Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A definition of intelligence that explains why people with Aspergers are seen as intelligent:

Do you think SAT scores define intelligence?
No. They define the capacity to answer questions on an SAT test.

How would you define intelligence?
Intelligence is the ability to take in information from the world and to find patterns in that information that allow you to organize your perceptions and understand the external world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Global Achievement Gap

I have an interesting group of students in my 7 am class this term. One of my students is exploring conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds and who controls the world's money. One is from Ghana, and another from Cape Verde. One's family is from Liberia, and she hopes to settle there when she graduates. One of my students is, I think, a fellow geek. At least two had attended vocational high schools. They're just all interesting people and it's not a hardship to come in at 7 am! The first 15 minutes or so are tough as I wait for students to trickle in, though.

This morning, I did News Day. Since the class is a persuasive writing class, we have a lot of persuasive genres to write in, and I let students choose the topics they're interested in. Sometimes, it helps to pique their interest in topics by getting discussions going. Today we talked a lot about education. I'm reading Tony Wagner's Global Achievement Gap and, as our next project is the Problem-Solution essay, I shared with them the Albert Einstein quote that leads off the book:

"The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science."

However, we started talking about education. I pointed out that Wagner's main claim is that we need to formulate the problem of education differently. The problem is not that schools have gotten worse; it's that the world has changed, and the schools need to teach different skills because our workforce requires different skills. What's interesting to me is that I also watched Hanna Rosin's TED Talk on "New data on the rise of women" last night, and she made similar points. The workplace has become less dependent on manufacturing skills and instead relies more on service and knowledge/creativity. Leadership and management is no longer hierarchical but collaborative and team-oriented. Women are more likely to excel at the new skills.

We talked about education for a while. The student from Ghana reminded us how privileged we are in the United States. He told us that when students wrote research papers when he went to school there, they had about 5 books and no Internet to rely on. We talked about how discipline is different in the U.S. Parents here don't require total obedience, nor do teachers. I suggested this was a reaction against arbitrary use of power. Some students said that they don't mind harsh punishments from good teachers, but they do mind them from bad teachers. I pointed out that what was happening was a kind of ethos appeal; if you have confidence and trust in the teacher, you can be persuaded that the punishment is justified.

I told the students about an article in Sunday's paper about the truancy courts in RI. They were initially shocked by the idea that a judge would send a 12 year old to (essentially) jail for slamming a door, but then a few wondered what could be done with the more difficult students. I asked questions: is the problem the girl's parent(s)? The school system? The judge abusing his power? (the ACLU thinks so). All of those? None of those? Asking the right questions is essential in a case like this one.

The students were very engaged in this 7 am class. We really didn't want to stop talking, but I had to move along and cover some other material. They crave discussion of these kinds of issues. So far, we have a wide range of opinions on most topics, too, and we've done a good job of respecting them, I think. Maybe I should do an anonymous survey when we get back just to make sure.

I will continue to read the Global Achievement Gap next week when we're on break (trimester system here--we are in the 3rd week of winter tri now) and report further on Wagner and his 21st century skills project.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Geeky 40 Year Old Gift Guide

Here's my version of a geeky gift guide for geeky moms.

Special gloves
that make it easy to use iPod/Phone/Pad in cold weather.

World links necklace.

Alone Together, by my new favorite academic-type, Sherry Turkle.

Cooking Light Way to Cook Vegetarian.

Calendar icon pillows.

Sherlock on DVD. Mmm, Benedict Cumberbatch.

New York pencil set.

Monday, November 15, 2010


On Saturday night, I brought cashews into the house. Now, I know my son has an allergy to nuts, but he can eat almonds and he has never had a problem with anyone eating peanut butter in front of him. He did not ingest the cashews, as I prepared separate servings for him (not that he eats everything I make).

About an hour or so after dinner, the wheezing started. Then the coughing and the difficulty breathing. He seemed flushed and slightly puffy, though that could have been him rubbing his face.

It seemed a full-fledged asthma attack. But why? Signs pointed to the cashews. We administered a variety of medicines from our vast array of respiratory medicines: Benedryl as an anti-histimine (if indeed he was having an allergic reaction); albuterol inhaler as a bronchodilator, so he could breathe; eventually some Flovent (a steroid) in case his lungs were irritated.

Unfortunately, 1.5 days later, he is still congested despite multiple applications of meds. His lungs sound horrible. We kept him home from school and my husband is home with him. No fever. No real lethargy. Just horrible sounds in his lungs. He has an appointment with his allergy/asthma doctor this afternoon.

The pediatrician on call this weekend seemed surprised when I called him Sunday and told him that E still had congestion. Could it be a cold that came on suddenly and coincidentally, he wondered. His point is well-taken. Every other kid I know has a cold. Could he too simply have a cold? Or was it the cashews? Could it be a reaction to environmental irritants (we had the windows in his room open all day Saturday because it was nice out)?

What's so frustrating is that we almost never know for sure, especially when it's happening. We just treat the symptoms, then days later, when we can see it all in perspective, we try to make sense of it.

It reminds me, too, how rarely we are sick in my family. And we are. We certainly get the random cold virus here and there, but for three of us it usually passes pretty quickly. But for my poor respiratorily sensitive boy, it usually hits a little harder.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Smart Aleck

In addition to our son having Asperger's Syndrome, he is highly gifted. This isn't unusual for kids with AS, but it really complicates dealing with our son. For one thing, he is "logic boy," which means he can argue his way out of anything, and second, he's developing a bit of overconfidence, even arrogance. "Yeah, I don't care" is his new catchphrase (I miss the days of the more charming "That does not make sense"). But he's getting really irritating lately.

So tonight I am researching resources for gifted kids. I want him to connect with other gifted kids. No, not so he can reach his potential. And no, not so he can have better opportunities to attend Harvard or something.

I want my kid to hang out with other gifted kids so he can be taken down a peg or two. I want him not to be the smartest 8 year old in the room. I'm not sure it's good for him socially. He's starting to remind me of Benedict Cumberbatch's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.

ETA: Awesome clip from tonight's episode:

I'm not sure if that makes me a Good Parent or not.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


My son is Harry Potter for Halloween:

My daughter is the 11th Doctor from Doctor Who. Right now, she is forbidding me to take a pic because she's punishing me for something *eyeroll* but here is what the real 11th Doctor looks like:

Maybe she will give in and let us take a pic later. She won 2nd prize at a Halloween Party costume contest on Friday night. Out of a lot of costumes.

Edited to say, Here she is!

Yesterday we went to the Rally to Restore Sanity:

It was ... crowded.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

These are the books on the Massachusetts Book Awards (Children's Books) list for 2010-2011. I'm putting this list here and hyperlinking to Amazon so it's easy to buy them if I want. My daughter likes to go through the list and read them all. I'm posting this now and will hyperlink throughout the day today.

Anderson, L. H. (2008). Chains. (Simon & Schuster).
Appelt, K. (2008). The Underneath. (Atheneum).
Applegate, K. (2007). Home of the Brave. (Feiwel & Friends).
Avi. (2007). Iron Thunder. (Hyperion Books).
Balliett, B. (2008). The Calder Game. (Scholastic).
Barrows, A. (2007). The Magic Half. (Bloomsbury).
Baskin, N. (2009). Anything but Typical. (Simon & Schuster).
Berlin, E. (2009). The Potato Chip Puzzles: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. (Putnam).
Blume, J. (2008). Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One. (Delacorte).
Clements, A. (2007). No Talking! (Atheneum).
Goodman, A. (2008). The Other Side of the Island. (Razorbill).
Harper, C. (2007). Just Grace. (Houghton Mifflin).
Key, W. (2006). Alabama Moon. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Law, I. (2008). Savvy. (Dial).
Lowery, L. (2006). Truth and Salsa . (Peachtree).
Lowry, L. (2008). The Willoughbys. (Houghton Mifflin).
MacLachlan, P. (2007). Edward's Eyes. (Atheneum).
Mass, W. (2009). 11 Birthdays. (Scholastic).
Mortenson, G., & Relin, D. (2009). Three Cups of Tea (Young Edition). (Dial).
Reilly Giff, P. (2008). Eleven. (Wendy Lamb Books).
Scaletta, K. (2009). Mudville. (Knopf).
Stead, R. (2007). First Light. (Wendy Lamb Books).
St. John, L. (2007). The White Giraffe. (Dial).
Stuchner, J. (2008). Honey Cake. (Random House).
Wilson, N. D. (2007). 100 Cupboards: Book 1. (Random House).

