OMG Teh LOLCats!

Wow, lotsa busy stuff happening over here!

Getting the Carnival of the Spineless knocked together (it’ll be out soon; ran into a technical glitch).

Meanwhile, if you’re aching for some good strategies or inspiration, go visit the January Pain-Blog Carnival at “How to Cope with Pain” blog. (This one happens during the last week of each month; the next one deals with pain & Valentine’s Day.)

Podblack Cat has put up the “The 79th Skeptic’s Circle – Rollin With Teh Lol-ling”. What a clever cat; she has linked to special LOLCat pix for each contributor! Too funny, plus, lots of great skeptical blogging.

And if you still have time to waste, go check out the Planarity game (hat-tip to the Kid). Starts out nice and easy, letting you figure out the untangling algorithms, and progresses reasonably. I got up to level 16, but found that much of anything past level 10 is really way too many nodes to make distinguishing or handling easy, so I just refresh at 10.

Time to Bug You All

The next Circus of the Spineless will be hosted HERE at the end of the month!  Deadline for submissions for CotS #29 is the 29th.

The Circus of the Spineless is “A monthly celebration of Insects, Arachnids, Molluscs, Crustaceans, Worms and most anything else that wiggles”.  So if you have a story, and especially if you have pictures, please join in the fun!

So far I have a whopping 2 submissions (I know, I know, “salvation by deadline” and all that), and they are both about ants.  Are the rest of you invertebrate fanciers going to let the Formicidae rule all?  (You know how those social insects are…)

You can post your links here in the comments, or via the CotS page linked above.

andrea

The 3-pound Exemption (disembodied woo)

You gotta feel sorry for Topeka, Kansas. The state’s capital city is not only home to the infamous Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, and has recently been the battleground for Intelligent Design vs Evolution counter-counter-legislation by the school board (currently with the majority ruling pro-science), but now the capitol is host to the paranoid propaganda by the CCHR. CCHR is the Citizens Commision on Human Rights, which despite the generic name is really just a front for Scientology. Their exhibit is titled, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” (well, no hidden biases there). Correspondent for the Kansas City Star newspaper, David Klepper, writes that the “the Capitol sees its share of traveling displays and wandering weirdness”. He notes that any group that can pay the fee is allowed to put up a display as long as it is not obscene, and describes the content thusly: Read the rest of this entry »

Ooh shiny cat disabled autism dust

A fresh batch of Weird Search Terms, and boy, are there some whoppers in here!

With an increase in traffic comes an increase in the number of search terms that lead people to my blog — and an increase in the number of peculiar search terms. Since I started my work day at 7:30 am and finished my last class at 9:20 pm, I have not had any time for writing today. So this seems like a good day to post the latest entertaining slushpile. My favourites are at the end, of course.

The most common are still in the “how to draw a cat” category, go figure:

  • cat drawing
  • drawing cat
  • draw cats
  • how to draw cat
  • cat+draw
  • Cats drawing
  • line drawing cat

Hmn, that last one sounds like it ought to be a children’s story. “Macvicar was a line-drawing cat; he drew lines on everything: the walls, the furniture, the stairs, the rugs, even pieces of mail …”

Er, what’s this about?

My Own Dream

Here in the States, today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, a “bank holiday” honoring the civil rights leader. This means that as a school employee, I get the day off, which in turn means that I have the opportunity to not only contemplate civil rights, but also run errands to places I can’t go because my work hours are the same as their business hours. The exceptions of course are my bank where I need to visit my safe box, and a couple of colleges where I need to visit with people about getting teaching certification. Holy conundrums, Batman!

Anyway, reading through the news brought several things to my attention, and helped clarify some of my own dream for humanity, especially with regards to both diversity in academia and the rest of the work world, the academic responsibility for preparing our students, and the social and political valuation of real science.

Firstly there is the need Read the rest of this entry »

Unnecessary Redundancies

Since a previous post on My Favourite Oxymorons (and other “woo”) was so well-received, here’s one on redundant repetitions. (Thanks to some of my literate readers who answered with replies giving some of these exact same redundant pleonasms!)

What a busy day it has been! Two long tutoring sessions followed by company for dinner; it’s all like such an imaginary dream.

Because of her past history with forgetting to completely finish assignments, one of my students with ADD & ADHD and I cooperated together to determine what her normal everyday homework study schedule would be. This took a while, as she kept having sudden impulses to do things like verify the actual true ISBN number of the fiction book she was writing her essay report on. (At this point, I reminded her to back up everything (manuscript documents, photograph pictures and et cetera) from the classroom PC computers onto CD disks.) She’s also rather loquaciously verbose, and kept getting sidetracked by telling stories about her other classes. As part of her Bachelor’s degree, she needs a computer course, and she described with specific details how the instructor began to start with the basic fundamentals of BASIC code, which was a relief to her and her fellow colleagues, as the more advanced Read the rest of this entry »

Things that make you say, “Hmn…”

Fresh news story about the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center from the Associated Press:

The security camera videotapes of recent incidents at the JRC were destroyed, despite direct orders for them to be saved. The incidents involved two students who were wrongly given numerous electrical shocks by staff members, as a result of prank phone calls.

One student was shocked 77 times and the other 29 times after a prank caller posing as a supervisor ordered the treatments at a Judge Rotenberg Educational Center group home in August. The boys are 16 and 19 years old and one was treated for first-degree burns.

