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MathInTheBloodPart2 08 Jul 2005 - 00:44 CarolynJohnston

Carolyn's side of the story

See also: MathInTheBlood (Part 1)

I should explain that for my son, school has never been an ordinary undertaking. As a young child, he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (Pervasive Development Disorder, which is a diagnosis that means 'looks like some kind of autism to me'). His preschool years were a nightmare of trying to treat his developmental problems with Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, while simultaneously searching for a medical treatment that would help him. The tough thing about having a kid with this disorder is that you have to work on him hardest in the earliest years, when you're most clueless about his prognosis: it's utterly crazy-making, and I was pretty crazy.

In his elementary school years, my son has made great progress; but he still has an attention deficit, severe organizational difficulties, and problems with deep reading comprehension and social cognition. So the fact that he was flying independently with Saxon math, and hit a mountainside when we encountered Everyday Math in fourth grade, was a Big Deal.

Besides, he's a smart kid with an autism spectrum disorder. Math is his greatest strength, and a career in math, science, computers or engineering is his most likely future. In those fields, his colleagues will know how to deal with him (given the sheer numbers in which kids are getting autism-like disorders these days, they'll probably be just like him).

At the end of fourth grade, during a conference with his teachers, I floated the possibility of his doing fifth grade math on his own, with me as his tutor, using Saxon math. It's legal in this state to homeschool in one subject like that, but we all had big reservations about it. We've worked so hard to enable Ben to function in a regular classroom with the other kids that the thought of separating him from the other kids at that point, just because we didn't like the math curriculum, seemed unbearable. So I sighed, gave up, and we entered fifth grade with Ben still signed up for Everyday Math.

Somewhere early in fifth grade, Catherine and I struck up an Internet Friendship (we have never actually met in the flesh!). Among her other interests, Catherine is a noted non-fiction author who specializes in autism research and treatment... we encountered each other in the way that people do online, and I figured out who she was.

Catherine is a true Math Revolutionary. While I, with all my math degrees and our successful experiences with Saxon Math, was still dithering about whether or not to pull my son out of school and teach him myself, Catherine was actually doing her ten-year-old son's fuzzy math homework for him every night, so she could get that over with quickly, and move on to teaching him mathematics from what she regarded as a better curriculum.

Completely independently, she had chosen Saxon Math for him.

Catherine and I, in spite of our different paths in life, have a heck of a lot in common.

more to come...

CognitiveHoles 19 Jul 2005 - 16:27 CarolynJohnston

Bernie and I were talking tonight, and he told me a story that worried me a bit.

Ben came to visit us at work the other day, and wanted to get a snack from the vending machine. So he went into his dad's office and asked for some money. Bernie gave him a few coins, and Ben went into the snack room, picked out what he wanted, and put his money into the machine; but he didn't have enough. So he came in and asked for more; but he couldn't tell Bernie how much more he needed. He didn't seem to have much sense of how much more he needed, either.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time we came across this sort of gap in his understanding. We have a sort of a family byword for these things, very much like Catherine and Ed's no-common-sense-y; we call Ben's gaps his Cognitive Holes. They are located in unexpected places -- they're generally about something, like handling coins, that you think is very easy by comparison with other things he can do, like long division. And they tend to be very big gaping holes in his knowledge, and at first they were very frightening. But we come across them less often now than we used to, and we've found that once we know they are there, we can remediate them pretty quickly.

So I thought this was another run-of-the-mill Cognitive Hole.

Well, you tackle these by filling them in. Ben and I were ready for a change from what we've been doing lately, anyway (introductory equations, solved by adding and subtracting). We've been doing them all week, and struggling, and we finally got a 'click' a couple of nights ago (those babies are practically audible, aren't they?), and last night when he took his section test he got a 100. So tonight, when it was math time, instead of doing algebra, I got out some coins.

I had 3 quarters, and a dime. "OK, you're at our work, and you want a snack, and these are the coins I have", I told him. "The snack you want costs 60 cents. Which coins do you take?"

He went for two of the three quarters, and the dime. Good. "How much do I get back from the machine?" I asked. Nothing: good.

"OK, your snack costs 40 cents". He goes for the two quarters: he tells me the machine returns a dime.

"The snack costs 80 cents." He takes all the coins, and tells me the machine returns 5 cents.

In short, he passed my common sense test with flying colors, and Math Time was fun and a breeze for once. So what the heck was happening the other day? In short, what part of this Cognitive Hole we think we've uncovered am I not mapping correctly?

Tomorrow, we try it a little differently; we'll simulate the precise problem we had the other day with the snack machine at work. I'll give him too little money, tell him the snack costs a certain amount, and get him to tell me how much more he needs.

There may in fact be no Cognitive Hole, this time, just some situational rigidity. This is the deal with smart people on the autism spectrum; sometimes they know what they need to know, they just stiffen up when it comes time to apply it in the real world.


ReportOfTheCurriculumCommittee 20 Jul 2005 - 00:13 CatherineJohnson

Just found the Curriculum Committee Report to the Board of Education, June 9, 2005.

Trailblazers: most teachers have positive reaction, as do parents and students. Some say it’s too early to judge its success. Student survey positive. Anecdotal parent reports positive.

Character Education: students positive about 4/5 program (“No put downs”).

question: Is there a formal mechanism for submitting a minority report?

Because I've got one.

In case you're wondering.....'No put downs' is an anti-bullying program, which, for 6 long months, eats up 20 minutes of instructional time each and every morning, when kids are at their freshest.

Among the kids, it is an object of sport. They make ruthless and relentless fun of No Put Downs, the 'Choose a Response' injunction being the favored target of parody, and see the whole thing as One Big Joke.

Ed says that in his view it's never good to put a program in place that undermines adult authority in this way. I agree.


I see the Curriculum Committee further reports that:

Parents would like to see it continued at Middle School.



That's strange. Because I don't remember anyone taking a vote.

Actually, if we're talking 'parents' as in mothers, they're probably right. I'm the only mother I've met who can't stand the thing. We moms are in charge of the Civilizing Mission, & we'll take all the help we can get.

I'm off the boat only because I started reading about 'loss of instructional time,' and because we successfully dealt with a bullying situation ourselves a few years ago, when Christopher was in 2nd grade.

Needless to say, when Christopher was being bullied I dived into The Research. The No Put Downs program is in one crucial way actually at odds with an effective anti-bullying strategy; if we had taught Christopher to handle things the way No Put Downs tells kids to deal with bullies, he would have been bullied more, not less.

At the very end of this school year, in fact, one of Christopher's friends was being bullied. I told his mom what I'd learned from a fantastic book called Good Friends Are Hard to Find: Help Your Child Find, Make, and Keep Friends by Fred Frankel, and she told her son. Two weeks later his bullying problem was over the same way Christopher's was over.

Compare and contrast: 6 months of No Put Downs versus one parent-son talk about Fred Frankel.

I'd be happy to see the school bring in an anti-bullying program if it worked--and if we were collecting data to see if it worked. But it doesn't (IMO) and we're not.

Getting back to moms & dads, probably most mothers do like the No Put Downs program, and do want to see it repeated in the Middle School, too. 'No Put Downs' tells kids, every day, most of the same things we tell them at home. Taken at face value, it sounds like a good thing.

But if we're talking about dads.....

Let me put it this way.

We ran into our friend R. on the train a couple of days ago, and he was pretty hilarious on the subject of No Put Downs.

Afterwards Ed said there are probably about 2 dads in the entire town who think No Put Downs has any effect whatsoever on normal boy behavior.

keywords: character education bullying no putdowns lost instructional time

HowToStopABully 29 Jul 2005 - 16:55 CatherineJohnson

Carolyn and I were just chatting about Fred Frankel’s book Good Friends Are Hard to Find: Help Your Child Find, Make, and Keep Friends on one of the Comments threads.

I mentioned that we solved a fairly serious bullying problem Christopher had in 2nd grade in just two weeks, using Frankel’s book.

It struck me that the subject of bullying is so universal I should pull this comment up front in spite of the fact that it has nothing to do with maths.

Carolyn asked, specifically, whether Frankel’s book can be used with very high-functioning autism & Asperger kids.


Xtreme behaviorism in action

Fred Frankel says his book is not intended for kids with autism or Asperger syndrome.

But if my autistic kids were high-functioning, I'd sure give it a shot.

In his book, Frankel precisely breaks down exactly what kids do to make friends.

Exactly, down to the finest detail. It's Xtreme behaviorism.

For instance, he says that when kids approach other kids to play, they are rejected 30% of the time!

I don't know about you, but I find that observation incredibly useful.

Most adults think it's Bad When Kids Reject Each Other--and, from an adult perspective, it is. I certainly wouldn't reject 30% of the people who tried to talk to me at a party, and I would leave any party where 30% of the other guests refused to talk to me.

But Frankel says 30% is what kids do; it’s normal.

(caveat: I haven't fact-checked this figure, but I will.)

Then Frankel tells you what a kid should do when he is rejected, which is: he should accept his rejection and move on!

And that’s it!

There’s no You Can’t Say You Can’t Play!

I had just assumed you’re supposed to teach your child surefire social strategies to change the nasty rejecting child’s mind, but no.

That kid doesn’t want to play with you, and he’s not gonna want to play with you any time soon! So you're outta there!

I don't see how this observation wouldn't be helpful to the parent of a high-functioning child. If regular kids are getting rejected 30% of the time, and your kid is getting rejected 35% of the time....maybe he's not doing so bad.

[Hey! This does have to do with maths!]

Frankel also tells you almost word for word what your child should say and do in order to join a group of kids playing a game. (Hint: always join the losing side.) He scripts it out, and you can rehearse your child before he makes an attempt.

Frankel (and others whose work I’ve read) makes the point that we adults can't see children's social skills; we see their behavior through our adult filter. We don't perceive what it is socially skilled kids are doing, because children's social skills are different from grown-ups'. (I may be grafting something I read in another book onto Frankel....but if he didn't actually say this, he could have.)

Xtreme behaviorism & conceptual understanding

After I read his chapter on bullying, I had all the conceptual understanding I needed to solve the problem.

I knew that children who are bullied share two characteristics:

1. they cry easily, giving the bully bang for the buck
2. they are compliant to other children

Both of these things were true of Christopher.

We didn’t end up using Frankel’s script for anti-bullying, because our neighbor had a better idea. He taught Christopher ‘how to fight,’ which in Christopher’s case meant how to defend himself in a very loud voice accompanied by an equally loud glare & the all-important step forward.

There was also a whole dramatic Second Act Christopher was supposed to launch into if the bully dared to mouth off after he’d been Warned. It was basically Robert DeNiro for the 2nd grade. Christopher spent the afternoon running through the whole thing with the neighbor and his son, and then we rehearsed him at home.

So I didn’t use Frankel’s script, but I based everything I did do and had Christopher do on Frankel’s concepts.

They worked.

How to stop someone else's bully (aka transfer of learning)

When Christopher's friend was being bullied, I was stumped.

I knew he didn't cry easily, and I'd never seen him be compliant to other kids.

Then it hit me.

When other kids bullied him he ran.

Talk about bang for your buck. Number one, motion triggers everyone's 'prey chase drive;' and number two, chasing a running target is fun whether you're planning to kill and eat your prey when you catch him or not.

I told his mother: Tell him not to run.

I also told her that not only should he not run, he should make direct eye contact with the lead bully, and take a step forward.

His message: There are 5 of you and 1 of me, so you can stuff me in a garbage can if you want to.

But I'm not the only one coming out of this with bruises.

I don't know how much of that she told her son, but I know she gave him the basic thrust.

The bullying stopped so fast I almost had to jog her memory when I asked her how things were going two weeks later.

I haven’t read too many books in my life that let me solve a major problem in two weeks’ time, and then follow that up by solving someone else’s problem in 2 weeks’ time, too.

I’m a fan.



As the mom of an Asperger child who desperately wants to have friends, I found this book more helpful than any other. It describes -- step by step -- the powerful social dynamics needed to "infiltrate" the mysterious world of friendship. I would recommend this book to the parents of ANY child who had social issues, be they autism, LDA, or just a bit shy or a bit aggressive. A must have for every resource library as well.

update 2

Frankel is now part of UCLA's Center for Autism Research and Treatment, which was established after we left. (fyi, Ed used to be a history professor at UCLA, and I taught in the film department as an adjunct years and years ago. That's how we met.)

Dr. Frankel is the Principal Investigator on the current CART project, “Parent-Assisted Friendship Training in Autism,” which focuses on the friendships of high-functioning children with autism who are included in typical elementary school classrooms from grades. This study is based upon the Dr. Frankel’s published treatment manual Children’s Friendship Training (2002).


update 3

Interesting comments thread on bullying at

Xtreme behaviorism, teaching & scripts
comments thread on bullying at

NerdReport 24 Dec 2005 - 01:15 CatherineJohnson

Through my usual circuitous route (ktm to brightMystery to I stumbled onto a web site with a test for nerds.

My score: 50%

This is a Francis Galton moment (more on which later, or see BlookiHelpWanted & scroll down.)

I am always, in every single quiz, poll, or test I take, dead center.

And I mean…..DEAD……CENTER.

It simply never fails.

A couple of years ago I took a famous Are You A Republican Or a Democrat? test and found out I was Colin Powell.

Yes, I know Colin Powell works for the Republicans, but in this particular test he was DEAD CENTER.

I always tell Ed, and this is something he really enjoys hearing 5, 6, 10, or 20 times a month, Forget it, don’t even bother arguing with me about who's going to win the election, or whether BATTLESTAR GALACTICA just turned into WEST WING, for I Am Everywoman.

I am, too.

If I think or like or am keenly interested in X, that means everyone else is thinking or liking or keenly interested in X, too, or at least enough folks are thinking, liking or keenly interested in X that X is going to be everywhere you look until I stop thinking, liking, and/or being keenly interested in X and move on.

Still, even though I have an unbroken string of Dead Center scores on all manner of pop psych quizzes and tests, I did not expect to score Dead Center on a test for nerds.

But I did.

I am a nerd bellwether.

I am nerdier than 50% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

NerdReportPart2 20 Jul 2005 - 13:52 CatherineJohnson

Are you a nerd?

TheNerdCorner 20 Jul 2005 - 13:29 CatherineJohnson

is here

XtremeBehaviorismTeachingAndScripts 29 Jul 2005 - 18:34 CatherineJohnson

I just found a wonderful comment after the post on bullying:

smart constructivism

I haven't looked at the book, but I find the concept interesting. I believe that it takes a special skill to remember your own child accurately, through the lens of childhood, and if you can remember it, then you can teach children anything.

You can teach them math or history or art or how to be polite or how to handle a bully.

Teaching is a puzzle. It's a puzzle where you must navigate backwards in a maze. A child is at point K, but they are supposed to be at point Z. If you just show them again how to go from A to Z, you are missing the point of how they got to K.

And usually, kids made a rational mistake: they misunderstood something, or misheard something, and this thing is embedded in their minds. It leads them (Rationally) to this bad position K.

Teaching is about figuring out how someone got into that position, so you can FIX that misunderstanding. It's not enough to tell them that K is the wrong place; you have to help them never follow that wrong path in the first place.

The best way to help kids learn is to remember the typical misconceptions YOU had as a child, and ones similar to it, to try and understand why they would think what they think. Then, you can see how they are really very smart--just misguided.

a child must feel like himself

re: the aspergers/high functioning autism stuff: this kind of description is very similar to what behavioral psychologists teach to help children with anxiety and attachment disorders. I personally believe that there is a high correlation between attachment disorders and what's called asperger's, but I caution people to refrain from just teaching these techniques to children.

The problem with just teaching this techniques is that you need your children to feel like themselves. That may sound silly, but it isn't helpful to teach your child how to act. You may want them to learn how to behave, but they need an emotional makeup capable of backing up the behavior.

For a short term case like a bully, maybe it doesn't matter so much, but in terms of making friends, you need your child to have an emotional makeup that feels these behaviors are natural. If not, the other children will recognize that the behavior is still off, and worse, the child can often feel that they are not capable of making friends by being themselves but have to act like someone else. That's a painful experience for a child, and can do a lot of damage in the long run. Be careful at behavioral solutions that make a child feel that their personality isn't acceptable.

joannejacobs comment thread on bullying

Interesting comments on bullying at

how to stop a bully
Comments thread on bullying at

HowAsiansAndWesternersThinkDifferentlyPartThree 15 Aug 2005 - 20:10 CatherineJohnson

I had just started writing about Bob and Lynn Koegel when I found Harold Stevenson's obituary, and interrupted myself to write a post on his life and death.

Getting back to the Kogels, when Lynn had her daughters she decided to see whether she could raise American daughters with Asian-style math skills. She put together a little neighborhood group of girls, and they did all kinds of embedded math activities involving cooking and anything else the girls liked to do.....and it worked. (Bob and Lynn created a form of behavioral treatment that's like John Dewey for autism, which in their case is a Good Thing. They're brilliant.)

I'll have to ask her for the details, which I've forgotten, but IIRC, every girl in the group grew up to be very advanced in math skills & performance--way past typical American girls, and way past brainy American girls, too. (I'll track this down!)

In any case, I do have a memory of reading that there is a sex difference on math in Asian countries, too, but only at the very highest levels of performance. Apart from that the sex distribution is exactly as Lynn described it; everyone assumes that math achievement is hugely a function of hard work, and everyone equally assumes that girls can perform hard work, too.

More Googling ahead, I can see that.

how Asians and Westerners think differently
how Asians and Westerners think differently, part 2
How Asians & westerners think differently, part 3
Harold Stevens, RIP
describe this picture
creativity gap, part 2

FirstPersonWithAutism 22 Aug 2005 - 16:17 CatherineJohnson

Education News links to a UPI story about the very first person diagnosed with autism in this country. He's 71, and he apparently recovered from his autism--or, rather, became very high-functioning--after developing juvenile arthritis, (another immune system connection), and being treated with gold salts.

This is definitely going to start a gold salts stampede.

The Age of Autism: Case 1

from FRAXA

Anyone interested in autism--especially anyone interested in treatments and cures--should take a look at A Brief History of Our Understanding of Fragile X (pdf file) by Michael R. Tranfaglia, MD.

This is the first time I've felt so hopeful in awhile.

For anyone interested in neuroscience, the article is worth reading just for its clear & novel explanation of neurotransmitters. Here's a sample:

The brain is often compared to a computer, but even the individual neuron has some properties of a computer!

And this:

The problem is that we often see all of these [symptoms] at the same time in Fragile X [and in autism], so the defect is clearly global, and it certainly seems to involve more than one neurotransmitter system.

