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Barry Rudner has been an author/poet of self-esteem books for children for over thirty years, dealing with universal truths such as, reaching for your dreams, homelessness, undying friendships, disability awareness, always being yourself, autism awareness, hope and utter silliness. He firmly believes that we cannot educate our children unless they feel good about who they are; and ultimately, as they grow up, they will not feel good about themselves unless they educate themselves. Please feel free to visit us at our website at www.nickoftime.us.
Thank you for joining us today, Barry Rudner. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
I am a product of an incredible education from my parents. My formal education was a double major in biology and religious studies. I thought I wanted to grow up to become a doctor, but I realized I wanted to grow up and try to answer questions in ways that science cannot. But it is this hybrid of both degrees that gives me a certain insight into the world of children’s literature. In other words, as a scientist, I know the grass is green because the chlorophyl absorbs all the wavelengths of light and reflects the green. But as a children’s author, it is so much more poetic to think that the grass is green because it envies where the children have stepped.
When did you first get bit by the writing bug?
I was in graduate school in the late ’70s trying to earn a Masters degree in neuroanatomy in the hopes of being admitted into medical school. I was at a friend’s house, and he had a room mate who was taking a children’s literature course. On the kitchen table was Shel Silversteins, The Giving Tree. That one moment completely changed the path of my life.I knew that I would spend the rest of my life chasing after what I consider to be the most linear thought ever committed to paper for children. I have been pursuing this goal ever since.
Why did you decide to write stories for children?
I started writing stories for children because I love the way they think. If I may be so bold to quote Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, “…and such things commonly please us best which are most strange and come from farthest off.” And that in essence is our children. Somehow, in their innocence they understand things that we do not even mean. They are living, breathing allegories. Children are that very thing that “comes from farthest off”.
Do you believe it is harder to write books for a younger audience?
I believe that my life would be much harder if I did not write for children. I believe I understand my audience as well as my craft. Children’s literature is no different than taking a felled tree and stripping it of its bark and limbs and whittling it down to the size of a toothpick; and, right when you think you are done you split it in half. That is children’s literature.
What is your favorite part of writing for young people?
My favorite part about writing for children, especially thirty-two page picture books is to teach them universal truths without ever dealing with what is real. By definition, that is a fairy tale. Teaching them to reach for their dreams. Teaching them to be themselves. Teaching them to be aware of the less fortunate. The beauty of truth is that it is multi-cultural and I never have to deal with what is real: only with what is true.
The latest book is entitled, Silent Voice, and it is a modern day allegory about autism awareness: that the only ought in autism is that we ought not ever give up trying to find the cause and cure. The majority of the world population is not even aware of the pandemic nature of this disorder. But the book is not about finger pointing or blame. It is about educating those who are simply unaware.
What inspired you to write it?
Last year in March I was speaking to a dear friend, Nicole Albert, a licensed therapist, who approached me about writing a book about the lack of awareness of those children that fall under the spectrum of autism: worldwide one in eighty-eight suffer from this disorder. It is a staggering number when you consider the statistics. I simply felt that it needed to be addressed. After three months of researching, I started the process of rewriting.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
Silent Voice can be purchased online at our website at http://www.nickoftime.us in a variety of electronic formats as well as a hardcover version of the book. Our hope is that the book version will become a part of bookshelves everywhere.
What is up next for you?
For an author, even a barely-an-author-type like myself, all that matters is to rewrite a book that is worthier than the one that proceeded it.
Do you have anything else to add?
It took almost eleven years to become published. For anyone aspiring to become an author, do not take rejection personally. Take it as a complement. It means your work is being circulated. You are looking for that one editor who is searching for that very manuscript you have written. Case in point: I once met the editor at a symposium who rejected Richard Bach’s, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, because their was no mass market appeal for it. Need I say more.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Barry Rudner. We wish you much success.
This week children’s author Barry Rudner begins a 15-day virtual tour (sponsored by the National Writing for Children Center) for his new book, Silent Voice.
Each day I’ll add a new link here to this tour.
Start the tour here:
Day 1 – Monday, April 14, 2014
Licensed psychotherapist Nicole L. Albert talks about Barry and his book at Mayra’s Secret Bookcase
Day 3 – Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Day 4 – Thursday, April 17, 2014
Day 5 – Friday, April 18, 2014
Day 6 – Monday, April 21, 2014
Day 7 – Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Day 8 – Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Day 9 – Thursday, April 24, 2014
Day 10 – Friday, April 25, 2014
Day 11 – Monday, April 28, 2014Add a Comment
If you read my Huffington Post article “Unfrozen: How a Disney Movie Gave My Daughter Hope,” then you know that I have no prejudice against Disney movies. Indeed, I love a great story whether in book, ebook, or movie form, and the great Disney movies have as much power to heal or inspire as any other.
