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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Friday, August 1st: FREE Community Partners Night at the Museum of Science

From the Museum of Science Boston

July 28, 2014

Please join us Friday, August 1, 2014 for a Community Partners Night at the Museum of Science. Enjoy the main exhibit halls, including live presentations like the Theater of Electricity.

Participate in evening astronomy activities (8:30 - 10:00pm), which include stargazing in the Museum's Gilliland Observatory on clear nights. We will also have a limited number of tickets available for a Planetarium show.
  • Registered guests will receive up to 4 free exhibit hall passes per reservation. Guests can view the exhibits from 5:00 - 9:00pm, when the Museum closes.
  • ASL interpreters will be available. Please indicate if you need an interpreter.
  • Guests can pick up their reserved tickets at the Community Relations registration table in the Museum lobby August 1, between 5:00 and 8:00pm.
  • The first 100 registered guests to arrive at the museum will also receive free Planetarium show tickets. 

If you have any questions, please contact Maria Cabrera (mcabrera@mos.org, 617-589-0418) or James Boyd (jboyd@mos.org, 617-589-0315). If you have questions regarding accommodations or accessibility, contact Nora Nagle (nnagle@mos.org, 617-589-3102).

New Book: Parenting without Panic


July 22, 2014

An excellent and eminently practical new book, Parenting without Panic: A Pocket Support Group for Parents of Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum (Asperger's Syndrome), was recently released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Its author is our Newton neighbor Brenda Dater, Director of Child and Teen Services at the Asperger's Association of New England.

Dater knows what she's talking about, from personal as well as professional experience. She is the parent of three children, one of whom has a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and one of whom has ADHD and generalized anxiety.

NESCA has purchased twenty copies, which we'll happily give away to anyone who could sometimes use a little help in coping with the challenges of autism spectrum parenting. Just ask!

From the publisher:

"Ever wish that parenting a child or teen on the autism spectrum came with instant access to a support group?

Brenda Dater has provided parents with exactly that. In this book she draws on her extensive experience as a support group leader and parent of a child on the spectrum to offer trusted advice and tried-and-tested solutions to parents' top concerns, all in an accessible and easy-to-read format.

Filled with the voices of other parents in the same situation, the book covers everything from the first steps to take after diagnosis, to advocacy and disclosure, behavior, building independence and resilience, making friends, holidays and vacations, homework, supporting siblings, how to garner support from extended family and friends, and how parents can look after their own well-being.

This book extends the vital lifeline of a support group to parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum everywhere."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Longwood Symphony Free Concert July 30th Sponsored by Vinfen

From Vinfen

July 28, 2014


Vinfen and the Longwood Symphony Orchestra invite you to a free concert July 30th! To learn more, click here.

When:   7:00pm Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where:  DCR Hatch Memorial Shell, Charles River Esplanade.
                   Hatch Shell accessibility information:
                   http://www.landmarksorchestra.org/accessibility.html

For more information, contact Sharon Gray, Vinfen Director of Development, at grays@vinfen.org, or call (617) 441-1896.

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Vinfen is a leading provider of community-based services to people with psychiatric conditions, intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and behavioral health challenges. Their dedicated uses the latest in science-based interventions to support the people they serve in achieving their goals and leading more independent, productive, and valued lives as members of their community. For more information about Vinfen, please visit http://www.vinfen.org.

Monday, July 28, 2014

For Frustrated Gifted Kids, A World of Online Opportunities

From KQED's Mind/Shift
How we will learn.

By Ingfei Chen
May 21, 2014

When parents find they have a two-year-old who can read, or a five-year-old who wakes up talking about square roots, the task of ensuring that these exceptionally bright children get the educational nourishment they need is unchartered territory.

The path can be frustrating for kids, and worry-inducing for parents. But the ongoing boom in online learning opportunities has been a great benefit for many gifted youth, because the offerings can cater to a student’s ability rather than age.

Sating the voracious curiosity of gifted students can be challenging. They may get bored and cranky when they easily grasp lessons ahead of the group in a standard classroom. Take, for example, the case of a seven-year-old who attends a Berkeley, Calif., public elementary school.

When he found the pace of his math class unbearably slow, he protested by gluing together two months’ worth of his math worksheets. Given a new packet, he “filled out all the answers, and then folded each sheet into paper airplanes,” his mother said. (The mother asked that they not be identified in this story.)

The educational infrastructure in the U.S. for supporting high-achieving students is an underfunded patchwork quilt of services and programs across the states, according to a survey by the National Association for Gifted Children.

“We do not have a systematic way of addressing the needs of the gifted,” said Joyce VanTassel-Baska, education professor emerita at the College of William and Mary. “You could go to one school system and they might be doing a great job. And you would go to another school system and you would see nothing.”