Or does it? The widespread disturbances throughout differing areas of the brain could easily be accounted for by a defect in just one neurotransmitter system: glutamate. Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, accounting for the vast majority of brain activity (GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter, keeps this process in check so that runaway electrical activity does not lead to seizures.) All the other neurotransmitter systems previously mentioned modulate and control aspects of glutamate function, but glutamate does most of the real work in the brain.

For parents, here's the line we're waiting for:

It is possible that we have found the final common pathway (mGluR-LTD) which links all autism spectrum disorders.

A final common pathway.

That would be good.

I've got an email into our psychiatrist, Eric Hollander, to see what he thinks about this. I did find an article he published a couple of years ago, which contains this observation:

Abnormalities have also been found in the ?-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter system in individuals with autism (Buxbaum et al., 2002). The Seaver Autism Research Center is investigating the use of divalproex sodium (Depakote), a GABAergic agent, for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (Hollander et al., 2001). It is hypothesized that this medication will improve symptoms of autistic disorders, including affective instability and impulsive aggression. Individuals with abnormalities on electroencephalograms and with seizures disorders are particularly expected to benefit.

Jimmy is now taking Depakote, and in fact is smarter & more tuned in as a result. Dr. Hollander started him on it to control the seizures he began to have about a year ago.

Jimmy's response was a shock, because Depakote leaves most people only a tad more alert than insulin coma. John (Ratey) told me once Depakote 'gives people retardation,' and that's sure been my experience, judging by the other people I know who've taken the stuff.

So I was dreading putting Jimmy on it....and then voila. A little bit smarter, a little bit clearer, a little more talking. Nothing big, but amazing nonetheless.

One last passage. Unfortunately, this description of the behavior connected with the Fragile X defect isn't as clear. Still, it's fascinating:

The regulatory pathway which controls this process involves approximately 25-30 other genes, so there are many other ways that excessive LTD could occur, other than lack of FMRP. What would these other neuropsychiatric disorders look like clinically? One would expect that they would all share a common feature: over-reaction to novelty, which would be expected to cause obsessiveness, rigidity, and an inflexible focus on minor details. Think of this as an exquisite sense of pattern recognition run amok. Clinically, most people like this are called autistic, and this raises the very real possibility that mGluR5 antagonists may be effective treatments not only for Fragile X, but also for other autism spectrum disorders. Further support is leant to this theory by the observation that people with autism have the same overall prevalence of seizure disorders (approx. 25%) as people with Fragile X.

Pattern recognition run amok: this could explain why very high-functioning people with Asperger's syndrome can sometimes be paranoid, while people like Temple (also high-functioning, obviously) and my kids are the exact opposite of paranoid, trusting, loyal, and 'innocent.'

Xtreme pattern recognition mixed with anger and directed at other people actually sounds like a plausible definition of paranoia to me.

pattern recognition redux

Keith Devlin says that for the past 20 years mathematics has been defined as the science of patterns.

VacationReport 08 Oct 2006 - 22:19 CatherineJohnson

We have emerged from the first day of school unscathed.

Christopher does have the math teacher who scandalized the entire Phase 4 Parent Body last year, so I'm expecting to see a massive packet of Math Olympiad problems later on today. Ed says every time they send home Math Olympiads I should send back my own Math Olympiads. Don't think I won't do it.

otoh, Christopher was utterly charmed by Ms. Kahl (I think that's her name). He reported every single one of her rules to me in detail, a serious look on his face. 'I like Ms. Kahl,' he said. 'She's nice.'

This reminds me of the goofy feminism of my youth. For a while there, everyone was talking about RAISING BOYS WHO LIKE STRONG WOMEN. Even though I was still childless & quite possibly husbandless at the time, I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. The implicit antagonism to boys got on my nerves.

Then I turned out to be the kind of mother who raises boys who like strong women.

When Christopher was 4 he came home from nursery school one day and said, 'Mommy, I like a girl. Jean.'

I wasn't sure who Jean was, so I asked another mom. 'That Jean,' she said. 'She's a bossy one.'

teach your son math and set him up for a happy marriage, too!

It's probably just as well. A few years ago John Gottman came out with one of his Key Factors determining whether a marriage succeeds or fails, and it turns out the Key Factor is how much the husband is willing to be 'influenced' by his wife.

85% of the variance in whether a marriage succeeds or fails is based on the husband's actions and attitude. John Gottman, PhD, discovered that successful marriages involve husbands who resist immediate negative reactions to their wives' concerns. These men increase the odds of having a happy marriage by allowing themselves to accept the influence of their spouse....

Clarke, a 30-year veteran of marriage, demonstrates these principles in a contribution to "When my wife asks me to do something, almost anything, my initial reaction used to be annoyance because I have lots of work to do, lots of things to do around the house, and lots of other bullsh-t reasons why not. However, most of what she asks me to do is actually quite reasonable, usually my responsibility, and I probably will end up doing it anyway. So, now I've trained myself to say 'yes' or 'no problem' as my initial response. This has contributed to less arguing and a better relationship."

By the time Ms. Kahl and I get done with him, Christopher will not only be Good At Math, he'll be excellent Future Husband Material to boot.

Here is Gottman's The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models


I'm afraid one of my Life Goals has become learning enough math to be able to read, understand, and form an educated opinion about the contents.

my vacation wow

Two days into the school year and I'm already so re-absorbed by Math-Math-Math I almost forgot the whole point of this post. My Vacation.

It was great!

It was the first fun family vacation we've had since Andrew was born!

One word: Abilify

If it doesn't work for your kid, it'll probably work for you.

update update: this man is a genius

KumonMathInDetroit 17 Nov 2005 - 13:28 CatherineJohnson

KUMON math program
KUMON reading program

I've had an amazing email from an engineering professor who learned of Kitchen Table Math while she was in China (!)

(Apparently, not being listed on Google isn't a problem in China.)

She also sent me a copy of her paper on Kumon supplementation in Detroit schools (the results were incredible), and I'm waiting to see whether it's OK to post. In the meantime, she says it's fine to post her email:

I'm sure you must have come across Kumon mathematics? I'm a professor of engineering at Oakland University, and so mathematics is obviously very important to me. As a consequence, to make up for the problems with the American school system I've had my own daughters in the Kumon program for about ten years each--between the ages of three and thirteen. Their math skills are far better as a result. I was so impressed with the ideas behind Kumon (it is an outstanding supplement that provides the additional practice missing from K-12 math), that I started a program using the Kumon method in a local inner urban school district, Pontiac. The results are described in the attached paper.

Kumon provides the easiest, smartest way I've ever seen for a Mom to help her kids with math. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

One last thought. I've taught in China as well as the US. The US is definitely way ahead on the "creativity" side. But we are so far behind in math that it is ridiculous--and it is potentially crippling for our source of engineers and other professionals. There are many aspects involved in good engineering, for example, where a good math background is critical. Most of the engineering professors where I work now (Oakland University), are foreign born. Although I greatly respect my foreign-born colleagues, it's really an indictment of the American system that we can so rarely grow our own any more.

Thanks for your blooki, which I have bookmarked and will be following!

Kumon for children with severe disabilities, too?

And, in a follow-up:

Actually, the woman who ran one of the Kumon centers I brought my children to originally got into Kumon because she saw how much it was helping a profoundly mentally disabled child who she was working with. So I suspect it may be surprisingly beneficial for Andrew. I couldn't have done the outreach in my local inner-urban outreach without the incredible help I got from Doreen Lawrence, the Vice President of Research for Kumon, North America. Her phone number is 248-755-2587, and her email is Doreen is a wonderful person who is deeply oriented towards helping children. I'm sure she'd be glad to answer any questions you might have about Kumon (she knows EVERYTHING about the program).

You can feel free to post anything from my letter that might help. I just apologize for the poor writing. I just got back from China and am still jet-lagged.

Over the next week or two I'll read through your website more carefully and get a better feel for what's going on (I just found out about your website while I was in China, but scarcely had any time available while I was there). I've a lot of thoughts and background information related to what you're doing, and have some interesting and relevent experience with national policy setters in academia on this topic, but am a little bogged down now working on a book, research papers, experiments, and grant proposals. You know, the usual academic stuff! So I will try posting some once I feel I understand more fully what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Thank you ever so much for providing a forum for something that is so important to our children!

Her name is Barbara Oakley & she has had an amazing life (e.g., she met her husband at the South Pole.....)

Plus--and I MUST post this--she's started a page of things she finds funny, which, thus far, has one link to a pdf file of what looks to be a PowerPoint presentation: Yours is a Very Bad Hotel.

All you World Traveling Kitchen Table Math denizens will relate.

it's getting clearer now

Back when Carolyn and I started Kitchen Table Math, my one question was: Why?

Why exactly, in the middle of my life, am I spending 18 hours a day WRITING A MATH BLOG? Excuse me, a MATH BLOOKI.

This was my husband's question as well.

I'm just coming off a newyorktimesbestseller, the goal nonfiction writers spend their careers aspiring to reach.....shouldn't I be Following Up with another book? (I will follow up with another book; Temple and I are working up steam. But still. Kitchen Table Math is a detour.)

So what was I thinking?

Somehow, it seemed like I was supposed to be writing a math blooki.

That reason turns out to be, in large part, the people who write comments and set up pages and create dimensional dominoes and, now, send me an email out of the blue telling me I need to take Andrew to Kumon.

That is exactly what I need to do. I need to take Andrew to Kumon.

Andrew is my little locked-in boy; he's bright--so bright, it's there, you can see it--and I don't know how to reach him.

The folks at Kumon may not know how to reach him, either, but it's obvious to me I'm supposed to give it a shot. If they don't know, something there will give me a new idea. It's a lead.

I wasn't going to figure this out on my own.

I was telling my neighbor about this today, complaining that I can't think of these things myself. I have to have complete strangers tell me: take your severely autistic son to Kumon Math.

My neighbor said, 'You can never think what you're supposed to do about your own life.'

DanDreznerThreadOnMathEdPart2 20 Sep 2005 - 10:07 CatherineJohnson

mission accomplished

I have submitted Kitchen Table Math to Google. Believe it or not. Now I just have to do Alta Vista, Yahoo, .... and whatever else I'm supposed to do. (Suggestions?)

question: are there 'specialty' search engines I should know about?

thank you, Independent George

As usual, one thing led to another: first I Googled Kitchen Table Math to see if, by some chance, the folks at Open Directory had sent ktm to Google so I wouldn't have to. (answer: no)

Then up popped a reference to Kitchen Table Math on Daniel Drezner's blog, the very same thread I linked to last night.....

I'm going to have to do more reading & less skimming.

speaking of dumping on special ed, please!

Here's the post I wrote last night & then took down, because I'd stepped on Carolyn's post:

This is annoying.

One of Drezner's commenters has raised the Special Ed Is Soaking Up All Our Resources issue. (i.e. we're really NOT spending gobs more money on education than anyone else, because we assign $25,000-a-year personal aides to autistic kids and other countries don't)

So here's Jay Greene, whose research has been cited in Supreme Court cases, writing on that very issue:

...the most pernicious thing about blaming special education is not that it is politically correct, it is that it's not true. Special education can be held responsible neither for soaring education costs nor for stagnant student achievement. Yes, more money is spent on special education than on regular-education students. And yes, more students are being enrolled in special-education programs. But the shell game in education is that there has only been an increase in the students labeled as needing special education and not an actual increase in students with those learning difficulties.

There is nothing in the water that has created more children with learning problems. Better survival rates for babies born prematurely or mothers using drugs during pregnancy have also not led to a spike in students with learning problems, or, if they have, other improvements in public health, such as the reduction in lead-based paints and better child car seats, have countered any increase in children with learning problems.

Greene's book is out. It's in my cart.


BenAndSaxon 24 Sep 2005 - 20:49 CatherineJohnson

way to go--

I'm relieved, I have to say. I've been semi-sanguine about the possibility of having two math curricula in your child's life, a fuzzy one at school & a non-fuzzy one at home.....but the fact is, I haven't (really) had to face that situation.

Last year, in 5th grade, Christopher had SRA Math at school, and Saxon Math 6/5 at home. SRA Math is a very tough textbook to teach from (impossible for me, and experienced teachers have told me the same). But it's not hardcore fuzzy.

David Klein points out that most U.S. textbooks are fuzzy to some degree. That was certainly the case with SRA. Time and again I'd read a passage--this was when I was just setting out to reacquaint myself with math--and not have a clue what it meant. Invariably this was because the text would lay out a couple of observations and then pose a question to the student, who was supposed to draw the appropriate conclusion.

I remember one day I was trying to figure out how to find the equation for the slope of a line, and there was just no way. Finally my neighbor came over, read the passage, and said, 'You'd have to know how to do it to understand this explanation.' Then she showed me how.

Still and all, SRA Math wasn't a b*s book. Not at all. The math was real, and Christopher had two good teachers who'd had plenty of experience getting math into kids' heads in spite of the problems.

I'm pretty sure that in Christopher's case it was a net plus that he had two separate math curricula. He had far more time-on-task, and he had the benefit of seeing the same subjects from slightly different vantage points (which always helps me, and is probably good for everyone).

But I wasn't having that feeling about Ben at all. SRA & Saxon, OK. Connected Math & Saxon? Blech.

So, long story short, I was getting worried about Ben. I'm glad Connected Math is gone.

Saxon into the breach

I keep coming back to Saxon Math.

I've now read quite a few negative assessments of Saxon, by people whose judgment I respect. These are folks on the web--a couple of obviously intelligent homeschoolers, as well as Robert, who writes the brightMystery blog. Robert told me he wants to like Saxon, but just does not--and that students who come to his college courses having been homeschooled in Saxon aren't ready. (That's a paraphrase, so take it with a grain of salt.)

I have misgivings myself. Sometimes I worry Saxon is TOO 'structured'; I worry about pattern training--that Christopher is going to be a Saxon Boy who can only do Saxon Problems typed in Saxon Font.

Thus far that has not been the case. As far as I can tell, all of Christopher's Saxon knowledge has transferred to SRA (and, now, to Prentice Hall).

Other times I've felt the Saxon books are too scattered & fragmented. The fragmentation of topics is a deliberate strategy on Saxon's part, the intention being to use the principles of spaced repetition and distributed practice. That makes sense, but when I taught the Primary Mathematics Grade 3 chapter on fractions to Christopher and his friend Greg it was so much more satisfying and rich, or seemed so.

So.....I've been a heavy-duty Saxon user; I owe Christopher's move to Phase 4 math to Saxon 6/5. And I know the knowledge he's gained from Saxon is conceptual as well as procedural.

But in spite of all these good things, I have Nagging Doubts.

Usually I pay attention to Nagging Doubts. But in this case I think my doubts are either wrong or, more likely, misdirected. Because I keep coming back to Saxon every time I'm in trouble, and Saxon keeps bailing me out.

Saxon vs Dolciani

Take this week.

Christopher has another quiz today, on algebraic expressions.

I was reading along in Prentice Hall, which said that in an expression like x + 7 the x and the 7 are terms.

In an expression like 2x + 7, 2x and 7 are terms, and 2 is the coefficient.

Well, right away I was confused.

Does a term mean you're either adding or subtracting?

Does multiplication mean you don't have a term, you have a coefficient?

That seemed wrong.

So I got out my copy of Mary Dolciani's Pre-Algebra: An Accelerated Course.

I'd been thinking, OK, I'm done with Saxon. There are just too many negative opinions out there, Mary Dolciani's a genius, my neighbor's son liked Dolciani's book, it's shorter than Saxon & we're pressed for time......this year I'm going with Dolciani.

She was no help at all:

In the expression 9 + a, 9 and a are called the terms of the expression because they are the parts that are separated by the +. In an expression such as 3ab, the number 3 is called the numerical coefficient of ab.

Saxon on coefficients

Back to Saxon.

Saxon 8/7 has an entire lesson on algebraic terms. Lesson 84, page 571. I haven't read it yet--I've skimmed--but it's obvious that when I do, my question will be answered.

Here's how he opens:

We have used the word term in arithmetic to refer to the numerator or denominator of a fraction.

Right off the bat, he's made the smart metacognitive move. We have used the word 'term' to refer to numerators and denominators, and it's a good thing to point this out to the student, because otherwise, at some point (probably not now, but later on, when it will really ball things up) the student is going to think, Wait! Doesn't TERM mean DIVISION? Does it mean FRACTION? Does it mean NUMERATOR & DENOMINATOR?


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Saxon Math is the most metacognitively aware textbook I've encountered to date. Constantly, the books remind you of what you have learned, and point out to you that you are now learning an extension of that concept or you are learning a new and possibly quite different meaning of the same word.

Back to Lesson 84.

Next the book has a table of monomial, binomial, and trinomial algebraic expressions. Wonderful.

THEN the text says:

Terms are separated from one another in an expression by plus or minus signs that are not within symbols of inclusion.

Thank you, John Saxon. I needed that.

More examples follow, and eventually we get to this:

Each term contains a signed number and may contain one or more variables (letters). Sometimes the signed-number part is understood and not written. For instance, the understood signed-number part of a^2 is +1 since a^2 = +1a^2. When a term is written without a number, it is understood that the number is 1. When a term is written without a sign, it is understood that the sign if positive.


At least, perfect for me. What do you think?

deer in the grass

Martine (nanny) just said, 'That one is dark.' She was looking out the window.

So I looked out, too, and sure enough: the young deer grazing in our lawn is darker than the young deer who was living here a month ago.

But Martine thinks it's the same one. She thinks they get dark in the fall.

It's probably time to give him a name.

(a^2 means a squared - right?)


Just had an email from Barry re: Saxon Math.

The story problems!

Barry reminded me: they're dreadful. They're just wildly too-easy.

I had meant to put that in the original post, and forgot.

However, the story problems aren't the reason for my 'nagging doubts'.....the story problems are an obvious problem you can remediate easily through supplementation.

It's the other stuff.....

HomerOnTheBus 08 Oct 2005 - 16:05 CatherineJohnson


I've made a pact with myself to start taking pictures of Andrew's still lifes & letter arrays.

This tableau, by the way, is no accident. Andrew carefully arranges his figures exactly as he wants them. He gets mad if the dogs bump into them, and he puts everything back exactly as it was.

keywords: Homer Simpson on the bus

SowellAndLateTalkingChildren 24 Oct 2005 - 16:25 CarolynJohnston

Thomas Sowell (a well-known columnist and economist) came up on the interim report card thread, where his book on economics, Basic Economics was recommended highly. Also mentioned in passing was Sowell's book about his son, Late Talking Children.

I don't know if Catherine read Sowell's book, but as a parent of a late-talking (and in fact, autistic spectrum) child I did, and so did most of the other parents in my position that I knew. I have strong feelings about it, mostly negative. I recognize that Sowell was well-intentioned, but I believe he's done real damage with his book.

Sowell wrote the book because he took umbrage at his young son's having been labeled as a young child for being a late talker. Young John Sowell took so long to start talking that he was suspected of being retarded (and indeed he is not retarded; he apparently has some type of autism spectrum disorder).

