Changing resistance into understanding


In comments about her book They Just Don’t Get It! Changing resistance into understanding, author Leslie Yerkes of Catalyst Consulting Group wrote the following:

I discovered five behaviors for turning resistance into understanding. The behaviors are like the ‘aikido’ of communication. It is so simple but these insights run counter to what has been taught and modeled as leadership behavior for decades.

It was the reference to Aikido that caught my eye. For many years now, I’ve applied the underlying philosophy and practical aspects of Aikido to business activities and relationships. (Luckily, I’ve never had the need to use it in a self-defense situation.) My curiosity was piqued.

I have to admit that I very rarely make it all the way through business books. Even the really good ones to me seem to get a bit repetitious, if not monotonous, in what they are trying to tell me. (I like to think that it is because I’m a quick study and can connect-the-dots without having to get to the end, but who knows.) That was not a problem with this book.

A short book to begin with (137 pages in a smaller than usual size), the book also has a lot of white space and illustrations. Yerkes, along with her co-author Randy Martin and illlustrator Ben Dewey, get their message across by telling a story. The story chronicles a marketing team’s struggles on a particular project from the point of view of the team leader.

It is a sparse, straightforward telling of a story that most of us have lived through at least once. As I read through the different stages of the story, images flashed in my mind of numerous experiences from my past that could easily have been inserted into the story.

Following the story is a more convential description of the lessons from the story. More than once while reading through this conclusion I thought, “Well, of course, that’s obvious.” But of course, it is only obvious in hindsight. Like most stories with a moral, it takes a good story teller to take the things we should know (and think we know) and make them make sense.

Disclosure: The author offered the book as a complementary copy in hopes that I might mention it here.

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Work to your kids’ strengths

I found this bit of wisdom in the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Though geared at self improvement, this quote struck a chord with me as a parent:

The trick is not to work obsessively on the skills and talents you lack, but to focus and cultivate your strengths so that your weaknesses matter less.

The story of Tony DeBlois is an example of this in action. His mother recognized that Tony had serious weaknesses/disabilities to overcome, but also realized that his strength in music could make much of that weakness irrelevant.

I think all of our kids have their own strengths. Much of it may be hidden from us as parents*, or their strength may be something that we don’t quite understand or appreciate as worth cultivating.

But it is by cultivating these strengths, in all of our kids (and ourselves), that we can help them be successful in whatever they ultimately decide to do.

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* Ferrazzi also gives this observation from Machiavelli: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”

What does it mean to cure autism?

Like most postings on Pat Sullivan’s blog, Autism on Good Morning America really got me thinking. In this case, it was the last sentence that sent the wheels spinning (emphasis is Pat’s):

Much like TREATING cancer, diabetes, etc., TREATING autism through ABA appears to be big business. CURING it however, yields little but vehement criticism.

What does it mean to “cure” something? From dictionary.com is the following (as cited from the American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary):

cure (kyr)
n.

  1. Restoration of health;
    recovery from disease.
  2. A method or course of treatment used to restore health.
  3. An agent that restores health; a remedy.

The key seems to be “restore health.” For physical ailments, the meaning of this is well known and understood.

But what does it mean in the context of a disorder that is diagnosed based on observation and behavior and is, at its most basic, simply a deviation from the societal norms of behavior and social interaction? Is “changing behavior to be normal” [God, I hate trying to find the right words cause that one just doesn’t work] the same as “restoring health.” It seems to me that yes, it is.

Of course, all this goes back to the question, “What is autism?” For if you don’t really know what the disease is, how can you say you’ve cured it. Is it possible that there is more than one cause of autism? Are autism and mercury (or heavy-metal) poisoning different problems that just happen to present the same*? Is there only one cure, or can there be several?

If, as the transcript of the Good Morning America segment states, the boy is indistinguishable from his peers, isn’t it fair to say the ABA treatment cured him of autism?

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* If you haven’t already guessed it, this is kind of what I believe.

