Saturday, September 26, 2009

Different Minds: Meta

AmyP has said that Different Minds by Deirdre Lovecky feels like 3 books in one. She's so right! I'm currently struggling with summarizing Chapter 4, which is about Cognitive Differences in Gifted Kids with Attention Deficits.

There is the book that explains the learning deficits and all the previous research on these disorders.
There is the book that describes kids who are gifted and have one or more of these learning deficits.
There is the book that gives suggestions, like a how-to manual, for dealing with these kids.

It's a huge amount of information.

The funny thing is that specific as this book is, I still have questions about where my son fits in. Is he visual-spatial? Or is he auditory-sequential? I was convinced he was the former, then I read the latter and was convinced he was that. He doesn't hear very well, doesn't process information that way very effectively. So how could he be auditory-sequential? Could he be visual-sequential? Spatial-sequential?

We're having a lot of difficulty getting him to follow directions. My kids are so different. My daughter will follow directions the first or sometimes second time, but she'll bitch the whole time about it. E will put it off and put it off and put it off until you're screaming at him, then he'll do it with a smile on his face, like he can't think of anything better to do than put the yogurt lid in the trash can.

OK, I've put off tackling the rest of Chapter 4 long enough.

Different Minds: Chapter 4

I'm totally doing this the opposite of the way I told AmyP I would. Now I'm working on Chapter 4 of Different Minds, on "Cognitive Issues: How Those with a Different Mind Think."

My summary:
Gifted kids with AS or ADHD have less flexible learning styles, inefficient executive functioning, some troubles with central coherence, and most importantly outputs of learning, i.e., being able to demonstrate their knowledge.

Lovecky uses a computer analogy to explain cognitive functioning. Abstract reasoning is like telling how many things the computer (child) can do. Learning styles of children are like the different computer OSes (Windows, Mac, Linux). Executive functioning is like the efficiency of the computer--how fast can it be done/how fast can the child accomplish these tasks?

She breaks down this chapter into 4 areas:

1. Abstract reasoning and concept formation

Gifted children are generally good at abstract reasoning. They see things and ask questions about, make conclusions about, classify, categorize, and analyze these things.
(An example using my son: I'd bought a package of little plastic animals to decorate a cake. He opened the package and divided them into 4 categories--animals that came in pairs and animals that were single, then he broke both those groups up into animals that could stand by themselves and those that couldn't. Then he ripped a piece of paper in 4 and wrote down each category and put the animals on top of each category.) he did all of this while his sister and I were talking about my plans for decorating the cake.)
Gifted children ask complex questions and need complex responses, especially by the time they reach an intellectual age of 12 or 13, which some gifted children do as early as 5.
Gifted kids with ADHD will make hypotheses to explain their observations, but kids with AS do not do so as often.
Gifted kids can recognize patterns and algorithms, and some may create mathematical knowledge themselves rather than being taught it.
Asynchrony is when there is a range of these cognitive abilities in the same child based on interest levels, the kinds of tasks the kids do, and the kids' personalities/temperaments. They might be intellectually advanced in one area yet not in another, even if it's closely related. The example Lovecky gives is of a child who uses Hawking's theories to explain how Santa can travel to so many different houses and get down chimneys, but didn't question Santa's existence.

2. Learning Styles
Lovecky talks about two main learning styles: visual-spatial and auditory-sequential. Lovecky links this to left brain (auditory, verbal, analytical, sequential) and right brain (visual, pictorial, holistic, intuitive).Gifted children often excel in both areas, but some do not and need evaluation. Interestingly, studies show that mathematically adept students tend to have deficits in verbal areas, but verbally adept students tend to be more balanced.

Visual spatial learners "like to picture things. Asked to think about a problem they will use a picture or spatial schema or find a mental pattern.... [They] can be very creative, quick to grasp concepts and find patterns. They excel at tasks that require inductive reasoning, holistic thinking, and seeing complex relationships among parts." Visual-spatial learners can be weak in sequential thinking, planning, organization and details. Research has shown some connection to dyslexia. Also, there are difficulties of visual-spatial thinkers with central auditory processing disorders, who have trouble following directions, seeing the main point, prioritizing details, and interpreting qualifiers.
ADHD kids tend to be visual-spatial learners. Gifted kids with ADHD can have difficulty expressing their visual-spatial ideas on paper and sharing them with others. Others have problems with impulsivity that prevent them form seeing the "big picture." However, gifted children with ADHD can be intuitive and creative and think outside the box, from new perspectives.