Thomas Sowell talks about how his son finally began speaking (with what amounted to behavioral therapy from his father!). He gives case studies of other 'unfairly labeled' children, many of whom are also on the autism spectrum and won't have outcomes as positive as John's, and uses them as examples of outrageous mislabeling.

In fact, they are generally examples of cases where too little was done to help the child during those early critical years of development. Autism is a developmental disorder; it derails the development process, and it is at its worst during the preschool years. Treatment and therapy can do more to help a kid in those years than at any other time.

But in this book, Sowell is claiming that you should ignore your inner fears, and the recommendations of educators, and trust in your child to recover on his own without help.

If you want to see how people have reacted to LTC, both positively and negatively (nobody feels lukewarm about it!) take a look here at the 48 reader reviews (one of them is mine, but I can't find it anymore). Here's a typical one from among the many reviewers who shared my perspective on the book:

Parents don't want a label for their child. They don't want to see doctors, get a diagnosis, struggle to help for their child and get the services they need. This book scares me because it tells your inner voice worried about your child to be quiet and that you just need to wait it out and everything will be fine.

I am sure for some "nervous parents" this is good advice and you can wait for your child to speak. If this is you - you are lucky and blessed. For the 99% others out there - IT IS TIME TO GET BUSY. THIS IS YOUR WAKE UP CALL. EARLY INTERVENTION IS THE KEY TO YOUR CHILDS FUTURE SUCCESS.

Please, for your child - get a good diagnosis, see at least three to four specialists for your childs needs/deficits and address them immediately. That time is better spent vs. reading this book.

Darn tooting.

TheShoelaceProblem 15 Dec 2005 - 15:53 CatherineJohnson

Now that Doug has solved my helmet problem, * I'm hoping someone can solve my shoelace problem.

A couple of years ago the then-director of special ed (we're on our 3rd in 7 years) told me to forget about teaching Andrew to tie his shoes. Forget about it as in: forget about it for good. It's not going to happen, don't speak of it again.

Naturally this was my cue to decide Andrew would be learning to tie his shoes come hell or high water.


Wow. Hell or high water. I've been saying hell-or-high-water most of my adult life, and until Hurricane Katrina it hadn't occurred to me what the first person to say come-hell-or-high-water was actually talking about.

He was talking about teaching his autistic kid to tie his shoes in the midst of torrential rains and major flooding.

Which reminds me: possibly the only good thing about ageing is that you get to find out the true meaning of sayings. Most sayings come from dogs, I find, except for the ones that come from square dancing. Wolf it down, dog your heels, dog days, dog eat dog, let sleeping dogs lie, and so on. Pretty much the whole lot. Dogs have had a big influence, being our co-evolutionists and all.

What comes from square dancing, you ask? Back to square one comes from square dancing.

Speaking of which, we were talking about:

tying shoes

Andrew is now actively interested in tying his shoes, and is making progress.

But I can't remember the easy way of tying shoes his aide showed me a couple of years ago. (She's not his aide anymore, or I'd ask her.) And I can't find it on the internet.

I may have now reconstructed it for myself (discovery knowledge! that's the ticket!) But if anyone knows how it's done, I'd appreciate hearing from you.


*not to mention my number line problem, my fraction problem, and my distributive property problem



Look what KDeRosa found!


You guys are amazing.

KoegelsOnTelevision 03 Nov 2005 - 21:07 CatherineJohnson

Subject: Super nanny with an autistic child


"Facente Family" -- Supernanny Jo Frost teams with world-renowned autism expert Dr. Lynn Koegel to tackle the parenting issues faced by a family whose three-year-old son is an outsider in his own home. This episode of "Supernanny" airs on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network.

Deirdre and Trae Facente don't know how to integrate their autistic son Tristin into their daily life with their twins, Kayla and Marlana (4). Tristin is completely non-verbal, caught up in his own world of spinning, jumping, swinging and, often, taking off his clothes. The only time he spends with his family is sitting at the dinner table. The twins, who demand much of their stay-at-home mom's attention, can't figure out how to play with their little brother. The parents are at a loss as to how to help Tristin come out of his zone and join the family.

Enter Dr. Koegel and Supernanny. Together they refine the classic Supernanny methods and teach all the Facentes Dr. Koegel's inclusion and communication techniques to help engage Tristin. For example, when they introduce the new daily schedule to everyone, Dr. Koegel uses a picture board with Tristin to help him understand in a concrete way.

In just a week, silent Tristin goes from zero words to speaking hundreds of times using over 20 new words. He is bursting with requests to play a favorite game, be tickled or eat a treat. Step-by- step, Jo and Dr. Koegel help the parents keep Tristin from his disruptive behaviors by including him in family chores and activities. These efforts culminate in the boy helping his dad set the table, a seemingly mundane task that is so miraculous for Tristin, it brings tears to Trae's eyes.

Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D is one of the world's foremost experts on the treatment of autism. She and her husband, Robert L. Koegel, Ph.D., founded the renowned Koegel Autism Center at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She co- wrote the bestselling book on autism, Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope that can Transform a Child's Life, which was recently released in paperback, and also co-authored, with Robert Koegel, the new book, Pivotal Response Treatments for Autism

♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   

We love these people. They are our autism gurus; they are two of the best people on earth. Their work is so brilliant, and, at the same time, so down-to-earth & heartfelt it's hard to capture in words.

Bob & Lynn Koegel are the Real Thing.

More about them later.

Pivotal Response Treatments for Autism: Communication, Social, And Academic Development

I had no idea Bob & Lynn had finally published a book on their pivotal response therapy.

I'm going to try to unearth my short piece on PRT to post tomorrow. "Pivotal response training"&mdah;the concept behind it—is probably the core concept in just undertaking one can imagine.


AnimalsInTranslationTheBlogPart2 23 Nov 2005 - 12:49 CarolynJohnston

I've just blogrolled Animals In Translation, Catherine Johnson and Temple Grandin's blog on animal behavior. It's a companion blog to their bestselling nonfiction book, also called Animals In Translation, on the thinking, behavior and motivation of animals.

Go check it out, and tell the proprietors we sent you!

BrainsRunInFamilies 01 Dec 2005 - 00:04 CarolynJohnston

From my friend Jen, comes this link from the BBC on a study showing that the parents of kids with autism share a lot of the brain structure differences that the children have, even though they don't manifest the symptoms of autism.

The researcher and study are at the medical school in Denver. How did we miss out on being guinea pigs for this study? I want to know if I have a shrunken amygdala and somatosensory cortex! I want to have an fMRI of my own brain -- gosh -- who wouldn't?!

TheLearningBrain 21 Dec 2005 - 14:13 CatherineJohnson


My new copy of Trends in Cognitive Neuroscience just arrived, with a review of this book:


The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education by SARAH-JAYNE BLAKEMORE (cognitive neuroscience, University College, London) and UTA FRITH (cognitive development, University College, London).

Frith may be the most important autism researcher we have; she'd certainly rank in the top 5. (Carolyn?)

table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Developing Brain

3. Words and Numbers in Early Childhood

4. The Mathematical Brain

5. The Literate Brain

6. Learning to Read and its Difficulties

7. Disorders of Social-Emotional Development

8. The Adolescent Brain

9. Life Long Learning

10. Learning and Remembering

11. Different Ways of Learning

12. Harnessing the Learning Powers of the Brain




Further Reading


The Introduction (pdf file) is posted online. If it's half as good as I expect it to be, I'm ordering the book today.

I have to get to Andrew's field trip, so I'll post the TRENDS review later. Looks like it's very positive.

politics, eduation, & cognitive science

At the time, the Early Years Education subcommittee was holding an inquiry into the appropriate care and education of children between birth and six years. The subcommittee had been bombarded with letters, reports, and manifestos from early years charities, schools, psychologists, and educators, many of whom cited research on brain development as grounds for changing early years education in the UK. Some of the arguments put forward contradicted each other. On the one hand, some argued that formal education should not start until six or seven years old because the brain is not ready to learn until this age. On the other hand, others argued that it was clear from research on brain development that children should be “hothoused”—taught as much as possible as early as possible. What were the Members of Parliament on the subcommittee to make of the conflicting evidence?

Both authors were engaged in these kinds of debates when, in June 2000, we compiled a report for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to indicate whether insights from neuroscience could inform the research agenda in education.

EyeContactInAutism 22 Dec 2005 - 02:39 CarolynJohnston

Somehow I missed this result when it came out.

Anyone who knows someone with even a mild autism spectrum disorder knows how difficult it can be to get the person to look at you. Their gaze just slides off your chin. It's hard to believe that it's just that they aren't interested in your face, as many theorists have suggested; their avoidance of eye contact is so marked that it's hard to feel there isn't some kind of aversion there. This article in Scientific American (from March 2005) seems to explain why.

Children suffering from autism pay very little attention to faces, even those of people close to them. Indeed, this characteristic can become apparent as early as the age of one, and is often used as a developmental sign of the disease. The results of a new study provide additional insight into why autistic children avoid eye contact: they perceive faces as an uncomfortable threat, even if they are familiar.

Children suffering from autism pay very little attention to faces, even those of people close to them. Indeed, this characteristic can become apparent as early as the age of one, and is often used as a developmental sign of the disease. The results of a new study provide additional insight into why autistic children avoid eye contact: they perceive faces as an uncomfortable threat, even if they are familiar.

Kim M. Dalton of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her colleagues studied 27 autistic teenagers who looked at pictures of faces (see image) while a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine scanned their brains. The researchers also tracked the subjects' eye movements as they studied the images. "This is the very first published study that assesses how individuals with autism look at faces while simultaneously monitoring which of their brain areas are active," Dalton says. When the image included a direct gaze from a nonthreatening face, brain activity in the amygdala--a brain region associated with negative feelings--was much higher for autistic children than it was in members of the control group. "Imagine walking through the world and interpreting every face that looks at you as a threat, even the face of your own mother," remarks study co-author Richard Davidson, also at UW-Madison.

The results also indicate that a brain area associated with face perception, known as the fusiform region, is fundamentally normal in autistic children; it does exhibit decreased activity, however. Davidson notes that this could result because the over-aroused amygdala makes an autistic child want to look away from faces. In addition, he comments that it was surprising that "when subjects with autism averted their gaze away from the eye region of a face, they showed reduced activity in the amygdala, suggesting that the gaze aversion is serving a functional purpose." The findings are published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

ACloseCall 31 Jan 2006 - 00:47 CarolynJohnston

Ben asked for permission to go down to the school in our neighborhood today (Sunday), and play by himself at the playground. I told him he could, but I wanted him back quickly.

Well... he did come home quickly, and when he came in, he told me the following story.

He said that a man came up who had a key to the school, and the man asked him if he wanted to go inside the school. He knew he shouldn't, because it wasn't safe, and so he came right home and told me. This is not only a close shave because it was a fishy situation; it was a close shave because Ben is quite obsessed, right now, with going inside the neighborhood school and church. He came home and told me about it because he knew that doing it by himself wasn't safe; he wanted me to go right down with him and take him in the school while the man still had the school open!

I can think of only one honest explanation for the situation, and several nasty ones. The only honest one I can think of is that the man was a janitor who came up, opened the door, saw Ben's longing look (or perhaps Ben even TALKED to him), and invited him inside just to be nice. That's possible ... barely.

I guess all those readings of 'The Berenstain Bears: the Trouble with Strangers' made an impression. I always wondered how Ben would react in a situation like this -- where one of his obsessions was at odds with his personal safety. It seems he has a sense of self-preservation after all, thank God.

-- CarolynJohnston - 30 Jan 2006

OmegaThreeFattyAcids 11 Feb 2006 - 16:05 CatherineJohnson

I think Carolyn & I have ESP.

I'm serious.

A few days ago I read an article on fish consumption, IQ, & pregancy in THE ECONOMIST ($). I set it aside because I wanted to write a post about it.

Then yesterday Ed told me we're almost out of omegabrites, and today my cod liver oil for Jimmy & Andrew came in the mail.

AND: I just opened an email from Carolyn to find that she's wondering about fish oil for Ben! (Of course, Carolyn probably read the same article I did....)

My answer is: fish oil for everyone.

brain food

I found out about the Omega 3 fatty acids a few years ago, and was immediately convinced. Since then, the data has just kept coming, all of it good. On my Bayesian scale of certainty, 1 being No Clue and 7 being Death and Taxes, I'm at 7.

Fish oil is one of those 'Lost Knowledge' which I mean that it belongs to the store of cultural knowledge people used to have that's gone missing. (Flash poll: how many women here can name the different cuts of meat in a side of beef? I can't. People used to know this stuff!)

My mom told me that when she was a kid, people gave cod liver oil to their kids, because they considered it 'brain food.'

Well, guess what. It is brain food. But that idea got lost somewhere along the line.

Here's the connection.

Probably everyone here knows that, at some point, the NIH funded research on fish consumption and heart health, which found that high fish consumption was good for your heart.

From there it followed directly that high fish consumption would likely be good for your brain, too, since researchers had already noticed a number of connections between heart health & mental health. For instance, people who suffered heart attacks were likely to suffer depression, too (IIRC I think the connection worked the other way around, as well).

Although people knew these correlations existed, I gather it took researchers a little while to put two and two together. But finally someone did, and the NIH funded, I believe (NOT FACT-CHECKED) an epidemiological study of fish oil consumption and depression. It turned out that there are very low rates of depression in countries and communities with high rates of fish consumption.

Andrew Stoll

I no longer remember when Andrew Stoll came on the scene, but I do remember his story.

Stoll is an expert on bipolar disorder, which meant he was prescribing a lot of lithium to patients. Lithium has numerous side effects; it's a tough drug to take, and can be quite dangerous. (It's a naturally-occurring salt.) IIRC, he and a colleague wanted to find a substance that would work like lithium with fewer side effects.

Apparently there is an enormous, multi-volume dictionary or encyclopedia of all known chemicals, so Stoll and his colleague starting searching through known chemicals to find something that might mimic lithium.

They found that the one chemical closest in structure to lithium was omega 3 fatty acid. Their study of Omega 3 fatty acid used to treat bipolar patients was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the two best journals in the field.

Three-page excerpts from every chapter of Stoll's book, The Omega-3 Connection, are posted on the omegabrites website. Terrific book.

We buy all of our fish oil from OmegaBrite, because it's manufactured by Stoll's ex-wife and because it's pharmaceutical grade, meaning it can be prescribed by physicians. This may mean nothing in terms of insurance; I don't know. I've never tried to get reimbursement. 'Pharmaceutical grade' in the case of omegabrites means the product can be used in an NIH-funded study.

IIRC, Stoll had a lot of trouble rustling up enough pharmaceutical-grade fish oil to do the study in the first place. I think he had to get the stuff he used from the people who did the heart study....Then, because there was no pharmaceutical commercial-grade product available on the market, his wife, who is also a psychiatrist, decided she would manufacture it herself & start up a whole company. I'm glad she did, but I don't think it's been fun for them.

pharmaceutical grade liquid fish oil?

That reminds me.

I spent years poking holes in zillions of omegabrite capsules every morning so I could squeeze out the oil inside into grape juice & give it to Jimmy and Andrew.

Those days are over.

The last time I spoke to Andrew Stoll, who is a friend of John (Ratey)'s, he said they were going to try to make a liquid version. I'm still waiting.

A couple of months ago I finally gave up and bought some Nordic Natural Complete Omega-3.6.9 oil.

Then I remembered my mom liked Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, which is what came in the mail today.

I have no idea way of judging their quality. I could use advice.

no more asthma

Fish oil has two important properties of which I'm aware; I'm sure there are lots more:

  • it is a natural antiinflammatory

  • it is liquid at very low temperatures

The natural antiinflammatory characteristic means, basically, that fish oil is a cure-all.

For at least the past 10 years researchers & physicians have been focused on inflammation as the source of all evil.

Eventually people began looking into inflammation as a problem for the brain, as well, and I'm sure it is.

Fish oil is a phenomenal antiinflammatory. When we first moved to Westchester Ed, Christopher & I developed asthma. Actually, I'd already had fairly severe asthma for about 10 years, but it had never been diagnosed. People kept telling me I had bronchitis. When Christopher was 4, he spent July 4 having an asthma attack so bad he was throwing up, which, unbeknownst to me, is the Danger Point. He could barely breathe.

All three of us were using inhalers every day when we started taking omegabrites.

Within a few months, all 3 of us had stopped using inhalers.

I think there may be a cumulative effect as well, because for a few years there we'd still have to get on the inhalers every time any of us came down with a cold.

Now we don't need inhalers for colds, either.

Another miracle cure: my mom's bursitis is gone. Bursitis is an inflammatory disorder.

Andrew Stoll's dad, who was in his 70s or 80s when I met him, told me his arthritis was gone. This stuff works.

fluid brain membranes

I don't think anyone knows exactly what Omega 3 fatty acids do in the brain, but one thought has to do with membrane permeability.

Mostly, Americans eat Omega 6's. That's corn oil. We eat HUGE quantities of corn oil, which is fine by me, since my dad was a farmer who raised corn. I've got nothing against corn!

But we're almost certainly way out of whack; we're supposed to be getting a lot more Omega 3s, and a lot less Omega 6.

Here's the way I think about the brain & Omega 3s.

Why don't salmon freeze up stiff as a board when they're swimming around the North Pacific waters?

Because they're made of fish oil.

Now picture a salmon made of margarine.

He's froze-solid, isn't he?

Stoll and others (IIRC) think it's possible fish oil is good for the brain because it replaces Omega 6s in cell membranes, which are made of fat.

If you're eating margarine, your brain cell membranes are made of margarine.

If you're eating fish, your brain cell membranes are made of fish oil.

Apparently, it's good to be a fish.

I have no idea whether this hypothesis is still current, but it's highly motivating. Every time I pull up an image of a semi-sold margarine brain I get serious about sticking with my fish oil regimen.

fish oil, pregnancy, IQ

I think Terri mentioned that they hope to have one more baby, so I wanted to get this study posted.

from THE ECONOMIST story:

...the amount of omega-3 in a pregnant woman's diet helps to determine her child's intelligence, fine-motor skills (such as the ability to manipulate small objects, and hand-eye co-ordination) and also propensity to anti-social behaviour.


That, at least, is the conclusion of Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at America's National Institutes of Health who has been working with a set of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The Avon study was begun 15 years ago by Jean Golding, of the University of Bristol, with the aim of unravelling the genetic and environmental pathways that predispose children to disease. It contains data on 14,000 expectant mothers and their offspring.


...the children of those women who had consumed the smallest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids during their pregnancies had verbal IQs six points lower than average...the finding is particularly pertinent because existing dietary advice to pregnant women, at least in America, is that they should limit their consumption of seafood in order to avoid exposing their fetuses to trace amounts of brain-damaging methyl mercury.


