Teacher Professor

May 31, 2010

I’m Not Crazy- I’m Just Out of Context

Filed under: Bipolar,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 11:06 pm

I’m not crazy
I’m just a little unwell
I know right now you can’t tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
A different side of me…

–Matchbox 20

A study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden just found that people who were schizophrenic and people who were highly creative had very similar brain scans.  The portion of the brain responsible for filtering information, the thalamus, which also regulates dopamine, were similarly depressed.  This inability to regulate attention and “ideas” might account for the “out of the box” creative thinking, as well as the mania and hallucinations of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The difference appears to be in how a person responds to these ideas.  If they are able to regulate their emotional reactions, the ideas are “creative”.  If they respond negatively and are disturbed, or appear to be disturbed, then they are diagnosed with a mental illnesses. One man’s craziness is another person’s creativity.

Certainly, we know that mental illness and creativity overlap, and the more self-expressive the art or ideas, the more they overlap.  While there are creative mathematicians, they operate within a framework of accepted rules.  Despite the iconic image of the “mad scientist”, there are more depressed writers than chemists. The context of the creativity defines the acceptable degree of craziness.

In my conversations with my brother, who had bipolar disorder, I would be struck at his insights, until after a while I realized just how far afield he had gone and that he was becoming agitated and losing contact with “reality”.  There are many famous examples of creativity and craziness living side by side- Salvador Dali and VanGogh, to name a few.  But the difference is that my brother didn’t “produce” anything that was deemed valuable, while Dali and VanGogh had products that others wanted.

In other words, it may not be the actual thoughts that are the problem, it may be the reaction to them, whether from the person themselves or others, that determines whether there is a “problem”, or there is “creativity”.

Perhaps a relationship can be found to other research just out from the University of Southern California that has found that the “click” of comprehension or the clarifying of a creative thought fires the same centers in your brain that opium fires.  That means that learning and creating can be as pleasurable as drugs.  You can see it in a classroom of children when they are learning at their ideal rate; when they are being challenged.  Pupils get extended- both within the eye and the students themselves.

I’ve certainly felt it- that moment of “wow, things make SENSE now!” and I can put things together in new and unusual ways because I’ve just figured out how they go together.  I feel it when I teach and when I write and when I learn math.  It’s the moment in bipolar disorder when the mania starts and the understanding begins to flow.  It also may mean that the clarifying of the thought, the “eureka” moment, the “by George, I’ve got it” might be the difference between craziness and creativity.

And perhaps the critical element just might be in the audience and the context.  Creativity was recently cited by a study of global CEOs as a key element in their company’s value.  They needed to think in new and innovative ways, and to be able to communicate that vision to others.  Creativity unchecked, with no product to focus on, with no “learning” to share, with no one to communicate, might just be called mental illness.

Craziness just might be a job requirement for many positions these days…

May 29, 2010

In Memorial

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 4:44 am

I remember…

  • My Daddy- one of the most gentle souls I have ever to meet, who loved Stevie Ray Vaughn, the softness of bunny rabbits, and was one of the only people to support my change in careers from business to education.  Died of alcohol-related complications, December, 2000
  • Joshua- My brother- brilliant, funny and my “twin” in appearance, even though we only shared a father.  Died of bipolar disorder, February, 2001
  • Raymond Lynch- My father-in-law- warm, loving with a passion for architecture- Died of smoking-related heart complications, September, 1989
  • Stew- My great-aunt- raised my mother when her own parents would not, who taught my mother how to love- died of wonderful old age at 98, 2007
  • Yiayia Maria- My husband’s aunt- who provided a rock of humor and fun for him when he was being dragged around the world- Died of a blood clot, December, 2005
  • Scott Hubbard- who learned how to fly a plane at age 16 and flew me to Oklahoma City to visit a friend, who crossed the high school graduation stage, bald and frail.  Died of leukemia, June, 1985
  • JayMcHugh- who loved Angus Young and rock and roll and football.  Died of a drug overdose, 1985
  • Virgie Crespin- who taught me how to make tortillas and the real meaning of “mi hijo”, who presided over her large family with humor and a good rap of a spoon.  Died of heart disease, 1999.
  • Mrs. Coursey- one of the quietest women I’ve met who raised spectacular irises and whose leaving left silence bigger than you can imagine.  Died of cancer within weeks of diagnosis, 1994.
  • Mr. Franz- who fought racism and classism and taught his daughter to dream.  Died of Alzheimer-type issues.  2007.

