Single Parent Pros and Cons

Single parent households are now so common that more than a quarter of all U.S. children under the age of 21 are being raised by a single parent. Only one in six of these single parents are dads. But the very vast majority of single parents, be they moms or dads, work to put a roof over the heads of their children (and food in their mouths).

It’s a hard road to haul and it’s not always by choice. Some single parents are widowed. Others may have never found that special someone, but were lucky enough to have children. In short, every single parent has a story to tell and it’s bound to be an interesting story at that.

If you’re a single parent, or a parent contemplating the end of a marriage gone wrong, you likely worry about the effects of the single parent home on a child. By having only one parent, are you cheating your child of the stability of a two-parent home? Will your child suffer from having a mom with no dad or a dad with no mom? Or perhaps only part time influence from the other parent?

On bad days, the guilt can be crushing.

Single Parent Freedom

But on good days, perhaps you think how awesome it is to be free to make all the parenting decisions, to have no one undermining your authority, no one confusing your child with conflicting demands. By the same token, of course, when you’re absolutely exhausted from being up with a sick child all night and you still have to go to work in the morning, you may be green with envy of two-parent homes, where someone is available to pinch hit when the going gets rough. You may dream of someone who shares the burdens of cooking and housework and running errands. Someone who picks up the dry-cleaning or goes to that PTA meeting when you just can’t make it.

Melanie Oates can tell you all about both sides of the equation. A single mother to a set of special needs 6-year-old twins—one has autism, the other a rare genetic disorder called Chromosome 7 Terminal Deletion—Oates blogs about her experiences as TwinMomMel. The pros and cons of single parenthood are something Melanie has often contemplated.

Single parent Melanie Oates with her special needs twins Julius and Genell
Single parent Melanie Oates with her special needs twins Julius and Genell

On the pro side, Melanie says, “You don’t have to worry about daily input from the other parent nagging about how you changed a diaper or what you cooked the kids for dinner. You don’t need to worry about your child favoring one parent over the other. That doesn’t exist because you are the main (or only) parent! Also: you get to create all the rules.”

Single parent Melanie Oates with Genell and Julius

But being able to see the positive doesn’t mean that Melanie doesn’t see the downside of single parenthood. Her cons outweigh her pros. “You get burned out quicker because there is no time for you to take off your ‘parent hat’ while the other parent takes over. If you have more than one child, it can be difficult to give each child their own independence because you don’t have another parent to help take one child to soccer practice, while you take the other to dance practice.

The Single Parent: Dating? What’s That?

“Also, as a single parent, if your child is sick, there goes another sick day taken from work since there is no other parent to fall back on. Not to mention: dating (what’s that?), especially if you have special needs children like myself. Good luck with finding a childcare provider that can help while you try to explore the dating world. Even worse, try meeting a ‘Mr. Right’ who actually understands the circumstances at home!” says Oates.

Single parent Melanie Oates with Julius and Genell

For Becky Lockridge, the issue for her two sons was the absence in their lives of a positive male figure. A single mother to two sons, ages 11 and 23, Becky has always been on her own. The lack of a strong male in her sons’ lives is something Lockridge feels keenly. “I tried to fill the void with coaches, godfathers, and big brother types. In the end I do wish my sons had had their fathers actively involved.”

Kate Campion, who blogs at My Sweet Home Life, has experienced it all: shared custody, full custody, and with remarriage, step-parenthood, as well. Like Melanie, Kate loved that there was no one to compete with her parenting style and no one to undermine her parental authority. But Campion suggests some other perks we might not have suspected. “You get the ‘firsts.’ When your child gets home from school, they often tell their news to the first parent they see. By the time their second parent gets home, that report is condensed to ‘I had a good day,’” says Campion. “You are the one with whom they share all the details of their life as it unfolds. It makes your relationships closer.”

Campion also suggests that single parenthood can bring extended family members closer, since a single parent may be forced to rely on extended family for help. On the other hand, says Campion, “You will never be a family unit the way you once were. If you remarry, you will need to navigate the murky waters of step-parenting. When you have a child, you build up a bank of love over the years that you can withdraw from in challenging times. You don’t have that luxury with a stepchild and your new partner will not have that with your children.

The Single Parent: No One to Share the Delight

“Also, as a single parent, there is no one who will share with you the delight of their achievements. When your child performs in a school play, or has a killer time on the sports field, you won’t be able to share in those moments with their dad at the end of the day,” says Kate.

“Finally, you have half the time, half the money, half the energy. Even small things, like when your child is sick, or you have a late meeting at work, are so much harder to manage when you are on your own.”

A single mother of one child, Monique Battiste adds that as a single parent, “There’s not much time to yourself, no dating life (unless you have or can find a sitter), and you feel stretched thin both financially and mentally.  But the hardest part for me, perhaps, is having to answer the question of why the other parent isn’t in my child’s life, why that parent is simply unavailable.”

Single Parent Monique Battiste with her daughter Jianna
Single parent Monique Battiste with her daughter Jianna

Single Parent Blind Spots

Dr. Edward V. Haas, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Transformative Parenting: The Empathic, Empowering Approach to Optimal Parenting and Personal Growth, points out that for the single parent, there’s, “No one to catch you when you are becoming irrational/unreasonable: Sometimes we are irrational. We may have an unrealistic expectation of our child which is leading to frustration and anger. Having another adult with a second opinion can help us see these ‘blind spots’ which interfere with our understanding, communication and bonding with our child.”

Haas also speaks of the dilemma of the single parent in balancing work and home. “Even many couples have difficulty meeting their financial obligations and caring for their children at the same time. Being a single parent can create a severe conflict between being present to care for the emotional needs and wants of their children and working to provide for their needs for food and housing.”

While most single parents see it as a plus that their parenting styles hold sway with no one to undermine their authority, Haas sees this a different way. “A single parent can only teach their way of doing things. People have different strengths and perspectives, children who have two parents can learn different ways of resolving issues and seeing things.”

On the other hand, says Haas, “Single parents can teach their children their way of seeing the world and doing things without the stress of conflict with another parent who may want to teach their child differently. Parents who are inclined to provide more freedom of action to their child do not have to feel conflicted with the other parent who may be more comfortable restricting their child in certain ways, and vice-versa.”

Single Parent Attitude

There is no doubt that the life of the single parent has its hardships and much like any other parenting experience, its triumphs, too. Can single parenthood be better in some cases than the traditional two-parent home? It seems that in many cases, it may be, especially when there’s strife in the marital relationship. But what seems to matter most of all, is attitude. A single parent who makes the effort to see all that is good, while not turning a blind eye to the issues, is a strong single parent: one who is bound to raise a strong, independent and healthy child, no matter the obstacles that develop along the way.

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Antagonistic Teachers Lower Scores, Hurt Academic Futures

Antagonistic teachers, or teachers who seem hostile much of the time, are a fact of life. We reassure school children suffering the misery of an unpleasant teacher who belittles them. We tell them that not every teacher they have will be amazing, that muddling through the year is just something they have to do. But a new study suggests that having antagonistic teachers not only lowers students’ grades, but affects their ability to learn in future.

Which suggests that the tack we’ve taken all along, as parents, has been wrong. Why would we tell our kids to put up and shut up with unpleasant teachers knowing this will not only affect their grade point average but sour them on learning, going forward? The simple answer is: we wouldn’t. We’d try like heck to get our children transferred to a different class, in order to avoid that awful, no good teacher.

The study, by researchers from West Virginia University, Morgantown, and California State University, Long Beach, and funded by the Taylor & Francis Group, defines the antagonistic teacher as one who belittles students, shows favoritism, or criticizes a student’s efforts. And while the participants of this randomized trial were college students, it seems likely the results could be even more profound among, for instance, adolescents whose brains are still maturing and whose behavior is more volatile as a result.

