Friday, December 29, 2006

Movie Review: Little Miss Sunshine

If you have a chance to rent one movie this year, get "Little Miss Sunshine". This film has some very real characters who most people could relate to. Also, by watching this film, one can feel slightly better about the dysfunction in one's own family because this family is painfully bad. The basic story involves a family with a "9 Steps to Success" father (Kinnear) who is so annoying you want to slap him, a mom who's trying to hold everything together (Collette), a suicidal uncle (Carrell), a perverted grandpa, a selectively mute teenager, and a sweet little girl named Olive. They need to make it from Albuquerque to California so that Olive, a runner up in the Little Miss Sunshine contest, can try to win the coveted crown. They have some obstacles to face along the way, like juggling schedules, driving a dilapidated old Volkswagen van, figuring out what to do with the grandpa who dies along the way, and dealing with teenage angst. Despite these obstacles, the family does make it to the pageant.

Lessons learned from this film: Letting a suicidal relative befriend your angry teenager could possibly have a good outcome, never trust a perverted grandpa to train a young girl for a beauty pageant, and most importantly, keep a stash of porn in your vehicle for the purpose of bribing a police officer in order to get out of a traffic ticket and to distract him from the dead body in your trunk. In all seriousness, the film spoke to the fact that people need to be allowed to be who they are, that sometimes silence is better than words, and that people who can be themselves in a world of fake beauty should be applauded and celebrated.

On a side note, the beauty pageant was disturbing to watch, and I could not get the image of JonBenet Ramsey out of my head as I watched these little doll-like girls prance around on the stage. I don't know if that's how these pageants really are, but if so, then I wonder what is to be gained from parading these little girls on stage. Is it to give them a twisted sense of what beauty is? Or to make them overly aware of watching their figures at such a young age? Or just maybe it's so that adults have something pretty to look at that's unattainable for them.

Overall, I'd give "Little Miss Sunshine" 9 out of 10 dancing feet.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hug the Potholder

While I've been visiting my mom in Spokane, we have been working on making these cute heart-shaped potholders. These are the ones with the fabric I selected, and mom has some cute ladybug and teapot ones.
On a side note, making this project made me think of a time when I had a bunch of friends over to my house for a party. We always played group games like Pictionary and the like. One of my friends was a high school counselor and suggested we play a game called "Hug the Potholder". So he took one person aside and explained the game and the "hugger" waited in a separate area. Then the lucky hugger was brought back in and given a set of parameters and then was instructed to "hug the potholder". There was a potholder on the center of the floor with everyone else in a circle surrounding the confused "hugger". So, you hug the potholder every which way you can think of until your actions are deemed worthy by the judge. Only after humiliating yourself in a variety of positions with the potholder do you see one of your friends in the circle holding a cast-iron pot. Moral of this story? If someone asks you to play "Hug the Potholder", be afraid. Also, beware of anyone with a camera, as they might get some interesting butt-shots that can be used at a later time in some kind of bribery or blackmail situation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kickin' Caffeine is Kickin' My Butt.... and Other Happenings

No, I'm not crazy. I'm just cutting WAY back on my caffeine intake, much to my chagrin. Yes, I know that I will probably feel much better once I'm off the stuff, but I took a certain pride in being able to say "Hey, if caffeiene is my worst vice, then I'm not doing half bad". I'm on day three and my body doesn't like going without - I'm having headaches, my body is sluggish, I'm cranky, and I generally feel like crap.

What prompted this insane idea to give up coffee? Well, on the advice of a close friend, I picked up the book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility". Let me just say that cutting out caffeine is one of the less icky things this book would have me do in order to take charge of things. I won't go into all the gory details, but if you want to read up on it, just do a search on Fertility Awareness Method on Google and you'll read more than you probably wanted to know. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Since H and I have Blockbuster online, we've been catching up on the old classics. We have watched some truly good movies, like Casablanca and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Also in our queue have been some odd movies like Clockwork Orange, which disturbed me. Why on earth would a guy wear freakishly long fake eyelashes on one eye and not the other? Some other movies have been complete duds. I couldn't even make it through Funny Face. I'm not sure that some movies translate well over time.

