Variability does matter, but is it attainable?

Author’s Note:  This blog evolved from an interpretation that my son had with a question I presented to him, to a revelation that I had regarding his answer, to being a post on Facebook, to being expanded and posted on a discussion board for my graduate class where I had to read The Future is in the Margins: The Roll of Technology and Disability in Education Reform (short version) by Rose and Meyer. 

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(Image found at www.opencolleges.edu.au )

I have always had problems with the “one size fits all” idea of education.  As Rose and Meyer pointed out in The Future is in the Margins: The Roll of Technology and Disability in Education Reform (short version), “New technologies for studying the brain are yielding an increasingly more accurate articulation of the concept of learning—revealing not one generalized learning capacity, but many different “modules” and “distributed processes” for learning within the same brain. Further, it is becoming clear that individual brains differ from each other not in a general ability (like IQ) but in many different kinds of specific abilities.”

Everyone has their own way of learning and everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes people are similar in the way they learn and other times people have very different learning styles.  The “one size fits all” approach might make things easier for the teacher to present material, but it does not work when it comes to reaching all students.  I have had to start this year homeschooling my son while I am still working as a teacher.  My son is in seventh grader and is considered gifted, but only in Reading and Math.  Due to him being gifted, his learning disability has been often overlooked by his teachers who have 29 other students to worry about. His learning issues have never been addressed even though it was in his IEP.  He has a learning disability in writing and has developed a very big fear of Language Arts.  He has also been diagnosed with Autism, so he sees the world differently and can think in ways and find solutions where many others may not.  I am also autistic, but Autism is on a spectrum and everyone is unique no matter what their neurology is. 

My son is also my student and he has given me permission to tell an interesting interpretation that he made about one of the questions on his worksheet he completed today. Since one of son’s passions is Ancient Greek mythology, I have been focusing his geography and history lessons on Greece. One of the questions on a worksheet I created asks to describe where Greece is located with a hint that North, South, East, and West should be used in the description. Basically, I would expect an answer like this, “Greece is north of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Turkey, east of Italy, and south of Bulgaria”. My son interpreted the question as meaning to write down the latitude and longitude coordinates of Greece.

I use this same worksheet with my “Meet the Greeks and Romans, too!” class that I teach and I have never had a student write down latitude and longitude coordinates as an answer. I thought his response showed his prior knowledge and uniqueness of his thinking processes. When my son thinks of the compass rose, he thinks of latitude and longitude. When he thinks of a map, he thinks in a grid system. When I think of a map, I think shapes and what is on either side of the shapes. It is just a different way of thinking, but it made me realize that I create curriculum based on my own learning style and how I view the world.  That worksheet I created about Greece was focused on landforms, not coordinates.   I have a degree in Earth Science Education, Geology is a passion of mine, and I think of landforms when I think of places on the Earth.  I have a learning disability in math, numbers are difficult for me, but my son thought in numbers when thinking about where Greece is located.  That piece of knowledge is relevant to him and who he is.  That is a strength that he has, so how do I, as the teacher, foster that strength so he can achieve higher levels of learning that is relevant to him?  How do I achieve this same thing with all of my students when I design curriculum and not have my own learning style get in the way? 

I think collaboration with other teachers is one way to try to achieve it, but this only goes so far.  If the administration insists that a certain standardized curriculum be used and only a certain standardized assessment be used, we are going to lose a lot of students when it comes to demonstrating their strengths.  If you live in a state that uses student test scores in teacher evaluations, this “one size fits all” idea is going to hurt. 

Variability does matter, but here is my problem.  I teach at Home Link that is connected to the public school district in my area.  The kids are 50% taught at home and 50% taught in enrichment courses where they come to the Home Link campuses to attend classes.  Some of the Home Link teachers are certified and some are parents coming into teach.  Teachers are allowed to create any curriculum they want within public school guidelines (no religious or military classes).  There are no staff meetings, no collaboration meetings, and classes are cancelled during state testing days in the spring.  There is no discussion of ELL students, special needs, 504 Plans, or IEPs.  I teach 10 different classes this semester (Science/Math and Social Studies/History) with ages ranging from Kindergarten to twelfth grade.  How does a teacher figure out how to adjust the curriculum that they have developed on their own to address all the needs of his or her students so that all students have access to higher learning?  Is this even possible? 

This isn’t Autism specific, but something that autistics tend to have trouble with - idioms.

Idioms can really confuse a literal minded person. Culturally based idioms can also confuse people who come from a different culture than the idiom. The thought that came to my sleep deprived and “spoon” deprived brain tonight is “Down the rabbit hole I go.” This was not thought in a positive way, but I realized where I am going is still an adventure nonetheless.

If you had never been exposed to Alice in Wonderland before, you would never understand what I am talking about. I came across information about the “Alice Project”. This project is what happens when a group of insightful 10th grade students explore Alice’s journey into Wonderland. Here is one of the articles that were written for the project.

