I received a note from one of our dads today. Simon has his three children on program. Today he shared a couple of things his son, eight-year-old Noah, had just said. Noah is smart, fun, a fledging stand-up comic, has very good processing, and academically now is on a 5th grade level.
We have Noah working on math using Khan Academy; and when his dad asked him how it was going, Noah told him he had figured out how many paperclips it would take to reach the amount of kilograms in an elephant. According to Noah, a paperclip evidently weighs 0.0005 kg. So there–you can now go figure it out yourself. Very cool!
Noah just finished reading a chapter book and told his dad that he had read every word in the book, even about the author, (but not the copyright page). Then he said, “I used to look at a page and see words. Now I see worlds.” You have to love it.
I just received an email from my dear friend, author Joseph Pearce, which he had quite appropriately titled, “A Triumvirate of Diminutive Swine.” Joseph and I have had many conversations in which we discussed the relationship between processing ability, vocabulary, and classic literature. Joseph and I are both very strong advocates of classical literature, its relevance for gaining a broader perspective on the human condition, and as a vehicle for vocabulary development. Vocabulary enriches and expands the complexity of thought and thus helps grow working memory.
Joseph’s email contained this hilarious apropos link – enjoy!
I’m in LA and I just saw a great little eight-year-old boy who happens to have Down syndrome. He has a wonderful family who are doing all they can to help him in his development. He attends school and is in a special education class with kids with mild problems. He is the best reader in the class, which has everything to do with what he has been doing at home for years and nothing to do with school. If he were in college, he would evidently be a film major, because watching TV appears to be the primary activity in his school day, particularly on Fridays. Every Friday is TV day. Not that they don’t watch TV on other days, which they certainly do; but Friday is all TV. Ten children, four teachers (want to do the math and figure out how much that is costing us?), and what do they do to help these children develop? They watch TV–and not even “educational” TV. They watch movies.
Sadly, a significant chunk of the neuropsychological world and the educational world still doesn’t get that the basis of brain function is neuroplasticity, and that we can change and develop if given the opportunity. Perceive us as limited, and provide “opportunity” based on that perception, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for all of our children and us as well.
You would think that after all these years this nonsense would no longer make me angry; but if anything I just get angrier.
What develops changes, and that which changes can be developed; and that includes working memory and intelligence.
The banner across the top of today’s Wall Street Journal read: ”Read Slowly and Change Your Brain.” The accompanying article didn’t actually extol the benefits of reading reaaallly slowly, but rather the benefits of actually reading books, literature, and fiction, which is sadly becoming a more and more rare phenomenon. Apparently the number of those over 18 who read is getting smaller and smaller. A study in 2011 indicated that only 76% of this population had actually read a book in a year. The article is worth a read, a slow read, not a scan or an “F” pattern read. (An “F” pattern read is reading the first line, then scanning down the left side and reading just the first few words on the left side of a few lines.)
The article lists the benefits of properly reading books. This included:
- Deepens empathy and provides pleasure
- Heightens concentration
- Enhances comprehension, particularly of complex material
- Improves listening skills
- Enriches vocabulary
- Reduces stress
Not a bad list, and let’s add relaxing, entertaining, thought provoking, educational, and, yes, it does change your brain. What a deal!
One of my ongoing concerns about our society is what I perceive to be a drop in processing skills. The lower the processing ability (short-term and working memory), the more simplistic is thought. The ability to think is rather important, and people who can think seem to becoming fewer and further between. I’m girding myself as we get started in a new election cycle. I hate to see and hear one more election that is orchestrated by those who should be selling breakfast cereal rather than explaining the views of a politician in one-liners. Perhaps if the majority of the population could process better and understand more, we could actually look at issues in depth and we wouldn’t need to sum everything up with a one-liner.
Take some time and read a book; actually, lots of books.
Between hearing horror stories about what is happening in education from our families, as well as reports and studies and seeing the results first hand day in and day out from our families, there are some glimmers of hope that we might survive in spite of our governments and institutions.
As much as I care about all of our kids with developmental problems, I am on a larger scale really concerned about our future as a society. We have wars going on all over the planet, people seem to find new reasons for killing and harming each other, and technology keeps giving them faster and easier ways to do it. We have people starving, people who lack even the basics needed to sustain life. One would think that in 2014 we would have some clue as to how to live together and help and support each other on this tiny planet; but evidently we don’t.
There are obviously a lot of things that need to be done; but we certainly do need to make everyone smarter, and we really need to help some people become really smart. We can help more of the people get it and some of the people really wrap their heads around the problems and start really fixing them.
Today I saw a glimmer of what can be. I saw a beautiful young lady who gave me hope. At her last evaluation I encouraged her family to buy her her very own set of encyclopedias. She likes to read—a lot. On good days her digit spans are hitting 12, and today her math was testing at high fourth grade, word recognition at college level, and reading comprehension at tenth grade level. She carries around medical books for casual reading, and today she needed to tell me about what she thought were the three most interesting spinal diseases. Cute, sweet, great sense of humor. (With an impish grin of her face today—just to mess with me—she said she thought that TLP was causing her tinnitus. Then she laughed.) She’s doing wonderfully physically and starting to get into doing chores. Great kid. And, by the way, she’s five! Five! Meet Lia.
There is hope for the world.