Piques and Valleys

So, I’ve been rather absent from bloggery lately due to spending evenings sorting through vast boxes of paper archives, moving books, applying for jobs to keep a roof over our heads, or attempting to sleep off this virus. I now have removed a cubic meter of paperness from our house, and transferred a few hundred books from one room to another. I still have the virus (or maybe a second one, as our students have not the best hygiene), but not the second job.

(Now, if anyone is looking for an experienced secondary or college tutor or after-school care for special-needs children, let me know via andreasbuzzing care of my gmail account.)

But aside from all that, there have been some thought-provoking ups and downs in the news that I don’t want to let pass before they become “olds”:

In an brief article in the New York Times, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied some 11,000 third-grade students, and found that recess helps improve behavioral problems, and that many children don’t get enough recess. We would all expect this to be in the category of “no shit!” news, but we also know that such assumptions don’t officially exist until someone has done a decent study proving such. So there you are: give your students recess before we all go Nutz, and don’t deprive them of recess as a punishment!

Moving right along … as reported in the Orange County Register, Connie Kasari, an educational psychologist at UCLA discovered that six weeks of social skills training with autistic children does not help tremendously, but that what does help is … (get this) … teaching their typical peers how to be good friends. Basically, one cannot heap the onus of the social adaptation upon the autistic child, because they do not socialise in a vaccuum. Gee, imagine that!

On the other hand, I observed from a flashy piece on CNN.com, that if you call education “therapy”, then you can charge as much as $20,000 a week. Also, if you package a promotional piece as an amazing and heart-wrenching news story, you can get lots of high-exposure press. ($20,000 a week! Wow, that’s more than I make in a year; I must be doing something wrong.)

Totally unrelated to the realm of special education is this from the UK.  The notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church aims to picket at a production of The Laramie Project being done in Hampshire.  The Telegraph chose to offer paper pulp space for Shirley Phelps-Roper, who went on for a number of paragraphs in this vein:

But your goofy queen and her adulterous whore of a son – YIKES put their hand and you all put your hands to mischief at every turn.

The antichrist is sitting now, in the Whitehouse, the time is SO SHORT – the Lord is coming and this generation is DOOMED!

Fortunately the BBC reassures us that the UK Border Agency isn’t letting members of the WBC into the country.

“Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour by inciting hatred against a number of communities.

“We will continue to stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.

“The exclusions policy is targeted at all those who seek to stir up tension and provoke others to violence regardless of their origins and beliefs.”

I would like to extend my apologies as an American to the entire United Kingdom:  I’m sorry our country manages to produce such bilious twits, and thank you for helping hold up the front against extremists.

Speaking of the BBC, apparently there are some parents who just can’t deal with the idea that a children’s show host only has one hand:

Nine official complaints have so far been lodged with the BBC – plus many more blog postings – about 29-year-old children’s television presenter Cerrie Burnell, who was born with only one hand. Parents have complained that they cannot let their children watch her because the sight will “possibly cause sleep problems”, that she is scaring toddlers, and that they are being forced to discuss the issue of disability with their offspring before they are ready.

I’m not familiar with the show(s) being referred to as we watch the BBC programmes for adults.  But to be honest, even after glancing over the photograph, I had to read the text of the story to find out just what the foofaraw was about, because a one-handed person is just not that bizarre.  (Uncommon, yes.  Bizarre, no.  Easier for the faceblind person to identify, very much so.)  As editorialist Lucy Mangan points out, it’s not the children who are having problems, it’s the parents.

Young children are not inherently scared of disability and difference, merely curious.  Furthermore, providing simple explanations is all that’s necessary, because for small children, everything in the world is novel.  Novel, and more often than not, interesting instead of scary … just ask Dave Hingsburger.

So in the end, what’s the point to all these stories?  That there are foolish, mean-hearted people everywhere, and we needn’t give in to them.  And that children need to play, and to be taught how to be good friends with each other.  Epecially so they grow up to be adults who know how to be friends with each other.

buzzing off to tend to her own beeswax



  1. diddums said,

    27 February 2009 at 15:29

    I remember thinking (as a child) that what made me very uncomfortable sometimes (when watching news of violence or whatever) was the feeling that I was being watched anxiously for my reactions. It would still be a hard thing to watch, but being watched by others in turn was embarrassing.

  2. 27 February 2009 at 10:01

    “Just goes to show, it really isn’t the kids who have a problem with disability.”

    Indeed. Those attitudes are learned, which makes them a societal abd cultural issue.

  3. Ettina said,

    26 February 2009 at 22:17

    I remember one time I was colouring in pictures with a group of children in a ‘kids’ play area’ in a public place and one parents started telling us not to stare at her son’s missing hand, he didn’t like people noticing it, etc, etc, etc, and the weird thing was that I hadn’t even noticed that kid had only one hand! I got the feeling that if she’d just stop worrying so much about it, her son would be just fine. Just goes to show, it really isn’t the kids who have a problem with disability.

