The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • Older Fathers Linked to Autism and Schizophrenia
    Aug. 23, 2012 Rachel Ehmke

    A new genome study confirms the long suspected theory that older men are more likely to have a child who develops autism or schizophrenia. The team of researchers in Iceland who led the investigation found that men pass on more mutations in their sperm exponentially each year, in contrast to women, who pass on the same small number of mutations regardless of age. While the majority of these mutations are not dangerous—we all have them—others are linked to autism and schizophrenia. And as the study's lead author Kári Stefánsson tells Nature, "The more mutations we pass on, the more likely that one of them is going to be deleterious."

    Interestingly, these findings also help support the rising number of autism diagnoses, as more couples are putting off having children until their 30s and 40s, thereby increasing the chances of conceiving a child who will develop autism. Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at Yale, told the New York Times, "This study provides some of the first solid scientific evidence for a true increase in the condition." 

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  • Stop Blaming Rihanna for Being Honest
    Aug. 21, 2012 Rachel Ehmke

    Rihanna is being blamed again for not being a good role model. This time it's for admitting to Oprah that she's still in love with Chris Brown and feels protective of him even after being badly beaten by him three years ago.

    Her complex emotions about the relationship are hard to hear, but criticizing her for expressing them is dangerous. This is someone who experienced serious emotional trauma, and criticizing her for how she feels about that is a lot like criticizing an anorexic girl for saying she feels fat even though she's dangerously underweight. You might not understand what she's saying, but ignoring how she feels doesn't help her or anyone else.

    RIhannaIn her interview she's shedding real light on the complexity of an abusive relationship. When she describes losing her best friend and everything that she knew all in one night, she is just being honest. People rarely have such complete control over their emotions that they can immediately stop loving someone who has betrayed them. Bad experiences don't always obliterate good ones.

    When we criticize Rihanna for admitting to have complicated emotions about the trauma she experienced we are implicitly discouraging other girls from getting help. Too many abused women are isolated from their friends and family, both by their abuser and, unfortunately, but the people who care about them but can't understand why they don't just walk away from what is clearly a bad relationship.

    We want to do everything we can to prevent our daughters (and sons) from getting into an abusive relationship. (It's worth noting that both Rihanna and Chris Brown grew up in houses where they regularly witnessed abuse). But abuse still happens, and when it does we want our children to know that they can come to us, and hopefully come early, before the abuse becomes physical. But we also want them to know that they can still come to us after.

    As for Rihanna, we applaud her honesty. It's important that we listen to what she has to say, even if we don't agree with everything she says, or did.

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  • When the ADHD Diagnosis Is Wrong
    Aug. 21, 2012 Harry Kimball

    On Sunday, the New York Times published a piece by Bronwen Hruska that takes a stern look at a real phenomenon: treating disorders that aren't there. In Hruska's case, it was her son Will's ADHD, diagnosed in the fourth grade at the urging of his teacher, who found his wandering attention problematic—or the lack of the disorder.

    In a nutshell, Hruska succumbed to pressure to have Will evaluated, he was diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type, and treatment with methylphenidate seemed to help him focus a bit. But after a year the medication "stopped working," Will stopped taking it, and he turned out fine. "For him, it was a matter of growing up, settling down and learning how to get organized," she writes.

    "There's no clinical test for" ADHD, Hruska continues, which leaves room for this sort of confusion. "Doctors make diagnoses based on subjective impressions from a series of interviews and questionnaires." This and her experience lead her to the conclusion that overdiagnosis is rampant, and that "instead of leveling the playing field for kids who really do suffer from a deficit, we're ratcheting up the level of competition with performance-enhancing drugs."

    It is heartening that Hruska concedes that some children "really do suffer from a deficit" in attention and self-regulation of impulsive and hyperactive behavior. But has stimulant medication for ADHD really crossed completely into the realm of "performance-enhancing" pill dispensed for less-than-perfect classroom behavior? As we've said before, we know there is misdiagnosis. But we also know there are many kids who get no diagnosis who really do need help, and it would be a shame if the phenomenon of parents being pressured into thinking their kids have a problem prevents kids who are really struggling and suffering from getting the care they need.

