The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • Parenting and Autism: Uncommon Empathy
    Dec. 19, 2011 Caroline Miller

    We hear that one of our favorite websites, the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, has a new book out today, a collection of pieces by their thoughtful and emotionally astute writers. You can buy it here, and they say the Kindle edition will be available soon.

    It's a good excuse to try to describe what's so valuable about the voices collected on TPGA.  I think it's the power of personal experience combined with hard-headedness about information. It's the combination of warmth and realism: you feel the love the writers have for their kids (and other people's kids) even while (or exactly while) they are telling the truth about how difficult it is be to be a parent to those kids, and how imperfect we all are at it. 

    An excellent example is a post from Friday by Deanna Shoyer, the mother of 5-year-old twin boys, both on the autism spectrum, called "I'm Not a Bad Parent ... Right?" Shoyer writes about struggling to respond effectively to one twin's aggression towards the other. She agonizes over what in her parenting arsenal she could use to diminish the behavior.

    Then one day it happened; I cracked. I came out of the bathroom and Oliver was pulling Owen's hair and kicking him. I shouted at Oliver to stop but then I found myself yelling, "Why? Why are you doing this to Owen? I don't understand!" I was holding Owen and crying and then the look on Oliver's face made me cry more. I knew I couldn't handle this behavior effectively any longer and to avoid getting upset with Oliver again I started putting him into time out.

    You can read the piece to see what response did prove to be effective—no, it wasn't time-outs—but Shoyer wasn't satisfied just to see the aggressive outbursts diminish. She wanted to understand what was making Oliver lash out at his brother, and she wasn't going to feel right about it until she found a way to feel what he might be feeling. That's the kind of insight that goes much farther than just tips for how to manage problem behaviors.

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  • James Durbin Sings at Atlanta Falcons Game
    Dec. 15, 2011 Caroline Miller

    James Durbin's fans and supporters want you to know that he'll be singing at the Atlanta Falcons football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars tonight.

    You already know that Durbin, the American Idol rocker who has both Asperger's and Tourette's, has an album out, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, which our source, Patti, urges you to buy or give as a gift for the holidays. If a killer scream and incinerating guitar riffs aren't right for anyone on your list,James Durbin but you want to support the passionate young man who's become a hero to a lot of kids challenged by psychiatric disorders, she suggests you donate a CD to the troops serving overseas. Here's a link to Tunes 4 the Troops.  

    Speaking of screaming, there's a lovely interview with Durbin in Psychology Today in which  Kymberly Grosso, the mom of one of those kids who idolizes Durbin, asks about a song on the album called "Screaming." Durbin describes coming home from school as a kid, after a day of frustration and bullying, and screaming as loud as he could into a pillow. How lovely that that practiced scream is making him a rock star.

    "There is a reason he is a role model," writes Grosso. "He experienced adversity yet he prevails with exceptional music and riveting, live performances. "

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  • Suicide Hotline Goes Digital on Facebook
    Dec. 14, 2011 Harry Kimball

    Everyone who uses Facebook, young people and adults alike, should be aware of a welcome new feature aimed at suicide prevention. Well, it's not all new—Facebook has been partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline since 2006, according to CNN, and this past summer the social networking site began allowing users to flag suicidal content. After a review by Facebook staff, the at-risk person receives an email with NSPL information and the phone number: 888.273.TALK

    But now the government service and the site have opened a new line of communication between users and trained suicide counselors: chat. Users who have had their comments flagged and evaluated are given the option of a live instant message conversation with a crisis worker.

    Before anyone accuses us of gigantic-Internet-company favoritism, Google is also on the bandwagon and provides links to the NSPL and the hotline phone number when suspicious search terms are entered. So, kudos to these companies for trying to help their most vulnerable users, and doing it in the lingua franca of the 21st century. Of course, there is so much more to be done.

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  • Cyber Schools: Godsend or Scam?
    Dec. 13, 2011 Harry Kimball

    The New York Times today published a scathing expose on cyber schools in the US, particularly those run by a company called K12, Inc. According to the paper's data, K12 is making investors and executives rich by taking public funds to provide sub-standard online public education, inflating the rolls to pocket more taxpayer dollars while kids who actually log on score dismally on standardized tests.

    The comments section on the Times website is the host of a lively debate. On one side, those who feel corporations are stealing from the public trough while doing a great disservice to kids. And on the other, the parents of kids who are enjoying, even thriving in the cyber school environment. I strongly urge you to read the article and familiarize yourself with the issues at hand.

