Friday, December 31, 2010

What You Call People Matters

France's Minister for Europe, Pierre Lellouche, recently accused the UK’s Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron of castrating Britain's position in Europe, adding that his approach was "pathetic.”  His use of the word "autism" has caused the most offense in Britain.  In his own words, he said:

Ttriste de voir la Grande-Bretagne, si importante en Europe, se couper du reste de l'UE et disparaître des écrans radar.  Ils n'ont qu'une formule et ne font que la répéter. C'est une forme très bizarre d'autisme

Which my Google Translator, while perhaps not the best, says in English the Minister's comment means:

“Sad to see Great Britain, so important in Europe, cut from the rest of the EU and disappear from radar.  They have a formula and do that again. It's a very weird form of autism.”   

Many in the UK’s Autistic Society are up in arms about the French minister’s use of the word “autism,” perhaps more than with his characterization of Mr.Cameron as repeating the same mistakes as past conservative governments.

One of the consequences of autism’s becoming better known is that the word begins to find its way pejoratively into popular parlance, much as was the word “mental” when my kids were growing up. If a youngster in school wanted to insult another student, he called him “mental.” 

When I was a child, one of the neighbor kids who road the same school bus as me, was something of a trouble maker, taunted me by calling me “four eyes,” which was a pejorative term for anyone who wore glasses.  At first I had no idea what he meant, but once it was explained to me that it was an insult based on the assumption that any child who wore glasses was a goody-two-shoes teacher’s pet, the remark made me upset and led to tussles on the school bus.

Many people, including professionals joke among themselves about being excessively concerned with detail and rigid in their daily routines, by assigning the word “OCD” (obsessive compulsive disorder) to themselves and coworkers. This has, in part, grown out of the popular Monk television series of a detective with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It is one thing to use a word when referring to one’s own personal traits, but using any diagnostic term pejoratively (e.g. “She’s spastic”) is bad idea and should be discouraged.  When you consider that around 1 in 150 to 300 children have autism, there is a good chance that someone who hears your comment about someone being "autistic" will take offense at such remark. To them, having autism isn’t a joking matter.

In one of his children's poems Carl Sandburg wrote: “Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go, it is not easy to call them back. They wear long boots, hard boots; they walk off proud; they can't hear you calling. Look out how you use proud words.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Holidays, Lots of Holidays

Dec. 21st.  Winter solstice. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the feast of Saturnalia, while in pre-christian Britain, the end of December centered around the pagan Yule log in a fiery display to melt the heart of a cold and dreary winter. Midwinter Festival in the Druid tradition is called Alban Arthan, Welsh/Brythonic for 'the light of the bear'.
Dec. 22nd  Soyal or Soyala.  Hopi Native American winter solstice Prayer Offering Ceremony for good health and prosperity in the New Year
Dec. 23rd. Festivus.  A secular holiday created by a writer for the Seinfeld TV show, a holiday “for the rest of us” who don’t celebrate one of the other end of the year holidays.  It is celebrated with an aluminum “Festivus Pole” (instead of a decorated pine tree) and “Airing of Grievances.”
Dec. 25th. Christmas. The day most Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, the holiest day of the Christian year. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) comes on Dec. 5th by steam boat from Portugal (really!) and is accompanied by a helper, Swartz Piet (Black Piet) who puts candy in the shoes of good boys and girls, and according to older Dutch tradition, bad children had straw or coal put in their shoes, and if they were really bad, they were taken back to Portugal by steam boat. (I'm not kidding, that is the tradition in the Netherlands).
Dec. 26th  Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas Day in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries. It was traditionally a day to give a box with a gift to those who have worked hard for you throughout the year. Many churches or businesses placed boxes for coins to be placed for year end gifts. Some countries now have Boxing Week to sell excess Christmas inventory at reduced prices.
Dec. 26th Kwanza begins for one week. Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce seven basic values of African culture that contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture among African American people as well as Africans throughout the world African community. These values are called the Nguzo Saba which in Swahili means the Seven Principles. Developed by Dr. Karenga, the Nguzo Saba stand at the heart of the origin and meaning of Kwanzaa, for it is these values which are not only the building blocks for community but also serve to reinforce and enhance them.
Jan. 1st.  New Year’s Day celebrated in countries that follow the Gregorian calendar, but in those that follow the Julian calendar (e.g. Eastern Orthodox) New Year is celebrated on Jan 14th on the Gregorian calendar. 
Have a happy holiday season and best wishes for a healthy New Year!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Autism Genetics: Eschew Nihilism

A recent article in Brain Research by C. Betancur, a distinguished French geneticist, points out that many genes have been associated with autism in some individuals.  The title of the article says it all, “Etiological heterogeneity in autism spectrum disorders: More than 100 genetic and genomic disorders and still counting.”   Such an assertion is dispiriting, and smacks of nihilism to non-specialists who have been hoping geneticists would come up with one or a few genes that could be targeted for treatment and ultimately, prevention of some or most forms of autism.
The article’s title is, perhaps inadvertently, misleading. Dr. Betancur may be right, that in some cases it will be necessary to identify specific medication treatments that only work with a single gene defect that may only account for a fraction of autism cases, but that is not the only option. The article might be taken to imply that because different genes are involved means there are few common pathways by which most of those genes produce their results.  That is likely false.  It is far more likely that multiple genes can produce similar physiological, chemical and behavioral outcomes by slightly different mechanisms.
Case in point.  Approximately three years ago a group of scientists and clinicians at Harvard University headed by Christopher Walsh, Eric Morrow and colleagues, and several sites in the Middle East identified autism within families where the two parents shared a common ancestor, such as a great grandfather.  That greatly increases the risk of genetic disorders. By studying those autism related genes they found several, some located on different chromosomes, but they all contributed to the same process, the formation of new brain connections during learning, called synaptogenesis.  Synapse formation occurs in two steps that involve specialized cell adhesion molecules. This implies that it may be possible to overcome physiological and behavioral outcomes in more than one way.  For example, we know that intensive early behavioral treatment markedly reduces or reverses symptoms of autism in over half of treated children. The experience provided must be able to reduce the defect in synapse formation.  But perhaps there are other ways, for example, treating with medications that promote synapse formation during certain developmental periods.  Or perhaps the two approaches can be combined, as is being done by Dr. Diane Chugani at Wayne State University.
The long and short of it is, don’t despair. The “100 and still counting” in the title is designed to promote funding for genetics research, not help families understand the cause of their child’s autism spectrum disorder. 