In this particular study, experts in communication set up a teaching experiment in which around 500 college undergrads watched one of two versions of a videotaped lecture. Half the students watched a version of the lecture in which the teacher antagonized students. The other half watched a standard lesson, without antagonism. The students then answered questions on how they felt about the lesson, and went on to take a multiple-choice quiz on the lesson content.

Lesson With Or Without Antagonistic Teacher

In order to make the student subjects feel like they were in a real classroom, the authors filmed the lecture to show four undergrad students, two guys in the front row, two young women in the second row. The study participants viewed the lectures as if they were students sitting in the third row, behind the students shown in the first two rows in the video. What happened next was very simple, very clear cut: the students who watched the video of the lesson served with a side order of antagonism, performed worse on the test than the students who watched the standard lesson, without an antagonistic teacher.

Just what kind of antagonism did the students face? Some examples:

Antagonistic teacher: “You should already know the answer to that question if you were paying attention to last class.”

Normal teacher: “We went over that last class, so it should be in your notes, but I can go over that with you later if you’d like.”

Teacher modeling positive behavior
Teacher models positive behavior

Antagonistic teacher: “Yup. Well, it looks like some people can keep up and pay attention.” [Looks at student # 1.] “Brian, you could try and be more like Brenda here.” [Brenda is student #3].

Normal teacher: “Yup. Thanks for keeping up and paying attention.”

In the video with the antagonistic teacher, the instructor belittled the students in the first two rows, criticizing their answers and showing favoritism toward one of the students while criticizing the others. It sounds quite bad enough, but the truth is, the antagonistic teacher never raised his voice. The study participants generally rated the instructor as more than “sometimes antagonistic,” but less than “often antagonistic.

And still, the results were significant. Even stunning.

Boy happy to be holding a stack of books
Students do well when they enjoy their lessons

The students who watched the class with the antagonistic teacher scored as much as 5 percent lower than those who watched the standard lesson. The implication seems obvious: students don’t do as well when they don’t enjoy their lessons.

And it would be a rare student indeed who would enjoy being belittled, criticized, or shunted aside in favor of other students. That kind of teacher behavior is arguably abuse. At a certain point, you’d tune out the lesson in order to tune out the abuse. You’d miss stuff.

Anyone would.

Antagonistic Teacher: Long-Lasting Effects

The thing is, this wasn’t just about a student’s score on a single test after one lesson that showed the effects of the antagonistic teacher. The effects were much longer-lasting than that. The students made less of an effort with their learning: after all, if you can’t please the teacher, what’s the point of working hard and doing well? The students with the hostile teacher, moreover, said they would never take part in a future course taught by that teacher, going forward.

Can you blame them?

Study author Dr. Alan Goodboy feels that the long-term consequences of having an antagonistic teacher are the real takeaway from this study. “Even slight antagonism, coupled with otherwise effective teaching, can demotivate students from being engaged and hinder their learning opportunities. So even one bad day of teaching can ruin a student’s perception of the teacher and create an unnecessary roadblock to learning for the rest of the term.”

In Dr. Goodboy’s opinion, teachers must therefore take particular care not to allow themselves to engage in this sort of negative and hostile behavior in the classroom. “Antagonism can come into classrooms unexpectedly and suddenly, even without the knowledge of the teachers themselves,” said Goodboy.

Antagonistic Teachers: Unaware of Their Own Behavior

Asked how an antagonistic teacher could be unaware of his own unpleasant behavior, Goodboy said, “We know that many instructors are unaware when they are misbehaving by antagonizing their students. We know this because they self-report at very low levels of misbehavior (or they don’t want to admit that they do it).”

Goodboy admits there is another kind of teacher who is very much aware of his or her own ill behavior in the classroom. For them it’s a choice. “There are plenty of instructors who are quite aware of their misbehavior and choose to belittle and put down their students in class. These instructors make the volitional decision to antagonize their students,” says Goodboy.

The results of this study, however, are without regard to the teacher’s intention. It’s all about the students’ perspective in relation to nasty teacher behavior, whether purposeful or otherwise. In general, explains Goodboy, the antagonism occurs at “very low levels, but when it does occur, it negatively impacts a learning environment as students do not enjoy learning the content and subsequently score worse on a quiz of that material.”

Dr. Goodboy believes that most teachers don’t engage in this sort of behavior, don’t antagonize their students. But where they do, learning is compromised. The researcher offers a suggestion that teachers be trained in self-awareness: to know when they are beginning to act in an antagonistic manner in the classroom. It’s critical for teachers to recognize and put a stop to this negative behavior that we now know can both damage a student’s grades and his or her attitude to learning in future.

Staying Positive No Matter What

Goodboy also suggests that teachers work at developing positive methods of interacting with students, maintaining an even behavioral keel, even when disagreements arise between student and teacher.

Will the researchers continue to pursue this topic further? Absolutely. The subject is too important to stop here. “These studies focus on instructor misbehaviors in a college context. We do not know that teacher misbehaviors in middle school or high school are similar to those with college aged adults. We believe that college instructors engage in hostility more than K-12 teachers, but without the data this is just speculation,” says Goodboy.

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Taylor & Francis Group. “Hostile teachers can lose students 5 percent on test scores.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180510203744.htm

Social Communication Disorder: Knowing Words and Gestures, But Not How to Use Them

Social communication disorder (SCD): it’s what we call it when children struggle with subtle nuances of communication. Children with social communication disorder may not be clear about when to respond during conversation, and when it might be better to keep quiet and listen. A child with SCD may not have a good sense of private space: how close or far to stand next to a conversation partner. SCD may also be called pragmatic language impairment or semantic pragmatic disorder. SCD is a relative newcomer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), so some specialists may not even know it as a separate disorder distinct from autism.

Social communication disorder affects a child in three different areas: social interactions, social understanding, and pragmatics. Pragmatics means using language in its proper context. A child with SCD may not understand, for instance, that we use different language and tone when speaking to a baby than when we speak to a teacher or an elderly grandparent. A child with social communication disorder might approach a grandparent and say, “Hello, Cutie-Pie. Does oo want a bottle?”

Child whispers in the ear of shocked seated elderly woman

All children want to make friends and fit in with their peers. Some children find it easy to make friends while others find it difficult. It can take time and practice to learn how to make social conversation and get along with others. If making friends with others is an ongoing challenge, however, it may be a sign of social communication disorder. The symptoms of SCD tend to appear in early childhood, for instance in preschool.

Social Communication Disorder: Symptoms

Symptoms of SCD include:

  • Issues with verbal and nonverbal communication during social interactions
  • Difficulties in adapting to the communication style of a conversation partner
  • Problems in understanding and relating to the context of a partner’s conversation
  • Difficulty in understanding things that are implied rather than explicitly stated
  • Difficulty relating stories
  • An inability to master basic social rules
  • Severe anxiety that causes the child to avoid social situations

Social Communication Disorder: Genetic Factor?

Researchers are still learning about social communication disorder, so don’t as yet have firm answers about what causes the disorder. Some studies suggest that children with social communication disorder tend to have family members with autism spectrum disorder, known communication disorders, or learning disabilities. This would suggest there may be a genetic factor in developing SCD.

Children with social communication disorder can have other disorders at the same time. They may, for example, have other speech disorders or ADHD.

Social Communication Disorder: Diagnosis

A diagnosis of social communications disorder is diagnosed by observing a child’s difficulties in learning verbal and nonverbal communication skills. During an evaluation, a speech and language professional will see if your child can:

  • Answer questions
  • Use gestures such as waving and pointing in appropriate ways
  • Take turns during play and conversations
  • Appropriately express and describe emotions
  • Stay on topic
  • Adapt language and tone to the situation or conversation partner
  • Ask appropriate questions and respond with relevant answers during conversation
  • Use different words and terms for the same thing, for instance hi, hello, hiya, hey.
  • Make friends and keep them

Until recently, many believed that social communication disorder was a facet of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Ruling out autism is, in fact, part of the process of diagnosing social communication disorder. This is because there is some overlap of symptoms between the two disorders.

