Monthly Archives: May 2013

May 15, 2013 – International Day of Families

bucuresti2Today I have been seeing families in Bucharest, Romania. This is my second of eight days of seeing children and families here. I arrived in Bucharest after seeing children in Barcelona and London. Between these three cities I will have seen families from many different countries. All of these families have children with developmental issues; all of these families are dedicated to their children; and all of these families are assuming responsibility for their children and their children’s futures. They are all exceptional and can serve as models for parents and families everywhere, not just families of children with issues, but all families.

In all of my years of travel, seeing children and working with and through families, there is one glaring truth. Wherever the families live, whatever their nationality, whatever their heritage, whatever form of government they live under, whether the family is defined as one parent or two, as only one child or a house full, grandparents or extended family in the home, whatever constitutes the family, they are all united in the care of and dedication to their children and the assumption of responsibility for their children. These families are not looking for their governments to do the job; they rather universally only ask that the government stay out of their way. These are dedicated parents who are absolutely amazingly alike.

In the seventies I was the clinical director of a large United Cerebral Palsy organization. I received grants from the state and federal governments and created model programs and was by most definitions quite successful producing significantly better results than other schools or agencies. But I came to a realization: that whatever I was able to provide for those children within our school and clinics, it was not enough. I also realized that the governments were never going to have the funds to give the children enough, and that expectations were not based on potential, but on the economic realities of what the system could afford to give, and that over time everyone bought into and accepted this distortion of reality and potential. Actually, not everyone–not the families I have been working with all these years. The families who say, “This is my child, this is my son, this is my daughter and I am responsible. I am going to help my child be all they can be. Help me or get out of my way.”

So on this International Day of Families, I am happy to offer up our NACD families from all over the world as models for what families can and should be. All of us at NACD are privileged to be able to know and assist these fantastic families.

Related Links

NACD International

Ex Libris

iStock_000000182279_L1NACD now has an extensive recommended reading list that I want to share with you. When reviewing the book list, please keep in mind that there are various ways to experience, enjoy, and learn from a book.  Books should be viewed as a from of entertainment; a resource for knowledge; a means by which to develop vocabulary, build the ability to process, visualize, conceptualize, and understand information, and a means to learn about history, people, and life.  Through books we can learn about fantasy, learn to imagine, dream, and create. Without the benefit of books it is very difficult to learn and understand the human condition. We can learn from the lives and experiences of others and develop a deeper understanding not only of others, but ourselves.  We can gain these benefits not only by reading these books ourselves, but also through the experience of others reading them to us, from the shared experience through book clubs, from shared reading, and even from audio books. As you review this list and pick books for your child (or help them pick books), remember these options.  If you want the child to enjoy a book that they are going to read themselves, you don’t want the vocabulary to be too challenging.  You want them to be able to read and move through the book relatively quickly.  If the book is a bit more challenging, consider shared reading. With shared reading you read a paragraph or a page, and your child reads the next.  With shared reading you can help your child with any new or difficult words, and with your reading with your child you can keep the pace moving fast enough to keep it interesting.  If the book is even more difficult, simply read the book to your child, or if time does not permit, see if you can find an audiobook version. Always try to encourage your child to have a dictionary handy, or preferably one of the new app dictionaries, that can give your child the pronunciation of the word as well as the definition.  The best way to teach this is by example.

Experience books with your children and give them the wonderful gift of learning to love reading and love learning.

Download NACDs Recommended Book List (PDF)

Today is Friday, This Must be London or Classrooms, Processing, and Narrow Competition

lambeth_bridgeGot up this morning in London after experiencing some of the great joys of international travel: delayed flights, missed connections, no way to reach any of the carrier’s employees, language issues, and finally a different airline and route. But I got here.

When I got up this morning, I put on BBC News (Just a side note, I was informed by my son yesterday when we were getting up early for our respective flights, his to go home and mine to go to England, that I was once again behind the times. I get up and turn on the news and he informed me that evidently most of the world wakes up and checks Facebook. He had in fact gotten up at 5:45am, checked Facebook, read my blog post that had been put up while he was asleep and found a spelling error for me– what a fine young man) and my day was greeted with a story about creating different grading standards for children with late birthdays. Aha, someone is paying attention. They were referring to some study–which I missed, but the results are logical and a study should not have been necessary anyway–but the study showed that children with later birthdays struggled more than their “older” (as in, a matter of months) peers, and they were considering creating a different grading system for these “younger” children. This story immediately elicited two lines of thought. (I hadn’t had any coffee yet, coffee might have produced a few more, and oh, then there was jet lag.) The first was that although they probably didn’t know it, the different levels of function represented different levels of sequential processing. The second was that the artificial narrow competition of the school structure was fraught with inherent problems, not the least of which is that the children are thankfully not all the same.

As all of our enlightened NACD parents know, the foundation that permits us to learn and think is this marvelous thing called sequential processing that develops in different rates in different individuals, partially determined by general neurological organization and maturity and through opportunity, and which can be accelerated through targeted developmental intervention. All things being equal, the younger children in a classroom will have slightly lower processing abilities than their more senior classmates. This “slight” disparity is enough to obviously significantly affect the ability of these younger children to attend, process what they see and hear, think, learn, and communicate. As many of our families will attest to, even a small incremental change in sequential processing (which translates into short-term memory and working memory and is the foundation for the all so important executive function and global maturity) can produce very significant, if not dramatic, change in the child’s overall function and maturity.