Betancur C. Brain Res. 2010 Nov 30. [Epub ahead of print]
Morrow, EM et. al. Science 11 July 2008:
Vol. 321. no. 5886, pp. 218 - 223

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hannukah & Autism

This week Jewish families celebrate Hannukah, the Festival of Lights. This eight-day holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean of the 2nd century BCE.  This year Hannukah is celebrated from December 1st to 9th.   Kids on the autism spectrum usually want to help lighting the Menorah candles, so be prepared!
Jewish children look forward to spinning the Dreidel, the four-sided top with Hebrew characters printed on it, and receiving Hannukah gelt, usually gold foil covered chocolates or small gifts.  The Dreidel can be a bit of a problem for some kids on the spectrum who get hung up on spinning objects, so be prepared for Plan B, some alternative to the dreidel. The dreidel song goes, I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay, And when it's dry and ready, Then dreidel I shall play! Too begin the dreidel game, each player should have about 20 raisins, nuts or small candy bits. Each person puts one piece of candy in the middle of the table. Then each person takes a turn at spinning the dreidel.  If the dreidel stops on the Hebrew letter Nun, the player collects nothing from the pot, Gimmel, the player gets it all, Hey, The player collects half of the pot , or Shin - The player sets one of his own items into the pot. When only one piece of candy or raisin or nut is left in the middle each player adds another piece of candy. When a player has all the candy, that person wins! Kids with autism often have difficulty not winning when the dredel stops, so you may want to modify the rules.
Though it’s a bit late for this year, families might enjoy logging onto the Skreened website run by Aspergirl, through which screened T-Shirts with apt images and slogans abound.  I’ve embedded a couple of examples I especially liked. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Carving the Turkey and Medicaid

The Thanksgiving turkey wasn’t the only reason people have been sharpening their carving knives.  The national economic crisis has led the President’s Panel on the Economy chaired by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to begin their own carving.  Among other steps, the Committee Chairs propose to reduce health care costs by paying doctors and other providers less for seeing patients under government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  They also propose to expand cost-containment programs.  The Federal Medicaid program has already begun planning for cost containment. Several reports indicate that 10% of Medicaid recipients account for 72% of expenditures, mostly people with chronic health conditions (arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma), mostly older (64+) and often receiving hospital or home health care. Other research indicates mental health disorders, including schizophrenia and addiction are among the most costly. It is likely autism service will also rank among high cost services in states mandating such services.  Among Medicaid cost containment proposals are increasing co-payments, reducing the scope of covered benefits and enhanced medical case management, which translates into close monitoring of adherence with services and their outcomes.

It’s possible the horse is already out of the barn, but it may not be too late to have some impact on how these proposed cuts play out.  As long as consumers and early intervention providers are unwilling to make distinctions among the types and intensity of services children and youth with autism spectrum disorders should receive, these changes will be made unilaterally by Medicaid and private insurers, and not necessarily based on the best available outcome evidence. It would be better if, as a field, we developed rational strategies for individualizing types and intensities of intervention.  

To contend, for example, that every four year old child with an ASD diagnosis requires 35-40 hours of Discrete Trial Intervention, whether he has Asperger disorder or Autistic disorder, whether her IQ is 55 or 115, whether he is non-verbal or speaks in short phrases, whether she is interested in other children or hides when another child is nearby, doesn’t make a great deal of sense.  Laura Schreibman and her colleagues have published several promising papers attempting to predict which children will profit most from a Pivotal Response Training strategy, a naturalistic intervention approach, which is an important step in the right direction.  

We need to develop more rational, evidence-based approaches to deciding how much and what kind of intervention strategy is most appropriate for each child with autism, which is the subject of my forthcoming book, Individualized Autism Intervention for Young Children: Blending Discrete Trial and Naturalistic Strategies (Paul H. Brookes).  You can receive an alert when the book is out by clicking on the "Keep Me Posted" link at Brookes website.     It would be wise for all of us to begin taking concrete steps to address this problem before the green eye-shaded bean counters do it for us and our kids.

Sherer, M.R., Schreibman, L., 2005. Individual behavioral profiles and predictors of treatment effectiveness for children with autism. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 73, 525–538.

Stahmer, AC, Schreibman, L. and Cunningham, AB (2010) Toward a technology of treatment individualization for young children with autism spectrum disorders. Brain Research. 2010 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Remembering Erich Kohnke

On this week in history, November 24, 1933 Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party passed a Law against Habitual and Dangerous Criminals, which allowed beggars, the homeless, alcoholics and the unemployed to be sent to concentration camps where they did forced labor until they perished from disease and malnutrition and were incinerated.  It would be another five years before Nazis ordered Jews over age 15 to apply for identity cards from the police, to be shown on demand to any police officer, similar to Jan Brewer's “Papers Please” law in Arizona for Mexicans. Without papers Jewish men were deported to concentration camps, which meant certain death.  In October 1939 the Nazis began euthanizing disabled people, such as individuals with developmental disabilities, which most likely, included those with autism, people about whom we are especially concerned today.

When I reflect on the incredibly offensive posters portraying Barrack Obama as Hitler at Tea Party rallies August 2009, I am utterly repulsed at the people carrying those signs.  They must have known absolutely nothing whatsoever about what Adolf Hitler represented. To our family, and my wife Anneke specifically, Hitler was the man who ordered her mother and father tortured and then murdered. Anneke’s father, Erich Kohnke, was born 110 years ago this week, and died at the age of 43 at Auschwitz at Hitler’s hands. We do not find the Tea Party’s portrayal of the US president as Hitler amusing or politically apt.