Social communication disorder, however, lacks the restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs), interests, and activities of autism. RRBs are different from the repetition you might hear from a child with social communication disorder. Ask a child with SCD if he hung up his hat, and the child may give you a blank look and repeat, “Hat.”

This is because the child doesn’t understand that a question has been asked. The child only understand that s/he is meant to say something, but doesn’t understand what that something might be-only that it’s something about a hat.

Children with autism, on the other hand, may feel a need to eat the same foods each day; to line up their crayons in a specific order; play the same game with the same toy car daily; or engage in the same type of conversation on a specific topic. In social communication disorder, these behaviors are absent.

In the same way that SCD seems similar to autism, it is also sometimes confused with ADHD. Confusing the picture further, children with SCD may also have ADHD. But ADHD comes with attention problems. SCD does not.

If you ask the child with a social communication disorder which he prefers: chocolate or peanut butter, he might say peanut butter, even if he really prefers chocolate. He does so because he is focused on the end. He didn’t process the rest of what you said. But it’s not that the child lost focus as with ADHD. It’s that the child with SCD may think that only the end of a sentence is important.

Chocolate being dipped into peanut butter

Social communication disorder may be suspected when a child has no trouble with words, speech, or gestures but struggles to use and apply them in social situations. If you tell the child to wave, he will do so. But he may not understand that waving is connected to and indicated when greeting and parting from others.

Children with SCD may also be slow to reach language milestones or show little interest in socializing with others. SCD can make it difficult for a child to understand stories and conversations, and to bend to various social situations. These issues are very different from the general issues that come with, for instance, intellectual disabilities. Social communication disorder affects understanding of every type of communication: verbal, nonverbal, spoken, written, gestures, and sign language, too.

Social Communication Disorder: Treatment

While there is no cure for social communication disorder, there are treatments. Speech and language pathologists are trained to recognize and design treatment for communication problems like SCD. Teachers and speech-language pathologists often work together to help children better their communication skills. For those who find speech difficult, there are alternative means of communication. This can mean something as simple as holding up a picture, or as technologically complicated as using a smartphone to type out a sentence.

Preschooler with smartphone

Therapy for children with social communication disorder may be given in the child’s school setting, or at a local clinic. Schools employ speech-language pathologists who can offer therapy and coordinate these efforts with the child’s teacher. Some clinics offer therapy to children with SCD as part of early intervention programs or special education initiatives. Hospitals and medical centers may also have therapists on hand to help you find and implement a strategy that works for your child. The idea is to figure out a treatment plan that gives such children a plan: a reliable method to get them through challenges and difficult social situations.

Therapy for social communication disorder is a must, as SCD doesn’t improve without professional assistance.

A therapeutic plan for a child with SCD may include:

  • Social skills training that helps children acquire the skills to interact with others in social settings
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to minimize anxiety and deal with strong emotions
  • Medication for coexisting conditions that may worsen the child’s social communication disorder, for instance ADHD.
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Support and training for parents

SCD Action Plan

If you suspect your child is having difficulty with social skills, you’ll want to get to the bottom of things. Here are three simple steps for getting started:

  1. Watch your child and note his or her behavior. Write your observations in a notebook.
  2. Share your observations with your child’s teacher and compare notes. The teacher can help by making sure that classroom instructions are clear and by pairing your child with children who share similar interests.
  3. Ask the teacher about having your child undergo an educational evaluation. If the school agrees this is indicated, the evaluation will be free. The results of the evaluation may mean your child receives supports and services, all absolutely free.

SCD: Specialists and What They Can Do

Social communication disorder can only be diagnosed by a speech therapist. But it’s possible other specialists can rule out SCD. It helps to know what the various specialists can and cannot do for your child. It’s important to note that if you go the private route, using private specialists, you’ll have to pay for any tests administered. Here’s the breakdown of the specialists you might visit for a child who may have SCD, keeping in mind that only you know your financial and community resources and what you are able to afford:

Pediatrician: A pediatrician can help rule out medical issues as cause for your child’s behavior and advise you on your next step. Some pediatricians are also able to test for ADHD. A pediatrician can sometimes offer a referral for further testing or therapy with a speech therapist.

Learning specialist: A learning specialist can test for learning and attention issues. These are the same tests your child would receive in an evaluation provided by the school. The difference is that you would have to pay. In the case where the school decides not to test and you still feel there is a problem, you might want to go this route and hire a learning specialist to administer tests. If you don’t feel that what the school offers is adequate, and you can afford to go private, a learning specialist may be a good option.

Psychologist: A psychologist is trained in both learning disabilities and attention issues and can rule out or diagnose a variety of learning and attention difficulties. The psychologist can also check for nonverbal learning disorder and for ADHD. While the learning specialist’s focus is specific to learning disabilities, a psychologist has a broader framework. Your child may not need that broader framework.

Speech therapist: The speech therapist is the specialist who is most qualified to diagnose social communication disorder. This is also the professional best equipped to prepare a treatment plan for your child with SCD.

SCD: What You Can Do At Home

Parents can do a lot to help children develop their social skills, feel better about themselves, and can also offer the support children need to keep trying. Here are some practical ways you can help your child:

Read and learn all you can: Read articles online, take books out of your local library, or buy books on children and social communication issues. Knowledge is power. So is understanding your child’s plight.

Watch for and note patterns: Keep a notebook handy and jot down your observations. Does your child always have difficulties in the same social situations? Do you see a pattern in your child’s behavior? What you observe can help the professionals help your child.

Practice social situations at home: Role-playing can go a long way toward training your child in appropriate behavior at parties, playdates, or just plain holiday gatherings with the family. Take turns starting and ending conversations, or greeting friends, neighbors, and relatives. Home is a safe place to try these behaviors out. It’s also fun to play-act, a great way for parent and child to bond!

Play matchmaker between your child and other possible friends: Your child has the best chance of effective communication with kids who share his or her interests. Does your child enjoy dance, art, or sports? Enroll your child in an afterschool class in whatever it is your child likes to do. There your child will be sure to meet other children who like the same things. It’s a good basis for friendship.

Try social skills building classes: Some schools offer free classes in social skills. You might be able to find a private class offered by those with training in learning difficulties who also run programs for children with social challenges.

Experiment with strategies: Don’t be afraid to try out new ways of helping your child. Seek out role-playing and other games on Pinterest, websites, and blogs.

Talk to other parents: Though every child with SCD will have unique challenges, it can help just to speak with other parents going through similar difficulties with their children. It’s comforting to network and share strategies. It’s great to have a support system and get advice on specialists or new strategies to try.

While social communication skills don’t ever go away for good, children with SCD can learn strategies to help them socialize and get along with others. As your child improves his social skills, this will give him the impetus to keep on aiming for better. And as long as your child is encouraged to keep on keeping on, things can only look up!

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Hans Asperger Selected Children with Asperger’s Syndrome for Euthanasia

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), like most syndromes or diseases, is named for the person believed to have first identified it as a distinct condition. But these days, the association is making people a little uneasy. That’s because it’s just been revealed that Hans Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who discovered Asperger’s Syndrome in 1944, cooperated with the Nazis in its eugenics program. Hans Asperger, in other words, was sending children with AS to die, believing these children inferior beings to be stamped out, eradicated, murdered.

Does this render Hans Asperger’s work on AS irrelevant? Of course not. What it does do is take away our awe and wonderment, our respect of the man Hans Asperger was. No longer is he the haloed entity who helped us finally understand Asperger’s Syndrome, the one who gave the syndrome a name. The one who figured things out so we could get on with the act of educating and parenting children with AS; so that we could get on with mainstreaming those with AS into society.

Now Hans Asperger is as good as a murderer of the very children whose syndrome he identified.

Hitler's letter granting permission to engage in euthanasia of “incurably sick patients.”
Hitler’s letter granting permission for the euthanasia of “incurably sick patients.”