I know that Memorial Day is a time of honoring the soldiers who have fought for our country- and I do so, because I know the grief that their friends and families faced.  There are many, many different battles lost, and many, many families trying to support their loved ones in their fights.

To you.

On a bench in an Irish graveyard

May 27, 2010

Birthday Party Politics

Filed under: Autism,Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 10:03 pm

My poor girl has her feelings hurt tonight and I’m aching right along with her.

Tracy, a little girl down the street, on the same circle that we live on, who is in Mrs. Kris’ class with Elizabeth, who came to Elizabeth’s birthday girl-a-thon, who comes over to our house several times a month, is having a birthday party and didn’t invite her.  The only reason I haven’t stormed up to her door to talk to her mother is that it’s a tiny party- apparently, she’s only inviting three other girls for some fantabulous activity.  But still… One of those chosen few is Emily, Elizabeth’s bestest friend from across the street, and Elizabeth feels doubly hurt.

And it hurts my heart that she doesn’t have the words to know how to deal with it, or to describe to me what she’s feeling, but she knows that’s she hurt.  She sat this evening, watching Wizards of Waverly Place, mumbling the dialogue right after the action, with tears seeping out of her eyes- eyes that were fixated on the television and not on her dinner, not on us, not even on the antics of the cats.  Every now and then, she would blink and another tear would wend its way down her cheek that was flushed, right along her cheekbones.  And because I have the same traitorous cheekbones that flush when I’m about to sob, I just sat with her and rubbed her foot.

It really bothers me how birthday parties are used to define pecking order.  There’s nothing like being invited to a small, select event to clearly state “who’s in and who’s out”. I remember when the children were little and they would threaten and be threatened by their friends, “Be nice to me, or I won’t invite you to my birthday party!”  It’s a threat that I ignored because I was in charge of invitations.  I have always subscribed to the “more the merrier” concept and had enormous birthday parties.  We’ve had pool parties, movie parties and 9 girls over to spend the night.  I’ve tried to invite anyone and everyone that my child played with.  I would never want to make another child feel the way that my daughter feels tonight.  And if I hoped that by being so friendly to others that my child would get invited to birthday parties back, well, that’s looking out for my child, too.

I tucked Elizabeth into bed tonight with a kiss and an extra snuggle.  I told her “You know, I’m always on your side.  I like Emily and all, but I’m on your side.”

“I just want Emily to be my friend, too,” she whispered.

Being a nine-year-old girl is so hard.  Friendships morph and the pecking order is nasty and she’s so afraid of losing her friend to a more exciting, “popular” girl.  Emily has been moving back recently when Elizabeth goes to hug her; she’s been wanting to talk about boys when Elizabeth wants to play “house”, and she’s been frowning when Elizabeth has one of her little screamy fits at night.  She’s been spending less time at our house.  She recently told Elizabeth to “stop acting like a baby”.  Emily’s growing up, and Elizabeth’s… not.  Not yet.  Because Elizabeth is half a step behind, she doesn’t know how to navigate this constantly evolving chain of friends.  And really- who does?  And it only gets worse.  I well remember the feeling of being so alone in middle school…

And so I smoothed her hair behind her ear, we rubbed noses in a “cold kiss” and she kissed me on the four corners of my face and I kissed her right back- one kiss in each corner to encircle her in my love.  I turned off the light and I backed out, my cheekbones flushing, fighting back the tears, as if by keeping her in my sight, I might keep her protected and safe and happy.  Oh, my poor girl…

And I can guarantee you that Tracy will not be invited over here for dinner, much less Elizabeth’s next birthday party.  So there!

