Tuesday, September 01, 2009

In His Element

(Note: This is a follow-up to a post I wrote last Friday about our tendency to label children who for whatever reason fall outside the narrow band of what we call “normal.”)

I receive two magazine subscriptions: Popular Mechanics and ESPN, the magazine. I learn a lot of cool stuff from the first, and the second I originally subscribed to only in support of my friend who landed a job as their head of ad sales. He long ago left ESPN, but for whatever reason I’ve not bothered to figure out which credit card is getting billed for it, so it keeps arriving.

And as luck would have it, I finally learned something from the most recent issue (Sept. 7, 2009) of ESPN. (I’m not going to link to the article because ESPN has a policy of making people pay to read some of its content. If you want to pay for it, the article is entitled, “In His Element.”) It’s the story of a kid named Clay Marzo who is a surfing prodigy. He struggles in school. He struggles socially. He pretty much struggles as long as he’s on land. Everyone just assumed he was a typical surfing stoner malcontent until his coach got him evaluated by an autism specialist named Michael Linden who diagnosed him as having Asperger’s, with symptoms of both ADD and OCD.

As a medical professional, Linden is exactly the kind of person in whose hand these labels can effectively be used. He knows they do not necessarily describe “disorders.” In fact, the doctor goes on to assert that it’s probably these very conditions that make him such a mind-blowing surfer. In other words, a “normal” kid would struggle trying to do what Clay does, just as Clay struggles doing things that come more easily to them.

In a sidebar to the story, journalist Alyssa Roenigk writes:

Michael Linden . . . believes 20% of pro athletes have ADD or ADHD – more than four times the rate of all adults. Kids with ADHD are drawn to sports because activity helps them release excess energy, plus the focus required to develop skills can calm their minds. Linden also says kids with ADHD have quick reaction times and tend to move instantly to the next moments. “They rarely dwell on mistakes and losses.” . . . Similarly, an athlete with OCD can practice shooting free throws or throwing a slider over and over without losing interest. And those with Tourette’s . . . may also have the ability to master quick, precise movements, which is why some are drawn to high-risk activities requiring extreme concentration.

As I suggest in my post entitled, "The Only Way To Learn About Each Other", we need to figure out a way to include these children in our educational communities without medicating or segregating them. Rather than trying to force these square pegs into the round holes of our current educational systems we need to find ways to adapt the way we educate to suit these perfectly normal kids, not just for the sake of these kids, but for all of us.

Instead we see school districts across the country cutting athletic, physical education, music, and arts budgets, in favor of yet more of the sitting in desks, facing forward style of education, taking away some of the few areas in which we’ve traditionally done a good job of serving these kids. Couple this with ever-growing class sizes and it’s almost criminal.

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PJ Mullen said...

I agree with you, medication is not always the answer. In some cases it is probably necessary. My wife is a pharmacist and she is very much against the widespread use of all these drugs. Unfortunately, it is easier to medicate than accommodate. Still doesn't make it right.

Eternal Lizdom said...

That last paragraph gets a big old HECK YEAH! from me!! I've often been frustrated by the continuing cuts in those really important areas of art, music, phys ed.

I'm a fan of the PS22 chorus- 5th graders from a public school in NYC. I assume you've heard of them as they have made a huge name for themselves amongst musicians, politicians, and the news media. There is a lot of support being offered to make sure that the chorus can continue on as it has- the existence of the chorus was threatened by- you guessed it- lack of funds. But one politician stepping up to save one chorus... I'm thrilled for all the lives that one save will touch. But what about all the others? At what point will people see just how important these avenues are?

Someday, I hope you will share your thoughts on "teaching to the test." It's a growing and ongoing frustration of mine with the public schools... teaching so we get good standardized state test results. Ugh.

Floor Pie said...

So true. Not to mention the actual criminal things that sometimes happen to these kids in school at the hands of fellow students, bus drivers, and stressed-out teachers with little-to-no special ed support from the school (again with the budget cuts). It's appalling.

Incidentally, do you think co-op preschool serves special needs students well?

Teacher Tom said...

We've had a number of kids come though our school who either came in with one of these diagnoses or were later tagged with one. We even had one child who was diagnosed as bi-polar in kindergarten.

I think cooperative schools, with a plentitude of engaged adults at hand, represent a pretty good model for accommodating and incorporating these various methods of processing information. We have the ability to work with these children within a community setting, without turning the entire school on its head, drugging them, or segregating them according to their label.

My earlier post has a lot more one why I think our model is good for all kids, because frankly, I think they all are "special needs" kids.

I'm not saying co-ops are the be all end all, but I'm proud of the job we do and I've not really seen anything better.

Pumpkin Delight said...

The cuts are criminal!

Saya said...

We all are "special needs" people!
my special needs are; forgetfulness (which keeps me from doing things efficiently sometimes), slight OCD about current subject(s) of interest (which keeps me from getting things I need getting done, done).

Music, Art, PE... they are so stupid to cut them! I'm really scared and sad for the children... they (politicians) really don't care because they do not have voting rights, I guess. I would think the biggest investment they can ever make is to invest in education, since these kids are the ones who will be running the country, economy, everything, in the future.
Someone said they don't want us to become people with critical thinking skills, so they can do whatever to us and we are still passive, accept everything they hand to us. More and more I am with that opinion, everyday.

In this book called "brain rules", the author John Medina says our brain are not really wired to just sit and learn. something to think about how I work with the children for sure.

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