Saturday, March 20, 2010

I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words:*

I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words:

The Gifted Visual Spatial Learner  (Note: all quoted from this link)

     Every few years, this post finds it's way into my psyche...I really should study the whole thing, just to see what's up.  For the first time, I noticed this morning that they are speaking of talent development.  I'm homeschooling, but I'm at a loss as to where to go with Ben.  It's like a dead end street, teaching as a public school teacher would, because, well, in truth...if you take a look at the's NOT the way he learns.  It would be an exercise in frustration, the same as school was.  I'm thinking....THIS is why our kids are singled out, whereas in the past, they weren't recognized, just thought to be "slow" maybe. Schools can't take much more.  They are, by design, only meant to teach a certain type of child.  They can't take responsibility for not being able to teach certain children.  It has to be the kids fault.  Luckily, for them, most children can obtain an education from them so it confirms their viability.  Unlucky for the kids who don't fit their mold.
     This article describes Benny to a "t", his gifts, which are creativity, humor, sense of space, wholistic thinking, associative thinking....everything a school tends to squash. His "deficits", basically, pen and paper drills, which make up 90% of school.  Makes me think maybe his biggest deficit IS the public education system.  I will not lie:  when I recieved my degree in Special Ed, I couldn't wrap my little mind around visual thinkers.  I was hoping I wouldn't have any in my class.  I would bet my bottom dollar that a good share of kids without mental retardation in special ed classes are visual thinkers.  Too bad for them.

     I'm thinking now, that I can be quite a hypocrite.  I'm singing the praises of my child's unique learning style...while a part of me would be relieved if he could be "healed" of it's difference.  Why????  Because it hard, and a lot of people with autism can't survive alone, as a person of a more typical nature does without trouble.  Maybe it's shame that he'll be "on the county dole".  Or blue collar.  He has always voiced a fear of being homeless if he can't produce. I've been raised classist, as well as racist, the child of a wealthy (eventually) business owner educated in private schooling.  I remember the day I let go of my racism...It was literally "washed away".  I need to "wash away" my doubts in my son.  He's going to take the road less travelled, not by choice but by nature.

     Well, anyhow, I have quoted parts of the article, just to give you a sense.  See if you recognize your child as I did mine.

The following characteristics will help in the identification of gifted visual spatial learners. However it should be noted that not all gifted visual spatial learners will match all these characteristics:

Likes complex ideas and tasks and does well on them, yet often fails at simple things

Is physically sensitive, often has acute hearing and intense reactions to loud noises.

Poor listening skills, often seems not to be listening

Has difficulty finishing tasks/school work

Has poor handwriting or difficulty keeping in the lines or grips the pen very hard and presses on the paper when writing

Loves Lego, puzzles, jigsaws, computer games, television, making things
Likes art and/or music
Has a poor sense of time

Is extremely sensitive to criticism

Is emotionally very sensitive

Has difficulty with spelling/times tables

Can remember the way somewhere after going there only once

Has a vivid imagination and/or disturbing dreams

Is distractible
Is very disorganised.

Here is a comparison of Left-brain versus Right-brain thinking.  While trying to be an artist,  I read the book above, and learned that us artist "wanna be's" can develop right brain thinking in order to see as an artist sees by performing special exercises.  I any of you know, are there "left brain exercises" one could do?  Of course, it could make one more "whole -brained", which I haven't found to be to my advantage.  Anyhow, I never could live in my right-mind, only visit, so I never became an artist. 

Left Brain Mode

Verbal: Using words to name, describe, define

Analytic: Figuring things out step-by-step and part-by-part

Symbolic: Using a symbol to stand for something e.g. the sign + stands for the process of addition

Temporal: Keeping track of time, sequencing one thing after another

Rational: Drawing conclusions based on reason and facts

Logical: Drawing conclusions based on logic: one thing following another in logical order

Digital: Using numbers as in counting

Linear: Thinking in terms of linked ideas, one thought directly following another, often leading to a convergent conclusion

Right Brain Mode

Nonverbal: Awareness of things but minimal connection with words

Synthetic: Putting things together to form wholes

Concrete: Relating to things as they are at the present moment

Nontemporal: Without a sense of time

Nonrational: Not requiring a basis of reason

Intuitive: Making leaps of insight, often based on incomplete patterns, hunches, feelings or visual images

Spatial: Seeing where things are in relation to other things and how parts go together to form a whole

Holistic: Seeing whole things all at once; perceiving the overall patterns and structures, often leading to divergent conclusions

(Springer & Deutsch, 1989)

Whereas left brain thinking is step by step linear thinking over time, right brain thinking is an holistic system where all knowledge is interconnected in space. When left brain thinkers are asked the answer to a question, they will look for the right answer based on the facts at their disposal.

When right brain thinkers are asked a question, they usually respond with some form of “Tell me more/it depends”. As all their knowledge is connected, they can see many paths to differing answers and they want more information to help them decide which path to take to the required answer.