Lovecky suggests the following strategies:
*Emphasise visualization in tasks (i.e., color coding)
*Emphasize inductive reasoning, allowing kids to use intuition to find the answer, then support it with data.
*Use visual models and diagrams to help with sequencing.
*Big picture first, then smaller steps.
*Use graphic organizers to teach organization; use categories.
*Work on listening skills by having the child watch the speaker's mouth and repeat the directions.

Gifted kids with ADHD who are slow to process info can have trouble because they "form partial wholes, or wholes based on erroneous info." These students need to have teaching slowed down for them and have the "big picture" presented to them first.
Gifted kids with AS have a lot of trouble with holistic thinking and cannot create a "whole" form the parts very easily. (This goes back to weak "central coherence.")
This is why people with AS also have trouble with facial recognition (hard to put the parts into a whole to recognize a person) and with social situations (reading body language and facial expression and hearing words in order to understand the full social situation).

Lovecky has the following suggestions for visual/non-holistic learners:
*Similar to other visual-spatial learners. Need more time to complete tasks and more space, as well as compensatory tools such as computers, calculators, etc.
*Teach these kids by starting with the big picture, breaking it down into parts, then reiterating the big picture again.
*Build a "repertoire of parts" so they can construct wholes.
*Provide models of what a completed task looks like.

Auditory-sequential learners tend to thrive in traditional school settings, which are geared towards auditory-sequential learners. Whereas visual-spatial thinkers learn with pictures, auditory-sequential learn with words.

Auditory-sequential learners learn with facts and words.. They can work on smaller parts without needing the big picture. They are good at deductive reasoning and developing hypotheses. They can pick out main points. They're usually early readers and good at spelling.

It's harder to see auditory-sequential learners' weaknesses because they are easily compensated for. They may have some difficulty with putting together parts to see the whole, and they may have some weakness in spatial organization.

Lovecky suggests the following strategies for auditory-sequential learners:
*Encourage use of words (speaking and listening)
*Encourage debate, seeing both sides of an issue
*Use verbal skills to compensate for visual and spatial weaknesses
*Make lists of steps/rules to help overcome weaknesses in visual-spatial thinking
*Use auditory-based strategies for studying
*Encourage them to play games that require visual-spatial skills to develop in these areas.

Gifted ADHD kids may be strong auditory learners but lack sequential skills. They have a harder time putting it all together into a big picture and rely too much on the smaller parts they can see.
Lovecky brings up NVLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disorder) here. These kids have great difficulty with organizing their learning. They have difficulty writing because they don't know where to begin. They would benefit from very specific steps given to approach a writing or other similar assignment.
These kids can forget and lose things very often. They may hyperfocus on details. Sometimes they have OCD tendencies.

Gifted kids with AS are similar, specifically in determining what parts are most important and focusing on those. They are good when it comes to memorizing, but weaker when it comes to organizing material. They are prone to rigid thinking, specifically, thinking that because something happened one way once, it will happen the same way forever. They have limited perspectives and can't see that there are solutions that haven't occurred to them. They can be "overwhelmed by complexiy" very easily.

Lovecky suggests the following for Auditory Learners with NVLD:
*Encourage reading/listening to learn new content.
*Use logic and deduction for problem-solving.
*Teach brainstorming and looking for multiple alternative solutions
*Encourage them to memorize facts/info then show how they relate to a larger concept.
*Start with the big picture, teach the steps, then go back and look at the big picture again.
*Explain the "why" of an action, not just the steps
*Reduce "visual overload" and distractions.
*Build on existing verbal skills whenever possible.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Different Minds

Xantippe's Blog is having a book club on Different Minds: Gifted Children with ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and Other Learning Deficits. I think I pointed her to this book; in full disclosure, the author, Deirdre Lovecky, was the one who evaluated my son. Dr. Lovecky hasn't mentioned the book to me at all; I found it when I was researching her before I called to arrange an evaluation for my son. And for the record, my son tested as highly gifted (IQ over 145) and having Asperger Syndrome.

I'll summarize Chapter 3, "Attention Deficits: Asperger Syndrome."

Lovecky explains that gifted children with AS have "difficulties with communication and social development." They want to have friends, but they don't really have interest in other children. They see the world as revolving around them. They're really kind of self-centered. Lovecky breaks the chapter down into 5 sections.

1. Development and types of AS

Once upon a time, AS was seen as HFA (high functioning autism). It was Hans Asperger who started to notice some differences. AS kids usually are fairly normal in language and social development but start to show deficits when they enter formalized school settings. They tend to rely more on rote memorization in interacting with the world than in processing new information and applying it in new ways to adapt to the situation. They prefer routines and order, and the lack of such leads to anxiety and depression. They lack pragmatic language skills (knowing what to say and when to say it) and they often have motor clumsiness. (My apologies for the too-close paraphrase.)
Lovecky goes into the difficulties of diagnosing AS; clinicians don't usually follow the DSM criteria. There does seem to be a genetic component, as AS seems to cluster in families.