I'm also intrigued by this post, which talks about building a free bookstore at a school. I'd love to do something like this at the middle school where we do our community service.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

More Education Stuff

Last week was education week at 11D, and I was surly as a result. Yes, I come from a family of public school teachers. Do I have a financial interest in supporting public education? I don't think of myself as having one. I don't sit around and worry about what kinds of jobs they'll have if public education is consigned to the dustbin some wish for it.

My thing is that I *believe* in public education. I believe in the concept. I believe in the execution. Are there problems? There are problems in everything out there. Everything should be subject to continuous improvement. Is public education suffering from 30 years of being treated like shit? Yes. Yet I still believe in it and get defensive by what I see as simplistic attacks on public education, a lack of consensus among people purporting to agree that public education needs "fixing," and the boneheaded calls for "merit pay" in many quarters. Nicholas Lemann in this week's New Yorker decries this "narrative of crisis" the same way I do.

As an alternative to the Oprahfication and Guggenheimization of the education debate, I offer up a few of the people I admire and follow when it comes to discussion of education. Do I endorse 100% of what they say? No. But I respect them for asking questions with more depth and complexity than much of what I see in the media lately.

Will Richardson. In this piece, he mentions something I truly believe is a weakness I see in my college students:
"In fact, there’s only one question that the folks at my kids’ school have to answer for me these days: Are you doing whatever you can to make my children self-directed, self-organized, passionate learners? Answer that one “yes,” and I’ll be happy. "

Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier, whose blog conversation "Bridging Differences" has been a must-read for me even before Diane Ravitch came out and said she was wrong about a lot of educational reforms she had previously supported.

Jackie Gerstein
, whom I follow on Twitter and whose tagline is "I don’t do teaching for a living, I live teaching as my doing, and technology has AMPLIFIED the passion."

Gary Stager
, another one I follow on Twitter.

I'll also be watching Tony Danza in Teach. (Link opens with sound/video.) I have a long history with Tony Danza, as he's practically a hometown hero (I didn't live in Malverne, but my grandfather worked in a diner there where Tony often ate before he made it big on Taxi).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Education and the Demonization of Teachers

Laura at 11D cannot wait to see Waiting for Superman. I cannot think of a movie I'd least like to see. In fact, I am so underwhelmed by what I've read of it (specifically, Roger Ebert's glowing review) that I am thinking An Inconvenient Truth must be a bad movie because of Guggenheim's involvement in both.

All the edtech people I read on Twitter have been down on it. Will Richardson twinked (twitter-linked--hey, I can make up twords, too!) to Gary Stager's post on NBC's Education Nation, which outlines several myths about education, which I will quote:

That narrative is based on the following myths:

1. Public education is destroying America
2. There is a sudden emergency of bad teachers sweeping the land
3. Schools should be run more like businesses (Education Nation’s patron Eli Broad believes this, but should we listen to a man who served on the board of AIG?)
4. Charter schools, merit pay, standardized testing and mayoral control are the magic beans that will save children from wretched teachers
5. When we fire all of the zillions of bad teachers a whole new crop of fantastic ones will grow in a Washington D.C. cornfield
6. The best and brightest will eagerly become teachers when we remove all teacher autonomy and reduce teaching to test prep and script reading
7. Unqualified is the new qualified as exemplified by Teach for America’s zeal to create unqualified missionaries to replace teachers
8. Getting tougher is the same as reform
9. Michelle Rhee was victimized by enemies of school reform (teachers) when voters rejected her tactics and bankrupt educational vision (thanks Nora O’Donnell)
10. Billionaires are smart!
11. Racism and intergenerational poverty have nothing to do with academic achievement
12. The purpose of education is job readiness
13. Teacher layoffs, budget cuts and union busting are just three ways of saying “We should pay teachers more, but them accountable.”
14. Poor children need educational experiences much different from those afforded the children of the powerful
15. We should all run out to the cineplex and see Waiting for Superman!

I love #5. I disagree a little with 12.

Am writing a post on my experience at AANE this weekend (positive experience but it's a long one and I'm still working on it).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Asperger's Conference

Friday and Saturday I attended the AANE (Asperger's Association of New England) conference in Massachusetts. Strangely enough, the people with Asperger's who attended were not the weirdest people there. There was a gun show in the adjacent convention space, and let me tell you, people who attend gun shows are kind of weird.


Quirky Kids

First up, I went to the first keynote, by Dr. Eileen Costello, who co-wrote Quirky Kids with Dr. Perri Klass. Costello was quite enjoyable to watch/listen to, but I'm not sure I got anything out of her talk that I didn't already know. A few takeaways:
* The ability to name 3 people/adults to go to for help is crucial in helping kids through the school years, especially middle school.
*Pediatricians are now required to screen for autism spectrum disorders, but parents still complain that pediatricians make light of their concerns. However, that number (data obtained via surveys) has been falling.
*Inclusion isn't always the best strategy because many kids with ASDs need direct instruction. They don't learn by following other children as role models.

Sibling Support

I went to a workshop led by Emily Rubin of the new group Massachusetts Sibling Support Network, which I think I will try to join on my daughter's behalf. However, I was kind of dismayed to find that all the people on the panel were dealing with an older kid with ASD/younger NT kid combo. My problem is that my older NT daughter kind of bullies her younger brother with AS. She can also be quite good with him and teaches him a lot, but over the last year or two, the level of not-nice stuff has increased.

I am a Slacker

I skipped the Friday afternoon workshops to go home and deal with home-related stuff. I also skipped the Saturday morning keynote by Dr. Ami Klin, which was apparently a huge mistake as he was reported to be an amazing, excellent speaker. But I was so tired from aforementioned home-related stuff that I really needed to sleep in.


The first workshop I attended Saturday was on Friendships, and it ended up being amazing! It started out with the basic Michelle Garcia Winner stuff about social thinking. But what I really appreciated was how they started to look at friendship from the perspective of the kids with AS themselves. They broke it down into preK-2nd, 3rd-5th, and MS and HS and outlined what the kid with AS might feel like when engaged with another child. One of the reasons for a shift in 3rd-5th is that kids in general are becoming less adult-directed and more child-directed, so bullying is more likely to happen.

I'll focus on 3rd-5th, as that's my area of interest, but you can get in touch with the presenters via their website, SuperKids. These kids need a lot of direct instruction to help them think through their responses. If they feel left out because no one else wants to do what they want to do, they can be taught to adapt and go with the plan of others. If they can't handle losing, they have to be told and taught again and again about the social benefits of being a good loser (then other people want to play with you). Kids with AS sometimes think no one is their friend, or they think everyone is their friend.

These are some of the things I wrote in the margins of the handouts:
* Use pictures to help students take their big thoughts and put them in the though-shrinker, or put them in the dumpster for a while so they can focus on what they need to focus on.
* Focus on telling them how they can feel safer.
The #1 predictor of bullying is being alone. When kids are with other kids whom they feel safe with (and are safe with), they are less likely to be bullied.
* Don't let your kids win at home just to avoid meltdowns. The more they learn how to lose in a safe place like home, the better they will learn to deal with it in less safe places.
* Kids with AS don't always understand what it means to calm down or what a jerk is.
* We have to teach them to stay away from people who will get them in trouble. Very often, kids with AS are encouraged to do things that the bully won't do. We can teach them to ask the bully to do it. If the bully won't, then the kid with AS shouldn't.
*Sometimes kids with AS go back to the bullies to try to get them in trouble so that justice can happen. However, kids with stronger social skills are adept at hiding bad behaviors, so all the teachers see are the retaliation by the kid with AS. Kids have to realize that sometimes life isn't fair.
* Kids with AS need to learn to cope with the bad feelings when someone is not receptive to friendship. Kids with AS are *very* persistent and sometimes think if they just try hard enough, they will *make* that person be their friend.
* They have to learn different levels of friendship. They tend to think all acquaintances who are friendly to them are their close friends.
* Sometimes they reject friendship possibilities because their ideal friend is someone just like them. If they don't share exactly the same interests, they assume they cannot be friends.