    This means that we need better diagnostic tools, and better training for the medical professionals who care for our children, two things I doubt Hruska would disagree with. That's why it's exciting that we are getting closer to biological markers that can identify psychiatric disorders with more certainty, and that there is a growing awareness that diagnosis needs to be approached with more rigor both in the psychiatrist's office and in the pediatrician's office, where most kids are diagnosed.

    We agree with Hruska that we hate to see medication that's important for kids who are seriously impaired misused by those who are looking for an advantage. She worries that we're teaching kids to reach for a pill when they're faced with challenges.

    But this worry threatens to overshadow children in need. As one commenter on an accompanying blog post wrote, "Would you say this to an asthmatic?  'I'm afraid that if you don't experience the challenge of gasping for breath as a child, that when you have a setback at work, you'll just reach for an inhaler.'" 

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  • The Ravitz Report: 'Mister Foe' and 'Loverboy'
    Aug. 17, 2012 Alan Ravitz, MD, MS

    Dr. Alan Ravitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, is an avid movie watcher who has a keen eye for the pleasures and insights to be found in all genres, from action flicks to intimate character studies. Each week Dr. Ravitz will recommend here a film for weekend viewing. Expect surprises, psychological twists, and a taste for emotional subtlety.

    Sigmund Freud is held in mixed regard these days; he'll probably be reassessed many more times before we're done with him. Here are two recent films that take Oedipus and Electra all the way out: Mister Foe, (English, 2007) and Loverboy, (American, 2005) (!directed by KEVIN BACON, starring his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, and featuring their two children!). Beyond all the way out—and both are definitely for adults, unless after viewing you think otherwise. I'll mention a few more Freudian movies next time.

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  • Autism, Airplanes, and Alec Baldwin?
    Aug. 14, 2012 Harry Kimball

    We couldn't help thinking of Alec Baldwin when we heard that a young woman named Carly Fleischmann got cross recently when American Airlines attendants insisted that she stow the iPad she uses to communicate for takeoff and landing.

    Carly, a 17-year-old who has autism, insisted that she had been able to use the iPad on many other flights, and held her ground until the captain got involved, and allowed her to keep it open, though the fight attendant continued to insist that she not use it.  

    Unlike Baldwin, she didn't get into a shouting match or get thrown off the plane. But like him she had the nerve to express skepticism about the reasons for the rule.  And like him she shared her travel and technology woes on the Web.

    Now, I am as far from an expert on avionics and signal interference as you can get, and though I think many of us are skeptical about cell phone and electronics rules on airplanes I don't presume to tell airlines or the FAA their business. But I think Carly's stand illustrates how people with different methods of communication—she is nonverbalare asking to be treated with respect. "It's time for you to move with the times," she writes on her Facebook page, "and understand that an iPad is not just for fun it's for people who really need it too."

    Happily, the FAA is considering a course that would change the rules and let people like Carly hang on to their devices during takeoff and landing. As she puts it, "can you imagine being on the airplane and being asked not to talk for over 25 minutes?"

    Coincidentally, the game Baldwin was playing was called "Words With Friends." It seems appropriate.

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  • The Ravitz Report: Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars
    Aug. 10, 2012 Alan Ravitz, MD, MS

    Dr. Alan Ravitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, is an avid movie watcher who has a keen eye for the pleasures and insights to be found in all genres, from action flicks to intimate character studies. Each week Dr. Ravitz will recommend here a film for weekend viewing. Expect surprises, psychological twists, and a taste for emotional subtlety.

    I'm totally serious about this. Go to Netflix, do a Flash Gordon search, obtain Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. It is a TRIP. Great story. Great characters. Good and evil, Star Wars before Star Wars, with better art direction and music. And each episode is only about 20 minutes—a perfect length for family screen-time. Good for all ages.