The Disabled Persons Protection Commission planned to release the report Tuesday concluding that one of the teenagers was severely physically and emotionally abused by the treatments. The commission has referred the case to the Norfolk district attorney’s office.

One of the Commission’s investigators had requested copies of the tapes because they were needed to complete a report.

But school officials declined, saying they “did not want any possibility of the images getting into the media.” The investigator told the school to preserve a copy so state police could use it in their criminal investigation. A trooper later told the investigator the tapes had been destroyed.

Amazing how often tapes of alarming or incriminating events get erased (Watergate) or destroyed (waterboarding).

State Sen. Brian Joyce, who has long sought to ban shock therapy from the school, said Israel and his staff should be investigated for obstruction of justice.

“I believe the tape was intentionally destroyed because it was incriminating,” said Joyce, a Democrat. “I intend to ask the attorney general to investigate.”

For children now gone

For the past three days I have been trying to think of something to say about the tragedies. I cannot really find the words to describe the incredible wrongness of such pointless losses. Even worse, there is the lack of reportage about such news (in Brent’s case), or the reportage of support for the murderer (in Katie’s case). I wish I could say that such events were unheard of, but horribly, they are not freak singularities, simply unheard-of by being under-reported. Children with disabilities are murdered more often than anyone wants to realise.

The first story is of a young man, Brent Martin. He was beaten to death by a gang three guys who punched him in the head 18 times, just for a £5 bet. Brent was targeted because he had an intellectual disability. He never even fought back. Dave Hingsburger has initiated a black armband campaign in his memory.

The other story is of a little girl, Katie. Her mother Karen McCarron suffocated her with a plastic garbage bag because she couldn’t stand the fact that her three-year old daughter was autistic. The rest of Katie’s family misses her terribly.

Katie’s favorite color was pink, so here are some Pinks flowers. The black-banded tiger swallowtail butterfly is for Brent.

Go give your children hugs and tell them how much you love them.

Sn*wed under

Sn*w day for the kids today.  Meanwhile, college classes have started, and colleges rarely shut down no matter what the weather.  That means I’m temporarily snowed under coming and going.  So bop on over to The Skeptical Surfer’s blog for very humorous Skeptics’ Circle #78: The “Still High From The Chelation” Edition. (And remember, don’t believe everything you read ::wink:: )

My Favourite Oxymorons (and other “woo”)

And now for something light, because it’s been heavy blogging lately, and there’s more around the corner.

Once Upon A TIme I used to be a newspaper proofreader. And once a proofreader, always a pain in the ass, because I pay attention to the wording of the things I read (and hear). Here are some things that drive me abso-bloomin-lutely-nutz, from the realms of horticulture, entomology, and the exciting intersection, er, catastrophic collision of science and marketing. Disclaimer: these are all my own unbiased opinions.

Some years ago, a student came in and said that she wanted a “carefree garden”, one that bloomed all the time and required virtually no care. I blinked a few times in disbelief and could only reply, “Plastic?”

There’s always good, clean dirt. Although a person can have fumigated soil or “sterile” seedling media (that’s nursery-sterile, not surgically sterile, meaning free of pests and pathogens), but dirt by definition is what gets tracked across the kitchen floor, lodged under your fingernails, or ground into the knees of your pants. “Detoxifying mud bath” should join that for all-around absurdity.

Then there’s trying to explain to my students Read the rest of this entry »

Remedial Learning Lessons

“Let me get this straight — the student is not doing well in class. They’re not able to learn the material from the way it’s taught. So your solution is to give them remedial learning lessons, to try teaching them how to learn the ‘right’ way. All this remedial learning process is getting the student and the parents and the teachers frustrated, and the student is getting further and further behind their peers academically.”

I keep hearing about how some teachers or therapists or ABA workers feel that they have to teach their autistic (or other) clients “how to learn” before they can teach them content. This is absurd! Every child knows how to learn, and automatically learns. Even incredibly simple organisms like wasps can learn without being taught “how to learn”.

What these people are really meaning is that their clients and students do not learn the “right” way, meaning the way that is expected of the student in narrowly-defined settings. They don’t learn or demonstrate their learning the same way as “all the other children”.

“But the child doesn’t even know how to sit at the work table!”

I rather doubt that the child does not know how to sit at a table. Rather, the issue is that the child does not understand the instruction (or the need for following it), or cannot remain at the table for very long. Being forced to sit at the work table may even have acquired a negative connotation that the child is trying to avoid.

So for example, how does such a problem get resolved in a secondary school setting? Read the rest of this entry »

False Dilemmas: How to Sell Pain

This post is a part of Blogging Against Aversives 1-14-08

When a business tries to sell a product or service that no one else has, they might be on the cutting edge of invention or they might have something that no one else wants to sell.

There is only one place in the United States where electrical shocks are doled out repeatedly throughout the day to residents (many of whom are school-age children) as a means of punishment. These two-second shocks are described as feeling like a bee sting, and people to whom this is prescribed must wear the equipment through their waking hours, so such stings to their torso or limbs are unavoidable. According to a recent article in Mother Jones:

Of the 234 current residents, about half are wired to receive shocks, including some as young as nine or ten. Nearly 60 percent come from New York, a quarter from Massachusetts, the rest from six other states and Washington, D.C. The Rotenberg Center, which has 900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, charges $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts pick up the tab.