The paradox, of course, is that the behavior of agitators who carryied those signs, who were paid to disrupt the 2009 Congressional Town Hall meetings, was very similar to Hitler’s SA Brown Shirts who shouted, threatened and carried guns into politcal meetings, designed to intimidate, not only Jews but ordinary German citizens. It worked in the 1930s and it worked again in 2009. this time it intimidated ordinary Americans.  By remembering the horrors of the past, perhaps we can avoid repeating them, though it is looking increasingly less clear that is so. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 and the Present Storm

As I look out on the remaining green grass and mostly bare branches of elm, oak and maple trees beyond my study window on a sunny 50 degree afternoon, it is difficult to imagine the Armistice Day Blizzard which began on this day 70 years ago. That winter tempest was a living part our history for those us who grew up in that era.  The humongous storm covered an area from Kansas to Michigan and included Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  At its peak, winds gusted to 80 mph and snowdrifts in some areas were 20 feet high. Many people froze to death because they were unable to navigate their way to shelter.  As I was growing up, along about this time of the year my parents retold their story, with hour-by-hour accounts of that remarkable conflagration, and survival, which had seemed doubtful at times. Snow drifts reached onto the roof of houses as the wind howled like an enraged, injured animal

In her recent book, All Facts Considered, NPR’s Kee Malesky retells the legend The Piasa, as told by the Illini Chief Ouatoga.  The Native American story is of a huge bird with scales, horns like deer and a human-like face with fangs, that darkens the sky and brings thunder and lightening, devouring humans below in its path, hence the name Thunderbird, which is common among various native communities.  Though there was no thunder and lightening associated with the Armistice Day Blizzard, rain and sleet during the early hours of the story preceded an enormously heavy, wet snowfall driven by strong winds, creating a deadly combination.

One wonders what stories will be told to children who had grown up in early days of the 21st century, about the devastating economic storm that overtook America.  The Piasa that darkened the sky and descended upon and devoured middle class people that triggered the Great Recession of 2009, was outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs, the collapse of the housing market due to vast numbers of irresponsible home loans, and gambling by financial firms with stock holders’ money.  Children will hear stories about draconian measures that followed, further undermining the middle class in America.  People will look back upon an era in which the United States was still a land of opportunity for average Americans.  

At least that is the way the economic storm has shaped up thus far.  Whether a realistic, balanced, long term approach to undoing the damage that has been done by two unfunded wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest people, and uncontrolled and unfunded health care costs, remains to be seen.  Cuts in spending alone will not solve the problem.  The storm can only be brought under control with a balanced approach in which the wealthiest Americans, including corporations, carry an equitable share of the resource burden and discretionary military spending is stopped. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pavlovian Propaganda and the Midterm Election

No doubt, poor employment figures played a major role in the mid-term election outcome, but voting occurred in a context created by Tea Party Republicans activists and their right wing financial supporters beginning in August 2009.  As a psychologist, I find it noteworthy that the Tea Party Republicans used Pavlovian conditioning techniques to turn voters’ support for President Obama in November 2008 into distrust or disdain. Their attacks on President Obama were taken directly from Joseph Goebbel’s propaganda manual from 1933.  Goebbels was “Reich Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment” for Hitler’s Nazi Party.  Goebbels wrote:

“The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas…..If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward….Propaganda must reinforce anxiety…. (and) must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.”

I’m not suggesting the Tea Party is a Nazi organization, but they used the same racist techniques to create irrational fear of Barrack Obama making him their target for their venom. Goebbels recommended using public meetings as the optimal vehicle for spreading fear and propaganda.   Goebbels specifically targeted Jews, while the Tea Party expressed their hatred for African Americans and Hispanics. The Tea Party rallied against Obama brandishing firearms and carrying threatening signs.  Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle said she favored “second amendment remedies,” meaning solving political differences with guns. When Tea Party activists say they want their country back, they mean they want conservative white Christian men running the country, not an articulate African American president assisted by a diverse cabinet of leaders varying in gender, race and ethnicity.  In the mid-term election, much of the support for the Tea Party came from blue-collar white men (and some women) who were conditioned to fear an African American president.  

It is paradoxical that the working class white men who were influenced by the Tea Party’s propaganda, were hoodwinked by phony displays of self-righteous outrage that were paid for by powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries during August 2009. These counterfeit town hall meetings were not a spontaneous grass roots outpouring, but were manufactured events hosted by lobbyists opposed to Obama’s presidency, like Dick Armey’s Freedom Works. Hundreds of times per day for more than a month, televised images of Pavlovian political conditioning were re-broadcast across the country, in which images of screaming fanatical racists were paired with Obama’s name or image. Never in our nation’s history has so much racist venom been so widely and intensively disseminated. The die was cast by late 2009.

The relentless barrage of falsehoods, including images of the President as an African witch doctor, false accusations about Obama’s nationality, and false claims and gross exaggerations about the proposed health care legislation (“pulling the plug on grandma”), led some Independent and conservative Democratic voters to begin to recoil when they heard the President’s name. Like a tone preceding a shock that elicits fear, Barrack Obama’s image began to evoke anxiety among many voters who had come to associate him with outrageous claims that had gone largely unchallenged by Democratic leadership. Only former President Jimmy Carter had the courage to speak the truth about the racist nature of Tea Party’s propaganda, which fell largely on deaf ears among the public at large.

Even in the face of Obama’s remarkable legislative achievements over his first two years in office during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, eventually the propaganda campaign turned a sufficient number of voters against the President and Democrats in Congress to make the difference in the midterm elections.  Many voters were no longer open to hearing anything positive about the President’s accomplishments.  They could remember that his middle name was Hussein but not that 863,000 private sector jobs had been created in 2010.  Many Caucasian, blue collar voters began parroting the Tea Party’s absurd slogans about taxes and the deficit, but seemed unaware that George W. Bush created the largest deficit in US history before Obama took office,  or that the economy was actually gradually recovering under Obama’s leadership.  

President Obama refused to wallow in the mud with the Tea Party activists. But failure of the President and other Democratic leaders to forcefully confront the racist claims and vigorously refute the fabrications and exaggerations regarding his health care plan and the Troubled Asset Possessions Relief Fund (TARF) that saved the economy from collapse, led many voters to accept the unchallenged claims.  That planted the seeds for fear and hostility that was a major factor in the recent midterm election results. 