Thank you to Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard for posting a link to Ron Suskind’s astonishing story of his autistic son Owen’s journey back to the land of neurotypicals through speech development and emotional resonance as learned by watching his favourite Disney movies, repeatedly, over many years. “No sidekick gets left behind” is a quote from Owen, an example of one of the first sentences he ever spoke. Suskind has a book coming out and the linked article is an excerpt. I promise that if you read this article, you will feel better for having done so. If not, write me and we’ll talk.
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Dame Uta Frith was the neuroscientist who first recognised autism as a condition of the brain rather than the result of cold parenting. Here she takes Lance Workman on a journey through her collection of memories.
Lance Workman: I believe you initially began your studies with history of art in Germany, but then became interested in psychology, and autism in particular.
Uta Frith: At school I was not particularly good at science subjects and much better arts and languages. No wonder these were the subjects I was expected to study at university. But looking back, this is a common situation for girls to be in, and it was a bit of a trap. Actually, I had many diverse interests. So, one thing I love to tell girls in a similar situation is that you can escape the trap. You can change your mind about what you’d like to study. The school I went to in Germany gave me a nice all-round education, including nine years of Latin and six years of Greek. I absolutely loved it. I dreamt my future would be to study ancient civilisations – finding treasures and deciphering texts in some long-lost language! By comparison, art history is far more down-to-earth. The art history courses offered at my university were fascinating. They allowed me to explore different artists, different times, places and materials. But I was very curious about what was on offer elsewhere. I went to lots of different lectures and remember my timetable being completely full up. This seemed to me the best thing about being a student: soaking up learning while being inspired by the commitment that eminent scholars bring to their subjects.
At that point I only had a very nebulous and indeed misguided idea of what psychology was about. But I happened to drift into a lecture on analysis of variance. Far from being put off, the idea that you could use stats to measure psychological abilities strangely appealed to me. For the first time I learned that it was possible to do experiments about how people remember things, and how they solved problems, or rather how they failed to solve them. So I went to the psychology department and asked if they would take me on as a student. I ended up doing more and more psychology and less and less art history, mainly because the psychology course was well structured with an exam at the end. This certainly gave me some focus. It occurred to me gradually that it was the mind I was interested in, and even more gradually that this included the brain. As part of the psychology course I took similar courses to the medics. I have to admit that the physiology lab classes were rather tough for me. There were some alarming moments involving spinal frogs. Better by far were the lectures and case demonstrations in the university psychiatric clinic. This was more than exciting – it was the most intellectually thrilling experience that I ever had. The professor was renowned for his ability to present cases to students. He clearly enjoyed himself in these demonstrations, and the patients he selected played along good-naturedly. I very much wanted to understand what was the matter with them, why they suffered from invisible and intangible phenomena. So, if anything, that was what got me totally hooked into psychology.
Lance Workman: You came to England around this time. How did that come about?
Uta Frith: Well, I needed to learn English to read the textbooks and journals – and so I came to London. I found I liked it even more than Paris, and that was saying something. I went to visit the Institute of Psychiatry, because I had heard of Hans-Jürgen Eysenck, who was the head of department. I was extremely taken with his books that were debunking the woolly end of psychology and psychoanalysis. Like everyone else I had read Freud and swallowed it wholesale. But Eysenck’s books threw a different light on things. Where was the evidence for Freud’s theories? If the evidence was in the patients that were cured, then it was very thin indeed. If the patients did not get better, then apparently this was because they resisted. Something was not quite right here. It seemed a suspiciously circular argument. I saw Professor Eysenck only very briefly, but he seemed happy enough for me to stay around to see if I could do odd jobs. One of the lecturers, Reg Beech, gave me some data to analyse from an experiment he had done with patients who had obsessive compulsive disorder.
My job was quite basic – correlations, that sort of thing – but I enjoyed doing it. It was an exciting environment where psychologists tested hypotheses, and treated patients, not with psychotherapy, but with methods based on learning theory. I found out that there was a unique course in clinical psychology, and I was longing to be able to do this course. So I went to the head – Monte Shapiro – and asked if he would take me on. Amazingly, he did, and I am for ever grateful to him. Then I had to tell my parents. I knew I imposed a heavy financial burden on them, because the exchange rate between the pound and the Deutschmark was extremely poor at that time. However, they were always unbelievably supportive of me and of anything I decided to do. So they accepted my sudden change of plan.
