Teacher Professor

April 30, 2010

Pressure Cookers

Filed under: Gifted,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 9:59 am

Upon entering a party recently at my high school reunion, I met a woman who lived for four years in the dorms with me, but led a very different existence.  I remember her as funny, smart, and very engrossed in what she and her friends were doing.  I remember feeling that she was laughing at me.  I remember watching Dallas lightening storms together with others in her dorm room.  I don’t remember her being unhappy, but I do remember my being so.

When I saw her, I asked her how often she had come to reunion.  “This is my first one, and I’m really nervous,” she confessed.

“Really!?” I said, surprised that she hadn’t been involved before now.  “Why not?”

“Because girls were mean and I was just so glad to get out of here,” she said. “But I guess after 25 years, it’s time to face it.”

I was stunned at how many girls in our class were coming back for the first time- or only the second time.  And all of us had the same story- “I didn’t like the pressure… I was scared to see everyone… I didn’t have fun then and didn’t see why I should… I loved my education, but the girls, not so much.”

It made me think about how many of my own fears were shared- and how ungrounded.

And it made me think of how so many of us had responded to pressure- both inside and outside, by avoiding the place and the people connected with that pressure.

Pressure’s a funny thing.  The only way to get diamonds from coal is to provide a lot of pressure over time.  Certainly, our school provided academic pressure.  We were given high expectations, asked to analyze and evaluate, and provided strong instruction.  We wrote papers longer than most I wrote in college.  I learned the five-paragraph formula, the function formula, and the formula for benzene.  I took Calculus, Organic Chemistry and AP English, as well as Latin and Latin American History.  It was a curriculum designed to produce not just college-bound, but graduate-school-bound students.

And such academic pressure added to social pressures.  All students in high school feel social pressure.  Recent, and very sad reports about bullying certainly show that.  There are the Queen Bees and the WannaBees, and if you’re not on the inside, you’re on the outside.  You’re solidly in one clique and excluded from others.  In high school, you’re trying so hard to fit in, anything that causes you to stand out is kept hidden.  The hiding can cause its own internal pressure.   Many women finally shared the drama in their lives that they had kept private in high school- alcoholic parents, sexual abuse, bulimia- even a hidden marriage!   But when you’re expected to be academically, athletically and personally perfect-  that’s a whole lotta pressure. 

Expecially when the pressure comes from inside… not just outside. 

One of the challenges of gifted education is the role of expectations.  So many gifted children feel that they have to live up to a certain level of expectation- and if they don’t, then they are failures.  And some people crumble.  We had one girl from our graduating class of 93 commit suicide in her 20s – a fact whispered about, not discussed openly.  Perhaps not statistically significant, but a very, very significant loss.  Was it because of the pressure of expectations?  I have no idea.  But I can see the toll pressure took on so many others.  In some cases, it took 25 years before we could face each other again.

Interestingly enough, college for most of us was great fun.  College was significantly easier than high school- academically and socially.  Many of us reported that we were not only well-prepared for college, we were bored.  Several people talked about being bored in their adult lives- that their career was not exciting, that their neighbors were not people who were interested in the same things that they were.  The pressure from high school was released-  some looked back on it fondly and many, many others did not. 

The great irony, of course, is that by any measure, the women in my graduating class are “successful”.  Some are financially successful.  Some are personally successful.  Some are surviving- and that, given their circumstances, IS success.  And many of us have matured enough to recognize that we have to live up to our own expectations and not the expectations of others. 

Interestingly, we have much more in common with each other now than we did in high school.  Pehaps we’re listening more and expecting less.  But I do have to say- the pressure cooker of high school created an awful lot of diamonds that I now call “friend”.

April 29, 2010

Love is What’s Left

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 12:26 pm

I had a very sweet moment this past weekend when I saw my high school boyfriend for the first time in 20 years.  Let me be clear- this is not a story about high school sweethearts hooking up again.  We are both happily married and love our children and our lives.  This is not about changing my life.  It’s about appreciating who’s in it.

When I walked into the party, I was looking for him.  He’s very tall and easily found in a crowd.  I quickly spotted him and worked my way over to him.  He was walking past me when I put my hand out and said “Jack,”  He stopped and looked at me for a long time with no recognition, until all of a sudden, he breathed, “Oh wow.”  I know that my weight and my lines and my gray are significantly different from high school, as are his, but the eyes- our eyes are the same.  Then, we hugged.  And hugged.  And hugged.  For a very long time.  And it was all ok.