AS co-exists with a lot of conditions, especially ADHD. Here are some ways to tell them apart:

* AS kids have more developmental delays than ADHD kids. AS kids are also especially
* AS kids have deficits in social reciprocity, two-sided relationships. AS kids have idiosyncratic behaviors that make it hard to connect with other kids. AS kids like rules and will obey them as long as the rules make sense to them.
* AS kids are more anxious about changes inroutine.
* AS kids have trouble seeing the big picture and get caught up in details.
* Both AS and ADHD kids have impulsive behaviors, lack structure/organization, and can't control or modulate their behavior very well.

Lovecky then explores co-existence with other issues such as OCD, Tourette, and other anxiety/depressive disorders.

2. Symptoms of AS
* Kids with AS have social deficits. They don't understand reciprocity and turn-taking, and they don't know how to negotiate activities. They also can be teased for being different; gifted kids have extra trouble because they're teased for their academic success. AS kids have trouble sharing interests with others; they are too one-sided. They have trouble with empathy and understanding how others feel and what others need. Their obsessive interests make it hard for them to connect with others who don't share that interest. They often have stereotypies (repetitive behaviors) as well.
* Kids with AS have difficulties communicating. They mostly have trouble with nonverbal communication, such as reading body language. Their pragmatic (social use of) language is weak. Prosody (sound of speech) can be flat and lack emotional inflection. They also talk "too much and too long" on their favorite subjects, as if they were lecturing their audience. Thus, conversational skills are weak. Since they have trouble making a coherent whole out of information (as opposed to focusing on details), they can't really follow the thread of a conversation for a long time. They don't remember things about other people that can help them make a connection. They can also lack the ability to identify irony or sarcasm.
*It's unclear whether AS kids have higher IQs on average, though there seems to be some connection. AS kids do have executive function deficits, meaning a difficulty in organizing, planning, and being mentally flexible.
*Empathy is impaired in AS kids. They also can't control their feelings/responses and they have no "language of feelings." They can also develop emotional obsessions.
*AS kids have motor functioning deficits, a lack of manual dexterity, awkward gait and balance, and "dyspraxia" (planning/controlling movement).
*Sensory functioning issues are not part of DSM criteria but are observed in AS kids. These issues involve touch (needing or avoiding it), overarousal, and mixed sensory perceptions (synaesthesia).

3. Understanding AS
There are three areas of cognitive difference that Lovecky focuses on: Theory of Mind, central coherence, and executive function.
*Theory of Mind involves the ability to understand that other people have other perspectives and apply that knowledge in social interactions.
*Central coherence involves AS kids' inability to see the "big picture." Most people can take in information and see the main points, how the information works together to form a whole. AS kids have difficulty with this because all pieces of information seem equally important.
*Executive function refers to tasks involving organizing, planning, transitioning and handling these effectively. When AS kids hyperfocus on an activity they prefer, they tend to have difficulty moving on to another activity. If they are not interested in an activity, they do not focus on it. They find it difficult to follow directions because they can't see the big picture and get bogged down in minor details. They can't be flexible and transfer information from one area to another very easily.

4. Gifted Children with AS as compared to Typical AS Kids
Now Lovecky gets into the meat of it: the characteristics of gifted children who have AS. As AS kids have many similarities with gifted kids, it can be hard to distinguish among the 3 groups: AS gifted kids, gifted non-AS kids, and AS non-gifted kids.
There has been some research on gifted children with AS, but not much.
* Gifted children with AS have more "passion to learn," a wider variety of interests they are passionate about, and more ability to make connections among the different areas of interest.
* Gifted children with AS can be imaginative and creative and involve others in their play. They also can use their visual skills to solve problems. (Note from Wendy: Temple Grandin's work comes to mind.)
* Gifted children with AS seem to develop vocabulary and reading skills more quickly.

Gifted Children with AS as compared to Typical Gifted Kids
* Gifted kids with AS may have a more difficult time making connections than Typical Gifted Kids (TGK). They may have a perfectionist approach that leads them to persevere in their field of interest. They have more difficulty communicating their imaginative and creative ideas to others. Gifted kids with AS have difficulty with *output*. They have the understanding but cannot communicate it effectively. Gifted students with AS also have trouble with interpreting literature. They also show the ability to adhere to moral rules/values but less ability to be flexible in applying them. TGK are better able to socialize than gifted kids with AS, who act immaturely in most social situations.