Thoughts on Stimming

I was finally able to buy a spinning ring for myself and I am loving it!  It helped me focus and keep calm while doing my homework today.  I realized today the stim toys that my children and I have reflect a certain sensory need that we each individually have.  I asked the kids if they were okay with me posting about this epiphany that I had and they said it was fine.

I am a twirler.  I twirl things in my hands and I really like going on things that spin, like a rollie chair. My son is a juggler and he also loves to bounce.  He juggles his beads and the comfort critters he keeps in his pockets.  My daughter is a chewer.  She has her “chewie”, but she also likes her “squishies” that she fiddles with and she likes to be “squished”.  Basically she needs compression to help calm her.  I just found that observation interesting and wanted to share it.

The Autistic Memory

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                               (Image found at Wikimedia Commons)

My son noticed that I was upset today and he wanted to know what was wrong.  We ended up having a conversation about how a memory can be attached to a sense, such smell, sight, sound, touch, even time.  This can become a particularly strong association when you have hyper senses and a hyper memory.

Today it was a smell that triggered an emotional response in me. This smell was associated with the feeling of being home and safe.  This “home” I am referring to isn’t a place, it was a feeling that I would have with a particular person.  I am no longer with this particular person, so encountering that scent was a reminder of the loss that I have suffered and a “home” that I will never be able to return to, at least not the “home” that I had with that particular person.  My loss was recent, so the pain is still raw, which made the memory that much more painful to bear.

 I had contact with the person who was “home” to me today.  It was their scent, not actually seeing them, that triggered me.  Of course, I was trying not to look directly at them.  This was not just because looking directly at someone is something I find difficult to do, but also because I knew I would get drawn into a place I didn’t want to go.  Unfortunately, it happened anyway.  I was a short distance away outside from a closed vehicle, and when this person opened their door that was on the other side of the vehicle where I was standing, I could immediately smell them.  I couldn’t believe it.  The air currents must have been just right to make that possible and I was overwhelmed with emotional memory.

My son has a very strong connection with a time and emotions when it comes to memory.  He knew exactly what I was talking about when I told him how a sense can trigger an overwhelming emotional response.  I am not going to go into details, but the sleep hours are very triggering for my son.  A certain time of year and a certain day of the week are also triggers my son.

Both my son and I were diagnosed with PTSD.  For me, it was when my son was just over a year old, and for my son, just seven months ago.  We are also both autistic.  Autism is genetic for us.  My daughter also is autistic.  We all have super senses, but my son and I also have synesthesia.  Not only do we have super senses, but we have more than one sense firing off at the same time.  Both of us connect color to an emotional state.  I also connect people with color and can taste and smell color.  This dual activation of senses can cause sensory overload to happen much quicker. 

To read more about my “super powers” – My Super Powers – Brain Overload – Part 1

I also have Alexithymia and so do both my children.  I have difficulty labeling and describing my own emotions and emotions of others.  I still have very strong emotions despite this, and strong empathy, even though I may not express my emotions or empathy in ways that are typically expected. This can cause problems when interacting with other people.  I tend to need help to figure out how to understand the emotions I have.  I will either talk to someone who might be patient enough to help me understand what I am feeling and validate those feelings.  If that is not possible, I try my best to Google an explanation and find the words to describe why I am feeling the way I am.

To read more about Alexithymia – Emotional Blindness – Part 1

All this got me thinking, there are many causes for meltdowns and shutdowns, but the root cause can sometimes be difficult to discern.  When a person goes into a meltdown or shutdown, it is usually caused by things or events that were building up over a period of time.  This period of time could be a few hours or a few days.  There comes a point where a person crosses over their stress threshold and they can no longer deal with anything.  They explode or shutdown.  Yelling at a person or punishing a person during these times only makes matters worse.  A person in shutdown or meltdown cannot control what is happening to them.  Their brain has gone into defensive mode trying to protect itself from overload.  These times are embarrassing and painful for the person experiencing it.

To read more about meltdowns - The Dreaded Meltdown - Part 1

 My question is this, what if the root cause is something to do with a memory/sensory connection?  If a person has hyper senses, hyper memory, synesthesia, and Alexithymia, this could attribute to sensory overload and the inability to find an understanding as why the sensory overload happened.  People witnessing a person in distress who is like this will be unaware of the sensory/memory onslaught and will not be able understand what could have possibly triggered the meltdown or shutdown and won’t know how to help them.  This is just a thought I had, because I was not the only one who endured a sensory/memory onslaught today when encountering that same person I mentioned above.  My daughter had a lot of difficulties today, difficulties that she held in and kept to herself until she felt safe again. When she felt safe again is when she finally exploded.  I am curious what other thoughts are out there about this same thing.  Please feel free to comment or private message me.

