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Friday, December 29, 2017

We Can All Use Creativity

Creativity is an ability we have to see things in new ways, imagine things that don't exist yet, "to bring into existence." (1) At a time when our entire civilization is on the cusp of yet another shift into a radically different existence, we can all use creative leaders who will find the way through the confusing mass of daily opinions we see and hear. Thousands of truck drivers may soon be obsolete, brick and mortar stores will have to learn how to use the Internet if they are to survive, and our governments are struggling with changes in climate, a rise in populism, and shifting currents of power. An entire generation jumped onto the computer bandwagon, only to have India move into the field and compete for every job. Advances in medicine and artificial intelligence are making our lives easier even as they eliminate the need for some of our jobs.

When I feel overwhelmed, I have learned to take some time out for myself each day, do yoga and eliminate the outside world for a few moments each day. I can tell what my state of mind is by the number of times I have to bring it back to observe just my breathing and whatever body parts I am using at that moment. I also learned from years of migraines, that the time immediately following a migraine was full of creative ideas. Being stuck in bed for a day was no fun, but my mind was busy while I was unaware of it. In my experience, creativity arises out of my mind and can't be coerced. It can be coaxed, however. Meeting with other poets and contemplating a poem one of us has brought has led to wonderful discussions and award-winning poems.

This year I will be studying creativity more than usual. In my life, I find creativity in quilting, writing, and gardening. I will be looking into what creativity is, how to measure it, how to encourage it, and how to prevent others from squelching it. I hope you will join me in the journey.

(1) Definition of the word "create" by Merriam-Webster. December 29, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

How Much Does Intelligence Predetermine Our Future?

No one knows. No one. If you're looking for the answer to this question, you'll have to look elsewhere. Can you be self-supporting if you have a severe cognitive or language impairment? The chances are less hopeful. I once had a quote on my bulletin board at the beginning of the school year. It was from Mark C. Baker (The Atoms of Language. 2001), "Humans swim in an ocean of language." I still think about that quote. Especially since I have been to Sweden, where my Swedish produced one good sentence in three weeks, but I couldn't understand the response. In Cuba, the people did not speak English very much. Yet we used body language and a small dictionary to get through conversations and began to understand each other surprisingly well. The combination of cognitive, social and language skills is very powerful.

However, just having those skills at an exceptional level does not insure that a person will be able to be self-supporting as an adult. Ask any addict. Whether their addiction is drugs, spending, sex or gambling, they often trip over their own denial. This can be a potent force in preventing recovery.

Add mental illness, and bffs or family members can end a relationship on a sour note. Jobs can be hard to maintain. I had planned to write every month on this topic, but found myself floundering this summer in the wake of just such a loss.

My parents were convinced that intelligence was the most important part of the psyche. It can do amazing things. I credit my creativity to them and their high intelligence, as well as a good school system that encouraged achievement. The more ideas you are exposed to, the more you can manipulate, right? Yet my parents had no idea how much they could have achieved. They rose out of poverty into the middle class and put three kids through college, but envied those who had much more money than they did. Because of their childhoods, they denied the spiritual aspect of life. Even though they lived by incredibly strong morals, they didn't see how much more a person can do to help others in the world. We children were our parents' world.

Spiritual intelligence is defined by Dorothy Sisk as using a multisensory approach to access one's inner knowledge to solve global problems. The common themes among most world religions are to love others, treat others as you would like to be treated, feed and care for the poor, serve others, focus on the present, be honest and ethical, take responsibility for your actions, make amends for wrongs you have done, make peace and be present in a community.  This form of intelligence has not been studied as much because it is hard to measure, but it is extremely important for leaving an honorable legacy for the future.

