May 17, 2016

One woman and her last-minute attorney filed into a conference room. A large wooden table with a dozen chairs, bottles of water and ink pens in the center. Two suited men sitting very seriously in front of four-inch thick stacks of paper bound neatly with file clips waited sternly. Two rose to shake hands with my attorney and regard me awkwardly. One offered his hand, the other sat without greeting me, reconsidered and then stood again to shake my hand very briefly.

Anxieties pushed over when the principal entered, slick as a car salesman and shaking hands as happily and nonchalant as if it were a wedding. I am certain that the air around me dropped a palpable 20 degrees when he dared ask me how Ben has been doing. White knuckled rage. I suppose it is a normal maternal response to anyone who has hurt your child.

The mediator arrived and explained the rules. I reminded myself to keep breathing and then the spotlight was on me. With care and as much courage as I could muster I articulated the history of events as they were leading to this day. I looked at the moderator and did my best to blank out the eyes of the men all around looking at me and scribbling notes on their legal pads.  I willed myself to hold back tears, this was the moment I most needed to be strong, to show them I was not intimidated. In the middle of my diatribe I had to press my hands under my legs so that no one would see how they were shaking.

Once I completed the history, the sides took separate spaces and I had long periods to get to know my last-minute attorney. As it happens, last-minute does not in any way mean incapable. He was not only kind and concerned, but also compassionate sharing his own experience as a father and as a consultant when my state wrote the laws that support IDEA.

So what happened? 

Well, I cried once but was able to recover my resolve fairly quickly.

I lost my temper once, but was able to rein it in enough not to seem crazy.

The District will provided training on the special needs of children on the spectrum for all of their teachers in a manner that promotes acceptance and advocacy before the beginning of the next school year. They will provide me with both the curriculum used and the records of who attended.

They will also evaluate Ben’s specific needs and help me to find an appropriate school, even if they must provide transportation out of the district or pay for a private situation.

I came home and slept more fully than I have for more than six months.

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May 16, 2016

I am strapping on my courage this morning and even though my faith has been carved down to resemble that proverbial mustard seed, it is still faith. I can still move mountains, or at least put on the best show of moxie of my life.

Just not before coffee.

The Battle for Special Education 

It has been nearly 10 weeks since the Charter School my son attended refused to release him to me after he had been bullied by two other children, the school then determining that he should be detained and suspended. It’s been 15 weeks since the principal called him “inconsiderate” and said that he had no concern for the needs of other students, and told us to find another school if we needed and IEP or 504 plan. These things of course being my fault for being a bad parent who did not support the school or provided abusive discipline. It was over 6 months of asking and being denied a formal education plan that might have allowed us to avoid all of this mess  of confusion, isolate and abuse.

The game, it seems, for 10 weeks, has been to stall any sort of resolution. When it was clear that Ben was not safe from discrimination and harm at his school the district refused to extend enrollment deadlines to allow us to find an appropriate alternate. When I requested a homebound program I was told Ben was “not disabled enough” to qualify. They did eventually allow me to apply, but only when there was 3 weeks of school remaining.

My advocate called me Monday to tell me that she had gone into her field believing that she could affect some change in the system, but that every year the system becomes less inclined to advocate for individual children and that she would retire knowing there was nothing that could be done to help. She will not be attending the remediation.

My attorney called four days prior to the meeting and said that he could not represent us because of a “conflict of interest” – I believe he has a relationship with the attorney for the district, leaving me almost no time to find someone to represent us. I made about a hundred phone calls to offices that simply could not take the case with only 3 days to prepare, feeling wholly abandoned and not but a little crazy. I did eventually find an attorney who would be able to attend our meeting, his assistant might well be the kindest woman on the planet. I will meet him one hour before the meeting to prepare.

Ben’s psychologist strangely declaring that she would not sign the homebound application, and then not returning calls and email requests for appointments, even failing to provide me with a copy of his Spectrum Assessment, after I signed the releases to allow the school to communicate with her.

The neutral mediator from the Office of Civil Rights arranged the meeting at the school without ever speaking to me, and in our single discussion asked me to think about “how much money I want.”