5. Positive Aspects of AS
Social: loyalty, dependability, freedom from sexism or prejudice, being upfront with what they think, determination and disinclination to be swayed by doubters, ability to follow patterns/rules and/or notice trends, avoidance of small talk, sincerity, truth-telling.
Cognitive: Interest in words, good verbal skills, visual thinking skills, detail-oriented, sometimes photographic memory, encyclopedic knowledge of topics of interest.
Personal/emotional: Sensory sensitivity leading to interesting perspectives, trusting of others, compassionate and caretaking nature.

Lovecky: "In helping gifted children with AS, it is important to work on the areas of deficits to encourage as much growth as possible. At the same time, it is vital that these gifted children be afforded the chance to develop areas of strength and interest. Their interests are the key to adult success."


My thoughts:
My favorite part was the section on Positive Aspects of AS because these are exactly the things I find so charming about my son. :) The more I can get into his mind, the happier I am because I love seeing the world from his perspective, and he and I share interest in words/language.

My concern is that in a (school) world where rote memorization is emphasized and the basic skills are the focus of testing, my son will be overlooked because he is already good at those things. He longs for people who share his interests, and I want for him to be able to talk with those children/people as much as possible. In those kinds of arenas, he will perhaps best be able to build some of the social skills he needs.

Another important section here was the section on Theory of Mind, cognitive coherence, and executive functioning. It's these abilities to make connections that are so crucially absent in many AS kids. Gifted kids with AS are better at that, but my experience is that I'll run across huge gaps in my son's understanding that stand out like holes in Swiss cheese.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Disability has been on my mind lately. It's so true that you have to have experienced a disability in order to truly understand how stacked the world is against people with disabilities, even those who are temporarily disabled, like myself.

My building has two elevators. One goes to the courtyard entrance, which is wheelchair/disability-friendly. The other doesn't. I can take only the one elevator to go meet my drivers. It's amazing how long it takes.

I've found that the door to the handicapped stall in the bathroom opens towards me. When I am outside of the door, I have to pull it towards me (standing precariously on crutches). When I'm in the stall, I have to pull it towards me. Not easy. I've started using the non-handicapped stall because it's easier to close the door.

Speaking of doors, I never noticed how many of them are heavy. It's pretty awkward to use the crutches I am using for balance and propulsion as door stops. I'm surprised I haven't fallen yet.

I'm also considering my son's disability and more and more convinced of my own. How can I teach a boy social skills that I found so difficult to master? None of it comes easy to me. I lack patience as much as he does; I just hide it better. I hear myself respond to him and it's as if I am hearing my parents again, 35 years later, talking to me. I can't ask E a question without getting a guessing game in return. ("Why can't you just answer the question?" I hear my father's voice say.) He has become the master at finding the loophole. ("Eric, don't play soccer in the house!" "I'm not *playing* soccer. I have no one to play with. I'm not on a soccer field playing a game." Grrrr.) This weekend he wanted to know what perpendicular meant. He couldn't understand that perpendicular is about a relationship of two things. He wanted to say that the hammer was perpendicular. We tried to tell him the *parts* of the hammer were perpendicular.

He is also bored at school already. I can't decide what to do. I'm not sure a "gifted" school would work for him. I'm not sure an Asperger's-only school would work for him. Maybe a Montessori school would be good as it would allow him to explore his individual passions. But I don't want to experiment with all different schools, because he doesn't like transitions. It's easiest to keep him where he is and just try to get his work made more challenging. He shouldn't have to deal with spelling words like "if" and "mitt" and "fish" when he can spell most of his sister's 5th grade spelling words. He wants the challenge. His brain is craving it. Were his social skills any better, I'd insist on skipping him a grade (I skipped 2nd grade, myself).

Both E's disability and my own broken ankle also remind me about how hard it is to ask for help. We have help for both our disabilities required by law, but that doesn't make it any easier to ask for it.

One last thing: I have spoken often about how wonderful my husband's and my workplaces are, how family friendly they are. We can now add a new level of support: my dean is arranging for her administrative assistant to drive me home two days a week (the AA doesn't mind at all--it's nice to get out of the office for a half hour). I cannot imagine any other boss in the world arranging such a thing. I am very lucky.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Food for Thought

In our textbook is an essay by Susan Brady Konig, "They've Got To Be Carefully Taught." In it, Konig decries the insistence of schools on instilling ideas about racial difference in children. It is better, she feels, for children not to be taught about racial difference:

So now these sweet, innocent babies who thought they were all the same are becoming culturally aware. Two little girls are touching each other's hair and saying, ``Your hair is blonde, just like mine.'' Off to one side a little dark-haired girl stands alone, excluded. She looks confused as to what to do next. She knows she's not blonde. Sure, all children notice these things eventually, but, thanks to the concerted efforts of their teachers, these two- and three-year-olds are talking about things that separate rather than connect.