Of the many kinds of intelligence that impacts our lives and the lives of others, perhaps social intelligence is the most important. I have had students with autism who didn't develop beyond preschool. They appear cognitively delayed because of their social skills. Doug Sandler lists ten basic social skills needed by adults at his article Ten Social Skills Essential for Success

I think this is why it is so hard to write about intelligence. I have taught children with Down Syndrome who have severe language and cognitive impairments and yet are popular because of their social skills. I have taught students with autism who can memorize words in order to read, but they have trouble recognizing behavior that is embarrassing for others. I have known gifted individuals who have such strong wills that they are certain they are right much of the time, making them difficult to get along with sometimes. It is a testament to the human condition that not one of us is like any other human and it is possible to accomplish amazing things with our lives.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Effects of Abuse on Intelligence

The Effects of Abuse on Intelligence

There’s not a lot we can do about the intelligence we have inherited from our parents. It’s a part of nature that we are given the genes that will bring us musical talent or inability to focus our attention, high intelligence or severe dyslexia (or both), nearsightedness, separated ear lobes, or migraines. What happens after we are conceived can make a huge difference, however, starting with prenatal nutrition or exposures. Postnatal factors such as breastfeeding, environmental toxins, and abuse can significantly alter intelligence. In fact, 
Nearly all personality traits show that, contrary to expectations, environmental effects actually cause adoptive siblings raised in the same family to be as different as children raised in different families (1)

Any parent can tell you that his children are as different as night and day. What has recently come to light is the study of the effects of abuse. In one study,
Deficits in verbal declarative memory as measured by specific subtests of the WMS-R were found in women with abuse and PTSD relative to women with abuse without PTSD, and nonabused women without PTSD. These deficits were specific to verbal declarative memory. Findings were significant after controlling for years of education, history of alcohol abuse, and differences in IQ. Increased PTSD symptoms and increased severity of abuse correlated with deficits in verbal declarative memory as measured by the subtests of the WMS-R. (2)

Declarative memory is the ability to verbally recount events that have happened in the past.

Another study reports
Adolescents and young adults with a history of childhood maltreatment were 3 times more likely to become depressed or suicidal compared with individuals without such a history (p < .01). Adverse contextual factors, including family environment, parent and child characteristics, accounted for much of the increased risk for depressive disorders and suicide attempts in adolescence but not in adulthood (p < .01). The effects of childhood sexual abuse were largest and most independent of associated factors. Risk of repeated suicide attempts was 8 times greater for youths with a sexual abuse history (odds ratio = 8.40, p < .01). (3)
In Australia, 
The 298 adolescents (7.9 percent) who had been reported as victims of maltreatment scored the equivalent of approximately three IQ points lower than those who had not been maltreated, after accounting for a large range of socioeconomic and other factors. (4)

Children exposed to violence towards either themselves or their parent during the first two years of life were shown to have a seven-point difference in cognitive skills by age eight. The families involved were also low socio-economic status, so their home environment may have also played a role by lacking stimulation. The average impairment due to lead contamination is only six points. (5)

Studies of abuse have been developing for thirty years or more, but it is hard to pinpoint the damage that is done because it frequently occurs within settings composed of multiple damaging factors. In addition, the definition of abuse is very elusive. However, if you know of an incidence of abuse in a relative or friend, you have an obligation to that child to speak up. Speak to a counselor, get some help for the family if you can. The world will be better for it.

(1) Artmann, Robert. IQ Test. No supporting information., accessed 5/10/17, 5/23/17.

(2) J. Douglas Bremner, MD, Eric Vermetten, MD, Nadeem Afzal, MD, and Meena Vythilingam, MD. “Deficits in Verbal Declarative Memory Function in Women With Childhood Sexual Abuse-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”.

(3) BROWN, JOCELYN M.D., M.P.H.; COHEN, PATRICIA Ph.D.; JOHNSON, JEFFREY G. Ph.D.; SMAILES, ELIZABETH M. M.Phil. “Childhood Abuse and Neglect: Specificity of Effects on Adolescent and Young Adult Depression and Suicidality”. Copyright 1999 © American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry., accessed 5/23/17.

(4) Dr. Ryan Mills, Dr Strathearn or Penny Robinson. “Children who were abused or neglected have lower IQ in teens” University of Queens, UQ Communications. 22 December 2010. Accessed 5/23/17.