And then there are schools, levels, grades, groups of children of almost the same age–what a fantastic invention, and mass education–how wonderful. However, the reality is that there are many problems associated with such narrow competition, an extremely unnatural and negative social construct. It gets so old hearing about kids and their peers, fitting in with their peers, socializing with their peers, competing with their peers. I’m very fortunate; I live in a huge world, made up of newborns to geriatrics, people of different ethnic and social origins, people with no education and people with multiple doctorates. In my day-to-day life I am in competition with absolutely no one. I am free to be my unique self, know what I know, learn what I care to learn, be perceived as having value based on what I know, not what I don’t know, buy my clothes at Costco or Nordstrom’s, listen to Bach or Neil Young, know next to nothing about contemporary music, or what is “in.” How great is that? I am free to continually discover who I am and enjoy the quest. I am permitted these great freedoms because I live in a relatively free country and because I am not forced to spend my day with my “peers,” particularly my chronological peers, who quite honestly seem rather old. If I had to judge myself on a very narrow view of myself based almost entirely on the distorted information that I could obtain from spending my day with my peers, I would probably fall into a deep depression.

I have a great idea for a business that is designed to fail: Let’s create a cruise ship and cater to everyone who longs to be back in 8th grade. To get on our cruise you must be born in a specific twelve-month period. On our cruise we are going to take lots of tests and all of our scores will be posted and announced. (Isn’t this sounding like fun?) We will take math tests–the mathematicians, engineers, and physicists will be happy. They can laugh at the other 99% of us. Then there are the English tests–probably another 99% are at least concerned. Physics, chemistry, world history, geography, and oh, how about Spanish, French, German, or Latin? Well, we don’t want to spare any egos, so lets have physical competitions. How many pushups can you do? Sit-ups? Can you run a mile? We could even expand to some sports that some of our peers still play, like golf- sounds like an F to me. Wow, isn’t this great fun? Now let’s do the clothing labels test. Who made that shirt? What shoes are you wearing? How about the music test, the art test, the who-is-your-best- friend test? Or the how-little-is-your-nose, or how-flat-is-your-belly test? Or the how-much-money-do-you-make or what-kind-of-car-do-you-drive test?

To make sure our business really fails, let’s not let anyone get off the ship, and let’s sail for at least twelve years, and let’s repeat these tests every week—such fun! At the end of this, who would have the faintest idea of who they are, and how many would have an ego left intact? We had better not permit any weapons aboard. I’d bet they wouldn’t even have a child development test so that I could show off; or if they did I’d disagree with the teacher and still get an F.

Should the younger children get easier tests? Or should we help children develop the real skills they need to function and totally reevaluate this relatively recent experiment, which is our educational system, and come up with a better plan? Perhaps all the children aren’t broken; perhaps it’s the system.

Related Links

The Simply Smarter Project
Simply Smarter Kids
Simply Smarter System (new version coming soon)
NACD International

Don’t Get Lost in the Pieces

sagrada-familia-gaudi-sideI have spent this week in Barcelona, lecturing on developing cognitive function in children with Down syndrome, seeing some great families, and getting to know this new Barcelona. I traveled here and actually lived here for almost a year back in the seventies. It is incredible how much has changed in forty years. The city has grown tremendously, added a lot of new modern buildings, dramatically resurrected their port area, and really changed the complexion of the city. Since hosting the Olympics in 1992, the city has become much more diverse in its population and has become a favorite of tourists.

Part of the dramatic change in Barcelona that I was delighted to see is a change in the perception of special needs children. They have come a long, long way from where they were when I was working with children here in the ‘70s. It’s hard to believe when looking at the progressive open mindedness of the educators, therapists, and physicians today that forty years ago special needs children were often referred to by the professionals as “los animales” — the animals. In the ‘70s I left in frustration; but now I’m looking forward to working with both the families and professionals here again.

Today I had a rare day–I actually took the day off before heading to London tomorrow morning and at the insistence of my son, Laird, and his fiancée, Sadie, we went to visit what is truly one of the architectural wonders of the world, the Sagrada Família. The Sagrada Família is a church which began being built in 1882 and was taken over in 1883 by the architect Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí created a design and concept that has led to an ongoing project that will probably not be completed until the first third of the 21st century. Gaudí was inspired by nature and used his understanding and appreciation of nature to guide his work in this incredible, virtually organic building.

We walked around and through this church and looked at literally thousands of amazing design and structural details and more thousands of ornamental details, many of which depicted animals, plants, and people. As you look at it, particularly from the interior, you almost expect it to take a deep breath and come to life. Tending to never get more than a few heartbeats away from my passion, kids, I was compelled to make an association between this incredible building and a child. It is very easy to get lost in all of the amazing pieces of this building, from the great turtles supporting some of the exterior pillars, to the vines and leaves and creatures you discover everywhere, to the magnificent pillars supporting the structure of the church that resemble trees and branches. But if you get lost in the pieces, you miss the amazing aggregate of this totally unique building. I couldn’t help but think about how easy it is to also get lost in a child’s pieces, to see how parents, but more often teachers, therapists, and physicians, can become so focused on some of those pieces and often not see the magnificent totality of the individual. All of us, parents and professionals alike, must always look at the whole child first, the truly unique child, and not get lost in their pieces. Yes, we need to address problems and examine issues; but first see the child. If we don’t, we will never properly address their problems, and we will never help that child to become who they are. We cannot look at a child as a collection of pieces and do them justice. We need to work with them from the top down. See them as the people they are, and from that foundation then address their pieces. And, just like the Sagrada Família, our children are all a work in progress. Somewhere along the way the professionals in Spain started actually looking at all of the children and seeing a child.

Related Links

NACD Down Syndrome
NACD International