Bullying: Let's Find a Way to Stop It

It's what we fear for our children: bullies. The world is no kinder than it was when we were children; I'm sure we can all remember the bullies of our childhood, even if we were never a target.

The stories of children who have been bullied continue unabated, a steady trickle in the news for the most sensational or tragic of the cases, but most stories are untold, unheard, silent. Children suffer, and parents ache as they fight the school districts to take their child's story seriously. How many of us simply pull our children from the schools, bring them home and teach them ourselves? I know that the complete inadequacy of the school systems to properly educate and protect my bright boy led to my bringing him home to educate him, and I watch my girls like a hawk to see how they're doing at school (so far there's been no bullying of them, although there have been the occasional tiffs that kids have).

Emily at A Life Less Ordinary? makes a call to action, to do something about bullying. Let's. Let's put our heads together as community members, parents and individuals, many of us undoubtedly at some point bullied, and work together to say no more to tolerance of the cruel actions of bullies.


Ants, Sunflowers, and Individuality

Made me think of youth and old age.


Explicit and Implicit Norms: The Classroom (and autism) as Example

It’s been a little more than two years since I finished my master’s in psychology, and I was looking through some of the work I’d done in my social psychology class when I ran across a discussion post on implicit and explicit norms. At the time I was an adjunct instructor in developmental reading and writing; I've just this semester moved to a full-time English instructor position. 
          The piece remains of interest to me, both because of my role as an instructor and as mom to three on the spectrum. Explicit norms are for obvious reasons easy to grasp; they’re the rules that are clearly stated; implicit norms are much harder, especially for folks who have difficulty with socially-based learning. 
          One of the things we have to do as parents to kids with impairments in social communication is to make those implicit norms explicit while also working to help our children learn the exceptions to the rules. It’s confusing, even for those of us who may be adept at navigating the social world, as we are often working with competing implicit norms. 
            The following is my piece from almost three years ago (little did I realize at the time that my master’s program readied me for my blogging!). It has, I think, held up well; I continue to fine tune my teaching techniques to keep students interested and actively learning, knowing that I will never reach the point where tinkering is unnecessary. Teaching is a challenging and rewarding experience. It is best viewed as a game of strategy in which the prize is the lighting of sparks in students. Laughter, joy, and keen attention to the students’ frames of mind are important tools to reaching them, engaging them, and hopefully, transferring the ideas that critical thinking and active participation are the keys to achieving their goals for themselves, even if they feel they have no particular goals: making succeeding in the course a goal may help achieve compliance with the explicit norms of the classroom. 
              (Note this was written in the winter of 2007/2008.) As an adjunct instructor at a community college, I participate in a group setting each semester with the courses I teach. Baron, Byrne, and Branscombe (2006) define roles within groups to be the “different tasks” that “different persons” perform and the specific accomplishments each is expected to attain (p. 463). My explicit role in the group of individuals meeting for, as an example, PSYC 2301, is as the instructor for the class. The other individuals in the course play the explicit roles of students. My implicit role is that of guide and nurturer (self-identified; I could easily self-identify an implicit role for myself as an alarm clock for the students, and see my role as one of forcing them to conform or leave the group). An implicit role I see that students have is that they are just as likely to have a great deal to offer to the class as a group and to the other individuals of the group if I can create a safe, accepting environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas.
            Baron, Byrne, and Branscombe (2006) define norms as the “rules established by groups” which define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors (p. 464). Horne (2004) specifically focuses on the sanctions which enforce the rules (or norms). An explicit norm for the classroom is that the students come prepared to class, as these rules are spelled out clearly in the syllabus that is handed to them and then read to them. Repeated emphasis is made that the students should read the material before hand. An implicit norm, at least at the community college I teach at, would appear to be that students need not come to class prepared (it’s what the students appear to believe, at least). An explicit norm is that classes are 1 hour and 25 minutes long, and yet an implicit norm appears to be that classes in actuality tend to run less than 45 minutes in many courses.
            Students attempt to enforce the implicit norm of short classes by creating an environment that lets the instructor know when they are ready to leave. They do this by closing their books in mid-lecture and packing their things away, making it clear that the instructor may continue to lecture but it will fall on more deaf ears than usual. Other students streaming by beginning at thirty minutes into the course time also act as enforcers of the implicit norm that courses get out early. My classes deviate from the implicit norm most of the time, while adhering to the explicit norm that classes will meet the prescribed length of time, or as close as possible, other than test day. Some of the initial consequences to my deviating from the implicit norm which my students wish I would follow is a cacophony of sighs when I tell them I assume those textbooks are closing because they are ready for a quiz so that they can demonstrate their competence. This also reinforces the explicit norm that they will come to class prepared, thus violating their implicit norm that they will not read the book beforehand.
            My father employs similar tactics in his courses and has ensured relative levels of compliance with the explicit norms by a form of sanctioning he calls Jeopardy, which is played at each class meeting. Desks are cleared while the game is played (usually between one- and two-thirds of the course time), so that students cannot attempt to enforce the implicit norm that class will dismiss early. Rewards are provided by group assessments, demonstrated orally (doing a quiz on the computer, which Dad feeds onto the projection screen), which when competence is demonstrated leads to candy, bonus points on unit tests, and the class moving on to new material. Sanctions also occur in the potentiality of looking unprepared if one is in fact unprepared. I will not go so far as to say the student feels shame over the situation, nor does my father ever create a negative environment, but the student’s lack of preparation plays an obvious role in overall group performance. If a student has enough conscientiousness to care about saving face, this leads to greater preparation by the student. My father, depending on the course, the distribution of student age, and the time of the class, often achieves better compliance with class preparedness than instructors who do not employ devices to force preparedness.
            Over my years of teaching (and observing the lessons that both my parents have shared from their teaching experience), I have learned valuable lessons on what it takes to make an effective classroom in a community college environment. It takes ingenuity and a tough skin, an awareness that students will often rise to the level of discourse you desire if you create both systems of incentive and sanction (candy, praise, rubber duckies, and good grades as well as the sanction of looking unprepared and hurting group performance and the potentiality of poor grades). I believe that a key to a productive classroom environment is that the disparate individuals must be encouraged to accept membership in the class group quickly. Knowing everyone else and some personal information allows for emotional investment. A positive, warm, and encouraging demeanor by the instructor helps foment group identity, and humor is a key ally. Creating accountability, both to the group and to oneself by creating a grading system that balances group work, daily grades, and tests is the best way to ensure a fairly smooth and regular routine to the classroom. Students unwilling to meet these explicit norms will ideally move on quickly to other courses where the implicit norms are more likely to be met or choose to adjust their behavior.