The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Over its 36-year history, six children have died in its care, prompting numerous lawsuits and government investigations.

JRC is called a “special needs school” because the student-age residents sit at computers every day to do instructional programs. Many of the residents have a variety of psychiatric or learning difficulties, including autism, cognitive disabilities, ADHD, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia or other problems. No psychiatric medications are allowed, and counselling is minimal; whatever the sources of the resident’s problems, the treatment is the same.

The problem inherent in such a single-solution scheme is that it does not address the causes of the resident’s problems, just the inappropriate behavior that results from them. It’s no small wonder that even when people leave, the root problems are not solved, and they continue to have difficulties. Therapeutic approaches need to be individualised — what works for a child with depression and OCD is going to be different than what works for a student with Asperger’s and ADHD. Treatments cannot be designed by diagnostic labels (which are generally descriptive rather than prescriptive) but more by what their individual problems are, and how those problems developed.

The Rotenberg Center does not sell something cutting edge; pain aversives were first trialled in the 1960′s, but have not been used by anyone else, and has been considered to be not within “best practice” for years. Even by the 1980′s, Dr Skinner had an about-face on the use of aversives, and declared that they are not beneficial; although they may temporarily stop a problem behavior, they are not effective in the long term, and the recipient responds by escaping, attacking back, or sinking into the apathy of learned helplessness.

Centers like JRC that bill themselves as solutions for intractable children play upon parents’ fears, and describe problems in exaggerated terms. The premise — and promise — is based upon a giant false dilemma, that there are no other options, it’s the place of last resort, and it’s use their methods or else the child will simply go wild. Parents who have not previously found an effective solution are willing to hand their children over because they are desperate.

JRC is unique because they have cornered the market on a service that no one else wants to sell. That does not make it a good or a necessary thing. I find the whole concept utterly horrifying.

Other posts on JRC:

A Very Painful Problem Certainly, zapping someone with unavoidable, painful electrical stings on bare skin will stop them in their tracks. It stops the self-injury by that default. Punishment will stop people from doing something, at least while the threat of punishment still exists. But it doesn’t help us figure out why the person was hurting themself. It doesn’t teach them how to identify when they are stressed, and to learn different, effective, safe ways of dealing with those stresses. There are students who have been incarcerated at the Judge Rotenberg Center for years past their legal majority. That system does not provide them much in the way of tools to live successfully outside of the institutional environment. …

If hurting yourself is bad, and hurting others is bad, how is it then okay to use intensely painful aversives on someone? We don’t even use things like this in prisons. Why is it deemed “okay” by school districts and courts for children with learning disabilities and emotional problems to be subjected to this kind of treatment? People who injure themselves have a very painful set of problems. But we as a society have an even greater problem. Allowing such treatment to happen and continue is unconscionable.

I Didn’t Ask for That Situations like these really aren’t choices; given more than one option, they are dilemmas or predicaments between bad option and worse option or intolerable option. Some “option” indeed. Sometimes the situation is couched in the language of “choice”, but has nothing to do with the person choosing for their self.

The Crime of Punishment Aversives in the form or corporal punishment (such as the electroshock apparatus used at JRC) teach both the giver and the recipient that aggression and inflicting pain are acceptable and appropriate ways of responding to people when they don’t do what someone else wants them to do. Unfortunately, lots of people have learned this “lesson” all too well … Not only does punishment as behaviour modification set up and maintain coercive power systems, but it also distances teachers and others from their students, and puts them into antagonistic roles, rather than as partners in education (contrary to what many school districts’ mission statements assert).

Making Sense of Rules Being given absolute rules circumvents the learning process, and later when they need to adapt to novel situations, leaves the learner in the lurch, stranded without the knowledge of how to devise new strategies. They only have a limited number of tools in their social toolbox, and little knowledge of how to build new kinds of tools. If we go telling children what to do for their entire lives, then we shouldn’t wonder that they become young adults without the ability to think for themselves and to be responsible without someone monitoring their actions.

Being Unruly People who are heavily invested in punishment and reward systems, invested ego-wise, security-wise, and/or financially-wise (such as the JRC), will try to assert that not using the punishment and rewards to control behaviour will result in gross misbehaviour and chaos. This is a false dilemma; there are other ways of teaching our children.

ALDs in the Classroom

On my page about Auditory Processing Disorder, someone had enquired if using ALDs (Assistive Listening Devices) in the classroom would be helpful. Her daughter, like many students, did not want to be singled out by using them and perceived by her peers as being “weird”. I thought I would expand upon the response to include more information. Please note that these suggestions are slated more toward APD and general educational design suggestions, rather than toward ALD equipment for students with severe hearing loss.

Although ALDs do work to an extent, they may not be the best choice for some situations. We should also note that although schools focus on the deficiencies of the student’s hearing, listening comprehension, or attention, quite frequently some of the deficiencies are really in the design of the school classrooms. These make it more difficult for students with APD, ADHD, or hyperacussis, and they also make it more tiring for the instructors who must spend all day trying to talk over noisy environments, and for the other students. (More on this aspect in the latter part of this post.)

One type of ALD is an FM or infrared system that involves a microphone (for the teacher) and receiver headphones (for the student). Naturally this is highly visible, so not everyone wants to be singled out in this manner.