Remember how Pavlovian conditioning works… tone followed by shock.  Repeat that sequence a few thousand times and eventually when the tone sounds people are fearful and stop behaving rationally. It worked, and many American people stopped behaving rationally. The Tea Party propaganda program only needed to influence 5-10% of voters in many elections to make the difference. Ask those who voted for Tea Party candidates what their newly elected representatives will do about the deficit or which programs they will cut and the consequences of those reductions, and you will find in most cases they have absolutely no idea. All they know is that they are afraid of Barrack Obama.

If the President thinks appeasement during his last two years in office will make his position stronger with the voting public he is mistaken. It will further weaken his standing with his supporters as well as opponents, diminishing his chances of re-election  Those who say the President should turn his other cheek to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have forgotten the lessons of history. Republicans will interpret offers of bipartisanship from Obama as appeasement. Negotiation is one thing, acquiescing is another. 

Unless Obama and Democratic Senate and House leaders stand up firmly for their values, Republicans will steam roller them, undermining everything that was accomplished over the past two years, including protecting our children so they can receive health care despite pre-existing conditions.  We survived the Bush administration debacle and voted for the President’s progressive agenda in 2008, but  may be once again without representation unless the Democrats stand up on their hind legs and show what they are made of. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Electoral Moral Imperative

Houston we have a problem, a national moral problem. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition, But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper for saints [Ephesians 5:3].”  We live in a culture in which unbridled greed has been shamelessly promoted as morally defensible.  A current consequence is that few employers feel any committment to their fellow Americans who are out of work, many in desperate straights.  Few employers seem to accept the notion that they share responsibility for their nation’s economic recovery.  The mantra has become simple, “Short-term profit for me and my stockholders, American workers and economy be damned.”
A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor by Mark Trumbull points out that employers are unwilling to hire because health insurance companies are jacking up health-care costs faster than inflation which cuts into their profits (Remember why we need health care reform so badly?).  It has also become easier to outsource jobs overseas than in the past. Lastly, the return on investment in workers takes longer to realize the return on investment in a machine.  Why hire American workers when they can buy a machine or send a job to India, Korea or China and rake in money with minimal delay?   
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President recently said, “Companies are sitting on $837 billion without creating jobs. Banks are clutching a trillion dollars in profits without lending to small businesses consumers.”   It has become clear that if we wait for private employers and bankers to do the right thing, we’ll be waiting a very long time, while middle income and other out of work Americans suffer, some severely.  It has become a national disgrace. 
In last week’s radio address, Barrack Obama proposed realistic plans that would help. “We’ll create nearly half a million jobs by investing in clean energy–by committing to double the production of alternative energy in the next three years, and by modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the energy efficiency of two million American homes. These made-in-America jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, developing fuel-efficient cars and new energy technologies pay well, and they can’t be outsourced.”  Obama says he will “Work to achieve bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage; a $1,000 tax cut for 95 percent of working families; and assistance to help states avoid harmful budget cuts in essential services like police, fire, education and health care.”
Barrack Obama’s plans would truly help, IF, and I repeat, IF the Senate’s Filibuster Machine allowed any of his proposals to see the light of day. After the upcoming election, that may prove to be even more problematic. The Republicans have vowed to oppose every measure Barrack Obama proposes, no matter how rational, and how important it may be for helping American workers and hence the economic recovery. Even proposals that Republicans have favored in the past will be filibustered merely to prevent the President from receiving credit from solving a critical national problem. Republicans have one goal. Prevent Barrack Obama’s re-election in 2012 at all costs. The nation’s economy is being held hostage by the Republican party for its political gain. The American people will have suffered for four years of economic blight, so the Republicans have a chance of replacing Barrack Obama by electing one of their own president in 2012. It is a sorry state of affairs.
Many Americans have no idea the consequences of the Senate filibusters over the past two years.  The embedded chart shows the drastic increase in use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans in the 110th Congress.  Republicans filibustered over twice as many bills as during the preceding Congress, and over 4 times as many as during the 101st Congress, which tells us a lot about why more progress on critical issues wasn’t made. It has been next to impossible for any of the Presidents’ proposals to make it through the Senate. 
Good luck with bipartisanship to solve the country’s economic problems, Mr. President. Perhaps after the election Barrack Obama will abandon his delusional notion that bipartisanship with newly elected Tea Party Republicans or with the old guard Republicans like Mitch McConnell is possible. When two sides are involved, capitulation of one party to all of the other’s demands, is not bipartisanship, it is appeasement.  True bipartisanship is never going to happen during Mr. Obama’s term in office. Mr. Obama made the mistake of being elected president while being Black (EPWBB). Republicans can’t forgive him for that.  Do we really think those Tea Party rally signs depicting Barrack Obama as an African Witch Doctor with a bone in his nose, or as Hitler or Stalin, or  accusing him of “White Slavery” and comparing his health care plan with the Holocaust, were because he was literate, well educated moderate Democrat with moderate policy proposals?
Barrack Obama and Senator Harry Reid (if he survives) have several choices.  (1) Make as many administrative changes as possible to improve jobs and the economy via Executive Orders, Presidential Determinations and Presidential Notices.  These methods are limited to administrative actions requiring no new appropriations, but they could help solve some problems.  The Republicans will howl.  Let them bay at the moon. (2) The Democratic Senate Majority Leader (if there still is one) should return to the tried and tested procedure in which Senators on the minority side who choose to filibuster would actually have to stand before the Senate and speak ad infinitum on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn,” vote to close the debate by cloture.   I’d like to see Jim DeMint reading the DC yellow pages before an empty Senate chamber at 3am long about day three of a Republican filibuster against a jobs bill. The Republicans will complain to high heaven.  Let them complain.  (3) The final choice is the so-called “nuclear option,” in which the 2/3rds majority rule about filibusters could be set aside by simple majority vote of the members of the Senate.  This would be difficult, but not impossible to accomplish, because though some of the Senate’s Chartreuse Dog Republicrats (Ben Nelson, Landrieu, Lincoln, Bayh, Conrad and Lieberman) would likely vote against their own President, and with the DeMint and McConnell, some may find the courage to do the right thing, but don’t hold your breath. It will be an up-hill battle.  Holding onto as many seats as possible will help. 
If Republicans achieve a majority after the upcoming election, they have promised an Orwellian transformation, in which most of what the majority of American people voted for in the previous presidential election will be abandoned in favor of the just the opposite. They have promised to block health care reform that includes coverage for children with pre-existing conditions (like autism) and would provide coverage for all Americans when all of its provisions kick in, block credit card and other Wall Street reforms that prevent most Americans from being cheated by banks, block reform of home loan procedures to protect consumers, block reimbursement of the American government by oil companies like BP, for oil disasters resulting from lack of safety on oil drilling rigs, and lastly, they have promised to bring articles of impeachment against President Obama. Those are not ways most Americans want to see their elected representatives carry out their legislative responsibilities on behalf of the nation.
Every vote counts this election, which is likely to be close in many races. We need to stop behaving as though we are dealing with honorable people and lying to ourselves about the nature of the opposition.  If we are going to see more Americans back at work and the home foreclosure crisis solved, and many of the other pressing issues facing the nation seriously addressed, we need help from a Congress that will work with President Obama rather than undermine his every effort to solve our economic woes. Every House and Senate seat matters.  The President can’t do it alone.  That’s why your vote is a response to the moral imperative we all face in two weeks.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Meltdown Test Dummy