Baron, R., Byrne, D., & Branscombe, N. (2006). Social psychology (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Horne, C. (2004). Collective Benefits, Exchange Interests, and Norm Enforcement. Social Forces, 82(3), 1037-1062. 


Monday Night: Sore Feet

Not much to say here, except sometimes a lap full of cat is pretty awesome.

And ain't that a sky?


All Mondays should be as lovely as this one was, sore feet and all!



Getting a jump on the Week

Right. It's Sunday night, isn't it? And most of us are busy getting ready for the week ahead. So I'm gonna get my Monday post done tonight. That's a jump on things, right, not an avoidance of other things? Ah, perhaps it's not. Still, it's one less thing I'll feel I should do at 5:30 tomorrow morning, and that will make my Monday flow better, maybe.

Mondays are my second longest day; Wednesdays are the longest. It's lovely work I do, though, so even though the days are long, it's spent doing a job I love. What more can a gal ask for than that? Ah well, the moon, I'm sure. And chocolate and coffee enough to get there and back!

Each morning for the last eighteen months, I've glanced at blogs the way I used to watch the news; I read the news online now, roundabout my blog visits. One of the places I'd usually hit on was Age of Autism. Have you noticed it's slim pickings there now? Same old same old, with the same folks. It's not worth the bother any more, not really. Nothing to see anymore. I won't be going there tomorrow. What I feel when I read those comments is mostly pity. I think that their rhetoric is dangerous; it's misguided, too. And when I see someone quote and link to whale.to, well, my eyes roll. There's only so many conspiracy theories a body can read is for damn true. It ain't worth the price of admission, and seeing someone be taken in by a site like that reveals a great deal.