Work has been filled with moments that are either extremely funny or very touching or painfully difficult. There doesn't seem to be much "in between". Kids who are usually not close to me have asked me for hugs. Some of my students are learning to make jokes that are actually funny, which has been very amusing and refreshing to see. But we've also had an influx of kids who are drug and alcohol affected. No matter how many other things I can become accustomed to and hardened to, this is something I can't. When I sit across the table from these kids and work with them, I have a hard time not thinking "this kiddo could be normal if his parents hadn't done drugs/alcohol". Some of them are already having anger issues because of the choices their parents made. I'm not quite sure if the parents don't realize the global issues they are causing their kids to have, or if they are so caught up in their addictions that they don't have the wherewithall to think of anything else. Either way, it makes me sad and angry.

On Saturday, I'll be leaving for Spokane, which I'm really looking forward to. I need a change of scenery, to be away from work, and to just be around my family. When my students asked me what I plan to do, I said "sleep in, spend time with my family, and possibly go sledding". Winter break, here I come!

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Little Perspective

Today, much to the surprise and horror of some of my students, I demonstrated what unexpected behavior looks like, so they can begin to gain some perspective of what it looks like to others. I was inspired to do this after a workshop I went to yesterday, which was amazing, that was taught by an SLP who works with mostly Aspergers and Autistic folks on social reasoning and cognition. Her approach with this population is very direct and her aim is to try to teach them how to take others' perspectives and think outside of their own little bubble. It got me thinking about how many behaviors that I excuse because "oh, they're autistic - it's just the way they are". So, even though it upsets me, I put up with not being greeted when I greet my students, being yawned at as I'm starting to teach a lesson, being told "I'm bored", grabbed at, yelled at, and insulted. Today, though, I tried a different approach, with mixed results. I was working with a group of three 3rd graders, one of whom is autistic - the other two are severely language impaired. The autistic boy explicitly expressed his displeasure with my lesson by yawning loudly several times, slumping in his chair, then allowed his body to slide off his chair and onto the floor. Something inside of me railed, and once I got the student back into his seat, I decided to stop mid-stream and do a lesson from the workshop I went to yesterday. The lesson was unexpected versus expected behaviors. After a brief introduction to the students on what I meant, I proceeded to demonstrate unexpected behaviors that the austistic student does in my room on a regular basis. The sad thing is that the other two students gaped and laughed nervously, but the autistic student had no reaction. This was not what I had planned, but not being one to give up easily, I decided to reproduce his behaviors again, but this time right in his face. Success! He physically backed away from me in horror and crossed both of his index fingers in front of his body. When I asked him why he did that, he told me that he didn't like the things I was doing. "You mean it upset you?", I queried further. "Well, that's how I feel when you do unexpected things". I saw a glimmer of light. I reproduced this lesson in a more structured format for my mixed classroom of 10 4-6 grade students - some with Autism, some with other significant cognitive impairments. Again, like in the first group, my students who are lower cognitively were able to understand and express feelings related to my unexpected behaviors. Frustratingly, my autistic students, for whom this lesson is most applicable, showed very little reaction to my rantings and ravings. However, both groups of students were able to identify what I should have done and what expected behaviors look like in the classroom, but application and carryover are difficult. Clearly, this will be an ongoing process, but I felt some comfort in being able to use some terminology and phrasing to express to my students how they come across to others. I used phrasing like "I'm getting weird thoughts when you do that". What a freeing experience to be able to express to my students in an honest way about how they come across to others and what they need to do about it.

The whole idea of teaching these kids perspective taking comes from the fact that most kids just learn it, but some kids don't. Those of us with neurotypical kids take it for granted that we don't have to teach each little skill discreetly. If our kids don't learn some of the finer social lessons at home, they are in tune and motivated by the feedback they get from teachers and peers. They know that a furrowed brow means displeasure, even if it's not paired with any verbal reprimand. So out of this realization that some kids need to be taught how to take others' perspectives comes this approach of teaching social cognition and recognizing how pervasive the effects are when we do this. This fits right into my belief that it really doesn't matter if a student is doing well academically - if he can't "make it" socially, then he can't make it. I know it's a bit extreme of a statement, but I've seen way too many people who are "book smart", and are successful by most people's standards, but cannot relate to others because of social ineptness. So then, how successful are they? You can only get so far in life without being able to network appropriately. I love the terminology that Michelle Garcia Winner uses, like "social software" and "social algebra", which really really are pretty accurate depictions of what some of us are born with and what others of us have to work so diligently to achieve.