May 26, 2010

Fixin’ to Be There

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 3:50 pm

I just finished a far-too-long-delayed repair of my son’s stuffed bunny.  Gray Bunny was purchased two years ago for Easter 2008, and within a week, had a huge rip down his back.  Cheap bunny, but Ray had picked it out himself and loved it.  He asked me to sew it… and I just now got around to it.  I lose Mother of the Year Award, I’m aware.  Heck, I lost Mother of the Day award a long time ago.

In no defense at all- I HATE mending.  I mean, shirts have sat for years before I get around, if ever, to sewing a button back on.  And zippers?  Forget it?  It’s easier to buy a new one- or go without.  There’s something about the meticulousness of it, the necessity of it, the sheer practicality of sewing that I just hate.  It’s so far down on my list of to-dos, it rarely ever gets done.  I look at the rip and I just shudder and put it back.  The funny thing is, it’s not the actual sewing that I abhor.

For you see, I like creation through sewing.  I have made quilts by hand; I have crocheted afghans; I used to make doll clothes.  I love to write, to scrapbook and to cook celebratory dinners.  The end product isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I could look at something that didn’t exist before I started it and know that I had a hand in its being.  The process of creation and putting things together in new and interesting ways intrigues me.

But fixing- fixing has never been my thing.  Putting something back the way that it was supposed to be originally- that bores me, that frustrates me and that stifles me.  You can see my dislike of fixing by looking around my house- ripped screen door, small nick in the wall where the door handle has hit one too many times, and a car that needs an oil change.   “Fixing” dinner is tedious, and I never did pick up the Southern phrase of “fixin’ to” do something.    I find it easier to pay someone else to do fixing if I have the money, or do without if I don’t.   I have never liked living up to someone else’s vision of what “should” be.

And that’s why I love parenting.  And that’s why I love teaching.   I’m not very good at “art”- visual, musical, or performance.  But creating a situation where a person can grow and learn and become who they are- that’s creation!  That’s being able to look at something that has grown because of my input, that has become its own thing.  It’s particularly why I love teaching kids who are gifted and kids with exceptionalities.  Without a teacher, they flounder, they hide, they don’t grow.  Children with special needs need a teacher who recognizes their abilities, and children who are gifted need a teacher to show them what they could become if they don’t settle. Children need to know that their parents are there for them, that they have roots from which to grow and wings with which to fly.

So yesterday morning, Ray dug Gray Bunny out from a long-ignored pile of stuffed animals, and with a note of impatience, asked “Mommy, PLEASE fix him!”  And in his crabby tone, I heard his need- his need for something to be whole, his need to believe his mother, his need for stability.  For today is the last day of school, and his world is a’rockin’.  My littlest one does not handle transition well.  The vast shift of summer looms. His sense of self splinters and fractures at times like these.  The past few summers have been seasons of moving, of new places, of loss.  His voice was asking for Gray Bunny, but his soul was needing the stability of whole.

And so yesterday, in between writing tests for my classes I’m teaching this summer and planning activities, I took up needle in hand.  Whipping together a seam of brown thread (couldn’t find gray and somehow I wasn’t surprised- I was proud to have found the needle) for about four inches, I finished Gray Bunny’s surgery in about 10 minutes.  I put him on Ray’s bed, where he sat upright, perky and waiting for his boy, whole once again.

Ray didn’t even say “Hello” when he came in the house.  He slouched in, slammed the door, and in an accusatory tone asked, “Did you get sew Gray Bunny?  I’ll bet you didn’t!”  Emotional regulation is not Ray’s strength.

“I DID!” I said, absurdly proudly that at least- this time- I hadn’t let Ray down.  I went into his room and got the stuffed rabbit for him and turning, put Gray Bunny into his arms.  His air of bravado melted, and he closed his eyes as he hugged Gray Bunny, burying his nose in the fluff that by now is slightly stale, slightly bedraggled.  He mumbled something that was close to a “Thanks”- loud enough for me not to hassle him about manners, but not so loud that we would exchange conversation.  With a deep breath, he tossed Gray Bunny back on the bed, and then went out to the front yard to play with his friends.  Gray Bunny lay between the wall and the bed, tossed aside, but with no loss of perky ears or comfort.