    And whenever kids and government and technology and business meet, people are going to have different positions, even different perceptions of reality. Some basic facts are painfully clear.  First, the cyber-schooling "requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students," two conditions that clearly aren't met when hundreds of thousands of kids are recruited by promotional campaigns that offer free computers.

    But it can be great for some. "Many educators believe there is a place for full-time virtual learning for children whose pace is extremely accelerated or those with behavioral or other issues, like teenage mothers who need to stay home with their babies," writes reporter Stephanie Saul. Or, as the Child Mind Institute's Susan Schwartz puts it, "it depends on the child, his age and stage, and his strengths and weaknesses."

    Kids need support from parents even if they get on the school bus every day, but if they're sitting at a desk in the living room, they're not likely to prosper without it. As one K12 teacher tells Saul, "when you have the television and the Xbox and no parental figure at home, sometimes it's hard to do your schoolwork." To put it mildly.

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  • Jimmy Buffett Rocks the Benefit
    Dec. 9, 2011 Caroline Miller

    Last night was a pretty amazing one for the Child Mind Institute. Several hundred friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the fantastic strides kids with psychiatric and learning disorders can make when they get the right treatment, and to raise more than $5 million to help more kids get the attention they need.

    Matt Lauer, the evening's host, eloquently sang the praises of the evening's honorees, Jane and Jimmy Buffett, but happily he left the singing itself to Jimmy,gala performance Jimmy Buffett who rocked the house with "Song for the Little Children" and "Volcano." In a video message Amy Poehler and Will Arnett toasted the Buffetts, who were receiving the Child Advocacy Award, saying they'd personally give them an award for "the best fake Southern accents for real New Yorkers, the best collection of flip flops for a CEO," and for being "the coolest rich people on the planet." Getting slightly more serious, they noted that "wealth is measured by kindness and generosity," and on that score the Buffetts richly deserve the evening's honor.

    For his part, Jimmy noted that the crowd at Cipriani was a little overdressed for one of his concerts, but if the night could be summed up by one moment, it was hundreds of people waving glow sticks to Jimmy's music, all rallied to a common cause. 

    The evening segued from mellow to moving as we watched a terrific video of parents and children talking about how their lives were turned around when they got treatment for psychiatric and learning disorders.

    Eric Kandel, the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was awarded the Child Mind Institute Distinguished Scientist Award for his life's work in the biological, chemical, and physiological bases of brain functions like learning and memory. Dr. Kandel spoke memorably about the amazing plasticity of a child's brain: "One can think of no greater wonder in nature than the mind of a child. It's a creativity machine. It's a learning machine. It's absolutely extraordinary what the mind of a child takes in and how plastic it is." Because so many psychiatric illnesses start in childhood, he concluded, "research in mental health of children is one of the most important tasks facing society."

    View photos of the event:

    Photos by Ann Billingsley

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  • The Most Important Research This Year
    Dec. 8, 2011 Caroline Miller

     Given the barrage of studies that come across our radar screen—seems like there's one or more in the news every day—we could use some help sorting the serious from the silly. Along comes Richard Rende, who has picked the six most important pieces of research in child development this year.

    On Dr. Rende runs down what he thinks are the most influential studies, explains the findings, and tells you what the takeaway is. Some of the studies he's chosen have to do with disorders, like the one that demonstrated that environment, and not just genetics, plays a role in who develops autism. Others are broader, like one that found that school kids who were chronically tired during the day, because of trouble sleeping, lagged significantly behind their peers in cognitive development.

    One study we found particularly interesting found that poor self-control in toddlers and young children is linked to lots of problems in adulthood: health, financial and even criminal. Poor self-regulation is of course linked to a number of psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, but the findings held up even when kids with ADHD were filtered out. The compelling suggestion here is that helping kids learn to manage their emotions and behavior, which interventions like Parent-Child Interaction Therapy can do very effectively, could be important to their long-term prospects.

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  • Model Behavior: Heidi Klum Helps Out CMI
    Dec. 7, 2011 Harry Kimball

    The Child Mind Institute has a lot of friends, and they are all equally important to us and vital to our mission.

    And then there is Heidi Klum. The supermodel and TV host (among other pursuits) was kind enough to design one of the Radko christmas ornaments benefitting the Child Mind Institute and on sale now at Bloomingdale's. She describes the partnership below. So, thank you, Heidi. Thank you, Bloomingdale's. And in this season of thanksgiving, a huge thank you to everyone who keeps the well-being of children close to their hearts.

    Read more about Heidi Klum's ornament on her website.