This divergent thinking is the hallmark of creativity but may not be understood in school where achievement is often seen as having the right answer. As Jeffery Freed says “Because one of the attributes of right brained thinking is a non-sequential divergent form of thinking, their minds often veer into unusual and different territory.

This can result in illogical or often unsubstantiated conclusions. On the other hand, they may view a problem from an entirely different angle, leading to new breakthroughs and discoveries” (Freed, 1996, p16).


The last quoted bit from the article follows.  I will try to correct the html, but may just make a mess, which would make me sad, because THIS is where I recognize Ben's way the MOST.  It's right there in black and white.

The following table lists the strengths and weaknesses of the visual spatial learning style.

Strengths                                               Weaknesses

• thrives on complexity                         • poor auditory memory, does not

                                                             remember three step instructions

• systems thinker                                   • difficulty memorising facts; poor at

                                                               subject areas that

                                                               equire  rote  memorisation

                                                               e.g. biology, foreign languages

• high abstract reasoning                         • struggles with easy material

• loves difficult puzzles                            • poor at calculation

• keen visual memory                             • difficulty learning phonics

• creative, imaginative                             • difficulty with spelling

• good sense of humour                          • low word recognition

• better at mathematical                          • performs poorly or not at all on timed tests

analysis than computation

• better at reading comprehension           • difficulty learning mathematical facts

than decoding

• better at geometry than algebra            • inattentive in class, easily distracted

• better at physics than chemistry             • disorganised, forgets details

• fascinated by computers,                      • hates drill and repetition

especially computer graphics

• avid television watcher                         • "forgets" written homework assignments

• loves music                                           *  submits short, sloppy work of poor quality

• day dreamer - rich fantasy life                • handwriting laboured and difficult to read

• elaborate doodler                                  • impulsive, tends to act first and think later

Source: Linda Silverman (1997)
Now, I could say, "How did they know my son?????", except I had a student in special ed 20 years ago who had almost exactly the same thinking style.  Same weaknesses, same strengths.

This stuff fascinates me...hope I can learn from it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Fragile X study

Click on the title link to be directed to an article regarding the research going on at Emory University. Dr. Jeannie Visootsak, who is running the clinical trial at Emory’s Fragile X Center, remarks “This is the first time we are looking at treatment. I never thought we’d be here today. It’s amazing.”
Fragile X Syndrome is not autism, but 5% of autism is caused by FXS. The numbers for autism among people with FXS range from 10-15%. according to the NIMH
The story in the AJC article was kind of sad, remniscent of a book that I read years ago.  The young man who is receiving treatment (possibly, it's a double blind study) is of the hope that the pill will "make him smarter".  Flowers for Algernon , a novel, was written in 1958 and tells the story of a man undergoing a transformation because of medical treatment...  will science fiction come to life in this case?  We won't know for years. Yet, there are many cases in the present where medical science has changed the lives of those predisposed to neurological conditions by replacing missing chemicals or by changing the environment to avoid condition specific teratogens.(Epileptic seizures due to pyridoxine deficiency, although rare, are known to occur. They are characterized by untreatable convulsions during childhood. Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare condition in which a baby is born without the ability to properly break down an amino acid called phenylalanine.Wilson's disease is an inherited disorder in which there is too much copper in the body's tissues. The excess copper damages the liver and nervous system. )  To say that we must accept all cases of autism as being a "way of being" and "untreatable" doesn't take into account these conditions.  It does, however, set up parents to open themselves up to shamans who disregard medicine in favor of "woo".

Ben was tested for Fragile X.  In fact, it was the only genetic testing we could afford.  It was negative, when we received the results at age 8. We couldn't afford the testing for Tuberous Sclerosis with an out of pocket expense of $3000, although I considered it a possibility.  The geneticists felt it wasn't necessary, that if Ben had TS, signs would eventually show up in his teens.  Many parents only become aware of their own TS when their children manifest the signs earlier, or to a greater degree.

We were not searching for needles in a haystack.   Our psychiatrist suggested that we send Ben through the USC School of Medicine Center for Disability Resources at the Midland Campus, a center which he was instrumental in founding. (Dr. "Luke" is extraordinary.)    They specialized in Developmental Disabilities, and it was there that Ben was given the label of PDD_NOS.  It also was noted that his skin contained birth-marks, both strawberry and cafe au lait, vascular malformations that can be indicative of medical problems, such as Tuberous Sclerosis and Neurofibromatosis. (TS and NF are two conditions that can cause autism in some individuals.)

I don't want to encourage people to think there may be a cure for "autism", there are probably hundreds of factors involved, and as many reasons for the autistic mind. In reality, I love Ben the way he is, and wouldn't want to change those things I love best about him, and it would make me very sad to see his quirky sense of humor leave him.  If he was cured of that..if it was my choice, I'd say "no thank you". But, he can communicate with me.  He, for the most part, is able to avoid overstimulation so it doesn't paralyse him or cause him to act out without the ability to reel himself in.  I don't have to consider institutionalization. I don't have to consider an early death because of the medications he takes or doesn't take.

I'm not about to judge any parent or child who sees hope in this study.
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