Dreary January

January always sucks here in the Northeast. It’s grey and cold. We’ve all had the same virus for the past three weeks, trading germs back and forth. I need to give the entire house a Clorox bath to get rid of these lingering evil bugs. Faded Christmas trees lay sad and lonely waiting for pick up by the garbage truck.

A story that I did in December was just published. I posted it here. Happy to talk about it in the comment section. I’m working on something totally different right now. It’s an upbeat story about a school in the South Bronx for emotionally disturbed children. (Yes, it’s a happy story.) I’m also editing a document right now for a long term project. So, there’s a lot of work to do.

I was at that South Bronx school earlier this week and had a great time, except for the horrible drive through the Bronx. With streets full of pot holes, sudden turns, unmarked roads, and drivers who don’t obey normal traffic rules, I was having anxiety attacks as I navigated my way there. But I did it. Yay me.

Jonah’s home still, which is awesome. Sniffling like the rest of us, he’s been looking at the career development website for school and trying to figure out what he’s going to do after graduation. What a bucket of stress!

Other kids in town are using their winter break to do informational interviews with alumna from their schools at various companies around New York City. I’m just hearing about this from other parents. Neither Jonah nor myself got the memo that this is what kids do during winter break now, until it was too late. So, he’s surfing websites about careers, rather than sitting in an office with a suit. Sigh. Parent fail.

There is a RIDICULOUS level on stress on kids about jobs. Here’s an article in Vox describing it. And this stress isn’t totally crazy. Millennials are burning out in their jobs. College graduates aren’t finding work.

I’m moving my family to a bunker in Vermont where we’ll make artisanal goat cheese.

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The Tech Backlash

Tech stocks are going down the tubes. Sheryl Sandberg is suddenly a bad guy. There are never ending stories about how bad iPhones are for kids, and how the tech CEOs won’t let their own kids have access to the Internet.

Has Tech jumped the shark?

A couple of weekends, Steve, Ian, and I went down to DC for a quick getaway. Schools in New Jersey were closed, but not the workplaces. So, Steve and I were glued to our phones as we were walking through museums and sitting in restaurants. We knew it was evil, but we couldn’t help it. Steve, who now a director at his bank, had to help put out fires in the office, remotely moving files and soothing stressed out traders. I was getting anxious looking at the stories coming out that I should have written.

Ian was probably better behaved with his phone than we were. which is rather sad. He’s addicted to those stupid “daily rewards” on his video games. He has to check into 18 video games every day or else his characters die or something. It’s the worst possible scenario for a kid with mild OCD and anxiety. He has the situation at a manageable level right now — meaning that it does it so quickly that it doesn’t use up a lot of time or interfere with real life — but it’s really insane.

We all know this situation is stupid, but are we stopping? Are we slowing down? Do we have our addictions at manageable levels? What do you think?

Obsessions and Patterns

It’s no secret that I read a ton of silly books. If I spend most of my week reading twitter and academic-y articles, then I need mindless stuff in the evenings and weekends.

Over this past weekend, I read the Kiss Quotient. The main character in this romance novel has autism. She’s an econometrician with no social skills, so she hires an escort to teach her about relationships. They fall in love and yadda yadda reversed Pretty Woman and all that. The actual story is typical romance fare, but the author, who also has Aspergers, does such a fantastic job describing the autistic brain that I’m looking at my own son differently.

There is a growing consensus that autism isn’t really one thing. It is primarily a social and communicative disorder, but it impacts everyone differently. Some people have bigger language problems. Others have bigger issues with anxiety. Some have cognitive problems along with the language issues.

Also, it is really a collection of various mild disabilities or issues that many of us have, but in a person with autism, it adds up to bigger problems. Families that have a lot of these little issues are more likely to create autistic children.

Some of my family members have issues with loud noises or can’t talk while a radio is going on in the background. Others get very shy in social situations. I actually have very few of those issues. I eat everything. I don’t mind loud concerts. I like parties. I think my autistic-y issue is obsession and pattern recognition. I sort through twitter conversations and newspaper articles and conversations at the supermarket and put them all into little boxes and files in my brain.

Noticing patterns and trends has served me really well professionally. I’m leaning into that skill very heavily at the moment. But at the same time, the project that I’m developing is pushing out my ability to think about everything else. It’s a temporary thing, because I’m not actually autistic and obsessions are always short lived. But it’s fun to throw myself into things this Monday morning.

Pattern recognition is Ian’s primary autistic strength. He constantly decodes information and images. That’s why he learned to read so early and is gifted at computers and music. We spent hours yesterday at a marching band competition shivering the stands of a local college, watching him pound on his snare drum while wearing ear plugs. Balancing his autistic strengths and his weaknesses (he yelled at some kids on the bus for singing Christmas carols out of tune) is a continuing challenge.

What quirks do you have? Are they a bug or a feature?

Work at Home Discipline

Jonah finished his summer class last Thursday. After some debate, he decided to come back home and get a job, rather than taking another class for the second summer term. On Friday, his best friend, who moved to Michigan last year, came and crashed here for four days. They slept late, played hours of Fortnite, and hung out at other friends’ homes until two.

Now the friend is gone. He had a week break from his studies. And my patience with late nights and Fortnite is done. (Though Jonah showed me how to play yesterday, and it was pretty fun.)

I roused him out of bed at 9:30 this morning with a lecture about appropriate activities during the weekday. They include exercising, job hunting, school work organizing, brother entertaining, reading books, pre-studying for classes, and home choring. World Cup watching is okay, too. I gave him the family as an anthill, working together for the common goal speech. He loves that one.

I have a HUGE project that I have to finish in the next week before we take off for the beach. I can’t work if others around me are being slothful.

It’s super hard to get stuff done outside an office, but I’ve done it for years. It requires lists, tricks of the mind, and lots of rules. I’m trying to teach those rules to a teenage boy. hahahahahaha

There is no ‘Word Gap’ (Too bad that we created so many bad policies based on this study)

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

More here

More on Social Skills

Last night, on the way back from a Mother’s Day celebration at my brother’s house, we had to have a serious talk with Ian about the “Five Deadly Words” — ugly, stupid/dumb, old, smelly, and fat. He can’t address people (or their dogs) with those words. He wanted to know if they were curse words. We told him that these words were as hurtful as curses, and he should never use them.

Social rules have to be concretely explained to Ian. One we establish a rule, then he’s good to go, but he needs them to survive social situations. He doesn’t naturally know that you can’t say “Good-bye Old Woman” to someone when he doesn’t know her name. We explained to him that people love their dogs as much as their children, so those words apply to people’s pets as well.

Over the years, we’ve had to set this rule plus dozens more to help Ian navigate the outside world. I’m writing up these rules this week.

Have you had to directly instruct your children or your family members about social or conversational skills? Tell me about it.

 

The Trifecta — Teenagers, Social Media, and Bullying

Last week, while the town watched the champion football team stomp on the opposing team, a group of kids on an adjacent field engaged in a less civilized battle. I only know the story in very broad sketches that have been whispered by parents on text messages and on parents’ Facebook group. A girl was involved. Naked pictures of her distributed. Racial slangs. Boys defending honor. Long years of grievances. One kid in the hospital with a fractured skull.

While this fight with the skull stomping was going on, a group of kids watched. And filmed the whole thing with their cellphones. And put it on Snapchat.

Jonah, away at college, saw the footage. I heard about it five days later on Facebook, when parents began yelling, demanding blood.

Last night, I went to the school board meeting as usual. Typically, I’m the only person in the audience. I find these meetings useful for work purposes. Last night, there was a crowd, news vehicles, and parents holding up signs. They came out to the microphone and brought up images of Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shootings. Hysteria. It was a lynch mob.

It’s a well heeled suburb outside of New York City. People work in law and in finance. They come here for the schools and the trees and the walkable downtown and the quick commute to downtown Manhattan. A fight where a skull gets cracked just doesn’t happen here. People are very freaked out.

The school doesn’t want to get involved, because the incident happened after school hours. It’s not their business. But the parents want them to get involved. At least, they want to hear a strong statement or platitutdes about the evils of bullying.

I think that the school district should bring in someone to talk to parents about finstagrams and snapchat. Images and words that go out on the Internet through these social media forums will never been seen by future employers, and the kids know that. They absolutely do. Can law enforcement find it? Not sure. It might be good to have someone from law enforcement talk to both parents and kids about these forms of social media and what the kids are putting on there. Most parents have no idea. Some school administrators would be surprised at what their own kids are putting out there.

Also, I’m not entirely sure that the kids who were video taping the incident were doing it in a voyeuristic sort of way. It wasn’t a Kitty Geneovese thing. It’s a generational thing. They feel they are doing a public service by video taping events. That’s what everyone does when they attend a protest. They also probably rationally figured it was a bad idea to get in the middle of two kids beating each other senseless.
Anyhow, tensions are pretty high around here. Very glad to just being parenting one very quirky kid who will never ever understand or participate in this sort behavior.