Ninety-six years ago this week, Samuel W. Alderson, an American physicist and engineer was born.  He invented the crash-test dummy used to test the safety of cars. In 1968, he produced a dummy (called the V.I.P.) for automotive testing with built-in instruments for collecting data, and which had articulated joints and simulations such as synthetic wounds that oozed mock blood.

Parents of children with autism who have frequent severe meltdowns and behavioral outbursts might wonder why a “crash-test dummy” hasn’t been developed to simulate how an average parent would react to the emotional assault of enduring sometimes hours of their child’s behavioral outbursts, complete with aggression, property destruction and self injury. Maybe the data collected could help make the meltdown crashes less devastating or prevent them altogether. 

Engineers would design the meltdown test-mannequin so it would be able to secrete cortisol and other stress hormones, increase its simulated heart rate and blood pressure, secrete stomach acid and develop bowel cramps.  After the “crash” was over, the meltdown mannequin would have the ability to develop a pounding migraine headache, complete with scintillating scotoma, the zig zag flashing lights one sees as the dreaded headache unfolds.  

Unlike the automobile crash test dummy, the meltdown test mannequins would have the option of coming in pairs, a father and a mother.  After the meltdown crash is over, sensors would measure how much arguing ensued about whose fault it was and how they should have handled it differently.  Finally, the test mannequins would go to bed wondering what they had done wrong and how they could better help their child. 

Automotive engineers know a lot about how to build safety features into cars to minimize damage to passengers.  Children with autism have already been engineered when they come to us.  For whatever reason, some of their usual social safety features are missing.  As a result, we need to do a great deal of post-production tinkering to reduce emotional crashes.  Behavior therapists, speech and language pathologists, special educators and pediatricians can work with parents to minimize, and sometimes eliminate those devastating emotional and behavioral wrecks that rend the family fabric with devastating consequences.

Each time I sit with a family as their child sobs, screams and bangs her head, or scratches his face or bites his mother’s arm, as parents struggle to try to contain the situation, my heart aches for them and their child.  We don’t, and shouldn’t think like automotive engineers, but we do need to do our best to think clearly about the reasons it necessary for this very lovely child to do these extremely destructive things to him or herself and their family.

Maybe we don’t need a meltdown test mannequin after all.  Maybe we can take concrete steps to do what is necessary to reverse the pattern which is so destructive to families, which requires enormous patience and perseverance, for these behavior patterns have typically emerged over many months and sometimes years, and will not go away quietly in the night.  Standing side by side, we can do this, really we can. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

One Reader's Reflections: Post-Vietnam to Now

In the first part of this commentary, I discussed my plodding start as a reader, and reading life while a university student.  In the post-Vietnam war era, highlighted by the assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, like most other Americans I developed a distinctively darker world-view, much like the angst gripping the nation today.  My reading reflected that gloomy mood. That was when I happened onto Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted Bird, the autobiographical short novel of wanderings of a young boy in Central Europe during WWII, in a horrific struggle to survive.  That stimulated my interest in a Penguin’s series edited by Phillip Roth, Writers from the Other Europe. Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting had the most influence on my thinking. In Kundera’s work, magical elements were blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality. Remarkable dream-like elements are explained as though they are normal occurrences that are presented in a straightforward manner, allowing the "real" and the "fantastic" to be accepted in the same stream of thought. These works were infused with a sense of powerlessness, rooted in growing up in Communist Eastern Europe where the individual was nothing.  Others in that series that especially appealed to me were Bohumil Hrabal’s Closely Watched Trains and Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles. Both explored themes of futility at the hands of mindless but at times ruthless bureaucrats. Today’s ruthless bureaucratic oligarchs who control our lives have names like Koch (Koch Industries) and Walton (Wallmart) or companies like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley rather than the Politburo or Communist Party.  Aynn Rand’s vision in Atlas Shrugged is becoming a startlingly bleak nightmarish reality in America, in which the top 1 percent of the most wealthy people controlling 42% of the wealth. 

In the past, when travelling by airplane, I often read John LeCarre spy novels to distract myself from that uncomfortable and at times intolerable form of transportation.  I consumed LeCarre novels with enthusiasm while shoe horned into gawd-awful postures masquerading as airplane seating. Those novels featured British MI-5 spy, George Smiley, who never disappointed the reader. LeCarre’s plots were complex and characters had equally complex lives and motives.  My current travel reading, or rather I should say, listening, has been digitally narrated espionage books by Daniel Silva, a series featuring the Israeli Mossad spymaster Gabriel Allon.  In the series, Allon had been originally trained as a professional art restorer before joining the Mossad.  His profession provided cover in many of Sliva’s espionage stories. My favorite Silva book is The Messenger, with an incredibly convoluted plot, including a Saudi billionaire and art collector named Abdul Aziz al-Bakari and a brilliant young academically trained American art curator, Sarah Bancroft, who is recruited by the CIA and Israeli Intelligence to set a trap for Mr. al Bakari using a previously unknown van Gogh painting as bait.  Sarah is a well-educated and more sophisticated version of Isabel Archer, a bright young American woman, stubborn, opinionated and vulnerable in the hands of men from other cultures whom she fails to understand.  Silva does a remarkable job of creating multilayered characters with complex motives and personalities.  I’m currently half way through Silva’s Rembrandt Affair, which is living up to its promise.