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  • Lady Gaga's Art Therapy
    Dec. 6, 2011 Charlie Gross

    Perhaps you've been too distracted by the Justin Bieber paternity scandal to catch the latest Lady Gaga offering, but you should: her 14-minute self-directed "Marry the Night" video is equal parts Girl InterruptedBlack Swan and Flashdance, and it encapsulates what makes the pop provocateur's work so titillating and challenging. At best it portrays resilience in the face of despair—Gaga recovering from some kind of trauma (the gossip sites say it was rejection by her record label). At worst it romanticizes suicide and pokes fun at psychiatry. Either way it is helpful to understand the controversy that surrounds her and what makes her such a compelling role model to her fans.

    Lady GagaThe video opens with Gaga having survived a suicide attempt and being wheeled into a harrowing but uber-fashionable psychiatric clinic where the nurses are in "next season Calvin Klein." At face value, this certainly does not help to destigmatize mental health treatment, as it is really a hypermodern, ironic version of the alienating institutions of the past.

    But Gaga is quick to make her point—that her art and her dreams are the path to rehabilitation. As she narrates: "clinical psychology tells us arguably that trauma is the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics; they can be lost forever. It's sort of like my past is an unfinished painting, and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again." By the end of the video, indeed, she triumphs; through dance, music, art and deadpan humor—"You may say I lost everything, but I still had my I wreaked havoc on some old denim." 

    Lady Gaga recently told Financial Times that her latest album is "about rebirth in every sense. Its about being reborn again and again until you find the identity inside yourself that defines you best for who you are and that makes you feel like a champion of life."

    While some may take issue with her persona, who could argue with her message, especially for adolescents? 

    For a look at how young kids see Lady Gaga check out this video from

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  • Has Sexting Been Exaggerated?
    Dec. 5, 2011 Caroline Miller

    Sexting isn't as prevalent among teenagers as you thought, finds a new study getting a lot of attention today. Which of course leads to the question: how prevalent did you think it was? It's not the "pervasive scourge some reports have suggested," is how USA Today puts it. Or the New York Times version: "Sending of Sexual Images by Minors Isn't as Prevalent as Expected."

    I don't know what you expected, but I didn't really think everyone was doing it, nor do I think everyone who is doing it is likely to tell the researchers the truth about it. It turns out just 2.5 percent of kids 10 to 17 say they have sent partially nude pictures of themselves to others, and 7.1 percent said they had received sexually provocative images from someone else.

    But the issue here is really the notion that any disturbing behavior, thanks to sensational news coverage, seems to get blown up into an epidemic. I can't help thinking of a hilarious bit Stephen Colbert did a couple of weeks back on a local news report that Phoenix high school students were soaking tampons in vodka and then inserting them to get drunk. Riffing off of a school security cop telling the reporter, "this is everywhere," Colbert has a lot of fun inflating it into a national emergency. The joke isn't on the kids who are doing this (and I hope this "trend" disappears as fast as others of its ilk) but the ridiculous way alarming behavior is magnified.

    What really counts is that for those kids who are sexting, it can have terrible unintended consequences (I'm not going to say anything more about vodka tampons). And of course kids who think "everyone is doing it" may be more likely to make poor choices for themselves. Teenagers already tend to think their peers are a lot more sexually active than they really are. Any information that reflects the more modest reality can be good for them to know.

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  • Heading Off Depression and Suicide Early
    Nov. 29, 2011 Harry Kimball

    Some sobering statistics from a recent University of Washington study: almost 40% of young people who attempted suicide in adolescence did so before high school age, with some reporting attempts as young as 9. In the study, the university reports, 9% of a sample of 883 adolescents aged 18 or 19 followed since childhood had tried to kill themselves at least once, a frightening statistic that is nonetheless in line with other research.

    But the study did more than count suicide attempts: It matched the suicide attempts kids report in retrospect with assessments of their mental health and mood done in the years surrounding and including the attempt. And what the researchers found is encouraging: there are signs.

    Lead author James Mazza found that young people who attempt suicide score higher on standard scores of depression than their peers who do not make an attempt, an unsurprising result. He also found that the same child had a higher depression score the year of the attempt than the year before or after, which is quite striking. "This study suggests that implementation of mental health programs may need to start in elementary and middle schools," Mazza says, "and that youth in these grades are fairly good reporters of their own mental health."

    It's not as if Mazza's research can eradicate the vulnerability of adolescents to depression and suicide. As he says, "adolescence is a time when kids are preparing to be more independent from their parents or guardians, but lack the experience of how to do this.  And their support network—their friends
    doesn't have the experience either, especially in crisis situations." But it does make it clearer that caring adults can determine when a young person is heading for a crisis, even when the distress signals that kid is sending to peers or parents are getting lost in the busy, messy noise of growing up.

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