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Thinking of Caregiving as an Opportunity for Personal Growth, Not a Burden

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

No matter the path our lives take us, we all eventually find ourselves having to deal with aging; it’s inevitable. This week’s guest, Amy Goyer, discussed the subject of caregiving from a refreshing perspective, offering insight on how aging can be a rewarding opportunity for generational bonding.

Goyer, AARP’s Home & Family expert, has firsthand experience as caregiver – she takes care of her dad, who has Alzheimer’s. However, Goyer insists that he still takes care of her as well – because he’s still her dad. Neither age nor disease will ever change that. Goyer shared how it’s crucial to understand that even when your parents are aging and perhaps beginning to need assistance in different areas of their lives, they are still owed respect and compassion. That’s why making comparisons to how a baby or young child needs taking care of versus the way an aging parent needs taking care of is something that has never sat well with her. Needing assistance is no reason to infantilize or dismiss the relationship cultivated up until that point. Rather, it’s an opportunity for new growth. She urged that you just have to take on an attitude of compassion.

But even with an attitude of compassion, caregivers cannot forget to take care of themselves. Self-care is so crucial, and one of the first things to be forgotten, Goyer insisted. We discussed the importance of not only getting enough sleep so that you can cope, but also eating proper nutrients so that you are energized, and recognizing the role support can play for the caregiver.

The AARP website offers resources for those caregivers looking for support of their own. Specifically, if you go to the Caregiving Resource Center, you’ll find a lot of information as well as online or in-person support options. At, you can find local Area Agencies on Aging for additional in-person support. And a support group might not fit the needs of each individual – some caregivers may just look for that one friend who they can call in the middle of the night when they need reassurance. It’s important to have that something or someone to support you, so that you aren’t feeling isolated. You need to be able to create joy.

Goyer sees joy as a survival skill for caregivers. She made it a point to convey how it can be so easy to get lost, to get down about things that inevitably happen during the aging process. So, you have to be able to find joy in things. There is so much to be gained, and there are so many simple joys to be experienced if you create them. Being mindful and seeing the value in now can be a game changer.

Goyer made two wonderful videos on the subject: one is about creating joy, and the other is about noticing joy. They are both great supplementary resources for those looking for a new and informed perspective on caregiving, and living as a caregiver.

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Advocacy for Changing Domestic Violence Law

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

USA Today Sports recently reported news about an investigation of NASCAR driver Curt Busch for allegedly becoming excessively violent with an ex-girlfriend. Patricia Driscoll filed charges about a violent and threatening act that she claims occurred on September 26th when Busch was upset after a poor qualifying run for the Sprint Cup elimination race.

Most people may be unaware that purple ribbons are to domestic violence and abuse, what pink ribbons are to breast cancer. The purple ribbon is not widely recognized as a symbol for domestic violence. Women from all walks of life, of all ages, of all races, and in all countries are subjected to abuse.

Professor Leigh Goodmark of the University of Maryland’s Carey Law, a member of the Maryland, District of Columbia and California bars, who specializes in domestic violence law has taught and written extensively on the subject. She believes laws regarding domestic violence need to be changed if our society is to effectively deal with the problem, to help those subjected to abuse as well as their children, and to find ways in the community to promote understanding and treatment to the abuser. We need to address society at large to find ways to effectively confront domestic violence.  Do you think it would be helpful if the abuser was as stigmatized as the victim?  Research indicates that peer pressure in a community is a powerful influence. If your behavior is not acceptable to your friends and community at large, over time it will deter such criminal activity because we are all looking for connections with others. It’s part of human nature.

Desensitization to violence is frightening, and it permeates our society. Many of us turn a deaf ear to domestic violence, and the excuses for this are complicated and extensive. However, as Goodmark points out, instead of the legal system providing options for women who are subjected to domestic violence, it provides a predetermined procedure that must be adhered to, in which the woman has virtually no control or say. Women are infantilized and treated as if they are incapable of making decisions about their future and the future of their children. They must play the role of the weak and battered woman, if they wish to stand a chance for legal action to be taken on their behalf.

The view most people have of the “battered” woman has to change. Walking out of a relationship is an all-or-nothing option providing no consideration for the length of time the couple has been together, complicated emotions involved in the relationship such as love, dependence, attachment only to name a few of the extenuating circumstances. To think insisting the relationship come to an abrupt end without any consideration to all these other factors is basically ineffective and only serves to create an entirely new set of issues and problems for all those involved.

We must start somewhere. We need to admit that our present method for dealing with domestic violence and abuse is not working. Bystanders can work wonders to diffuse potentially abusive and violent outbursts by providing the smallest of distractions. If we put a community based rather than a justice system focus on domestic violence, we have a better chance of really helping with the problem rather than just pretend that we’re doing something helpful.

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You Can Raise Awareness re: Domestic Violence

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Every 9 seconds (approximately the time it will take you to finish reading this sentence), a woman in the United States is beaten. Worldwide, the statistic narrows to a third of that—every 3 seconds. There is no standard profile for victims of domestic violence—it affects people of every race, gender, and economic background.