Dr Hibbeln, however, says his work shows that the benefits of eating such fish vastly outweigh the risks from the mercury in them. Indeed, in the Avon study, it was those children exposed to the lowest levels of methyl mercury who were at greatest risk of having low verbal 3½ years of age, those children with the best measures of fine-motor performance were the ones whose mothers had had the highest intake of omega-3s. Their third finding was that a low intake of omega-3s during pregnancy led to higher levels of pathological social interactions such as an inability to make friends as a child grew up.

....the “frightening data” showed how 14% of those seven-year-olds whose mothers had had the lowest intake of omega-3s during pregnancy demonstrated such behaviour, compared with 8% of those born to the highest-intake group.

converging lines of evidence


Studies such as this one, which rely on correlating one variable with another, are not enough to draw firm conclusions on their own, since correlation is not necessarily causation. But these results are supported by several lines of data. One is that the graphs show “dose response” curves—in other words, different levels of omega-3s have different effects. There is also a lot of experimental work showing that omega-3s have behavioural effects on adults. One of Dr Hibbeln's other studies, for example, showed that omega-3 supplements given to violent alcoholics reduced their anger levels by a third within three months

serotonin & dopamine hypothesis


It also helps to have a plausible mechanism, and Dr Hibbeln thinks there is one. Research published in 2000 by a group in Canada showed that giving omega-3 supplements to piglets doubled the levels of molecules called serotonin and dopamine in the frontal cortexes of the animals' brains. One of serotonin's jobs is to show growing nerve cells how they should connect from the frontal cortex, where reasoning takes place, to the limbic system, the seat of many emotional responses



there is a second way that its level might be reduced—by competition with a similar group of fatty acids called omega-6s. Indeed, it may be the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the membranes of cells—particularly nerve cells—which is at the root of the problem, since this can affect the ability of messenger molecules to pass through the membrane. The average cell membrane of an American, whose diet is low in fish and high in omega-6-rich vegetable oils, contains 20% omega-3-based lipids and 80% omega-6-based ones. (Some 10% of American calories now come from linoleic acid in maize and soya oils, the principal sources of omega-6s.) In a Japanese cell membrane, by contrast, the figures are 40% and 60% respectively.

words to live by

I love this.

Here's the title of Dr. Hibbeln's talk to the McCarrison Society:

I think I'll go pour Jimmy & Andrew a slug of their yummy new Norwegian cod liver oil right this minute.

autism & bipolar disorder & fish oil

Which reminds me.

I may have mentioned that Robert DeLong believes autism is caused by the genes for bipolar disorder expressed early in life, when the brain is still developing, instead of later on.

I believe him. When I say I 'believe' him, I mean I think that's what autism IS: autism is bipolar disorder expressed at birth or sometime around there. Until someone proves DeLong wrong, autism = bipolar is my personal hypothesis.

In an article in the March 23 issue of the journal Neurology, [ed.: I think this refers to the 1998 study] DeLong presents a new hypothesis that about two-thirds of children with the most common form of infantile autism actually have a treatable, genetically linked, early-onset form of severe depression. The argument is based on recent genetic analyses, behavioral studies and brain chemistry and imaging analyses on autistic children by researchers at Duke and several other institutions.

gold strike

I've just discovered DeLong has a recent publication on this subject. I've been out of the loop; I had no idea.

wow. It's a review article. So I've got this evening's reading all picked out.

Family history studies of autism consistently reveal a large subgroup with a high incidence of major mood disorder in family members, suggesting the two entities are related clinically and genetically. This review examines this concept, comparing current clinical and biological knowledge of autism and major mood disorder, and advances the hypothesis that this subgroup of autism represents an early-life phenotype of major mood disorder. If confirmed, this hypothesis would suggest that the basic biological defects determining major mood disorders may have prominent neurodevelopmental and cognitive dimensions. Testing of the hypothesis will depend on genetic studies.

The entire text is here: Autism and Familial Major Mood Disorder: Are They Related? J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 16:199-213, May 2004

in a nutshell

  • fish oil is good for the brain

  • fish oil may be especially important for pregnant women

  • fish oil is probably good for every aspect of brain function, including mood and cognition

  • we have strong evidence that fish oil treats bipolar disorder

  • we have very strong evidence (strong as in almost certainly definitive) that autism tracks with mood disorders

  • since fish oil treats bipolar disorder, it may well treat autism as well

  • if you're taking fish oil supplements you need to take Vitamins C & E, too. I forget why

  • American brain: 20% omega-3-based lipids, 80% omega-6-based ones

  • Japanese brain: 40% and 60%

No wonder we can't do math.

nix on the flax seed oil AND Vitamins C & E

A couple more factoids.

First, if you're taking fish oil supplements, you should take Vitamins E & C, too. I've forgotten why. There's some wonky mechanism where you can end up producing more free radicals (or something) & damaging brain cell membranes, etc.....obviously, I remember essentially nothing of this except that you're supposed to take E & C along with.

Second, I would skip the flax seed oil. First of all, it's different from fish oil somehow....I forget why.

But also, a psychiatrist friend of mine told me she'd heard from other psychiatrists that flax seed oil can actually cause mania.

That was interesting to hear, because I once gave Jimmy & Andrew big honking doses of flax seed oil & they were both up for the entire night, manic as all get out.

update from ktm guest

"So if flaxseed oil isn't good (and I had heard that it wasn't), then what would vegetarians take in order to get a healthy dose of Omega 3s?"

Flax is a good source of ALA, but not EPA and DHA. Fish oil is a good source of EPA and DHA. All three of these are omega-3 fatty acids. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, but it doesn't seem like this works very well when humans eat flax oil (according to some researchers). If you're a vegetarian then you're probably just screwed as far as finding a good source of EPA and DHA goes and you'll have to just stick with flax. Maybe there's some way of convincing the ALA to convert to EPA and DHA more readily.

"Is cod liver oil a liquid source of Omega 3?"

Yes. it is about 11% DHA, 7% EPA.

Thank you!

(This is exactly what I recall reading, btw. I also remember - NOT FACT CHECKED that grazing animals like cows can convert ALA to EPA & DHA. That's why cows don't need to eat fish.)

update from Ann

If you go back to the Omegabrite website, they now have OmegaBrite Kidz Tutti-Fruitti or Orange Cream flavor liquid omega 3 for kids. They only have to take 1/4 tsp.

I can't believe I didn't see that!

I'm thrilled.

Of course, first we're going to have to use up our two big honking bottles of Carlson's Norwegian cod liver oil.

The omegabrite website is new and improved. They seem to have posted abstracts of most or all of the psychiatric and cognitive research on the Omega 3s.

Here's where the research stands on autism and Omega 3 fatty acids:

At present, although omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered to be a promising therapeutic for autistic children (Kidd, 2002; Richardson and Ross, 2000), the best evidence currently available to support this claim comes from research showing that autistic children have lower DHA levels in blood than children with mental retardation (Vancassel, et al 2001; Bell, et al 2000). Additional support comes from evidence that low plasma omega-3 levels in boys were associated with behavior problems, temper tantrums, and sleep disorders (Stevens, et al 1996).
I should add that I don't see any particular changes in Jimmy & Andrew thanks to fish oil.

I give it to them because it's obvious to me that Omega 3 fatty acids are critically important for the brain, period - and because I do see obvious changes in me thanks to fish oil.

Jimmy & Andrew have such severe forms of autism that I don't think it would be pretty hard to see subtle improvements.

update: Andrew & cod liver oil

Since we have some parents with autistic kids reading the site, I think I should post this.

Both Andrew and Jimmy are highly sensitive to medication changes.

I ran out of my Nordic Natural liquid fish oil a couple of months ago, and didn't get around to ordering new fish oil until last week.

I ordered Carlson's cod liver oil.

Yesterday I gave Andrew 1 tsp, and he had a horrendous half-day. Then he settled down sometime in the afternoon, and was pretty good.

This morning he's been great.

Twenty minutes ago I gave him 1 tsp of Carlson's cod liver oil, and now he's screaming & tantruming.


I don't know what to make of this.

Either he's 'getting readjusted' to fish oil, or he's not supposed to be taking cod liver oil.

I don't remember problems like this with the Nordic Natural product. (Which is not to say they didn't happen. We have so much tantruming & screaming that we often miss the cause.)

Jimmy's been fine both days. But he's 18, and much more stable than Andrew at this point. (fyi: Andrew is 11. He is Christopher's twin.)

I have no idea whether Andrew's tantrums are connected to the cod liver oil.

However, I'll probably go ahead and order the new Omegabrite produce & switch him to that. Jimmy can use up the cod liver oil....

update: Andrew's fine, too

There's obviously no problem with Andrew taking Carlson's product.

update: The Omega Plan

Joseph Hibbeln recommends Artemis P. Simopoulos & Jo Robinson's book, which was the first book I read about the Omega 3s. Simopoulos also did NIH-funded research on the Omega 3 fatty acids, IIRC.

I thought it was terrific.







while we're on the subject of Jo Robinson —

I also like her book When Your Body Gets the Blues very much.

Check out her research page - wonderful stuff on light, mood, & weight (though I can't find the study they used to have posted showing weight loss from sitting in the sun....). The original 'body blues' study is here.

WHEN YOUR BODY GETS THE BLUES is the other alternative-medicine self-help book I believe absolutely.

Ever since reading the book, I try to get all 3 kids outdoors in the sun for 20 minutes every day.

These study findings suggest that a program of moderate-intensity walking, increased light exposure, and selected vitamins can improve women's mood. The high level of adherence to the intervention suggests that women could comfortably incorporate this tri-modal program into their daily lives. These findings extend the work of other studies that have demonstrated the positive influence of each independent component (light, exercise, and vitamins) on mood (Kripke 1998; Wirz-Justice et al. 1996; Blumenthal et al. 1999; Moses et al. 1989; Benton, Fordy, and Haller 1995).

Women in the intervention group improved significantly compared to those in the control group on all five dependent variables that measured mood and well-being. Not only did their depression scores decrease, they also reported greater self-esteem, improved general well-being, and greater happiness.

We were particularly interested in determining whether the intervention addressed symptoms more prevalent in women than men, such as anxiety and fatigue. The subscales of the POMS showed that the women in the intervention group experienced a significant decrease in anger and tension. Meanwhile their vitality improved, as measured by the GWB subscales.

Omega 3 fatty acids
brain food

-- CatherineJohnson - 03 Feb 2006

RobertDeLongReviewArticle 09 Feb 2006 - 20:52 CatherineJohnson

(section on bipolar disorder & math below)

Robert DeLong is one of the greats.

I invited him to an autism conference a few years back, and did a long interview with him.....and have now misplaced the notes. (Time Timer & David Allen are going to fix all that.)

Quite by accident I discovered the other day that DeLong published a review article in 2004. I'll post bits of it as I read through.

In a nutshell, DeLong believes that autism is caused by the gene or genes for bipolar disorder expressed early in life instead of later on.

Until this is proved wrong, I believe it.

Here's the abstract:

Family history studies of autism consistently reveal a large subgroup with a high incidence of major mood disorder in family members, suggesting the two entities are related clinically and genetically. This review examines this concept, comparing current clinical and biological knowledge of autism and major mood disorder, and advances the hypothesis that this subgroup of autism represents an early-life phenotype of major mood disorder. If confirmed, this hypothesis would suggest that the basic biological defects determining major mood disorders may have prominent neurodevelopmental and cognitive dimensions. Testing of the hypothesis will depend on genetic studies. (The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 2004; 16:199–213)

Autism and Familial Major Mood Disorder: Are They Related? (pdf file)
Robert DeLong, M.D., D.S.

As I understand it, a similar line of thought is being developed in schizophrenia research. Where we once understood schizophrenia to be a mental illness, it's looking more like a 'neurodevelopmental disorder.'

At least, it was last I checked.

By the way, some of these 'cognitive dimensions' will be good.

I like this part:

I am inclined to agree that idiopathic autism can be divided conveniently into two “taxa,” as some have designated.9 One is higher functioning, often with preserved islands of skills and prominent anxiety, obsessiveness, mood disorder, positive family history of major mood disorder, and frequently a family history of unusual intellectual ability/achievement.


This is self-evidently true!

bipolar disorder and math

I suspect we'll find that the line between 'cognitive' disorders and 'emotional' disorders isn't really a line.

Here's a report from SCIENCE NEWS $:

Dalhousie researchers had previously noted a link between math problems and bipolar disorder. Their 1996 review of medical and academic records for 44 teenagers with the illness found that they had performed well in school until the onset of psychiatric symptoms. While the students received treatment for bipolar disorder over the next 4 years, their school performance deteriorated far more in math than in any other subject.

In the new study, the scientists administered academic and intelligence tests to three groups of teens: 44 taking prescribed medications for bipolar disorder and whose symptoms had largely diminished, 30 who had responded well to treatments for major depression, and 45 who had no past or current psychiatric ailment.

The teenagers with bipolar disorder scored much lower on a broad range of math problems than those in the other two groups did, the researchers say. This math deficit appeared regardless of whether the participants had a limited or unlimited amount of time to solve each problem. Girls with bipolar disorder scored much lower on math tests than their male counterparts. A less pronounced sex disparity in math scores appeared in the other two groups.

In contrast, the three groups of teen participants displayed no differences in scores on reading, spelling, and nonverbal intelligence tests.

Intriguingly, school records for the teens with bipolar disorder show that their math grades dropped noticeably beginning about 1 year before their psychiatric condition was diagnosed, says Dalhousie psychiatrist Stanley P. Kutcher, a study coauthor. The onset of math troubles long before exposure to psychoactive medication underscores Kutcher's suspicion that brain changes associated with bipolar illness disturb math reasoning.

I have no idea whether this finding will be replicated. It's intriguing.

Of course, now I'm going to have to spend mental energy NOT panicking every time Christopher hoses a math test in high school.

Thank God I've got my Time Timer.


Searching for the Genetic Link to Autism
Robert DeLong review article
you can say that again

-- CatherineJohnson - 09 Feb 2006

YouCanSayThatAgain 09 Feb 2006 - 21:21 CatherineJohnson

Autism is the most mysterious disorder I know of in medicine.

- Dr. Robert DeLong, Duke University Medical Center pediatric neurologist

Searching for the Genetic Link to Autism

Robert DeLong review article
you can say that again

-- CatherineJohnson - 09 Feb 2006

AlphaSmartReducedPrice 23 Jul 2006 - 11:18 CatherineJohnson

I talked to the folks at AlphaSmart today & learned that the price has been reduced 30%. $199 (which is what I paid for mine years ago) down to $139.

The price is reduced because the company may discontinue AlphaSmarts; the woman on the phone wasn't sure.

This news prompted me to buy one for Andrew on the spot. (Impulse purchase alert.)

I hope they don't discontinue the AlphaSmart, but the possibility that they might is reason to buy one before they do, not reason to move on to the new, improved Neo or Dana (though the Neo probably is an improvement).

Ed bought a Dana as soon as it came out and has had problems. I can't remember now whether his problems — losing his research notes from a trip to France — were the machine's fault, or his, but I have a memory the problem was in the machine...

UPDATE 7-23-2006: The original AlphaSmart is no longer shown on the site. Now they're just selling the Neo for $249 and the Dana for $429. I should have bought another AlphaSmart while I had the chance.

When I turned on my AlphaSmart for the first time in at least 2 years last weekend, everything was still there where I left it.

I'd guess that whatever bugs the Dana had at first have been worked out, but I know the AlphaSmarts can live in a backpack.

I also got a new keypad for 25 bucks, AND — once you get going with a completely un-thought-through semi-major purchase, you may as well go for broke — I also purchased two 10-dollar cloth slip covers so as to avoid a repeat of the gummy keyboard mishap.

I'm thrilled Andrew will have his own machine. He can be liberated from doing his addition problems at school with stamps and inkpad. Talk about inefficient.


from the website:


Neo is a rugged and lightweight tool that can be used anywhere, with 700 hours or more of operation on 3 AA alkaline batteries or 200 hours on a charge. Instant on/off and autosave eliminate startup delays and accidental data loss.

Affordable and expandable.

Neo offers the lowest cost of ownership compared to other computing technology. Plus, with the extensible SmartApplet architecture, new functionality can easily be added so you can get more from your Neo investment.


Easily synchronize data with a home, classroom or office PC.

Built-in word processor.

Easily synchronize data with a home, classroom or office.

AlphaWord Plus, a full-featured word processor that provides:

  • Eight active file spaces for one-key file access
  • Named files for convenient file management
  • Spell-Checking and Thesaurus
  • User dictionary for adding additional words and terms
  • Linked files for rubrics, homework instructions, or reference materials
  • Find/replace and word count
  • Spanish-English word lookup
  • Built-in help system for quick access to command reference

The large screen and new font technology display up to twice as much text as the AlphaSmart 3000. Students can save hundreds of pages of text with room for SmartApplets “ software programs extending classroom versatility.


  • AlphaSmart $139
  • Neo by AlphaSmart $249
  • Neo Rechargeable $269
  • Dana by AlphaSmart $379 new price: $429
  • Dana Wireless $429

AlphaSmart reviews
AlphaSmart (& letter to LA Times)
AlphaSmart & Andrew & KUMON
AlphaSmarts reduced 30%
AlphaSmart to the rescue
the joys of primitive computing
the joys of primitive computing

-- CatherineJohnson - 10 Feb 2006

AlphaSmartToTheRescue 13 Feb 2006 - 23:44 CatherineJohnson

I'm still sick as a dog.

I'm sick as a dog, BUT I'm not in bed because Ed decided to go for a run. A 'short one.'

That was awhile ago.

Five seconds after Ed left, Andrew began tantruming so severely he knocked the kitchen clock off the wall.

When he tantrums, Andrew jumps as high into the air as he can, slaps temples with his hands as hard as he can, then lands as hard as he can, screaming at the top of his lungs throughout. There aren't words to describe it. 'Jump-slam' is the best I can come up with.

The sound is nerveshattering, even more so when you're sick. The house shakes.

This went on for what seemed like hours, until Andrew finally came downstairs, sobbing.

I got the AlphaSmart.

'What do you want?' I said. I didn't expect him to answer, but since the AlphaSmart was there, I thought I'd try.

This is what he typed. The two lines below are my answer.


After he read what I'd typed, he stopped crying and ate some 'cheese toast.' Cheese toast is one of Andrew's only foods. He has a severe autistic eating disorder. He lives on cheese toast, pizza, grape juice, and Starburst candies. Sometimes he eats peanut butter, too, and he goes through phases when he likes bacon.

And that's it.

Now he's calm and happy.

We've been telling the school for perhaps the past year that Andrew needs a keyboard.