Biography and autobiography have generally failed to interest me.  The main exceptions have been Bertrand Russell’s two-volume autobiography and B. F Skinner’s, The Shaping of a Behaviorist and Particulars of My Life, and Sidney Salkow’s biography of Chief Joseph, the life of one of America’s great statesmen.  Over the past decade my reading has gravitated increasingly toward essays, short stories and poetry.  Essay reading necessarily begins with Montaigne and Emerson, but has included John McPhee, one of the modern masters of the medium, and the hyper-abstract, intellectual linguistic essays of Umberto Eco (e.g. Serendipities).  Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell and Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, rank high on the list of favorite essays.  Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table remains with me after all these years, and Bernard Cooper’s fanciful Maps to Anywhere, again a mixture of magical realism and realism.  The protagonist, a rather mousey Mr. Stone, decides to shop for a globe on his lunch hour.  He wants a simple Replogle globe, the kind that was in our classrooms in elementary school.  The proprietess of the shop “Maps to Anywhere,” Miss Mazel, insists that Stone must have “the Dexter Special,” none other will be adequate to meet his needs.  Poor Mr. Stone was unware he had cartographic needs that must be met. What had begun as a simple purchase of a simple familiar globe has become an existential experience replete with ethereal meaning, as Miss Mazel is adamant that the hapless man purchase the Dexter Special Map to Anywhere, which will reveal far more to him than he wants to know about the world, far more.  None other will do Mss Mazel insists.

Among poets, my continuing favorite is Polish Nobel Laureate, Wislawa Szymborska.  Now 77 years old, Zymborska uses irony, paradox, contradiction and understatement to illuminate themes and obsessions. Szymborska's compressed writing style pose existential puzzles, such as wryly commenting on the choice of content of one’s resume,’ and reflecting on the condition of people both as individuals and as members of society. Her style is succinct, introspective and witty.  I find myself constantly quoting her works.  I understand she is painfully shy, so such public deference would likely be embarrassing to her, so don’t let on to her that you know.

In “Born” Szymborska began,

“So this is his mother/This small woman/This gray-haired procreator.
The boat in which, years ago/ he sailed to shore.”

And another of my favorites, “Nothing’s a Gift,”

“Nothing’s a gift, it’s all on loan/ I’m drowning in debts up to my ears.? I’ll have to pay for myself/ with myself/ give up my life for my life.

I can’t remember/ where, when and why/ I let someone open/ this account in my name./ We call the protest against this/ the soul./ And it’s the only item/not included on the list.”

We can talk more about the soul another day when we discuss Bennet and Hacker's Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. 

There were numerous other reading discursions along the way, like Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and E. O. Wilson’s remarkable non-fiction book, Consilience, but the foregoing have been some of the main perambulatory streams of my reading life.   Unlike Pat Conroy who reports that his mother believed that by reading, he and his siblings would be elevated from poverty, my family did not view reading a vehicle serving a higher purpose. My parents seemed to assume reading was as an end in itself, and that I would find my own reading pathway, which I suppose I have, in my own disorderly but fulfilling way.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Reader's Reflections: Early Years

Francis Bacon wrote, Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few are to be chewed and digested. The process by which one acquires the appetite for books to be chewed and digested, reveals something about the pathway of a person’s intellectual growth. During my early childhood, I grew up in a home without books, with the exception of a decade old tan-covered dog-eared Webster’s dictionary, the kind with finger notches along the fore edge of the book.  My parents were both very bright, but during the Great Depression, had no opportunity to attend school beyond 8th grade, which I suppose accounted for their lack of exposure to reading led them away from books.  Nonetheless, each evening after supper, my father read the Minneapolis Star Journal newspaper from cover to cover, aside from the stock market pages, but he didn’t read books until after he retired. Though often exhausted from a long day’s hard work as a greenhouse foreman, he often expressed his passionate views about politics to me as he read one or another piece in the Star.

My mother seldom read books either.  Gary, my older brother, gave me three Lone Ranger novellas for Christmas when I was in 4th or 5th grade, which piqued my enthusiasm for reading. To that point I had been a plodding reader.  In my sixth grade year, my parents decided our family needed an encyclopedia, so they shelled out more than they could afford for an Encyclopedia Americana. I spent many hours poring over color images of planets in the Encyclopedia, reading about Mars’s moons, Deimos and Phobos, and studying the dark grey craters on the moon.  I was a sporadic reader throughout high school, gravitating toward science and science fiction, such as Percival Lowell’s The Solar System, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, HG Wells’ War of the Worlds and Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan.

I think of that as my “Rocket Boys” period, after the book about six boys in a West Virginia coal-mining town who decided to build a rocket and send it up into the firmament. The original memoir, October Sky, by Homer Hickam Jr. struck a chord with me.  About the same age, I built a jury-rigged pipe rocket powered by home-made gun powder which blasted a hundred feet or so into the air over our back yard in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. I slipped a smaller bore pipe inside a slightly larger diameter pipe, screwed a cap onto the smaller pipe. I packed gun powder inside the open end of the smaller pipe, which I had propped up the makeshift device among piles of sand and cinderblock, and lit the fuse. Next thing I knew my mother was standing on our home’s back steps, shouting, “What in the world do you think you’re doing?  Are you trying to blow us all up?”  I was lucky I wasn’t seriously injured in the process, because the fuse didn’t light properly at first.  I switched to a less risky alternative.  I built 6-inch reflecting telescope and spent countless hours peering at the surface of the moon and the rings of Jupiter on cold winter nights while stomping my feet to kept my toes from freezing. My reading kindled my naively optimistic attempts to understand the world around me.