(5) Ehrman, Jan. “Experiencing, Observing Abuse Is Linked to Lower Childhood IQ,” NIH Record, Vol. LXIV, No. 13. June 22, 2012. Accessed 5/23/17.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Intelligence Tests Controversy

With the advent of intelligence tests, scientists began to think that human ability could be measured accurately, The tests were used in schools to determine placement, as well as by the military. Achievement and aptitude tests were created to help quantify learning and steer people to their “calling.” In time, these same tests became a fertile ground for placing minority and low-income students in slower classes or even special education. The cultural nature of the tests was criticized and with good reason. I took the Chitling IQ Test in college, which is based on knowledge of items in black culture. I did not score well. A sample of it is here: . For those who don’t know, a chitterling is a pork intestine, used for meals in many minority homes. 

As children began to be pigeonholed by their scores, it began to dawn on schools that maybe they should test children in their home language. Hearing impaired children were tested by psychologists who specialized in hearing impairment. Non-verbal tests began to appear for language-impaired students. Other criticisms, as listed on Psychology Today’s article, were

        IQ tests have received much criticism over the years, some warranted and some just plain silly. Criticisms have ranged from the claim that IQ tests are unfair to those who are disadvantaged, to the claim that the test items have changed little over the years, to the charge that IQ tests minimize the importance of creativity, practical intelligence, character, virtue, and morality, to the claim that all IQ test makers and theorists believe that intelligence is an immutable property of the brain. (1)

I remember my son, knowing the answer to one question on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test because we lived on a farm and he had ridden on a tractor or combine. Combine was one of his first words. Children who grow up on language-poor or stimulation-poor environments will not have as much experience learning vocabulary as those whose homes are “wealthy” with healthy stimulation, including music, reading materials, and stimulating toys.

One person who has made a tremendous impression on me and my life is Linda Kreger Silverman. At the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children in 2013, she pointed out that before there were IQ tests, we didn’t know that women could be gifted. Her recommendations for the use of testing can be found on my web site, 

Intelligence tests have undergone significant change since they were first instituted, but they can still be misused. Psychologists must establish rapport with the person they are testing, which can definitely be hard in the public school setting. Text anxiety or environmental factors can hurt a child’s score. Modern tests rely much less on one global standard score, but many parents have no idea what a series of scores means, even when explained by the tester. Such qualities as perseverance and creativity are not usually measured, although there are tests for creativity. Howard Gardner distinguished these types of intelligence; linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, existential naturalist, and intrapersonal.  Daniel Goleman  wrote about Emotional IQ. Kazimierz Dabrowski analyzed “overexciteabilities” in psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational spheres.

Similarly, cognitive psychologist Robert Sternberg, PhD, has developed a triarchic ("three component") theory of intelligence that includes analytical, creative and practical intelligence.(2)

The best use standardize IQ tests occurs when they are not considered a single score that is unchanging. Although test makers spend a lot of time making sure the scores don’t swing widely, it is entirely possible that hard-working creative students can be successful regardless of most impairments. Keeping a healthy skepticism and an open mind will insure that anyone can go further than any score can indicate.

(1) Kaufman, Scott Barry, Intelligent Testing The evolving landscape of IQ testing,Posted Oct 25, 2009,, accessed 3/29/17.

(2) American Psychological Association, June 17, 2004,, accessed 3/31/17.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Introduction to Intelligence Test History

Google defines intelligence as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills,” and lists the “synonyms: intellectual capacity, mental capacity, intellect, mind, brain(s), IQ, brainpower, judgment, reasoning, understanding, comprehension.” Most of us have an idea of what intelligence is without necessarily being able to put it into words. I have chosen this topic because of my work in special education and gifted education. Watching my students learn in as many ways as there are students, I have found intelligence to be incredibly complex and the brain to be unbelievably malleable.

