Don’t know how I could have missed it, but last Saturday August 26th was evidently National Dog Day! So, in a belated tribute to all of our dogs, here are my two—Lucy Liu and Boudreaux. A couple of miniature wirehaired dachshunds. I think these dogs understand a couple of hundred words and pay better attention to me than most children—or adults for that matter.
Over the years, I have encouraged many families to get dogs for their children, particularly children without a close sibling or playmate. Children with developmental and communication issues who find it difficult or even impossible to verbally communicate or play with others often find the companionship of a dog to be a wonderful addition to their lives.
As a child who was never permitted to have a dog (I ended up with a duck) I am happy to champion the cause of all of those children out there who want and need a dog.
Let’s just install ceiling fans in every classroom.
Fidget spinners—what a wonderful invention—as though our children need something else to distract them. Let’s give children mini ceiling fans to carry around to help them pay attention—what a great idea! If spinning things help children concentrate, let’s just install ceiling fans in every classroom.
I have been arguing against giving kids on the Autism Spectrum fidgets for years. Do some kids on the spectrum like and want fidgets? Absolutely—they’re addicted to them. A fidget feeds their sensory addictions and helps keep them seated in their classroom chair when what is being presented quite possibly doesn’t fit them and goes on way past their auditory attention span. You attend to what you can process and if the input doesn’t fit your ability to process the information or what is being presented doesn’t match your knowledge/educational base, then you don’t pay attention to it (sadly this describes most children in most classrooms). Unfortunately, the operational definition of educational inclusion for children with developmental problems has really just come down to the kids sitting in desks and not making a fuss while surrounded by typical children. The special needs children then leave the classroom for a resource room where the instruction is hopefully more targeted and appropriate for the child. So, enter the fidget. The theory is that the fidgets help the children on the spectrum pay attention and avoid being distracted. As far as I know, there has been no good research to substantiate this, but I would suspect that if the research were directed at whether a fidget would keep a child sitting for longer periods the results would quite likely be positive. If, however, the study was testing whether the children learned more or if it helped their sensory issues, I believe the answer would be no. There has, however, been extensive research on the effects of any and all distractions while driving (paying attention) and the conclusion is that they are all bad. Try driving and watching your fidget spinner spin. You can give it another twirl if it stops and tell me if it makes you a safer driver.
One of the first things we recommend parents who have children on the spectrum do for their children who engage in visual DSAs (Debilitating Sensory Addictive behaviors), is to remove or a least not turn on any ceiling fans. As most parents with children on the spectrum with visual issues know, the kids will stare at ceiling fans endlessly if given the opportunity. None of these parents will tell you that their child is paying better attention or is more present while staring at the fan. The fan takes them away—it doesn’t help them focus or concentrate. Most visual stims or DSAs involve the child playing with and stimming with their peripheral vision. Your peripheral vision picks up movement and edges, both of which are stimulated in a negative fashion by ceiling fans, fidgets, waving fingers, staring at edges, etc. Fidget spinners not only distract with the visual aspect, but also with an audio and a tactile component—they hum and vibrate while they spin. So let’s have the child’s brain distracted with extraneous visual, auditory and tactile garbage and simultaneously help build a new addiction.
I’m sure to hear from “professionals” out there, particularly occupational therapists who just discovered that children have sensory issues, but having worked with Autistic children for fifty years and having learned how to help normalize their sensory issues, I am confident that feeding their addictions is not in their best interest in the long term. If the motivation and goal is to keep them content, in their seats and quiet at the cost of their development, then. . .
Now, enter the logic that begins with the erroneous premise that if fidgets help kids on the Spectrum pay attention, then perhaps they will help typical kids pay attention. Sadly many, if not most, children have successfully learned not to pay attention already and the last thing they need is another distraction. Parents and teachers often mistake the child looking in your general direction and apparently listening as attending. At best, we often mistake listening for paying attention. Listening is something you do when you’re watching your favorite sporting event and the game is tied with seconds to go and someone talks to you about the weather. Listening is something you do when you’re talking to someone on the phone while you’re checking your email. Ask the child who appears to be “listening” to repeat the last sentence of something you just said or read to them. When we talk about learning we are talking about changing the brain and to change the brain we need to put in specific appropriate input with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration. Of the three components, intensity is the most important. Intensity means focus and focus means that I have your undivided attention. We need to help teach children to focus and give undivided attention, otherwise parents and teachers are largely talking to themselves.