There was so much that was useful and interesting in this presentation. I was so glad I went!

Jason Katims

Jason Katims was the afternoon keynote. He stumbled a bit at the beginning before getting into more of a groove later in his talk. He showed an 8-minute video of Parenthood clips that had me sniffling. Dude, did you have to show every single moment on the show that made me cry? Katims pointed out that he didn't set out to be an advocate for Aspergers; as a tv show writer, he was simply writing what he knew and what from real life he could mine for the show (common characteristic of tv writers, which is why so many tv shows are about tv writers and narcissists ;). As he went through the process of creating the show, he saw that he needed to separate the personal from the professional but at the same time so many moments on the show do find inspiration from his own life. He has deliberately made some changes so that Max and his son are not the same. He has brought experts on Aspergers and autism into the writers' room to share stories and information with the writers. He has to streamline/edit out stories when they don't quite seem appropriate for tv drama, like IEP meetings. I mean, he has a point. :) A fun fact: the girl whom Max asked to play foursquare in one episode was played by Katims' daughter.

The last thing Katims said really struck me. He said that someone once told him that when you enter into the world of Aspergers, you start engaging with a better class of people. (That's not an exact quote, btw--was trying to capture spirit of what he was saying). he has felt so enriched by the interactions with people, other families, therapist, schools, etc., that he never would have been involved with if his son did not have Aspergers. It was such a lovely way to end the talk, because it showed a lot of affection and warmth towards the many people there in the room with him.

Higher Education

The final workshop I went to was about People with AS entering into Higher Education. The presenter made the point that for people with AS, this is a huge transition. They go from HS, where they've had IEPs and supports and accommodations, all mandated by law, to college, where the only law that applies is the one mandating accommodations so as to not discriminate against people with disabilities.

The workshop was mainly geared towards parents of teenagers/college-aged kids, so as a college prof and mother of a 3rd grader, not a lot was immediately useful. However, the presenter also said that preparation is crucial, not just preparing kids to be independent, but also being prepared by finding the right environment and choosing the right college. Parents should keep in mind proximity to areas of interest (i.e., a kid who loves trains maybe shouldn't go to a college with few trains nearby), sensory issues (kids from the South should avoid, perhaps, going to schools in cold areas where they will have to adjust to wearing a bulky overcoat), and availability of services and supports for people with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders.

This workshop along with a discussion at our lunch table with a mom of a high school dropout (he was having a very negative experience in the school, and once he was old enough to drop out, he did) made me rethink seriously the idea that my son with AS needs to go to college. It may very well be that the kind of 4-year residential experience that was right for me may not be right for him. We are lucky in that we have an Ivy League experience 6 miles away, not to mention that his father works for that same Ivy League institution. He'll also have plenty of pre-college enrichment opportunities there, too. But I am definitely going to take a very open stance to the idea that attending college may not be what he wants or what is best for him.

Re the above mom of a HSer with AS: She mentioned that she wanted for her son to get his GED and go to a CC. One of the people at our table strongly recommended encouraging him to take one college course in an area of interest, so he could get a taste of what a college course is like in an area that's very familiar and interesting to him, before he has to run off and take a freshman composition course.

At the second day's lunch I was talking to people at my table about how I want to take everything I learned and just teach it to other people. Guess it's the college professor in me. But I keep coming back to how lucky I am to have gone, but how underinformed others can be. We had a playdate for the kids in our summer social skills group today, and one of the moms said the school psych at her son's school doesn't think her son has an ASD. (He has a PPD/NOS diagnosis.) But we have a horrible problem with needing more education of clinicians and support staff, even though things are getting much much better.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I just made plane reservations to attend this:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

All 4 of us are going. We are strangely giddy about it all.

Our only dilemma: do we Rally to Restore Sanity or do we March to Keep Fear Alive? Decisions, decisions!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kids and Bicycling

Last June, I was driving somewhere and passed by a school in the next town over. I didn't have my camera with me, but today I was going the same way and brought my camera in case I saw the same sight. I did! It was a beautiful sight, and one that gives me hope. This is an elementary school in Rhode Island for grades 4 and 5.

And that wasn't all. There was also this:

Since there wasn't any room in the racks in the first pic, the kids all left their bikes on the grass in the circle.

Kids *do* drive their bikes to school, even in the Northeast, in a community that does get a lot of through traffic (I was driving by because I was taking a shortcut).

When I saw all the bikes last June, I thought it might be some end-of-school special circumstance, but to see them all there again, on the second day of school, was heart-warming.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Checking In

I figured I should check in and write about what's been going on.

1. I have no social life, which is why I am typing this post at 8:30 on a Saturday night. :)
2. My daughter does have a social life, which is why she is off at a sleepover, thus freeing me from the nightly project to watch every Doctor Who episode in existence. I am regretting introducing that girl to the show.
3. We were on vacation for two weeks. We went to Yellowstone and saw bears, but fortunately, far enough away so they did not try to bite me.

That photo is by my husband, by the way.
4. My son has begun attending a 6-week summer social skills program at a local autism center. The kids there are all high-functioning, mainly Asperger's kids. The parents are all lovely, and it is such a relief to talk to other parents dealing with the same stuff.
5. My son is ending up being quite the arrogant brat who refuses to practice his greetings. He gets into a whole literalism thing that he uses as a weapon. "When we meet someone we haven't seen in a while, we say what?" "Oh, you want me to say What. OK, what!" *sigh* We have more practice tomorrow, as we will be hanging out with our friend Matt and his wife and kids, who will be on the Cape for the week instead of in New Jersey.
6. Both my kids have had birthdays the past two weeks. My daughter had a small at-home birthday party, and my son will have a Lego birthday party at home next weekend. Meanwhile, the house is littered with Legos and Lego creations.
7. I taught my son how to do Sudoku and got him a book of the puzzles. Yes, I am looking for peace and quiet. He has two modes: total absorption in what he's doing, or "I'm bored."
8. I am determined not to allow my children to wallow next to me all day wondering what to do, so I am bribing them to go outside and do household chores by setting up a reward system trading screen time for outdoor play/playdates/household chores. We'll see how it works, but I suspect my daughter is already plotting how to game the system.
9. I really thought Joel McHale deserved an Emmy nomination over Matthew Morrison.
10. I missed my dog while were on vacation. Here is a pic of her.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One Month

I've basically had about 4 weeks of vacation now, and as always, it's been a whirlwind of non-relaxation.

Work-related: I've submitted a conference paper proposal that was accepted, and now I have to write it. I started a report and a research project on our writing assessment program.

Home-related: I've been gardening till my bones ache, but I have been making quite a lot of progress.

I have a large area completed and mulched, with a few more small areas I need to work on before I have to stop and wait for my landscapers to install a walkway. I have plans for updating my living room, too.

Health-related: I've been working out 3x a week with a trainer and started counting calories, which has really made a difference.

Family-related: The kids' last day of school is Monday, but Wednesday was my daughter's "promotion" day. The last two weeks I've felt like I was in the car incessantly. I had to drive to Newport to meet a dogsitter, then to Braintree to the Lego store, then 20+ minutes to the only decent dance supply store in the area. My daughter had 3 rehearsals this week then a recital last night. I have two birthday parties to plan (including one today). Then there's the regular psychologist appointment and music lessons.

So, today we have my daughter's birthday party, which means we have to clean and do a few last minute errands. Tomorrow we're planning to see Toy Story 3. On Monday I have a doctor's appointment, and on Tuesday my daughter and I are both getting our hair cut (she gets it cut about once every two years) and going to the dentist.

Vacation-related: But the good news is that we go on vacation on Wednesday! Yellowstone, here we come!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


What I've been up to when I haven't been driving around incessantly:


Gardening's hard work, I'm finding. But really relaxing.

Monday, May 31, 2010


My son has taken guitar lessons and drum lessons but never stuck with either, and *never* practiced. My daughter didn't show much interest in music but always knew she wanted to play the flute when she got to 5th grade and could choose to learn a band instrument. She did, and she has excelled. At the concert in April, she was chosen to do a solo of the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the concert. She did great!