Asperger noted what he called “autistic psychopathy” in four little boys, and wrote about it for the first time in 1944. It wasn’t, however, called “Asperger’s Syndrome” until it was referred to as such in 1981, in a paper published by British researcher Lorna Wing. While Wing was the first to call AS after the man believed to have first noted it as a distinct syndrome, Asperger himself was a prolific writer who published more than 300 research papers and books. The majority of Hans Asperger’s publications are on the subject of autism in children.

It has been said that Asperger may well have had AS, which may be why he so ably noted it in others as a specific set of behaviors, separate from other types of autism. Asperger had difficulty making friends. He was an introvert who spoke of himself in the third person and often quoted his own words. Suspicions that Asperger, a high achiever by any standards, had Asperger’s, makes it even more difficult to understand why he favored sending children with AS to their deaths.

The story that only now sends shockwaves through the general public and in particular, parents of children with AS, is that Asperger “not only collaborated with the Nazis but actively contributed to the Nazi eugenics program by referring profoundly disabled children to the Am Spiegelgrund clinic . . . in Vienna. This was a clinic that he knew participated in the Third Reich’s child euthanasia program, where children were killed as part of the Nazi goal of eugenically engineering a genetically ‘pure’ society through ‘racial hygiene’ and the elimination of lives deemed a ‘burden’ and ‘not worthy of life.’ [1]

Propaganda poster extolling Hitler's eugenics program
Propaganda for Nazi Germany’s T-4 Euthanasia Program: “This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too.” from the Office of Racial Policy’s Neues Volk.

These revelations came to light through meticulous research by Herwig Czech, a medical historian at the Medical University of Vienna. Can we find a way to be understanding about this information, to look kindly upon these new disclosures? Was Asperger, for instance, cooperating with the Nazis to save his own skin?

Not according to the editors who published Czech’s paper. “We are persuaded by Herwig Czech’s important article that Asperger was not just doing his best to survive in intolerable conditions but was also complicit with his Nazi superiors in targeting society’s most vulnerable people.”

Ouch. To say the least.

Czech isn’t the only researcher to have looked at Asperger’s role in the Nazi Hans Asperger with small childeugenics program. A recent book by Edith Sheffer, Asperger’s Children: The origins of autism in Nazi Vienna, makes the compelling case that Asperger was referring children both directly and indirectly to Am Spiegelgrund, where they would be murdered by starvation or lethal injections.

The cause of death was always recorded as “pneumonia.”

Molecular Autism, the medical journal that published Czech’s work, should be commended for its forthright insistence on telling us the truth about the man who changed everything for those with the subset of autism we know as Asperger’s Syndrome. It is important that we have an honest accounting of medical history in regard to AS; a true accounting of medicine gone wrong. It is also historically necessary to document the twisted path taken by psychiatry and medicine as they were practiced during the Holocaust: that men sworn to the good of mankind by way of the Hippocratic Oath, murdered children on the autism spectrum and any others they deemed undesirable or somehow defective.

One more important fact comes out of this work: that Asperger’s syndrome was discovered before Hans Asperger ever wrote about it. The term “autistic psychopathy” may have originated with Hans Asperger. But Georg Frankl and Anni Weiss had already published on the topic.  Because the two researchers were Jews, however, they were expelled from Austria, leaving for the U.S. (where they soon married). It is Frankl and Weiss who deserve the credit for discovering Asperger’s Syndrome, rather than the man who abetted the murder of those who manifest its symptoms.

Asperger has his apologists. People who say he wasn’t as bad as some of his colleagues. Is one Nazi worse than another? Did he have to administer the lethal injection in order to be called a murderer of children unable to fend for themselves?

And what are the implications of this story for the study of medical ethics? For the self-esteem of those with AS, struggling to be part of society?

Reinventing Hans Asperger, Nazi

In truth, Hans Asperger is no different than any other Nazi reinvented in the imagination, the most famous example being Wernher Von Braun. Von Braun, a Nazi, went on to father the American space program. Hans Asperger, a Nazi, fostered our understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome, even as he failed to understand that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have value and deserve to live and breathe. From now on, Hans Asperger will no longer be thought of as the father of all children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Our awe for the man will be gone, replaced by horror.

The legacy of Hans Asperger, it seems, is not one of honor or respect, but a legacy of evil it is impossible to fathom.

A legacy that is forever changed.

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[1] Simon Baron-Cohen, Ami Klin, Steve Silberman, and Joseph D. Buxbaum, Did Hans Asperger actively assist the Nazi euthanasia program?, (Molecular Autism, 2018), https://molecularautism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13229-018-0209-5

 

Recipes Kids Can Make and Eat

Recipes easy enough for kids to prepare are a wonderful thing find for any parent looking for a stress-free way for children to have productive fun. The following recipes are not only easy and delicious for children and adults alike, but provide quality time for parents and children in the hours after school. You’ll not only have fun together preparing these sweet treats, but enjoy eating them together.

Recipes and Clean-Up

After preparing any of these three recipes, use clean-up time to teach children not only how to clean, but that clean-up comes with every project, be it preparing recipes, doing arts and crafts, or simply playing with toys. Clean-up should be fun, of course! Sing silly songs as you work. Put a drop of soap and warm water in the blender after making the berry smoothie and watch it foam up at the flip of a switch!

Fruit skewers next to dish of yogurt dip

Tutti Frutti Fruit Skewers with Vanilla-Honey Yogurt Dip

Makes 20 skewers

Ingredients:

  • 10 wooden skewers
  • Assorted fruit, peeled, stemmed, cored, as necessary
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Styrofoam block (or Styrofoam ball sliced across the bottom to sit flat on table)

Method:

  1. To make the dip, stir together yogurt, vanilla extract, honey, and cinnamon, in a medium-sized bowl
  2. Thread fruit onto skewers, alternating types of fruit
  3. Stick skewers into Styrofoam to stand
  4. Serve skewers with yogurt dip

chocolate-dipped apricots

Chocolate-Dipped Apricots

Makes 24 apricots

Ingredients:

  • 24 dried apricots
  • 11-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • Parchment paper

Method:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place chocolate and coconut oil in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for one minute. Let sit for one minute, then stir.
  3. Microwave chocolate for 15 seconds, stir, then repeat, microwaving chocolate in 15-second intervals, until chocolate is almost completely melted. Stir chocolate until melted and smooth.
  4. Dip each apricot into the chocolate to half-way coat the fruit, setting each dipped apricot on the paper-lined baking sheet. Place the tray in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to help set the chocolate coating.
  5. Store dipped apricots in the refrigerator, or at room temperature, according to preference.

Recipes for smoothies can contain spinach and blueberries

Berry Good Smoothie

Makes 4 8-ounce smoothies

Ingredients:

  • 2 handfuls, ready-to-eat baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups frozen berries (use whatever type you have on hand, or an assortment)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. If you like your smoothie thinner, add more coconut milk, a little bit at a time, until it’s just the way you like it.
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Allergies in Children

Allergies in children occur when the child’s immune system reacts to substances that are harmless to most children. Some substances are known allergens, which means they are known to cause allergic reactions in children and others susceptible to allergies. These substances include dust mites, pets, pollen, insects, ticks, mold, various foods, and some medications.

Allergies can make a child feel miserable with chronic uncomfortable symptoms. For some children, however, allergies don’t just affect quality of life, but are so severe as to be life-threatening. Any child can develop an allergy, but allergies are more common in children whose families have them, too.

A child who often coughs or sneezes, develops rashes or hives, or gets stomach aches, cramps or nausea each time he or she eats a certain food, may be experiencing allergies. If you identify those allergies early on, you have a good chance of making your child’s life a better, more comfortable one. By identifying and dealing with a childhood allergy, you’ll cut down the number of days your child will have to miss school. Treating the allergy means you’ll also be able to use your sick days and vacation days as they were intended, instead of using them to care for a sick child.