It is very hard to feel that there is anything neutral about this remediation.

I have never asked for money. I asked for a school for my son that will support, not punish, his twice exceptionalism. I asked for training so that teachers would know about Asperger’s and not punish and abuse students who are already struggling because they are different.  I asked for him to be safe from bullying, discrimination and abuse at school.  I agreed to a remediation because after all of these things I still believe that we can do what is right for Ben, which includes not dragging this out into some monstrous legal battle or media blitz.

He is a little boy who has been shaken to his core and additional drama would just hurt him more. He is nine. I am his voice. I will go and I will scream into the void because that is what we do when we love.

I have the faith of a mustard seed and David’s rock in my pocket. The giant may not fall, but at least I will get his attention.



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The Overwhelming Ocean of Sound

April 25, 2016

“Sound has a profound effect on the senses. It can be both heard and felt. It can even be seen with the mind’s eye. It can almost be tasted and smelled. Sound can evoke responses of the five senses. Sound can paint a picture, produce a mood, trigger the senses to remember another time and place. From infancy we hear sound with our entire bodies. Sound speaks to the sensorium; the entire system of nerves that stimulates sensual response.”
Louis Colaianni, The Joy of Phonetics and Accents


The music is at maximum bass. You can feel it in your teeth. In your fascia. allowing the music to compel you to dance and move and express is a wonderful sense of freedom. I have no dislike of loud music. I generally dance with my eyes closed, and just find my way through intuitive movement. Given the space to move it can be a wonderful experience.

But, inevitably, there is a tap on the shoulder, a smiling face, lips that move. I cannot focus in on the voice, opening my eyes means the assault of moving lights. I might be able to see a smile, to understand that the person is being friendly, reaching out in the darkness… but the sudden need to do more than just dance starts the overload. Friendly, familiar tones turn dark and shatter and the cacophony of input can feel like an implosion. Happy spinning turns to sitting in a corner waiting for silence and the chance to be away from it all.

“Why don’t you come to the concert tonight, Trish? You love music and dancing.”

Simple answer, someone might talk to me.

Casually, it is easy to call it being shy or antisocial. On a deeper level it is so much more.

Auditory Discrimination:

I am for all purposes deaf when I am in a noisy environment. If I am speaking on the phone and there are birds chirping noisily out the window, I cannot tune down the birds in order to focus in on the voice. It’s all just a harsh, discordant mix of sounds. If I run water for a pot in the kitchen and some speaks I cannot make out their words from the sound of the water.

It was once described to me as The Cocktail Party Effect:

The cocktail party effect is the phenomenon of being able to focus one’s auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out a range of other stimuli, much the same way that a party goer can focus on a single conversation in a noisy room.

I suppose this is the way it was understood then, before the possibility of autism was considered.

The Brain’s Dimmer Switch

Your auditory system is talking to your brain. Sending signals that translate into sound – and your brain is also talking to your auditory system. When there is too much noise, the brain communicates that to the ear that it needs fewer messages. The dimmer switch activates, slows down the number and amount of messages being sent and the brain is better able to discriminate that information and understand. Background noises tend to be lower in pitch than human voices and so the brain is also able to discriminate a voice from environmental noises, allowing a person to converse in a noisy environment.

However, when this “dimmer switch” isn’t functioning, or isn’t functioning correctly, it can cause real difficulties with communication. In addition to creating a sea of assaulting sound, it can also make it difficult to tell where individual sounds are coming from, and at times can make you feel dizzy and lose balance as it swirls around from any and all directions with no systems to help create balance.


How to Love Me Through the Noise

  • Talking louder won’t help, and shouting will only add to the madness of noise around me. Consider the environment and plan. If you are not watching the TV, turn it off. If you need to have a conversation while it is on, turn it down completely or pause it for me.
  • Focus takes effort and effort is exhausting.  If you are facing away from me or mumbling it will be that much harder to understand when I can’t dim out the sounds around us.
  • Please don’t speak for me. A long pause to process or a request for repetition,  this is me effectively communicating what I need. I am really trying to understand. Talking for me for me is humiliating and will make it more likely that I will isolate in the future.
  • Understand that I am not being antisocial. I really do want to come and dance, or join you for a coffee. I just know that the environment will likely be very challenging for me. Choosing intimate spaces and times of day that are less apt to be crowded really helps.