The microphone must be positioned correctly, so the speaker’s voice does not fade in and out of range (you may have experienced this yourself when sitting in presentations or conferences). Of course, both pieces of the equipment needs to have fresh batteries and be in good repair, or it’s useless.

Sometimes microphones with speakers are recommended for teachers so they can broadcast better to the students in the back of the room. Usually the speakers are not high quality, and such systems just add to the amount of noise, rather than improving the clarity of communication!

Because the microphone is used by the primary speaker, it presents problems if anyone else in the classroom speaks. Either the mike is passed around when there are group discussions or questions, or the listener does not get comments and queries by the other students in the room. The latter not only removes a layer of information, but can also lead to reduce social inclusiveness because the person with the headphones loses the small commentaries that may not be part of the formal instruction, but are part of the socialisation and informal culture of the classroom. Even if the microphone does get passed around, the other students’ lack of familiarity with holding the mike where it can pick up their voices and the considerable junk-noise of passing the microphone do not improve the listening experience.

I will say that there are special situations when an ALD such as this would be especially good, such as when the teacher is doing instruction during a bus ride, in noisy places like zoos, factory tours, science museums and so on. It should also be made clear (and probably reminded) to the teacher that PA announcements are often unintelligible to people with APD (or hearing loss) — this means that messages will need to be passed on, and the teacher should not rely on the student being able to follow those announcements, except where they are simply following the herd of students. (I’ve had my family page me at airports and other places, and I not only couldn’t understand the page, I couldn’t even tell that I was the one being paged!)

There are alternatives to using an ALD, which should be considered and probably tried before deciding to use the ALD.

Students with APD should get “preferential seating”, which is often used for ADHD students as well. This means sitting near the teacher and/or instruction board or instruction area. The point is to reduce the amount of space and distractions between the student and the source of information. This is especially helpful if the student does some lip-reading (not everyone with APD is even aware they do this).

The teacher should be careful to not address the students when writing on the board. (Unfortunately, most teachers start out very conscientious, and then after a few days revert back to their old habits.) The student will have to get in the habit of asking, “What was that?” or “Can you repeat that?” or may have to advocate after the fact. Meaning, when everyone has started on the work, raising her hand, and then when the teacher comes by to talk with her, point out that the teacher was talking to the board (again) and she couldn’t understand everything. She could also have a special hand-signal to make when the teacher turns back around from the board, to alert the teacher of the missed communication.

Have the instructor turn on captions to broadcast media — these are good for the ESL students, and they help the other students catch the terms and spelling of details they need from the program. It’s best for the teacher to not point out that they are turning on the captions for your daughter specifically — just turn them on, and if anyone asks, simply explain that they are on so everyone can more easily understand the dialog. That’s the truth; there’s no one need for one person to be singled out.

As I referred to earlier, the classroom design can aggravate APD and ADHD difficulties. Not all of the problem should be set at the feet of the student!

“Noise” is composed of a number of factors. Most people just think of the volume (measured in decibels). But there is also the complexity factor — it’s hard to focus on one sound source when there are other sound sources going on at the same time. There is also the noise-to-signal-ratio factor where clarity is important, and clarity can be lost from not just background noise, but also echoes, unclear speech, and poor transmission equipment (fuzzy speakers, tinny receivers and so on).

ALDs are often recommended because the student (or employee) is having trouble hearing or understanding because the room is atmospherically noisy. This is in large part due to bad environmental design — too many hard surfaces, noisy HVAC (air conditioners, radiators, fans), various kinds of equipment, lots of voices at once and so on. Please note that “noisy equipment” does not mean it has to be loud by OSHA standards — students who are distractible and/or have APD problems and/or hyperacussis will find the noise levels in an average classroom to be more of a problem than many of their peers. (This also applies to many students with autism.)

Things like area rugs, draperies and acoustic tiles (or new, much more effective acoustic tiles) will help muffle a lot of the echo and reverberation. Turning off equipment when it’s not being used helps more than people realise, and is also important to save energy. If there are times when multiple instruction is going on (for example, an aide helping a few students) then setting up an area with a couple of those portable, upholstered cubicle-type dividers will help not only your student, but also be more effective for the aide and the other students. It’s always easier to “sell” an idea when the benefits to numbers of people are described.

I don’t believe that students with ADHD or APD should not even be in settings with the “open classroom” design that was in vogue some decades ago, as having several different classes and multiple instructions and larger numbers of students milling around is just too much to deal with effectively. Schools that have tried to retrofit open classroom areas into individual classrooms often end up with inadequate materials (due to budgetary issues). Unfortunately, merely pulling a folding divider wall between two rooms does not adequately damp all the noise that seeps through. A suspended (common) ceiling that is sometimes added along with the partitions does not effectively mute sound, but rather serves to transmit the sounds from one room to the next.

Likewise, rows of file cabinets are also poor excuses for walls between “rooms” in libraries or other resource rooms. It’s hard for adults to work in such environments, so I don’t know why we expect that children should find it easy. Furthermore, pretending that experiencing classes in such poorly-divided greatrooms is good practice for working in “cubicle farms” is nothing more than piss-poor rationalisation, what Alfie Kohn refers to as “getting hit on the head lessons” (justifying bad educational practices as preparation for more of the same).