We dated for almost three years in high school.  I gave him chicken pox.  His family took me under their wing and I spent a lot of time at his house.  I loved his mother and admired his dad.  We celebrated his first vehicle- a truck I called “Chocolate”.  We danced a Texas Two-Step on a 4th of July together.  We saw movies together, went to football games together, and dressed up for three Homecomings and three Christmas formal dances together.  My parents met his.  It ended badly, as these things tend to.  He wanted to date other people, and wanted a wider experience than we had.  I got clingy and whiney.  There were lots of tears on my part, guilt on his, and blame all the way around.  Ultimately, we were high school kids and unprepared for the enormity of a relationship.  But he was my first love and the one who first taught me what a relationship could be.

And during that hug, I realized that all of those tears, all of that hurt, all of those bad feelings were gone.  What was left were warm memories, fondness and a recognition of the enduring quality of love.  We broke apart, I met his wife-  a wonderfully funny and warm person who has survived cancer, and we went back to talking to separate groups of friends at the party.  No drama, no significant looks.  But I knew that I would always love and be loved.  Even time doesn’t beat out that.

I hugged my husband and children hard when I got home- valuing them even more.  I was reminded that no matter what, the irritations, the grief of autism and Tourette’s, the day-to-day stuff- none of it really matters.  Love wins over autism.  It wins over cancer.  It wins over anger.  What is left is their own space in my heart.  Once people have a corner, the heart expands and never loses that space. 

Heart real estate is valuable.  It’s why moments like this are so appreciated- because I can re-learn how important I was to someone- how important they were to me.  The Greek myth says that when Pandora opened the box, all of the emotions flew out- anger and bitterness and joy.  She slammed it shut and hope was at the bottom of the box- the last emotion to leave.  I think the story’s wrong.  Can you have hope without love?  Love is what is left.

April 28, 2010

Sprinkled Memories

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 11:35 am

There is fascinating research by Dr. Karim Nader and reported in the Smithsonian magazine about how memories are made- and here’s the kicker- REMADE just by remembering them.  In other words, he hypothesizes that memories are plastic and just by the physical, neurological  act of remembering, you change what you remember.  The proteins and synapses of the brain rearrange themselves as they are used and make new combinations and new connections.  They’re investigating this process with possible drug possibilities for sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It all sounds very Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  There are tremendous implications for education as well.  It’s all very exciting research involving biology, neurology, and brain research about what makes us remember.

In other words, convenient memory.

I had a distinct  moment of that this past weekend when I went to my high school reunion.  There’s a classic story of my prom that I love to tell.  It basically goes like this:

My high school boyfriend and I had broken up my junior year and I was drifting through my senior year.  A friend of mine, “Thomas”, who was a freshman in college and a year ahead of me, told me that I HAD to go to prom- it was a milestone that was not to be missed.  So, we went together.  We were good friends and had flirted and played around during stage productions, etc.  He was “an older man” and quite cute.  But we had never broken that awkward teenage barrier of “more than friends”.

We go to prom- I in my lovely, ruffled Jessica McClintock pink froth and he in a lovely, ruffled  tuxedo (It WAS the 80’s!).  Our prom picture shows us terribly awkward in our finery and oh-so-self-conscious of the perceived importance of the moment.  We ate, we danced, we flirted, we had a great time.

At 10:45, the band took a break.  We took a walk outside on the golf course.  The air was that perfect Texas air- humid- without being sticky and oh so soft, there were lights in the trees, and strains of classical music playing.  We went over a little rise on the golf course and a fountain was playing down below- lit up with fairy lights.  A perfect little bench was next to the fountain.  We took a seat.  Every nerve tingled.  I was aware of his breathing and my own heart, racing.  We looked deep in each other’s eyes.  Was this THE moment?  Was this when we broke through the “just friends” barrier?  He leaned over, and…

It turned 11:00.  The lights and the fountain, apparently on a timer, turned off.  The band came back from break and the raucous strains of a Duran Duran song blasted over the loudspeakers.  We paused, and burst into laughter.  “Talk about a Woody Allen moment,” he said.  We went back to the dance, ate some more, and ended the evening just jolly- and “just friends” who had shared… something.