I'm teaching my students how to recognize key words in ads, in posts online, on websites selling goods. It's important work in the midst of teaching grammar, writing, and psychology and provides a handy way of demonstrating some fallacies. Certainly websites like AoA provide good fodder as well, but since the schtick doesn't change, looking for additional examples isn't really a priority. Besides, folks who read this blog, well, they either were reading Countering Age of Autism to get their mad on because they were AoAers or they were skeptics and science-based bloggers looking to see what woo I'd come across; they already got that it was woo or factually incorrect. How many of the same posts do either of these groups need to read, anyway? The AoAers can get their mad on elsewhere.

Ah, see, what I'm saying is, the blog wasn't changing anybody's opinion. Like Hillary Clinton, I guess I'm one of those women you either like or don't, and I'm good with that. I can change hearts and minds in the classroom, or at least work at it.

Here, well, maybe I can help flesh out the goals that Kathleen and I have for the directory and Respect for Infinite Diversity: community building. Hah, see with that, we make a difference. We want to change the world, we do, even if it is one person at a time. We want to build a supportive, kumbaya community. Haven't we been working on it since this started? Kickass kumbaya: we'll take on the woo, right enough, and those who peddle it, but that isn't enough. Showing support and encouragement for other families and individuals, both online and in the real world, well, maybe it isn't a huge quantum leap or anything, but I can live with incremental change, even when it chafes. I know all about incremental change, tiny, slow, itty bitty change; change so small it barely registers until it finally smacks you in the face change!

More than two decades ago, my grandfather and I argued over changing the world. He argued vehemently that no one person could change the world. Hah, I come by my love of argument naturally (my dad and I jaw at each other all the time); I replied back: "Jesus." And I wasn't cursing, either. It was one of the last real conversations I had with my grandfather, too, unfortunately; well it was the least acrimonious, anyway. I'm not saying I'm christlike here; don't mistake me. I'm not saying I'm gonna take the world by storm, either. I'm saying that here in my little neck of the woods, I'm going to get up each day and try to make it a little brighter, a little kinder, and the folks in it a little better at thinking, reading, and writing critically. I'm going to work hard to raise my children the best I can and to make the world a little more understanding of folks who don't fit the pre-fabbed mold.

It's what I got. If it ain't enough, well, it's still what I've got. Oh, and flowers. I got them, too.

Awww, Shucks

Laura from Life in the House that Asperger Built got this lovely award from Big Daddy Autism and has passed it along to me and seven other bloggers.  In looking at their lists of seven to pass the award along to, I see familiar names, bloggers I would have chosen for this list. Ah, but you can go read those lists! So, I'm choosing seven bloggers not  already on those lists, bloggers I think you might not have read and really thing you should.

Ah, but first I have to share 7 things. Hmmm. Seven things you wouldn't already know from reading Countering? That would be hard to do!

1. Like Laura, I am left-handed! Shew, that wasn't hard! One down.

2. Hmm, I'm going to begin teaching One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in one of my classes this week. There, you didn't know that!

3. I've been blogging since March 2009. See, not everyone who reads Countering would know that. :-)

4. I also started commenting at Huffington Post about that time. I rarely comment at Huff now; I really don't have anything to add to the comments left by those dedicated to commenting there on every single autism or vaccine related post. There's no dialogue there, no attempt to understand the other person, just an incessant hammering that leaves me mildly nauseated to see it continually played out. Bleh. I'll pass. I'd rather read friends who share their pride in their children and their worries and be there to offer high fives and yays for the good and hugs and support for the rough times.

5. I found myself thinking mostly the same thing about AoA over the last several months. Bleh. Hammering away instead of trying to be mutually supportive of others and making a difference. For the most part, I'm gonna take a pass on that, too.

6. I love the Autism Blogs Directory that Kathleen and I run; each day we add one or two bloggers new to us, and I feel like in these bloggers, if we but take the time to go and read, comment and share, that we have the community of support and care. 