Sadly, there are a great many districts that are suffering from insufficient classroom space. Teachers and students end up in a variety of locations that were never meant to be classrooms, and have had only minimal modifications, usually hanging up a whiteboard and cramming in some desks and chairs. In addition to features like thin, hollow “temporary” walls that have been there for years, odd room shapes or cramped conditions (including putting the board on a free wall rather than one that works with the traffic flow or desk orientation), and ventilation quirks we often find that these ad hoc classrooms are poorly placed with respect to other functions of the school.

Usually school architects try to create noise-buffer zones between the classrooms and the other functional areas of the school, such as the gymnasium, lunch room, kitchen, power plant, or specialty classrooms such as shop (wood/metal/engine working) or band instruction. These desperation classrooms are stuck in all sorts of bad locations, even in part of the custodian’s storage area. I remember having my Government class in a tiny room set in the back hallway by the gymnasium (it was probably once the coaches’ office), and the students reached the room by virtue of going through the boys’ or girls’ locker room. We spent the entire time assaulted by the locker room and pool chlorine smells, and the instructor had to talk over the noise from the adjoining gymnasium and natatorium.

Many older school buildings were designed in eras when passive lighting and ventilation were more commonplace. These frequently have high ceilings hung with banks of fluorescent lights and tall windows that are usually shaded by metal blinds. Those high ceilings and the hard surfaces combine to accentuate the noise echo and reverberation, and the banks of fluorescent lights are often noisy in their own regard. Because the fans are beneath the windows, the air flow will create ripples and rattles in the blinds, even when teachers try to pin down the bottoms of the blinds with stacks of extra textbooks. These are the sorts of rooms where general amplification speakers are especially un-helpful.

In summary, Assistive Listening Devices are helpful for reducing some of the noise-to-signal ratio.  However, they cannot substitute for effective interpersonal communication skills, and can only mediate some kinds of environmental noise problems.  They are not an easy fix to the problems faced by a student with APD.  As I have mentioned before, our various assistive devices do not remove our cure our problems, but rather, are part of the system of coping methods.

Quieting the Noisy Silence

A recent news item on the BBC describes current research into treatments for tinnitus. For those of you without this unwelcome companion, tinnitus is a perceived but non-existent whistling, whining, buzzing, whooshing, squealing, or similar noise. It may be intermittent or constant. For many people it is downright annoying, but for some this perceptual problem is debilitating.

There is no cure for tinnitus, despite a plethora of nonsense being hawked on the Web. (Even treatments such as Auditory Integration Therapy don’t actually hold up well under controlled studies.) My tinnitus is a 14-17 kHz whine, like high-pitched piece of electronics or the whining of a particularly shrill radiator. Like other people with tinnitus, I had to learn to get habituated to the sound and try to ignore it, or will frequently mask the annoyance with fans or other forms of “white noise”, or with music.

One of the hidden problems is that the noise can interfere with listening to real sounds, and that because no one else experiences it, they don’t understand how utterly DAMN ANNOYING that constant, freaking unending whistle is! Worse, just when you are most tired and stressed and need rest, it is the most troubling, because there are fewer distractions when you are trying to get to sleep. The fact that the piercing noise is entirely subjective doesn’t help either; no one else thinks that someone should be bothered by something imaginary.

But although the sound is not real, the problems resulting from having a constant squeal either right next to, or inside your head, are quite real.

But for Kate Cook, a busy working mother of two and presenter of the documentary Longing for Silence, the effects of the condition are debilitating.
She has had a high pitched whistle inside her head for 25 years and the impact on her life is huge. It never goes away and when she is tired or stressed the volume swells to unbearable levels.
“After a long day you have got this incredible noise inside you. A whistling, squeaking, almost physical sensation in your ears. That is when you feel really really lonely. And because it is a silent symptom to everyone around you, there is this hopeless feeling of being on my own with it,” says Kate.

The article describes a few trials with magnetic or electrical stimulation, or even a transient relief from lidocaine anæsthetic. As hopeful as these may be, I still want to see data from larger numbers of patients. The testimonials of a few are even less useful here than they are for other kinds of treatment trials, because tinnitus is largely a subjective phenomenon, and thus the potential for placebo effects are greater.

You might well ask, what does it matter if it’s a placebo or real if the problem is gone? Because rarely does any kind of treatment, be it pharmaceutical or surgical, come without associated risks. I want to know that the likely results outweigh the likely risks. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but because I don’t believe in luck or magic, I want information with a level of reliability.

Not only that, any experimental treatment is expensive. I could not afford it, and insurance companies sure aren’t going to spiff for something unless they think it’s worth it. Unfortunately, I suspect that even a proven treatment for an “imaginary” problem would be dismissed by those hard-assed corporations with their eyes on the almight profit margin. Tinnitus is not a medical emergency, it’s just a bloody quality of life issue.

Hell, after all, who needs peace and quiet?

Both Sides Now

I hate hearing about “both sides” in news pieces. It’s not that I don’t want to hear what people have to say; rather, my complaint is with the whole idea of “presenting both sides”.

I should note that I’ve been a freelance writer for various local and national publications. So let me explain a bit about what the press does before I explain the reasons for my statement.

Journalists and reporters are encouraged to find stories that fill a number of requirements; depending upon their editors’ preferences, they may be looking for background to current events, introducing new discoveries, showing the personal sides to big events, exposing wrongdoing, educating the public, describing controversy, or providing inspiration. (I find it somewhat disheartening that the press is so slanted toward “stories” rather than “news”. I think this reflects a lot of the emphasis on warm-fuzzy human interest elements at the expense of focusing on actual information. Maybe I’m just a jaded scientist, but I like more details and verified facts in my news.) Of course, most news items stories combine several of these aspects.