As a result, gifted students and their parents often must cobble together their own individual education plan from various sources to obtain a deeper, more advanced intellectual dive than what standard school systems can provide.

In the case of the young Berkeley protester, who was reading at a fifth-grade level by age four, “we spend a lot of time at the library trying to keep up with his interests and voracious reading habit,” his mother said. At home, “we make books, build airplanes and robots out of found objects, research stuff online, fix our bikes, and create elaborate LEGO machines. He is endlessly curious and astonishingly creative.”

The parents have signed him up for extracurricular classes in science as well as art, music, and sports, including classes for gifted students at the Lawrence Hall of Science. This family has not tried online options yet, and if they do look into private school options, they’ll have to apply for scholarships or financial aid, or would not be able to afford it.

“It’s very difficult to find a high school that would be willing to have a 10-year-old take an AP course.”

Across the bay in San Francisco, Debbie Saret has been similarly engaged in an evolving process of discovery in finding the right resources for her exceptionally gifted son — a 13-year-old who is now doing math coursework at the college-sophomore level.

Six years ago, when she and her husband decided to homeschool him starting in the second grade, it was like stepping off “into the unknown” – a journey that had the parents constantly worrying whether they were making good choices and often “really feeling quite alone, because nobody else around us had ever done anything like that,” she said. Her son’s education has been an eclectic meld of private tutoring, online courses, after-school and summer camps, math circle, and community college classes.


Online Sources Bring Access to the World

Compared to three decades ago, many more out-of-school academic resources are now available for gifted learners, which makes it easier than ever to access advanced learning opportunities, ranging from video courses to diploma-granting online high schools.

“The online component was extremely important for us,” Saret said.

Math and English courses from Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) initially formed the backbone of the Saret son’s homeschooling. Founded in 1990, EPGY has long offered self-paced, computer-based instruction through brief, pre-recorded multimedia lectures on CD-ROMs or, as technology has evolved, via web browser.

Students can also sign up for tutorial guidance from an instructor by phone, email, or the web. (Under a recent licensing deal with Stanford, an education company named Redbird Advanced Learning has taken over the EPGY program and is in a transition of updating and enhancing its technology components.)

At age eight, Saret’s son began taking classes part-time at Stanford Online High School (OHS), a fully accredited, diploma-granting school for academically talented students in grades 7 through 12. OHS, which opened in 2006, provides real-time, interactive virtual seminars through web-based video conferencing.

Despite the fact that much of it happens online, Saret says there’s an emphasis on developing personal connections, too. “They really have a sense of community,” Saret noted. “Class meetings, clubs — it’s a very interactive online experience with video, text chat, whiteboard. Very much like a normal class, but online in terms of interaction.”

Saret is grateful that these sorts of learning resources exist for her son. “Online opportunities are really a big benefit for this group of students, because your age doesn’t matter as much as your interests and your ability … Because it’s very difficult to, say, find a high school that would be willing to have a 10-year-old take an AP course,” she said. At that age, her son was able to study AP physics at OHS.

Teaching the Gifted

Other digital learning options for the gifted include independent-study courses from Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and Northwestern University. Another resource popular among young math prodigies around the world is the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) web community and school, which provides real-time instruction through a virtual classroom where pupils and teachers communicate via live text-chatting.

Such online education programs offer bright kids a lot of flexibility and a variety of ways for taking their learning well beyond the usual school curricula. Even if standard schools offer advanced placement classes in calculus, those offerings aren’t rigorous enough for many of the mathematically precocious kids who come to AoPS, said Richard Rusczyk, company founder and a winner of the USA Mathematics Olympiad in 1989.

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“They get everything right away. The problems are just too easy,” he said. Typical AP classes don’t prepare the students for math courses at places like MIT, he said, where they may hit the wall of failure for the very first time – and get so discouraged that they just might quit math or science.

That would be bad, not just for the student but also potentially for all of us, because as Rusczyk and others point out, these exceptionally bright individuals have a lot to give. “These students are going to produce an outsized portion of the major technological, medical, mathematical, scientific, economic advances of the next generation,” he said.

The philosophy at AoPS is to teach math at a deep and complex level and introduce high-performing students to difficult problems that stretch their capabilities early. In Rusczyk’s view, the ultimate goal of education should be “to teach students how to solve problems they’ve never seen before. That’s the main focus of what we’re trying to do in our classes.”

The ability to work through difficult conundrums applies to all kinds of life and career situations, such as, in his case, figuring out how to run a company, he said.