Our individual experiences of the world are just that: Individual. Until someone draws an arrow and says that your experience is unique, you assume that is at least similar to the people around you. When you begin to understand your experience as personal, you naturally accept that no one else will understand it and that can be really lonely.

When you find that other people are having similar experiences the world become less lonesome – although the experience remains the same and every bit as annoying. Having the understanding of the people around you makes coping a lot easier, and it is certain to be rewarded with kindness and friendship. A little effort goes a long way!

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April 22, 2016

Awakening from my Benadryl coma to face a whole lot of things left undone, unfinished or still in the planning phases. I hate this feeling of being derailed, even as I stare at my screen from the cotton ball that houses my eyes and might be my fluffy, soft head. I try to write but my eyes close of their own will and I dream of words. I wake thinking that I have accomplished something to find that it was a dream. The cycle repeats.

typewriter-338506_1280I am coming to terms with a certain reality: I am addicted to writing. In my head I am always writing. On my screens I am writing, as life happens the hammers in my brain are pecking out words like the keys on an old ribbon typewriter. Do you remember those?

Tack. Tack. Tack.

It was especially neat when someone could type quickly, like a symphony of tiny hammers. I could never do more than a hunt and peck, unless I was just pounding the keys to enjoy the noise they made.

Zing! The paper is released from the roller.

The smell of ink.

I don’t know if I would trade my spellcheck for one, but it would be cool just for the sensory delights.

Sensory. Understanding Autism certainly makes you consider sensory in new ways.  How is the light, where does it fall? What does the air smell and taste like? What do I hear? How is my body moving and how do I feel within my body? When something is off, it is really off- but when it is good- it’s amazing. At times it is an almost perfect state of zen. My son can be moved to tears of joy because someone gave him free sprinkles on his ice cream. What an amazing grasp of gratitude.

Society seem to focus a great deal on the meltdowns and  stimming and the things that make them uncomfortable. What they miss is the lesson of joy in being. Open the mind and the eyes will show you a whole new world. being alive in a moment, feeling joy overwhelm you. Lessons in freedom and gratitude and the value of being alive in your life. Even if your head is floating.

Originally posted September 5, 2015

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A Forgotten Art

April 21, 2016
image source: Listen

“This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.”
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

Sometimes words can lose their courage. They try to leave our mouths and get lost. Sometimes we are left standing, gaping and incapable of finding the words that we need. Some words that come easily to mind are words like: I love you, I’m sorry, I forgive you, I have to let go and I am ready.

In fact it seems to me that I know very few people whom I would designate as great communicators. The most verbal are often guilty of talking for four hours while their friends have only listened for two. And if how we communicate with one another is a widespread problem, listening and understanding ourselves is just as challenging.

And so the words lose their courage. Stress moves in and steals prefix and suffix, participles. Motivation takes over and plows its way through the wasteland of orphaned consonants. Emotions flood in and try to console but ultimately the words and their meanings are completely lost.

I’ve been loosing my words recently. Trying too hard to communicate in many ways what I needed to state simply and straightforwardly.  The frustration of these lost words was a mounting irritability, a stressed avoidance, and then a complete and total shut down.

-Until someone had the courage to listen. They listened without finishing my sentences. Without anticipating what I might be thinking to say next. They listened without judgement; with an attempt at understanding, with compassion. It is hard to feel shame when someone listens to you in this way. It’s hard to be afraid and once those words find their courage they can make their way out into the light.

Suddenly you have the soft music of inner guidance, born in all the words that someone was too busy listening to speak. Suddenly you have the clarity you needed, not through another’s wisdom, but through their kindness.