Over the past few months, my son has begun expressing interest in music lessons again. At S's last concert, he kept saying that he wanted to play the saxophone. Finally, a few weeks ago, I began to look into it, and I was told that sax is actually too difficult for a 7 year old, and most 7 year olds start on the clarinet first. So, I signed up S for flute lessons and E for clarinet lessons over the summer.

E had his first lesson Thursday night. Here is some video taken on Saturday afternoon:

And he keeps getting better. Today, I was sitting on the sofa reading a book while they practiced Frere Jacques, and at one point S told E not to slur the notes, and he adjusted quickly and perfectly. S wants to be a teacher; it's the only thing she's ever wanted to be (well, that and a zookeeper, but she figured she would be a zookeeper part-time and a teacher part-time). She craves opportunities to teach. And E loves nothing more than to learn. It's the perfect match. He soaks up everything she teaches him about music.

So now I am wondering what I'm going to do with them. They are both advancing beyond their age group. To be honest, I find it annoying to drive them back and forth to lessons weekly. :( But I may have to.

Oh well. My husband says that we should not assume E will stick with the clarinet, but I think he enjoys playing with S, and so that will keep him interested for a good long while.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


My father-in-law passed away on Friday. My husband, who knew him best, is convinced that he had Asperger Syndrome, like our son. He was socially awkward and introverted, into routines, and had obsessions. He also was an inflexible thinker. A note on my FIL's obit guestbook says: "I worked with [FIL] at [workplace] and knew him over 40 years. He was such a perfectionist about all his work. I will miss him." Aha. This is where my son gets it.

Like many with AS in the family, I now see it everywhere. Check out this guy:

What I am also finding is that E is very competitive with his sister (and vice versa). S plays the flute in 5th grade band. Well, now E is obsessed with the idea of playing the saxophone. He is too little for the sax, so he will be starting clarinet lessons tomorrow (his sister will be starting flute lessons). His sister wrote a 52 page, multi-chapter story. Well, now E has to write a story with chapters. He is on Chapter 2 now. It's about a kid who had no name until he was 13. Then he named himself Rodger. Chapter 2 is the first day of high school.

My job for the next few weeks is to get E some playdates. We put up the pool in the backyard, so that will be a draw if it stays warm enough. There are the Legos, but the kids are in the process of building a city downstairs with the Lego, and new people disrupt the city planning. I am afraid of conflict there. I think I may buy some more outdoor toys.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


My sister has a theory that what is wrong with the world today is that we have been coddling children's self-esteem way too much. Everyone has to be a winner, which is a problem.

I was teaching "Death of a Salesman" last week, a play I don't really enjoy reading, but I think there's a lot in it that students can connect with. Where we got to last week was this line by Happy:

"It's the only dream you can have-to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I'm gonna win it for him."

What's wrong with this statement, I asked. And the students could see that it's impossible for everyone to be the "number-one man." We can't *all* share that dream. At one point towards the end, Biff says "I know who I am." He knows he's *not* special. And that's ok with him. It just isn't ok with Willy, and therefore it's not ok with Willy's enablers, Happy and Linda.

It's ok if not everyone is special.

And yet, there is still such resentment against those who are, well, superior in some ways. I've always hated The Incredibles because I think it is in love with the idea that some people *are* special, but the same people who love the movie for that reason still resist acknowledging those who are. But they don't resist acknowledging physical superiority. They resist acknowledging intellectual superiority.

I wonder why that is? Why is it ok to admit, Hey, I'm not as strong as Mike Tyson or as good a golfer as Tiger Woods, or as good at tennis as Roger Federer, but it's still problematic for people to admit they are not as smart as others?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Mighty Wind

Interesting day today in the NYC area. We had a bit of wind.

Yes, that's my car meeting my mom's pear tree. My BIL and a neighbor and a few saws got it off the car with almost no damage.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Observations via Students

My students gave presentations yesterday on problems in urban middle schools, and a lot of issues were raised, including two I thought particularly worthy of note.

1. One group argued that middle school teachers need training to teach differently. I observed that many taxpayers feel that there is too much running around after the latest educational fad in the school systems. So I asked them: how many of you noticed these fads? How many of you feel that your teachers were teaching different things/different ways? All except 2 felt that there had been no changes in the way teachers taught. Maybe the content of the curriculum changed, but not the teaching methods. The students mostly agreed: Even if you give teachers new materials to teach, they will still use their old ways of teaching.

2. One group discussed the problems of gangs, and we observed that poverty was a root cause of gang formation. So I said, "What if we redistributed income, so the rich were less rich and the poor had more money?" I was told that was a stupid idea. :) The desire to keep money one has made outweighs their desire to see gangs eliminated. I thought that was interesting (and a little sad). But I think of my expression of opinions as seeds, ideas they can gnaw over, possibilities they are at least exposed to.

(Note: lest anyone think I am trying to brainwash them... uh, no. These guys have no problem telling me I'm stupid or wrong when they think I am.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Children and Physical Activity

We all know we should increase our levels of physical activity, especially our children. Yet we never seem to make our policies work to support this knowledge.

This school has.

In terms of feasibility, I can see why it would be hard to have all classes do PE first thing, but it could be a good idea for at-risk kids at a school.

Friday, April 09, 2010


On Wednesday we had a meeting with the special ed team to discuss whether my son was eligible for an IEP. We got stuck on the idea of "effective progress." Is E making effective progress? He could both have AS and yet still be making effective progress.

We brought an educational advocate with us to the meeting, which was good because I am very easily distracted. By the end of the meeting, we were all frazzled beyond belief, but what the advocate kept saying is that the school staff were agreeing E has AS but they couldn't provide any examples of him showing that he does. In a way, I think she forced them into thinking about specifically what aspects of AS he shows. This was incredibly useful, I think. I mean, all kids have varying levels of behavioral stuff. No kid is perfect all the time. But when we had to sit there and think "Hey, E does X because he has AS," I think that started to make an impression.

Anyway, as we left things on Wednesday, we all agreed that we were going to get an independent behavioral observation of E by an expert in AS.

I spoke with the principal today. He did some investigating on his own, specifically with the PE teacher (E has been receiving his only "2"s in this area--2 means he is not meeting standards) and the lunchroom staff.

The end result? He said E needs an IEP and he has spoken to the team and the team agrees.

I was prepared to go to BSEA, the board of special ed appeals, if necessary and make our case there. But now it seems we don't have to. I hate to say Victory! or Win! as it suggests this was a game, and it's not, but it is a relief that we can now start the process with all the members of the team in agreement.

Monday, April 05, 2010


This morning in my area, PBS aired a new episode of Arthur about George (the moose who is also a ventriloquist) making friends with Carl, who has Asperger's. I have to admit, I got teary in places, especially when George pulled out the puzzle piece.

I can't explain how it feels to watch a tv show that's about my son. He is 7, and sometimes it feels like we've been living with this for a hundred years and now we finally know there are other kids like him and other parents dealing with what we have dealt with. When I watch Parenthood and see the parents in the convenience store looking for Max's special kind of chips, I know someone out there gets it.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


I've been totally flummoxed by this Rolling Stone cover for Glee. I don't know if I have a coherent analysis, but the cover is a hot mess. I'll bullet-point some observations:

1. I'm told it's supposed to be a 40s-esque Rockwell homage, which would explain the dog, I guess. Otherwise, DOG? There's no dog in the show.

2. Lea Michele is a gorgeous woman and an amazing singer. (Totally irrelevant, but I am pretty sure I saw her in the original Ragtime on Broadway.) But why why why must we see her underwear? Talk about gratuitous!

3. Aside from the cover, the show does have a strange madonna/whore thing going on. Obviously, there is some irony involved that the head cheerleader who belongs to the Celibacy Club and comes from a conservative Christian family who gathers around the tv every night to watch Glenn Beck is the one who gets pregnant. That's really a cliché at this point.

But it's amazing how consistently *pure* Quinn comes across as despite her "fall" and her pregnancy. Dianna Agron is stunningly beautiful, and she looks like she could cry without getting blotchy. Thrown out of the Cheerios and relegated to wearing street clothes, she still wears demure, sweet dresses and tops.

Meanwhile, Rachel Berry is brunette, Jewish, and ambitious. She is socially liberal (the daughter of two gay men) and aware of her sexuality. She sees no need to use her sexuality to control men (though she does get tricked into trying to attract Finn with a sexy get-up). But it is her "natural" self, complete with weirdness, imperfections, and bad clothes, that Finn finds so appealing sexually. He can't stand her in many ways, but he's attracted to her. To some degree, so is Puck.

