.  But I feel like I know these kids, and I’ve seen them before, and now they are just getting attended to, at least in the best way we know how to attend to them in this era.

Posted by: Ticktock | June 7, 2012

Public School Steering Committee: Breaking Out!

This is the latest on the steering committee at my daughters’ distressed elementary school!

Last time I came to you, we were still in the brainstorming stage. Since then, we’ve had two meetings to create goals, discuss strategies, and focus our ideas. Now we are at the point where the steering committee is ready to break apart into sub-committees to work on the nitty gritty details.

And your’s truly has been nominated to lead a subcommittee – Character Education

I was nominated for this committee because I recommended “The Good Behavior Game“, which is an evidence-based technique to reduce disruptions in class. I heard about the GBG from David Sloan Wilson’s book “The Neighborhood Project“. Basically, the idea is that the teacher divides the class into competing groups, all vying for a group prize based on their collective behavior. It’s a simple idea, but has been proven to reduce the number of disruptions in the class — almost immediately, but also for the long run.

We’re also going to introduce character education with a different values trait every month, like fairness, kindness, etc. The committee will offer recommendations for lesson plans for each character trait. We might even work on providing merit badges for the students when they achieve a certain level.

I’m at the beginning of the process, so please recommend ideas that have worked in your child’s school.

The other committees and some of their projects:

Recess: The principal admitted to us that she was considering eliminating recess and switching to “activity” time (meaning not necessarily physical education). We convinced her that more and better recess would reduce misbehavior, and she modified her plans to accommodate our concerns. We’re at the point of maximizing the recess time and diversifying the quality of recess with different locations and multiple activities. I’ve forwarded a packet of recess games to the principal that I downloaded from Playworks Organization, which is dedicated to creating more cooperative quality recess in public education. This looks promising!

There’s also a plan to get the kids walking around the track and calculating the miles walked as a metaphorical walk around the world. Displayed on the cafeteria wall will be a map of the Earth indicating how far the kids’ combined efforts have taken them around the world. We may even find grants for pedometers.

Parental Support – We want to address the very real problem that we have parents who need support. One avenue that we will take will be to offer “Love and Logic” parenting classes through a grant. I have not personally read this book, but have had multiple parenting experts recommend it. I am very happy with this idea!

I’m also consulting “Success By Six” to see how they can help my city. They’re a group through United Way who work to support parents with early education.

Public Relations – There’s a communication gap at our school, and this committee will try to solve it.

Co-curricular Activities – Improving reading and math are two of our primary goals for the next school year, but we don’t want other areas to fall by the wayside. This group will work to expand on what the kids are learning, whether that be more science, drama, or computer skills.

Student Feedback – We’ve created a committee that will be responsible for surveying the kids and comparing their feedback about the school from the beginning of school to the end of school.

In addition to the aforementioned committees, there are real concrete changes being made by the administration: every grade will have smaller classes, a dean of students has been hired to help with behavior issues, a “Positive Behavior Support” committee has been formed, workshops on crisis prevention, aesthetic changes to the exterior, new reading programs, etc.

Very excited about the new year!

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