So yes, we talk a lot about words. Autism is by definition a condition of communication. We talk about abstract concepts, we talk about word associations, we talk about direct vs. indirect means of communicating. Body language, and non-verbal interactions. We talk about intention and how it can manipulate words- for better or worse. We talk about labels, we talk about stigma- we talk a lot about talking.

And through all this talking about talking there is a common thread. A golden string that ties all the words together and gives them meaning: Autism is not a condition of one person not knowing how to speak, it is the pandemic state of a human culture that has forgotten how to listen. 

original post: 11.21.2015

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Update: The Battle for Special Education

April 20, 2016

It has been a while since I have spoken about our ongoing battle to get Ben back to school. It has been nearly 8 weeks since he was in formal instruction. There were several weeks when things just locked down and nothing happened at all. It was a pervasive and deafening silence.

As I waited for news from the various boards and institutions about our shared fates, Ben has been coping with events in his way. While most times he seems a happy, energetic boy, there are other times when the confusion of the things happening around him take hold. As he becomes more comfortable with the knowledge that he will never have to return to school, he also begins to talk more about the events and words of the last year. There have been many tears in my home  in the last months.

Finally, though there has been some change in the wind and things are starting to move and gain momentum. The Office of Civil Rights is reopening the investigation, this time not to rely on the very people who created the problem to inform their hands.

I’ve no idea what the coming weeks will bring. My primary goal is to get Ben into a school that can meet his social and academic needs, and to continue to help him heal from all of the abuses of the past. I hope that this is a step in that direction.

I can’t begin to express our gratitude to everyone who has helped us to get this far. Your comments, emails, support of our Go Fund Me campaign, and so much more have helped us get this step closer to a real solution and appropriate justice for our family and every family who has been neglected, isolated, bullied and abused.

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Dark Passages and Secret Chambers

April 16, 2016

“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
― Stanisław Lem

Recently, a friend and I spoke about writing as therapy. While I certainly have used writing as an outlet, I can’t say that I have ever allowed myself to do so in a way that was unrestrained. Rules of grammar, the desire to communicate in a way that another will understand, clarity of purpose: these have always been the confines of writing. But what would happen if you took away the rules and set your writing free? What if you could change your writing from James Pollard to Jackson Pollack? What might we learn from art off leash?

Words Set Free

On our recent trip to the woods, I found some quiet space to enjoy a book of poetry by Pablo Neruda, one of my most beloved poets. As I read, I found myself overwhelmed with emotions of longing and loneliness, even restlessness and despair. Considering this, I decided to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys)to see what would come of writing the stream of consciousness raging beneath the emotional surface. Sometimes I would write single words, like smatterings of paint tossed carelessly on a canvas. Sometimes a drawing or sketch would shape itself. In the end, a great many words flowed from my mind that seemed to say something about the status of my heart.

While the actual writing was floral and saccharin and heavily perfumed by Neruda’s passionate style, the outcome was entirely too personal and even non-sensical to publish or share. Some of it even I didn’t understand! However,  the core said something very important about healing and openness and learning to trust and a desire to let go of fears. Through the exercise I found an almost childlike willingness to stop restraining myself and to open myself fully to possibilities.

It has come to represent a real moment of healing.

Learning to Communicate: 

Since that day I have been thinking a great deal about how I communicate, both naturally and via social indoctrination. It seems that for much of my life I was taught that being quiet, smiling and looking pretty were an acceptable substitution for any sort of attempt at communication that might be inappropriate or awkward.  I learned not to speak of anything overly personal since sharing on that level was usually poorly timed and uncomfortable for the person with whom I was speaking. I learned to compensate for what others deemed undesirable communication by not communicating at all.

I became a living embodiment of the written script, my brain playing back the appropriate dialogue for each bit of small talk. Using the corresponding face for the corresponding emotion and when all else failed I could sit quietly, smile and be pretty. My professional life has been made wildly successful by my ability to remember scripted information. I can pull up patient information, diagnostic criteria, expected and anticipated grief responses to events more quickly than a google search, and with greater ability to select what the person is needing at that moment.