Quinn represents "true womanhood" in the world of Lima: she is religious, demure, feminine. She is not pure precisely, but maybe she is the 21st century socially conservative version of pure: since everyone has sex and everyone can be tempted, then she is ideologically pure for "choosing" to continue her pregnancy, the same way Bristol Palin seems to be exempt from criticism from conservatives for having a child before marriage.

Rachel represents "new womanhood," perhaps. She is pure in her motives. She doesn't lie about what she wants. But this is confusing to men who are used to dealing with women who lie/hide their desires. Rachel wants fame, she wants power, she wants Finn, and she probably also wants sex. She has talent, a remarkable talent she does not try to hide.

As a Cheerio, Quinn is a phenomenal athlete, but you'd never know it when she's with Finn. She was also an excellent singer, but Finn seemed to have no idea until she joined the glee club. Quinn's needs and desires are perpetually hidden.

Wish I could write more coherently about Glee, like these people.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


We were not seriously affected by the severe flooding in Rhode Island despite our proximity. Our basement did have a few inches of water in the furnace room, but none of it expanded to the finished area of the basement. We have had minor flooding there often, so everything is mostly up and off the floor. I should also note that my husband spent a lot of time watching the situation and using buckets to catch the water as it flowed in via the chimney. He also kept the dehumidifier running.

The other morning, my daughter took the dog for a walk and she said "I counted 12 hoses" coming from people's basements. Today I walked the dog, and not only were there hoses everywhere but also dumpsters. A lot of ruined basement furniture. What a shame. :(

As local Providence bloggers pointed out, a lot of this damage could have been avoided. The Warwick Mall had up to 20 inches of water inside. Well, check out where they built the mall:

I'm simply repeating the excellent post I linked to, so I'll let you take a look. But it's amazing how society takes risks thinking that the chances of bad things happening are so small.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Step Two

Ever since E was about 2, I've known something was not quite right. Even though his sister was similarly slow to speak, E seemed a little slower, and I had him evaluated by the Early Intervention team in my area. They felt he was just within the borderline of acceptable speech. They were impressed by his obvious intelligence, though.

At his 4th and 5th year appointments, I brought up his behavioral issues with his pediatrician. I forget when I talked about "Oppositional Defiant Disorder" with him, but he reassured me that wasn't it. I eventually got a referral for a child psychologist and took E to him to get assessed for sensory issues. The psych was noncommittal. Felt like a waste of my time.

It was his first grade teacher who raised the issue of autistic behaviors. We met with the special ed team, who had him evaluated by the OT. They weren't convinced there was anything particularly needed, but they gave him small group social skills instruction.

Thanks to a parenting list friend who has a profoundly gifted daughter, I was informed about the twice-exceptional child, the child who is both gifted and has some sort of neurological deficit. She was the one who told me that I had one of the nation's experts in 2e kids right in my backyard. We saw this psychologist and got a comprehensive evaluation. This was Step One. She diagnosed E as having Asperger's and some ADHD. However, we only just got her full report and recommendations a few weeks ago.

I took Step Two: I e-mailed the school to ask for a meeting to determine eligibility for Eric to receive special ed services. We met yesterday, and they made it pretty clear they think he is not eligible because he is making effective progress. We refused to sign off yesterday and requested time to discuss it further.

So we contemplate Step Three: the appeal. And I am not looking forward to it.

I also have 8 weeks left in my academic year. I am teaching 6 separate class, the equivalent of 4.5 classes (3 are half-classes), and I have 4 different preps. It's time for the year-end evaluations, so I have to compile the narrative of my year, and I have more meetings to attend than I can deal with. I'm co-leading an inservice on technology this week, and I should be preparing for that now. My daughter had a dance competition last weekend and will have another in 3 weeks, and in June she has a recital.

The next time I go to the doctor (in June), my blood pressure had better be within range or my doctor will be making noises about my going on BP meds. I don't see how that's going to happen if I'm stressed like this. :( However, the good news is that our daffodils are blooming already here in New England:

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Central Falls

Disclosure: the husband of one of my good friends works in the Central Falls schools but was not someone who was fired.

I could not be more appalled by the firing of the teachers at the Central Falls HS, and I am even more appalled by the so-called reformists who think it's a good idea.

There is no question that the CF HS is having difficulties. It's a dropout factory. It's a difficult school to teach at. The kids do not achieve. But firing all the teachers is not the answer, and it's stupid for anyone to think it is. This is about UNION-BUSTING, not about improving the schools.

In order to understand this situation, you must look at the cause of the situation. The teachers were not fired because they were BAD teachers. If they were fired because they were BAD teachers, if that were superintendent Frances Gallo's reason for firing them, then we could have a discussion about whether this is really school reform.

No, they were fired because they refused to work more hours for less money. That makes this a MONEY issue. The job of the teacher's union is to ensure that the teachers are compensated appropriately for their work.

If Gallo had the money to pay the teachers to do these things, the reforms would happen. This is not an issue of the teachers refusing to try anything new. It's an issue of COMPENSATION.

This is what is at stake.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

AS and Travel

We love to travel. I was 6 months pregnant with my first child when I went to Paris (which I knew would be my last trip for many years). Now that the kids are 10 and 7, we've been traveling much more. In the past year or two, we've been to Florida (Disney), Seattle/Portland, San Diego, Washington DC, and as of this week, San Francisco.

The kids are pretty good travelers. On the plane, they bring books, puzzles, and toys and look out the window. We always fly Southwest, which has no tvs or in-plane movies. My husband usually brings his laptop, but they never seem to sit and watch it.

However, my son (who has AS) finds his traveling complicated by his allergies. Very often, a plane trip will result in an allergy attack (dust mites?). We bring Benedryl on the plane to protect against such events.

This trip, he needed a few doses of Benedryl and continued to be congested through much of the first few days of the trip. We also had jet lag and were tired. For the first two days in SF, he was quite difficult. The way it manifested was verbal. He doesn't have Tourette's, I think, because his vocalizations aren't tic-like. But he can start talking/making noise in the most disruptive way possible, usually by some kind of perseveration. He will repeat things again and again. Not single words, but phrases. And there's a kind of verbal aggressiveness to it, as if he is using his vocalizing to assert his power. He's not necessarily loud; he just speaks again and again.

On Monday, he had a dollar that my husband had given him (the Southwest in-flight magazine has an activity on folding dollar bills into origami shapes). E got obsessed with the idea of finding a vending machine so he could buy a snack. Again and again and again he told us he wanted to find a snack machine. Finally, my 10 year old daughter had had enough. "Did you say smack machine?" she said. And she smacked him. (ETA: Playfully! And later, she only pretended to.)

I was aggravated, but she wouldn't stop. So every time he mentioned the snack machine, she would say "Did you say smack machine?"

Then a strange thing happened. It started to become ... funny. So much so that even on the plan trip home, we were still cracking each other up over the "smack machine."

Maybe it was getting some more sleep, but by Tuesday, he had calmed down and was not so perseverative. That was a relief.

Wednesday, the Exploratorium was a big hit with the kids (I would have preferred the California Academy of Sciences, but in the end, the Exploratorium was free on Wednesday, which made it a better deal. I had a backup plan to escape to the CAS if it was too crowded at the Exploratorium, but we didn't need it.)

The Exploratorium has an exhibit on seeing. One of the parts of the exhibit involved large poster boards with similar items on it, like 100 Es and Rs. One of the Rs was in a different font. There were about 6 posters like this; one had about 100 small pics, 99 of which were dogs and 1 of which was a cat. Or they were all pointing one way except for one. It was an exercise to show how hard it is to perceive minor differences.

E went up to it, crossed in front of some people viewing it, and said "Oh, this is easy!" and proceeded to identify every single one of the differences almost immediately. The other people viewing the exhibit were amazed. I wanted to say "That's the Asperger's."

In another exhibit, he did a nice job of identifying the emotions expressed by eyes (the eyes only are shown, and the viewer must identify the emotions the face is expressing). However, he didn't do a very good job of distinguishing between fake smiles and real smiles.