Baby has an allergic rash on his cheeks
The baby is adorable, but the allergic rash? Not so much.

Allergies: Common Symptoms

In order to identify allergy symptoms in your child, you have to know what they might look like. Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with childhood allergies

  • Skin rashes (such as atopic dermatitis or eczema)
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing (asthma)
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Stomach ache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea

Common Allergens

Getting control over childhood allergies means avoiding the substances that trigger allergic reactions in children. Here is a list of the most common childhood allergens.

Out of doors:

  • Tree pollen
  • Plant pollen
  • Insect bites
  • Insect stings

Indoors:

Irritants:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfumes and scented products
  • Automobile exhaust fumes

Foods that may be allergens:

If you think your child may have an allergy, have the child seen by an allergist. In the days leading up to your appointment, keep a journal of your child’s symptoms and what substances you think might have caused them.

Common Allergy Issues

If your child has allergies, he or she is probably dealing with some of the following issues:

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is the most common allergic condition in children. The symptoms of allergic rhinitis include runny, itchy nose; sneezing; postnasal drip; and nasal congestion or blockage. Other symptoms of hay fever include watery, red, itchy eyes, and fluid in the ears, which leads to ear pain, and ear infections. Hay fever is not triggered by hay, and does not come with fever.

Nasal congestion or a stuffy nose in children, is most commonly caused by allergies. When the nose is congested, a child is forced to breathe through the mouth. This can make for a restless night’s sleep, leaving your child tired during the day. This makes it difficult for children to concentrate in school. It’s important to note that if this congestion is not treated, it can affect the development of the child’s teeth as well as the bone structure of the face. Seek treatment for allergic nasal congestion as soon as possible, to prevent such issues.

Ear infections can develop when allergic congestion, causes fluid to accumulate in the ears. A buildup of fluid can lead to inflammation, pain, and a reduction in hearing. Decreased hearing puts babies and small children still learning to speak at risk for speech issues. Ear troubles due to allergies can cause ear pain, itching, popping, and a feeling of fullness or being “stopped up.” A child with ear trouble may rub or tug on her ear and may cry at night.

Food allergies affect some 6 million children in the United States. Breastfeeding is an excellent way to prevent food allergies for some children. But some children are so sensitive that they have allergic reactions to foods their breastfeeding moms eat. If you have allergies in your family, you may want to stay away from allergic foods while breastfeeding. You may also want to avoid introducing these foods to young children. Allergic foods include:

  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts (for instance, walnuts and cashews)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Wheat

Peanuts and milk are the most common food allergens in children. The most severe childhood allergic reactions to food are generally to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. While not all children outgrow food allergies, they often outgrow their childhood allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.

Children with food allergies are at risk for anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause breathing difficulties accompanied by a sudden drop in blood pressure. An anaphylactic reaction can send the body into shock. For this reason, doctors prescribe epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, that can be self-injected at the first symptom. The child’s school should be made aware of the condition and teachers trained in the use of administering the life-saving epinephrine in case of emergency.

School nurse helps child with asthma inhaler

Allergies: School Issues

Inform the school. If your child has allergies, his school should be informed. The same is true of summer camp or anywhere your child spends time. It’s important to ensure that the school knows what to do in case of emergency, and how to administer your child’s medications.

Classroom pets. Some classrooms have pets with fur, for instance gerbils, that can cause symptoms in children with allergies. If your child feels unwell in the classroom, for example, asthma, coughing, or congestion, a runny nose, a rash, or sneezing, such symptoms may well be caused by the classroom pet.

Boy sneezing from holding cat
Will the family pet have to go?

Asthma and gym class. Participating in sports or physical education classes is good for children, even those with asthma. Children with asthma should, however, take care to use their asthma medication regularly and as directed by a physician. When asthma symptoms occur during hard exercise or sports, it suggests that the child’s asthma is under poor control.

Chalk dust irritation. Chalk dust can be an irritant for those with allergies. Children with allergies may need to sit farther away from the blackboard to avoid irritation and allergy symptoms.

It’s a challenge to deal with children’s allergies, and it takes commitment. But take heart: so many children suffer from allergies that you are surely not alone in dealing with this issue!

If you suspect your child has allergies, don’t take a wait and see attitude, because early identification and treatment of allergies is crucial for your child’s health and development. See your child’s doctor as soon as possible.

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Low Carb High Fat Diets: Safe for Baby?

Low carb high fat (LCHF) diets are trending. As with all diets, popularity waxes and wanes, with experts opining for and against their safety. Adults, when they choose a diet, must educate themselves and take these warnings into account before plunging in. Babies and children, on the other hand, eat what adults feed them. Which begs the question: is it safe for babies to eat a low carb high fat diet?

For those who see the low carb high fat diet as a lifestyle, the answer is an unequivocal yes. They say that carbohydrates are, as a body, a nonessential nutrient—that all carbohydrates turn into glucose in the body, and that while the brain needs glucose for energy, the body manufactures all the glucose one needs in a process called gluconeogenesis, a process independent of diet. And anyway, what could be bad about giving babies fewer sweets?

Baby with water bottle
Baby with low carb drink (water!)

Especially since we’re not talking about a no-carbohydrate diet (can you spell c-o-n-s-t-i-p-a-t-i-o-n?) but a low carbohydrate diet. Vegetables that are low in carbohydrates are full of vitamins, minerals, and yes, fiber. No one is against a nice dish of oven-roasted fennel and cauliflower, for instance, or a carpaccio of kohlrabi slices drizzled with a smooth Dijon vinaigrette and sprinkled with some pink Himalayan salt.

But is it reasonable to feed a baby no whole grains, no Cheerios for little hands to grasp, no crusts of bread to chew on? No convenient beginners’ rice cereal, thought to be so easy to digest, so hypoallergenic? Professor Timothy Noakes, thinks so.

Noakes, the author of The Real Meal Revolution, was willing to stake his reputation on the concept. An emeritus professor in the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town, Noakes was forced to defend the idea that a low carb high fat diet is healthy for babies and children. He was found not guilty. Because there is no proof that a low carb high fat diet is dangerous. Not dangerous for babies. Not dangerous for anyone.

But not everyone agrees with Noakes. Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD at the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website tells readers that limiting carbohydrates puts children at risk for developing deficiencies later in life and that whole grains, taking longer to digest, make one feel full longer, which, she claims, prevents hunger. An article in the Daily Mail tells readers that carbohydrates are essential to brain function without mention of the diet-independent biological truth of gluconeogenesis, and like Ward, advises whole grains like brown rice be made part of a healthy children’s diet.

Laurie Endicott Thomas, MA, ELS, author of Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein? What We Really Know About Diet and Health and Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, says that the keto diet (a type of low carb high fat diet) is “generally bad for a child’s health and well-being. Children hate the diet because it is limited and ‘yucky.’ It can also stunt their growth and cause some bad side-effects, such as pancreatitis.”

Laurie Thomas sees only a limited use for the ketogenic diet, “The ketogenic diet is useful in cases of severe epilepsy. By feeding an epileptic child a ketogenic diet, you can get control of some seizures that would otherwise be uncontrollable by medication. The ketogenic diet is particularly useful in cases of De Vivo disease, which results from a genetic defect in the protein that is supposed to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the brain. Since the brain is deprived of glucose, children with De Vivo disease are born with a very small brain. Since their brain is starved of energy, they are prone to seizures. Ketosis is beneficial in those cases because it provides an alternative fuel source to the brain.”

Low Carb High Fat: Gorillas Versus Humans

At Thomas’ aforementioned website, she speaks of the similarity between gorillas and human beings and how diet impacts on the two species. “When I was in sixth grade, my teachers taught me about the Four Food Groups. They told me that I had to eat two servings of meat and three servings of dairy products every day. Otherwise, my growth would be stunted. I wouldn’t be able to grow normal hair or fingernails. Then I went to the zoo, where I saw that the gorillas, which are bigger and stronger and hairier than I would ever be, were eating nothing but salad. In other words, they are practically vegan, yet they were clearly getting enough nutrition. How could that be?