There are a variety of different kinds of journalists and reporters. Some journalists have large amounts of specialised background in particular fields that they use to understand, put into context, and interpret the news, which enables them to know how to sift through information, evaluate it and present it in a manner that is intelligible to people who aren’t as well-versed.

In contrast, many live media reporters tend to have more background in the presentation of the news, and frequently have to reduce an hour or more of recording down to just a few minutes of “sound bites” arranged in the popular three part news-program format of: When we return, we’ll tell you this amazing news; Here I am telling you this amazing news; and My co-anchor just told you this amazing news.

Okay, you were probably aware of most of that. But to get those Controversies! and New Discoveries! and Inspiring Personal Stories! and Expose Wrongdoings! (excuse me, Expose Alleged Wrongdoings!), they frequently follow the dictate of getting quotes and information from both sides. Of course, sources who can deliver “sexy” sound-bites are especially preferred by live media reporters.

So what’s wrong with presenting both sides? We want balanced reporting, right? Read the rest of this entry »

One of Those Days

Last night I heard one of the cats gacking but haven’t found the mess yet.

I removed the ornaments a few days ago, but the tree is still up.

Is it too late to send Christmas cards?

I keep forgetting to schedule a haircut.

I dropped a Pyrex dish full of green beans and it shattered all over the floor.

Two messy pans and nine ruined crêpes later, I gave up and left the family to eat the ham with Swiss cheese sauce on toast-or-whatever. How come alla sudden I can’t cook crêpes?

Dishwasher still needs to be repaired.

I also need to finish painting the hallway.

I went to go soak my infected toe and achy joints in a hot bath and realised that the tub needs caulking all over again.

Tomorrow I will wear the suede loafers that don’t need polishing and the slacks that don’t need hemming. We will pretend the shirt doesn’t have a bleach splotch on the cuff.

I sure hope a button doesn’t fall off my shirt a second time this week.

I really hope the undiscovered cat gack isn’t in one of those loafers.

Some days the best thing to do is to put the Good Fight on hold and go to bed.   The world will still be there when I lurch back out of bed tomorrow.

Cultivate Your Inner Mantis

Every parent of a child with special needs has had Very Bad Days. Hell, every partner, sibling, good friend, and housemate has had those days. But there’s something especially protective about the way parents are on behalf of their children (blood relations or not; there’s more to parenting than DNA). Maddy just had one of Those Very Bad Days. This post is dedicated to her, and to everyone else who has been such situations. You don’t mess with mama bears. Or any species of protective parents. Even if we parents are stunned by the utter meanness, stupidity, lack of consideration, or bureaucratic idiocy, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have those flashes of utter savagery flick through our hearts.

The difference being that usually we think before we speak. Or, that we suffer badly from l’Esprit de l’escalier and the appropriately witty or remonstrative remark doesn’t occur until the moment has long passed. Or, all we can do is stand there and sputter.

So here is Mildred the Mantid. She was mother to more than I could count and an amazing hunter with ninja-like reflexes and deadly skills. And before you make any comments, the whole story about female praying mantids biting the heads off their mates is somewhat apocryphal, and quite likely an artifact of being stuck in a small laboratory cage with nowhere to dash off.

However, having watched Mildred dispatch a number of dinners, I can tell you that she would start her meals by first biting off the head of her victim, quickly and neatly dispatching whatever had wandered too close. Brains are relatively fatty, so are good calories in a world of lean, crunchy critters. Then she would leisurely rip off the wings, because there’s no good eatin’ in insect wings. Ditto the ends of the legs. And when finished, she would daintily begin to groom herself, much in the same manner that a cat does, brushing off her antennae, and nibbling down each of her six limbs from the thorax all the way down to the tarsi. Then she would flick her wings back into a comfortable position, and compose herself to waiting there quietly, all over again. Even when she was “very preggers”, all large and ungainly from being egg-heavy (photo on right) Mildred was a predatory force to be reckoned with.

Don’t Mess With Mom.

Don’t go saying dumb-ass, idiotic, rude, uncaring, insensitive, presumptive, judgmental things about our children …

… because then we have the lovely image of the fabulously wicked female mantis, who after sitting perched in her pose of Absolutely Shocked bug-eyed stillness, will — in a flash — reach out with her raptorial forelegs to grab the intruder and BITE THE HEAD OFF.

There. Much better now.

 

Mystery Jam and Other Achievements

I lost a label. I don’t mean the sticky label missing from the jar of “mystery jam” in my pantry (the goo is yellow, so I’m pretty sure it’s last summer’s ginger-pear jam), but rather a diagnostic label. For many parents, one of the highlights or milestones in life is for their child to “lose the label”.

Once-upon-a-time the getting that label (or labels) was highly important, so everyone knew what the problem was (well, sorta) and so the child could get some kind of educational or therapeutic services. Getting the label was oft times a relief because it meant that Someone Official had recognised that the child’s problems were not due to bad parenting, moral failure, or general laziness on the child’s part. Usually parents suspected something was “off” for quite a while, so having that validated is a bit of a relief.