And last night, as I was tucking Ray into bed, he lay on his side, clutching Gray Bunny with his arm, using the stuffed animal partly as a pillow, partly as a tether.  His own tow-headed tufts intermingled with Gray Bunny’s curls.  My seven-almost-eight-years-old little boy is between worlds, between second and third grade, between being a “little guy” and being a kid.  And if the fixing of Gray Bunny, hurt for two years, can reassure him that he too, can get over hurts, can get over the worry, can get over the fear- well, then, I have sewed him peace.  I brushed his face with love with my fingertips, and brushed my eyes for the tingle of tears.

By fixing Gray Bunny, I have created a moment of stability for my child.

May 25, 2010

Happy Rampaging

Filed under: Home Things,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 3:11 pm

I have a house with five rampaging little boys and I’m thrilled.  This is the first year that I have ever worried about Ray’s social skills.  He has always been a leader, full of imagination and games and able to negotiate little boy play with aplomb.  I have, in fact, marveled at his ability to include others and adapt to their play.  I tell a story in my book about one day when he was four and playing with his bestest friend at the time, a five-year old girl (Ah, the days of innocence before girls got icky).  They were in a park with big rocks for climbing.  He wanted to play dinosaurs and she wanted to play house.  “Fine,” he said with total confidence.  “We can be velociraptors and you can be the Mommy velociraptor and I’ll be the Daddy velociraptor and I’ll go fight other raptors for eggs,” and he was off and running.  They played together happily- while she scrambled the “eggs” he won for her.  He’s always played well with other children, taking their idea and coming up with a creative solution that appeals to all.  But he’s been little- little kids are easy.  Little kids are less judgmental.  Little kids tend to play well with everyone.

But this year, he’s not as little.  This year, he’s developed differences.  His Tourette’s got worse and he rolls his eyes and spits.  His speech, always cute, started being a problem by sounding “young”.  His “r”s and “l”s were blurry.  He’s very small for second grade, about the size of a first grader or even a  kindergartner.  His achievement is good, but not great.  Except for reading- his reading is 5 years ahead of everyone else’s.  He started telling me that he was spending an awful lot of time in the library. My heart hurt for him.  Things were breaking down.

We have intentionally stayed in touch with his bestest friend, Jack, from Kentucky- the friend who knew him “before”.   But we also started actively campaigning for friends.  We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood 1/2 mile from their school, where, as someone once said, “You can pick children off the trees”.  There are LOTS of children.  He played basketball.  He played soccer.  We got him a spiffy red bike.  We asked friends from school over.  I have massive stocks of popsicles in the freezer.  We do not have video games and we do not have toy guns to play with, but we have all kinds of building toys, scientific toys, sports materials, and games.  We have a drum set.   We have lots of temptations…

And today after school, one friend from school came home with him and three other boys from the neighborhood dropped by.  The boys tore the couches apart, built forts with the cushions, every pillow in the house, and most of the covers, rode their bikes from one house to another, played spy games and turned every object into a gun or a bomb as they played WWII.  They argued over who had to play the Nazis and who got to be the GIs.  Ray turned the 5th boy, the Odd Man Out, into the “judge” of the spying activity.  They raced the dog, and ate 12 popsicles.  I had to ask them not to jump on the couches, eat their popsicles outside, and to please throw the wrappings in the trash can.

Our house is pillaged, and I’ve never been so happy to clean up a mess before.  It means that things are coming back together.

Overheard today-

  • Brandon: Hey, Joe!  Can you tie shoes?
  • Joe: Wow!  Look at that! That’s old school!

May 24, 2010

The Muddle in the Middle

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 12:26 pm

I love it when I can be both parts of me!  I was recently invited to do a full day training in September for special education teachers about working with parents.  As a teacher, I have credibility talking to them- they know that I know what it is that they face.  That I know what kinds of pressures teachers are under.  That I know that they have too many children to bring up to “proficient”, too manyother vague roles, and not enough support.  That I’ve been there, that I’m training future teachers- that I’m on their side.