And that’s how my story goes- repeated and solidified in my memory from the retelling of it.  It’s a “what could have been” story as well as a story of the Cinderella that wasn’t.  I didn’t get the prince, and we all stayed frogs.  The Universe clearly had other plans.

So, after realizing that my memories were flawed from my European fugue, I asked Thomas about it as we drove back to Lala’s house after a lovely afternoon hearing about the intervening 25 years.  I wanted to double-check my memory- was it really as funny as I remembered?

I started the story and as I got to the part about seeing the fountain, he started to laugh.  “I remember- this involves sprinklers!” he chuckled.  “Sprinklers?” I asked my brain and conveniently, a memory of the sprinklers dropped into my head.  Oh yeah- there were sprinklers.  Sprinklers that I had forgotten.

And so he and I recreated a memory that we both had.  I have it now- a shared memory, complete with sprinklers.  He  now has a different version of his old memory as well- one with the band coming back.  He had forgotten that part.

What we both did remember was how sweet was the relationship- what a clear, nice, fresh high school relationship it was-  with potential, but one that wasn’t meant to be.  In his version, he calls it a “John Hughes” moment- one that might happen in one of those classic 80’s movies.  Either way- the boy didn’t get the girl.  We are both very happily married and wouldn’t have it any other way.  But it was a lovely moment of growing up.

And did any of this really happen?  I have no idea.  I can’t remember. I only remember the story.

April 26, 2010

Looking Around and Remembering

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 3:10 pm

After resisting it for 25 years, I went to my high school reunion- and am so much richer and grounded because of it.

There’s something about the passage of time and the freedom of turning 40 that allows you to drop the judgements, to recognize that growing up is more about shedding the layers than adding the years, and to see yourself more clearly.  But it took some time…

Being a teenager is about looking out and looking ahead, but not looking around.  I stayed with a friend who I vaguely remember was there with me on a trip I took to Europe right after high school with my history teacher.  An amazing trip- I have never been back to most of those places, and I have crystal clear memories of the smell of the sand and blood at the bull fight in Spain, the pots of red geraniums on the city walls of Dubrovnik, the coziness of the eiderdown comforters in Austria.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It was six weeks of being on the move with about 20 girls and Mrs. Skaggs, 13 countries, a cruise, and countless cathedrals.  It was exotic, unbelievable and something I’ve never come close to replicating since.  I learned so much about the world, other cultures, and other ways of being.  I learned to say “Excuse me” in about five different languages.  Apparently, though, I forgot who was sharing it with me.

I reminded my friend “Lala” about our sharing a birthday- something I vaguely remembered from the cruise.  She is the only person I know with whom I share a birthday.   I even remember the really pretty silk dress I wore- cream-colored with a ruffle around the waist.  I remember her sitting across from me and the shared birthday cake.  Everything else- pretty fuzzy.  Horribly fuzzy, in fact. Astonishingly fuzzy, we learned. 

When she picked me up from the airport, we were quickly catching up and realizing how much we liked each other now as adults.  I said something about sharing our birthday from that trip.  “Really?!” she said, shocked.  “You were on that trip?”  I would have been hurt, except that other than the birthday celebration, I didn’t really remember her there, either.  We laughed and were amused.

When we met up with the third woman, Jo, who was also staying with Lala, we were laughing with her about our brain freeze- how we had forgotten the other one was even there.  “YOU were on that trip, too?” she asked, shocked.  There was a very significant, long pause as Lala and I sat there, stunned.  “NO WAY!”  we said in tandem.  Turns out that of the 18 girls there, the three of us were on the same trip together, but in different social circles.  Social circles that in high school are absolute, rigid and apparently, can cause total memory loss.

I was even more stunned about this memory loss when I was looking through Lala’s photo album of that trip and realized that SHE was the girl with me who met three boys from Australia at the Neptune Fountain in Florence- a beautiful fountain that I have seen time and time again in movies- and am immediately taken back to that moment.  I can tell you the type of khaki shorts that one of the boys was wearing.  I can tell you that one of them was shirtless and blonde and oh so-gorgeously golden tanned.  I can tell you the giggly feeling that I had at how exotic I felt flirting with fellow travelers during a summer in Florence.  Apparently, I could not tell you who was with me that I actually knew.