Of course, then once the suspicions are confirmed, there are often new kinds of feelings while adjusting to the new daily reality. Frequently there are skirmishes with school districts or other bureaucracies. Sometimes there’s a bit of a grieving process for not having the perfect little darlings imagined during pregnancy. Some families have issues with relatives not understanding, accepting or even “believing in” whatever problem with the child is dealing with. Nasty episodes can erupt in extended families if one of the parents is accused of “causing” the problem or bringing “bad blood” to the lineage.

And of course, a number of parents eventually realise that the child’s issues are echoes of some of their own issues. Going through these things is very complex, sometimes stressful, and often enlightening. Having a child with a disability does not automatically tear a family apart or make the siblings resentful; depending upon how the parents respond to the issues and to each other, it can strengthen the family members’ ties to each other, and lead people to be more compassionate and less judgmental.

So losing the label can mean that the family has (finally!) managed to get beyond a lot of those stresses. Or so it seems.

But what does it really mean to “lose the label”? It can mean a number of things. Read the rest of this entry »

No wait, it’s not mercury, it’s — lead!

A four-year old autistic boy, Noah Breakiron, is in the news for being cured of lead poisoning.

“We have a child here who is virtually indistinguishable from his peers and that’s certainly not what he was a year or two years ago,” added Pediatrician David Berger, MD.

The article also says,

Because the symptoms of autism and lead poisoning are so similar, Noah’s parents say they will never know which one came first, autism or lead poisoning.

Huh? A child might possibly have both autism and lead poisoning, but they are not the same, nor are the symptoms similar. Let’s review a list of possible symptoms of autism, as described on the Mayo Clinic page (not all autistic children will exhibit all these traits): Read the rest of this entry »

Bread and Circuses

Just a couple of quickies here while I’m busy preparing for some new classes.

Firstly, the 77th edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is up at WhiteCoat Underground, with a rather humorous post by PalMD, “The Overmedicalized Edition“. I love reading these circus posts because it’s a good way to find great new blogs!

Secondly, there’s the “December Pain-Blog Carnival” at the How to Cope With Pain blog, also run by a physician blogger.

And for the “bread” part of this post, here’s a recipe that was a big hit last week, home-made waffles! Yes, it’s a bit more work than buying the frozen sort and throwing them into the toaster, but I guarantee that these tasted a helluva lot better than the frozen sort. The guys couldn’t even tell they were gluten-free, THAT’S how good they were! (All the frozen GF waffles I’ve ever tried were as dry as Styrofoam.)

Because I’m an ADHD-forgetful sort of cook and clumsy and somewhat arthritic, this recipe comes with assorted tips, including some in case you’re not used to making home-made waffles. Read through directions for tips before cooking.

WONDERFUL WAFFLES (GLUTEN-FREE)

Special equipment: waffle iron, mixer to whip egg whites, and if you have one, a blender and a towel. If you don’t have a blender you can use the mixer, BUT beat the egg whites before mixing the other ingredients, so the beaters are clean and dry for the whites.

  1. Inspect the mixer and blender to ensure nothing has fallen into the bowl or pitcher, that the bottom is securely screwed onto the blender pitcher, and that you have the lid to the blender.
  2. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before you start cracking:
  3. 4 large eggs, separated
    1 ½ cups milk (360 ml)
    ¼ cup oil (60 ml)
    1 1/2 cups GF flour mix (about 150 g, depending upon blend)
    5 teaspoons baking powder (25 ml)
    1 tablespoon sugar (15 ml)
    1/2 teaspoon salt (2 ml)

  4. Find the no-stick spray to use on the waffle-iron plates, even if it’s supposed to be a “no-stick” surface. If you don’t have no-stick spray, pour a little vegetable oil into a drinking glass, and use a clean 1.5″ (4 cm) wide natural bristle or heat-resistant barbecuing brush, as synthetic bristles may melt or scrunch up — YCIHIKT (You Can Imagine How I Know That). I put the oil into a drinking glass so I can stand the brush upright in the glass, rather than having it constantly fall off the edge of the wee bowl of oil, thus making another mess for me to clean off the counter.
  5. Clear some space on the kitchen counter, and plug in the waffle iron for it to heat up while you’re doing the mixing. The plates should be shut while it’s heating, for safety and efficiency.
  6. Crack 4 eggs, separating them into yolks and whites. The yolks go into the blender, and the whites go into the mixer bowl. Fresher eggs have “bouncier” yolks and separate more easily (just so you know; it’s not like you’re really going to have both fresher eggs and older eggs sitting around). Eggs will crack in half more easily and neatly if you knock them on a sharp, thin edge (table knife) than a wide, blunt edge (rimmed bowl). TIP: if this is an iffy task for you, then crack each egg over a small (separate) bowl so you can fish out the bits of shell before adding to the other yolks and whites. There are also egg-separater gizmos one can purchase — get one that you do not have to hold onto to use.
  7. Use the mixer to whip egg whites to soft peaks. I like my KitchenAid stand-mixer because it can do its own thing without me holding the mixer up in the air (vibration is hard on my joints). Yes, the beast cost more, but it has outlasted three hand-mixers, and it kneads dough, too! It’s worth buying something like this because it enables more cookery.
  8. Use blender to mix the milk, oil, egg yolks, and dry ingredients. If you put the wet ingredients into the blender before the dry ingredients, the batter is less likely to end lumpy. I still have to stop and scrape powder off the top edges once during the blending, but that’s pretty minor. TIP: to reduce the awful blender racket, put a folded towel between the blender bottom and the countertop; this reduces the cabinet-as-acoustic-chamber for the motor vibration.
  9. [Remove the mixer bowl from the stand.] Pour batter from the blender down the side of the mixer bowl so it slides underneath the egg whites. Tilt the bowl to a comfortable angle, and use a rubber spatula or spoon to fold the ingredients together. “Fold” means to stir the ingredients together slowly and gently in vertical circles; the batter will have the consistency of almost-melted ice cream.
  10. Spray both plates of the waffle iron with no-stick spray just before pouring in the batter. Re-spray before cooking each waffle. Even if your waffle iron is so miraculously non-stick that you didn’t need to do this for traditional waffles, you will need to do it for GF waffles; YCIHIKT.
  11. This is enough batter to make several waffles. Pour in just enough batter to fill the bottom plate, and then wait several seconds for bubbles to start forming before closing down the top plate. This allows the batter to partially “set” so you won’t have a bunch of goo oozing off the edges that will have to be scraped off later on; YCIHIKT.
  12. Bake until the signal light shuts off (if your iron has one) or until the waffles are appropriately crispy. TIP: our family likes to warm up the syrup(s) so the waffles don’t cool as fast while we’re eating them.

