Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dr Robert Meliliio "Disconnected Kids" and the Brain Balance Centers


Friday arvo. Rushing into town with my son. Want to get back with at least two hours to spare before candle lighting. Gotta grab a few groceries, for we were not expecting to stay on the farm this Shabbes, but going to Melbourne to stay with our Rabbi and Rebetzin and to have lunch with our dear friends who daughter recently married. I went to the newsagent and this book stared me in the eye. Some books do that. They grab you. It's either the title or the picture on the front that some how grasps the viewers' attention. It is called marketing.
This book
Disconnected Kids' with the picture of a young boy on the front leaped out at me. (No, thank you, I am not Germaine Greer, so before the more perverted readers of this blog get going, I will anticipate and quell the filth that rises in the sewers of their minds.)
This is a kid with a far away dreamy look in his eyes. Disconnected and off with the fairies. Seen that look often in a class room, when I start on one of my pet loves, the structure and syntax of English as she is 'spoke' in Australia.  :-) 
The smaller print proclaims 'The Ground breaking Brain Balance Program for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and other Neurological Disorders. I was thinking should I get this book and my impulse buying streak kicked in. 'Go on', my yetzer ra said,'you deserve a new book. You have not bought a book for yourself for ages.'. My Yetzer tov struggled vainly. 'Ilana, you silly cow, you have no money. You can't afford to buy books. You have no job. You are on a pension. People on pensions should not buy books. They should only go to libraries and get the books back on time so they don't have to pay fines.' Your yetzer ra felt particularly strengthened by the fact that you were saving money on petrol by not travelling to Melbourne and needed to give yourself something to 'make up' for the fact that you would not be in Melbourne for Shabbes. 'Go on.' it said, 'You were going to get a new siddur at Chai books but he did not have the siddur there for you. Same price and this is enhancing knowledge that you can use to help your son and other kids once you are in the classroom again.' DONE! After my yetzer tov picked itself up from the floor with buffalo prints of the Yetzer ra in its backside, I had a new book to read and a lightened bank account. It felt good, but it also felt guilty.
I spent most of my Shabbes when I was not davening, or playing some games or talking parsha with Nir, just engrossed in this book.  I laughed. I cried and I was blown away by the commonsense and logical approach of this doctor. It was akin to being so thirsty for a long time and having only brackish, dead water to drink and someone just dumps a bucket of pure mountain spring water down in front of you.
He had been and has been concerned about the rise in Autism Spectrum Disorders and also other learning imbalances in kids that have increased at a rather horrifying rate in the last twenty years. I have had my own private theories and it was great not to feel so alone and out there all of a sudden. Australian Education is way behind the eight ball on this and I think there are a lot of schools in every state that just do not know how to deal with the rise in the numbers of kids with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities and behavioural problems. Some of the teachers, under enormous pressures not only from this, but work loads tend to disconnect too. It is called survival and it is not good for them or their students. 
By the way, I learnt that in some American schools they have R's for Requires Support and M's for Meeting Expectations. However, I still prefer descriptive assessments - that is firstly, describing what outcomes the student has achieved for the semester, comment on classroom attitude and working with class mates and define an area that needs improvement. All these mazes of tick boxes are just so unnecessary and a waste of teacher and student and parent time. Does the student and the parent really read them? I think most parents and students prefer a good descriptive comment that is relevant to the academic progress of the student and his or her school/classroom socialisation. I remember at one school having to do massive reports of about fifty tick boxes with five choices each.
Eg. Does student relate well to peers? 
 Does student understand written texts?
Does student understand topics discussed?
Can student express opinions on a given topic?
and so forth
0 Not at all. 1 Rarely. 2 Sometimes 3 Usually 4 Always
Sometimes it can vary from day to day with some students and some students do make dramatic improvements in the last few weeks of a term. Some can also remain flat for months and then something twigs and they power ahead.

This book is a must for both primary school and secondary school teachers to read. His theory and program is based on the idea of Functional Disconnection Syndrome and it basically means that there are two brain hemispheres and that they should develop in a synchronised  and orderly fashion. He actually explains the functions of the left brain and right brain hemispheres and states that boys are by and large,  more prone to these dis functioning disorders, more so than girls who have a thicker bridge between the hemispheres. That of course, does not rule out females also suffering from some cognitive dysfunction or autism spectrum disorders as well.  With somewhat increasing frequency these days, you have kids whose brains are not firing on all cylinders like they should. He takes a holistic approach and his focus is not just on academic assessment but it is about diet, exercise and other factors being involved. What I really liked was his approach that all the right equipment is there, you just have to work on tweaking it to make it function more effectively. That has basically been my belief for many years.
I used to hate it in staff rooms to hear other teachers pull down or even make fun of students with lower academic abilities. I remember this teacher who replaced me at Narrandera, who everyone loved so much because 'she did the best impressions of .................... and ...................... who are such thick as brick kids'. She was also a great favourite with the principal who I had to later make a complaint against for discrimination and who disliked me with a passion.
I would not and never have described a kid as 'thick as a brick' nor as 'the lights are on, but no one is home. Don't bother about him.'  To me, those sorts of comments are disgusting for any teacher to make. We make assessments about a student's given ability and skills over a given time. We are not there to make any sort of judgement or to state his or her potential. The potential of any student is unlimited and not bound by our opinion and nor should it be.
The rate of development and who a child or student is changes so rapidly from the ages of 12 to 18 as to seem almost phenomenal. The super shy and introspective can develop confidence and abilities that we might never have guessed and the ratty kid with ODD in year 8 could end up as school captain and a very responsible and mature young man. We only have to encourage it to happen and support them in their learning and exploration of the world within the guidelines of a decent and humane social code of behaviour.
Anyway here is the brain balance website and I am going to curl up with the last seventy pages of Disconnected Kids before I drop off to sleep and have to get up at six to milk my goat. Making more fetta cheese tomorrow.  Yum.  It is organic too. :-)

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