What he has is the Dynamo, an assistive tech device that's so confusing only Andrew knows how to use it. The school is constantly telling us to use the Dynamo, that we have to have Andrew be 'responsible' for his Dynamo, he has to carry it around the house, etc. We should never allow him to communicate with us in any way at all apart from the Dynamo.

So, if he goes to the refrigerator & gets out hot dog rolls & 2 Kraft cheese slices & then goes to the pantry and gets a paper plate, and hands the lot to us, we are to do nothing until he puts down his food and plate and presses the 'Cheese toast' button on the Dynamo.

We don't do it.

The Dynamo doesn't work for us; there's nothing remotely normal or normalizing about this device for us.


instructions for the Dynamo — exactly what you want to be reading
every time you have something to say to your child

Plus it's been obvious for years now that Andrew can read; he doesn't need all the pictures. We've been saying, 'Get rid of the pictures, he can read.'

Lately, that's what they've been doing; a lot of the pictures are gone. Still, because the speech therapist is programming it, not us, we have no clue where the 'pages' of Andrew-words are (each screen is a page), what's on them, or how they're linked. When we do try to use it, we get lost in the information architecture, and then we're trapped inside the Dynamo, trying to find our way back to the home page — and all this is going on while Andrew is screaming.

After we'd lived with the Dynamo for a couple of months we felt about it the way those high school kids in Los Angeles feel about algebra: we have learned helplessness.

So we've been telling the school Andrew needs a keyboard.

They're just now getting around to 'scheduling an assessment,' which, of course, will consume many months more.

So it turns out we were right.

Andrew needs a keyboard.

Now he's got one.

AlphaSmart reviews
AlphaSmart (& letter to LA Times)
AlphaSmart & Andrew & KUMON
AlphaSmarts reduced 30%
AlphaSmart to the rescue
the joys of primitive computing

-- CatherineJohnson - 11 Feb 2006

PrimitiveComputing 15 Feb 2006 - 01:44 CatherineJohnson

At least 2 ktm Contributors have ordered AlphaSmarts since I started obsessing about the things last week.

No question I missed my calling in life. I was supposed to be a Travelling Salesman.

This reminds me of the time my mom and I interviewed her Uncle George, who was the patriarch of the family, to the extent that we had a patriarch, which we didn't.

Uncle George was an engineer. He worked all over the world, in Saudi Arabia, South America — everywhere. He has incredible stories of his wife giving birth in the middle of South American revolutions.

Anyways, we were talking about his father, my Grandad McCammon, a Methodist minister who was president of the first Methodist college in Illinois.

Uncle George said (paraphrasing), 'Dad wasn't really a religious man. He was a salesman.'

I just about fell out of my chair.

I'd been wondering about that.

I like religion myself, and try to 'be religious,' but it doesn't come naturally. It's something I have to work at (and it tends to be something I put off working at.)

Tearing around the internet grabbing folks' arms and urging them to BUY THIS REDUCED-PRICE ALPHASMART NOW! is what comes naturally.

Blood will out.

In case you're wondering, the reason my Granddad McCammon became president of the first Methodist college in IL was that he'd raised enough money to build a Methodist Fellowship Center (I think that's what it's called) at the U. of Ill. Folks had been trying to raise the funds for awhile without much luck. When my Granddad took over, he got the money.

That's selling.

His reward was to be named president of the Methodist College.

On the Joys of Primitive Computing: The AlphaSmart Neo

While I was hopping from one AlphaSmart website to the next, I found this terrific essay on the joys of primitive computing by Kendall Clark.

I agree with every word that a) applies to me and b) I understand.

Part of being a savvy technologist includes staying on the perpetual hardware upgrade habitrail -- or so people too often assume.

Some of us, however, are done with hardware. I put myself through college, back in the day when Intel' 80386 CPU was a big deal, by building computers for aeronautical engineering students at the University of Texas, where I wasn't a student.

I am so over hardware, and I have been for more than a decade. I take pride in making my living from technology and doing so with very old, even decrepit hardware. My main server for five years has been an IBM Thinkpad I found in a dumpster. My only extravagance was to max out its RAM at 512 MB. My everyday system is a nice 15" Powerbook supplied by UMD. While OSX is nice, it's not exactly Linux on an Opteron.

I'm bored by hardware and a bit cheap about it, too.

All of which makes the fact that I've fallen in love with a new box (and a new kind of box) all the more curious. I'm talking about my new Neo by AlphaSmart, upon which I'm typing this weblog entry. Before saying more, thanks to Paul Ford for telling me about the Neo. Paul rocks.

Oddly enough, the Neo is basically a computer for school children. It's stunningly stupid and, well, primitive. I'm enjoying it so much, and being so productive with it, that it's got me thinking about what I'll call Primtive Computing and Power User Devolution.

The Neo is interesting not because of what it does or what features it has, but what it can't do and the features it's missing. It's all about one thing and one thing only: writing. [ed.: I wrote a huge part of the ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION proposal on my AlphaSmart, sitting at the picnic table outside the kitchen.] I'm most comfortable turning any task into a writing task (when all you have is a hammer...), which means I'm super comfortable with a primitive device that's really only good for writing.

Specs? I don't even know what kind of CPU this thing has, and I couldn't care less. The OS is some homegrown thing, apparently, I think the OS is some variant of PalmOS, but I don't really know. Or care -- cultivating ignorance about irrelevant details is part of the ethic here, I think. The word processor, the only app it has, is brain dead. Which means no distractions; it gets out of my way as well as venerable Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS used to -- a writerly experience I've only come close to replicating with Emacs.

The keyboard action is passable; not great, but no impediment. The screen is a measly six lines, and I'm finding it perfectly acceptable. Especially when it meaans that battery life -- powered by 3 AA batts -- is a remarkable 700 hours. Yes, 700 hours! The damn thing weighs all of 2 lbs, though it feels lighter. It's the ultimate road warrior's tool, at least if you think of a road warrior as a writer.

My joy at the sheer utlity of the Neo -- even at the rather inflated price of $250 [ed.: the original AlphaSmart is on sale for $139! Not $250!] -- leads me to wonder whether Primitive Computing is a trend of larger significance. Maybe the sign of a real power user is someone who's happy to get by with less, rather than ever insisting on more. Using the Neo is of a piece with the Hipster PDA and with Danny O'Brien's ethnographic observations about the ubiquity among the power set of text files as a first class organizational tool. [ed.: no idea what he's talking about]

The Neo is the closest I'm going to get to the kind of intentional simplicity that could lead to something like Walden on the job. (A chimerical goal, to be sure, since Walden was mostly about not working for The Man, rather than doing so sanely. Oh well!) ....


As the man used to say back in the day: Highly Recommended.

The best thing about the AlphaSmart & the AlphaSmart Neo?

You can't hook them up to the internet.


Kendall Hunt
Mind Swap - Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab Semantic Web Agents Project
(Kendall Hunt is part of this)

AlphaSmart reviews
AlphaSmart (& letter to LA Times)
AlphaSmart & Andrew & KUMON
AlphaSmarts reduced 30%
AlphaSmart to the rescue

-- CatherineJohnson - 14 Feb 2006

AnimalsInTranslationFebruaryTwelve 16 Feb 2006 - 02:11 CatherineJohnson

February 12, 2006

Animals in Translation on TIMES list
Animals in Translation 1-29-2006
Animals in Translation 2-05-2006
Animals in Translation 2-12-2006
Animals in Translation 2-19-2006
Animals in Translation 2-26-2006
Animals in Translation 3-05-2006
Animals in Translation 3-12-2006
Animals in Translation 3-19-2006
Animals in Translation 3-26-2006

-- CatherineJohnson - 15 Feb 2006

ComingOfAge 28 Feb 2006 - 02:48 CarolynJohnston

Lately, Ben has been very disturbed that he has a helper in his classes.

"Why do I have to have someone stand over me in my classes?" he says.

"Because it's really hard for you to pay attention," I say.

"It's like a walking advertisement that I'm retarded! It's like being up on stage with a sign that says I'm retarded!"

"You are not retarded," I say. I've said it multiple times. The other day I told him that retarded people, by definition, have IQs of 70 or less; and his IQ is in the 100s. That gave him pause for a minute, but not for long; "retarded" is the epithet he most fears. In spite of all the growth in understanding of people with disabilities that has come about since I was in school, kids still call each other 'retards' in middle school. If it keeps up, I'll pull out his test results, and the DSM-IV, and kill this notion once and for all.

But it probably won't do any good. All his life, he's been surrounded by kids who don't find it as easy to do math and reading as he does. He knows he's not retarded -- but he's scared to death that he might be a 'retard' (the accent is on the 're').

Today, while doing his reading, he said out of nowhere, "Mom, do I have autism?"

Pause for thought on my part. "You have Asperger's Syndrome," I said.

"But do I have autism?"

"Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder," I said. "That means it's like autism in many ways."

"Oh, God, Mom!" he said, and started crying. "I just want to be like the other kids!"

I held him while he cried. I've been waiting for this moment for years. I knew it would be awful, and wonderful. Wonderful, because it had to happen in order for him to begin to acquire the knowledge of himself that he'll need to be a self-sufficient adult; awful, because it's obvious why it's awful. It's heartbreaking.

It's not the first time I've mentioned Asperger's or autism spectrum disorders to Ben. I told him he has Asperger's once or twice before, and it didn't stick (if you've got a kid, you know what it's like to tell your kid something important and difficult, and have it 'not stick').

Apparently, it came up today because he was talking about autism with his friend from the neighborhood, and she mentioned that she's heard that having autism is like having 'flashlights repeatedly flashing in your eyes'. God knows where the heck she heard that.

"I don't have flashlights in my eyes," he said. I'm thinking, this is great. I've been standing by for years, ready with calibrated doses of meaningful information about his condition, testing the waters periodically, waiting to introduce it in just the right way. And what happens? The first person to get through to him about his condition is another kid, with crummy information.

But it probably doesn't matter. When the moment came, I wasn't ready and thinking clearly anyway. I was wanting to cry myself. I had to ditch my script and wing it.

-- CarolynJohnston - 26 Feb 2006

ABoyInTheZone 04 Mar 2006 - 00:04 CatherineJohnson

his story

Ed said tears were streaming down this face when he watched this. (Click on the 'play' button to see the video.)

-- CatherineJohnson - 02 Mar 2006

JasonMcElwain 08 Mar 2006 - 19:50 CatherineJohnson

Does anyone know how many shots Jason McElwain missed?

My understanding is that he missed the first two shots, then hit everything after that — is that wrong?

Here's what I have:

The Trojans opened a large lead against the team from the nearby Spencerport. With four minutes left, McElwain took the court to deafening cheers.

The ball came to him almost right away. His 3-point shot sailed completely off course, and the coach wondered if he made the wrong move. McElwain then missed a layup. Yet his father, David, was unruffled.

"The thing about Jason is he isn't afraid of anything," he told the newspaper. "He doesn't care what people think about him. He is his own person."

On the next trip down the floor, McElwain got the ball again. This time he stroked a 3, all net.

He was just warming up.

"As soon as the first shot went in that's when I started to get going," he said.

On the next attempt, he got another 3-pointer. Then another, and another. In fact, he would have made one more 3, but his foot was on the line, so he had to settle for 2 points.

Greece Athena won 79-43, and pandemonium reigned. McElwain signed autographs, posed for pictures and was hoisted by his teammates.


and this —
And, in his first action of the year, McElwain missed his first two shots, but then sank six three-pointers and another shot (video), for a total of 20 points in three minutes.

CBS News

and —
“It was like a big old bucket and I was just hitting them like they were free throws,” McElwain said. “I just felt relaxed.”


Ed thinks (me, too) that 'J-Mac' probably went into some kind of perceptual processing glitch where the basket really did appear to him like a 'big old bucket.'

Visual processing takes up 1/3 to as much as 1/2 of our brains. It's HUGE.

And when it's affected by autism — which it is — who knows what happens, or what the possibilities are?

I should see if I can get Mel Kaplan to tell us what he thinks.


-- CatherineJohnson - 05 Mar 2006

SmartPills 08 Mar 2006 - 13:38 CatherineJohnson

Fantastic news first thing in the morning!

A friend just called — she's a psychiatrist whose son is severly autistic — to report that our friend, Ezra Susser, has just come back from a conference and is jumping out of his chair with excitement over the research of a fellow called 'Tully' at Woods Hole in Massachusetts.

(So far I can't track him down; I'll keep at it. And, ummmm, maybe we can get Google Master on the case).

Tully is working on the neurochemistry of learning in all species (I think 'neurochemistry' is the right term): the enzymes, the proteins, all the teensy-weensy chemical stuff. ('Teensy-weensy chemical stuff' is definitely the correct term.)

Ezra said his work is so incredible that there will definitely be a genuine cognitive enhancer — a 'smart pill,' in the vernacular* — in 30 years' time.

You probably all know how rare it is for a scientist to make a prediction like that.

Really, really rare.

I told Lisa, That's good news, because in 30 years all of us are going to need it around here: Jimmy, Andrew, Ed, me. (Of course, if re-learning pre-algebra in middle age is cognitively protective, I'm in no danger. Lately, whenever I read another neuroscientist urging people to 'work crossword puzzles' or 'take up a hobby' to protect one's brain against Alzheimer's, I just have to hope obsessing about math 24 hours a day isn't overdoing it. )

I won't be able to track Ezra down for awhile; apparently he's off to South Africa & England & everywhere else under the sun for the next few months. But I'm going to try to talk to his wife, Sally Conover, and get the scoop.

This is very good news.


Here is Sally, Ezra & his parents' account of 9/11: New York besieged: 11 September and after. They've been doing a great deal of work with the firemen, and I've heard a little bit about it. Lisa's sister-in-law is, I think, one of the main researchers or perhaps a director of the project. When I talked to her about it at Lisa's daughter's bat mitzvah, the project was obviously taking a toll. Simply working with these men — hearing their stories, seeing where they are today — is hard.

At least, that was my feeling listening to her, and being in her presence.

She wasn't saying so, exactly. She certainly wasn't complaining.

But it was obvious.


bio: I don't know that much about Ezra's parents, Zena Stein and Mervyn Susser. Zena Stein, I believe, was the epidemiologist who cessed out the link between smoking and cancer. (NOT FACT-CHECKED) They're all from South Africa originally.

These links give some flavor of their work & importance:

International Journal of Epidemiology Table of Contents (Susser & Stein)
Civilization and peptic ulcer (html)
Civilization and peptic ulcer (pdf file)
Commentary: Peptic ulcer, Susser and Stein and the cohort phenomenon

One last thing: they are brilliant gardeners. The parents, I mean; Zena & Mervyn. Incredible. (Learned English gardening at their home in South Africa.)

lost in Google

This is cool.

This, too. (pdf file)


This sounds like the guy:

Dubnau, J., Chiang, A.-S. & Tully, T. 2003. Neural substrates of
memory: from synapse to system. Journal of Neurobiology, 54,

Department of Corrections

teensy-weensy chemical stuff

please substitute:
neural substrates

maybe not

*I'm not joking in this case. Pharmaceutical researchers and psychiatrists use the term 'smart pill' colloquially.

-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Mar 2006

AutisticIQUnderestimated 15 Mar 2006 - 01:14 CarolynJohnston

From EmmaAnne I learned of some interesting new research being done on measuring the intelligence of autistic people:

The intelligence of people diagnosed with autism is being underestimated, a science conference in St Louis, US, has been told.

Research by scientists in Montreal suggests current ways of measuring their intelligence are inaccurate.

Giving autistic people the right stimulation can help draw out innate skills, the study's authors said.

This might help them play a greater part in the job market and in wider society, the researchers argued.

Dr Laurent Mottron draws a distinction between people with "autistic spectrum" disorders - those with normal or above average intelligence - and those with "real autism", which he says is characterised by mental impairment.

The Wechsler scale is one of the most widely used ways of measuring autistic intelligence. People diagnosed with the disorder typically score very low on the verbal comprehension part of the test.

But research by Dr Mottron, from the University of Montreal, and colleagues found overall that autistic subjects performed much better on a different test called Raven's Progressive Matrices, with some mute autistics performing exceptionally well.

He added that some current teaching methods for autistic children provided them with simple educational material to try to stimulate their abilities.

Instead, Dr Mottron believes that exposing autistic people to more advanced information can bring out their innate skills.

"If you provide them with much more sophisticated material like letters, printed material, music, or any kind of very highly structured material, you realise that their peaks of ability come out," said Dr Mottron.

"If you provide them with sophisticated material as soon as they are two or three years of age you realise that they integrate it."

I looked up The Raven's progressive matrices test on Wikipedia, which has this to say about it:

It appears to measure a type of reasoning ability which appears to be useful in the mathematical area. Thus, has the predictive validity for quantifying the mathematical mind of a person. Although it is criticized for being costly, it provides a differentiated information about a student's range of hidden abilities that maybe useful for a potential academic success. The inclusion of the RPM in an identification battery broadens the range of abilities assessed.

Routinely, autistic people score higher on the performance (mathematical/logical) subtest of the standard IQ test (the Wechsler or WISC IQ test) than they do on the verbal (language) subtest. The skew between the scores can be huge. Typical people have very little difference between their performance and language scores.

-- CarolynJohnston - 12 Mar 2006

WitAndWisdomOfCarolyn 28 Mar 2006 - 14:10 CatherineJohnson

I have to post this!

I was just reading an email from Carolyn. I'd been telling her this weekend that I'd made some changes in my work life, and that until the moment I did I'd had no idea how debilitating the situation had become. I'd just kept Marching Onward, thinking I was 'burned out' or 'fed up' or 'didn't want to be a writer any more' or some such, when in fact all I needed was a personnel change.*


Here's Carolyn:

Well, I'm kind of amazed, but not really. Having a kid with autism definitely increases your pain tolerance.

You can say that again.


* Yes! A personnel change! That's the ticket. I need to fire myself. Don't know why I didn't think of that sooner.

-- CatherineJohnson - 28 Mar 2006

EmotionalSocialIntelligenceProstheticDevice 03 Apr 2006 - 03:18 CatherineJohnson

yes, you read that right, it's the emotional social intelligence prosthetic device

Device tells you if you're boring
Body Sensor Networks 2006



Also from Marginal Revolution:

Gilles Trehin is an autistic [TC: Asperger's?] 28-year-old. Since the age of 12, he has been designing an imaginary city called Urville, named after the “Dumont d’Urville,” a French scientific base in Antarctica. He has created detailed historical, geographical, cultural, and economic descriptions of the city, as well as an absolutely extraordinary set of drawings. His Guidebook to Urville will be published later this year.


