Monday, April 30, 2012

At Season's End by Eric Hendershot

"At Season's End" by Eric Hendershot is a sweet story set during the depression. It follows the life of Sally as she travels across the country with her mother, father, and younger brother, Tim.

The live of itinerant farm workers is a continual struggle. Forced off their farm. little family relies on faith, hard work, and the kindness of strangers to survive. They are not above inventing a history to improve their lot, but overall live by a strong moral code. At one point, they try to settle down to a more typical lifestyle. After going back on the road, a double tragedy hits the family and the siblings must find a way to survive.

I was fascinated to learn why some people choose to continue live in this way. They form strong friendships and a supportive community that bands together in challenging times. These people are free with their money and property to the point of sacrificing necessities. I was impressed by their charity and love.

You will enjoy this book through both laughter and tears and look forward to a sequel.

Purchase your copy at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,

Learn more about the author at

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Early Signs of Autism - Four Months Old

Parents often ask me if their child has autism. They are concerned because we've been bombarded with alarming numbers regarding the exponential rise in diagnoses.

Wondering what to look for? Remember that children on the autism spectrum demonstrate problems with communication, relationships, and behaviors. Many children will show one symptom, but not all three.

The Help Group, a consortium of professionals in Southern California, has created a list of typical behavior you should expect at different ages. I'll be tackling them in each of four blog posts.

By four months old, your baby should be showing some signs of socialization. This includes making eye contact, demonstrating a preference for people over objects, and participating in social activities.

Typical babies seek out eyes and gaze into them. If your child does not engage in eye contact when being held or during play, you have reason for concern.

Infants who will later be diagnosed on the autism spectrum tend to prefer looking at objects rather than people. They will spend long periods of time staring at things and appear to be looking past or through people rather than at them. When a preferred toy is held up next to a person's face, the child with autism will look at the object rather than the family member. You should also be concerned if your little one does not respond to social sounds such as talking, singing, humming, or clapping.

Most babies will engage in social responses. If someone smiles at them, they will smile back. They will also participate in "conversations" during which they take turns making noises or imitating adults or older children. The absence of this behavior is also worrisome.

Need more information? You can find The Help Group at

If you have concerns about  any of the behaviors mentioned above, this does not mean your baby has autism. You should voice your worries to your pediatrician and request help with further evaluation.

Next week: Signs of autism in one-year-old toddlers.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Children Aren't Pets!

Educators report they are encountering more and more children who have not been taught to be responsible for their actions. Consider the following:

A young adult gets her first "B" ever in college. She calls her mother during class and passes the cell phone to the professor, demanding that he stop instruction and "explain the grade". He shuts the phone and continues with the lecture.

Why did this student feel she could stop the class and challenge the instructor? This is a pattern her parents set during her years in public school. When students don't get excellent grades, or get into trouble for violating rules, parents intervene.

Don't get me wrong. Families need to be involved in education. The problem arises when the point is to remove consequences. Life is full of consequences, and if the child doesn't have to face the results of his or her actions, the first true repercussion will probably involve law enforcement.

I've personally heard parents defend plagiarism (the father admitted he copied the reports of others for his job and didn't understand why it was a problem), stealing (the student didn't "mean" to take it), and assault (he hit the teacher because he likes her).

What if your child has a disability? All children with special needs can be held accountable for their actions to the limits of their understanding. Remember that when a police officer pulls over your child for speeding, he's not going to say, "You have ADHD? No problem. Go ahead and speed all you want!"

The big problem here is that when you don't hold your child accountable for her actions, you are treating her more like a pet than a person. Animals may have immediate consequences for making a mess on the carpet, but don't usually have to clean up after themselves. People do.

The next time you're tempted to remove a natural consequence from your child, remember the following:

  • It's disrespectful to treat children like they are incapable of responsibility.
  • The short-term consequence for a one-time misbehavior is generally easier to take than the results of a lifetime pattern of lying, stealing, etc.
  • Life will not remove accountability.
  • Parenting is hard--but you can do it.
  • Your kids will thank you for teaching them. Mine have:)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The STAAR Test or Zombie Apocalypse?

In a conversation with a parent a few weeks ago, we decided that taking the STAAR test, the new statewide assessment for the state of Texas, was like facing a zombie apocalypse.

The more I think about it, the more I believe it's true.

No, I don't believe in zombies.

I don't even know much about them.

So, I defer to the experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They have posted instructions on how to survive a zombie apocalypse--a tongue-in-cheek look at emergency preparedness.

Yes, I know this was supposed to be information masked with humor. Remember the tongue-in-cheek comment? But this analogy is too good to pass up. So, here goes:

The CDC says zombies will most likely be created by Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome caused by some type of infection or the effects of radiation. Nearly everyone could be infected or exposed to radiation. Nearly every public school child from third through ninth grade will be "exposed" to the STAAR test.

Zombies would then be expected to proliferate, taking over entire countries. Benchmarks and instructional methods that "teach to the test" have taken over many districts because educators feel they have no other choice.

Zombies are a source of fear. Parents and children are scared to death that high school graduation won't happen because of the new test. But we're not talking about high school students here--tenth and eleventh graders will take the TAKS test. Families of elementary and junior high students are worried about events that won't take place for years. The anxiety has spread to teachers and administrators, who are concerned about their jobs.

It is well known that zombies eat brains. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has placed so much emphasis on testing, rather than class participation, work product, or true college preparation, that it appears the zombies have already been to Austin. And they're well-fed.

If you're escaping from a zombie, you don't necessarily have to outrun it. You just have to outrun your friends. The zombie will stop to eat your companions, and you will have enough of a lead to get away. That's how this test will be scored. After the scores are in, TEA will determine that the bottom portion will fail. And we won't know the results until January.

I don't know about you, but when we're using bad data from an unstandardized test to make decisions that impact the lives of thousands of Texas schoolchildren, the zombie apocalypse isn't looking so bad.