Life Story Books:
Windows into the Lives of Your Students and Their Families
Some of the authors graciously contributed their thoughts on key questions to pose and enduring understandings for prospective teachers to remember.
Breaking Autism’s Barriers: A Father’s Story
Bill Davis wrote these essential questions for Breaking Autism’s Barriers: A Father’s Story. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- What are Christopher’s strengths?
- What is the importance of parental advocacy?
- How does the country [e.g., children, adults, teachers, neighbors] treat people with disabilities?
- What “systems” must families understand if they have a child with autism?
Bill Davis wrote these enduring understandings that that he thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- Communication and empathy are the keys to understanding and loving your child—become him.
- Unyielding dedication is a must.
- Be a parent first—loving and understanding are keys.
- It’s a cliché but . . . knowledge is power.
- Your child is a viable, loving being – he wants friends and loving parents. He wants comfort and happiness.
Maybe You Know My Kid: A Parent’s Guide to Identifying, Understanding and Helping Your Child with ADHD
Mary Fowler wrote these essential questions for Maybe You Know My Kid: A Parent’s Guide to Identifying, Understanding and Helping Your Child with ADHD. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- Why is it that students with ADHD seem to behave, to be better organized and prepared, and to pay attention sometimes, but not others—Is this really a disability?
- What support can I expect from the parents and what support should they expect from me?
- What does mediation do, should I express my opinions about it to the parents or student, and should I be involved in monitoring its effectiveness?
- What are executive functions and what types of interventions help students with problems due to difficulties with executive function issues?
- How can I be empathic and supportive, design my curriculum to be more interactive and interesting, make my classroom management structured but not rigid, and use positive behavior management techniques so that students with ADHD (and those without!) can experience success?
Mary Fowler wrote these enduring understandings that that she thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a disability in that symptoms associated with it and the difficulties these symptoms often create can have a significant negative impact on a student at home, in school, and with peers. In many cases, ADHD continues to cause difficulties throughout the lifespan. Sadly, statistics show that many children with the disorder often under-perform and underachieve. Many fail to go to college. Of those who do, few are able to complete advanced schooling. Untreated children and adults are also more likely to develop substance abuse issues, have run-ins with the law, poor interpersonal relationships, more traffic accidents, and career-related difficulties. Educators are essential members of the child’s ADHD management team. Your efforts can go a long way toward minimizing the negative outcomes for children with ADHD.
- ADHD is a condition that is managed, not cured. Parents, teachers, health care professionals, and significant others are important members of the management team, as is the student with ADHD. Team efforts can enable the person with ADHD to remove the “dis” from disabled and to improve the outcome. When properly directed, many students with ADHD can minimize the core deficits of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity and turn some aspects of these into core strengths. But, that does not happen without a lot of structure, skill, strategizing, and support.
- Educators are well advised to understand the family issues associated with ADHD. First of all, given the high percentage of families with a parent who has the disorder, and also the likelihood that more than one child has ADHD or learning disabilities, educators need to understand and realistically appraise the level of support they can expect from parents.
- Furthermore, this condition creates a high likelihood of increased parent/child conflict over issues of non-compliance and poor performance. When teachers expect parents to “fix” the child’s school-related issues, they are often placing the parents into even more conflict with their child. Given the importance of reduced parent/child conflict and findings reported in the literature on resilience, which show that concerned, caring parents are a major key to childhood resiliency, teacher might want to consider whether they’re trying to inform and involve parents, or expecting parents to do at home what they have not been able to do at school, e.g., get the child to behave in school and do his or her work. They take home message: inform parents, engage them in problem-solving, but don’t ask or expect them to fix at home what a highly skilled educator has been unable or unwilling to do at school.
- Medication often plays a major role in the management of ADHD-related symptoms. Since most children take medication during the school hours, the teachers can provide valuable information to both the parents and the medical professionals about the way this treatment modality is working also be reliable, informed reporters of any side effects they might see. Therefore, it would be helpful for teachers to understand the treatment goals of the medication usage as well as how the medication works.