And lastly, in a Free-Range Parenting moment, our first morning there, we went to Fort Point. The kids played along the water's edge as the rough surf splashed onto the walkway/roadway. At one point, one of the passersby said to me, "You must really love your kids" in a sarcastic voice. Well, yes, yes, I do. I love them enough not to treat them like fragile snowflakes. Did they get wet? Sure. Did they get sick? No (well, Eric had an asthma attack, but that was from all the running around). Did they get washed into the surf? No--I was watching them closely. I can't stand assholes who feel the need to comment on my parenting.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


My intro comp students are allowed to bring a Works Cited page and notes/quotes to their final exam (writing an extensive sourced and documented essay). Usually I bring a stapler to corral all their papers together into one easy-to-access package. However, I forgot the stapler today.

Digging around in my book bag, I easily found 23 paper clips, with some to spare.

Epic facepalm.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheating Culture

Feeling kind of blue today. Down the hall, my department chair is meeting with 2 students and their instructor over a plagiarism case I uncovered. We require all students in our advanced composition class to write an essay in class. They must achieve a certain assessment on the essay in order to graduate (but we give them workshops up the wazoo to help them, and they have multiple opportunities to write the essay again before they graduate, with the appropriate support given to them). But it is high stakes.

We're not sure how the students plagiarized but we're pretty sure the language on both essays matches that on a Yahoo Answers web site. Did they copy from each other? Did they bring up the site (separately) on their cell phones? Did they know the questions in advance and looked up the site and memorized it? I'll find out when the meeting is over.

I coordinate this writing assessment every term, and I read somewhere between 200 and 300 essays in the last 2 weeks of the term, and I just happened to notice this case because they both mentioned the golden lion tamarin, a monkey I enjoy seeing at our local zoo. It's weird how this happens, but it also makes you wonder how often it happens and I don't notice.

To add to the complexities, both these students are international students. My husband once suggested to me (in the case of the person who violated security at Newark and shut down the airport for hours) that people who live in totalitarian countries tend to be more likely to cheat or violate the laws because the laws are inherently unfair and overcontrolling laws, so the people develop the habit of violating them. Yet we also have high levels of cheating in American culture, a non-totalitarian culture (despite Bush/Cheney's best attempts). David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture, will be visiting my campus next month, and I plan to ask him for his input.

Meanwhile, I think what a lot of "21st century skills" people are thinking about is how to evade the problem. Joe Hoyle suggests that we stop trying to test for memorization and instead test for other skills, like critical thinking and learning. (Via Delaney Kirk.)

We are so used to seeing other countries, with their pedagogy of memorization, as superior learning environments to America's. But maybe time will tell if these strategies actually increase learning and education, or whether we still measuring success by old standards.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 4 with a side order of Joe Stack

I'm in a brief lull in the middle of a busy time, so this will probably be my last post on Bishop. A few things I wanted to add:

1. I originally thought that Bishop may have had some underlying racism due to the fact that she shot 4 out of 5 people of color in a small department. However, it seems that it may be coincidence. Survivors of the shooting say she simply was making her way around the table and shot in the order that people were sitting. Source.

2. MH made the point that Bishop is an outlier. He's right; she is, simply for being a woman--women rarely are mass murderers. Bishop, though, is also a woman in the field of science, which has been a traditionally male field. I think it's also interesting that she has four children. Women in academia seem to have smaller families; it is well documented how the demands of pursuing tenure in academia do not mesh well with being a parent. Did having that juggle add to Bishop's stresses? I don't know where Jim Anderson's family lives, but Amy's family certainly wasn't in Huntsville helping her out with raising 4 kids.

3. This was one of the most interesting stories I read on the Bishop case. As you know, it's the 1986 shooting in Braintree that fascinates me. I could not believe that Paul Frazier went out there less than 24 hours after the shooting and claimed that the 1986 police had instigated a cover-up. I knew there was more to this story, and there was. Frazier (the chief in 2010) and Polio (the chief in 1986) were at odds in 1986. Frazier was the police union rep; Polio was the police chief who was, according to the article above, taking away some of the police officers' perks.

As I suspected, Solimini's memories of the event, as expressed by Frazier in 2010, do not entirely match up with the police report Solimini wrote in 1986. Frazier made it sound all a lot worse. And now it sounds like he deliberately did so in order to make Polio look bad.

I still contend that after an accidental shooting, one wants to avoid arresting the shooter if one can help it. The worst has already happened, so why add more?

4. And one last thing: A few days after Bishop murdered three people, a man named Joe Stack flew a plane into the IRS office building in Austin, TX and killed one person and himself. But when you read the reports on Stack, you do not hear the same stories you heard about Bishop. Bishop was detached, behaved strangely, seemed to have an anger problem. From reading what the people in Austin had to say about Stack, you'd think he was the sweetest guy around. He never expressed his hatred of the IRS to others.

So again, I don't think it's a given that people planning mass murder (we were lucky Stack's plane killed only one IRS worker; he wanted to kill more, certainly) show signs of their murderous nature before they act. Stack certainly seemed to crack as early as a day before, but for most of his life he sounds like a lovely person to be around, just a little obsessed (for a guy who was pretty well off financially--gee, I'd like to have a 2500-sq-ft house and a private plane) with taxes.

Because maybe that's how becoming a murderer works. It's not something deep within you. It happens when you crack somehow. Amy Bishop happens to have been an occasionally unpleasant person before 2010; Joe Stack happens to be someone who was mostly very pleasant. But something set off both of these people, and they didn't have the psychological strength to pull themselves back from it.

And that led to tragedy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 3

This will be short as I am in the middle of the last week of classes and writing assessment. Have to finish a ton of grading before tomorrow.

All the police records have been located in the Amy Bishop case.

First, JUDY BISHOP WAS NOT ON THE POLICE PERSONNEL BOARD. Can we get that straight once and for all? She went to Town Meeting. I guess that makes her "powerful," but when I think of the numbskulls in my town who are active at Town Meeting, I'm not all that impressed.


If there was a cover-up, then it was not covering-up a murder. It was covering up/glossing over the charges on which Bishop could have faced.

Every single piece of evidence we have suggests it was an accidental shooting, including pretty much every police report that exists, which are labelled "Accidental Shooting." This does not mean she could not have been charged for other things, pointing the gun at the guys in the auto repair shop. But to quote from Solimini's report, Bishop was "frighten [sic], disoriented and confused." Solimini also says she had a fight with her father, not her brother.

It therefore makes absolutely no sense to say that Amy had a fight with her brother and shot him deliberately.

What was covered up? This looks like the likeliest scenario:

Amy shot her brother by mistake. She freaked out. She was picked up by police. She was brought to the station. She could have been charged. Because she was a rich white girl who was obviously traumatized, and because her parents were well-known, they let her go home.

That is basically about the whole of it.

We have GOT to look at this incident from the perspective of the people facing it in 1986. They did not know that in 2010 she would murder three people. She looked and acted like a kid who had made a horrible mistake.

My third point is that WE STILL HAVE NO EVIDENCE OF A THIRD SHOT. What we know is that Amy accidentally discharged the gun in her room then freaked out, tried to hide it, couldn't, then came downstairs and tried to get her brother's help, then accidentally (negligently, some gun owners insist on calling it) discharged it again. Why that seems like an illogical sequence to anyone is beyond me. It makes perfect sense.

I have a fascination with Columbine and with research/journalism, so this reminds me very much of the assumption-making and myth-creating that happened shortly after the Columbine shooting. I can't imagine why anyone would want to be part of that. If I end up writing a lot and challenging others' assumptions, it's mainly because I think the truth deserves that. We need to question assumptions and claims, particularly before all the information is in. This is a version of what Tim Burke was warning about in the thread on 11D, but I see the process a little bit differently. I think that the more we talk about all the possible explanations, the less likely we are to settle on one possibly wrong one.

I think Paul Frazier acted incredibly irresponsibly in giving that first press conference. Were I a resident of Braintree, I would be leading the call to question his judgment.

Part 4 will be about race and gender, but I am not allowed to write that till I finish my grading.

Edited to link to 11D thread.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Amy Bishop Part 2

There are some additional aspects of the Amy Bishop case I'd like to discuss, subjects of great personal relevance. I'm going to start by talking about Asperger Syndrome/autism spectrum disorders and Amy Bishop. My son was recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and understandably, I have been reading and talking about it a lot lately.

