When Teachers Turn Clouds into Spaceships

The Sun Sets Sail

Painting by Rob Gonsalves

Did you know the Native Americans could not recognize the first galleons arriving in the Americas? They stared at the ships for days but misidentified their sails for clouds on the horizon. The galleons were so unique and out of their world that they could not see them. The Indians could only process the experience through their understanding of the world. How surprised they must have been to learn these “clouds” carried men of white skin who came from beyond the edge of the earth.

Sometimes things that are so obvious elude us then drastically change our appreciation and understanding of life. You cannot describe an experience, an object or a person unless you have the words for it.

Imagine walking through this world day in and day out and not seeing something so noticeable and so apparent. This is why teachers are so esteemed and respected. They provide a word or an explanation of a concept that changes our lives forever.

Robin Williams made us laugh at ourselves. He was a teacher who used comedy to show us our insecurities and prejudices. In one of his early stand-up performances, he pointed out our willingness to ignore our bigotry and need to find crazy to deal with governmental policies. Appears the zaniness of the world in the late 70s is no different than today.

He pretended to be an elderly man who was a bit crazy, “a bit fongooze bozo.” The government was giving people methadone to help them cope with the world “since the aliens arrived. And the aliens weren’t the little green suckers we thought they were. They were 8 feet tall, black and they were pissed.” He closed the show with this skit and left the stage by telling everyone he loved everyone regardless of who they were.

So play with the mystery of life. Support the teachers who turn clouds into spaceships. Release the dogmas that create bias and limit our understanding of the world. Our children will be pissed if we don’t.

Six Steps to a Natural ADHD Approach

add_sign_smallADHD is a religious experience and there are believers and nonbelievers. Different places have different approaches, and these are based on many factors, such as the country’s general cultural belief about children and learning or the economic system that supports healthcare or limits access to healthcare.

The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that the geographic difference is due to collection methods by the researchers rather than true geographical differences. Here is an example of the cultural divide and disparate approaches to prescribing ADHD medications:

Germany requires that parents who are concerned about the possibility of ADHD in their children must try to learn parent-training strategies before the doctors start writing prescriptions for medicine. In contrast, the US health economy is biased toward medication use and we don’t do that much counseling — parent training is not an element that is culturally validated by parents or practitioners.

Almost 11% of children ages 4 to 17 years in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD per a 2012 CDC report while the general worldwide incidence per the American Journal of Psychiatry is 5.29%. Why is there a two-fold difference in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD in the United States compared to the rest of the world? This is an important question since the annual societal ‘‘cost of illness’’ for ADHD in the US is estimated to be between $36 and $52 billion in 2005 dollars or between $12,005 and $17,458 annually per individual, according to the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

I have been in private practice for 11 years and in two very distinct practice settings. When I worked in a traditional insurance-based office and saw 30-50 children a day, I wrote many prescriptions for Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera.  Once I switched to concierge medicine where I see six to ten kids a day, I had time to educate parents, work on parenting techniques, focus on diet as well as natural supplementation. As a result I have only had to place one child on ADHD medication over the past eight years.

Here is a list of natural approaches that have worked well:

1. Minimize Food Additives. A 2007 study of nearly 300 kids ages 3 to 8, published in The Lancet, found that those given drinks containing artificial dye showed significantly higher hyperactivity within a few hours. The British government now requires labels warning that children’s products containing dye may impair attention.

2. Consider an Elimination Diet. A first-of-its-kind 2011 study, also in The Lancet, showed that when 50 kids with ADHD were put on restrictive hypoallergenic diets free of allergens like gluten and dairy for five weeks, their symptoms improved far more than those in the control group. When the eliminated foods were reintroduced, symptoms returned in 63 percent of the children. Deichert says that ADHD patients with digestive problems, recurring ear infections or skin problems— all symptoms of possible food sensitivities—are particularly good candidates for elimination diets.

3. Reduce Electronic Media and Replace with Exercise. Very large studies have associated TV and video game use with a worsening of ADHD symptoms.

4. Buy Organic Foods. A 2010 study of 1,100 children, published in the journalPediatrics, found that the more pesticide residue children had in their urine, the more likely they were to be diagnosed with ADHD.

5. Check Iron Levels. Studies in the Archive of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicineand elsewhere have shown that children diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have lower iron levels, and when those that are deficient take iron supplements, their symptoms either subside with- out medication or they react better to lower doses of medications.

6. Safe Supplements. Clinical research is still inconclusive but in my practice ADHD patients have benefited from zinc, ginkgo biloba, acetyl-carnitine and omega-3 supplements.

The diagnosis and treatment of ADHD is a result of cultural bias. Use a therapeutic prism to illuminate the different options available to you. The first step is to find a practitioner that is willing to invest time in your child and explore all the options available under the rainbow.

How School Kills Creativity

singapore-education-systemCreativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says.

Click here to view video.


Why Are Boys Academic Misfits?

boy-in-schoolI have had several consultations with parents this semester about their boy not fitting into the classroom setting.  Some of these problems have been a teacher-pupil mismatch. Other problems have been maturity issues in the child. While other noted concerns are ADHD and learning disabilities.

In this TED talk, Ali Carr-Chellman pinpoints three reasons boys are tuning out of school in droves, and lays out her bold plan to re-engage them: bringing their culture into the classroom, with new rules that let boys be boys, and video games that teach as well as entertain.

View TED Talk

ART – Don’t Slight The Hand

stages2Writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development. Handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a “spaceship,” actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called “functional” MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters.

“It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time,” says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

Even in the digital age, people remain enthralled by handwriting for myriad reasons—the intimacy implied by a loved one’s script, or what the slant and shape of letters might reveal about personality.

So remember – the ancient art of writing is more than words – it is an artistic expression that aides expression.  There are even Apple apps for children to practice their writing skills such as “WritePad” and “abc PocketPhonics.”