- Medication is not given to make kids behave better. It is given to alter an abnormal biological system. In general, studies show that students who take medication are better able to pay attention for longer periods of time, have improved executive function skills, and decreased hyperactivity and impulsivity. Pills do not teach skills! Teachers must still use other strategies and supports that will enable this student to develop compensatory strategies, especially as many students do not take these medications throughout the course of their school years.
- Finally, because treating students with medication has been the source of so much controversy, educators are advised not to pass their opinions or judgments on to the students. Of course, they should report valid concerns about side effects and efficacy to the parents, or the physician, if asked to do so.
- The research findings on resilience advise us to never underestimate the importance of competent, caring adults in helping to minimize the negative effects of ADHD on the child. As an educator, your empathy may be the single most important factor in how the children with ADHD develop a sense of self. Affirmation is the key. Give far more positive than negative feedback. Teach the child, not the disability. Don’t expect one-size-fits-all answers. Treat each child with ADHD as unique. Understand that ADHD affects individual differently, thus interventions need to be customized to the individual. Understand that ADHD-related issues require problem-solving and strategizing. While the needs of these students may require more time and effort in the short-run, in the long-term, the teacher and other students will have less disruption to contend with when strategies, accommodations, and modifications are made.
Saving Our Sons
Marita Golden wrote these essential questions for Saving Our Sons. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- What are the stereotypes that most negatively affect how black males are perceived?
- What additional support from the black community to black males need?
- Who are overlooked heroes for black male?
- What does the book reveal about the lives of black males that you were not aware of?
Marita Golden wrote these enduring understandings that that she thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- The violence inflicted on oppressed groups becomes embedded in their psyches and communities.
- The search for identity and values is challenging for all young people and is fraught with potential violence and even death.
- Families are the primary tool for socialization and enculturation of young people.
The Withering Child
John Gould wrote these essential questions for The Withering Child. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- To what extent is this memoir the story of Gardner as opposed to that of his father or other members of the family?
- Can you use this text to determine why Gardner stops eating? Explain the possible causes and the text’s limitations as a diagnostic tool.
- Are there points at which the Goulds might have acted differently to alter the progress of Gardner’s anorexia? How might you have advised them?
- What is the value of a book like this, and what are the dangers?
John Gould wrote these enduring understandings that that he thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- Blame is a wild good,” a destructive exercise in family dynamics.
- Children, especially young ones, can be much less flexible than adults may suppose.
- Telling a story as truthfully as possible can assist greatly in ameliorating the various hurts it comprises.
- So often, literature provides insight into and assistance with the hard business of living.
Stick Figure: A Diary of a Former Self
Lori Gottlieb wrote these essential questions for Stick Figure. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- In what ways was Lori’s diet influenced by both the offhand comments of her peers and the adults around her, and the messages put out by the media 9(TV, magazines, and advertisements)?
- How did interactions with her teachers make Lori feel misunderstood and shut down before she started to diet? How might teachers better accommodat3e a student like Lori who seemed passionate about doing her own more creative assignments?
- In what ways were Lori’s early observations about the paradoxical messages she received from authority figures perfectly logical and, in fact, more “sane” and healthy? Later, how did Lori’s more “sane” perspective veer into twisted logic and dangerous behavior?
- How was Lori treated differently from her brother? How might gender roles have contributed to Lori’s confusion about identity (i.e., why was Lori initially considered “unique” or “weird” for eating desserts and not caring about dieting?
- What was Lori really seeking by going on a crash diet? Was she really going after the perfect body, or was something else motivating her unconsciously? In what ways might she have felt “invisible” as she says in the chapter entitled “Chameleon”?
- What was it about the way the nurse at the hospital interacted with Lori that helped her to gain both perspective and weight? How was that dynamic different from those Lori experiences with other adults trying to help (her teachers, parents, therapist, pediatrician, hospital staff)?