Unsure of the direction my studies would take me, as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, I was smitten by Henry James’s Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady. I found Henry James’s portrayal of Isabel’s inner monologues absolutely captivating.  James’s mastery of complex, often very convoluted Victorian language was a marvel to me.   Alan Ginsberg’s Howl and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road’s Beat spontaneity overcharged my restrained Midwestern emotions. Kerouac produced the manuscript of On the Road on a continuous scroll by taping pages of semi-translucent paper together to feed the old manual typewriter and write without interruption. The text was single-spaced, without paragraphs, and edited in pencil by Kerouac.  Kerouac’s thumbing his nose at established publishing practices was appealing to a young budding non-conformist making his way in what seemed to be a rule-bound world.

A year or two later I discovered Kafka’s The Trial, Metamorphasis and Penal Colony.  Kafka’s anti-bureaucratic absurdism appealed to my youthful rebellious mentality, which as with most young people was preoccupied with social and political injustice. I had grown up in a vegetable farming area north of Minneapolis in which no one attended college.  Higher education was perceived as being for effete snobs who were trying to better than everyone else.  I suppose it was no surprise that there were times that I especially identified with Kafka’s character, Gregor Samsa’s who had been converted into a disgusting giant insect, scurrying about his apartment with an apple stuck in his carapace, thrown by the land lady who had attempted to shoo him away.

For a interlude in graduate school I was taken with Lawrence Durrell’s Cefalü later published as the The Dark Labyrinth, which tells the story of a group of travelers who become lost in an underground labyrinth on Crete, a labyrinth which may or may not still be inhabited by the minotaur. The story unfolds with a blend of allegory and symbolism, which was highly appealing to a budding psychology doctoral student. The Alexandrea Quartet, certainly captured my imagination, a four volume account of an overlapping contemporaneous series of events, unfolding from various narrators’ perspectives. Around the same time, I came upon Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Steppenwolf and Narcisuss and Goldmund dedicated to a search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.  I found his struggle to understand the relation between physical reality, perception and emotional expression were in sync with some of my own intellectual machinations at that time. 

That reading era concluded with Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek. The narrator, a young Greek intellectual, with whom I identified, resolved to set aside his books for a few months and sets off for Crete in order to re-open an abandoned mine and immerse himself in the world of peasants and working-class people. The narrator is fascinated by Zorba's lascivious opinions and expressive manner and decides to employ him as a foreman. Zorba resembled some of the men who surrounded me as I was growing up, though a bit more out of the ordinary.  Zorba's soliloquies set the tone for a large part of the book. The narrator, who has socialist ideals, attempts to get to know the workers, but Zorba warns him to keep his distance: "Man is a brute.... If you're cruel to him, he respects and fears you. If you're kind to him, he plucks your eyes out." The narrator absorbs a new zest for life from his experiences with Zorba and the other people around him, but reversal and tragedy mark his stay on Crete, and, alienated by their harshness and amorality, he eventually returns to the mainland once his and Zorba's ventures are completely financially spent. [Based in part on].  That was the year I learned to savor gyros with tzatziki sauce, zucchini fritters, fresh sauted green beans with onions, tomato and dill and stuffed grape leaves with kalamata olives, pretty exotic fare for a young man raised on meatloaf, corn on the cob and mashed potatoes with gravy.

In my elementary and high school years, books served as friends who honored my intellectual proclivities, because my peers seldom did so.  For years I had a Gary Larson cartoon posted above my desk that shows cows in a pasture standing on their hind legs chatting, until a car appears along the road next to the pasture. At that point the cows all stand on all fours munching grass.  As soon as the car passes, they resume standing on their hind legs and resume their conversation.  I certainly knew the drill as a child, but things changed dramatically once I was in college. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unemployment: Getting Blood from a Turnip

American unemployment was 4-7% (average about 5%) from 1994 to the end of 2007, then sharply rose to the current 9.6% level in the final year of the Bush administration.  This national average unemployment rate of 9.6% is very misleading.  In ten states unemployment continues within that pre-2008 typical range (below 7%), while in seven states it has risen staggeringly high (Nevada’s is 14.4%).   Most of the remaining 33 states are experiencing a 1-3% increase in unemployment over the pre-2008 levels, which isn’t great, but it is not the wide-spread disaster portrayed daily on television evening news.  There are nonetheless pockets of high umemployment within states and regions that are otherwise doing well economically, especially where construction and manufacturing had been major employers.

During economic recessions minority workers and those with disabilities are often among the first to be laid off.  The Autism Job Hunt website reports that the unemployment rate for people with autism is 75% – 97%. Because of limited social and communication skills, intolerance for changes in routines and other autism related issues, people with autism tend to get places at the tail end of the job line. [see]   Economists call these structural causes of unemployment, i.e. people’s skills don’t match with available jobs.  Job training and providing supported employment help up to a point, but long term solutions involve improving the overall economic outlook since all ships rise with a rising tide.

Why has it been so difficult to reduce unemployment in the US more generally?  An article by Jen Mystowski in the Seattle Post Intelligence described one of the key factors in our employment woes, outsourcing.  Not surprisingly, 80% of Americans think outsourcing is hurting our economy, and it is.  There is no question outsourcing leads to US job losses. Outsourcing has horribly detrimental effects on individuals who face job loss, and often subsequent long term employment insecurity.  Proponents of outsourcing, including most economists who think in macroeconomic (not individual) terms, argue that shipping American jobs to countries with lower wages brings down prices for products sold in the US, so therefore benefits American consumers.  It also creates pressure for lower wages in the US as a by-product.  So next time you stroll down the aisle at Wall Mart or Target (or Niemann Marcus!), try to take comfort from the fact that the somewhat lower prices for the stuff they are selling you means that you and your neighbors may be out of work, possibly for a very long time. Not too comforting is it?

In the European Union regulations provide protection against such massive job losses due to outsourcing. Labor laws in the US are not as protective as those in the European Union, to our great disadvantage.  Even major business leaders are finally acknowledging outsourcing has to be reigned in. Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric called for the US to increase its manufacturing base of employment by 20% because the US has outsourced too much and can no longer rely on consumer spending to drive demand. Would you rather have a job and pay more for stuff, or be chronically unemployed, and maybe be a bit more frugal with your money?

The second reason for persisting unemployment and underemployment is that businesses are using the recession as an excuse to lay people off and to pressure existing workers to work harder, often for less, which means employers don’t need to hire.  Many employers  had wanted all along to cut costs by getting rid of workers, and the economy provided their excuse.  Lay offs have exceeded recession-related reduced demand. Employers tell workers who complain about excess job demands and often at lower wages, if they whine, they will be replaced by one of the many people looking for work.  It’s like squeezing blood form a turnip. The average hours of work per week per full time worker in nearly all sectors of the economy exceeds 40, which taking into consideration many people are forced to work reduced hours. means that lots of other people are working overtime. If forty people work an hour of overtime, that replaces one full time employee.  Remember, no whining if you want to keep your job.  That's what happens when there is no collective bargaining. 

Then there’s the problem of part time workers.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) increased by 331,000 over the previous month to 8.9 million. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. By hiring one or two part time workers at lower wages with no benefits, businesses can make more money without hiring you or your neighbor full time. The losers are the people who could be working full time and the employer who has an unstable and less productive workforce.

The third reason for persistent unemployment is fear. People are terrified of being unable to pay their bills or buy their medicine. Some of the fear is irrational, leading them to hold onto their money for dear life.  They don’t spend money on anything unless they absolutely need to have something right now. That leads to lower consumer spending, which starves the economy.  Fear is being stoked by the 24/7 television network reports that oversimplify the economic news, like a 9.6% unemployment rate, which sounds terrible.  Most Americans are not at grave financial risk, but you would never know that from watching the evening television news or listening to the radio. This morning I heard a Minnesota Public Radio report about the one or two counties in Minnesota that are suffering serious unemployment, but reporters neglect to say the rest of the state is actually doing pretty well. Reporters almost never highlight the good news among workers in industries that are growing more rapidly.  The mantra of television news producers, in particular, is “keep it simple.”   The newsies don’t like telling viewers there are only seven of fifty states that have very high unemployment rates, while most of the rest of the country is experiencing some pain, but no more than the 1980 or 1991 recessions.  The television news people hate telling good news that muddies the water, like that the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) declined by 323,000 over last month to 6.2 million. Employment has actually risen in several sectors of the economy, news that has been difficult to find in daily doom and gloom reports that stoke further fear. Better to keep the populace hanging by their fingernails from the economic precipice, and hiding their dollars under the mattress.

The final reason for unemployment is the lack of replacement manufacturing and construction jobs in the green infrastructure economy to replace lost jobs. Finland, Sweden, and Japan aren’t waiting to develop alternative sources of energy to drive their economies.  We shouldn’t either, but the US ranks 23rd among “green” economies, right behind Latvia.  Many displaced manufacturing and construction workers could be productively employed by private manufacturing and construction businesses if a commitment were made by the US government to move forward expeditiously in developing alternative green energy, including the necessary infrastructure, such as a new electricity grid designed to accommodate wind and solar power.  We need strong leadership in the White House and Congress on a green infrastructure initiative.  It’s at the heart of creating long-term increases in employment.

In the meantime, employers could stop trying to squeeze blood from their employee turnips.  Just because they don’t scream ouch, doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Child Rearing, Versedness and Consilient Science

One cannot understand what it means to rear a child, whether a youngster with autism or otherwise, by watching the child through binoculars from a comfortable distance, as though one were engaged in bird watching.  Child rearing is an inherently messy business, requiring rolled-up sleeves, a tender heart, and at times, nerves of steel.  A child with autism is like a poorly translated sonnet whose meter has been muddled and whose closing couplet doesn’t quite rhyme.  How shall we repair the meter without the original as our guide?  In her poem Versed, Rae Armantrout writes, “Metaphor forms/ a crust/ beneath which/ the crevasse/ of each experience/. Traversed by robotic conveyers.”  Let us begin there.
We turn to the tools of science to divine an answer to our versed puzzle.  Our frustration is palpable; definitive answers are so bloody elusive and take so interminably long to achieve. Just when I’m prepared to hear an answer to my question, there is no one to ask, or so it seems. That is because science doesn’t work that way. Scientists do not wait around wearing an intelligent expression, waiting for someone to ask them a question.  It is important to remember that science is seldom based on a particular fact or study that yields earth-shattering results, though that’s always a pleasant surprise when it happens. Effective science is about whether one persistently pursues the trajectory that defines a wisely productive strategy.  Focus on the discovery arc, not the specific finding.
Scientific research is like fishing.  You have to be a good observer of nature so you’ll know which bait to use.  Next, you need to know where to cast your lure, and finally you have to be patient, and be prepared to try again and again until your data leaps out at you like a fish taking a lure.   We cast our bait hoping to reel in a big scientific lunker.  Our skills are improving as we learn how to recognize what we are looking for instead of concluding the task is too daunting or the fish caught so far are too small.  William Whewell, the 19th century historian of science recommended we look at the interface of fields of study for the most fruitful clues.  He called the process of “jumping together” of ideas, concepts and data from sister disciplines, Consilience.  The distinguished biologist, E. O. Wilson wrote a wonderful book by that title in 1998 about the interface of fields of science.   
Educational and behavioral neuroscience is a consilient undertaking.  It is the application of brain science knowledge and methods in tandem with principles of behavior analysis and its methods, to lead to new understanding that permits us promote acquisition of children’s intellectual, social and emotional skills that will elevate their quality of life.   One of the most promising entry points in this effort has involved developing highly effective methods of turning on or off genes that lead to new brain connections, called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Those experiences are arranged by behaviorally trained teachers and therapists through a process we call Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention.  While experience-dependent brain plasticity may not be the holy-grail many of us suspect, it is a window of opportunity too good to pass up, and may just help us refashion our sonnet.   When we compose our next couplet it will rhyme effortlessly as though things had always been done that way and we will wonder what all of the fuss is about, for it will seem plain as the nose on your face.