This article, from Slate, Comfort Food, hit home. Larry Lake describes the difficulty many people have with knowing how to be supportive when someone they know has a mental illness, or has a child with a mental illness. People have learned to respond supportively when there’s a physical illness, but not nearly so well to the very real disturbances and struggles related to brain function: anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, and addiction to name a few. Since people with ADHD and, to a lesser extent, LD, are at much higher risks for them, it’s a big deal. And it’s something I can relate to in a very real way.

When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we ate well

From my Jewish ethnic upbringing I know very well the help a timely chicken soup can provide, along with the conversation that may come with it.

Friends drove Mary Beth to her radiation sessions and sometimes to her favorite ice cream shop on the half-hour drive back from the hospital.

I’ve had a close family member struggling with these mental health issues for years, and recently they’ve started to come to a head. So, I’ve experienced it first-hand. On the one hand, I can admit to wanting to keep these struggles inside, and not open for public consumption. They are highly personal and they are hard and painful.

I’ve experienced exactly what the writer talks about; that some people who know what’s going on, have fears or insecurities about what to say or how to say and what to do.
I can see where even people who love and support, can avoid talking about it. They don’t ask questions. And I’ve realized that while I don’t judge that, I see that it’s connected to our overall societal discomfort with mental illness and addictions. Sometimes we need the caring questions.

Almost a decade later, our daughter, Maggie, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, following years of secret alcohol and drug abuse.

No warm casseroles.

I think we’re on the right track, but it’s slow going. And, the author nails it.

Creativity and Enhanced Schooling

I love finding schools and school cultures that consider and engage with emotional development practices, creative arts and vocational options. More often than not I come across these at programs for teens who are “at-risk.”

Hollywood arts school gives struggling teens a second chance

I wish these were the rule of thumb and for education at large. An ounce of prevention…

Photo credit: Nicholas Blechman

Well-done piece in NY Times about teacher preparation.

There are widespread holes in teacher preparation programs, including how reading is still taught with an emphasis on guessing instead of a more analytic and systematic approach.

How America prepares its teachers has been a subject of dismay for many years. In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.” Since then the outcry has only gotten more vociferous. This summer the National Council on Teacher Quality described teacher education as still “an industry of mediocrity.”

Another missing component, reformers say, is sustained, intense classroom experience while being coached by masters of the profession. Too much student teaching is too superficial — less a serious apprenticeship than a drive-by. The Woodrow Wilson program, which has beachheads at 23 universities in four states, builds teacher training programs in partnership with local school districts, requires prospective teachers to spend a full year inside schools working alongside veterans, and provides three years of postgraduate mentoring in the classroom.

Stay tuned. Not much information explained. Hopefully this school will get its act together.

Principal replaced at school for students with dyslexia

Dislecksia, the Movie

Looking forward to seeing this documentary film,
“Dislecksia”, by Harvey Hubbell.

Upcoming Information sessions for parents and professionals interested in this excellent school.

Information Sessions for Riverview Academy, October 11th, 2013, East Sandwich, MA

Dyslexia May Be Behind Directional Confusion

Marson Nance’s wife doesn’t have to worry about him leaving her; she simply says his sense of direction is so bad, if he did go back to his parents on the east coast he’d probably end up in Nevada (where they live) anyway. When she tells him to turn left, he’ll always turn right.

Then it adds:

“The matter of left-right confusion, which is found in those who suffer from dyslexia…”

I think this article gets it wrong. From my experience it’s way too simplistic to say part of dyslexia involves confusion with directionality. What I’ve found is that there are plenty of folks with dyslexia who get confused around some words that indicate directionality, most notably “left” and “right.” That list could be expanded to be sure, but the point is the confusion lies with attaching the right meaning to a word, not direction per se. I have known plenty of people with dyslexia who are amazingly good at a sense of direction and space, while using landmarks or other visual anchor points. I’ve been with Alaskan commercial fisherman.

Of course there are people who really do have real impairments with directionality but that is a co-occuring condition with dyslexia sometimes, and other times it exists soley on its own.