The assessment of intelligence began in 1904, with a test developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon. They were asked to develop a measure that would separate mentally handicapped students from lazy students. (1) Four years later, a psychologist named Herbert Goddard visited Europe and learned about the new tests that had been developed to help students who were struggling in school. Within six years, the Binet-Simon test was used in schools, by doctors, in immigration and in the courts. His interest in the hereditary nature of intelligence led him into the dark “science” of eugenics as a member of the Ohio Committee on the Sterilization of the Feeble Minded. (2)

The scores produced by IQ tests are a quotient of the mental age divided by the chronological age of the individual being tested times a hundred. Hence a child functioning at the six-year level who is age five would have an IQ of 120. My understanding of the first IQ tests used in the United States was for the purposes of the draft.  According to Etienne Benson (3), “since the administration of the original Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)—adapted in 1926 from an intelligence test developed for the U.S. Army during World War I—it has spawned a variety of aptitude and achievement tests that shape the educational choices of millions of students each year.” The SAT test is often used in fifth or sixth grade to identify gifted students, who may score as well as a junior in high school.

During my history as a special ed teacher, intelligence tests came into use for providing services to students who did not learn well in the regular classroom. The initial assessment helped teachers to determine the best channel for reaching the student and to teach compensatory skills for the problem areas. At first, it was a blessing to be able to show that students could actually have a learning disability, that is, an area of difficulty in a specific task or skill. Unfortunately, these tests quickly became a way to pigeonhole students into a class with others who had learning difficulties, without necessarily providing appropriate instruction. Fortunately, the parents of disabled students work tirelessly to insist on the free and appropriate education their children need. The eighties saw an articulation of new assessment and methods that were beneficial to the students. This insistence on providing the best possible instruction for each child led to data collection in the nineties and the need to show progress on the goals determined for the year. Most schools no longer use just one test or one score. Next time I’ll take a look at the different kinds of tests that are available and why they are helpful.
  1. History of IQ Test, accessed on 3/10/17.
  2. Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., The birth of American intelligence testing,, accessed on 3/10/17.
  3. Benson, Etienne, Intelligent intelligence testing,, accessed on 3/10/17.

Friday, February 10, 2017


I found the most interesting article on prodigies this month, thanks to the Brain Cafe on Facebook. Here's the link:
 The Link Between Complicated Pregnancies and Child Prodigies.
In these days of fake news, I think Nautilus stands as one source of information we can count on. In this article, the author is well-qualified to describe research about savants. Savants are people who have an incredible talent or skill beyond what is normally expected. This article give three examples: a child who begins playing cello at three and has composed five symphonies by age five, a man who sculpts wild animals out of clay or wax, and a man who sees in fractals (1). Each of these individuals shows an ability beyond that of the average person in a very specialized skill. Scientists have now linked that ability to a different formation of the left side of the brain.
Research has found that such exceptional talent is  tied to three things: memory, recognition of patterns and sequences, and attention to detail. (2)
Theorists believe that the left side of the brain is disrupted, causing compensatory skills to develop. These skills allow the individual to access areas of the brain that lead to faster processing, without executive functioning (3). Thus, even accidents which damage the brain can lead to surprising results. In addition, since the left side of the brain forms later in pregnancy, it is more prone to damage in difficult pregnancies. Prenatal problems occur at a much higher rate in prodigies and individuals with autism. Incidents that shock the mother and cause distress in the fetus may change the development. Yet these individuals can show a fine sensitivity to others.

Having worked with exceptional learners during my career, I am still surprised. One of my students, aged 5, loved to draw trains. He would draw the cars and put the numbers and writing on them. His parents later told me they were actual trains he had seen. Another preschool student who seemed to be lost in sensory-stimulating activities suddenly reached over and pulled a single strand of blonde hair from my shoulder. In high school, my students with autism learned to read by memorizing words. Another learned to alter the program on his iPad to say, "I love Scooby-Doo." I sincerely hope we are on the cusp of a new stage of learning about the brain, so that all children will be happy, self-supporting and able to achieve their dreams.

(1) a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. Googe definition.
(2) Jawer, Michael, Nautilis, Jan. 11, 2017, Issue 44, Luck
(3)Living With Geniuses,