And it got me thinking.

About how incredibly self-centered teenagers really are.  How everything is about them and their needs, their friends.  And how rigid this thinking is.  Teenagers are capable of conceptual thinking, which means that they can question, they can think creatively, and they explore boundaries of ideas.  Such thinking is restricted to theory, and apparently not to their own relationships.   I can sit in judgment about it as an adult, but it doesn’t change the fact- this is how teenagers operate.  They place so many boundaries on themselves. 

And these boundaries are so emotionally and socially related.  So many of us at the reunion remembered the teachers, the content, the wonder of learning.  And so many of us forgot who was in class with us. 

I’m convinced that this type of memory loss is somehow related to emotional regulation and the role of novelty.  And I wonder what it means for children and teens with autism and other brain-based disorders.

Do they remember things better since they often don’t have the emotional overlay?  Do they remember less since they have fewer neurological connections to emotional centers and chemicals?  Do they remember things because they do not have the emotional regulation to be bored and thus, so much is “new”? Notice that what I remembered best were the sensory things?- the colors, the smells and the textures of places exotic and foreign to me.  The novelty and the sensory made quite an impression.  But the known, the familiar, the people that I didn’t interact with- not so much.  When we teach, when we want to remember, we have to focus on the new, the emotional connections, the sensory, the exotic within the typical.  And to do that- you have to look around.

I won’t view teaching teenagers quite the same as before… I remember Mr. Kramer’s use of the book on the 60’s.  I remember Mrs. Skaggs opening up of Latin American history.  I remember Mr. Walker’s teaching us James Joyce.  But I’m sure that I acted just as bored and obnoxious as any teenager and I’m sure that the teachers had to work to get my attention away from my friends.  The great irony is that I remember the classes more than my friends now.  To all of my teacher friends, they don’t look like they’re paying attention- but they are…

For whatever it’s worth, I had a wonderful time with Jo and Lala this time- and I won’t forget it.

April 22, 2010

Singing My Song

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 9:34 am

All right- I admit it- I’m a sucker for a cute frontman.

Arnie Duncan spoke at the Council for Exceptional Children conference last night and I was RIGHT THERE!  Arnie Duncan is the Secretary of Education and basically in charge of, like, my whole professional life.   He is however, a politician, and so I recognize that while he was saying good things (and was really cute!), there is a very large gap between what they SAY and what they DO…

But boy, did he say all the right things.  Kids with disabilities have the right to inclusive settings.  Kids who are gifted deserve the right to learn new things.  He told a couple of stories.  Teachers shouldn’t be expected to have their all of their children reach grade level, but to make a year’s worth of growth in a year (which is still an issue for some kids and teachers… but it’s better than what we have now).  There should be money available from Congress to fund all of these federal requirements.  There were lots of claps.  Lots of cheers.  No questions allowed.  He was “preaching to the choir” and the hard details will be left for another day.

Now, of course… let’s see this really happen.  Let’s see what No Child Left Behind looks like when it’s rewritten as Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Let’s see what Congress allows to actually happen. Let’s see what new pressures are put on teachers.  Let’s see children truly be accepted.  That’s real progress.  But progress can’t happen without leadership, and at least the leaders are saying the right things..

He sure can talk.  And he sure is cute.  But he’s no miracle worker.

Oh, and I rode over to the Convention Center with “Dave”, the guitar player from Possum Kingdom, South Carolina Quartet, which is the name of the band that won Best Group at the Dove Awards last night here in Nashville.  He was cute, too, and could sing a pretty song as well.

April 20, 2010

Milestones and Reunions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 3:37 pm

My 25th high school reunion is this weekend.  That makes me officially OLD since there’s no possible way it’s been that long.  And I’m nervous…

Nervous because of the things that I didn’t get done- I didn’t lose that 25 pounds (ok, 30) that I meant to.  Stuff got in the way.  I didn’t make that million dollars- stuff got in the way.  I didn’t have that marvelous life that I “supposed” to- stuff got in the way.  Heck, I didn’t even get that pedicure that I was trying to get done- stuff got in the way.    And no, there’s no time left for any of that- even the pedicure, because I leave in half an hour for a conference in Nashville that I will have to leave a presentation early in order to catch the plane to Dallas- you know, “stuff”.

