Saturday, July 27, 2013

Don't Let your Child Read this without You (Book Review - "Penumbras" by Braden Bell)

Penumbras is the second in the Middle Grade Magic series by Braden Bell. The previous title, The Kindling, introduced us to three middle school friends, Connor, Lexa, and Melanie, whose beginning magical powers attracted the attention of dark forces placing them in danger. 

The story continues as the classmates prepare for summer vacation. Here's a sample:

          Connor Dell didn't mean to blow up the school bus. 

          Or the bathrooms. 

          In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens. 

          But explosions had a funny way of happening when Connor and his friends were 

          It all started on the annual seventh grade field trip to the Sea Lab at Dauphin Island, 
          Alabama. Fifty-four thirteen-year-olds on a five-day field trip. What could go wrong?

          Especially when three of them happened to be Magi. 

Sounds like a novel that would capture the attention and imagination of a junior high student with plenty of action to keep them enthralled, doesn't it. Why would I recommend that you read this with your youngster? 

  1. Bell's work has many layers. Below the entertaining story line is an undercurrent of complex emotions and relationships, giving adults who have forgotten those difficult years great insight into the tween and early teen years. 
  2. The situations include friendship becoming romance, which open the door for important discussions regarding dating behavior. 
  3. Some of the characters have worries they don't express to others, allowing you a chance to pry some concerns loose from your own kid. 
  4. Reading together is a great bonding activity, and this title can be enjoyed by adolescents and adults.
  5. You don't have to worry about the content, language, or situations.
  6. The danger posed by the Darkhands gives you an opportunity to review important safety precautions with your family.
  7. A discussion of good and bad secrets will occur when you read the major plot twist in this volume. 
  8. Connor's memories of the Shadowbox allow the readers to discover that few people are entirely good or completely evil, a difficult lesson even for adults. 
  9. The emphasis is on communication and relying on trusted adults, which can help reinforce faith in parents. 
  10. It's a really, really fun book to read. 
What are you waiting for? Order an autographed copy from Dr. Bell here! Also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

FTC disclosure: I was given a PDF version in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Increasing Happiness

While a tendency to be mostly happy (or not!) appears to have been 60% determined at birth, there are a number of things you can do to improve your emotional state.

  • Spend time with friends and family. Strong ties will boost your overall mood.
  • Spread your time and talents around. Charity work will make you feel better about your life.
  • Use your money on experiences rather than things. Events make you happy, not possessions.
  • Wait a while--life satisfaction increases as you age. 
  • When you plan to do something, remember that pleasure, engagement and meaning are what improve the moment.
  • Remember that your circumstances don't determine your mood--lottery winners are not happier than the rest of us. 
What do you do to increase your levels of happiness?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Making Teens Better Drivers (and Ourselves!)

Parenting is full of terrifying moments. One of the most petrifying is the first time your child takes the family vehicle out alone. Here are a few tips to improve their driving skills, including some you can start when they are very young:

  • Practice meditation as a family. The ability to perform mindfulness meditation improves your multitasking skills, which are required for safe driving. 
  • Have them place their cellphone in the trunk before leaving. Even hands-free phone calls create a risk of inattention at the same level as handheld use. If it's in the glove box, the device is still accessible, but to get into the trunk, the car will have to stop. 
  • Give them lots of chances to drive with you in the car. Yes, this is hard on both parental blood pressure and bumper, but the more they practice, the better the brain training and automatic reactions. 
  • Get everyone together to do some yoga. These kinds of activities help visual perception, which makes it easier to look for environmental cues that help with accident avoidance. 
  • Tell them others are terrible drivers. Studies have shown that 10% of drivers on the road at any time are seriously distracted. Scary, right? Have them assume that those approaching don't see you, won't stop at the light, or will make another mistake. I drop way back when I see a car swerving or moving erratically. This gives them extra opportunities to avoid the upcoming crash. 
By the way, the above tips can also improve the driving of adults. 

What are your best tips for teen drivers?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Consider the Source!

When I prepare to do an evaluation on a student, I gather lots of information. I look at records, visit with teachers, and interview parents. I also make observations and may collect data from doctors.

Then I look at everything I've collected, and consider the source.

Medical diagnoses don't mean anything unless I have information from the doctor. Opinions from your relatives and friends carry no weight with me.

When the teachers report the student is sleeping in class, the student appears drowsy during observations, and the child states she never naps at school, what do you think I put in my evaluation?

Parents need to exercise the same cautions. Everyone has an opinion, and they will feel free to share them with you. There seems to be an epidemic of well-meaning acquaintances making diagnoses based on media information.

What can you do?

  • Tell them you appreciate their concern, but you prefer to consult with your pediatrician. If you still have concerns, contact the local school district for a free evaluation. 
  • Don't listen to any "treatments" they may recommend if they aren't certified experts in the field. At best, you waste time and money; at worst, you may physically harm or even endanger the life of your child. 
  • If they persist, tell them the subject is closed. 
  • Above all, seek advice from an expert. Even the parent of a child with special needs only knows their youngster, and isn't qualified to legally tell you what to do. 
  • Remember that celebrities aren't medical or educational experts. Their opinions aren't worth much. 
  • Send me an email at if you still need help.
How do you respond to those who try to diagnose you or your child?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - The Importance of Attitude

We make many decisions every day that impact our health. What we wear, our hygiene routines, what we eat, our type and intensity of exercise are all choices with obvious consequences. There is another determination we make on a regular basis that has a long-lasting effect on our health.

It's our attitude.

Many of the alternatives we choose regarding our health are changed by our attitude. We can select healthy foods, or a poor attitude can allow us to eat impulsively based on taste. Whether or not we take time to exercise, make doctor's appointments, or put our health first is based on our attitudes.

A recent Johns Hopkins study determined that having a positive outlook can actually reduce your chances of a heart attack. This lessening of heart risk was independent of diet, race, or other factors.

A cheerful attitude may be a gift from birth, but we can take steps to improve our mood and outlook:

  • Appreciate what you have. If you enjoy a roof over your head, clean water, and sufficient food, you are better off than most of the world's population. 
  • Take care of your physical needs. If you are poorly nourished, sick, or tired, your mood will be low. 
  • Forge a connection with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Your connection with the eternal will give you a view larger than yourself. 
  • Pray often for guidance about decisions you need to make. 
  • When you are discouraged, stop and make a conscious choice to look for the good in your life and to identify things for which you are grateful.
How do you turn your attitude around?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Gut Feelings about Autism

The bacteria that live in our digestive system are responsible for many aspects of our health. This current hot topic includes our digestion, weight, immune responses, and brain activity.

These little critters can range from benign to helpful to very dangerous. A recent analysis of the flora found in the tracts of children with autism at Arizona State University revealed those youngsters had gut bacteria that were less diverse than those found in their peers.

Three important bacteria, Prevotella, Coprococcus, and Veillonellaceae, were in significantly short supply.

There was also a correlation between lack of diversity and autistic symptoms.

What's the significance of this finding?

Analysis of gut bacteria may be the future of diagnostic testing rather than the more subjective behavioral assessments of today.

These researchers also believe this may be the source of GI problems that can last into adulthood. Treatment of gut problems in these children has also demonstrated a significant improvement in behavior and functionality.

Causes under consideration include genetics, a typical Western diet.

How do you treat stomach problems in your child with autism? Do you use probiotics?