Apparently, Konig is wrong to think that such attempts to instill multiculturalism are damaging to kids. In fact, Konig's strategy of denying racial difference actually backfires, according to a new study. The Newsweek article discussing the study asks:

We all want our children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills necessary for a diverse world. The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race?

The researchers think that we make a mistake in believing children have no ideas about racial difference until they are taught that there are. Remember Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God: "Aw, aw, I'm colored!" she says after seeing herself in a photograph. Until then, she had thought she looked like everyone else.

That moment is interpreted by scholars as evidence that children do not understand racial difference until it is pointed out to them, but that may be a gross misinterpretation of the moment. The point is not that children do not understand racial difference. The children understand that Janie is of a different race; they can recognize her in the photo. It is Janie herself who lacks self-knowledge. Until that moment, she cannot associate herself and her identity with that of others who are deemed "colored" and thus treated differently.

That is a digression, but it goes to show how badly we have wanted to see people as born blind to racial difference, and it might explain why the problem of the color-line, what DuBois called the most important problem of the 20th century, might also be the most important one of the 21st, and probably was of the 18th and 19th centuries as well.

Omi and Winant have a famous definition of racial formation as "a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies." The work of the researchers mentioned in this article seem to support that:

We might imagine we're creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender—they're plainly visible. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use T-shirt colors. Bigler contends that children extend their shared appearances much further—believing that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do. Anything a child doesn't like thus belongs to those who look the least similar to him. The spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics—such as niceness, or smarts—is called essentialism.

It is race's apparentness, its obviousness, that makes it the organizing principle of difference. We can see the difference, and we ascribe meanings to that difference.

It's all very fascinating, and I'm looking forward to responses to the article on other blogs.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Insane People

Yglesia writes:

Probably the biggest moral of the story is that the contemporary conservative movement is run by crazy people with no scruples, who’ll turn anything into a pretext to level wild accusations.

Thanks to Lexis Nexis, I found an article written by Thomas Ferraro of the AP in 1991 on Bush's speech to school children. Probably in violation of copyright law, I repost it here:

With reports showing American students lagging behind, President Bush challenged them in a televised address Tuesday to take responsibility for their own fate and hit the books.

''Education means the differences between a good future and a lousy one,'' said Bush, sitting before a camera in an eighth grade classroom at Alice Deal Junior High in the nation's capital.

The self-proclaimed ''Education President,'' criticized for paying inadequate attention to schools himself, delivered his pep talk a day after release of the latest in a series of studies on the grim state of American education.

The report found that the nation has a long way to go to reach president's education goals, which include making students No. 1 in the world in math and science by the year 2000.

The report by Bush's National Education Goals Panel showed that five of six eighth graders don't know enough math to move up to the ninth grade, and most have difficulty reading a newspaper.

Bush's address was beamed nationwide and the White House expressed hope that it was shown at virtually all of the country's 110,000 schools, which have a combined enrollment of 46.8 million.

Although students at Alice Deal Junior High, a magnet school in the city's fashionable northwest, gave Bush a big hand when he arrived, many were fidgeting by the time he finished his 12-minute speech.

The president spoke frankly.

''I can't understand for the life of me what's so great about being stupid,'' Bush said. He implored youngsters to ''block out the kids who think it's not cool to be smart'' and ''work harder, learn more.''

He said, ''Let's put it on the line. You've got the brains. Now put them to work. Not for me, but for you.''

Among Bush's six education goals for year 2000 is making schools safe and drug free. On Monday, for the fourth time in a month, there was a shooting at a Washington area high school.

''As a student, you have the right to be physically safe at school,'' Bush told students. ''Demand discipline. If good people chicken out, bad people take control.''

Bush has been accused by Democrats of focusing most of his attention on foreign policy at the expense of domestic concerns, including education.

Although the president's top education goal is making all children ''ready to learn'' by the time they start school, he has yet to seek full funding of the Head Start program.

Other education goals include: raising the high school graduation rate from 83 percent to 90 percent; obtaining 100 percent literacy among adults, and making students competent in all the basics.

Bush closed his address by saying, ''Let me leave you with a simple message: Every time you walk through that door, make it your mission to get a good education.''

He also asked students ''let me know how you are doing. Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals.''

Lucas Fleirscher, president of the school's 9th grade class, presented Bush with a sweatshirt inscribed with the message: ''A Child is a Terrible Thing to Waste.''

Please note that Bush asked kids to "Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals."