Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I have been thinking a lot about the idea of perspective this summer. It all started way back with the Radiolab podcast on colors. I remember listening to it while running, and it completely blew my mind that other creatures, like butterflies and mantis shrimp, can see SO many more colors than we humans can. What would it be like to see the world from the perspective of a mantis shrimp, where everything is bright and vivid and more distinguished? It'd be like living inside a rainbow.

I had to consider the idea of "perspective" often while I was at camp this summer. For many of my kiddos, one of their goals was to learn to take others' perspectives. This can be tough for many of us, but for little guys and gals on the spectrum, it is a whole other mountain to climb. For some, I had to start with the basics, reading nonverbal expression ("Look at her face, does she look happy?") and build from there...("No? Well, then do you think she liked what you just did? Do you think you should do it again, or maybe say you are sorry?") I'm not entirely sure how much progress we made with those goals, but my own perspective surely shifted rapidly at the beginning of camp. I had to quickly adjust my idea of "success." Behaviors that might be a "given" in another class were really something to celebrate at camp. It surprised me how much "little problems" were "big problems" to my campers. Something as simple as rearranging the Legos or being last in line could escalate into a major crisis if I wasn't careful. So the moment when I heard a kiddo say, in a polite voice, "Excuse me, your yoga mat is touching mine, could you move it over?" and the other boy said, "Sure!" and then actually moved his mat....I nearly fell over on the floor in disbelief. It was amazing! Seriously. 

Now this week, I've started my new internship in an elementary school, and I am really excited. My supervisor is over-the-top fantastic, and the principal of the school is basically a real life super hero. She gave a welcome meeting today, where she talked about perspective when collaborating with other adults. Two of the main points, that I just loved, and think are so important to remember every day are these: One, assume positive intent. Two, ask for explanation.  When we are talking to parents or other teachers or adults in the school, we should assume that they are coming to the situation with good intentions. Parents love their kids. Teachers choose their professions because they love kids, because they want to make a difference in the world (they certainly don't choose it for the paycheck, or the glamor!) If we disagree, it's likely just a difference in perspective. So really, we don't need to argue! All we need to do is say, "You see something I don't see. Help me see it your way. I see something you don't see. Let me show you."  It sounds simple, but we all know it's not. I just hope that I can keep these things in mind as I become a part of this school!

Here's to keeping a positive outlook! May this internship be a wonderful learning experience, where I am grateful for the opportunities I am given.

Nietzsche said, "There are no facts, only interpretations."

And a witty t-shirt said, "Optimists say the glass is half full. Pessimists say the glass is half empty. Engineers say the container is twice as big as it needs to be."

We all see things differently, but luckily, we have some control over ourselves and how we react. Here's to keeping my perspective positive, and as colorful as the shrimp's world.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Self Esteem

I remember being surprised (and maybe a little embarrassed) when I saw the documentary Waiting for Superman, when they described how Americans, although pretty far down on the rankings of competency in math and science, rank #1 in self esteem. We certainly think we are the best, even if we are far from it. I remember finding that to be....somewhat shameful. Especially as it was presented in the documentary, it made us seem arrogant and narcissistic, without the goods to back it up. While I do think that confidence is a crucial piece of success, one also needs to have a certain level of skill and competence to complete the picture.

However, after my work at camp, I am wondering - whose self esteem were they measuring and reporting in that documentary?

I ask this with a story in mind that has been haunting me over the last week. I had seen a cute activity online that I decided to do with my group at camp. (Remember that the majority of my kiddos are on the autism spectrum, or have severe ADHD or anxiety related issues).  The activity was to read The Giving Tree out loud, and then have the kiddos think of a gift that they give the world to write down on an apple. Then I figured, we'd draw a big poster of a tree and post the apples on it to display in our classroom.  I read the kids the book. Most of them were familiar with it and the idea that one should not be selfish or take too much from nature. They were less familiar with the concept that, even when we think we have nothing left to give (the stump at the end of the story), we may just be the very thing that someone needs. However, the second the words came out of my mouth that we were going to write down the gifts we give the world, one of my girls burst into tears. She was so convinced that she had nothing worthwhile to offer, this "assignment" made her overwhelmed and extremely upset. Another kiddo refused to write something down (even when given multiple suggestions) and became upset when I decided to write something down for him and post it anyway.

I was flabbergasted. Many of the children were able to write down something simple like "nice" or "kind" on their apples, but a few truly did not believe they had any positive qualities. It made me sad, and it made me remember to be compassionate. These kiddos may seem "oblivious" at times, but they certainly are not. They are often well-aware of how they are perceived by the world.

After some thinking, I decided to focus on affirmations in the next yoga class I taught as a sort of "antidote" to this negative thinking. We all shouted out that we are "joyful, truthful, loving, strong, and fun" while we did our yoga poses. I hope it helped, if in just a small, simple way. I hope they will learn that they have something meaningful to offer the world!