If we want to be proactive and improve focus and attention, we need to do a better job of targeting the input to fit the child. Teaching algebra to a child who still is struggling with basic math isn’t going to work. Speaking in paragraphs to a child who has difficulty following a two- or three-step direction doesn’t work. Making many children sit in a chair and attend for more than ten minutes without letting them get up and move around a bit generally doesn’t work either. We need to pay attention to the individual and teach to their knowledge level so they have some context within which to associate the information. We need to be aware of the child’s processing ability (short –term and working memory) and target the structure of the input to fit them. We need to provide educational environments as free of extraneous distractions as possible—not contribute to them—and we need to focus upon the neurodevelopmental foundation and help build the child’s ability to learn, communicate and function.
Many children across the county are learning not to attend, not be present and sadly are learning that learning itself isn’t fun, isn’t exciting and that it doesn’t work for them.
Ban Fidget Spinners!
I’m in LA, flew in this morning and spent the afternoon working with a couple of great families.
I had a quiet dinner and read my book in the hotel restaurant. When I left, I saw the hotel manager and we passed pleasantries. I’ve been coming here for many years, and Arthur and I have kind of grown “older” together. He asked how I was and I commented “okay,” but he had observed my slower than normal pace. I acknowledged that my back was giving me fits. He said that getting older was better than option A (not getting older). I suggested that I wasn’t happy with Option A or B (accepting the inevitable) and was going to pursue Plan C.
What is Plan C? Plan C is investigating, working and fixing my back so I can actively pursue life. For so many of our children and us, the perception is that our choices are limited; accept the diagnosis and prognosis, follow the typical path, and accept the inevitable. I don’t think so!
The medical model—make a diagnosis, based on the diagnosis make a prognosis, and then apply accepted procedures—doesn’t work for me. For children with developmental problems, that means accepting labels, creating expectations based on the label and on how the “professionals” have failed those with the same labels, and then making accommodations and accepting limited potential. Hooray for all of you “average” people who choose to be exceptional. Hooray for all you parents who have children with educational or developmental problems who choose to believe your children have unlimited potential.
Let’s hear it for Plan C!
This may look like a bat to you, but to me it looks like a tornado.
If I’m in town, Sundays are family dinner days at Granddad’s. My sons, their wives and the grandkids come to my house, I cook and we spend quality time together. I also get to hear critiques on the food. I never follow a recipe, so every time I fix something its different. What’s the fun or challenge in doing something the same way over and over again? It could always be better—right? Part of our tradition is after dinner, during the times when we don’t have snow or when it’s too cold, everyone with the exception of the chef cleans up the dishes and packs up the leftovers to take home. Then we go up to my little pond (my favorite place on the planet) and feed the fish, listen to the birds, shoot pebbles with sling shots at the wind chimes, look for cool rocks, enjoy each other and commune with nature. We also watch the bats as they swoop down to attack the insects flying around the pond.
This past Sunday, the dogs and I were the first ones to the pond—everyone else, including my six-year-old grandson Brendan, were still working on the dishes. As I stepped off the deck, I discovered this tiny little bat that had probably hit a window, lying there stunned. I called everyone up and we gathered around to watch the little two-inch long bat recover. It only took a couple of minutes before Brendan and big brother, sixteen-year-old Ethan, figuring out a name for the little bat. They settled on “Count Batula.” As we all watched this incredible creature start moving around, trying not to disturb it too much (except for the occasional squeal from the kids when the bat scurried toward one of them), we also dealt with the obvious discussion that developed around whether or not they should take the bat to the Nature Center or take it home and keep it as a pet. The boy’s mom, my daughter-in-law Mandy, was ready to go find a box. My son Alex was strongly suggesting that we let nature take its course and leave the little rodent alone.
Long story short, everyone watched the bat’s recovery—even discovering that Count Batula would eat fish food—who would have thought? Everyone exchanged their, as we discovered, rather limited knowledge of bats. I elected to leave out my vampire bat information to avoid any possible six-year-old’s nightmares.
From the get go, I didn’t see a bat—I saw a great opportunity. An opportunity to create an interest, an interest that was starting off with some great intensity, intensity that had the potential to grow and spread and perhaps even spawn a blue sky, rainbow tornado. Way cool!
Watch for potential opportunities and help get the winds get a blowin’.
P.S. We let the little bat go about its little bat life without interference.
And, now for the rest of the story…