But if all of these things sound like they are the ramblings of someone who has been taught how NOT to communicate- well you would be right. None of these strategies say anything about me. They are completely devoid of any opportunity to assert myself as a person with needs, thoughts and experiences. The mechanics of expectation have been overriding the need for connection so completely that even I did not recognize the program as it was running.

This year has been one of peeking past any number of sealed doors. Some of them have led to bright new paths of self understanding – others to an unconscionable darkness. Perhaps what is different this year from those past is a sense that looking into those places in my mind -without a guide or a translator – is safe.

I am trying really hard now to break from the program and to talk away from the rules. There is still a lot of anxiety about saying what is right, wrong and not messing up. I suspect people in positions of trust in my life, those who likely know most about me to begin with and are safe test dummies, will find themselves subjected to random trials and awkward mistakes. I am exploring my labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, a world that I have been trapped in for far too long.  I am finding that there is a power that comes from these interactions, and an awareness that my natural means of communication are perfectly okay, not because the social rules have changed – but because I am learning that people who love you will take the time to hear the prayer in every effort: the prayer to be able to connect and be complete as a person.

I think that is something everyone deserves.


Jackson Pollack

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Can We Change Our Minds?!

April 14, 2016
image source: butterfly soul 

“Neurons that fire together wire together”  – Donald Hebb, Neuropsychologist

My sister plays the violin beautifully. My brother has a gift for languages. I have a gift for understanding and sharing the feelings of others. These gifts are more than just interesting personal characteristics. They are insight into the wiring of each of our brains. My sister likely has great brain development around the use of her left hand, which allows her to finger the strings of her violin. My brother’s frontal cortex, which is believed to play a role in thought, language, consciousness and memory, probably looks a lot differently from mine. My cerebral cortex has an area of development that is especially good at feeling empathy for others.

Studies conducted with survivors of childhood abuse showed that their hippocampus’  -and other brain structures- may be different from children who did not share those experiences, making them more susceptible to depression and other psychological challenges as adults.

Are these neurological differences a coincidence of our birth, or could it be that our  experiences, training and education have wired our brains to support our interests and needs?


For a very long time it was believed that our brains could not change, that you could not ‘teach an old dog new tricks‘. The old thinking was that you were born with a certain number of brain cells and could not make more (I am pretty sure I am reminded of this every time I am out with someone who is drinking and thus ‘killing brain cells’). It was also thought that the brain could not form new neural pathways, that all of that was done in the very early years of life and you were just sort of stuck with what you happened to create in those early years.

We know now that the brain is far more dynamic. We call this brain ability to mold and change throughout our lifespan in response to experience neuroplasticity.  My sister’s skill with her left hand is a result of practice and devotion – and the brain development she cultivated over many years. My brother’s language centers are more developed as a result of education and repetition. My sense of other’s emotion a likely response to years of being a nurse and in situations where sensitivity was key. Our brains are moldable. Changeable. We are creating our selves.

The Way to Change Your Life – Change your Mind

Jane is a stress hound. You probably know someone like her, you may even be her: always on the go, nose in the phone, high power, high stress, self affirmed workaholic. Skips meals, Chronic insomnia. At the age of 35, Jane is diagnosed with high blood pressure. The doctor writes a prescription for a medication.

Because Jane’s brain is plastic, she has a choice.

She can live as she has, or she can provide herself with intentional experiences that will change her brain and help her to be healthier and happier. She may still need medication, but perhaps her body is telling her something. Perhaps it is time to literally change her mind.

An 8 week course in stress reduction involving meditation can actually make physical changes to the structures of her brain. Adding regular exercise will help her nervous system respond to stress more effectively. Regular healthful meals will boost her body’s ability to repair and to establish new architecture, and all of those things will lead to better quality of sleep.

In this world of ours, we are all too much like Jane I am afraid. We gorge ourselves on stress and anxiety – and when our bodies and brains respond with illness we expect a quick fix pill so we can get back on the chain gang a quickly as possible.

But what if –

What if the answer isn’t outside of us? What if it isn’t in a pill- but inside of our brains where it has been waiting all of this time?

What if we can choose to give ourselves intentional experiences to enhance those answers to health and happiness that are already inside of us?

What are the limits?

Are there any?

Congratulations, old dog! You just learned a new trick! 

original post 12.20.2015


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Is All this Sensory Stuff Real?!

April 12, 2016


image source: Brain Art

Harvard and MIT released findings recently linking the neurotransmitter GABA to sensory intolerance in Autistics. Headlines like this one are exciting but unless you are familiar with the brain, they are also pretty confusing.  In this piece we will return to the brain and see what this headline – and the research is telling us about sensory experiences. We have talked about some of the basic brain structures within the limbic brain and the cerebral cortex, but to get into the scientific findings of the folks over at Harvard and MIT, we are going to have to get – not more technical – just smaller. A lot smaller.

The Nervous Forest 

The cells of the nervous system can be explained simply by looking at your hand. Imagine your hand much, much smaller, with wiggling fingers. Now imagine your other hand, close by -but not touching- also with wiggling fingers. Now imagine lots and lots and lots of hands with willing fingers and you have a very basic idea of what nerve cells look like within the nervous system.

The wrist and arm off each “cell” is called the Axon,  the palm is called the cell body and the wiggling fingers, Dendrites. Information – and I mean a lot of it – has move through this forest of nerve cells in order to have a working body and brain. There is a little magic in this forest though: nerve cells moving around massive amounts of information  don’t actually touch one another. Between each of the wiggling fingers there is a small space, a gap called the synapse. Without help information would get stuck sitting at the end of the dendrite unable to relay its message to the intended part of the body.

That super hot pan handle that you just mistakenly grabbed? Well, if the message couldn’t make it across the synapse – and fast -you wouldn’t know to pull your hand away and you would likely have a rather serious burn.  Your nervous system and brain play a big role in keeping you alive, but they can’t do their job without a little help from the synapse.


In order to cross the synapse your body is able to create a little chemical bridge. When the message reaches the end of the dendrites, the dendrites fire off a tiny amount of a chemical carrier that transports the information across the synapse. That chemical carrier -the bridge across the gap between cells- is a neurotransmitter. These little neurotransmitter bridges are being created at an unimaginable speed as countless messages zip around your body, day and night.


Mapping Bridges

There are likely more than 100 different neurotransmitters, and over a billion neurons within your brain. So when Harvard and MIT say that they have uncovered a link between sensory sensitivity and a specific neurotransmitter, it’s those tiny bits off chemical carrier moving information across the gap that they are talking about. However,  there are only about 10 neurotransmitters that we know much about. You may have heard of some of them: serotonin (believed linked to depression), acetylcholine (believed linked to Alzheimer’s), norepinephrine (increases heart rate and blood pressure in times of stress).

GABA, Gamma-Amino Butyric acid, the neurotransmitter specifically researched in the study by Harvard/MIT, is largely distributed across the cerebral cortex. It functions in muscle control, vision, and regulation of anxiety by soothing and calming nervous activity. This part is a little hard to explain in layman’s terms it is a lot of chemistry think about it like a classroom full of children who have been playing football all afternoon and GABA is there telling them all to settle down and prepare for maths. The fact to understand is that nerve cells get excited by all the stimulating messages they move around and GABA settles everything down by telling them to shut off, stop firing or to filter the information that isn’t relevant.

The researchers at Harvard and MIT now think that there is evidence that Autistic brains use GABA differently. Perhaps there isn’t enough, or it doesn’t do it’s job. Whatever the reason, they believe that GABA is linked to over-excitability of the nervous system, which causes all that sensory stimulation to be- well- a little too much.

So What Does it Mean?

There are lots of interesting studies out there and the whole brain likely has a lot more going on then just this. What it does tell us, very scientifically, is what we likely already knew: sensory sensitivity and sensory overload are very real, understandable body experiences.

