A few weeks ago my mom passed away and I haven’t felt much like writing or blogging.

However that’s changed now.

I want to connect the dots from something she emphasized to me a while back, and the whole idea of thinking it’s a good idea to cart out images and stories of celebrities who are dyslexic, to kids with dyslexia.

A while ago I told my mom that my wife Debbie had given her mom a child’s doll for a present. Deb did this after learning her mom never had a doll as a young girl. Her family was poor and not particularly prone to displays of emotional warmth. My mother-in-law was probably nearing seventy when Deb gave her the doll. Stella loved the doll and the thought, by the way. My Brooklyn mom didn’t miss a beat after I told her the story and said, “You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.”

It struck me somehow as accidentally profound in this sense: My mom expressed the powerful idea that reframing your condition, whatever it is, can be a powerful ingredient for change and health. “Reframing” isn’t the same thing as denial or distortion; it’s when you consciously look at an event or experience in a different light; one that helps you move forward. Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and the author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” is perhaps the most well-known author of choosing the meaning behind any personal suffering or struggle.

So, what does this have to do with dyslexia and the use of “famous people with dyslexia?” Well, first let me begin by saying that I’ve been full circle with this one. Originally a strong user of this tactic to help kids feel better about their learning disability, I slowly became disenchanted by this over-used tendency. Sometimes relying too heavily on “famous people” can backfire. What does this all mean anyways? If I’m dyslexic does this mean I’m the next Tom Cruise or Charles Schwab?

The other day I was listening to a program on NPR about inequality of treatment and damaging prejudice towards women in Japan and other parts of Asia and the developing world. (Obviously there are corollaries in western society.) One of the parts that struck me was about how to change ignorant behavior. Experiments indicated what worked and what didn’t, when trying to in change prejudicial attitudes towards wome

What didn’t work was “education.” What didn’t work was simply “teaching” people about the history of mistreatment of women or other groups and expecting a change in attitudes.

What did work however, was exposing people to powerful images and stories of women who had overcome obstacles and become an ironworker, or a judge, or a Alaskan fisherman. Showing images and telling stories of this type did more to changing perceptions about the reality of prejudice against women, and what’s possible for women to accomplish.

This had me reflecting on, among other things, the benefits of having true role models of different types for kids who struggle in school with such conditions as dyslexia. Exposing kids to strong examples of ovecoming prejudicial and limiting beliefs (including self-belief) is important

So, yes, while it can be overdone with too much fluff, the use of exposing kids who learn differently to adults who are healthy and successful can be a powerful and useful tool. They don’t have to be celebrities mind you, ordinary people who are doing good things will do.

Many of you have heard of Temple Grandin. She’s a professor at Colorado State University, known for her ability to think in pictures in similar way, she says, to animals. She gained initial recognition by applying that ability and her affinity with animals, by revolutionizing the business of animal husbandry and humane treatment even within slaughterhouses. She has now designed the facilities in which half the cattle are handled in the United States. Autism she feels, has positive sides that are essential to society.

This is a fascinating article including some great description of her brain structures.

Temple Grandin sees autism’s positive side

If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend watching Claire Dane’s brilliant portrayal of Ms. Grandin in the movie “Temple Grandin.”

Again: Vision and Dyslexia, Unrelated

Vision and Dyslexia, Unrelated

Here’s another study, based on pretty sophisticated brain imaging that shows that visual system processing and dyslexia are not linked.

While there is little debate that visual processing is important in reading and learning, the evidence piles up that when it comes to dyslexia, the most common cause of reading and spelling problems in children and adults, one should not focus on repair of visual circuitry.

Children without dyslexia appeared to have the same level of visual processing activity as dyslexic kids, when matched by reading level instead of age, they found.

Further, children with dyslexia who received intensive tutoring in reading skills experienced a subsequent increase in visual system activity.

Teaching Reading is Harder than Math?

Photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than A B C

Given that this article looks at the performance of low income students, I’m sure this is a multi-faceted issue, but it seems to be more evidence that teachers need more and different training in the science of reading instruction.

Kids’ Hilarious First Reactions to Food Caught on Camera

Had to post this one. Great facial, muscular reactions by little kids. I must admit I had a pretty similar reaction to Vegemite the first (and only) time I tried it.

Enjoy.

Art Competition for People with Learning Disabilities

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is calling for paintings, drawings, poems, songs, animations, and more that portray the strengths of children, teens, and adults with LD. Ask yourself: If you were a superhero, what special abilities would you have? If superheroes aren’t your thing, think about your talents (traditional or non-traditional) — what makes you unique? Or, what superpowers do you wish you had? This can be depicted visually, through the written word, song, or any other medium that best suits you.

