Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Day with the Brain

Yesterday was a good day for N.

In the morning, we did our usual routine--Shacharit (the morning prayer service), then math and critical thinking.

But after critical thinking, we had set up an internet conference with Dr. Cheri Florance in New York City. She is an audiologist who has developed techniques to help very visual people use verbal pathways effectively, so that they can be successful academically. She did this first to help her son Whitney, who had symptoms of auditory processing problems, hearing loss and autism. You can find her story in the book Maverick Mind if you want to know more about it. Click on the hyperlink to go to her website.

Anyway, Dr. Florance tested N. yesterday, giving him an Auditory-Visual Learning test and a Sound-Symbol Associator test. N. did stunningly well on both, indicating that he is very gifted using his visual pathway. The problem seems to be that he uses his visual pathway in ways to interfere with the use of his auditory sequential pathway, this creating problems for reading and other sequential tasks like organizing himself. We are working with Dr. Florance to teach N. how to use the best pathway for different tasks so that he can realize his great potential and become successful in academic environments.

It is interesting. N. carries a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS) which is a high-functioning form of autism. It is thought that some people with autism are extreme visual thinkers. This appears to be the issue for N. So he has difficulty communicating with people who are highly verbal in their patterns of thinking.

After the internet conference, N. went with me to my Neurobiology class. He goes with me on Wednesday because he has Machon (religious school) in the evening. This week, we met in the Gross Anatomy Lab, so that we could do a brain dissection and learn the major anotomical landmarks of the brain. N. was allowed in the Gross Lab--there were no cadavers out--and the professors were delighted to let him hold the brain and they answered his questions. N. noticed a lesion in the occipital lobe of the brain. The professor said: "See what happens when you eat too much candy! Just kidding--but this brain might have had trouble with processing vision." So N. learned that visual processing takes place in the occipital lobe. He told me later: "My occipital lobe must be very big--I am a visual learner!"

The other graduate students are determined to persuade him to become a neurologist.

The openess of the professors and other students to my son's questions is something that I deeply appreciate about science. When I taught science, I took a student to the Intel International Science Fair. There I saw internationally known scientists and Nobel prize winners on the floor with students in the exhibit hall, tracing pathways, drawing diagrams and having a great time discussing their field.

I imagine that my N. will become some kind of scientist or engineer. He is the son of a physicist and a biologist-turned-teacher, and the step-son of an engineer. His older sister, ML, spend her mid-school and high school years vehemently insisting that she would NOT be a scientist. NO WAY! She'd heard enough of that at the dinner table to last her a lifetime. She is now finishing a B.S. in Chemistry and she is planning to intern this summer at Sandia National Labs with an organic chemist as a mentor. She plans to go for the Ph.D. in Chemistry. You could say the lady did protest too much!

Some statistics show that a child of one scientist has about a 40% chance of going into science and a child of two scientists has a 75% likelyhood of going into science. It appears that certain ways of thinking have high heritability--probably due to differences in brain structure and function that we are only beginning to discover.

We had a great day with the brain yesterday!

1 comment:

Megan Bayliss said...

Now that is fascinating. I so wish I could hang out with you too.

I'm going to follow up with the literature (Maverick Mind) and see if it’s feasible to have boy tested as well. We use visual cues and social stories but I find it comforting to have evidence based analysis so I know that what I am doing is the best thing to do.

The anecdotal hereditary stats are interesting - you don't want to know what my four children will grow up to be!!!!!! Let if suffice to say that we have far too many dinner table discussions around human behaviour. No wonder Boy has Aspergers! It is his way of saying, “now let’s see you put me in your little box!”

I’m glad you take N to lectures and lab with you. What wonderful experiences. I teach at University part time (social work and counseling) and this semester Boy is having to attend with me on occasion. I view this as being learning unto itself and preparation for the discipline of tertiary study. My third child used to attend lectures with me when I was a student. I couldn’t get care for her so she began her life lessons being carted from sociology, psychology and social work subjects – and, guess what she wants to be when she grows up!!!

How lovely it would be for home schooled children to have home school exchange or family home school study trips abroad. I would want my son to come to experience your ways and I would gladly accommodate N and yourself. Maybe this is something I will investigate once I get our new business branch, our wedding and this semesters teaching out of the way.