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  • London 2012: The Real Olympic Role Models
    Aug. 7, 2012 Harry Kimball

    Ah, the Olympics. Primed for tales of triumph and perseverance in the face of daunting odds, we arrive at our TV sets every two years (four if you're prickly about the particular season) and watch the biggest mélange of sporting events in the world unfold on the international stage.

    But triumph, humility, and perseverance are not the only qualities on display. While there have been many gracious acceptances of silver medals, and joyous bronzes, there have also been irritable disappointments, unsportsmanlike conduct, and some high profile disqualifications. Even the top athletes, the ones "favored" to reach the medal stand, sometimes appear like less than stellar role models. While Michael Phelps seems to have lived down his dalliance with a bong from a few years ago, his teammate Ryan Lochte has picked up the bad-boy mantle. "Jeah! Jeah! Jeah!" No. 

    So who to look up to? I propose that gold has little to do with it, and that a little digging will turn up an Olympian of every stripe for every young person looking for examples to guide them. There are some high-profile examples of this—veterans returning for one more shot, like the swimmer Anthony Ervin, who won gold in 2000 in the 50m freestyle, then spiraled into drug and alcohol abuse, a suicide attempt, and trouble with the law before returning to the sport for this Olympics. He placed 5th in the final.

    Then there are international stars trying to break in to the higher reaches of their disciplines despite amazing obstacles, like the South African runner Oscar Pistorius, who first needed to master the sport on artificial legs and then convince the world he could compete with everyone else. He didn't make the final in the 400m in London, but his mere presence seems like validation enough for his incredible efforts.

    But if we go even deeper we begin to see what the Olympics can really be about, and to find the garden-variety determined athletes who necessarily embody what the Olympic experiment can teach our young people and ourselves. Remember, the vast majority of people with Olympic dreams have no reason to expect a gold medal. The vast majority are trying to make their country's team so that they can show what they can do, even if everyone around them doubts the validity of their talents. The vast majority compete with others who have gold "in their grasp" because it can be just as valuable, and just as inspiring, for someone to attempt what others think is beyond theirs.

    PistoriusWhat I like to focus onat the same time that I cheer for US gold, which seems impossible to avoidare all the competitors for whom the medal stand is less of an obsession or even a likelihood. The competitors who understandand help us understandthat the Olympic spirit that is most valuable lives not just in the favorites but also in the most unlikely people and corners of the world. 

    When he placed well enough in the heats to advance to the semi-final of the 400m, Pistorius told the Globe and Mail that he understood his limitations. "My times are off the top guys in the world," he said. "I had to run a really hard race to make the semi-final." But that doesn't mean he isn't Olympic material, he continued, quoting from his late mother. "She always told me, 'A loser isn't the person who gets involved and comes last, it's the person who doesn't get involved in the first place.'"

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  • Squeezing Teenage Girls Into Girdles
    Aug. 6, 2012 Rachel Ehmke

    You have to wonder, is it the Mad Men effect? The corsets and girdles that went out of style in the 70s are back, now discreetly called "shapewear," and they're being marketed to girls as young as 13. Good Morning America recently reported on the trend in a segment that described shapewear like Spanx as "necessary," "a way of life," and "the must-have accessory" for teenagers, who are said to be wearing them every day to school. "You've got the training bra and then you've got the Spanx. Everyone wears them," one girl tells the camera.

    It's not only bizarrely retro, it's frankly alarming to see people returning to the girdle, particularly if it is becoming a right of passage for girls before their bodies are even developed enough to wear a real bra. Besides making girls more likely to develop an eating disorder, child psychologist Ned Hallowell says the popularity of shapewear for teens might mean "never being happy with your own body image."

    And some of it is even being designed especially for teenagers: Jill Zarin, formerly of The Real Housewives of New York City, has such a line of girdles called, grossly, Skweez. In her interview Zarin argues that shapewear is good for girls because it "normalizes" their bodies—a claim that tells a young girl her unsqueezed body isn't normal. That has to be one of the worst messages you can send a 13-year-old, along with the message that spandex is the best way to make yourself fit the idealized norm of what women's bodies should look like. We are used to celebrities and non-celebrities alike supplementing (or maybe supplanting) healthy diet and exercise with Photoshopping and Spanx. But without proper perspective, these things can distort a child's reality. It's 2012. Healthy diet and exercise should be the new normal, not body shame and spandex. 