But I also get to share with them why parents are angry.  Why parents are tired of systems that do not provide trained teachers, adequate services, or instruction that is focused on what their child truly NEEDS, not what the state says their child needs.  Why parents are tired of their child’s services being cut because of the economy and not because of the IEP.  How the term “appropriate”, from the right to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education”, is a concept that is supposed to be determined in an IEP meeting, not by the financial ability or the state standards of a school system.  Why some parents are “de-including” their children because of their choice and the needs of their child, and not a “one inclusion fits all” mentality of the system.  Why parents get tired of the educational swings in philosophies that directly impact their child.

As I’ve said before, teachers and administrators often mean well, but school systems are large, massive organizations in which change is slow.  I get to help teachers realize that they are the ones caught in the middle- the ones who are trying their best to help families, and yet often are the ones that the families yell at, cry to, and ignore.  They are often seen as the messengers of the system, and recieve the brunt of the frustration, the anger and the grief.

Let us not forget the grief.  Grief is a cycle and it comes up again and again with families.  Where they grieve the loss of a dream, the changes in their lives, the realities that their child doesn’t get to live the “same” as other children.  And this grief looks like anger, and it looks like passivity, and it looks like non-compliance.  And it looks like advocacy.  And in my case yesterday, it looks like whining.  Grief changes and it morphs and teachers and parents have to understand that they are both working together with the focus on the child.

Teachers have to know that while they know strategies and they know ways to help and they know characteristics, they do not know that child and they do not know what it is to live within that family system of which disability is but a part.  And that everytime they sit in judgement, they isolate that family from reaching out, from providing a supportive network.  They have placed themselves clearly on the side of the “system” that is not designed to help families and children, but rather move them through.

It IS the teachers who make that “system” move, who provides the minimum and more to families and children.  And this is where teachers have the greatest power- to make or break an educational experience for a child and a family.  It is teachers who are working with the child and the parents and everyone sometimes need some help and some guidance.  And sometimes, the teacher hates to be the messenger of bad news…

And so, I will be teaching teachers the subtle power they have.  How they can balance between what’s best for the child and still not get fired.  The way they can provide parents with their rights as is required by law, and emphasize certain words.   How teachers can ask if parents have done certain things or seen certain web sites, but  not make a “recommendation”.  I well remember the year that the school system was threatening to disband my twice-exceptional class because of budget cuts, but weren’t going to tell the parents until it was a done deal.   I called up one parent and talked to her…

Me: By the way, Mrs. Smith- did you know  that you do not have the right to a particular program, but only to services?

Mrs. Smith: Do you mean that they’re going to get rid of your class?

Me: Classes aren’t required, only services.

Mrs. Smith: Well, I don’t think so!  What can we do?

Me: I can’t do anything.  I don’t have the authority to make or disband classrooms.  Only the principal and the school board can do that.  And they only listen to parents, not teachers.  I could get fired if I were to advocate publicly.

Mrs. Smith: I understand.  Thank you, Dr. Hughes and we’ll take it from here!

Two weeks later, I got asked by my principal into her office.  “We’re keeping your program.  Apparently, some of your families would be very unhappy if we were to disband your class.  Call off your parents,” she said with a very knowing look.

I smiled at her and said, “Well, I’m glad that they voiced their opinions.  It’s nice to know that they’re so supportive of our program and our school”.

She and I both knew the game that was being played.  She and I both knew that systems listen to squeaky wheels and that advocating parents were ways to get programs.  There is a wonderful saying from somewhere that I use often:

  • One unhappy parent is a nut case
  • Two unhappy parents is a poor teacher
  • Four or more unhappy parents is a problem at the school
  • Ten or more unhappy parents is a systemic problem that must be addressed

And so, I get to communicate to teachers how they can help families and children-  how they can be in the middle and yet make change…   Change is most powerful when it comes from the inside.

Any stories or strategies that you’ve experienced appreciated…

May 23, 2010

If Only Blues

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 8:17 pm

I’m fighting a bad case of the “if only” blues today… My husband has to work on the weekend- again, which leaves me holding more than my fair share of family work.  Work that he knows that he’s missing, work that he would love to be here for- but work nonetheless. 

And I’m tired.