You can also sprinkle some cinnamon into the waffle batter, which is nice if you are topping them with apple stuff. Some people like to add a teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla extract; I keep forgetting to do this. I’ve also tried almond extract, which made the waffles taste like holiday cookies, but hubby prefered traditional waffles.

TIP: if you want to add blueberries to your batter, use either fresh ones or still-frozen berries — thawed blueberries will “bleed” and turn the batter a pale teal-green color; YCIHIKT. They still taste good, but …

It’s Not Just Me

“It’s not just me.”

I always feel ambivalent saying that. It’s part, “I’m not nuts or just being whiney, it’s real,” and part “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.”

Recent stories on BBC News describe how fluorescent light bulbs are not just good for saving energy — they can also be problematic for some people. The lighting can worsen skin rashes in people with photosensitive conditions, including, “the auto-immune disease lupus, the genetic disorder Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), certain forms of eczema and dermatitis, photosensitivity, and porphyria”

It has been estimated about 100,000 people in the UK with these skin conditions will be affected.

ME (Myalgic encephalomyelitis, AKA Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) was also mentioned.

Dr Colin Holden, President of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “It is important that patients with photosensitive skin eruptions are allowed to use lights that don’t exacerbate their condition.”

The bulbs were also mentioned as potential triggers for migraines or epilepsy.

However, Karen Manning, from the Migraine Action Association, said this could be damaging to some sufferers.
She said that up to six million people in the UK suffer from some sort of migraine attack.
“These bulbs do trigger migraines for some of our members – it’s either the flickering, or the low intensity of the light, causing eye strain.

Some people with AD/HD or autism also complain about similar problems with fluorescent lighting.

Currently there is a plan in the UK to voluntarily phase out incandescent bulbs by 2011, as part of the effort to reduce overall CO2 emissions.  This is important as part of the world-wide effort to reduce global warming; the US could stand to be more proactive.

But we need to remember the important tenant of Universal Design:  there is no one perfect solution for everyone.  Employers, schools and other organisations will need to be able to have options for people, as indicated by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) and similar rulings.  Hopefully advances in LED lighting or other new technologies will result in other products that work well for various purposes.

I Will (not) Overcome

I’m not dissing a great protest song. I am however, getting really tired of the whole “overcoming one’s disability” cliché. For someone who does spend a lot of effort dealing with issues, that may sound odd. Why don’t I want to “overcome” my problems?

To overcome one’s disability does not just means to succeed in doing things in life that are personally difficult. It also carries the social and verbal subcontexts that one has not only succeeded, but also Read the rest of this entry »

Resolved

I want to find a local coffeehouse / restaurant / pub that is quiet, damnit! Not whisper-quiet, simply quiet enough where my hubby and I can talk and both hear and understand each other.

I want to find a place that does not employ the latest design conceits of noise magnification: “Hey I know! Let’s eliminating the ceiling tiles to show off the HVAC ductwork. Let’s add lots of sheet metal and concrete floors and other hard surfaces. Let’s have the kitchen open to the dining area, so they can hear the staff yelling at each other, and doing all that food preparation. Let’s eliminate any room dividers, and skip curtains on the windows. Let’s put on loud background music or several televisions — maybe even both!”

It’s one set of issues for me to feel overwhelmed by overly-sociable waiters who want to play “best buds”, or to flinch at the inevitable crash of the broken glass du jour, or pick through menus that are dietary land-mines, but it’s quite another when the two of us have to spend the evening recursively repeating, rephrasing, lipreading and periodically abandoning lines of discussion just because it’s too f—ing loud! (Pardon the cussing; been watching Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant shows.)

Does the general public really think that the background has to be loud for them to have fun? When even the ordinary people can hardly converse without yelling at each other, that means the noise level is too much.

Please. We would be glad to spend our rare dining-out money on a nice cozy place where we can enjoy our food and chat with each other. Good heavens, we might be persuaded to linger long enough to bother ordering a bottle of wine, or some desserts and coffee. We would even want to come back — with our friends.

(Oh, and while you’re at it, could you install some hooks somewhere so I can hang up my hat instead of balancing it on my knee all through dinner?)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 371 other followers