Lori Gottlieb shared these enduring understandings that that she thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- It should not be perceived as “normal” for girls and young women to casually proclaim that they “hate” their perfectly healthy bodies. This is an insidious cultural dysfunction, not “just how girls are.”
- Eating disorders are hard to detect because the addiction (whether to dieting or binging/purging) is more culturally acceptable than, say alcoholism or drug abuse. If a girl says, “I’m fat,” few people see that as a red flag. If a girl says, “I’m skipping lunch because I’m on a diet,” adults often thinks it’s simply “a phase” she’s going through. Adults need to be vigilant in looking at not just behavior around food, but emotional states associated with these behaviors (depression, anxiety, isolation, perfectionism, etc.)
- Despite what they say, girls and young women are highly influenced by what adults both say and do. They’re extremely observant and highly sensitized to hypocrisy. If an adult says it’s unhealthy to restrict food intake but them eats only a cup of yoghurt for lunch, a girl will often take that in. Even light-hearted comments meant as compliments are taken to heart by girls. “I whish I h ad the flat stomachs of you young girls!” send a definite message that flat stomachs receive praise and are highly prized.
- Girls noticed when they’re treated differently from boys. Boys are often praised for their inherent worth (for their skills, intelligence, athleticism, kindness) while first are often praised for their appearance before being praised for their inherent worth. Praising a girl for her beauty sends a message to the girl that she is being rewarded for external qualities and may make her less motivated to pursue her creative or intellectual interests (or even to behave kindly to her peers). An adult may think that she’s complimenting a girl by saying the girl is beautiful, but she’s really sending a message about the importance of physical appearance at the age girls are most influenced by those concerns.
- Girls who become obsessed with food and body image are not being stubborn or trying to “get attention.” Asking them to “snap out of it,” “stop this foolish behavior” or “just eat” is futile. They’re seeking to fill a void in their lives and the way to get them back to a healthy relationship with food is to treat them kindly but firmly. They need empathy and professional help (therapy) and they’ll only cooperate if they’re treated with respect. Getting angry with them or dictating what they should do will result in a battle of wills and make them feel more isolated and misunderstood. Show your concern for them, not your frustration. Focus on how they’re feeling, not what they’re eating.
- Parents may present as loving and wiling to “do anything” to help their daughters, but often the parents are part of the problem. Almost always, they have good intentions and truly want to help, but they often exacerbate the illness. Teachers who “side with” the controlling or overbearing parents will feel like a betrayal to the girl with an eating disorder. She already feels misunderstood by her parents, and almost always there’ something about the parent-child dynamic that has contributed to the onset of the eating disorder. Helping the parents to help the child by connecting the child with a competent professional who specialized in treating eating disorders is the most effective way of taking care of the needs of both.
Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism
Temple Grandin wrote these essential questions for Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- How does my autistic thought process differ from other people?
- Why does loud noise or other strong stimuli upset a child with autism”?
- How are my autistic emotions different compared to other people?
- How did I make the transition into the world of work?
Temple Grandin wrote these enduring understandings that that she thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- Teachers need to understand sensory sensitivities.
- Students with autism and Asperger’s syndrome have specialized brains. They are good at one thing and bad at something else.
- There is not enough emphasis on developing the child’s talent and strength areas. I developed my drawing skills into a career designing livestock facilities.
- Mentors can really help a student to develop skills that can turn into careers and hobbies that make life worthwhile.
John S. Hilkevich and Adam Ward Seligman
Don’t Think About the Monkeys: Extraordinary Stories Written by People with Tourette Syndrome
John S. Hilkevich wrote these essential questions for Don’t Think About the Monkeys: Extraordinary Stories Written by People with Tourette Syndrome. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- Many contributors to the book spoke of a “fit-side” or aspects of TS and OCD worth embracing. What are some of the gifts inherent (but overlooked) in the disorders that affect many of our students, such as ADD, ADHD, and autism?