Generally, I feel pretty good about my life.  I love what I do and I love my family.  We have regular stresses, and we have autism, and we have Tourette’s, and we have a dog who continues to chew up everything.  We have, you know, stuff.

But my high school was a unique experience.  For one thing, it was an all-girls boarding school.  My family traveled from Colorado to Texas and back every year, following my dad’s work as a forester during the sunshine months and as a carpenter during the winter months.  High schools tend to frown on moving around every year, during the year.  I was a scholarship kid with a vastly different way of life than many of the other girls.  I went to school with daughters of captains of industry, horserace families, politicians, “old” money, and oil money.  And a few professional families who were doing the best for their daughters.  It was an expensive school- the tuition alone was more than most colleges.

And we got our money’s worth.  I used to laugh that I was never challenged like I was in high school until I wrote my dissertation.  I learned how to write (thank you Dr. Saxon), how to challenge and think about history (thank you Mrs. Skaggs and Mr. Kramer), how to truly appreciate art (thank you Mr. Long), and how to never think that women can’t do scientific fields (thank you Dr. Johnson).  I learned how to learn.  I learned what I was capable of.  I learned about the power of expectations.

And since it was high school, I appreciated very few of those lessons until I reached adulthood.  I look back on pictures of high school and realize that while high school taught me where I could go, I had a long way to go.  I was scared and lonely and felt very, very different.  I had a few friends- many of whom were also scared and lonely.  But I look at pictures and remember very little, other than feeling awkward.

It really wasn’t until college until I realized what I could do.  I could be funny. I could be smart.  I could love music and art and hang out.  I could drink coffee.  I could be… me.  High school- that was not me.  That was the shaping of the me that I became.

I know that there are others like that- who became themselves- themselves that no one else in high school saw.  I read the updates and find out that someone is a French professor- Really?  I had no idea she liked French!  Someone else is a 4th grade teacher- Really?  She liked kids, too?  Someone else is a writer for movies and television- now, that I could see.  She always was funny and a really good writer.  Someone else is a doctor- Really?  She LIKED Biology class?  I don’t remember that…

And that’s the other thing about my high school that is a bit intimidating.  Many, many of the girls, now women, followed right along in their family’s incredibly successful footsteps.  There are a whole lot of lawyers and engineers and doctors.  There are a few professors.  Many married each other’s brothers.  Many didn’t marry at all.   One was a pop star.  Heck, one is a real live PRINCESS- I kid you not!

I feel a bit like I did when I was watching my children not make the developmental milestones- oops, she’s not talking on time.  Oh well, not this year for Barbies.  Maybe next year he’ll lose the tantrums.  They’ve made a lot of milestones on time.  They’ve made some of them early.  But for a long time, I monitored her in comparison to other children. I still do.  Competitive mothering is a real problem.

One of the pieces of advice that I give families of children with exceptionalities- disabilities and giftedness- is to try to stop the “milestone” comparison.  A child with a disability will almost always lose that battle, and as a parent, you spend your time frustrated and sad;  a gifted child will “win” and as a parent, you will wind up defensive and anxious.  You HAVE to focus on the development your child IS making- and find other people who will also celebrate your child’s first words, your child’s potty training, your child’s first friend- even if all of those things are  later or earlier than other children.   ALL children develop.  All children grow- and you have to celebrate your own child’s growth.  And watch them become THEM- the person that they are becoming, not a set of milestones that they meet at a different time.  Competitive living is a real problem.

That sounds great.  And sometimes, it works. But grief hides- when your cousin’s friend’s child has their first Bar Mitvah and reads from the Torah, “Now, I am a man.”  When your neighbor’s child drives.  When your friend’s child has a “crush”.  When other children say “Oh, Elmo- that’s for babies!”   I, and friends of mine have all shared our grief at those events.  And you never, ever get over that.  You get past it.  You focus on other things.  You celebrate.  But you never get “over” the grief of not meeting up to expectations.

And when I go to my reunion, I will try very hard to recognize the importance of 25 years, but not to measure myself against the ideal “milestones”.    I’m very curious to ask others who they’ve become- what books they read, what Mommy experiences they’ve had, what heartbreaks they’ve had, where they’ve been- who they’re becoming.