  4. Meep said,

    25 February 2009 at 14:34

    How about not forcing all children to behave in the same way during recess? I actually tried to get my recess taken away because that meant I could read (I have no idea why reading was considered punishment) instead of being forced into a softball game or hopscotch with the other kids. I know many other autistic people that found ways to end up in a classroom or the library to avoid the extreme sensory stress of the playground. Recess should allow some flexibility to allow each child to decompress in their own way.

  5. Beth Nixon said,

    25 February 2009 at 14:20

    Oh, so true about the missing arm! A friend of my parents lost his arm. He has an artificial arm he wears at times. Of course my kids (age 4 and 5 at the time) noticed his arm.

    They asked.

    I said he had an accident as a young man and lost the arm.

    They had no problems asking him about it. And as he lost it over 50 years ago, he was very comfortable answering questions.

    And . . . that was the end of it. He’s just Mr. Jim who is married to Mrs. Shirley who has a cool stuffed chicken that sings. They haven’t given it another thought.

    Also teaching the other kids to be part of a social situation . . . that strikes a chord with me. Thanks.

  6. 25 February 2009 at 13:10

    People who’ve seen me post here before may recall that I’m not Autistic. But, grew up as a very shy girl. I’m not quite so shy as I was, but I still struggle with this silly “small talk” stuff, maybe just because I rarely had access to “small talk” as a deaf girl growing up (It is rare enough for hearing people to even summarize, much less transmit the full details of, substantive conversation to the deaf person in their midst. The transmission of “small talk” is always far rarer.)

    I remember doing role plays with my Mom to learn social skills as a shy girl. And I did find it helpful. And I also found it helpful when she gently but firmly encouraged me to overcome my reticience to talk to other people.

    But I also remember wishing that OTHER people could be taught how to interact with a classmate who happened to be shy. Why should it have to be me doing all the hard work of learning to overcome my social awkwardness? Why couldn’t others take a little more initiative sometimes?

    I still sometimes wish that others would be a little more tuned in to when someone around them might be shy, or just clumsy with this “small talk” stuff (even if not necessarily Autistic per se) and take the initiative in approaching me. Often, for me, the hardest part is just jumping in to start a conversation, or joining a conversation already in progress, and it can help so much if someone else eases that process for me.

    It has always frustrated me that the one and only solution people think of when they see a shy child is to work with the child to be more socially adroit. On one hand, I do think based on my own experience that a certain amount of social training CAN help, for at least some children–if you’re shy, not Autistic. (It makes sense to me that social training would only go so far for an Autistic person.) But for some people, shyness is innate: it doesn’t always go away entirely just with social training alone. To some extent, socialization will probably always take more work for me than it does for other people just because I have to overcome more in order to do it, and I don’t see why others couldn’t occasionally help meet me half way.

    It also could have helped if peers could have, at the very least, been taught more about what shyness actually means and been taught to respect that people can have dramatically different levels of comfort or skill with socialization, even in the absence of Autism or other issues. I have had people reject me in the past when they thought I was “weird” or “aloof” for not socializing to the same degree as they did. They would not really understand or believe me when I tried to explain that I wasn’t deliberately snubbing anyone, it was just that I was shy and it was very hard for me to overcome that. I guess for them, “shyness” was not something that was real, or perhaps they thought “shyness” was just a code word for wanting to be rude (in the way that some people mistakenly think “Autistic” is also “an excuse for being rude”)

    It doesn’t surprise me that Autistic kids benefit more when their peers are taught how to socialize with them. I’m just hoping they catch on eventually that shy kids could benefit from some peer training also.

  7. yanub said,

    25 February 2009 at 8:32

    I’m glad someone finally did the necessary research on recess to investigate the consequences of depriving children of recess. And I’m not surprised at the results, either. Maybe we can turn the tide in our schools by insisting on recess, good libraries, music and art. And some school time devoted to social skills!

    Good luck finding a second job, or, better, a full time job that works with your life.

  8. 25 February 2009 at 4:25

    “Connie Kasari, an educational psychologist at UCLA discovered that six weeks of social skills training with autistic children does not help tremendously, but that what does help is … (get this) … teaching their typical peers how to be good friends. Basically, one cannot heap the onus of the social adaptation upon the autistic child, because they do not socialise in a vaccuum. Gee, imagine that!”

    Indeed. We’re hoping to try to introduce this approach at my daughter’s school … it’s really a bit of ‘Dah!’-research because (at least) I would have thought that it was obvious that -as you say – people do not socialise in vacuo.

    “On the other hand, I observed from a flashy piece on CNN.com, that if you call education “therapy”, then you can charge as much as $20,000 a week.”

    Shit! Why aren’t I doing that???

    Oh.. I know… I have a conscience!

    Q- what’s the difference between a psychotherapist and a counsellor?

    A- about 70% of your possible income if you aren’t a psychotherapist.


    vitutus jatkuu.

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