- As an educator, how would you help students with TS, OCD, ADD, and ADHD? How would you discover and use the positive aspects of these disorders?
- If you, yourself, are managing a neurological disorder, or have a family member or close friend who is, what is your position on the advisability of sharing your personal story with your students, in effect, giving them permission to share their possible struggles with you, should they desire?
- The preface writer, Oliver Sacks, is an internationally known neurologist. He ends his preface by remarking, “[T}here is, finally, beyond mere ‘coping’ or ‘acceptance,’ this possibility of a profound integration as Hilkevich describes; and this, perhaps, is the deepest theme…” After reading the book, how much better are you able to facilitate the nurturing of “integration” of your students’ deficits as a healing approach as opposed to traditional approaches such as remediation and pharmacology?
John S. Hilkevich wrote these enduring understandings that that he thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- “…Steinbeck and his friend Ed Ricketts discuss cause and effect thinking and consider the alternative, nonteleological thinking; ‘IS thinking.’ Instead of blaming things, for instance my disability …I looked at what is, not what was. In nonteleological terms this became the search for not why things occur but an acceptance of what is. I had Tourette syndrome – now what?” (Written by Adam Seligman, quoted from pages 51-52 of the book.)
- “His performance is a message, reinforced by many others I have interviewed, to evaluators that Tourette syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can render the appearance of a learning disability, while, in reality, they are looking at a convoluted expression of genius.” (Written by John S. Hilkevich about Adam DePrince, quoted from page 20 of the book.)
- “[T}he intensity of Tourette, and its power of alienation, moves a young woman to thoughts of desperation and death, though (finally) to poetry, and liberating creativity.” (Written by Oliver Sacks about Maura Woodruff, page ii in the book’s preface.) The reactions and management of a chronic disorder often follow the same emotional and spiritual flow described in Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief and dying, from denial and anger to acceptance and even liberation. Understanding that flow will help us better address the needs of others.
- Unlike disorders that are physically obvious to the eye, phenotypical disorders are more difficult to diagnose. Relinquishing a professional arrogance that has us believing we have a person figured out is not only therapeutic and respectful, but will garner us a greater understanding of the other’s heart and life. Compassion, exercised by teachers or counselors, means co-passion or walking with others in their struggling journeys. That sharing of journeys is liberating to all, both teachers and students.
- “As an afterthought, that is a message to our readers who may not know anyone with Tourette syndrome and wonder why they should read this book. After all, we all have our burdens that need healing. We all have monkeys we are trying not to think about. But when we cannot NOT THINKING OF THEM, we can take a break to watch them. Sometimes monkeys do some pretty funny things and make us smile.” (Conclusion of the book, page 200.)
- You may want to review some of the articles on TS and OCD in the archives section of our website: [http://www.prayergear.com/archive.html]. They shed more light on the gift side of neurological disorders and the medical and educational response to them. [Note from NL: As you delve into this website, it is important to value and appreciate the spirituality that guides many people and gives them strength in their life journeys.]
Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism
Dawn Prince-Hughes wrote these essential questions for Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- How do your own sensory experiences impact the way you see the world?
- How does your thinking style influence the ways that you interact with other human beings?
- How have your own experiences with nature and animals build a foundation for your value system?
- Are you capable of seeing a child’s challenges as potential gifts? Why or why not?
- What do you consider your biggest dis/ability?
Dawn Prince-Hughes wrote these enduring understandings that that she thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- There is beauty in seeing the world in a way different from many around you.
- Differences in perception and, as a result, cognition, can lead to great advancement for all humanity if nurtured and channeled properly.
- Diagnoses should begin to be seen as descriptions rather than cages, and the gifts of a way of being should be included in any approach to this description.
- The current system, complete with its sensory over stimulation and fast pace, is not working for anyone.
- Everyone is disabled and everyone is gifted. These issues reduce down to a problem of context.