25 years.  It’s quite a milestone.  (Maybe I can put some polish on my toes on the way to the airport…)

April 18, 2010

So Many Stories

Filed under: Autism,Bipolar,Book- Parent's Guide — Teacher Professor @ 12:06 pm

I had a book signing in Jacksonville yesterday at Barnes and Noble from 1:00-3:00 where I was at the front of the store as people came in.  It was a lovely day- had I been home, we would have been outside on my bike, or at the beach.  I got a People magazine to read in case I got bored.  Not a chance.  Being at the front means that people stop and talk to you- particularly when they saw the title of the book “Children with High Functioning Autism”.  Seeing the word “autism” makes people stop- and they start to talk.  I talked with-

  • The mother and teenage son who had a neighbor with Aspergers who went to the Youth Group with the son.  Their frustration with the neighbor child.  The worry that their son would start to hate Youth Group because of this child.  Their realization that the child was “different” but believing that the boy was using it as an excuse to misbehave and get attention.  My attempts to convince them that, no, he wasn’t doing it in intentionally, but that he wanted attention- and bad attention is better than no attention.  If they really wanted to change the dynamics, they needed to notice when he was doing the right thing.  They wandered off, not convinced.  Believing that he was different, but that he could change- with God’s help.  That maybe they could understand it out of him.  That they could make him well.
  • The teacher who taught his first year in an upper middle-class school to “get his chops” and then transferred to a school for kids with attention disorders, but a lot of the children also had autism.  He now teaches in an inner-city school, where children go undiagnosed, and disabilities are the least of the children’s issues.  How he will probably be leaving teaching because of the pressure to connect pay to school performance.  How he loves kids who are different, but can’t perform miracles. How he’s tired of the system that asks him to make kids who are ignored and abused and who don’t have their existence noticed, much less their disabilities.  Much less their abilities.
  • The grandfather who spoke broken English who stood in front of my table with tears in his eyes.  “Do you think that a DVD about telescopes will be too much?  He’s 13.  He loves science.  We don’t know what to do.  This he loves.”  I said “Yes- buy the DVD.”  Barnes and Noble thanked me, I’m sure.
  • The young man with Aspergers who has a degree in film who was there with his mother.  Who discussed his favorite movies with the teacher who was still there.  Who loved college because he didn’t have to pretend to party, but could study all the time.  Who was really cute, but had never had a date.  Who was bussing at a restaurant because he couldn’t find a job.  Whose mother had another son who was also bipolar and who was also at home, but had dropped out of college.  Who didn’t have a passion that drove him.
  • The little 5-year old girl who, with her mother whispering to her, asked me “How did you write a book?”  I had a lovely conversation with her about  how I started with an idea and just sat down and did it, how it took a lot of fixing to become a real book, how my daughter wanted pictures and color, too, but it was all words and I was sorry there weren’t any more pictures for her.  How the PhD after my name meant that I went to school for 22 years and how I loved teaching teachers.  Her mother told me that she wanted her daughter to meet a “real author, particularly a woman”.
  • The grandmother of a 13 year old boy who poops in the bathtub.  She is frustrated and angry and grossed out.  Her grandson lives on the computer and hates school.  Her husband tells her that the child should be the one to clean up the messes, not her.  I suggested that she set up a positive reinforcement system.  That she talk to others.  That she find a support group.  That she reads- books other than mine, which is really more for parents of younger children.  That she knows that she is not alone.
  • And one aunt of a child who has just been diagnosed with autism at age 4 and whose sister, the child’s mother, is grieving.  She bought a book.

It was quite the two hours.  Overall, I sold three books that I wrote, but I am so much richer and full of stories.

April 16, 2010

Autism as Lifesaver?

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 11:43 am

I have been absolutely riveted by the story about Nadia Bloom, the little girl with Aspergers who was lost for four days.  She lives not far from me, about 2 hours, and so the environment is not too different from one in which my children play.  For several days, the news media was running stories about how she had gone missing- and it was so similar to the story about Somer Thompson, another regional little girl who went missing and was found dead in a trash pile near us. 

Because of this story, the news ran another story about a mother, also in Florida, who is using a transmitter that looks like a watch, through Project Lifesaver.  Available through a certified local police department to people with autism and Alzheimers and other conditions where they are apt to wander off, Project Lifesaver provides a bracelet that can be worn and then tracked by police if necessary.  It’s a wonderful program for “runners”- those folks who do not have the capacity to stare down their source of stress, but must run away from it.  I highly recommend it if there the program is in your area and you have a family member who would qualify. 