7. I believe that the online autism community serves different needs for different people. I know that I have been immeasurably enriched by the people whose blogs I read, who have become my friends, and I am grateful for their friendships!

Now, my seven bloggers you might have missed but who are great!

Nightstorm at Prism*Song.


Growing Feet: Will They Walk in My Shoes?

My garden girlies grow by leaps and bounds. I find it a bit disconcerting, actually, to see them change by the day, both physically and mentally. Bobby grew slowly, in all ways, and stayed very much a little boy for so much longer than my girlies are apparently going to stay little girls.

Oh, okay, part of it is probably my advancing age, as well. I had my bright boy at the tender age of 21 and my girls when I was the not-quite-so-tender ages of 33 and 35. Big difference. Back when the boy was little, days, weeks, months, even the years dragged by. Now, it flows in an endless stream faster than I am ready for it. I cannot keep up.

It's nowhere more clear that I am running behind in this whole growing business than it is where it concerns feet. Yes, that's right: feet. The boy's been in size 7.5s for the last six years. He hasn't grown any taller in over three years. We never had sudden growth spurts, except for the unfortunate six months on risperidone, when he gained over fifty pounds. My Bobby is steady, a constant in the stream of change (and yet he too makes progress--he called his transportation today to see why the van was late and handled the phone conversation well! Yay, bright boy!).

I'm not prepared for the growing my middle child started doing at the end of last school year. She and the littlest girlie were close to the same height, despite the two years in difference. They were close in clothes size, sharing the same outfits, and Lil was a size 2 shoe to Rosie's 12.5. Yeah, that all ended in May.

Early May

Late May

Mid September

Lil's feet were out of the size 2 shoes by the end of May. She had grown out of the size 3 shoes by the end of June. In July, she was in 4s. And then, she was in 4.5s by the end of August. Today while buying Rosie another pair of 1s, since she only has one pair that are comfortable, I picked up some 5s for Lil, thinking they'd be there in a couple months when she needed them. Oh no no no. No. No. Seriously. No. She got home; I showed her the shoes and suggested she put them up until they fit; she asked if she could try them on. Ah. Well. Crap. They fit.

Lil's size 5 feet.

Yeah, she's nearly there. 

Roxanne (the Rosie has many names, this is mine for her) 
gets in on the shoe modeling act. 
Same style as her only other comfortable pair, but a different color. 
Everything needs to match this teal or the other pair in fuchsia.
Sigh. Most her stuff is purple. :-)

Umm, girl power?

My girlie girl is not even nine.
She's gotten tall. 
I'm short. 
I have short, broad feet.
Look at her thin, elegant feet.
She is a gazelle!

I look at these girls of mine in awe and I wonder how much of the same ground will they tread as I have? What will they do, who will they be as they move through their lives? I am captivated by their journey and hope that when the Rose starts to grow like her sister (it's beginning!) that I will have the energy to set my broad, sore, and tired feet on the path behind them and that they will take the time to reach back and grasp my outstretched hands so that I can keep up with them. One thing I know for sure, feet like my Lil's, they are going places. Better watch out, though, because Rosie ain't far behind! And where my girlies are, there my bright boy will be, as well, because those girls won't leave him behind, either.

Friday's Stray Thoughts and Photos: Nothing Serious Here Today!

I enjoy my camera, and with a bit of tinkering and persistence, I can usually get the shot I'm trying to. Not always, though, and not without trying several times. Ah, when I get a great shot, I'm thrilled. When I don't, well, they're not really mini-meltdowns, but I'm frustrated. I want the camera to capture what I see. The zinnia above is close, but not it. Not THE shot I was aiming for. Ah well, you know I'll be out there in tomorrow's bright light trying to get the exact shot I wanted!