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
Janisse Ray wrote these essential questions for Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- What is sacred to you? What do you honor most and want to hand onto? (History, family, community, beloved places, etc._
- What stories construct the fabric of your live? (Your own memoir is important.)
- Where are you from and what is your relationship to place?
- How can you be a better citizen of the earthy?
- What would you say if you told the truth about your life?
Janisse Ray wrote these enduring understandings that that he thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- Landscape & place are vital to the human psyche
- Place, in part, determines who we are. Our culture is inextricably tied to the landscape, no matter where we’re from (Stegner: Tell me where you’re from & I’ll tell you who you are.)
- Our civilization – our life – is completely dependent on the processes of the earth and, knowing this, we must bring ourselves to affiliation and cooperation and respect for nature. We are biological first.
- Many negative stereotypes about the South are at work in modern consciousness; an entire region cannot be stereotyped successfully.
- Telling the truth creates the possibility for more truth around you. (Adrienne Rich’s idea: On Lies, Secrets, & Silence)
When Snow Turns to Rain: One Family's Struggle to Solve the Riddle of Autism
Craig Schulze wrote these essential questions for When Snow Turns to Rain: One Family's Struggle to Solve the Riddle of Autism. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- How does the presence of a special needs child change the dynamics of a family?
- How can educational professionals use the strengths and knowledge of parents to achieve the best outcomes for their students?
- Are students on the autism spectrum so different from children in other special needs populations to require unique attributes and perhaps specialized training among those professionals how would work with them?
- What role do educators play in promoting community awareness about autism?
- What elements are fundamental to an adequate support system for families dealing with autism?
Craig Schulze wrote these enduring understandings that that he thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- A full range of emotions accompanies having a profoundly disable child. Teachers must be aware of and sensitive to these feelings if they are to bring parents and siblings on board as full partners in the educational process.
- Reading widely about individuals and families who have successfully dealt with traumatic experiences will be time well spent in teacher preparation.
- Becoming knowledgeable about the resources in the community available to students and their families is a critical professional activity.
- Autistic children and adults frequently stagnate or even regress for long periods of time. Learn to focus more on your attitude and effort than on particular outcomes for your students. And realize, too, that sharing this perspective with families of your students is not a shortcoming but rather a strength that in the long run will enhance your credibility.
- Place a premium on leading a balanced life that includes regular exercise, a reasonable diet, and the pursuit of hobbies and interests. Maintaining your own health and emotional well being will ensure that you will have the necessary energy to be able to tackle the demands of a very demanding profession.
No One Say My Pain
Andrew Slaby wrote these essential questions for No One Say My Pain. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- What children and adolescents are at risk for suicide?
- How should you intervene when you suspect a young person is at risk for suicide?
- How can you help a family adjust to the loss of a child to suicide?
- What are typical responses of family members to the loss of a child to suicide?
- What is the role of families and teachers in helping suicidal children?
Andrew Slaby wrote these enduring understandings that that he thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- Young people who die by suicide do not want to die; they simply want to end the pain.
- Psychological pain is more difficult to bear than physical pain.
- If there were a way other than self-inflicted death to end the pain, a child would seek it.
- Depression and suicide tends to run in families but the absence of a family history does not mean a child is not at risk.
- Psychotherapy and medication coupled with family therapy and good medical evaluation is critical to the care of the suicidal child.
The Weight of It: The Story of Two Sisters
Amy Wilensky wrote these guiding questions for The Weight of It: The Story of Two Sisters. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers. Used with permission from http://www.henryholt.com/readingguides/wilensky.htm
- Explore the ways in which these two sisters view each other and each one's own perspective on their shared experiences. Discuss your own experiences of a sibling relationship.
- Obese people have a certain invisibility in our society, which is ironic considering how exposed they feel. Obesity is a public disease, impossible to conceal, even while those around them tend to ignore what makes them uncomfortable. Discuss the public/private aspects of being fat.
- Wilensky finds that "the less you think about how other people see you, the more clearly you come to see yourself." How has Alison's persona been formed by this principle?