Photo Credit: Samantha Contis

Vision Therapy to Address Learning Disabilities? One L.A. School Official Says ‘Scam’

I know there are well-meaning people who advocate for vision therapy as an effective way to treat certain aspects of learing disorders. As with most enterprises there are scams and a risk of over-selling. Certain kids need vision training. Most kids with reading problems will not however be helped with this approach. The most common reason kids struggle with reading is that schools do not teach them in a way that fits their cognitive profile of weaknesses (phonological processing and/or rapid naming) and strengths.

The problem in that regard lies within the colleges that prepare teachers of reading:

“Teachers in teacher training are not being taught in reading and reading instruction,” Handler said. “It has not been properly incorporated in teacher colleges, so they cannot teach children right…so they look for other reasons kids have problems [learning to read].”

“There is absolutely no evidence it’s helpful at all,” said Sheryl Handler, co-author of a 2011 joint technical report on vision therapy and reading disabilities that found vision therapy to be an ineffective treatment for learning disabilities.

A handful of other published papers, including an assessment by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, claim there is no valid proof that vision therapy benefits learning-disabled students.

Should We Teach Emotional Intelligence in Schools?

NY Times article on teaching “Emotional Intelligence.”

My initial thoughts on this article:

The field of teaching children such skills as self-regulation is promising. There’s some great research pointing to the value, cognitively and community-wide, of a kind of melding of neuroscience and very old techniques, such as mindfulness practice.

I have a ton of reservation however, about a quick jump on the bandwagon approach…not the least of which addresses the need to understand what is being asked of teachers. Teachers would need more than scripts; they’d need training in self-regulation and posess SEM themselves. The example in the article (about finding words to use in response to being yelled at by “mommy”) has potential value but puts a teacher dangerously close to some risk from at least a couple of angles, including properly assessing the risk for domestic violence from “arming” a child with the “correct phrasing.” This is a job for professional counselors as a general rule.

I also take issue with the idea that this furthers Dewey’s ideas of not having just vocational schools. That sounds a bit snobbish. Wouldn’t “vocational students” benefit from SEM too?

I hope that with enough time and training, schools would do much better at teaching a holistic curriculum, one that did more than teach to the cerebral cortex and slightly to the left.

From Good.Is 7 Things You Need to Know About Your Local Public School

From the article:

# 7. If your school believes that the purpose of public education is to prepare students to be well educated in order to take part in our democratic society, go to the head of the class! Does your school invite students to weekly town hall meetings? Do students have a voice in some decisions? Are teachers part of a collaborative team along with parents and administrators? If so, your children are better equipped to preserve, protect and promote our democratic way of life.

Using Mobile Screens To Make Reading Easier For Dyslexics

This is a fascinating article on a few different levels.

The fact that the the astrophysicist, Martin Schneps, who directs a laboratory at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is also dyslexic is pretty cool. I know I sometimes roll my eyes at the over-emphasis on showcasing bright people with dyslexia. However, I still can’t help but feel good about some of these non-celebrities doing such advanced high level work and who happen to have dyslexia. It just blows apart the myth that dyslexia and intelligence are connected.

Even though the heavy preponderance and longstanding evidence that primary weaknesses of the “dyslexic brain” are in the lower rote aspects of language processing and not a visual impairment, there are obviously visual components to reading. This article correctly points to some interesting studies that I’ve seen before, which indicate that many people with dyslexia pick up information from peripheral vision faster than non-dyslexics.

I appreciate that Dr. Shneps is doing research on the effects of smaller screens on reading efficiency for struggling readers.

Personally I’m not a great fan of reading on a phone, but love to do so on my iPad.

Reading on an iPad has some other features though, not mentioned, besides a smaller screen than a laptop, that are very helpful to the enjoyment and ease of reading.

Being able to instantly get a definition or pronounciation of a word is helpful to be sure. Just the ease of jotting notes into a digital book, bookmarking and saving pages, makes applying and retaining what I read so much easier and more enjoyable.

From US News and World Report: Succeed in College as a Learning Disabled Student

Some pretty basic reminders for students with learning disabilities in college or about to start.

While this article has some holes, the take away should be that students need to have proper documentation of their specific learning disability. In all cases, even with the documentation in order, it eventually becomes even more important that you understand your own learning profile and what’s in the report so that you can advocate in an authentic way.

Written in 1996, this article written by Will Small still holds true and has some great ideas.