This, however, turned out pretty good, enough that I was happy with it; you wouldn't believe how challenging it can be to get good pictures of these little flowers. My desire, though, to get closer and closer has led to looking for a better camera and a commitment to reading the manual on it. So we're pouring through camera listings online. Fun times. :-)

Hah, I sometimes wonder if my next door neighbor pays me much attention as I traipse through the gardens with my camera each day trying to capture the perfect shots and occasionally getting frustrated over the times where the camera won't do what I want it to. As much fun as the work of maintaining the garden is (and I often get behind, I know, as my dad reminds me), taking photos to preserve the beauty is my favorite part of it.

 Here are my favorite pictures from today. I hope that everyone had a lovely week and has an even better weekend. :-)



Wheels, Webs, Woo: What our Weeks Are Made Of

 I know that the wheels keep on turning, I do. Sometimes it seems as if our lives are simply a series of wheels, all things cyclical. In the online autism world, it's all things thimerosal again, and as Orac says, it's so 2005  of them. Age of Autism serves up the same off-the-wall ideas of governmental conspiracies; this time it's to make sure the thimerosal study hit the airwaves right before Blaxill and Olmsted's book. Yes, because they're just that important that the journal Pediatrics and the government were aware well in advance of the book release and colluded to put the journal article out the day ahead of the Age of Autism book. It can't be avoided, though, even if the folks over at AoA wanted to, that Kirby has stopped writing about thimerosal. Even Jim Carrey has moved on. Must be a conspiracy on their part, too, to write about things entirely unrelated to autism on this all important week after B and O's book came out. Coincidence? No way!

Can't you see, though, that all this proves the complicated web that is the pharmaceutical, governmental complex that is killing us all? I mean, surely, it's just a matter of time before the AoAers connect it all and realize that the big agra is also working on this, and that it's the food, too, that's poisoning us all. Some folks truly believe that the government is slowly poisoning our children on purpose. To what good end? What kind of person could believe that the puffy white behind planes, chemtrails, are intentionally being used to poison us all with mercury and keep the autism rates high? It's a web, alright.

You're asking yourself, but what's this got to do with the flowers? Ah well, it's part of what my week is made up of, just as reading these bits of fractured reasoning are. And to be honest, it's the better part. I don't have a   lot of time in the garden, anymore, but what time I do get restores my soul. I'm thinking that some of these folks who settle into the wheels of conspiracy theories and woo might not have things that restore their souls, refresh their spirits or lift their hearts.

Wheels and webs, our lives are made of these. Some of the wheels we get on are good; they are the pulse that we live by, the ebb and flow that lets us know our place in the universe. Some webs we create are good; they are the interconnectedness we feel as part of a community, that lets us know our place in the universe. The same can be said of dysfunctional wheels and webs, wrought not in reality but in some fantasy land that provides an overarching narrative and purpose for people; these too let them know their place in the universe, never mind that many of us reject the veracity of that universe.

We forget this essential truth, that the realities we construct are real to us, even if they are not really real. As the Chief says in One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, "But, please. It's still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it's the truth even if it didn't happen." It might help us, though, to remember, when we choose to read people whose fundamental realities we reject as fantasies that it's their truth, "even if it didn't happen."

How one does that, how one distinguishes between a flim flam artist and a true believer, I don' think there are any ready answers. How to find compassion and respect while still standing against the dangerous rhetoric that threatens to put society back into the dark ages, I only know is not an easy balance to strike.

We've always been there, poised at the brink; there's always been the fight between magical thinking and scientific realism, always been a struggle. There always will be. 

To realize this is not a war that can be won but only a battle to be continuously fought is to learn how to take a breath, stop, and smell the roses, recharge ourselves, rearm ourselves for the most important battle we will ever fight and one that must be fought with the realization that at times it is ourselves we must wage the battle against. We are imperfect, fragile, and easily persuaded.

To look into that great blue sky, to see the potentiality of humanity to constantly rise above its petty, base instincts for self-immolation, that is a great leap of faith in the human mind and the quest to see the world as it really is, not as we would construct it to be.

If we cannot move forward with grace, humor, and compassion, then we should pause. If we can only wage battle with emotion and passion (cached version of Mark Edward's "Passion" blog that he's now deleted without explanation), we do not advance our cause of reason and rationality.