- Consequently, Amy learns much about herself through her sister. Observing their parents with their own siblings also provides insight into her relationship with Alison. Discuss these various family dynamics.
- It is a common belief that birth order has a great influence over personality. For example, the first-born is often more jealous, anxious and neurotic, the second more playful and assertive. How does this manifest itself in the Wilenskys, and in your own family?
- Compulsive behavior runs in the Wilensky family -- Amy's twitch and Tourretic tic, her father's issues with his own weight. Is Alison's obesity an eating disorder beyond her control, an emotional problem that merely took a different form in her sister and in their father?
- Once the surgery is completed the life of the family continues to revolve around Alison. Is Amy jealous of the attention Alison receives from her mother? Is she envious of her sister's new thinness and the fact that they can wear the same clothes? Discuss the difficulties of growing up in a household that revolves around the demands of one member.
- Both sisters have trouble accepting the fact that the surgery might actually work. At fifteen, Alison lost fifty pounds at the Diet Center but she didn’t stick with it. Was she happier being fat? Did Amy not have faith in medicine, or in Alison's history of failure to controlher weight? Is Amy's identity threatened by her sister's transformation?
- Is surgery actually the easy way out? Are there any moral implications?
- Amy reflects post-surgery, "how and why do we become the people we are?" Is it naïve to deny that we reflect what and who society tells us we are?
- Amy evokes the novels of Lewis Carroll, and the Alice in Wonderland tale, in which the older sister's inattention to her younger sibling causes her to the fall down the rabbit hole. Discuss the ways in which these novels reflect the experiences of the Wilensky sisters.
We Are All the Same
Jim Wooten wrote these essential questions for We Are All the Same. As you read the book, use them as a guide to help you focus upon key elements that are identified as important for teachers.
- What is apartheid and how does it differ from racial segregation that existed in the United States for so many generations?
- How was it possible for intelligent white South Africans over several generations to blindly accepts and easily endorse the concept of apartheid as the principle dynamic of their country’s government? Similarly, how was it possible for white Americans to ignore the inequities of segregation for so long?
- In addition to the social and economic segregation that apartheid dictated in their lives, what were its more subtle, less obvious effects on black South Africans?
- What was the relationship between religion, politics and government policies in South Africa during the era of apartheid?
- Were white South Africans, who either supported apartheid or did nothing to resist it, also damaged by the racism it demanded and engendered in their country – and if so, how were they affected?
- Should the American government have tried to change South Africa’s governmental commitment to racism?
Jim Wooten wrote these enduring understandings that that she thought would be important for teachers to grasp after reading the book.
- It is neither conservative nor liberal to believe that there are blatant hypocrisies inherent in the foreign policies of the developed world – the democracies of the Western world, including the United States – as they are applied to countries in the so-called third world, those struggling and desperately poor nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America whose only relationship to the United States and Europe has been for centuries as colonial resources for the extraction of natural resources or from some ideological or geopolitical advantage. To grasp this notion and act on its realities is to become a genuine citizen of the world, unencumbered by misguided patriotism.
- No one can right every wrong. Nevertheless, it is possible, as was certainly true for the little Zulu boy in my book, to overcome the most obvious obstacles, to focus on the first barriers to quality and, in h is case, to regard small victories as merely proves, not overwhelming triumphs, and move on to the next project.
- Journalists, particularly foreign correspondents, must be as deeply committed to truth as to national loyalties. In the even a conflict arises, a journalist’s choice must always be on the side of the facts as they are understood.
- Politicians rarely act against their own interests and usually make decision based on what is best for them, not always what is best for those they repres3ent or govern. Whatever is the safest, hatever is least difficult or least painful, whatever is most protective of themselves and their circles of supporters is almost always the direction in which they travel.
- Ignorance is the best friend of political corruption and the misuse of power. Not matter their economic statues, their race, their nationality or their country-of-residence, all people everywhere are empowered by knowledge.