A key part of challenging the smartest kid in a school, he added, is exposing him or her to peers who are just as sharp or even sharper. “I’ll tell kids, if you’re always the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room,” Rusczyk said.

The internet now makes it a lot simpler to find and engage with a brainier crowd. For math lovers, AoPS is one of those “other rooms.” While children in the top 5 percent of intellectual talent largely look the same in a standard curriculum — all acing their classes with 100s — in the AoPS community, students look wildly different in their abilities, interests, and needs, Rusczyk said.

Some want to be “taught to the test” and need to be trained out of that mentality, while others want to only think about tackling hard problems. Some turn in beautiful writing assignments, he said, while others “will write stuff that English teachers would be horrified to look at — no punctuation, no capital letters.”

When very bright children are ready for a more in-depth complexity of material at a young age but don’t get it at their schools, they’re badly served, said Stanford math professor Rafe Mazzeo, who served as EPGY’s faculty director. It’s not uncommon to see gifted kids who tap out all their high school’s math courses early and spend their entire senior year taking humanities classes.

But, if those students plan to go into any quantitative discipline, including engineering or natural sciences, allowing their math skills to get rusty for a year or more is “a disaster,” Mazzeo said.

“If they have a couple of fallow years where they’re not being challenged, you can really do them intellectual damage.” With its extracurricular computer-based classes, EPGY’s mission has been to help students race ahead with more challenging, accelerated coursework while still staying in the social milieu of their regular grades at their local schools.

At Stanford OHS, which grew out of EPGY’s success, students also can race ahead, but they generally do it with a cohort of other high-achievers who are doing the same thing. The school’s philosophy is to place students into courses by their ability, not age or grade level, said admissions director Claire Goldsmith. “There’s no way to max out. We can offer courses to kids at all levels.”

With 530 students from 43 states and 18 nations currently enrolled, OHS focuses on fostering critical thinking and argumentation with its core curriculum. It also provides counseling support for social and emotional issues.

Students’ Experiences

Chloe Clougher of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, started at OHS as a junior last fall after two yea­rs at a nearby private college-preparatory high school, and prior to that, homeschooling since kindergarten. Though she liked her local school, she decided to apply to OHS because it offered some advanced classes in science and Mandarin that the brick-and-mortar school didn’t have.

It would’ve been otherwise frustrating “to try to cobble a whole random schedule together from, like, three different schools or online courses like edX,” said the 16-year-old, who won a full scholarship covering OHS’s expensive $17,250 yearly tuition. (About 16 percent of OHS students receive financial aid.)

Although the brick-and-mortar high school has AP courses, Clougher said, she noticed that they kept students busy with lots of assignments that didn’t seem like meaningful work. Now at OHS, she is currently jazzed about biology class and her instructor, who’s not only enthusiastic about teaching, but also about learning new areas of biological research – and hearing what the students have to say. “You don’t really see that in a whole lot of teachers,” Clougher said.

“They have excellent teachers and really interesting classes,” said sophomore Eva Guevara, 15, who lives in Marfa, a town in far West Texas, and is also attending OHS on a full scholarship. She had gone to ninth grade at the local brick-and-mortar public high school, but found the pace slow and uninteresting. Biology class was especially disappointing, she said. “I ended up just being sent out of the room and just watching Khan Academy videos and taking notes on those.”

Today, she still goes to the local school building, but only to attend one robotics course and use the library, where she logs into her OHS seminars. Chemistry class, currently her favorite, is “challenging but also it’s really fun,” Guevara said. “And I feel like it’s going at a really great pace for me too.”

While the Stanford coursework is more rigorous and satisfying, both Clougher and Guevara said that social interactions with their classmates online, although quite good, naturally can’t fully match the social life of a real-life high school. But many OHS students do get to meet classmates face-to-face in occasional get-togethers in their region.

For gifted students, building strong friendships is as important to their personal growth as academic achievement. In San Francisco, Saret said that finding communities for her son and their family, and keeping those social circles going, has been one of the biggest challenges. For him, attending Epsilon Camp, a two-week summer program for 8- to 11-year-olds who are profoundly gifted at math, was life-changing: At the camp held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2011, he met kindred spirits sharing an intense passion for math, a community where he felt he truly belonged.

“He has said to me, ‘It was the first time that I felt that other kids understood what I was trying to say in the most truthful sense.’ He could just be himself, say whatever he wanted to say, without worrying about the other kids not getting him,” said Saret, who subsequently became Epsilon Camp’s admissions director. Her son still keeps in touch with the close friends he made there, including some who live in the Bay Area.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Yoga Therapy For Children with Autism and Special Needs

From PsychCentral

By Louise Goldberg
Reviewed by K.M. McCann, Ph.D.