But I’m not sure that Nadia would have qualified for such a device. 

I find myself a little bit annoyed about the timing of the second story.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t keep an eye on your child.  But they were inferring that Nadia’s mother should have kept an eye on her BECAUSE she had Aspergers.  So much of it depends on the child. Eleven years old IS old enough to be out riding your bike- for some kids.  If we control too much, our children never learn independence.  And having a child with a disability means that we are especially conscious of helping our children learn to be independent- if that is a possibility for them.  Independence is a goal that has to be taught.

Getting lost has more to do with being young and making foolish choices than it does with autism.   How many children were lost those days that Nadia was out there?  It’s horrible and scary to think about- but many of those stories don’t make national news.  I would argue that Nadia’s Aspergers didn’t contribute to her getting lost, but had a whole lot to do with her getting found. 

And this is where I really start to ponder.  My imagination kicks into overdrive at the description of where she was- surrounded by alligator-infested waters, eaten by gnats, and live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss.  It’s the stuff of gothic horror movies.  Did you know that alligators can hiss, growl and bellow?  Can you imagine four days in such a place?  I would be out of my mind in terror- and run, shrieking, right into the mouth of one of the waiting beasts, I would imagine. 

But not Nadia.  She sat down and planned.  She waited for someone to find her.  She tried to use her shirt to wave for attention, but couldn’t get high enough.  And she waited. 

I think that her Aspergers SAVED her.  Her lack of imagination meant that she did not hear footsteps and alligators coming to get her in the middle of the night.  Her lack of emotionality meant that she did not break down hysterically and make foolish choices.  Her highly-focused interest in photography meant that she took some lovely pictures while she was waiting. 

I’m glad that she was found.  All mothers are glad when a child is found.  But I’m proud of how she survived, and I’m betting that her autism literally saved her life.

April 15, 2010

Calvin and Susie- Starring Ray and Elizabeth

Filed under: Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 9:50 am

I’ve just figured out the current characteristics of Ray and Elizabeth…

Elizabeth is Susie Derkins, Calvin’s arch-nemesis and female foil, without the romantic feelings that Calvin has for Susie, but certainly the latent affection.  She’s a perfectionist, very quiet, and the person who plays with him and then winds him up. She prides herself on having the answers, and on being the “good” girl.   She tattles on Calvin on a regular basis.  Yup- That’s Elizabeth- all of the above- plus, in her defense,  a whole lot more.  But this is how she can look next to Ray…

Ray is Calvin- bright, imaginative, more than slightly off-kilter, struggles with school and very active, with lots of imagination and ideas. Given our recent challenges with THE test

Is it any wonder that Ray owns all of the books from the Calvin and Hobbes strips and reads himself to sleep every night with this?  He’s recognizing himself… Last night, he was laughing at a strip and said “Look Mommy- he’s got Tourette’s too!” at one of Calvin’s hilarious faces.  Bibliotherapy in action.

What is sortof amusing is that I have used Calvin and Hobbes as teaching tools to explain twice-exceptional children to teachers for years… to understand how they have their own world, how they’re very insightful, how they struggle.  I’ve seen Calvin and Hobbes used by folks to understand autism, learning disabilities, ADHD, giftedness, and even bipolar disorder. 

I never quite imagined that my son would be using it for the same reason.

April 14, 2010

Interview with the Author

Filed under: Book- Parent's Guide — Teacher Professor @ 10:32 pm

Prufrock Press, publisher of “Children with High Functioning Autism”, has just released their interview with me… it’s a bit odd to read about myself in the third person, but I hope that you enjoy it!  A shout out to Lacey, and her colleague Jenny, who are the world’s greatest editors/marketers/interviewers/promoters/supporters… name the job, they do it!

In other, terribly tacky and self-promoting news, I will be in:

  • Jacksonville St. Johns’ Barnes and Noble this Saturday, the 10th from 2:00-4:00
  • Nashville at the Council for Exceptional Children from Wednesday the 21st-23rd, and
  • Dallas, the next Saturday the 24th at the Preston Royal Barnes and Noble from 2:00-4:00.

It will be quite the week, but I’m looking forward to seeing old and meeting new friends!

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