This week, Rita Bailey, Co-Chair of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Partnership Task Force in Darien, CT joined me to discuss how to help raise awareness of domestic violence.

So why aren’t domestic violence awareness efforts more successful? What’s hindering us as a society from really rallying behind this cause? As one listener pointed out, everyone knows that the pink ribbon is the symbol of breast cancer awareness, but how many people know that the purple ribbon is the domestic violence awareness symbol?

According to Ms. Bailey, there are many reasons. One is that we live in a world desensitized to violence, and where violence is put forth as a legitimate problem-solving method. Another huge barrier to domestic violence awareness efforts is the stigma attached to it. Many people view domestic violence as a private, rather than public concern, and blame the woman for staying in the abusive cycle, when the reality is far more complicated. A woman subjected to abuse has her reasons for staying: from financial dependence, to immigration status to a desire to protect her children.

Another factor inhibiting domestic violence awareness efforts is that we as a society lack the necessary vocabulary to appropriately tackle the problem. Consider the language we use in describing those affected by breast cancer, for instance. We say ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’. The word survivor carries an inherent positive spin—this is someone who has faced difficulty and triumphed, whereas the word ‘victim’ implies negativity—someone who is passive, who has bad things happen to them.

So what should you do if you witness domestic violence? “Don’t be a bystander,” Ms. Bailey urges. There are a number of actions you can take to stop the violence. The most effective technique, Ms. Bailey suggests, is distraction. This can be as simple as approaching the couple and asking for directions, or saying “your car is being towed.” If you are in a public venue, such as a restaurant or bar, delegate to figures of authority and law enforcement, such as a manager, bouncer, or police officer.

Should you call the police? Ms. Bailey warns that this can be a tricky situation, as calling the police can incite more violence from the abuser. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to report the abuser rests with the abused, so ask the victim if she would like you to call the police. Always address the person being abused, rather than the abuser, with your eye contact and words.
On a grassroots level, domestic violence awareness efforts must start in our homes and schools. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to teach young children what types of actions and words are appropriate and what has the potential to hurt others, physically or emotionally.

How can you create a task force in your local community? Organization is key and having a strong leader and a forum to discuss programs, statistics, and initiatives is essential. The media and police can be very supportive. Also, reach out to your local town representatives. The Darien, CT, Domestic Violence and Abuse Partnership Task Force originated in 2008, with a mission of creating awareness about domestic violence through educational programs and special initiatives, and draws its members from collaboration with the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, the YWCA, the police department’s Special Victims Unit, and other community organizations.

Ms. Bailey generously offers her guidance and support for those looking to build grassroots efforts to raise domestic violence awareness. If you are thinking about starting a task force in your community, you can contact her at

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Domestic Violence and Its Health Consequences

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Domestic violence is an issue that will occasionally make its way into public headlines, as was the case recently with NFL player, Ray Rice; however, the majority of these situations occur behind closed doors.

According to Susan Delaney, founder of the Medical Advocacy Project (MAP) for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center Connecticut and also this week’s guest on Dr. Abram’s podcast, four women are killed everyday here in the U.S. from the hands of their partner.

Ms. Delaney believes that the key to effectively address this issue is to take a holistic approach that entails the services of a wide range of professionals from counselors and law enforcement to the medical community. It should be emphasized that domestic violence is a community problem, not “their” problem. No one can or should confront this challenge alone. We also need to educate the bystander as to how to appropriately respond.

Educating medical professionals in particular has been largely overlooked by domestic violence agencies in the past, which is why current programs such as MAP are encouraging physicians to adequately screen patients. This is important to address because domestic violence can have an immense impact on a victim’s physical health (e.g. diabetes, asthma, heart disease) leading to emotional and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The police and the medical community are often the first point of contact for the victim. This unique position allows the MAP trained professional to properly screen the victim and offer appropriate care immediately, whether it be medical, legal, psychological or a referral to a Safe House. It is essential that the first point of contact be non-judgemental and accepting, increasing the likelihood of the victim to return or follow through on the referral.

It is no secret that domestic violence victims are often fearful to reveal their situation to anyone, but they are more likely to accept help from their doctor if the professional compassionately expresses concern and offers helpful resources. This is why, according to Sue Delaney, it is crucial for medical professionals to: (1) educate themselves on the domestic violence problem, and how to properly screen, (2) become aware of resources within their communities, and (3) create awareness in their offices. Connecting victims to advocates will increase the likelihood that they’ll reach out to attain other services such as counseling by 33%, making it so important for the medical community to become a part of this comprehensive approach.

It is also important, however, for the public to understand why victims often shy away from receiving help, the number one reason being fear of death. When news broke of Ray Rice violently hitting his fiancé, many blamed her for the occurrence. In order to break this cycle of violence we must stop judging and acknowledge that the only person responsible in these situations is the one performing the violent act. Sue Delaney stresses that we must all become a part of the solution and she hopes that the attention the Ray Rice situation has received will have far-reaching, positive consequences for victims, including those behind the scenes.

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, contact the Domestic Violence Crisis Center’s 24 hours hotline at 888-774-2900 or visit their website at People do not choose to be victims of domestic violence but thanks in part to the efforts made by advocates like Sue Delaney, there are resources to help them escape it.