I am aware that diagnosis via newspaper article/Internet is wrong. But the descriptions of Amy Bishop from just about everyone who knew her strongly suggest someone who has an autism spectrum disorder.

Please note: this is not going to turn into an apology or excuse for Bishop's crime in Alabama (or her possible crime in Massachusetts).

Here are some of the things people have said about her:

"She didn’t know how to make small talk," she said. "It’s like she didn’t have that gene." Source. (Added on 2/21/10)

In meetings, Mr. Setzer remembered, she would go off on "bizarre" rambles about topics not related to tasks at hand — "left-field kind of stuff," he said. Source.

"She was kind of weird," he said. "I mean, all scientists are weird, right? But she was just kind of weird. She didn't strike me as psychotic." Source.

There was no doubt, however, about her intelligence or pedigree. "She's pretty smart," said Mr. Setzer. "That was not a question. There might have been some question about how good of a [principal investigator] and mentor she was. Yeah, she knows her stuff, and she's a good technical person, but as far as being the boss and running the lab, that was kind of the question." Source.

Shortly after the attempted bombing, Fluckiger said, Bishop told her she had been questioned by police. According to Fluckiger, Bishop said police asked her if she had ever taken stamps off an envelope that had been mailed to her and put them on something else.

"She said it with a smirk on her face,'' said Fluckiger. Source.

Nursing students repeatedly complained to Dr. Podila, the department chairman, as well as to the dean, and even sent a petition, said Caitlin Phillips, a junior in the nursing program, who took two courses with Dr. Bishop in her sophomore year

She was “very socially awkward with students” and never made eye contact during personal conversations, Ms. Phillips said. “We all had kind of a problem with her. She never really taught much. She just read straight from the book.” Source.

The Boston Herald has an entire article identifying her as an "oddball":

“She was an oddball - just not very sociable,” said Sylvia Fluckiger, a former lab technician who worked with Bishop in 1993.

“She was quite cavalier about it,” Fluckiger said of Bishop’s description of her interview with police. She said Bishop “grinned” as she described being asked by cops whether she’d ever taken stamps off an envelope and fastened them onto something else. “I cannot tell you what the grin meant,” Fluckiger said.

A classmate of Seth Bishop’s recalled yesterday that the boy, who was “painfully shy,” never talked about his older, only sibling.

“It was as if he was a complete stranger in her life. It seemed like a dysfunctional family. We just accepted them as being odd,” said the classmate, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity.

Amy Bishop, he said, “wasn’t mean because she wasn’t someone you could get close to. She wasn’t an attractive girl, she didn’t have friends. She didn’t work at having friends. I think people probably, over time, learned to leave her alone.”

The Bishop household, he said, “was anything but a home . . . It was just a really dreary, dark place where there wasn’t a lot of love.”


Sounds kind of like some sort of autism spectrum disorder, no? And that Seth had it, too. This was 1986, when people weren't knowledgeable about autism.

So let's back up a little. Nothing changes the fact that she murdered three people. But can other aspects of her life be explained by an ASD?

Amy graduated high school at age 16, apparently. This would be a sign not only of great intelligence but also perhaps of social awkwardness.

Her brother was shy and didn't mention their family very much. They seemed "dysfunctional."

Amy seems to have married one of her first boyfriends, as she was dating Jim Anderson when she shot her brother. Their marriage has lasted through that tragedy, through graduate school, through working together, through four children. That doesn't sound to me like someone who lacks love. It may be someone who can't *show* love very easily.

As the mother of a child with Asperger's, I know all too well that failure to act in a socially appropriate manner. I know how it appears he is uninterested or uncaring when he doesn't look someone in the eye. I know he often seems uncaring if he doesn't respond to others' pain (the example I use is when I broke my ankle right in front of him).

Is my son going be looked at with suspicion and distrust his entire life? What if crimes or accidents occur around him? Will he be railroaded into investigations because he smirks at the wrong time? Will these investigations be held against him for the rest of his life (as apparently the investigation of Bishop in the pipe bombing case is being held against her even though she was cleared)?

As a parent, these issues concern me. They petrify me. They make me feel protective of my son. I can only imagine that Judy Bishop felt the same way.

In the end, even though I am, like Bishop, an Ivy-League-trained academic without tenure, the person I really relate to in this whole matter is her mother.

(Edited for grammar.)

Amy Bishop, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a series of posts I want to do on Amy Bishop. I get incredibly frustrated by misinformation, so I am trying to bring together everything that is known about her and about the case.

Here, I construct a timeline of Bishop's life and then examine the police reports and other information on her brother's death.

Edited 2/21/10


1965 Amy born (edited to correct)
1968 Seth born
1983 Amy graduates HS
1985 House is broken into/Sam and Seth buy gun, get gun licenses?
1986 Seth graduates HS?
1986 Seth is shot and killed.
1988 Amy graduates Northeastern (Added 2/21/10)
1991 Amy has first child
1993 Amy gets her doctorate from Harvard
1993 Amy and husband Jim Anderson are investigated in case of pipe bomb sent to Amy’s lab supervisor
1996 Sam and Judy sell the house in Braintree; Amy rents carriage house
1999 Sam retires from Northeastern
2001 Amy has 4th child
2005 Amy and Jim move to Huntsville/UAH

Reports differ as to Bishop’s age. Police say she is 42. The university website says she is 44. The state police report says she was 19 in December 1986. She was likely born in 1967 and is 42. She graduated high school in 1983 (the same year I did). I skipped a grade; Amy seems to have skipped one or two grades and graduated early. Edited 2/21/10--Apparently I was over-reading the situation.

Her brother Seth was born April 9, 1968. (State police report) Her father was Samuel Bishop, a professor (of art) at Northeastern U. Her mother was Judith (Judy) Bishop. Judy Bishop was on the Town of Braintree’s Personnel Board at the time of the shooting.

On Saturday, December 6, 1986, Bishop shot her brother. She and her brother were attending Northeastern at the time. It is unclear whether she and her brother were dorming at Northeastern or living at home and commuting. As it was a Saturday, it makes sense that everyone was home.

According to the interviews in the state police report, at approximately 11:30 am, Sam Bishop left the house. His wife was out. After 11:30 and before 2:22, Amy, Judy, and Seth ended up together in the house. Amy took the shotgun from her parents’ room and loaded it and the gun discharged in her room. At some point she came downstairs and the gun discharged there, killing her brother. Amy left the house after that.

At 14:22 (2:22 pm), officers responded to the house at 46 Hollis Ave after a report of a shooting. The officers responding were Officers Jordan and Murphy.

The Braintree Daily Police Log reads 1422 46 Hollis Ave Accidental shooting 814 813 817 BS C-10 Code 51 QGH Sudden death. Code 91 Sgt. Brady

A later code in the log reads: Marks 811 Condon 812 R Jordan and T Murphy 813 Finn 814 Depisa 815 Solimini 816.

This suggests that the officers on the scene were Finn, Jordan, Murphy and (817?)

At 1507 (3:07) Finn reported that Seth Bishop was pronounced dead at the hospital. He
must have accompanied the paramedics to the hospital.

At 1516 (3:16) Solimini was listed as the officer responding to an alarm going off at a pharmacy.

At 15:43 (3:43) Solimini was listed as the officer responding to a motor vehicle accident on Quincy Ave.

In his remarks on Feb. 13, 2010, Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier says he spoke to Officer Solimini, who said:

“Officer Ronald Solimini informed me that he wrote the report and said that I wouldn’t find it as it has been missing from the files for over 20 years. He said that former Police Chief Edward Flynn had looked for the report and that it was missing. He believes this was in 1988.”
Officer Solimini recalled the incident as follows: He said he remembers that Ms. Bishop fired a round from a pump action shotgun into the wall of her bedroom. She had a fight with her brother and shot him, which caused his death. She fired a third round from the shotgun into the ceiling as she exited the home. She fled down the street with the shotgun in her hand. At one point she allegedly pointed the shotgun at a motor vehicle in an attempt to get the driver to stop. Officer Solimini found her behind a business on Washington Street. Officer Timothy Murphy was able to take control of the suspect at gunpoint and seized the shotgun. Ms. Bishop was subsequently handcuffed and transported to the police station under arrest.”