I’m tired of the drama.  I’m tired of fighting with my son to eat.  I’m tired of trying to keep everything clean and everyone fed.  I’m tired of knowing that we can do something fun, and it will end badly because the children are out of sorts.  We went to the beach- great fun- and I had to be the one to drag everything home because Elizabeth was melting down because the sand was rubbing her and sending her into sensory hell, and Ray was hungry and in a black mood because he doesn’t transition well.  I’m tired of navigating the children’s friendships because they need me to run interference and explain things to them, to others, to parents.  I’m tired of worrying about the dog’s allergies and the fact that she needs to be exercised.

I’m tired of living in a place that is beautiful but that doesn’t have a therapist, a specialist or a pediatric psychiatrist closer than an hour and a half away.  I’m tired of having my friends 10-24 hours away. I’m tired of not being able to talk to my friends on the phone because the children might overhear.  I’m tired of not being able to develop the few friends I have here because the axis of work and home keeps me tethered.  I’m tired of doing a mediocre job at so many things.  I’m not of not having time with my husband.  I’m tired of not being able to find a babysitter because we’re too new and too different and the cost of finding someone willing to overlook these things is too prohibitive.  I’m tired of being alone.

And so the “If Only”s come crawling into my head- if only we lived somewhere else closer to civilization.  If only my family and friends were closer.  If only my husband wasn’t so panicked about losing his job in these tough economic times.  If only my children weren’t so needy.  If only I had a different, non-allergic dog.  If only I had time to clean the garage, lose those 30 pounds, and finish that crocheted afghan I’ve been working on for 2 years now.  If only I could go back to Oxford or Ireland where I got to live in the moment and not worry about planning.  If only we had a housekeeper.

And I know that this will be better tomorrow.  That this is life and that this is stress and this is my own anxiety and all I need is a little success, a little company and little hug and all will be well. 

If only it were tomorrow.

May 21, 2010

Itchy Replacements

Filed under: Autism,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 10:47 am

I just read a fascinating research study that finds that teaching children with Tourette’s to replace their tics with alternate behaviors WORKS!  Called Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT), the therapy suggests using a reward system to teach children to a) recognize when their tics are about to happen, b) replace the tic of choice with a more societally-acceptable movement, and c) encourage deep breathing.  The therapy is more effective than medication. 87% of children and adults were helped with this therapy, and follow-up evaluation found that it lasted at least six months.

I’m particularly excited about this because we already have proof that it works.  Elizabeth went through a period where she was chewing her fingernails.  Bitten down to the quick, her fingers would bleed, while she continued to gnaw on them.  I knew that kids with autism often have anxiety issues where they “stim”, or produce a movement that reduces the anxiety.  When she was chewing up her fingers at four years old, I told her that I knew that her fingers had “tingles” and that she really, really wanted to chew, but that it was so bad for her and ewww- made BLOOD (she’s afraid of blood, so I was using this fear).  I told her that when she felt the “itches”, she should press down on her fingertips, or roll her elbows on a table and focus on waiting out the “itches”.  I PROMISED her that the fingernail itch would go away in 2-3 minutes.  There were several months where she would come to me crying “Mommy, chew… Mommy chew!” and I would hug and tell her that I knew those darn itches were bothering her, but let’s try the pressing and elbows for 2 minutes.  Because she was so little, “2 minutes” was a flexible concept.  We might snuggle with her and focus on rolling her elbows for 5-7 minutes of “real” time and then, she’d get distracted by something else and all would be well.

We did a lot of replacement behaviors- gum for hair chewing, gum for chewing on her knees and arms and gum for chewing on- well, just about everything.  When she’s anxious, she goes into what we call “shark” mode, and walks around gnashing her teeth, looking for something to stim on.  I wish I had bought stock in Wrigleys before- she goes through a lot of gum.  But it generally does the trick- gum is much more acceptable than hurting herself!

I understand autism stimming- I could see Elizabeth’s need for stimulation and her need to vent it somehow and I could see how the replacement behavior could allow it to go somewhere else.  I knew that we couldn’t get rid of the need, but we could find an alternative.  I knew that it worked for us.

But Ray’s Tourette’s tics are different.  They don’t seem to emerge as a result of a need- they just appear.  He’ll sit down and “pop” with his mouth.  He’ll be talking to me and grimace, pulling his lips over his teeth.  He’ll be running and stop to spit.  His tics don’t appear to have a lot of lead time, but appear out of nowhere.  Elizabeth’s stims looked intentional, but Ray’s tics appear to be just mixed neurological signals.  You can almost SEE the electical shorts in his brain. They look very different from autism.