Genius comes in many forms – A review of Some Kind of Genius


Recommendation: You should add this book to your must-read list.

I’ve long been fascinated by genius. Or, more specifically, the process of genius and figuring things out. My book shelves are full of these kind of books, mostly about scientists, mathematicians, and the like. This past weekend I finished Some Kind of Genius, which chronicles the musical achievements of Tony DeBlois from his first toy organ at the age of two and public performances at five that astounded the audience through his training at elite musical schools and his several CDs.

From an early age, Tony’s skill was apparent. He could quickly and easily play back anything he heard. He could even improvise and improve. As he got older and in more and more rigorous training, he could listen to his teacher and play back what they just played even as the teacher continued to play. He also has composed original tunes, played with several bands and organizations, and sings. As someone who dabbles at the piano and has a hard enough time just playing a single song, I consider this ability genius.

From the book is this description of 15 year-old Tony’s audition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston:

Janice arrived with Tony at the audition and took him directly to the piano. The members of the committee stood around the piano, anxious to hear him play. Gathered for this audition with Lipman were Rob Rose, director of Berklee’s special programs; Dave Weigert, chairman of the piano department; Paul Schmeling, of the piano faculty; Bob Doezema, guitarist/composer and assistant director of the summer program; and famed saxophonist-turned-educator John LaPorta, one of the legends of the school.

They had all sat in this space countless times before, listening to hopeful young musicians from all over the world. Berklee, the planet’s top college of contemporary music since its founding in 1945, boasts an alumni list that is a veritable who’s who of jazz, rock, electronic music, and other genres, and students know that getting accepted means they’ll get the best training available in their field. Berklee alumni include composer/producer Quincy Jones, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, film composer Alan Silvestri, guitarist Al Di Meola, modern big band leader/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, pianist Diana Krall, saxophonist Bill Evans, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, members of Aerosmith, and many others.

Tony started the audition with a short classical sonatina, then moved on to one of his favorites, George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” complete with his improvised insertion of the Flintstones theme, which revealed his clever and original approach to the piece. Those brief moments were a revelation. The committee realized that they had a formidable talent on their hands, a rare, special boy whose playing contrasted sharply with the rest of his behavior.

Did I mention that Tony is blind? And autistic?

When I started reading Some Kind of Genius : The Extraordinary Journey of Musical Savant Tony DeBlois I was expecting (hoping?) to learn more about how Tony DeBlois‘ mind works, more about Savant Syndrome (which I’ve written about before). Indeed, there is some basic information about Savant Syndrome in general and discussion of Tony’s particular skills.

From Dr. Darold Treffert is this description of why savants may have the skills they have while the rest of us don’t:

I’ve come to believe in the collective unconscious not as psycological myths that are handed down by generations but as actual wiring, instinctual, which I call software installed. It’s clear that some of these prodigious savants are knowing things they cannot have learned. It had to come installed.

This level of memory may also explain why it appears that we come with tons of software installed that we don’t use. It’s not because we’re lazy but because it would cause the same situiation as when I try to use all my software on my computer at the same time – it would crash.

It’s almost as if some of these chips have a survival value to us if something happens to us. I think we tend to look at ourselves as being born with a tremendous piece of hardware, the brain, and a blank slate, and we become what we put on this disk. But I think savants come with this installed and they have access to it that we don’t.

As impressive as Tony’s story is, though, for me the real story of Some Kind of Genius is that of Tony’s mother Janice. From well before Tony’s birth, Janice’s life seems to have prepared her for the challenge, responsibility, and adventure of raising Tony and his brother Ray. And from the account she gives in the book, she more than lived up to the challenge.

For parents of an autistic, or blind or other “disabled,” child this is a story of inspiration and what can be achieved if the desire is high enough. Almost all of us will see a little bit of our own story in Janice and Tony’s. The struggle to understand what is happening with your child. The desire to have the best life possible for your child, by figuring out what they are good at and helping them excel. And the fights with the system to make sure your child get what they need and deserve. It is also a story of sacrifice. All “special” parents know nothing is ever easy and getting what your child needs sometimes means sacrificing for yourself and possibly others, all too often leaving “casualties” along the way.

For everyone else, this is an inside look into what special needs kids and their parents must go through to get what is appropriate for them. My only complaint on this front is that Janice and co-author Antonia Felix almost make it seem too easy, too matter-of-fact. An “insider” will understand what was going on in the background of this story, but those unfamiliar with the struggle of “special” kids and parents will likely not quite catch it.

The most uplifting part of Tony’s story is his acceptance by the world of music. In almost every case (at least the ones documented in the book), the professional musicians and music educators that Tony works with see him as a musician first, a nice guy next, and only then as blind and autistic. This, I think, is the hope of all parents, special or otherwise: To help their children find their place in the world and make it their own.

ps. If anyone reading this happens to know Ellen DeGeneres, could you please pass on to her Tony’s desire to meet her and appear on her show?

[Disclosure: The publisher offered the book as a complementary copy in hopes that I might mention it here.]

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They just don’t get it: Authors sue Google over Google Print

If you’ve not heard of it, Google Print is scanning in the contents of books to make them searchable. That is a key phrase, “make them searchable.” Google Print does not make the whole book available, just a “snippet” of the text based on the search term.

My first thought was, “Finally, now I can find things in books I’m looking for without having to flip through all the pages. Even better, I can find books I’ve not yet read that have something of interest.” (For example, a search on “the unreasonable man” pointed me to, among other things, 777 Mathematical Conversation Starters.)

My second thought was, “Authors are going to love this. What a great way for them to get their books found, especially those ‘obscure’ books that most people may never know about. “

Boy, was I wrong. As described in Macworld: News: Authors sue Google over Google Print:

The Authors Guild and three other writers filed a class action suit on Tuesday against Google Inc. over the Google Print program. The lawsuit charges Google with massive copyright infringement.

The Authors Guild, a society of published writers representing over 8,000 U.S. authors, charges that Google has not sought the approval of authors to include their works in the program.

Google said in a statement responding to the lawsuit that its activities are consistent with the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law and the principles underlying copyright law. Fair use is a concept within U.S. copyright law that allows copyright material to be used in limited circumstances, such as quoting parts of a novel for a book review, without the permission of the author.

After so many years, and so much work and thought on how technology changes things and how that technology can be used to benefit everyone (except maybe the middleman), it is sad to see this total lack of understanding.

Should “autistic” be designated as a minority group?

An interesting article from Amy Nelson, PressBooth – Autism Spectrum Conditions a Social Minority Group raises a very interesting concept for thought and discussion. I have to admit, I’m not quite sure what I think of it.

Like all things surrounding autism, how an individual looks at this problem will depend a great deal on how that individual answers the question, “What is autism?” I’m going to have to think on this some more before posting any thoughts on it, but I figured I’d post this and see what others think.

iPod Nano – cool, but….

I got my hands on an iPod Nano this weekend. It’s my brother’s, and I’ve been helping him try to get it up and running on an older Windows 2000 machine. To say that it has been a pain in the ass would be an understatement; it’s been a nightmare. I don’t if it is because it is an older machine, slow processor, what. It meets the system requirements listed on the Apple site, but still it is trouble.

As I said the machine is an older Compaq running Win2k SP4. Because it didn’t have USB 2.0, we installed a new card. I installed the software straight from the CD. Hooked up the iPod. It kind of works, kind of doesn’t. That’s the frustrating part.

Just to make sure the iPod itself was OK, I hooked it up to my G5 iMac running Tiger. Worked like a charm. Hooked it back up to the Win2k machine. Return to the nightmare.

This is my first attempt trying to use an iPod on a Windows machine, I’m a Mac guy myself. But I can’t imagine that this is the typical experience for Windows users. (Though it does remind me why I abandoned the Windows ship when OS X came out.)

If anyone who happens to read this has any thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to here them.