On December 8, 1986, the Patriot-Ledger (local paper) published a news account of the shooting. The article claims that:

"Police said his sister, Amy Bishop, was trying to unload the pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun when it discharged."

"She pumped a round from the magazine into the firing chamber of the shotgun, then went into the kitchen and asked her brother and mother for help when she couldn’t eject the shell from the chamber, investigators said."

Her mother instructed Amy Bishop to pump the shotgun again, which ejected the first shell, according to an investigator. However, she apparently pumped the weapon again and unknowingly advanced a second shell from the magazine to the chamber.

Thinking the weapon was empty, she pulled the trigger, the investigator said. The blast struck her brother, who was standing three to four feet in front of her, authorities said."

"The accident is under investigation by Braintree police and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, but authorities said they don’t expect charges to be filed."

Timeline of December 6 to 17, 1986

December 6:
11:30 Sam Bishop leaves house.
11:30 to 2:22 Amy Bishop takes shotgun from father's room; Judy Bishop comes home; Seth Bishop goes out to get food for lunch and returns; Amy Bishop shoots Seth Bishop.
2:22 Police respond to report of shooting.
3:07 Seth Bishop is pronounced dead at the hospital.
3:16 Officer Solimini responds to a report of an alarm going off, i.e., he is back on patrol in Braintree.

Other events of the day: Amy Bishop is apprehended and brought to the police station. Amy Bishop is allowed to leave in the custody of her mother. Then-Police Chief John Polio refuses to name shooter and says that the shooting of Seth Bishop was accidental.

December 7:
Chief Polio tells press that Amy Bishop accidentally discharged the shotgun, killing her brother.

December 8:
Patriot Ledger reports that Amy Bishop shot her brother accidentally. The fatal shooting was witnessed by Bishop’s mother, Judith, according to authorities.
The article also says: The accident is under investigation by Braintree police and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, but authorities said they don’t expect charges to be filed.

December 9:
Patriot Ledger reports further, quoting Judy Bishop. “It all happened in a split-second in front of me,” Judith Bishop, their mother, said this morning. “I keep seeing it over and over in my mind.”
Braintree Police Captain Theodore Buker is quoted: When the shotgun went off in her bedroom, Amy Bishop, 20, became frightened and “highly emotional” and went downstairs to her mother and brother to find out how to unload it, Braintree Police Capt. Theodore Buker said.

December 17:
From the state police report filed by Trooper Brian Howe:
On December 17, 1986, this officer, Captian Theodore Buker and Detective Michael Carey of the Braintree Police Department proceeded to 46 Hollis Avenue in the Town of Braintree.

Braintree Police Daily Log, December 6, 1986
Patriot Ledger articles, December 8, 1986 and December 9, 1986
State Police Investigation Report, March 30, 1987 based on interviews conducted on December 17, 1986
Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier's comments on the Bishop case, February 13, 2010
'Everyone Thought She Was Gentle,' Boston Herald, February 14, 2010.
Contradictory Tales of 1986 Bishop Shooting, NECN, February 14, 2010
Alleged Ala. killer was suspect in Harvard professor bomb attempt

A Few Thoughts:

Officer Solimini is the source for the doubts about the conclusion that Seth Bishop's shooting was accidental. However, the timeline is unclear about his involvement. A simple error could explain why he is not listed as one of the officers responding to the scene of the shooting (817 could have been wrongly put down instead of 816). However, later entries indicate that Solimini was responding elsewhere less than an hour after the shooting. Could he have apprehended Bishop behind a building on Washington St, then arrested her? Did he then bring her to the police station, then return to patrol? Or did he return later and then observe Bishop's release? Why was he the one to write the report?

The shotgun may have been a Remington 870 or something similar. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most popular/common models of pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun. One can imagine that it was easily available in a place like Coleman's Sporting Goods.

There are contradictory statements about the number of shots fired. Solimini says 3 shots: 1 in Amy's bedroom and 2 in the kitchen (1 shot fatally struck Seth, the other was discharged into the ceiling). The state police investigative report mentions only two shots.

At no time does anyone claim three shots in a row were fired.

The Braintree police department says that the original police report is missing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day here in Southern New England. I'm supposed to grade 24 papers by tomorrow. But I can't think with 3 other people in the house, and I can't leave.

I think this is professorial hell.

So I keep distracting myself with planning our Yellowstone trip but I'm not liking the available airfares.


Sunday, January 24, 2010


I am quite excited, perhaps more so than circumstances warrant. I just edited my very first Wikipedia entry ever! It's the entry for Cindy Oh Cindy, a 1956 hit by Eddie Fisher and later apparently sung by the Beach Boys, though I don't know anything about that.

My guess is that a Beach Boys aficionado originally wrote the entry and just pulled in a link to the Robert Barron entry that already existed on Wikipedia. There is a Robert Barron who was an actor, and there is a web page out there that claims him as the author of "Cindy Oh Cindy." However, I think it's a mix-up. Robert Nemiroff, aka Lorraine Hansberry's husband, co-wrote the song with a friend. It's pretty much documented in Philip Rose's memoir.

I got intrigued because I learned that when Nemiroff wrote a hit pop song that made him rich, Hansberry was able to stop working and concentrate on writing. "Cindy Oh Cindy" was written in 1956, 3 years before "A Raisin in the Sun" debuted on Broadway.

We wouldn't have "A Raisin in the Sun" if not for "Cindy Oh Cindy."

AS and Wii

My son tends to get frustrated with computer games. He has gotten angry and frustrated with Webkinz games, but now it's gotten even worse with the Wii. Sometimes he makes Miis using instructions from the Internet, and this can take a while and it's very calm. But when he's playing several kinds of games (the Wii Carnival games are his bete noire now), he gets increasingly frustrated. It's even worse when he's playing with his (older) sister and loses. So, for the second time in about 2 weeks, I just unplugged the Wii and took it away. He's in his room getting some control over himself.

He's been having a lot of trouble all week. In school, he's had trouble with two auxiliary teachers (phys ed and library). He normally thrives in library, but this week he crawled under a table and was making the other kids laugh and couldn't stop what he was doing when rebuked. I'm not sure what's going on in phys ed, but he has had negative comments on his report card before (doesn't listen, doesn't take turns). The thing I hate about AS is that I don't have a frickin' clue what to do. I sense that there is some sort of sensory overload issue happening both in phys ed and with the Wii. At the library, I am clueless. His teacher said he seemed to be getting something positive out of making the other kids laugh, and he couldn't extricate himself from that loop.

On Wednesday evening, my husband and I went to a panel discussion sponsored by AANE. The panel featured a neuro/behavioral pediatrician, an educational lawyer/special ed advocate, a social worker with the Groden Center, and a school psychologist. It was all very interesting, but I find myself just needing to know What To Do. I don't have enough of a toolbox. I feel the way I did when E was diagnoses with asthma. It took over a year for us to be able to manage his asthma effectively.

I think this week's problems may be related to one or more of these factors:
1. He's not getting enough sleep. We are having a lot of trouble getting these kids to bed early. This is partially due to our own hours. We don't eat dinner till 6 or 7, and then the kids want some play time after dinner.
2. He's eating poorly at school and at home. He has been eating hot lunch at school, but on days he doesn't have hot lunch, he insists on eating Lunchables. He won't eat anything else, and I'm about 70% sure he doesn't eat the actual meat and cheese in the Lunchable, only the jello and cookie. We have always had a lot of trouble with managing the kids' food intake. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to get E to ask for some specific food. He says "I'm hungry" and will never ask for a specific food. It drives us insane, but it seems to be part of some sort of communication issue. He is indirect about just about everything.
3. The Wii. Sensory overload can lead to all sorts of emotional imbalances.

We've been seeing Dr. Lovecky, but I think I need to be more forthcoming or direct about what I feel like we need. I need him to be able to ask for what he wants, directly. I need for him to be able to eat yogurt at school (he refuses; he will eat yogurt at home, but not at school). I need for him to be able to control his frustration when he's playing Wii. I need for him to be able to do his evening bedtime routine without too much prompting. I need him to not let his sister provoke him into getting mad.

And I'd like to be able to walk into the school, run into his teacher, and not have to hear about the latest problems. :(