“Gorillas have nearly the same DNA as human beings, which means that our body chemistry and theirs is almost exactly alike. Gorillas also have almost the same digestive system that we have. So how can gorillas grow up to be so big and strong without eating any meat (other than a few termites), any dairy products, any eggs, or any fish?”

Mountain gorilla
Gorillas are similar to humans, but with smaller heads and much larger guts

The answer, according to keto diet aficionado and scholar Chanah Shapira Stillman, is not in the similarities between humans and gorillas, but in their differences. Stillman, citing Stephen Jay Gould’s The Panda’s Thumb, explains, “Human babies are actually all premature from a developmental standpoint. Because of cranial size and pelvic dimensions, they are born before they have achieved a level of development parallel to anthropoid apes at full term, which would be, as I recall, at about 18 months. The head is proportionally very large; a characteristic all humans retain. It’s called neotony.

“For human babies to be born at full term you would need ginormous (!) hips. Walking would be dicey with legs too far apart!

“Since human babies are so large-brained, adequate maternal diet during pregnancy would necessarily include sufficient fats, and subsequently children’s rapid brain development must include a similar enriched diet.”

But it’s not just the difference between human babies and gorillas but the differences between humans in general and gorillas. Stillman points to Dr. Loren Cordain, the founder of the paleo diet movement, regarding that difference. Cordain’s work, says Stillman, is key to understanding how nutritional requirements are essential to the expanded brain size of humans, which in turn means that humans need more fats. Not something you’re going to get on a mostly vegetarian diet.

Low Carb High Fat: Expensive Tissue Hypothesis

“Eating nutrient-dense bone marrow, fats, and brains makes that caloric expenditure possible. That’s the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, and vegans hate it,” says Stillman.

“It’s all interlinked. Apes have lots of gut which we traded for more brain power. Comes down to the cost of running the physical plant. Look how ‘dumb, slow, and tasty’ cows are. They have 4 stomachs to convert their semi-vegan diet into one large mammal body.”

Thomas disagrees, citing experiments from the 1920’s regarding the beneficial effects of the LCHF diet for children with epilepsy, “The keto diet is a good way to control seizures in children with severe, drug-resistant epilepsy. It is bad for everyone else,” says Thomas.

Jessica Haggard would beg to differ, having raised two children on a low carb high fat diet. Haggard works from home as an entrepreneur alongside her husband, promoting the keto lifestyle for Families at Primal Edge Health. The homeschooling mom has written two cookbooks of family-friendly LCHF recipes incorporating unprocessed, whole foods. She coaches clients and families who want to adopt the keto lifestyle. While Haggard doesn’t impose the strict keto regiment on her children (no one’s counting macros, i.e. eating specific daily percentages of protein, fat, and carbs), she does expose her children to a wide variety of high fat foods.

Keto pie graph
Ketogenic diets mean eating more quality fats and very few carbohydrates

Haggard remained low-carb throughout both pregnancies, and breastfed her children while maintaining a ketogenic diet. Starting her kids on a ketogenic diet, however, was not an automatic thought. “It is actually because of our first child that we got into higher fat diets. She had dental caries. This gave us a big push to reexamine our diet.”

Haggard and her husband are young American expats living in Ecuador. “I am not an expert, just a mom,” says Jessica with a smile. “I have the practical side—the implementation and the meal planning strategies. I have the success story of seeing my children thrive. I was part of a “birthing wave” with my second and I see a huge difference in the children with different diets. Granted, there are many variations that set families apart but I always wonder at the influence of diet. In fact, a few of the families I coach are in the process of eliminating grains and starches and remark on the improvement of their children (better mood, less gas/discomfort).”

Was it difficult to put her children on such a radically different diet?

“It was not easy per se, to go against the established way of eating. But for my family, our path was clear cut.  In search of a dietary intervention to help my, at the time, one-and-a-half-year-old with dental cavities, we were exposed to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), fat soluble vitamins and—get ready for this—organ meats!

Low Carb High Fat: Making The Switch

“So we made the switch, all of us as a family. No more sugar, grains, or legumes, plus lots more butter, raw dairy cream, and fish. This lead us to keto, where my husband and I have been eating for the last 4 years or so. I had a ‘keto-ish’ pregnancy and now my baby chooses fatty fish, avocado, butter—all the classic healthy fatty foods. He loves my beef heart meatballs. These are his choices.

“I keep fresh, local, seasonal fruit around and occasionally cook plantains, parsnips, carrots and beets but they—with the exception of newly discovered parsnips—don’t get enjoyed the same way as burgers, my grain-free flatbreads, or low-carb coconut flour pancakes. My oldest also eats lots of honey.”

Asked if she met much resistance from pediatricians, Jessica says, “I’ve followed a very unconventional path with bringing my children into the world. It’s been very intimate. The short story is that they were both born at home, ‘unattended,’ that is without any certified medical attendees. These were 100 percent natural births, no epidurals, no vaccines.* They have been extremely healthy all their lives and I have never had a reason to visit a pediatrician.

“I live in Ecuador (born and raised in California) so it’s easier here than in the US to avoid standard medical care. On this path of independence, there have been challenging moments of doubt, but through faith and a serious approach to self-education my husband and I have made the choices that we think are most optimal for our family.

Low Carb High Fat: Healthy Carbs

“I am very grateful for this way of eating. I don’t have a label for it, you could call it keto plus healthy carbs. It has set my children up with a savory palate and they know how to portion control, choose healthy options and eat to satiety.”

The bottom line about babies and the LCHF diet? Read everything you can get your hands on, beginning with Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes. Educate yourself. Then take a deep breath and make an informed decision in concert with your gut instinct.

It is unfortunate, but here it is: doctors receive little to no training on the subject of nutrition, and what they do learn is often based on outdated research or research skewed by the meddling of special interest groups. What does all this mean? It means you’re basically on your own when it comes to figuring out best diet practices for your baby. A scary thought and a huge responsibility.

One that comes with the job of parenting.

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*Kars4Kids does not take a position on immunization, instead offering both sides of the debate for our readers here: https://www.kars4kids.org/blog/immunization/

Underage Drinking: Having the Talk About Alcohol and Brain Health

Underage drinking can get in the way of the developing brain. And anything that gets in the way of the developing brain, for instance underage drinking, can interfere with academic performance. That means that kids who drink may grow up to be unemployed adults. If they don’t, for instance, get killed while driving under the influence of alcohol.

If you managed to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion, your child can, too. It’s just that most parents haven’t thought to explain it to them, lay it all out on the table. Which is a shame, because doing so may just stop children from taking that first sip of alcohol.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey conducted by market research firm GfK on behalf of Ask, Listen, Learn, a program of Responsibility.org. More than 1,000 parents of children ages 10-17 took part in the November, 2017 survey, the results of which are in a report entitled, A Lifetime of Conversations: Kids, Alcohol, and the Developing Brain, issued just ahead of Alcohol Responsibility Month. The report also includes data culled from other research on the topic of underage drinking, along with important advice and perspectives from experts in the field.

Stunning details in the new report illustrate both how and when parents are having conversations with their children about underage drinking. This information helps us understand how we have managed to achieve a significant reduction in children’s alcohol consumption in the United States since 1991, when experts first began to track the point at which underage drinking begins.

Some conclusions from the report:

More Parents Are Talking the Talk.

The good news is that more parents are talking to their children about drinking alcohol. A majority (76 percent) of parents of children aged 10-17, have in fact, spoken to their children at least once during the past year about underage drinking. That represents an increase of 7 percent since 2003.[1]

Parents Wait Too Long to Have the Talk.