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  • The Ravitz Report: Kumare
    Aug. 3, 2012 Alan Ravitz, MD, MS

    Dr. Alan Ravitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, is an avid movie watcher who has a keen eye for the pleasures and insights to be found in all genres, from action flicks to intimate character studies. Each week Dr. Ravitz will recommend here a film for weekend viewing. Expect surprises, psychological twists, and a taste for emotional subtlety.

    Kumare, directed by Vikram Gandhi, a nice Indian boy from New Jersey, is both hilarious and unbelievably deep. It addresses issues of truth, identity, spirituality, even psychotherapy. What if you found out your guru was a stone-cold fraud? After he changed your life profoundly, and positively? Would he still be a guru?

    Right now it's only at the IFC in NYC. Hopefully it will get wider distribution. Good for adults, adolescents, and thoughtful preteens.

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  • Teens Take Note: The Style Rookie Grows Up
    July 31, 2012 Rachel Ehmke

    After four years in the spotlight, Tavi Gevinson, the girl who's famous for launching her first blog at 11 and getting embraced by the fashion world as an idiosyncratic genius at 12, is sixteen. And she's one of the most interesting 16-year-olds around.

    For those who don't know about her, Gevinson is a true wunderkind. Part of what makes her so fascinating is that she is pioneering a new kind of child celebrity made possible by the Internet: she is famous for what she thinks. Her first blog The Style Rookie went viral, earning her regular invitations to high profile fashion shows, sometimes even sitting next to Vogue editor Anna Wintour. At 15 she diversified, founding Rookie, a feminist website for teenage girls. Right now she's gracing the cover of Bust magazine and she has a profile in the Style section of the New York Times. This is not the first time Gevinson has been profiled by the Times. And yet she's still a real teenager, who says things like "daisies are literally the best thing ever" and has a reputation for crying when she listens to Taylor Swift songs. And like all teenagers, Gevinson is reinventing herself. Her roots are in fashion, but she says these days she is more interested by pop culture and feminism. She ditched her dyed bluish-gray granny hair for a blonde Laura Palmer Twin Peaks cut. Lately she's been wearing mod eyeliner and trying more form fitting clothing, although she worries men will think it is for them. She's growing up, and it's changing her creative output.

    The Style RookieGevinson told Bust, "My sister Rivkah always tells me that I'm really lucky that I discovered feminism when I was 12, because I gained an understanding about it as I was hitting that teenage-girl self-esteem drop." That drop in self-esteem for teenage girls is a really big deal. Earlier this month the Keep It Real anti-Photoshop campaign released a study saying that 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. The number increases to 78 percent by age 17. Even worse, 80% of 10-year-olds say they've been on a diet. The data is alarming, but it also makes sense because girls know women get more attention for how they look than for what they do.

    Rookie is trying to change that. The site cares about fashion (no product of Gevinson's could ever ignore it), but it treats style as art and a way to express yourself-not a way to attract a boy. The writers interview cool, successful women and share advice on how to join a band (something girls still aren't conditioned to do) or how to become "the next Didion, or Hurston, or Woolf, or you." Yesterday they ran a story about how to safely skip school and have a great time doing it. Like Amy Poehler's Smart Girls at the Party, Rookie just wants girls to get up and do something. And they're leading by example. At Rookie Gevinson is the editor-in-chief and half of her staff are teenagers. The editorial director, Anaheed Alani, is 41 and calls Gevinson her boss. In Bust Alani writes, "My philosophy on bosses has always been that I won't work for someone who isn't smarter than me, and Tavi Gevinson definitely fits my criteria." She's clearly inspired by the 16-year-old, and so are the girls who turned out in droves to meet Tavi during Rookie's recent promotional road trip. "I actually started my own blog because of her," one girl told the Times. We're sure she isn't the only one.

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