Supplements of GABA are already in use for persons with epilepsy and Huntington’s Disease, but a lot more research needs to happen before anyone can start thinking about treatments developed for Autism from these findings. If anyone tries to sell you a GABA “cure”, keep walking. Would it be nice to have a pill that would make a hockey game more enjoyable for my son, or a plane ride, or a trip to the zoo? I think so. But if we are learning anything it should be that the brain is really complex. The brains of children even more so because of the active way that their brains are building connections and growing.

Our brains are ever-changing, and that might just be the best hope we have of making life more accepting for us all.

original post : 12.19.2015


*Brain Basics Author’s Note: 

I am totally unqualified to prepare someone for brain surgery or even to give a literal anatomy lesson. My goal in writing about the way that our minds work is to give you just enough information to be dangerous  a layman’s understanding of your brain, how it works, and how those functions impact our experience of the world and each other. While I will write about parenting and about  how  the mind relates to autism and neurodiversity, these basic concepts are helpful to anyone with a brain or who has occasion to deal with thinking people. I believe that by understanding the way our brain influences  the mechanics of how we work we can take steps away from stigmatizing ideas and start to develop a true understanding of each other and our individual needs. 

I will be breaking this subject down into many posts, and trying to keep it short enough that it can be easily read on a busy schedule. I issue this disclaimer: this is very basic, consolidated information and I encourage you to learn more. At the end of this series I will post a list of sources and reading, and as always, the collection will be available on Google + 

What Were You Thinking?! : The Mind/Body Turf War

What Makes You Act Like That?! : The Limbic System

Why Can’t We See Eye to Eye?! : The Cerebral Cortex

Is All this Sensory Stuff Real?! : Neurotransmitters

Can We Change Our Minds?! : Neuroplasticity

Well, Now You’ve Done It! : Engaging the brain through intentional experiences

That Was Fun. Now What?! : What to remember when all else fails

What Are You Trying to Tell Me?!  : Autonomic nervous system/behavior as communication

Don’t Pull the Switch! A little on the psychology of group thinking

The Lie of 5 : Discussion of how we understand the Senses

Discriminatory Touch  : Tactile defensiveness vs. Under Sensitivity

Nocioception : A fancy word for pain and how we sense it

Proprioception  : Where is your body in space?

The Vestibular System : How your inner ear is keeping you in line

Synesthesia : How does music make you feel? Can you smell a memory?

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Why Can’t We See Eye to Eye?!

April 11, 2016



Twice Exceptional/Twice Misunderstood

Ben’s vocabulary and comprehension are quite remarkable for a child his age. This evening he was explaining to me in brief the timeline as it relates to Syria. He is in the 3rd grade. It is very easy, when a child is a gifted speaker, to forget their developmental age. I’ve heard it from a variety of adults in his life, “Sometimes, I just have to stop and remind myself that I am talking to a child!”

This is both blessing and curse for my young man. Being twice exceptional means that, for him, academic development is well off the chart while  emotional development is behind for his physical age. So, it would be fairly understandable for him to go from one moment explaining the conflict in Syria, to the next stamping his foot, slamming his cup down, and crying out, “You’re mean!” because it is time to clean up for dinner. Perhaps, most interesting is the way that academic age and developmental age are always shifting and changing, in an ever-moving dance of ability and disability.

Higher Order Functions

Welcome to the wonder that is the Cerebral Cortex. If the Limbic brain is the brick and mortar foundation and the seat of emotional needs and responses, the Cerebral Cortex is the protective roof carefully considering every response. About the size of a large dinner napkin and only about 2-3 mm in thickness, the Cerebral Cortex is responsible for a laundry list of social, emotional and anatomical functions. Like a “bark” of gray matter it starts at your forehead and  covers everything, including the limbic brain and brainstem (the lower portion) like a very thin helmet.

ccThe Cerebral Cortex plays a role in :

  • body control
  • emotional control
  • morality and ethics
  • foreword planning
  • flexibility
  • self-awareness and insight


Unlike the limbic brain, the cerebral cortex is not developed at birth but begins its process of growth and development in infancy and childhood and continues through the early to mid-twenties- although the structures continue to change through out a life time.