-- CatherineJohnson - 01 Apr 2006

BarneyGoesToWork 12 Apr 2006 - 12:54 CatherineJohnson


-- CatherineJohnson - 12 Apr 2006

BarneysMusicalTheater 19 Apr 2006 - 17:58 CatherineJohnson



The orange pencil case is mine; I use it when I do math. You can see Christopher's as-yet-unopened Saxon 1/2 books under the garden table. The book in front, its back turned upward, is Sally Shaywitz's Overcoming Dyslexia. In the back, also turned on its face, is Dog Talk by John Ross. Fine Gardening Magazine is propped up on a bear. My used copy of Saxon Math 1/2 (THANK YOU, BOOK FAIRY) is underneath the stuffed dog. He's also got Ron Mellor's The Ancient Roman World mid-stream, turned on its face and turned sideways, too. Andrew selects these books carefully.

-- CatherineJohnson - 12 Apr 2006

ResilienceInTheTimesMagazine 03 May 2006 - 17:12 CatherineJohnson

Interesting article in the TIMES Magazine today: A Question of Resilience by Emily Bazelon.


The latest research shows that resilience can best be understood as an interplay between particular genes and environment — GxE, in the lingo of the field. Researchers are discovering that a particular variation of a gene can help promote resilience in the people who have it, acting as a buffer against the ruinous effects of adversity. In the absence of an adverse environment, however, the gene doesn't express itself in this way. It drops out of the psychological picture. "We now have well-replicated findings showing that genes play a major role in influencing people's responses to adverse environments," says Sir Michael Rutter, a leading British psychiatrist and longtime resilience expert. "But the genes don't do anything much on their own."

GxE — I love that!

Rutter, for those of you who don't know, is a major autism research. Very important guy. I met him years ago when he served one memorable term on the NAAR scientific advisory board. I probably still can't tell that story, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Memorable. (In a good way.)

ordinary magic

In studies of the long-term effects of physical and sexual child abuse, 20 to 40 percent of victims show few signs of behavioral or mental-health problems. And many of them don't appear damaged later in life. As Ann Masten, a resilience researcher, has written, resilient children have the benefit of "ordinary magic."

More treasure. First GxE, then ordinary magic.

genes help people make their environments

Having "good support" isn't just a question of good luck. Researchers have found that children who are resilient are skillful at creating beneficial relationships with adults, and those relationships in turn contribute to the children's resilience. La'Tanya and Tichelle were both good at forging these bonds. When I left New Haven in 1994, they wrote me. I moved back a few years later, and Tichelle called regularly, came to my office to meet me for lunch, asked me to stop by her house on the weekends. La'Tanya soon started calling, too. Sometimes the sisters were behind on their bills and, always with embarrassment, asked me for money. But more often they called, and still call, to check in, to ask after my kids or tell me about theirs. They let me know that I matter to them, and that has made them matter more to me.

the 5-HTT allele
Rutter opened a GxE research center because he was frustrated that most psychiatric studies tracked the effects either of genes or of environment rather than looking at them in tandem...."With heart disease and cancer, genetic researchers have always known to include factors like smoking and exercise," says Terrie Moffitt, who is on the faculty of Rutter's research center at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and of the University of Wisconsin. "We wanted to do the same thing for the study of behavior."

The breakthrough moment for GxE came in 2003, when Moffitt and her husband and co-investigator, Avshalom Caspi, published a paper in Science that discussed the relationship between the gene, 5-HTT, and childhood maltreatment in causing depression. Scientists have determined that 5-HTT is critical for the regulation of serotonin to the brain. Proper regulation of serotonin helps promote well-being and protects against depression in response to trauma or stress. In humans, each 5-HTT gene has two alleles, and each allele occurs in either a short or a long version. Scientists are still figuring out how the short allele affects serotonin delivery, but it seems that people with at least one short 5-HTT allele are more prone to depression. And since depression is associated with unemployment, struggling relationships, poor health and substance abuse, the short allele could contribute to a life going awry.

autism & 5-HTT

There are studies finding autism is associated with the short allele, though I just Googled up one study finding an association with the long allele, so who knows.

The possible link between 5-HTT and autism made this passage pop:

About one-third of the white population have two copies of the protective long allele. About one-half have one long allele and one short one. And about 17 percent have two short alleles. (African-Americans are less likely to have a short allele; Asians are more likely.)

I've been told by special ed folks here in Westchester that an ongoing topic of conversation is: where are the black autistic children? There are no hard figures on populations of autistic children by race as far as I know, but people who know the autistic population in Westchester County seem to feel that there aren't enough black kids with autism given their numbers in the population. It seems extremely unlikely that little autistic black kids would be going undiagnosed. One way or another all kids end up in the school system, and autism is pretty hard to miss.

Are black kids better protected against developing autism by virtue of being more likely to have two long alleles?

I don't know whether, anecdotally, Asian kids seem to be over-represented. I've never heard anyone say so.

the test

There are a lot of reasons that La'Tanya has had a harder time than her sister, not least of them that she was abused for a longer period of time. But reading all the GxE research made me wonder whether she was also more genetically vulnerable. I asked the girls if they'd be willing to be tested, and they agreed — they said they were curious. Last month, La'Tanya, Tichelle and Charnelle (who had been abused by Osborn for a shorter period when she was 3) sent cheek swabs with their DNA to a lab run by a Colorado-based company called NeuroMark, which tests for the 5-HTT alleles.

Sure enough, the two most resilient sisters both had two long alleles.

La'Tanya had one long and one short.

resilience, curiosity, risk-taking, no common sense-y, etc.

I've always been interested in resilience, possibly because I seem to be pretty resilient myself, as does everyone else in my family.

I'd bet the ranch, though, that I have one short allele. (I'd be shocked to discover two.)

I was musing about it today, after reading the article. If you had to line me up with La'Tanya and Tichelle, I'd be La'Tanya, I'm pretty sure. I'm not an easy-going person, I'm always hopped up about something or other (obviously), I have your standard sensitive-writer traits, etc. I take everything to heart.

And yet I never seem to turn into the divorced & alcoholic Human Wreck I ought to be, by rights. My sister Ros said something funny a year ago. She said, "I tell friends, Cathy has a horrible life; she should be completely depressed and broken down. But she's just sailing along!"

The weird thing is, it's (kind of) true. It's true of my sister, too, who's had plenty to deal with as a parent. Ros's motto is: "When do we get to stop being grown-ups?" Which should give you some idea.

So what is it?

I have two thoughts.

First of all, the Scots-Irish element has to be involved. Since I've only recently discovered that such a thing as the Scots-Irish even exists, I don't have a developed sense of what Scots-Irish character looks like. But it strikes me that the Scots-Irish are a) an emotional people, and b) a resilient people. In other words, assuming ethnicity is involved, Scots-Irish ethnicity doesn't seem necessarily to equate an even temperament with resilience.

Second, I'm thinking there's something about curiosity, or hyperactivity, or 'no common sense-y,' or all of those things, that enters in.

Why is it 'OK' for me to have two autistic kids?

I don't know the answer to that, but I think it has to do with the fact that having two autistic kids is interesting. I have a huge need for stimulation, and living with not one but two children who have one of the least understood and oddest mental disorders we know is interesting.

Are curiosity and resilience connected?

Thinking about all of this, I had a revelation about the Long War — about 'my' Long War, that is. 9/11 was a massive trauma for me, as for us all. For quite awhile I felt that 9/11 had been a worse trauma than Jimmy's and Andrew's diagnoses. I don't know whether that's true, but that's the way I felt.

Today I realized that I've come to the same frame of mind concerning the Long War that I came to concerning two kids with autism. I realized that it now seems to me normal, natural, and, yes, interesting to know that I will in all likelihood live out the rest of my life in the thick of this war.

I don't say this to show disrespect to anyone's emotions or politics, and I certainly don't say it as a prediction. Things can change quickly, and this war may end sooner rather than later. I also don't think it's especially moral to experience a war in which people are fighting and dying as 'interesting.' If I lose someone close to me in this Long War, I will grieve, and I'll feel I've been punished for being shallow and glib.

In short, I'm not proud of feeling this way, and I don't recommend it!

I bring it up only because I'm thinking it's a clue to the nature of resilience — or to my own form of it, anyway.

-- CatherineJohnson - 30 Apr 2006

AutismRocks 09 May 2006 - 12:44 CatherineJohnson


I'm pretty sure I need to buy this t-shirt.

I probably need to buy a whole warehouse full. [update: They've used the Hanes tagless t-shirt.]


-- CatherineJohnson - 09 May 2006

HelicopterParentsOfTheWorldUnitePart2a 14 May 2006 - 13:24 CatherineJohnson

Rewriting lost posts for posterity....

t-shirt order from cafepress


Helicopter Mom


Autism Rocks


helicopter parents, part 1
helicopter parents, part 2
helicopter parents, part 3
helicopter parents at the AFT
news from nowhere, part 6 (AP students)
helicopter parents of the word, unite
helicopter parents of the world, unite part 2a (t-shirts)
MiddleWeb says hovering is good

-- CatherineJohnson - 14 May 2006

SentenceCombiningForAutisticKids 14 May 2006 - 20:01 CatherineJohnson

Apparently sentence combining is a good thing for autistic kids, too.

I wonder if I could make some simple sentence combining exercises for Andrew?

I bet I could.


Sentence combining as a technique for increasing adjective use in writing by students with autism.
Res Dev Disabil. 1994 Jan-Feb;15(1):19-37.

-- CatherineJohnson - 14 May 2006

HowToBeMulticulturalPart1 24 May 2006 - 16:31 CatherineJohnson

Last fall I was sitting at the dining room table, now located in the family room, doing my math, when Christian said Jimmy was dressed in Crips colors.

That's the cool thing about autism - one of the cool things - autism brings people into your life you wouldn't have gotten to know otherwise. People who can tell you whether your child is or is not wearing Crips colors, for instance.

The Crips' color, fyi, is red:


Jimmy was wearing a red shirt I got him at The Gap. The stocking cap and sunglasses were Christian's contribution, which soon led to staged mayhem....


...which, when you have 3 4 boys, is a HUGE amount of fun. *


After two years, Christian's become our de facto son.


So we're shooing him back to college.


* I am trying to train Andrew to stop staring at people with his mouth hanging open. It makes him look "retarded," and I hate it. He's not retarded.

His occupational therapist told me what the problem is: "He's a low-tone guy," she said.


how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 2
how to be multicultural, part 3
how to be multicultural, part 4
zero tolerance

-- CatherineJohnson - 24 May 2006

HowToBeMulticulturalPart2 11 Jul 2006 - 22:03 CatherineJohnson

how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 3
how to be multicultural, part 4
zero tolerance

So on Friday the principal called & told Ed that Christopher had almost been in a fight with a boy at school, and the boy had verbally threatened Christopher with a knife. The principal had investigated thoroughly, and there wasn’t any knife.

We already knew about it, because Christopher had come home late from school Thursday and told us the whole story.

For a couple of days Christopher had been saying, “If I get suspended for punching K., will you be mad?” Neither of us took this seriously, so we didn't put much energy into telling Christopher to stay out of fights.

“If I get suspended for punching K., will you be mad?”

“You don’t need to punch K.”

“He’s a bully, and everyone’s afraid of him. He kicked me in the stomach and in the head.”

“OK, you can hit him if you have to, but you have to wait until the next time he starts something.”

“But he kicked me in the stomach and in the head.” (This occurred in an impromptu football game that got rough.)

“You can’t lie in wait for someone. That’s not self-defense. That’s revenge.”

“I want vengeance. Will you be mad if I get suspended for punching K.?”

“I would rather you not punch K, but if you do punch K., do it off school property.”*

But K. rides the bus!

“Then you can’t punch him.”

“But he's a bully and he kicked me in the stomach and in the head.”


We thought this was all for show, but it turned out we were wrong.

It turned out Christopher was actually planning a fight at school.

Unbeknownst to us, Christian had been coaching him through the whole thing. Christopher adores Christian and so do all his friends. We’re operating a Reverse Big Brother program around here, the black guy from Yonkers mentoring the white kid from Irvington. Apparently a Christopher-versus-K. rivalry had been building for awhile, and Christopher had been giving Christian the blow-by-blow, and finally Christian told Christopher he couldn’t be letting K. get away with that stuff.

So Christopher said, “But K. is black.”

Christian said, as he later reported to me, “Doesn’t matter if he’s black. Disrespect is disrespect. A ass-whuppin’ is a ass-whuppin.’”

Of course I agreed.

So Christopher went off to school planning to call the kid out. Everybody knew about it; it was a classic grade school show-down.

Christopher waited outside for K., and waited and waited. But K. didn’t come out.

Finally K. told the cousin of our neighbor boy he “was glad he had his pocket knife.” The cousin came tearing out of the building and told Christopher that K. said he was glad he had his pocket knife, and Christopher ran away, because, as he told me, “I didn’t want to get involved with that.”

This is a cute age.

An 11-year old starts developing serious language years before he develops a serious life. At the beginning of this year Christopher and his friends were constantly calling each other up on the telephone to “verify” things. “I have to verify that with my mom,” I’d hear Christopher say.


Christian’s reaction to the pocketknife was appropriately deflating. K. is about half the size of Christopher, who is a head taller than all of his friends and K, too. Naturally K. didn’t want to fight Christopher, so he stayed inside the school and then told the neighbor boy’s cousin he was glad he had his knife.

Christian burst out laughing when he heard this, and declared K. the winner.

K. was “selling wolf tickets,” he said, and Christopher bought one.

Christopher took this good-naturedly, and the whole thing blew over.

The next morning Christopher asked us how we were going to feel if the principal gave him a talking-to, and Ed, being Ed, said the principal wasn’t going to give him a talking-to.

I said of course the principal is going to give him a talking-to.

Then we forgot the whole thing until the principal called.

Ed said the principal sounded nonplussed to discover that not only did we already know about the incident—he thought the almost-fight had happened that day—but we weren’t upset.

Then Ed said, “He was crazy to make enemies out of us. How many Irvington parents would find out their 6th grader almost got in a fight with a black kid who said he had a knife and they don't send him furious emails & show up in his office the next morning?"

I’m guessing not many. I told my friend Kris, “My thing is math. All I want to know is, did you teach my kid any math today?”

Kris said, “Yeah, the black kid with the knife, we’re fine with that. Just teach him math.”


how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 2
how to be multicultural, part 3
how to be multicultural, part 4
zero tolerance
how to stop a bully

* family saying dating back to 2nd grade anti-bullying advice

-- CatherineJohnson - 25 May 2006

HowToBeMulticulturalPart3 31 May 2006 - 01:35 CatherineJohnson

how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 2
how to be multicultural, part 4
zero tolerance

Apparently there’s a tiny handful of black children living in a nice-looking condo development — Christian calls it the Irvington projects — on the northern edge of town.

Christian's Irvington projects line was on the money. A few weeks back a (white) mom who lives in a condo there was fuming to a friend of mine after the principal had said to her, “Your son must be tough, living where you do. He’d have to be.”

That was pretty much the jist of his conversation with Ed.

He wanted Ed to make sure Christopher stayed out of pocket knife boy’s way.

Ed said he couldn’t tell Christopher to run away from the kid, because that would make things worse. We’d had a bullying situation in second grade, and we'd resolved it by teaching Christopher to stand his ground.

“That was 2nd grade,” the principal said.

Which is funny, because our grade school principal wasn’t any happier with the news that we’d handled a bullying situation on our own than this principal would be, though he did ask for the title of the book I’d used (talk about being far afield from core human nature).

Ed agreed that, yes, 6th grade isn't 2nd grade, but pointed out that the same principle applies, that principle being push back, in the words of my neighbor’s dad. Her dad was a high school principal. Her dad says the way to stop a bully bullying is to push back.

The principal said, “Chris could get hurt.”

Ed said, “K. is half the size of Chris. If there’s a scuffle, K’s going to be the one getting hurt.”

I was proud.

When it comes to Conversations With The Principal, Ed is possibly the one person on earth more difficult to deal with than me.*

Of course, Ed was blowing smoke. He has no idea whether Christopher can hold his own in a fight with a much smaller boy, or whether K. can hold his own in a fight with a much bigger boy.

So at dinner we ran all this by our School Fight Consultant, Christian.

Christian’s first reaction wasn’t heartening. The principal, he said, had no idea how to conduct a search.

“The way to do a search,” he said, “is by surprise. You don’t do it that day. You wait ‘til Monday and you search the locker. You can find all kinds of sh** that way.”

This was disheartening because it wasn’t the question I’d asked. I was still operating on the wolf tickets premise.

On the other hand, I had chosen to wear my new helicopter mom t-shirt that day, so my cognitive unconscious was probably mulling the possibility that K. really did have a pocketknife.

At that point Christopher said he was sure K. didn’t have a pocketknife. He was sure because “K.'s mom searches his backpack every single morning before she lets him get on the bus.”

“Metal detective mom!” Christian shouted, and the two of them busted out laughing.



how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 2
how to be multicultural, part 3
how to be multicultural, part 4
zero tolerance
how to stop a bully

*grammar query: “more impossible to deal with than me” or “more impossible to deal with than I am”?

-- CatherineJohnson - 30 May 2006

HowToBeMulticulturalPart4 11 Jul 2006 - 22:02 CatherineJohnson

how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 2
how to be multicultural, part 3
zero tolerance

It’s impossible to tell what’s going on with Christopher and K. from this distance.

It doesn’t sound like a bullying situation.

It does sound like a conflict that could turn into bullying, especially if the onus is placed on Christopher to stay out of K's way. Ed told the principal we can’t have bullying, so it’s up to the school, not Christopher, to keep Christopher & K. apart. If the school can’t do that, Christopher will defend himself.

The only way a child can fend off a bully is to push back. Pushing back doesn’t mean fighting, necessarily, but it does mean conveying a willingness to do so if it comes to that.

This is what bothers me about contemporary “character education programs,” which in fact are anti-bullying programs. [UPDATE 11-20-06: also anti-drug programs] If a vulnerable child followed the advice these programs dispense, he’d be setting himself up for misery.

No Putdowns,” the program the Irvington Education Foundation funded for Main Street School last year, counseled any kid who was being taunted never to respond with anger, assertiveness, or a comeback of his own.

Instead, the victim was to “Think About Why,” “Stay Cool,” “Shield Myself,” and “Choose a Response.”

Yeah, that’ll work.

A person who has actually been a child himself — except for children who grew up to become school administrators, apparently — knows that any kid standing around Choosing a Response while the other boys call him Gay is asking for it.

Which reminds me of our off school property line.

When Christopher was being bullied in 2nd grade, I talked to a mom whose son had been through a terrible bullying situation. She was single at the time, and had to handle it herself. This boy had all kinds of problems: severe ADHD, language problems, the works.

The other kids were way ahead of him verbally, and they hammered him. “Faggot!” “Retard!”