The report suggests that parents may be choosing to be reactive, rather than proactive in their conversations with their children about underage drinking and alcohol. Half of the parents surveyed wait until their children see something about drinking on television or social media, or until asked about underage drinking, before they begin the conversation about alcohol. They may be waiting too long at that: only 2 in 5 parents spoke to kids aged 10-14, though 23 percent of 8th graders (age 13 or so) have already tasted alcohol.

Too Many Parents Think: “My Kid Wouldn’t Drink.”

More than half the parents surveyed, 58 percent, or nearly 6 in 10 parents of children age 10-17, say their children won’t be needing to make any sort of decision about alcohol over the next three months. They think their children are too young to discuss drinking. This flies in the face of underage drinking statistics: 23 percent of 8th graders have drunk alcohol and 53 percent think it would be easy to get alcohol. These particular statistics only increase as children get to high school.

Parents Think Kids Are Too Young for the Talk.

Of parent participants of children aged 10-17 who have not yet spoken to their children about underage drinking, 46 percent say their children are too young to have a talk about drinking alcohol. This figure includes 60 percent of parents with children aged 10-14.

Parents Don’t Think About the Impact of Underage Drinking on Living a Healthy Lifestyle.

Only 15 percent of the parents surveyed listed avoiding underage drinking as a factor in children living a healthy lifestyle. Parents instead prioritized eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and staying away from smoking and drug use, as elements critical to living a healthy lifestyle.

Parents Don’t Talk About Underage Drinking and Brain Health.

Parents tend to speak to their children only about the immediate consequences of underage drinking, for instance alcohol poisoning or car crashes. Experts believe that parents should instead be discussing the impact of alcohol on brain development and the long-term effects of underage drinking, for example, memory issues and alcohol dependence. When asked to list reasons children shouldn’t drink, 4 out of 10 parents did not list brain health.

“Parents are the most powerful influence in kids’ decisions not to drink alcohol underage,” says Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, the survey sponsor. “Past research demonstrates that when conversations between parents and kids about alcohol go up, underage drinking rates go down, but there is more that can be done to improve the effectiveness of these conversations.”

Experts like Blackman would like to see parents starting the conversation about underage drinking earlier, and they’d like them to continue the conversation as the child matures. Parents should begin the conversation before children are afforded an opportunity to drink alcohol, which means having that first conversation when a child is around 10 years old. By age 14, many children have already been offered a drink.

Does this mean that most children have been offered a drink by age 15? “No, not necessarily,” says Deborah Gilboa, MD, family physician and youth development expert, who serves on the Ask, Listen, Learn education advisory board. “In fact, the overwhelming majority of kids this age have not tried alcohol. but as kids transition from middle school to high school, their chances of participating in underage drinking increase. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2017 Monitoring the Future survey, 23 percent of 8th graders have reported drinking alcohol in their lifetime, which increases to 42 percent in 10th grade and 62 percent in 12th grade.

“While there is still work to be done, these numbers have significantly decreased since 1991, partly due to an increase in parent/child conversations around underage drinking. Ideally, parents should discuss the dangers of alcohol, including the impact of alcohol on the developing brain, early and often with their kids, so they truly understand the risks and can feel confident in saying no if approached with an opportunity to drink,” says Gilboa.

But some parents aren’t speaking to their children about alcohol at all. One in four parents surveyed said they either didn’t speak to their children about underage drinking, or can’t recall whether or not they had that talk. That’s a shame: children need to know about these things, about alcohol and its effects. Children are open, moreover, to hearing about what underage drinking can do to them, not just in the short-term, but over time. Learning the facts of what alcohol can do to their developing brains, appears to deter them from ever wanting to try alcohol in the first place, according to the experts.

The upshot: It’s great that more parents are having conversations about underage drinking with their kids, but experts wish they’d put a different spin on these talks, and speak about brain health as being the most important reason to avoid alcohol. “Create a foundation for these conversations with kids by answering their questions simply and clearly at any age, and actively discuss this topic by age nine or ten. At this time, kids are becoming very curious about their growing bodies and brains and are open to learning about how alcohol can impact both.

“Adolescence includes critical phases in brain development. The area of the brain that controls reasoning—helps us think before we act—matures later in the third decade of life. The sooner that parents speak with their children about the dangers of drinking alcohol underage, the better,” says Dr. Gilboa.

Survey Methodology

The Lifetime of Conversations study was conducted online with GfK’s Omnibus, using the web-enabled “KnowledgePanel,” a probability-based tool designed to represent the U.S. general population, not just the online population. The study consisted of 1,000 nationally representative interviews conducted between November 10 and 12, 2017 among adults aged 18+ with at least one child between ages 10 and 17. The margin of error is +/-3 percentage points for the full sample.

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[1] Responsibility.org, Wirthlin Worldwide National Quorum, May, 2003

Social Difficulties of Autism Improved with Anti-Cancer Drug

Social difficulties may be the painful behavioral symptom we most associate with autism. But what if there were a drug that could correct this symptom and make it easier for people with autism to socialize? It seems that there may indeed be such a drug, according to the newest autism research published March 12, 2008. Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that brief treatment with very small doses of an anti-cancer drug, romidepsin, not only improved social skills in animals with autism, but that the effects lasted long-term.

Until now, it seemed impossible that such a drug could exist, let alone that a single such drug could be enough to make a difference. Now, however, there is evidence that the behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), can be improved by targeting groups of genes known to be involved in the disorder. In this study, mice missing the gene known as Shank 3 (the absence of which is a significant risk factor for ASD), were given a three-day, small-dose treatment with the anti-cancer drug, and the effects lasted a full three weeks.

Why is a three-weeks-long reprieve from social deficits (deficiencies) considered a triumph? Well, we’re talking mice here, not humans. In mice, three weeks is a long time, and spans childhood through late adolescence, a crucial time for developing communication and social skills. Three weeks in mice is the equivalent of several years in a human. Which is why the UB researchers believe that the effects of this brief, low-dose treatment may last many years in people with autism.

“We have discovered a small molecule compound that shows a profound and prolonged effect on autism-like social deficits without obvious side effects, while many currently used compounds for treating a variety of psychiatric diseases have failed to exhibit the therapeutic efficacy for this core symptom of autism,” said Zhen Yan, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, and senior author for this study.

Shank 3 and Social Deficits

This new research trial actually builds on earlier work dating back to 2015. At that time, researchers found that the missing Shank 3 messes up communication between neurons in the brain by affecting the function of a brain receptor known as NMDA (n-methyl-D-aspartate), a crucial factor in the regulation of cognition and emotion. Without Shank 3, the brain has difficulty understanding social cues. This results in the social skills difficulties that are common to those with autism.

In the latest study, UB scientists discovered that a very low dose of romidepsin could reverse these social deficits by restoring gene expression and function. Romidepsin works through epigenetics, which serve as a sort of on/off switch for genes. Dr. Yan notes that human genetics research suggests that epigenetic impairment plays a big role in autism. A number of genetic mutations seen in autism, explains Yan, are due to chromatin remodeling factors, which change the structure of chromatin, gene material contained in the cell nucleus that condenses into chromosomes.

“The extensive overlap in risk genes for autism and cancer, many of which are chromatin remodeling factors, supports the idea of repurposing epigenetic drugs used in cancer treatment as targeted treatments for autism,” said Yan.

Social Deficits/Missing Genes

The researcher and her team knew that chromatin regulators were crucial to treating the social difficulties of ASD, but the problem was how to target many of them at one time. “Autism involves the loss of so many genes,” explained Yan. “To rescue the social deficits, a compound has to affect a number of genes that are involved in neuronal communication.”

Yan and her colleagues decided to look at histone modifiers, a type of chromatin remodeler that modify proteins called histones. Histones help to organize the genetic material in the nucleus so that gene expression can be regulated. The UB reseachers knew that a histone modifier might be effective in targeting the many genes that are altered in autism.