At some point during the course I found out about autism. I was completely fascinated as soon as I met the first autistic child, and have been ever since. By sheer luck, the Institute of Psychiatry was the place to be for anyone interested in autism – Mike Rutter, Lorna Wing, Neil O’Connor and Beate Hermelin; all these heroes were there at that time.
Lance Workman: Things were really very different then. What was the prevailing view on autism during the 1960s and 70s in terms of causes?
Uta Frith: The prevailing view was that something in psychosocial relations had gone wrong during early development, and that this caused the state of autism. Still, at the Institute there was also the view that autism should be seen in the context of mental deficiency. This was a term for conditions thought to be due to brain pathology. To me, however, the autistic children didn’t look like other children with mental disabilities. Was there a hidden intelligence? Many of the children I met had no language. Could they perhaps learn to speak? Would they then grow out of their autism? The children with Down’s syndrome I met did have language and were quite social – but the autistic children were so strange, so different.
Lance Workman: You once described autistic children as being like the ones in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos – later made into the film Village of the Damned.
Uta Frith: This is one of the romantic images about autistic children I have toyed with. I freely admit that some of my fascination was fed by romantic notions. At first I thought it would be very difficult to study autistic individuals in a strict experimental fashion. Perhaps case studies were the only way. Then I happened to read a paper by Beate Hermelin and Neil O’Connor and realised that it was after all possible to do experiments with these children. I plucked up courage and managed to talk to them a couple of times. One day they asked me whether I would like to do a PhD. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I immediately knew that this is what I wanted to do.
This whole area of research into disorders of cognitive development was only just beginning, and I happened to be in the right place. When people asked what I was doing and I said I studied autistic children, they invariably thought I was studying artistic children! When I did explain about autism, they generally thought it was odd to study something that was so very rare.
Lance Workman: Things changed radically, with you as one of the people that suggested autistic children couldn’t mentalise. Did that happen overnight or was it an idea that gradually emerged?
Uta Frith: The ground for the idea was well prepared in many ways. The rigorous experimental approach to autism pioneered by Hermelin and O’Connor was one thing, and so was the finding that the really critical feature of autism was not people’s aloofness, but their strange failure in reciprocal communication. ‘Theory of mind’ was an idea which just then surfaced and inspired developmental psychologists Heinz Wimmer and Josef Perner. It only needed these strands bringing together. There was a sort of insight moment: If young children needed a ‘theory of mind’ in order to understand pretend play, as Alan Leslie argued, then it was possible that autistic children who had recently been found to lack pretend play, did not have a ‘theory of mind’. Simon Baron-Cohen started his PhD at this time and carried out the critical experiments. One of them has become a classic experiment with the Sally-Ann False Belief Task. Simon found that autistic children aged 9–10 years failed this task when children with Down’s syndrome and ordinary five year-olds succeeded. John Morton suggested the novel term ‘mentalising’, short for ‘the ability to use mental states such as intentions and beliefs to predict behaviour of others and self’. So we all continued to work on the idea that mentalising failure might be key to the social impairments in autism.
Lance Workman: You found that specific deficit?
Uta Frith: Yes we did find a specific deficit in social cognitive processing, and we designed other tests to show that there was no general cognitive impairment that would explain the results. But it was very difficult to get these ideas accepted. We wanted to claim that there was a neural basis to this specific deficit and that this might help us to identify a cause of autism in the brain. At the time brain imaging had just emerged. It was almost like science fiction. Here was an amazing technique that promised to make thinking in the brain visible. What about thinking about mental states? Of course, I could not have dreamt of doing brain imaging studies on my own. But fortunately [my husband] was very much involved in the early development of functional imaging techniques, and he was brave enough to give it a go. His colleagues have told me since that, at the time, they thought he was completely mad to do this. It took about 10 years for other centres to take up these crazy ideas and pursue them further. Today it is taken for granted that there is a mentalising system in the brain. What we still don’t know, however, is in what way this system is or is not working in autism. This has proved very elusive. I still remember that we expected to get an immediate and clear answer to this question. How naive!
Lance Workman: You have also suggested that autistic individuals might have some cognitive advantages?
Uta Frith: At least 10% have outstanding talents, and possibly as many as 30% have superior abilities in quite specific areas, and it is important to explain these. My hope was that one single cause might explain these special abilities and at the same time the undeniable weaknesses that show up in tests such as ‘Comprehension’. That’s how I arrived at the theory of weak central coherence. Weak central coherence is when you can’t see the wood for the trees. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. There are tasks where it is important to resist the pull of the big picture, for example when you need to find a hidden object. Amitta Shah, another of my brilliant PhD students, showed that autistic children are good at finding hidden figures, and can easily see how to segment a picture in the Block Design Test. On the other hand, they may often miss the main point of a question in the ‘Comprehension’ test. Then Francesca Happé came along and showed that you don’t have to be autistic to have a detail-focused processing style. Sarah White, a more recent PhD student, found that it is only a subgroup of autistic children who show weak central coherence. To my mind these are the children I used to see long ago, very much like the ones Kanner described. They are the classic cases that still exist, but now they are only a small part of the whole autism spectrum. We still don’t know how to explain the amazing talent seen in some autistic individuals, but one ingredient may be the ability to zoom in easily on a small detail and stay there until it is mastered by countless repeats.