But the more I read about Tourette’s, the more I see the similarities.  Tourette’s tics are “itchy” as well- they release stress.  They hijack a child’s sensory system and create a fixation on a particular muscle movement.  They increase the more a child is stressed out.

Add this to a fascinating research study I also read recently where cursing actually works better than a pain reliever in releasing pain.  A good “DAMN- that HURT!” is better than Tylenol!  It works because the explosion of the curse word relieves the “fight or flight” feeling and decreases the adrenaline that your brain produces when you’re in pain- or stressed, or anxious.  A good, swift curse word is a very effective means of emotional regulation- and it works at a biological level.  Holy sh$t- isn’t that interesting?!

Although there is no study that connects them, my guess is that this research shows why approximately 15% of people with Tourette’s have “coprolalia”, where they curse as a tic- it’s the “Tourettes” that often appears on television shows.  The curse words they’re using act like the curse words that I say when I’m slamming on the brakes when the idiot in front of me cuts me off- they release stress.  But the stress of a person with Tourette’s is more pent up, rather than being immediate and released at the moment.  The brain of a Tourette’s child doesn’t know how to let go of the stress at the moment and remains in “fight or flight” mode.

And my other belief is that curse words work because they’re “forbidden”- the very “rebellious” thing that your brain gets enjoyment from doing- and the dopamine/other pleasure chemicals counterbalance the stress cortisols.  The enjoyment of the illicit, the wrong-but-it-feels-so-right pang.  It’s why chocolate works for me.  Perhaps part of why alcohol and drugs work for others.  We know we shouldn’t be doing it, but it feels good, so it’s very, very hard to stop and very, very hard to find a replacement. 

The last thing I found fascinating was the use of deep breathing.  Studies have found that cravings tend to last 20 minutes and that deep breathing can help.  The increased oxygen reduces stress cortisols as well and helps regulate anxiety as well- anxiety that the body is literally fighting.  “Take a deep breath” is Grandmother wisdom that has signfiicant scientific basis.  But then, yogis have known this for millennia…

So- my new plan… is to help Ray learn how to find a replacement behavior for spitting.  We will pick one at a time and find a replacement behavior to help him breathe through it- until the “bubble” of anxiety adrenaline pops.  He can’t take the need to tic away- but he can replace it.   Heck, I’ll give it a try with chocolate, too, so that he’s not alone in this process.  I feel energized with that wonderful feeling of “There is something I can DO about this!”

I would suggest that you invest in Wrigley’s.  Take a deep breath… Damn, I hope this helps…

May 20, 2010

Laundry Solution

Filed under: Gifted,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 10:24 am

We are ALWAYS fussing at Ray to clean up his room, put away his stuff, put dirty clothes in the hamper.  As a kiddo with Tourette’s, ADHD, and anxiety disorder, he likes being surrounded with his “stuff”- masses of stuff- and none of it organized.  We laugh, not with real humor, that Ray will someday be on “Hoarding: Buried Alive“.  He has paths through his room until James comes in, shovels it all up and puts it in a box to be hidden in the garage and eventually thrown or donated away.

I have managed to prevail on James not to throw away clothing, since Ray really does need to be dressed- mothers are funny in their demands, I know.  Which means that most of Ray’s shirts, shorts, socks, etc. wind up on the floor.  And then I turn into Wicked Mother who fusses at him to put it away, clean it up, do laundry.  We have tried labeling his drawers.  We have tried reducing his clothing choices.  We have tried washing only the thing that are actually in the hamper.  He likes doing his own laundry and this has worked the best so far, but he either forgets to do it, or wants to wash two socks and that’s it…

But now, Ray has solved his own problem and I am so terribly impressed!  He has invented the Dirty Clothes Balance.

When the dirty clothes hit a weight that overbalances the basket, it is designed to slide down the ramp, which alerts him that it’s time to do laundry.  It’s a bit Rube Goldbergish, a lot of funny, and absolutely brilliant!