He had no ability to respond in kind, because he couldn’t come up with the words. So the kids would just keep at him until he blew up and hit one of them. Then he’d get in trouble. He spent hours sitting outside his classroom, in the hall. Nothing happened to the name-calling kids.

This went on and on.

Finally his mom told him, “The next time he calls you Faggot, I want you to say, I have a green belt in karate,* and if you call me that again I’m going to beat the cr** out of you off school property. Then I want you to beat the cr** out of him, and I want you to do it off school property.”

She had him rehearse the line for her until he knew it cold.

Her son did as told, and that was that. No more bullying. He didn't have to beat the other kid up, of course, and that's the point. The goal is to make the other kid think you will. Push back.

Ed and I have been talking about doing stuff off school property ever since.


As far as I can tell, the push for character education, which has replaced self-esteem, comes from Columbine.

A couple of weeks ago the middle school had an assembly and workshop on “cyber-bullying."

At least, that was the announced topic.

The assembly turned out to be about the Columbine killers, who apparently had a website where they posted threats against the kids in their school. The other kids knew about it, but didn’t take it seriously, and didn’t tell the adults.

After the assembly all the kids had to say they would tell the principal if they knew about any websites containing threats.

Apparently this is the source of the principal’s rule that all of the children tell on each all of the time.


I can't say I'm happy that School Policy is being set in reaction to school killings that took place 7 years ago, but knowing this does clear things up a bit. Without the Columbine frame, the No Putdowns program doesn’t make sense.

No Putdowns devotes a huge amount of time and energy to teaching the victim of bullying not to be upset that he’s being bullied. From the parent's point of view, that's just bizarre. A parent wants an antibullying program to get rid of bullying, not persuade his kid that bullying doesn't hurt if you Think About Why:

  • Skill 1: Think About Why This skill urges children to stop and think before automatically responding to a putdowns [sic] or other perceived threat with a putdown. Children discover that anger, hurt, fear, jealousy, ignorance and power are often underlying reasons for putdowns. [So is a putdown real or is it a perceived threat?]

  • Skill 2: Stay Cool "Stay Cool" provides strategies for staying calm in stressful situations... this skill teaches "Think before you respond; do not simply react." This second skill begins to raise the issues of self-control and choice. Children can choose to manage their feelings rather than allowing their feelings to control them.

  • Skill 3: Shield Myself This skill teaches that children and adults can shield themselves from the devastating effects of putdowns. [So putdowns are devastating?] Their shield is a "force field" of confidence and self-worth. Children look at their own strengths and weaknesses, make honest assessments about themselves and recognize that they are worthy human beings. They do not have to do anything special to be special. [!]

The first few times I looked at “No Putdowns” I thought, What on earth?

Now I get it.

The goal isn’t to prevent children being bullied.

The goal is to prevent bullied children becoming violent.

how to be multicultural, part 1
how to be multicultural, part 2
how to be multicultural, part 3
how to be multicultural, part 4
zero tolerance
how to stop a bully
comebacks and putdowns for the ages
synchronicity alert
how families can help

* this was true

-- CatherineJohnson - 30 May 2006

MathTricksPart2 03 Jun 2006 - 16:05 CatherineJohnson

Also at Math Tricks , Greg Smith recommends remembering the formula for distance by pronouncing it "retard."

rt = d          rt are d                   pronounced    retard

I wish people would stop doing that.

-- CatherineJohnson - 31 May 2006

SmarterThanYourAverageBear 04 Jun 2006 - 15:21 CatherineJohnson

We got this email from Andrew's teacher yesterday:

I have a funny story. We have a digital timer that we use for Andrew's break between work times. He has to earn tokens for working, then he gets a break for a few minutes. We set a timer so he knows when it rings, it is time to get back to work. Well, we thought the timer was broken because it seemed like it took forever to go off. Anyhow, today we caught Andrew adding more minutes to the timer!! He must have been watching Annie and figured out that he had to add minutes (without us knowing) so he could get a longer break. He's so smart!!

Andrew is very mechanically inclined. If he can't figure out how to operate a DVD player, nobody can.


Barney goes to school


keywords: Barneygoestoschool

-- CatherineJohnson - 02 Jun 2006

WhatToWearToYourDayInCourt 26 Jun 2006 - 13:09 CatherineJohnson

Today was the big day: our appearance before the Surrogate Court to petition to becomeJimmy’s legal guardians.

I wore:

  • White, button-down, no-iron Oxford cloth shirt from Brooks Brothers.

  • Ancient DKNY-outlet grey cotton jacket (blech).

  • Polka dot socks from Nordstrom’s.

  • Red and black Mephisto tennis shoes from Paris.

I looked profoundly dull, but responsible. Or, rather, profoundly dull and therefore responsible.

Jimmy performed on cue, biting his hand and wailing when we came before the judge.

I managed not to cry on my way out.

I’m crying now.

Not for long, though.


-- CatherineJohnson - 07 Jun 2006

TheHappinessHypothesis 08 Jun 2006 - 12:33 CatherineJohnson

For most of the time that anatomically modern humans have existed—a highly contested figure, but let’s call it a million years—it has made good adaptive sense to be fearful, cautious, timid. As Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, puts it in “The Happiness Hypothesis” (Basic; $26), “bad is stronger than good” is an important principle of design by evolution. “Responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures.” This is a matter of how our brains are wired: most sense data pass through the amygdala, which helps control our fight-or-flight response, before being processed by other parts of our cerebral cortex. The feeling that a fright can make us “jump half out of our skin” is based on this physical reality—we’re reacting long before we know what it is that we’re reacting to.

This is one of the reasons that human beings make heavy weather of being happy. We have been hardwired to emphasize the negative, and, for most of human history, there has been a lot of the negative to emphasize. Hobbes’s description of life in the state of nature as “nasty, brutish and short” is so familiar we can forget that, for most of the people who have ever lived, it was objectively true.

Two scholars explore the fragility of contentment.
Issue of 2006-02-27
The New Yorker

Reading this review a second time, I realized that one of the points of religious practice is to create and sustain a good frame of mind.

Being happy really isn't natural.

Being anxious is natural. Anxious or ticked off.

Think how much time and effort practicing Buddhists put into achieving non-thought-flooded states.

Well, truth be told, I have no idea how much time and effort practicing Buddhists put into achieving non-thought-flooded states. From where I sit, it seems like a lot.

I think I'm going to take up meditation.

Or something.


-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Jun 2006

SummerSchool2006 03 Jul 2006 - 19:43 CatherineJohnson

Still getting my act together on the summer program around here.

Andrew's set. He's doing KUMON Math and, as of today, KUMON Reading.

Amazing KUMON moment this week: I took a set of worksheets to school to show Andrew's teacher & aide how well he does with them.

Good thing I did, because they had no idea whether Andrew can or cannot do beginning addition. The answer is that he can, and they're the ones who taught him. They were blown away when they saw him whiz through a sheet of add-ones problems. The problems were sufficiently mixed that it was clear he understood the principle; x + 1 means the next number up from x.

The sheets I'd brought in had problems in the 30s, I think (30 + 1, 32 + 1, etc.). After he did a few of those I skipped ahead to the last sheet in the stack. The final problem was:

1000 + 1 =

Andrew frowned at this and hesitated.

Then he typed "1000" on the AlphaSmart.

I was mortified. I figured this was the moment where his teacher and aide would decide he was just learning by rote.

But I was wrong. They were both watching him intently. I said, "No, 1000 plus 1."

Andrew hadn't stopped frowning at the problem, which I think is part of what had his teachers so interested.

He reached out his hand, and deleted the final zero, then typed in '1.'


They couldn't believe it. The mistake was what convinced them he knew what he was doing. I don't know whether they've seen him self-correct before; they probably have.

But watching him self-correct while doing a brand-new problem no one's ever shown him was the magic.

As impressed as they were, they stilll wanted to know whether Andrew could add ones if you wrote them in a different way, on a different kind of paper. This is the "hyper-specificity" problem that's so frustrating with autistic kids, and that is the center of Animals in Translation. The reason they were so frustrated with his progress in class, apparently, is that his performance is inconsistent – and the inconsistency seems to be related to changing fonts or paper, etc.

I’d never checked to make sure Andrew could do the same problems in different fonts and on different size paper (which I should have).

They gave me a sheet of paper, and I hand-wrote a ones problem.

Andrew answered it instantly.

They were convinced.

They were so convinced that they said they wanted to use KUMON as Andrew’s math curriculum this summer.

We talked about what the problem might be for awhile, and none of us knows. I'm guessing the problem is that the school doesn’t have a math curriculum for Andrew, mainly because there isn’t one, although KUMON may serve.

Clarice ordered Engelmann’s DISTAR program back when she was hired, and she gave it to me to take home. I got to spend two days holding the Presentation Book in my hands (I wish Ken had been there!) It looked like everything it’s cracked up to be, but it didn’t look like something a teacher could do with Andrew. I suppose you could type the script and have Andrew read it....which might be a good idea. I had to return the program the next day, and didn’t have enough time to think it through.

What's happening in class is that Andrew will seem to have mastered an addition fact, but then later on will seem to have lost it.

For the time being, I'm assuming that because they don't have a curriculum any one or all of 3 things has happened:

  • they aren't teaching the math facts coherently

  • they haven't given him enough distributed practice

  • they haven't given him enough massed practice

As to the first, KUMON's worksheets are the ultimate coherent curriculum. The child does many, many worksheets on adding one to a number before moving on to add 2s to a number.

KUMON doesn't stop with the within-ten addition facts, either. Instead it takes the child all the way from 1 + 1 to 1000 + 1 before moving on to + 2. Clarice hasn't done that, I don't think. I think she had him learn all the various addition facts up to 10.

She said Andrew will seem to have mastered 6 + 4 = 10, but then when they ask him 6 + 4 a week later, he doesn't know.

I'm hoping the reason he forgets 6 + 4 is that 6 + 4 doesn't have the meaning it's going to have in KUMON.

I'm also wondering whether "massed practice" — aka drill and kill — may be especially important or even critical for developmentally disabled kids. Everyone in the U.S., constructivists & cognitive scientists alike, seems to have decided that distributed practice is the key to the kingdom. (TRAILBLAZERS & EVERYDAY MATH both claim to give children distributed practice.)

But I've always found I need to do a certain amount of massed practice in the beginning just to remember a concept well enough to be able to do distributed practice. Andrew is tough to deal with; I bet they haven't made him sit in a chair and do the same addition problems over and over again the way KUMON does. I wouldn't have.

In any case, we're moving on to +2 in a couple of days, so at that point I'll start occasionally asking him to do a +1 problem to see if he remembers.

We'll see.

As to KUMON reading, this morning Andrew was aghast at the discovery that in addition to the 5 KUMON math pages he has to do every day he now has 5 KUMON reading pages, too.


summer school for Christopher

First off, I've had my second abject failure in afterschooling books: Sentence Composing for Middle School: A Worktext on Sentence Variety and Maturity by Don Killgallon.

I love this book — I even bought the college level one for me — and it's worthless for Christopher. The first exercises ask you to divide a sentence up at its natural breaks. For instance:

The only way to / keep your health is to eat what / you don't want drink / what you don't like and do what you'd / rather not.
- Mark Twain

The student is supposed to rewrite the sentence putting the slashes where they belong.

Christopher can't do it. He's so far away from being able to do it that he doesn't even really get what he's supposed to be doing. The whole thing makes no sense to him at all.

I thought he'd start to get the hang of it after awhile, but he didn't. He doesn't have an "ear."

Some kids do. My friend Kris's little guy, Charlie, has an ear. I went over one day & he came running up to show me something he'd written. He was missing a comma, and when I pointed it out he stopped in his tracks and talked the sentence to himself under his breath, and he heard where the comma was supposed to go. "Oh yeah!" he said, looking happy.

My other afterschooling flop was Daily Paragraph Editing, which I was using in 5th grade. I pushed Christopher through pages & pages of that book without his performance improving a jot. Finally I talked to his teacher, the brilliant Ms. Duque, and she said forget it. The book wasn't teaching him anything.

I interpret these failures to be more grist for the direct instruction mill. Christopher needs to be directly taught punctuation and grammar. Period. Then he'll have an ear.

I think he will, too. We've finished Megawords Book 3, and his ELA teacher, the other Ms. K, has been giving spelling tests all winter and spring. Ms. Duque taught spelling, too. So he's had a lot of spelling.

Suddenly, Christopher is using spelling rules to spell words he doesn't know, and he's getting them right, too. Boy is that great.

His spelling is so much better, it's amazing. Back in 3rd grade his spelling was A SCANDAL. It was almost psychotically bad, like those jokes about Eastern European languages with no vowels. These days he's starting to have normal not great spelling. In one paragraph of prose he might have two misspelled words, and those words will be misspelled logically.

This is why I'm sure he'll develop an "ear." He's developed whatever the analogous form of implicit knowledge is for spelling; he'll do it for writing, too.

vocabulary, writing, math...

So we're putting Killgallon on the shelf for the time being. Christopher will do Vocabulary Workshop, a book I like more and more as we go along. He does one page a day, which takes 5 minutes max. VW teaches words in 5 exercises:

  • definitions — dictionary definition with sample sentences; student writes the word in the blank

  • complete the sentence

  • synonyms

  • antonyms

  • choosing the right word (student chooses which of two words on the vocabulary list "satisfactorily completes" a sentence)

  • vocabulary in context — prose passage

There are 15 units in the book, and you review every three units. 20 words per list; 185 pages in the book. Efficient & effective.

We're big on vocabulary these days. At dinner I make Christian and Christopher learn Greek and Latin roots from English from the Roots Up. So far we've learned photos, graph, tele, metron, tropos, philia, phobos (predictable hilarity with metron, which instantly suggests the neologism metronsexual, philia & phobos), syn, and thesis, although Christian is having a horrible time remembering tropos. For quite a while there he was saying "line" whenever he heard it (too long to explain), so "line" has now become a running gag.

I told Christian to come up with a mnemonic device for tropos, but unfortunately the one he came up with caused him to start thinking tropos means revolving, which come to think of it maybe it does. (Does it?)

If anyone has a suggestion for a mnemonic device that connects tropos to turning, let me know.

I've also got an ancient copy of Word Power Made Easy (a Google Master recommendation, IIRC) next to the dining room table, so we may get to it, too, one of these days.

Then last week Martine went out and bought a dictionary of New York slang, and we all learned the meaning of ace boon coon, a phrase Christian knew and had used. I'm having as much trouble remembering ace boon coon as he is remembering tropos (I can't remember the "ace" part), so we'll see who gets to the finish line first.

Christopher is supposed to take his ALEKS placement test today, so I've got to go figure that out. More later.




my boon companion

-- CatherineJohnson - 25 Jun 2006

EdSectorSaysThereIsntaBoyProblem 08 Oct 2006 - 22:44 CatherineJohnson

The Truth About Boys and Girls

I'm thinking any piece of education wonkery titled "The Truth About Boys and Girls" should be automatically assumed not to be the truth about boys and girls.

Of course that's just my opinion.

same old, same old

I've been reading these reports all my life.

Which I guess is reason enough to carry on reading them.

I'd have to put some time into thinking this one through to know exactly why I'm going to choose to assume this one is bogus, too.

I'd rather not. I'd rather learn some more algebra today, seeing as how with Ms. Kahl's ascent to lifetime employment, health care, and pension I will be on the hook for teaching Christopher everything he learns about math over the next two years.

So, some impressions.

1. magic white people

Carolyn and I were talking about this last night.

Everyone, universally, when they're [sic] talking about the horrors of urban schools, assumes that suburban schools - or at least suburban kids - are fine and dandy. Even E.D. Hirsch, for pete's sake. I've just discovered a treasure trove of Hirschian wisdom (be warned: I am entering the hypomanic Hirschian phase that should have hit me years ago).

The advantaged child has gained knowledge and a correspondingly large vocabulary chiefly by gradual, implicit means. The child has been read to, has heard complex syntax, has been told about the natural and cultural worlds in the ordinary course of growing up. This indirect and implicit mode of learning is excellent if one has lots of exposure and lots of time, as an advantaged child typically does. But the disadvantaged child has to make up for lost time, and cognitive psychologists tell us that this requires a very systematic, analytical, and explicit approach to early learning. If you want to learn fast--be explicit. Break down each domain to be learned into manageable elements that can be mastered. Then systematically build on that knowledge with new knowledge.

This is the most efficient mode of learning for everybody, but it is the essential mode if the aim is to make up for lost time in knowledge and vocabulary.

Overcoming the Language Gap


"Advantaged" children have everything they need!

Smart parents!

Great vocabularies!

A stimulating knowledge-implanting environment that works just like a Matrix download except nobody has to type in the commands!

There's enough truth in this for little kids that I don't (necessarily) begrudge the constant repetition of the Advantaged Kids meme. It becomes ludicrous, however, when you extend it to anything beyond 4th grade, or to math at any level.

After 4th grade, the "magic" of the "middle class environment" is the magic of parents making cash payments to "tutors" from their kids' school.

Let me repeat that.

After 4th grade, the magic of the middle class environment is the magic of parents making cash payments to "tutors" from their kids' school.

Eduwonk/Ed Sector has repeatedly urged that we not think about white boys.

We are to think about black and Hispanic boys.

This new report is part of that agenda.


Also in the IMO category, I think this attitude is a mistake. It's entirely possible white boys and white girls are being equally trounced by our public schools.

If I had to bet, I might even say it's likely, though I wouldn't bet more than ten bucks.

However, that is irrelevant to the question of what is to be done about urban schools and disadvantaged kids.

As far as I can see, and I would bet more than ten bucks on this, the problem with urban schools is the same problem with suburban schools. The problem is ed schools, jobs-for-life, no accountability, no curriculum, etc.

What is the magical advantage white children bring to a punitive, dysfunctional middle school like the one my own white child is attending?

The advantage is parents who will do the teaching that the school can't or won't:

Unionized teachers stand in the way of the educational changes that might ameliorate our twin education crises (inner city disaster and suburban mediocrity)


He's right. It's a twin crisis. It's not that we have good schools in the suburbs for white kids and bad schools in the city for black & Hispanic kids.

I've been listening to Christian's stories about his Yonkers high school for two years now.

That was one lousy school.

Christian feels the same about Christopher's school.

I'm inclined to think it's never a good idea to mischaracterize a situation you're working to change. I may be wrong about that.

2. a gap is a gap

Have to run & get Christopher from camp, so I'll get back to this later.

In the meantime, how does this chart from Jay Mathews' column tell me everything is A-OK with boys?

I'm thick in the midst of the high-scoring SAT kids literature now.....when it comes to predicting success in SAT scores & college admissions, reading is everything according to people who've looked into it. Not math. Reading.


And how exactly is this good news:

But the truth is far different from what these accounts suggest. The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse; it's good news about girls doing better.

This is a perfect description of my experience raising two developmentally disabled children.