If you are up to reading a scientific paper about enhanced memory ability with people with synesthesia – Enhanced memory ability: Insights from synaesthesia

If not, here is the abstract:

A b s t r a c t

People with synaesthesia show an enhanced memory relative to demographically matched controls. The most obvious explanation for this is that the ‘extra’ perceptual experiences lead to richer encoding and retrieval opportunities of stimuli which induce synaesthesia (typically verbal stimuli). Although there is some evidence for this, it is unlikely to be the whole explanation. For instance, not all stimuli which trigger synaesthesia are better remembered (e.g., digit span) and some stimuli which do not trigger synaesthesia are better remembered. In fact, synaesthetes tend to have better visual memory than verbal memory. We suggest that enhanced memory in synaesthesia is linked to wider changes in cognitive systems at the interface of perception and memory and link this to recent findings in the neuroscience of memory.

© 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.     

If you would like to learn more about synesthesia – The Synesthesia Project

 The Synesthesia Project

 Welcome to the Synesthesia Project site. On these pages, you will find more information about synesthesia. Although the Synesthesia Project is no longer active at Boston University, Dr. Veronica Gross is still working to explore memory, perception, and synesthesia. She is happy to talk with synesthetes, students, and other researchers about synesthesia and her research.

Based on Dr. Phil’s show blurb saying that you can find out how to “help Issy have a healthy and productive future:”

“I can tell you how to “help secure a healthy and productive future” for Issy and all disabled people who rely on parents or other caregivers, Dr. Phil:

Don’t give any positive attention to would-be murderers. Don’t call autism a “jail” just because K. Stapleton does. Be respectful in your descriptions of autism and other disabilities. We Autistics are watching. Don’t hurt us with your comments. We won’t be safe if we are talked about in a way that makes people think we are barely worthy of life. There’s NO “future” for some of us if parents and other caregivers get the idea that we really don’t deserve to exist. Interview people other than the attacker’s friends. Interview Autistic people. Confront/question members of the audience attending the show who might “take the side” of K. Stapleton. Make sure to condemn murder and call for the maximum penalty so that copycat murders do not occur in the wake of your show”

"If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear."

Gene Roddenberry (via whats-out-there)

"Last year I was diagnosed with autism by a ground-breaking psychologist who is also a foremost advocate for and supporter of autistic women and girls. In parting, she warned me that many people harbour misapprehensions about those of us with autism. She suggested that rather than use the A-word, I could explain, ‘I’m the kind of person who … gets overwhelmed in social situations / functions poorly in bright lights and noisy places / needs a lot of time to process their experiences …’

Well, I’m the kind of person who likes to call a spade a spade, so I went straight to facebook to publish my new status. I also updated my professional website, identifying myself as autistic and welcoming other people on the spectrum to the different opportunities I offer to move, feel and witness. I’m the kind of person who occupies her own territory. So far, I haven’t experienced any sort of adverse reaction. I’m fortunate in the circles I move in and the kind of work I do.”

[ … ]

“I don’t have much sense of physical containment. This seems to be the product of both autism and Ehlers Danlos / Hypermobility Syndrome (which affects many, but not all, autistic people), in which there is a deficit of proprioceptive feedback, so it’s hard to feel where I end, to formulate myself into a discrete, impermeable whole and hold all my pieces together. Controlling myself provides a means of encompassing myself and my experience, which often feels overwhelming in amount and intensity.”

If you know me, you know how my body has become like a spent rubber band. Really hypermobile, but difficult to get parts put back into place. Most of my ligaments and tendons are shot. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome as well. I understand what the author of this blog means about having trouble feeling whole. I often want to place my hand on another’s arm to help me feel grounded and help me feel calmer, but I usually don’t have the opportunity to do that. I am also one of those people who feel that I cannot disclose to my employer about my Autism diagnosis. I am getting better about disclosing to others, but I still am hesitant about who knows what. I am not out of the closet about my Autism fully yet and I was diagnosed about two and a half years ago.

"Not sleeping for days on end. Long periods of euphoria. Racing thoughts. Grandiose ideas. Mania. Depression. All of these are symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. In this episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank talks about mood disorders and their causes as well as how these disorders can impact people’s lives.”

Table of Contents:

What are Mood Disorders? 1:05
Symptoms of Depressive & Bipolar Disorders 2:00
Biological, Genetic, Environmental, & Social-Cognitive
Causes of Mood Disorders 5:47

"Ever call someone OCD because they like to have a clean apartment? Ever tell someone you have a phobia of spiders when, in fact, they just creep you out a little? In this episode of Crash Course psychology, Hank talks about OCD and Anxiety Disorders in the hope we’ll understand what people with actual OCD have to deal with as well as how torturous Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks can actually be.”

Table of Contents:

What Defines an Anxiety Disorder 01:55:20
Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 02:35:07
Generalized Anxiety Disorder 04:05:18
Panic Disorder and Phobias 04:47:20
The Learning Perspective 07:38:20
The Biological Perspective 09:13:14
Don’t Use OCD as a Punch Line 00:00:00

"In this episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank takes a look at how the treatment for Psychological Disorders has changed over the last hundred years and who is responsible for getting us on the path to getting us here." 

Table of Contents:

Defining Psychological Disorders 00:10:09
Perspectives on Mental Illness 03:16:10
Diagnosing Disorders with the DSM 07:09:09
DSM is Constantly Evolving 07:42:12