Loosening Up (Those Social Skills)

The scientists focused on histone deacetylase (HDAC), a class of histone modifiers that play a critical role in remodeling chromatin structure regulating transcription in targeted genes. “In the autism model, HDAC2 is abnormally high, which makes the chromatin in the nucleus very tight, preventing genetic material from accessing the transcriptional machinery it needs to be expressed,” said Yan. “Once HDAC2 is upregulated, it diminishes genes that should not be suppressed, and leads to behavioral changes, such as the autism-like social deficits.”

As the researchers found, however, the anti-cancer drug romidepsin, suppresses HDAC, turning down the volume on the HDAC2, which allowed those genes needed for signaling between the neurons, to do their thing. “The HDAC inhibitor loosens up the densely packed chromatin so that the transcriptional machinery gains access to the promoter area of the genes; thus they can be expressed,” said Yan.

Lo and behold, Yan and team found that romidepsin rescued gene expression across the board, targeting all the risk factors/altered genes at once. In fact, when Yan and her co-authors mapped it all out, they saw that romidepsin restored function in most of the more than 200 genes that are suppressed in the autism animal model used by the researchers.

“The advantage of being able to adjust a set of genes identified as key autism risk factors may explain the strong and long-lasting efficacy of this therapeutic agent for autism.” Yan explained.

How Long A Wait??

The scientist and her research team plan to continue looking into autism treatment drugs. Parents of children with autism, meanwhile, can only wonder how long it will be until romidepsin will be authorized as a safe treatment for human beings. The wait is bound to be long and painful.

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Journal Reference:

  1. Luye Qin, Kaijie Ma, Zi-Jun Wang, Zihua Hu, Emmanuel Matas, Jing Wei, Zhen Yan. Social deficits in Shank3-deficient mouse models of autism are rescued by histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitionNature Neuroscience, 2018; DOI: 1038/s41593-018-0110-8

University at Buffalo. (2018, March 12). Autism’s social deficits are reversed by an anti-cancer drug: Using an epigenetic mechanism, romidepsin restored gene expression and alleviated social deficits in animal models of autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 20, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180312201647.htm

How Should Kids Brush Their Teeth?

How should kids brush their teeth and when should they begin? The simple answer is that the minute that first pearly white tooth pops out of your baby’s gums, it’s time to begin brushing. At first, use a very soft brush and some water. Later on, at around 18 months, use a pea-sized glob of fluoride toothpaste. After the age of seven, children can be trusted to brush their own teeth, with a bit of supervision from parents.

No parent can doubt the importance of a child’s teeth. Teeth help children eat and speak and support the bones in their faces so they look nice. But teeth don’t take care of themselves. If children don’t brush their teeth, plaque can form in a thin coating on the teeth. Plaque (PLACK), is a sticky, thin film of bacteria that attaches itself to the teeth.

The preferred food of the bacteria in plaque is sugar. That may be the sugar in a piece of candy or a glass of soda pop, or it may be the sugars that develop from the carbohydrates we eat, for instance noodles, grains, and potatoes. Any time children eat starchy or sweet carbohydrates, they feed the bacteria on their teeth. As bacteria interact with starches and sugars, they turn into acids. These acids burn their way through children’s tooth enamel, making the holes in their teeth that we call cavities.

Mother brushes little girl's teeth

Brush Their Teeth: Gums, Too!

The bacteria in children’s mouths don’t just cause cavities. They also attack children’s gums. If kids don’t brush to remove the bacteria-filled plaque in their mouths, they may end up with gingivitis (jin-ja-VIE-tis), or gum disease. Gum disease not only looks and feels bad, giving children sore, swollen, red gums, but can also cause tooth loss. Gums, after all, are the tissues that hold and support the teeth inside the mouth.

Children should brush their teeth twice a day, after eating breakfast and again before bed. It doesn’t hurt to brush after lunch and after having a snack, too. It is brushing the teeth that removes plaque from children’s teeth, keeping them and their gums, healthy.

Cute little boy brushes his teeth

All of the teeth should be brushed, and not just those in the front. If children can think of their mouths as having four parts or quadrants, it makes it easier to cover all of them. Spend 30 seconds brushing each section of the mouth, beginning at the back and working toward the front, front and back of each section, gums and teeth, for a total of two minutes of brushing altogether.

Angle the brush 45 degree toward the gums from the upper and lower teeth. Move the brush back and forth using short strokes along teeth and gums, making sure to cover all the teeth and gums, front and back. Make sure the tip of the brush is upright when brushing behind the front teeth, both top and bottom.

Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too! Plaque sticks to tongues as well as teeth.

Brush Their Teeth: Two Minutes

It can help to play a 2-minute song as children brush, or to have them sing one in their heads. When the song is over, they’re done brushing! Alternatively, parents can use a two-minute hourglass to help children keep track of how long they should brush their teeth. Some battery-operated or electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer, and will vibrate when it’s time for the child to move along to the next quadrant.

Make sure to use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Get a new one every three months. Some toothbrushes have bristles that turn pale when it’s time to change to a new brush.

If children become sick with a cold or the flu, buy a new toothbrush once the child is recovered. It’s a good idea to have several spare soft-bristled toothbrushes on hand in the home for this purpose. Buy a bunch when they go on sale.

Brush Their Teeth: Floss ‘Em, Too!

Floss your child’s teeth as soon as there are two teeth that touch. Do this once a day. Slip the floss between the teeth to remove food that gets trapped between the teeth, where a toothbrush cannot reach.

To floss, take a strand of floss between thumb and index finger, wrapping the floss around a finger at each end of the strand for good control. Insert the floss gently and curve it around each tooth, sliding it up and down along the insides of the teeth and just below the gum line. Use a new section of the floss for each two teeth, so as not to transfer plaque from one tooth to the next.

Even when children do a great job brushing and flossing, it’s important to have their teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist (hi-JEN- 7i ist) or dentist twice a year. A professional cleaning gets the plaque we might miss, even with the best of efforts. The dentist or hygienist can also give children tips on better techniques to use when they brush their teeth.

Red-headed brothers get a lesson in tooth brushing from bearded dentist

Limit sweets and starches to starve plaque of its favorite source of nourishment!

Brush Their Teeth: Water or Toothpaste?

You can begin using fluoride toothpaste for a child of 18 months, using a pea-sized dab on a water-dampened soft-bristled toothbrush. Children should be cautioned not to swallow toothpaste when brushing. Make sure that children spit the foamy mess of toothpaste and loosened plaque out into the sink.

Children can rinse their mouths out with water, after they brush0 their teeth. This gives them more practice at spitting!

Brush Their Teeth: Infants

An infant’s teeth should be brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush moistened with water.

For an infant or very young child, hold the child in your lap, facing away from you, or stand behind a young child. The head should be tilted back so you can see the teeth. Brush their teeth gently with a circular motion, angling the bristles toward the gums.

Infant has his teeth brushed

It’s important to make tooth-brushing a fun time for parent and child, in order to avoid a situation where the child fusses and fights when it comes time to brush their teeth. You want the child to develop good dental hygiene habits right from the beginning. That’s the best way to prevent painful cavities and expensive dental work.

Let your child see you brushing your own teeth, night and day. Doing so sends a message to your child that this is something that everyone does and that it’s important.

Brush Their Teeth: Make it Fun!

Make tooth-brushing a fun time by gargling noisily or trying to sing songs as children brush their teeth. Roll your eyes and make faces at your child as the two of you brush your teeth together! Tell jokes. Do whatever you can to reinforce the idea that brushing teeth is fun and represents quality parent-child time.

Think of keeping your child’s teeth clean as having the same importance as wearing a seat belt in a car, or putting on sunscreen. If you feel this way, your child will come to feel this way, too.

If you can’t find a toothpaste your child likes, have children brush their teeth with plain water. Your child will still get the benefits of brushing.

How do you make brushing fun?

How do you keep kids from fussing at tooth-brushing time?

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!