Lance Workman: The film Rainman brought autism to the attention of the public in the 1980s. Do you think that was a good portrayal of an autistic individual?
Uta Frith: It was an outstanding portrayal, even though the character of Rainman was based on a composite of a number of autistic people. Apparently, Dustin Hoffman studied these people carefully, and managed to convey for the first time their endearing naivety and their charming social faux pas. The film increased the awareness of the condition, especially in adults. It may also have increased the unrealistic expectation of outstanding talent. Most importantly, it helped to lessen any feelings of fear and dread about autism.
Lance Workman: You mentioned your husband earlier, Chris Frith. When I interviewed him, one question I asked was How do you feel about working with your wife? I’m curious if I ask you the same question about him to see whether you give the same answer?
Uta Frith: It’s a marvellous feeling. We have always talked to each other about our work and have read each other’s papers in early drafts. We have always been interested in each other’s work, and it helped that it was different. It was no accident that we were in separate departments and were pursuing different projects. It is only really in recent years that we have been working together. We found that we enjoy it! I think writing together has worked very much to my advantage. Chris often starts drawing out a structure and puts down rough ideas. Then I just have to do a bit of editing and expanding. It seems like a free ride.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Psychologist.
Uta Frith is a developmental psychologist working at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. She is author of Autism and Talent, Autism: A Very Short Introduction, and Autism: Mind and Brain.
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Image credit: (1) Uta Frith at an Ada Lovelace Day editathon in the Royal Society. Photo by Katie Chan. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Autistic Teenage Girl. Photo by Linsenhejhej. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Barry Rudner has been a writer and poet of self-esteem books for children for over thirty years. This journey has allowed him to write about universal truths such as reaching for your dreams, being yourself, undying friendships, homelessness, and disability awareness. He is the product of an incredible education that was a gift from his parents; Silent Voice and his previous releases are his gift in return. He firmly believes that we cannot educate children unless they feel good about themselves, and ultimately, when they grow up, they will not feel good about themselves unless they are educated.Add a Comment
I am happy to be part of Barry Rudner's virtual book tour this month. To promote his book, SILENT VOICE, Barry is touring the blogosphere with The National Writing for Children Center. In this guest post, licensed psychotherapist Nicole L. Albert talks about Barry and his book. I hope you'll enjoy the post. Happy reading!
In case you missed it, a quick recap of the past week on WordPress.com, from new features to great blogs to discover.Display Comments Add a Comment
Each day I’ll add a new link here to this tour.
Start the tour here:
Day 1 – Monday, April 14, 2014Add a Comment
Now that the school year has ended, I have the time to put in on a couple of big projects--helping Blondechick plan her wedding, and helping B20 find a job. There's not much to tell yet on Job A, except we're going to look at wedding and reception venues this week!
On Job B.... We attended the mandatory informational meeting at the Kenosha DVR (Department of Vocational Rehabilitation), and it sounds like the whole process is going to be slow, and we ought to do our best to find him employment without their help. He's filled out applications at several places, and then I thought to take him to Manpower, the temporary agency.
That visit was most encouraging. A woman there spent a lot of time with us, and it sounds likely that he'll be a good fit for a client that will have openings in just another week or so. It would begin as a temporary position, but should lead to employment if he does a good job. So we are praying that this will all come about!
In the meantime, I was looking at bus routes to get him to work, and not finding anything promising. But the car route wasn't too bad of a drive, I noticed. I talked with Papa Rooster about it, and we each had the same sudden inner conviction. Though he makes us nervous, B20 would be just fine driving himself to and from work.
He passed his driver's test, after all--a year ago. In fact, almost exactly a year ago, I began to realize, fighting back panic as I looked through a file drawer for his road test results. As they continued to elude me, I thought, "What if I find them and they just expired yesterday?" My next thought was, "Well, Lord, if that's the case, then we'll know it's because he shouldn't be driving. It's in your hands, Lord."
This was last Friday afternoon. The DMV would be closed on the weekend, probably.
And the test results were dated--June 14! The following Tuesday--today, in fact.