Being A Role Model not a Bad Example

When Ben stamped his foot, slammed his juice on the table and shouted, “You’re mean!” (an obvious limbic response) I had a choice. I could access my own limbic brain and give the response I would most likely have gotten from my own parents, and the one most likely to be expected from most other adults, and shout:

You don’t speak to your mother that way, Young Man! Now you go wash those hands for dinner, not another word, or you will…insert consequence...”

Or, I can take the high road, try to see his point of view and access my cerebral cortex. I might say, in a controlled tone:

“Ben, I know that you would rather continue your game, but it is time to eat. If you can wash up now without a fuss you will have more time to play after dinner.”

I can hear the “my kids got spankings and know discipline, they would talk to me like that once and they would never think twice after that” crowd gagging. Yes, if you cause your child pain or injury the hippocampus will make a note of it. The child may not behave that way again but not because they have learned any skill of higher reasoning in that cerebral cortex they are cultivating. They will have simply reinforced their primitive survival reflex.

Use It – Don’t Excuse It

A developing brain isn’t an excuse for undisciplined behavior. In fact, it is much the contrary. It means that our children lack the necessary internal constraints to set boundaries for themselves. That means that we need to rise to the challenge of modeling the behavior we want to see from our kids, set clear boundaries and expectations and in effect function as an external constraint system as they are developing. In other words, a developing brain needs firm, fair and consistent discipline at all times.

We all want to raise our children to be in control of their bodies and emotions, who are morally and ethically upstanding, able to think ahead, and are flexible, insightful and self-aware. All of those things are teachable skills too! It just means that we have to use our own cerebral cortex. A lot.

If you consistently model limbic responses of instant gratification, rage, and loss of self-control; if you fail to use compassion and empathy in times of difficulty, well – that is the person that your child will model and become one day. If you mirror patience, self-control, and understanding those abilities will develop over time as well.

Try to see the developing mind for what it is: a miracle. You cannot and should not be your child’s pal- that will come with age. For now, you have a more important role: you have to be their teacher, their leader, their image of what they can and should want to be. Be an example of what a loving parent is and help them grow into young people who know their own worth, and uniqueness.

…And be patient with yourself too. We all have our days where our emotional limbic brain is just an animal off leash. That too is a learning opportunity.

*Brain Basics Author’s Note: 

I am totally unqualified to prepare someone for brain surgery or even to give a literal anatomy lesson. My goal in writing about the way that our minds work is to give you just enough information to be dangerous  a layman’s understanding of your brain, how it works, and how those functions impact our experience of the world and each other. While I will write about parenting and about  how  the mind relates to autism and neurodiversity, these basic concepts are helpful to anyone with a brain or who has occasion to deal with thinking people. I believe that by understanding the way our brain influences  the mechanics of how we work we can take steps away from stigmatizing ideas and start to develop a true understanding of each other and our individual needs. 

I will be breaking this subject down into many posts, and trying to keep it short enough that it can be easily read on a busy schedule. I issue this disclaimer: this is very basic, consolidated information and I encourage you to learn more. At the end of this series I will post a list of sources and reading, and as always, the collection will be available on Google + 

What Were You Thinking?! : The Mind/Body Turf War

What Makes You Act Like That?! : The Limbic System

Why Can’t We See Eye to Eye?! : The Cerebral Cortex

Is All this Sensory Stuff Real?! : Neurotransmitters

Can We Change Our Minds?! : Neuroplasticity

Well, Now You’ve Done It! : Engaging the brain through intentional experiences

That Was Fun. Now What?! : What to remember when all else fails

What Are You Trying to Tell Me?!  : Autonomic nervous system/behavior as communication

Don’t Pull the Switch! A little on the psychology of group thinking

The Lie of 5 : Discussion of how we understand the Senses

Discriminatory Touch  : Tactile defensiveness vs. Under Sensitivity

Nocioception : A fancy word for pain and how we sense it

Proprioception  : Where is your body in space?

The Vestibular System : How your inner ear is keeping you in line

Synesthesia : How does music make you feel? Can you smell a memory?

original date: 12.16.15

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