The other thing that is wonderful is that Ray HATES for his picture to be taken.  Since he was a baby, he has turned away from the camera’s eye- too invasive, too… something.  He much prefers to be behind the camera.  So for him to want his picture taken means that he is really proud of this creation.

And now, if he could only create a contraption that picked up my husband’s socks…

May 19, 2010

Villager #3 Goes Rafting

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 11:55 am

Elizabeth didn’t get a role in the play, and I’m crushed.  She had auditioned for the Children’s Theater musical of “Cinderella“, and I was so excited to see how strong she was- how her issues that we work on, liked loudness and lack of awareness of others’ opinions, were strengths in a theater context.  She had a very clear, loud, dramatic persona on stage- but alas, no singing or dancing ability.  Even this Proud Mama can admit that she clumped, she got lost and she had NO sense of rhythm.  As someone who is passionately moved by music, was once a “woo woo” girl at the back of a band, and always has a soundtrack in my head, it hurts my heart to see my girl not “hear” the music.  But she sure can talk, dramatize, and project!  I was hoping that such strengths would be recognized and developed.

In our summer theater, everyone gets a part.  Over 100 children auditioned, which meant that they broke into two casts.  This cast of “Cinderella” has 51 people.   Elizabeth is “Villager #3” in a scene that the director is writing where 30 villagers sing a song at the beginning and the end of the play.  I wasn’t expecting Cinderella, but I WAS hoping that she could be a mouse or a bird- someone with a line to deliver and a character to play.  Elizabeth originally wanted Cinderella- as who doesn’t?- but we talked her into a more reasonable part expectation. 

And the thing that hurts is that one of the mice roles was given to a little girl who was too scared to even get on stage during auditions.  She could dance, and she was very pretty, but clearly so scared that she literally clung to her mother and refused to get up on stage unless her older sister was dancing next to her.  She never could speak or read any lines.  And she and her sister are both cast as mice.  At the audition, I had great sympathy for the mother and was pleased that the theater would be so accommodating to someone who clearly had such anxiety issues.  But when Elizabeth came back to me all dragging arms and downcast eyes and quietly whispered with a tremble in her voice “How come she got a mouse part and I didn’t?” (and when Elizabeth is quiet, she is intensely feeling something), I had a hard time explaining that life isn’t fair and sometimes mice roles are given to other children who need them more than she did. 

And the stage mother in me wanted to march right up there and demand that MY daughter be given a mouse role!! 

Elizabeth sat through the first read-through right after parts were assigned because I wanted her to feel the magic of the theater, the energy that is produced when a bunch of creative, smart, funny people get together and create an alternate existence.  The teenagers who are to play the main parts are fantastic- able to take on accents, deliver punch lines and have a strong sense of timing and delivery.  Fantastic role models!  If Elizabeth felt the magic, we might stay…

For you see, we have summer choices… my mother is a widow and I’m an only child with a month of time on my hands. The temptation to go to New Mexico is strong.  I have a Teacher’s Guide to Children with High Functioning Autism book to write and there are lots of things to do in Santa Fe as well- hiking and rafting and fishing and art and Mesa Verde and Taos and… but if Elizabeth had wanted to do this- her only chance at theater during the year, we would have stayed the summer and squeezed in a visit.

At the end of the night, as we left, Elizabeth’s hand crept into mine.  “What do you think, honey?”  I asked her.  “Emily (BFF) and Audrey (friend across the street) are Villagers, too.  Do you want to do this, or do you want to go and seee Mamamum?”

“I want to go rafting!” Elizabeth said emphatically.  “And Mamamum is lonely.”

Part of me is so sad- that her gifts were not recognized and she didn’t feel the magic of the theater.  I’m also sad that the lure of movement is more than the lure of creating something with friends.  But I love that she’s still connected to us, her family, and that she’s still 9 years old and able to shake off failure. At times, her autism protects her from being eaten up with disappointment by allowing her to refocus on something else.  I was more visibly crushed than she was…

But if you’re in Taos this July, look for us!  She’ll be the only Villager #3 with a happy grandmother, screaming with joy as she rides the raft down the river.

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