So yesterday, we "cashed in" his road test results for a Wisconsin driver's license. He didn't want to drive home. It's been a year since he's driven, and we had the 15-passenger van because we were dropping off a bike at the bike repair place afterwards.
But once he has a job and we figure out a vehicle for him, we'll get him up to speed again. When he had his learner's permit, we had him driving everywhere, but he'll be a lot more comfortable driving the same roads every day.
It's funny how sometimes God nudges you along. That very night, after Papa R and I had decided he ought to get his license, I was meeting with some women from our church, and they ended up sharing stories of elderly relatives or clients who were driving long past the time that someone should have taken away their car keys. So I told them that we were thinking of letting B20 get his license, and they agreed that he'd probably be just fine. (His vision, hearing and reflexes are fine, after all!) Then one friend commented that being a good driver has a lot to do with noticing things that are unusual or out of the ordinary, and that is one facet of B20's autism--he's very observant about things that are out of place. Her comment seemed like a confirmation from the Lord that if the route is familiar, he'll do fine.
And I am feeling dizzy with relief at no longer being The One Driving Him Back and Forth to Work Every Day. I woke up one morning a couple weeks ago filled with anxiety about that role. I didn't even think, then, of him getting his license after all, but God heard my prayers and I believe this is truly His answer, not mine.
The less-exciting news is that now we have to start paying for auto insurance for him. (At least he turns 21 in 6 months!) But if gets a job, he's happy to pay his own insurance, and pay us back for a car too.
So we're drivin' forward in faith...that he'll get the job...that we'll find cheap wheels for him when the time comes...that he'
Belinda has just left the first nastygram for Gem and my son asked, "Shouldn't she have left a nicer note?"
I was so pleased to have him recognize that, and how fascinating to see him trying to navigate the world of interactions... I didn't think of that at all when I chose this book, but it's really quite emotionally complex. What better place to learn about people than children's books? It's where I learned.
|"Fast Food" by Bryce Merlin|
|Self-Portrait by Bryce Merlin|
|Artism: The Art of Autism|
By Debra Hosseini
Speaking of B21,whose birthday was on Saturday--this young man has lost 50 pounds since last May! It's the 50 pounds he put on while he was away at a college last year. Since he's been home, we've been helping make sure that he exercises daily, either biking (10 miles) when the weather is nice, or run-walking on the treadmill (5 miles) when it's been cold. He's also eating a minimum quantity of food--eggs and rice cereal for breakfast, an apple or a banana for lunch, and a quesadilla around 4 to hold him till dinner. No seconds, no dessert, and lots of praise from his family as we've seen the pound drop off, slowly but surely. Best of all, he seems to have his secret compulsive snacking under control, which should help him keep it off.
Most biographies for kids of living subjects, have several things in common. They are small in size and page number, they have flashy covers, the information they contain can be easily gleaned by combing the Internet, they feature the latest sports, music, TV, or movie stars, their "shelf-life" is limited. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World is not most biographies.
Montgomery, Sy. 2012. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)
Dr. Temple Grandin is a scientist, a college professor, a motivational speaker, an engineer, an advocate for animal rights, and so much more - but as a child born in the 1940s with autism, her chances of becoming anything at all were slim. In fact, her father fought to have her sent away to a mental institution, thinking her, not brilliant, but "retarded." With the help of a determined mother, Temple grew up to be a brilliant and respected woman who has changed our world for the better.
With extensive access to Temple Grandin, her family and friends, and schools, author Sy Montgomery has crafted an inspiring, engaging, and informative biography about this singular woman.
Temple Grandin is thirteen chapters that tell the story of Temple's life and the autism that has shaped her destiny. Not strictly chronological, Temple's participation in the writing of the book is an added bonus as her present-day thoughts are often used to punctuate difficult experiences from her past
"If I could snap my fingers and be non-autistic," Temple says today, "I wouldn't do it. It's part of who I am."Chapters relate her unique education, her friends, her scientific experiments and engineering projects, her autism and its attendant challenges. Chapters are supplemented by short informational sections (which appear as pages torn from a spiral bound notebook) on such varied topics as "Thinking differently:Changing Views of Brain Differences" and "Factory Farming by the Numbers." The final chapter, "Temple Today" is followed by Temple's advice, a selected bibliography and resources, and acknowledgements. Photographs, plans and drawings are plentiful throughout the book. Photo credits and an index will be included in the final copy.
Since this is Autism Awareness Month we want to remind you of some of our great titles featuring children (both real and fictional) with autism. Many of these titles have won awards and are excellent books to read to kids to help them understand more about autism and autism spectrum disorders. Pick up a copy today.
