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Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention by Katherine Ellison

Katherine Ellison and her son Buzz shouted at one another a lot according to Ellison in her book Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention. Her son Buzz suffers from ADD (Attention Deficient Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), and Ellison tasked herself to write a memoir about her journey to understand and help her son. Along the way, she views ADD and ODD through her studies of history, biology, relationships, society, and education.

I praise Ellison for her gumption and US Grant-like resolve to search for solutions, because she loves her son. She mirrors her persistence to plow through convention and quackery in a quote she provides from Albert Einstein:

It’s little short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not completely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.

Focusing her energies and love for her son and family, Ellison explores and shares her discoveries about the solutions of neurofeedback, medications, supplements (omega-3), toxics avoidance (pesticides on foods), exercise, meditation, and education. I’m curious about the order of her solutions, because in her memoir she concentrates on helping her son’s mind and give less emphasis to her son’s physical activities. Modern research suggest that physical exercise provides the best self-generated medication and neurofeedback.

My attention focused on Ellison’s research reportage.

Our Society is Impoverished and Our Children Suffer

She writes that more than one-half of American families are living on less than the living wage of $14 an hour. Pyrrhic victory belt tightening, going without necessaries, and diminished government and community support services contribute to increased stress, psychotic behaviors, and episodes of depression in families and children.

Family Time Matters for Brain Development

Professor Michael Meany studied the nurturing behavior of mother rats and their offspring in a 2004 experiment at McGill University. He found that as mother rats licks and grooms her babies, genes in the babies are turned on and off. Adults rats well-nurtured by their mothers have lower levels of the hormone cortisol, are less startled by surprises, and have lower stress levels. Meany’s findings were confirmed with humans by Professor Michael Posner at the University of Oregon. The new scientific field of epigenetics studies the symbiotic relationship between genes and environment. We are not be born on a level genetic field and our modern environment exacerbates rather than compensates for those weaknesses and strengths.

Laws Exist to Protect Families and Children

Ellison writes about federal laws intended to protect children with learning disabilities in schools, but the laws are hidden by administrators and government from parents. The US Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Sec. 504 provides a right to an assessment for learning deficiencies and to have an individual instruction plan drawn up for a child in need. Further protections are available under the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004. Have you heard of either of these laws from your school officials?

Concluding the Shouting Mother and Child

One of the favorite jokes of Ellison’s father took me back to the shouting between mother and son that opens her book. The joke goes something like this: a motorist stranded in the wilderness by a flat tire and no car tire jack while walking for help mulls over the many ways his rescuer will mock his predicament and when finding a Good Samaritan at home abruptly shouts out at the doorway, “You can take your jack and shove it up your ass.”

In the joke the motorist is so absorbed with what could happen that he can’t recognize a Good Samaritan, let alone accept his circumstances and make a country walk of his predicament. I’m reading H.E. Bates’s Fair Stood the Wind for France and finished reading his short story The Daffodil Sky. Both stories are about people under extreme stress, one escaping the Nazis in Occupied France and the other coming to terms with a murder he committed for a lost love, with a common coping method – complete emersion in the present. Wellington pilot Franklin in Fair Stood the Wind for France describes the method as foreshortening his thoughts by concentrating on the here and now to crowd out thoughts of uncertainty and doom.

I finished Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention exhausted by Ellison’s worries about what could have been and what could have happened, but having little knowledge about the texture of her day to day life. I hope that the solutions she found foreshortened her thinking in the way pilot Franklin described. Listen to the silence within the shouts.

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One response »

  1. To answer your query, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is quite well-known and respected now in public schools, to the extent that (in California, at least), lists of students in special education are circulated at the beginning of every school year to teachers, to make them aware of who needs special attention. Teachers are required to “differentiate instruction,” meaning that they need to teach the same lesson on many different levels in a mixed-ability classroom (which is becoming more and more the norm, as funding for special education and other student support programs dries up). I attended IEPs (Individual Education Plans for special needs and special education students) regularly as a secondary teacher–one every month or so. Special school buses are paid for by county and district funds to bring students with motility issues to school. Enough of a fuss has been made, and enough litigation has been successful, to bring focus and aid to those with learning, physical, and and emotional disabilities. Maybe some other states are still catching up to our level of consciousness on this issue.

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