July 17, 2014

Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs
W. W. Norton & Company, August, 2013
Hardcover, 300 pages
$24.95


As a former yoga teacher, I used to consider Anatomy of Hatha Yoga my bedside manual. Years later, after my life priorities changed and the focus on physical stamina became less important than attaining a peaceful mind, I revisited the practice. It was a different yoga in my forties than in my twenties and thirties, despite that the poses and concepts were the same.

This reminded me that the quintessence of yoga includes many things — among them, intentional focus, honoring the body, cultivating patience, and the acceptance of personal responsibility. And it showed me that yoga is malleable and flexible — that there are forms appropriate for people of all levels, ages, and stages.

In the early 2000s, I taught a weekly Yoga for Kids course in Arlington, Virginia. The children in the class were energetic, outgoing, and eager to contort themselves into animal poses (with animal sounds, of course). The most challenging part of each session was getting the little students to appreciate savasana (final relaxation), or, as we called it then, “the silent game.”

At the end of each class parents would approach me and ask for tips on how they might encourage their child to practice more silence at home. My standard response was a suggestion that they practice the asana series with their child.

As much as I would have liked to take credit for the well-mannered and relaxed children at the end of class, it wasn’t mine to claim. It was the essence of yoga itself and a testament to how it can be adapted to fit different people.

The opportunity to read Louise Goldberg’s Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs introduced me to yet another layer of the millennia-old practice. Goldberg shows that children, autistic or not, can be taught to focus, breathe and relax with regular yoga practice.

There are far too few books about using yoga as a means to interact with the special needs child. Sonia Sumar’s Yoga for the Special Child: A Therapeutic Approach for Infants and Children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Learning Disabilities is perhaps one of the most well-known. The crux of Sumar’s book, though, is the parent-child bond that can develop through yoga practice.

Goldberg takes the topic to another level by offering yoga as a tool for educators, school counselors, and others.

Goldberg’s approach, is should be noted, is not a variation of play therapy. While play therapy uses a systematic approach to help clients resolve psychosocial issues, yoga therapy centers on the use of movement as a means to quiet the mind. Certainly, though, the two could be used in tandem.

“Yoga therapy affords children an opportunity to play and learn in an environment that embraces their uniqueness and supports their strengths,” Goldberg writes. “To develop a therapeutic plan that addresses the diverse qualities of each child, it’s useful to have a greater understanding of his or her condition.”

The focus on mental calmness, says Goldberg, opens a world of opportunities for the child with physical or developmental disabilities. The idea behind the practice is to help the child realize a strength he had not previously known. “Yoga therapy is not dependent on language skills or cognitive abilities,” she explains. “It's a therapy that meets children wherever they are.”

Goldberg offers suggestions on how to engage children with Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Emotional Behavioral Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and more. Perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of this therapy is to keep the practice positive. In the last part of the book, Goldberg catalogs the postures and provides examples on how to introduce them to children with varied needs.

Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs is a beautifully rendered and thoughtful book that thoroughly covers the fundamental elements of introducing yoga to children. While the goal of the text is to work with children with special needs, Goldberg has written a reference that can be used in many other areas as well. She addresses the neurology, physiology, process, and application of the technique, all of which apply to a wider audience. This is a book that can serve parents, students, instructors, and, certainly, therapists.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Beyond Booksmart - A Name Change for "Thinking Outside the Classroom"

From NESCA

July 27, 2014

Established in 2006, Beyond BookSmart (formerly Thinking Outside the Classroom), provides executive function coaching to students from 3rd grade through college, and even to adults.

They are a group, led by educator Michael Delman, to which we often refer clients with executive function deficits.

Executive functions are self-management skills that help people achieve goals. In order to be effective, students must be able to manage their emotions and attention, organize and plan their work and time, and reflect upon and revise their tactics as circumstances change.

Beyond Booksmart provides effective tools and strategies that allow student to clarify and achieve what is important to them, succeed academically and be more fulfilled.

In the video below, NESCA Director Dr. Ann Helmus discusses what makes Beyond Booksmart a valuable resource:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body

From the HuffPost Parents Blog

By Sarah Koppelkam
July 30, 2014

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don't talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don't say anything if she's lost weight. Don't say anything if she's gained weight.

If you think your daughter's body looks amazing, don't say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

"You look so healthy!" is a great one.

Or how about, "You're looking so strong."

"I can see how happy you are -- you're glowing."

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don't comment on other women's bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don't you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don't go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don't say, "I'm not eating carbs right now." Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that's a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you'll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn't absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don't need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom's recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It's easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don't. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

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This post originally appeared on hopeave.wordpress.com.