Autism & Me: Sibling Stories by Ouisie Shapiro, photos by Steven Vote
• A 2010 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
• IRA-CBC Children’s Choices 2010
Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism by Laurie Lears, illustrated by Karen Ritz
• 2002 Children’s Crown Gallery Award Master List
• Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
• Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities 1999, International Board on Books for Young People
• Pick of the Lists, American Bookseller
Looking after Louis by Lesley Ely, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism by Alexandra Jessup Altman, illustrated by Susan Keeter
• Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities 2009, International Board on Books for Young People
Just got back from my daughters' talent show (we stopped off for a well-earned McDonalds on the way home)..
Even though I go every year, there's something about watching a group of special needs children singing, dancing, telling jokes and generally having a hoot and a half on stage which makes me want to laugh, cheer and cry my eyes out, all at the same time.
I feel immensely proud, not to mention emotionally drained.
If you need me, I'll be in my office, counting my blessings.
I are a proud dad
As 2012 is quickly coming to a close, I'll use today's Nonfiction Monday event to feature my two favorite nonfiction books of the year - one for young listeners and one for older readers.
Without a doubt, my favorite nonfiction book for older readers was
I spend around 12 hours a week – every week – sharing thoughts, feelings, new ideas, reminiscences and even jokes with some very special children who have extraordinary musical talents, and many of whom are severely autistic. I’m Professor of Music at the University of Roehampton, and the children come to see me in a large practice room in Southlands College where there are two pianos, so we don’t have to scrap over personal space. My pupils usually indicate what piece they would like us to play together, and they tell me when they’ve had enough. Sometimes, they tease me by seeming to suggest one thing when they mean another. We share many jokes and the occasional sad moment too.
But the children rarely say a word. They communicate everything through their playing. For them, music is a proxy language.
On Sunday mornings, at 10.00 a.m., I steel myself for Romy’s arrival. I know that the next two hours will be an exacting test of my musical mettle. Yet Romy, aged 11, has severe learning difficulties, and she doesn’t speak at all. She is musical to the core, though: she lives and breathes music – it is the very essence of her being. With her passion comes a high degree of particularity: Romy knows precisely which piece she wants me to play, at what tempo and in which key. And woe betide me if I get it wrong.
When we started working together, four years ago, mistakes and misunderstandings occurred all too frequently, since (as it turned out), there were very few pieces that Romy would tolerate: the theme from Für Elise (never the middle section), for example, the Habanera from Carmen, and some snippets from ‘Buckaroo Holiday’ (the first movement of Aaron Copland’s Rodeo). Romy’s acute neophobia meant that even one note of a different piece would evoke shrieks of fear-cum-anger, and the session could easily grow into an emotional conflagration.
So gradually, gradually, over weeks, then months, and then years, I introduced new pieces – sometimes, quite literally, at the rate of one note per session. On occasion, if things were difficult, I would even take a step back before trying to move on again the next time. And, imperceptibly at first, Romy’s fears started to melt away. The theme from Brahms’s Haydn Variations became something of an obsession, followed by the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata. Then it was Joplin’s The Entertainer, and Rocking All Over the World by Status Quo.
Over the four years, Romy’s jigsaw box of musical pieces – fragments ranging from just a few seconds to a minute or so in length – has filled up at an ever-increasing rate. Now it’s overflowing, and it’s difficult to keep up with Romy’s mercurial musical mind: mixing and matching ideas in our improvised sessions, and even changing melodies and harmonies so they mesh together, or to ensure that my contributions don’t!
As we play, new pictures in sound emerge and then retreat as a kaleidoscope of ideas whirls between us. Sometimes a single melody persists for 15 minutes, even half an hour. For Romy, no matter how often it is repeated, a fragment of music seems to stay fresh and vibrant. At other times, it sounds as though she is trying to play several pieces at the same time – she just can’t get them out quickly enough, and a veritable nest of earworms wriggle their way onto the piano keyboard. Vainly I attempt to herd them into a common direction of musical travel.
So here I am, sitting at the piano in Roehampton, on a Sunday morning in mid-November, waiting for Romy to join me (not to be there when she arrives is asking for trouble). I’m limbering up with a rather sedate rendition of the opening of Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10, No. 1, when I hear her coming down the corridor, vocalising with increasing fervour. I feel the tension rising, and as her father pushes open the door, she breaks away from him, rushes over to the piano and, with a shriek and an extraordinarily agile sweep of her arm, elbows my right hand out of the way at the precise moment that I was going to hit the D an octave above middle C. She usurps this note to her own ends, ushering in her favourite Brahms-Haydn theme. Instantly, Romy smiles, relaxes and gives me the choice of moving out of the way or having my lap appropriated as an unwilling cushion on the piano stool. I choose the former, sliding to my left onto a chair that I’d placed earlier in readiness for the move that I knew I would have to make.