Six prizes will be awarded. One participant from each age category will be awarded $400, and the first runner-up from each category will be awarded $100 each. Prizes will be awarded for outstanding works in each of the following categories:

Children: 4–12 years old
Teens: 13–17 years old
Adults: 18 and older

To enter, please send NCLD the artwork(s), a photo of the artist, a short paragraph (three to five sentences) written by the artist that explains how the submitted work relates to the “LD Superheroes and Superpowers” theme, and a completed submission and release form. See below for more details on submission requirements and process.

Entries must be received no later than Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

Citizens celebrate ‘Dyslexia Bill’

New Dyslexia Bill signed into law in Arkansas. Good. And somehow, as handfuls of state legislatures have already passed or are considering passage of similar bills to ensure better and earlier screening, the DSM-5 (the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), due to come out soon, is apparently eliminating the term dyslexia. It will instead keep the more generic term “specific learning disability.” Sigh. One step forward, one step back.

The Arkansas bill requires screening for dyslexia and related disorders in public school students in kindergarten through second grade, and then the schools would have intervention and treatment options for those students.

Alan Alda discusses his family experience with dyslexia on WNYC radio today.

Alan Alda’s granddaughter goes to Kildonan School in NY (he discusses this in the interview). There’s still so much misinformation about dyslexia but it’s always good to hear thoughtful discussion and more awareness brought to the subject.

Even this interview is filled with co-incidental issues related to dyslexia but not necessarily because of dyslexia. Nonetheless, good to see and hear these first person accounts (including the call-ins).

Alan Alda also discusses his interests in making science more accessible as well as certain political issues.

Learning disabilities’ movement turns 50

James Baucom, long-time faculty member of Landmark College writes in the Washington Post about a watershed speech given back in 1963, which galvanized support and awareness of the reality of “learning disabilities” instead of minimal brain damage. This eventually led to Public Law 94-142, the civil rights for education law.

A Gifted Student Learns to Thrive with Dyslexia

This is an piece in the Wall Street Journal that highlights a New York teenager’s school life, with its ups and downs, as a student with dyslexia. Apparently she tested in the superior range (in what?) as a pre-school child, but quickly fell behind in Kindergarten in a Manhattan private school that didn’t understand kids with learning differences.

She then spent two early primary years at the Windward School in White Plains, NY, a school that specializes in working with kids with dyslexia.

After returning to mainstream schools, she’s done well and is preparing to enter high school. It’s an upbeat article as it should be, and what strikes me is her healthy-sounding attitude about her dyslexia. She seems to get it that it’s a part of who she is but not who she is. She’s developed good advocacy skills, and doesn’t hide from her spelling struggles and need for more time when reading. On the other hand it doesn’t sound like she overemphasizes them either.

Good for her. The need to categorize her in the title of the article as “gifted” is I suppose to say that she showed lots of cognitive aptitude and potential. Glad it’s not going to waste.

www.psychiatrictimes.com/autism/content/article/10168/2132823

According to some estimates, more than half of parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) try complementary and alternative treatments (CATs). When you’re the parent of such a child you can find references to so many alternative treatments that purport to bring relief (online and through word of mouth), that you run the risk of wasting precious time money and energy in pursuit.

This is not to say parents shouldn’t scour reputable sources for new or old treatment options.

Robert Hendren, DO, Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Nicholas Lofthouse, PhD, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Ohio State University, are two authors of a review of various CATs.

Lofthouse and colleagues reviewed 13 orally administered (ingestible) and 6 externally administered (noningestible) CATs for ASD. For each, they described its definition, rationale for use/mechanism, current research support (eg, open-label trials or randomized controlled trials), safety issues, limitations, and future directions. They also applied a clinical guideline and evaluated treatments based on whether they are sensible, easy, inexpensive, and safe.

The authors had three categories in which to place a therapy, “recommended”, “acceptable” or “not recommended.”

The authors recommended 3 CATs: melatonin RDI, multivitamin/mineral, and massage therapy.

“There is some good scientific evidence for these, and they also seem sensible, easy, and relatively cheap and safe,” said Lofthouse. Several CATs are worth considering for short, monitored trials, if conventional treatments for ASD and the recommended CATs have been given a reliable trial and have been found ineffective or if patients and parents refused conventional treatments, suggested the authors.

The article elaborates on the other categories as well.

Makes you wonder, is there more effective teaching going on, or are fewer kids being identified due to economic constraints:

Number of Students Classified As Learning Disabled Continues to Drop

[via Education Week]

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