 Looking back at the path I've made.
 Summer coming to an end.
 And ahead at the path.
 And the work to do.
The work still yet to do. But progress made.

Happy Wednesday! :-)


Yearly Rituals and Progress Reports

My Lil started 3rd grade this year, so she and Rosie are again on different campuses. It's been a big transition for both of them this year as they also started riding the bus. We've had our rocky moments, that's for sure, but as Lil's teacher said last night, "It's all good; every day is a brand new day." Ah, that's the perfect attitude for a third grade teacher to have. Doesn't hurt to have that same attitude as a parent, either.

While we've had rocky moments (and some spectacular meltdowns at home, some right on the heels of stepping off the bus), we've also seen some wonderful progress with both girls, and it was really evident last night at Lil's open house. Last year's open house was a completely different ballgame; kids saw the girls, said hi, but the girls didn't respond, didn't even notice, despite my prompting to respond. This year, though, Lil's head was up, she was actively scanning, saying hi to kids (often first) and adults and always introducing Rosie, "This is my little sister, Rosie." She even told her teacher we were her parents, which had me giggling. Rosie was her quiet self, but she hugged the adults she was introduced to, told them she calls hugs presents, and in doing so also showed how much progress she's made, too. Is it still obvious they have autism? Yeah, I don't think that's going to go away, and I'm not pretending we don't have challenges to deal with, but I'm going to celebrate this improvement in social skills as the heartwarming progress it is while I buckle down to help them build on it. And I'm gonna note for the record that in the third grade I wasn't really talking to the other kids and I wouldn't have been any more thrilled at 8 to navigate through the crush of hundreds of kids and parents than I was last night at the ripe old age of 42. So kudos to my girl for pushing her way through that crowd with her head up and a huge smile on her face. She was confidence supreme, and I'm hoping some of that rubs off on me. :-)


Sunday Critters in the Garden and Thoughts on Anger and Woo in the Autism Community

 Grasshopper watching me closely.
 Spider above the back door.
Thought you'd appreciate a break from the critters.
 This little bugger wouldn't still long enough for me to get a clear shot!
 Roly-poly up the wall!
 A slug? A snail without its shell? Above me! 
Who the heck cares what it is, I just want to know is it gonna fall on my head?
 Another flower break!
Caterpillar under the ivy I had just pulled off the house.

Okay, so this was three hours of my morning, working out in the garden, disturbing the critters as I neatened and tidied up the garden while Rick tackled the front garden. It was good, hard work for the both of us, and we've plenty more to do. I know this for sure, it beat the heck out of dwelling at the angry places.

AoA put up pieces over the weekend on two books that get most of what autism is completely wrong. Not fair, you say, if I haven't read them yet. Ah well. Should I waste my time, read Olmsted and Blaxill's book before declaring it wrong? I don't think I should; I don't think I should line their pockets with one cent. So far (just about) everything else they've written (that I've read and can recall) has been factually incorrect. Should I read the book that Dachel's raving about, the one whose proceeds will go to Thoughtful House, the place that charges parents around 400 bucks an hour? I think not, as well.

What worries me is just how many of these inaccurate and potentially dangerous books are out there for parents new to an autism diagnosis to get their hands on, how scary it is to think that these angry places like AoA and various yahoo groups are the first experiences parents will have of the online autism community.

You might think that the critters up above are icky to come across in the garden unbidden, but think of how much ickier the experience will be for brand new, worried parents who come across comments like the ones that can often be found brand new each day at AoA dealing with things like the belief that the government and  pharmaceutical companies are intentionally poisoning our children, that the vaccination program is eugenics, and all sorts of other nonsense. Some folks at AoA now apparently think that chemtrails are responsible, as well. 

Where are people supposed to turn for good, solid information regarding autism? How are they supposed to know who to trust, where to go, who to listen to? Do an Amazon search for books on autism and most of the top hits are woo.

I'm not sure there are a lot of answers when many doctors don't know enough about it and so many supposed professionals like the ones whose book Dachel reviewed are promoting the mercury nonsense as fact. It's scary, far more scary than any of the insects in my garden.