I join in the Brahms, and encourage her to use her left hand to add a bass line. She tolerates this up to the end of the first section of the theme, but in her mind she’s already moved on, and without a break in the sound, Romy steps onto the set of A Little Night Music, gently noodling around the introduction to Send in the Clowns. But it’s in the wrong key – G instead of E flat – which I know from experience means that she doesn’t really want us to go into the Sondheim classic, but instead wants me to play the first four bars (and only the first four bars) of Schumann’s Kleine Studie Op. 68, No. 14. Trying to perform the fifth bar would in any case be futile since Romy’s already started to play … now, is it I am Sailing or O Freedom. The opening ascent from D through E to G could signal either of those possibilities. Almost tentatively, Romy presses those three notes down and then looks at me and smiles, waiting, and knowing that whichever option I choose will be the wrong one. I just shake my head at her and plump for O Freedom, but sure enough Rod Stewart shoves the Spiritual out of the way before it has time to draw a second breath.
From there, Romy shifts up a gear to the Canon in D – or is it really Pachelbel’s masterpiece? With a deft flick of her little finger up to a high A, she seems to suggest that she wants Streets of London instead (which uses the same harmonies). I opt for Ralph McTell, but another flick, this time aimed partly at me as well as the keys, shows that Romy actually wants Beethoven’s Pathetique theme – but again, in the wrong key (D). Obediently I start to play, but Romy takes us almost immediately to A flat (the tonality that Beethoven originally intended). As soon as I’m there, though, Romy races back up the keyboard again, returning to Pachelbel’s domain. Before I’ve had time to catch up, though, she’s transformed the music once more; now we’re hearing the famous theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
I pause to recover my thoughts, but Romy is impatiently waiting for me to begin the accompaniment. Two or three minutes into the session, and we’ve already touched on 12 pieces spanning 300 years of Western music and an emotional range to match.
Yet here is a girl who in everyday life is supposed to have no ‘theory of mind’ – the capacity to put yourself in other people’s shoes and think what they are thinking. Here is someone who is supposed to lack the ability to communicate. Here is someone who functions, apparently, at an 18-month level.
But I say here is a joyous musician who amazes all who hear her. Here is a girl in whom extreme ability and disability coexist in the most extraordinary way. Here is someone who can reach out through music and touch one’s emotions in a profound way.
I explore the science of how Romy and her peers are able to do what they do in my new book Applied Musicology, which uses a theory of how music makes sense to all of us to explore intentionality and influence in children who use little or no language. If music is important to us all, it is truly the lifeblood of many children with autism. Essential brain food.
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Adam Ockelford is Professor of Music and Director of the Applied Music Research Centre at the University of Roehampton in London. He is the author of Applied Musicology: Using Zygonic Theory to Inform Music Education, Therapy, and Psychology Research (OUP, 2012).
The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna
Taylor Jane is living in the south of France for the summer, with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and his two sons. The youngest son has cerebral palsy and Taylor is employed as his personal care assistant (that sounds better than babysitter.) She hopes that her mother and Alan Phoenix don’t get married this summer, because then they’d be family, and it wouldn’t be a real job she can put on her resume.
Taylor wants a professional resume so she can lead her own lie, without her mother’s constant watching. She yearns for the independence and freedom that most girls her age have, but Taylor doesn’t. Yet.
Taylor is autistic but by this point in her life she has learned many ways to cope with her anger and frustration. She uses a lot of these ways very consciously and walks us through such things as sending her anger through her feet. She also looks back on her early childhood to see if there are connections that can be made between then and now, but it gives the reader great insight into her mindset, but also her growth as a person.
This is the third book in a series and while it completely stands alone and you don’t need to read the other books, I fell so in love with Taylor that I can’t wait to read the other two to see where she was before France.
I love this book because while Taylor has autism and that causes some of the obstacles to her independance, it’s not really the focus of the story. Trying to break away from home while still loving your parents is a fairly universal story and delicate line to walk for every young adult. Taylor’s mom uses the autism both as part justification, part excuse for holding Taylor too close. (But not in an overbearing way-- Taylor’s mom is also trying to find that balance of wanting your children near you forever and letting them go. The autism is an added complication, but, once again, universal story.)
I'm so glad this was a Printz honor. It's such an amazing book and if it hadn't won, I would have never known about it, let alone read it.