A developmentally disabled child starts out pretty close to a typical child. At age one an autistic child and a typical child aren't miles apart.

But then the typical child just keeps learning more stuff and learning it faster to boot.

Pretty soon there's a gap.

Then after awhile there's a bigger gap.

I used to say, "Every time I get Jimmy doing something he's supposed to do they raise the bar."

Reading Ed Sector I realize I was looking at this all wrong.

Jimmy wasn't falling behind.

It's just that the typical kids were moving faster.


Back from camp, and now I'm puzzling over how exactly these charts prove we don't have a boy problem:



Call me crazy, but that looks like a gap to me.

I thought we were supposed to be against gaps.

3. boys are special

Moving into the on the other hand section of the report we find this concession to reality:

We Should Be Worried About Some Subgroups of Boys

In addition to disadvantaged and minority boys, there are also reasons to be concerned about the substantial percentage of boys who have been diagnosed with disabilities. Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education—including 80 percent of those diagnosed with emotional disturbances or autism—and boys are two and a half times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).11 The number of boys diagnosed with disabilities or ADHD has exploded in the past 30 years, presenting a challenge for schools and causing concern for parents. But the reasons for this growth are complicated, a mix of educational, social, and biological factors. Evidence suggests that school and family factors—such as poor reading instruction, increased awareness of and testing for disabilities, or over-diagnosis—may play a role in the increased rates of boys diagnosed with learning disabilities or emotional disturbance.


An explosion in the number of boys diagnosed with disabilities. That's exactly what the Boy Problem people are talking about.

Has there been an explosion in bad genes for boys in the past 30 years?

If not, might there have been some other kind of explosion?

Like, say, an explosion in female-dominated public schools?

Or an explosion in zero-tolerance character education policies that result in boys getting suspended a whole lot?

4. a gap is a gap, part 2

more from Ed Sector:

The picture is less clear for older boys. The 2003 and 2005 NAEP assessments included only fourth- and eighth-graders, so the most recent main NAEP data for 12th-graders dates back to 2002. On that assessment, 12th-grade boys did worse than they had in both the previous assessment, administered in 1998, and the first comparable assessment, administered in 1992. At the 12th-grade level, boys' achievement in reading does appear to have fallen during the 1990s and early 2000s.6


Like the main NAEP, the results for older boys on the long-term NAEP are more mixed. Thirteen-year-old boys have improved their per form ance slightly compared with 1971, but for the most part their per­form ance over the past 30 years has been flat. Seventeen-year-old boys are doing about the same as they did in the early 1970s, but their performance has been declining since the late 1980s.7

It's all good.


Study Casts Doubt on the 'Boy Crisis'

the girl show

-- CatherineJohnson - 26 Jun 2006

AndrewDiscoversChannel24 28 Jun 2006 - 19:11 CatherineJohnson

Martine just came downstairs & said Andrew is watching Channel 24. She thinks he's watching the ticker tapes. There are 3 of them, two scrolling across the bottom of the screen, and a static, semi-blinking tape on top. She said she picked up the remote and he went nuts because he thought she was going to change the channel.

The host of the show is interviewing some guy on the floor of the stock exchange on the subject of BULL VS BEAR.

I'm sure this is a good development.

It is pretty fun.

-- CatherineJohnson - 28 Jun 2006

AlanTuringAndAutism 08 Jul 2006 - 00:40 CatherineJohnson

ADVANCED mathematics is a hard sell, but David Leavitt's biography of Alan Turing, which was published in America last December and is just coming out in Britain, will give even the most innumerate reader an idea of the beautiful and fascinating world he is missing.

Mr Leavitt does not use the word, but in today's parlance Turing, a brilliant misfit who laid the foundations of modern computing and cryptography, would probably have been called autistic. He took things very literally, was almost incapable of lying, cared little for his outward appearance, and was rather bad at understanding what other people felt or meant. None of that helped him live a happy life.

A man who counted
Jul 6th 2006


autism quotient
Alan Turing & autism

The Geek Syndrome

-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Jul 2006

AutismQuotient 12 Aug 2006 - 22:25 CatherineJohnson

I'm not sure I've ever taken this test.

I probably don't want to know.

oh wow

I'm way not autistic.

That's what I always thought, but I figured I must be lying to myself given the two autistic kids and all.


Simon Baron-Cohen

Alan Turing & autism
autism quotient

The Geek Syndrome

-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Jul 2006

AndrewFirstSentences 21 Jul 2006 - 01:36 CatherineJohnson

I think Andrew may have just written his first sentences.

We were sitting on the couch, and Andrew was frustrated and mad. He'd written his usual obsessive string of unspaced Barney-words on the AlphaSmart:


We have no idea what he wants when he does this. Towards the end of the school year his teacher showed him a video on her computer and he's been obsessed ever since. He thinks we can play Barney videos on our computer monitors at will. At least, that's what we think he thinks. He'll write a long string of unspaced Barney words on the AphaSmart and then drag us to the computer and shriek at us & grab our hands and fling them at the keyboard.

So he'd written his string of Barney words, but I couldn't go to the computer with him, because Travis, from Guest House (employs Christian) was here for a visit. We had to stay put.

Andrew was going nuts, so I tried to divert him by writing sentences about the conversation Travis & Christian & I were having, which had to do with the fact that Andrew will not sit still for a dental exam.

I typed, "Andrew has to go to the dentist."

Andrew erased it.

Then I typed, "Andrew has to be good at the dentist's office."

Andrew erased it.

He erased everything I wrote. It was a standoff.

Finally it occurred to me to write some sentences about Barney.

"Barney drives the car," I wrote.

Andrew stared intently at the words as I typed, then tapped the screen briskly with his finger, a sign that he approves.

"Barney plays soccer," I wrote.

He tapped the screen again.

"Barney likes Baby Bop."


"Barney sings 'I love you.'"


I wrote a few more sentences and stopped.

Then Andrew took the AlphaSmart away from me and wrote this:

barney friends bj
barney bj love you
barney pictures cap house
love you barney bj

I think those are sentences. I showed him how to space the words, but he hit the return at the end of each line himself. He doesn't do that when he's writting his Barney word strings.

I think Andrew wrote a story about Barney.

Andrew first sentences
Andrew writes plane

-- CatherineJohnson - 21 Jul 2006

AndrewWritesPlane 23 Jul 2006 - 11:05 CatherineJohnson

Andrew is so frustrated and fed up he's decided to write.


For awhile now, Andrew has been giving Ed the chalk, or putting Ed's fingers on his keyboard, because he thinks Ed knows what's inside his head — at least that's what Ed thinks he thinks. Ed says, "He's got a really interesting theory of mind."

Andrew's theory of mind is: other people know my thoughts, and think what I think.

So Andrew wants Ed to write down what he wants.

We think.

Perhaps because Ed has thus far failed to write down anything Andrew thinks, Andrew has today taken matters into his own hands.

This is his 2nd written word. He once wrote his name on the board. Andy. Today he wrote "plane."

"Plane" or possibly "Diane."

Both words mean the same thing. Both words mean, "I want to fly on the airplane to Illinois." Diane is my sister-in-law; we'll see her in Springfield. Then we'll see my mom, Pat, in Evanston. Andrew wrote "plane" or "Diane," then did his brisk approving tap on the photo of Jimmy in Pat's living room that we have up on the refrigerator. After that he got Ed's travel backpack and the portable DVD player we take on trips. His meaning is clear.

Just now he wrote some more words....."bed," "Pdat" (we think that's his spelling of "Pat"), and we think he may have tried to write "Dave," who's my brother, married to Diane.

Andrew likes to travel.

Ed just said, "With this level of will, he's going to break through."

Andrew first sentences
Andrew writes plane

Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind by Simon Baron-Cohen
The Theory of Mind and the Triad Perspective of Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Olga Bogdashina
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind by Janet Wilde Astington
Theories of Theories of Mind by Peter Carruthers
The Child's Theory of Mind by Henry J. Wellman

-- CatherineJohnson - 22 Jul 2006

MindHackingJavaAndFood 27 Jul 2006 - 17:43 CatherineJohnson

Funny post from a blog devoted to mind hacking:

You have a legacy brain. We've talked about that a lot on this blog, and in my presentations. Your brain thinks you're still living in a cave. Although your mind knows you're in the 21st centry, your brain never got the memo.

A big part of the learning theory we use in the Head First books is figuring out how to "trick" your brain into thinking that learning Java is as important as watching for tigers. We pay a great deal of attention to what your brain cares about, especially when the concerns (tigers-but-not-java) are in direct conflict with what your mind cares about (java-but-not-tigers).

Besides caring about tigers-and-not-java--and the problems that creates when we're trying to pay attention, learn, and remember--our legacy brain does something else we all struggle with--it thinks you won't get much to eat all winter, so it better store it up while it can.

Your brain thinks that food is scarce for you, so it better hang on to it. In other words, for almost all adults (especially in the US), our brain wants us to be weigh more than our conscious mind wants. The brain never got the memo about how you probably aren't going to starve this winter.

Given how interested we are here into hacking and creating workarounds for the legacy brain issues, a new diet book that claims to take this approach got my attention. The claims are outrageous, the "plan" is absurd and counter-intuitive, but when the publisher sent me a copy of the book I figured it wouldn't hurt to try it. I say "wouldn't hurt" because it is ridiculously easy to try. And since the Freakonomics guys were recommending it, I figured there had to be something interesting. Plus... I loved the name: the Shangri-La Diet.

It's been two weeks since I started and oh-my-god.

She means oh-my-god in a good way.

trouble in paradise

"Mind hacking" is a great phrase. I wish John (Ratey) or I had come up with it. Mind hacking is practically John's whole concept in a nutshell: work with your brain, not against it.

Never rely on brute force of will if you can enlist automatic processes. Use what you've got

Kathy Sierra's post makes me laugh, because of course I've done with math exactly what she's trying to do with Java: I've lit up my limbic system. Thanks to the non-math teaching in our school district, I am in a state of math emergency. I must learn math right this minute or else! Because my child's life is at stake!

I have Mind Hacks the book, but haven't read it. My friend Debbie says it's good.

trouble in paradise (really)

After 13 days on the Shangri-La diet, Jimmy has maybe lost one pound, Christopher has lost one pound for sure, and I've officially lost and regained and then lost and regained again the same .5 lbs.

oops - Christian is here.

We have to go to Westchester Community College to get him signed up for classes. We went last week, but the office was closed even though it said on the website said the office would be open. The office wasn't open. It was closed.

So we're trying again today.

Naturally we've missed the deadline for financial aid; we're pushing up against the deadline for registering at all even without financial aid. I've forgotten what that deadline was, and I refuse to look at the website one more time. We're just going to saddle up and ride out there and see what happens.

It's a good thing I have OK cognitive skills, because if I had to rely on my noncognitive skills to get through life I'd be in trouble.*


ohmygod....I am going back to the website, because Christian needs another application printed out. This will be the third. Or perhaps the fourth, fifth, or sixth, I've lost count.

Martine is ragging on him now. Good.

Just what I was needing. A fourth son with lousy frontal lobe myelination.

I obviously enjoyed reading Little Men way too much as a girl. Someone up there was watching.

back from WCC

OK, mission accomplished. We have financial aid forms, we have a corrected social security number in Christian's file, we have an appointment to see an academic counselor on August 10. I've collected every conceivable form of explanatory literature printed by WCC, and I have scanned a copy of the pink campus map onto my hard drive. I know where the administration building, the student center, and Parking Lot 8 are to be found.

Later on tonight Christian and I are going to look at the sample questions for the WCC placement test.

back to Shangri-La

The diet will work for Christopher. I slimmed him down 3 years ago using exercise alone, so it's doable. This summer I'm walking him a mile and a half to camp every morning. Then he spends the next 6 hours playing sports. This time around exercise alone hasn't been working and the ELOO appetite reduction is the extra oomph he needs.

Plus he's growing, which is a huge advantage. Our Los Angeles pediatrician told us that normal weight gain in a year is 4 to 8 pounds. Somehow I figured out from this figure that every inch a child grows without gaining weight is the equivalent of a 5 to 8-lb weight loss in an adult.

The other factor is that the ELOO regimen itself is strongly organizing. The problem with a normal reducing diet is that it's not really an action. Instead of doing something, you stop doing something; you stop eating as much as you were eating. A reducing diet makes no limbic sense, as I'm sure the mind hack folks would tell us. I suppose a reducing diet makes "frontal sense" in a way, the frontal lobes being the brakes of the brain. But to lose anything at all you have to ride those brakes morning, noon, and night until eventually you get tired or stressed and your supply of iron will gives out. Then you're chugging through the Haagen Dazs and your lizard brain is saying Yes! Good! This is the right thing to do!

A reducing diet, I conclude, is not a mind hack. It's the opposite of a mind hack.

The ELOO regimen, on the other hand, is a mind hack in more ways than one. First of all, it really does reduce appetite. At least it does for the 3 of us.

But even if swilling ELOO twice a day didn't reduce appetite, it might still help you lose weight because it's a plan. Even better, it's a highly structured and easy plan. Two helpings of ELOO a day, taken in the center of a two-hour food-free window of time. You can organize your whole day around it.

Once you are organizing your whole day around it, not drinking Gatorade & not eating potato chips start to seem sensible. After all, you've just timed yourself not-eating-potato-chips for one hour before your ELOO, and then again for a second hour after your ELOO. By now it's time for lunch. At this point not-eating-potato-chips is practically a done deal.

With Shangri-La you are creating not-eating-potato-chips momentum!

Christopher has stopped drinking Gatorade thanks to Shangri-La. People still try to give it to him; Martine tried to get him to drink some Gatorade just yesterday and his camp is sloshing in the stuff. But he's not drinking it. He's drinking water. Part of the reason he's drinking water is that he knows he's on a regimen.

I'm benefiting from the same life-organizing, mind hacking effect. I'm not losing weight, but I'm also not eating junk. I'm not eating junk because I'm not hungry and I have a plan. I am on a mission from God to thin out two of my kids. That's a mind hack!

Christopher will be thinner by summer's end, and I'll be younger next year or whatever it is you turn into when you're not eating junk.

Jimmy's another story. This is really a struggle. We're fighting Depakote food cravings and rebound night eating when the Concerta wears off. Plus it's extremely difficult to get him to exercise. Thanks to the Depakote, he's sluggish. Indoors he's obsessive; he can't walk more than a couple of feet without stopping to do a bunch of ritual door jamb touching. Getting him dressed and out of the house in the morning is impossible. He's almost frozen inside multiple touchings of this, that, and the other.

So the plan now is.....what?

Not sure.

I think I'm going to add sugar water to his ELOO dose (two tablespoons of ELOO twice a day). Then see what happens. I've decided to see slimming Jimmy down as a challenge. Viewing things as a challenge is probably a mind hack for me, or let's hope so anyway. If I can get my helicopter mom juices flowing maybe I'll have a fighting chance.

Jimmy will have a fighting chance, I should say.

The New York Sun had a terrific quotation yesterday:

We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.

- Charles Swindoll




Mind Hacks, the blog
The Shangri-La Diet at Amazon
Seth Roberts website

Shangri La diet in freakonomics
Shangri La diet part 2
early adopter
diet, evolution of the brain, & McDonalds
Marginal Revolution on Shangri La
your own lying eyes
progress report 7-23-06
Jimmy 7-24-06
mind hacks & Shangri-La 7-26-06
7-29-06 update
my life and welcome to it - 8-6-06 - success
compare and contrast photo op 8-12-06
9-12-06 update
9-17-06 Jimmy is melting
10-4-2006 Dr. Erika's olive oil diet works, too


* Is a woman's weight a noncognitive skill? (scroll down)

-- CatherineJohnson - 26 Jul 2006

WellesleyMagazine 29 Jul 2006 - 13:47 CatherineJohnson

James Wasserman

Facing Autism:
Wellesley Mothers & Their Children
by Louisa Kasdon '72
Wellesley Summer 2006

-- CatherineJohnson - 28 Jul 2006

GroupHome 12 Aug 2006 - 11:54 CatherineJohnson

Short attention span theater around here.

Somehow Ed and I ended up with an appointment to visit a group home today. I'm not exactly sure how this happened. We put ourselves on the New York Cares waiting list about a year ago, because people told us it takes forever to find a group home for your adult child, and then "forever" turned into one year and so there we were, driving to Pelham Manor.

The home and, more importantly, the people, turned out to be great - which is incredibly upsetting because we're told that the people at other homes aren't reliably great.....

So yesterday we were parents putting out fires, and today we are people who might possibly be making other arrangements.

We're not ready.

I cried most of the way home, discreetly I thought, while Ed said things like, "I guess I thought Jimmy would always be with us" and "I think it's harder to have a kid like Jimmy leave than to have your normal child go to college" and "When Christopher graduates from high school we could move to Pelham Manor and live by Jimmy."

The next step is for everyone - all five of us - to go to dinner there.

If anyone has thoughts or advice - or knows people who have thoughts or advice - I'd like to hear. Jimmy still has two years of school left and we don't want him to move out (ever, it seems).....

But we've heard nothing but horror stories about how hard it is to find a placement, how awful the caregivers can be, how unstable the placements sometimes are. We both feel like this is it, the only good future for Jimmy that will materialize. So we have to grab it.

-- CatherineJohnson - 09 Aug 2006

MoreNewsFromTheWorldOfAutism 07 Sep 2006 - 16:35 CarolynJohnston

I'm glad I have an older kid with an autism spectrum disorder, because I've had years to get used to the idea, and I've come to feel he almost couldn't have been any other way. It would be rough to be dealing with a new diagnosis in a toddler, and to come across this article in yesterday's BBC online:

Children with older fathers have a significantly increased risk of having autism, a study has concluded. The UK and US researchers examined data on 132,271 children and said those born to men over 40 were six times more at risk than those born to men under 30.

This strikes me on the surface as being all too believable an explanation for the uptick in autism in recent years. I was thinking it might be boy geeks meeting marrying girl geeks more frequently than in the olden days; or, possibly, some obscure environmental thing (I never did buy the notion that vaccines were responsible) – in fact, these might still actually be factors.

But it's undeniable that couples having their babies at an ever older age is a cultural phenomenon that has really taken off during my adulthood – right along with the increase in cases of autism. And it might also explain the (not yet statistically examined as far as I know) casual observation that when more than one kid in a family has autism, it's often the younger one who has the rougher case.

I'm sort of caught between horror, and admiration of the simplicity of the explanation. If it's true, then how elegant; how absolutely Occam's razor. But how deflating, too, because what can you do with this knowledge? You might want to forgo having a baby with that second wife, bub.

Especially if she's a geek....

-- CarolynJohnston - 06 Sep 2006

TopicType: SubjectArea
TopicHeadline: autism and asperger's syndrome