Book Provided by... my local library
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Andy was known internationally as a leading cognitive neuroscientist. He was a deep thinker, a meticulous experimenter, and an inspiration for those who worked alongside him. His ground-breaking research led to major new insights into vital social abilities, such as how we recognise faces, and how the brain processes and distinguishes between emotions.
After completing a PhD at Durham, Andy joined the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge (then the Applied Psychology Unit) in 1993, becoming a programme leader in 2000. In addition to his dedicated team in Cambridge, Andy worked closely with many collaborators, bringing to each project excellence in methods and precision in scientific thinking. This led to new discoveries including the brain systems that underlie unusual social abilities in conduct disorder and autism.
The news of his untimely death is devastating for all that knew him. Not yet 50, Andy had a wonderful future as a scientist still ahead of him. His abilities to answer important fundamental questions using rigorous methods will continue to inspire his many collaborators and the broader field of social neuroscience. A passion for overseas exploration made Andy a great travelling companion and a keen guest in the laboratories of his dear friends and fellow scientists, including Gilli Rhodes and Colin Clifford in Australia.
Andy was wonderful company. He was an entertaining house guest with his family every Christmas, and took a keen interest in all his nieces and nephews Clark, Amy, Ava, Rebecca, Cameron, Tim and Eve as they were growing up. He had a passion for film and theatre, and every summer would make the trip home to take full advantage of the Edinburgh Festival. A gifted pianist and singer, Andy was a key figure in pantomimes and productions in Cambridge. He made many lasting friendships with colleagues, who were delighted by his warmth, lightness of spirit, and wit (see colleagues’ memories).
Andy will be held dearly in the hearts of the many that knew him. He is greatly missed, but his spirit, life and achievements will be celebrated for many years to come.
Susan Gathercole is Unit Director at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. This article originally appeared on The Psychologist.
Andy Calder was a leading social cognitive neuroscientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. He was the lead author on Oxford Handbook of Face Perception.
Well, I managed to get in that post on parenting teenagers while I could still say that I had three of them.
But no more!
Today, my oldest turns 20.
Reviewed by: Chris Singer
About the author:
Sandra J. Gerencher is a special education teacher in the Bangor Area public school system. Prior to becoming a teacher, she worked at Lehigh University in a school-based program, as a Program Specialist for adults with disabilities. Over the past 20 years she has worked with children and adults with special needs in such areas as counseling, Behavior Specialist Consultation, behavioral research, crisis intervention and abuse therapy. Sandra graduated from Lehigh University with a M.Ed. in Special Education (2004) and from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia with an M.S. in Counseling Psychology (1999).
About the book:
Over the past 10 years, author Sandra Gerencher has been on a mission to save dogs from high-kill animal shelters. Her first rescue was P.J., the black and white Pomeranian in the story. She also adopted the orange Pomeranians Shelby and Lil Rascal, and of course, Chance, the big black Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix.
Her most significant adoption was her son, Terry. He was considered a special needs child because he was born with a genetic disorder known as Fragile X Syndrome. The disorder can cause many cognitive disorders, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation and depression.
All characters in the story are based on Sandra’s real life family.
Watch the book trailer:
My take on the book:
Second Chance is a beautifully written testimony to the power of love we can give to someone by offering them a second chance. Told from the unique perspective of the rescued dog Chance, young readers are the given the opportunity to learn about adoption and autism in a very simple yet beautiful way. The impressionistic photographs were fascinating for me and I thought were incredibly poignant as a metaphor for empathy and learning to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Sandra Gerencher’s lifelong commitment to rescuing dogs and her love of both animals and people is incredibly inspiring. It’s easy for me to say this is a must-read for adopted children but I want to go a step further and say it&rsqDisplay Comments Add a Comment
At last - birds, grass, decent temperatures. Things are looking UP in Maine. Put the fence up over on the big field (in winter the snowmobile path goes across it) and turned out our horses. There was galloping and bucking and BIG farts. (They do that when they are happy). Me, I just do the galloping and bucking bit.
Last weekend I trotted off to Boston with some girl friends. We had a blast, the sun shone and it was 50 or so degrees. Even the daffs were flowering! Stayed at a lovely little hotel (John Jeffries House on Beacon Hill.) It was good to get away from the studio, see some sights and people, eat (too much) at nice restaurants and browse in galleries. One of the fun things is getting on the DownEaster Train in Portland and cruising to Boston North Station. Nice not to drive, kick back and relax, have a drink ;-).
Saturday night we went to the Opera House and saw Mary Poppins, the Broadway cast. Just stunning! Great set, singing and an escape from reality. I particularly enjoyed the sets, which were very illustrative and made to work like a doll's house. Of course Disney always but on a great show, love' em or hate 'em. Well I loved it and took some inspiration from it.