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“37 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Divorce”

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

“37 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Divorce” is a fantastic resource that I recommend to anyone who is considering, going through, or healing from a divorce. Mother-daughter co-authors Francine Baras and Nicole B. Feuer joined me on my radio show to discuss divorce – sometimes referred to as “uncoupling”- and how to do it well. As co-founders of Start Over Smart: Divorce Advisors LLC, they had a wealth of information to share.

Less people are getting married, but for those that do, the often-quoted fifty percent divorce rate remains steady. This indicates that even as the stigma fades, divorce will continue to happen. It appears that the profound complexities of life-long coupling will ensure that a large portion of marriages will end in divorce. So, the question becomes: how do we divorce well?

According to our experts, the average period between the initial thought and the actual filing of divorce is eight years. According to Ms. Baras and Ms. Feuer, this delay is largely fear-based. People are afraid of being alone, of financial independence, and of damaging their children. Our experts empower their clients with the knowledge they need to understand, envision, and accomplish a comfortable post-divorce lifestyle.

Divorce is devastating, even for the partner who initiates it. No one enters a marriage thinking that it will end, and it is practically impossible to go through the process without experiencing acrimonious feelings. Ms. Feuer and Ms. Baras help their clients separate these feelings from the extremely important decision-making process embedded in the legal divorce process. It is extremely important to remember that divorce establishes a new way of life that affects the entire family forever. It needs to be as carefully considered as the marriage itself – if not more so. Many people want to get it over with as soon as possible because it is so painful, but our experts advise that you do not run to an attorney. Once you make that call, you are following a path laid out for you with little understanding of where that path will lead. Instead, use the immense resources available to educate yourself, and do not rush. If you have children, your ex-spouse will be part of your life forever, so do all you can to support each other during this immensely difficult time. Communicate as much as possible, and apologize when you fly off the handle- both to your spouse and to your kids. This will help your family remain a team that can transition peacefully.

A peaceful transition rarely occurs in isolation. There is no reason to go it alone when there are so many resources available! is a great place to start. Our experts also highly recommend support groups- not just during the process, but in the following years, when much of the emotional processing happens.

Divorce is not the best option for everyone. Our experts agree that couples should try their hardest to save the marriage, as statistics continuously illuminate the trauma associated with divorce. However, Ms. Feuer read a study that persuaded her to pursue her own divorce, which found that children raised in conflict zones are far worse off than those raised in peaceful separations. One thing is clear: a divorce process that worsens the conflict won’t benefit anyone! A peaceful separation is difficult to accomplish, but it’s the only kind worth pursuing.

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Demystifying The College Admissions Process

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Can you define biometrics, cyber security, and petro engineering? I couldn’t. And guess what? Those are three of the hottest ten college majors in the country right now. The college admissions process can be extremely baffling and stressful. How the heck do we guide our children through a process that has changed so drastically since we ourselves went through it?

To de-mystify the college admissions process, Sheryl Santiago – Independent educational consultant and owner of Coll-Edge Partners, LLC – joined me on my radio show last week, with a wealth of information to share with us.

First of all, she addressed that perplexing list of majors I just referenced. College counselors talk a lot about STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. These majors are the most likely to lead to employment, and they are training students for jobs that don’t even exist yet!

Well then how do we help our children decide which of the 2,000 accredited colleges in the US to pursue? Many parents get caught up in the prestige of certain institutions, particularly their own alma maters. According to Ms. Santiago, the name on your bumper sticker hardly matters; what your child accomplishes at school is the most important thing. “The Best College” for your child is where your child will thrive.  So cast a wide net. Research lesser known institutions and be as attuned as possible to what your child wants. What are their strengths and passions? Which campuses did they like the best? Many parents get frustrated by their child’s seemingly arbitrary preferences, but Ms. Santiago reminds us that these preferences are often intangible: students will have a “gut feeling” one way or the other. Listen to your child! This is their experience, not yours.

Ms. Santiago does not recommend applying early decision. In her opinion, a student that is accepted early would probably have also been accepted via the regular admission process. The only difference is that the student who applied early has promised to attend, so they don’t have options, which are particularly important from a financial standpoint. Ms. Santiago has sometimes doubled the gift aid offered by leveraging one institution against another. The prices intitially presented are not set in stone, especially for institutions that are well-endowed. This cycles back to Ms. Santiago’s first piece of advice. If you are realistic about your child’s academic ability and apply to colleges where they will be at the top of the list, they are likely to receive the most gift aid.

For those students who are unsure about their next step and don’t have a competitive transcript out of high school, community college is an incredible option. You can demonstrate your ability as a college student, then transfer to your dream school: transfer rates are much higher than initial acceptance rates. Not to mention the thousands of dollars you’ve saved to acquire the same degree!

The bottom line: have realistic expectations, and stay attuned to your child. This is their decision.

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The Myth of The Post-Racial Society

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Many in our nation are heartbroken and enraged at the killing of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old black youth who was shot to death in Ferguson, MO by a white police officer.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. George Yancy, this week’s guest on my blogtalk radio show, this tragedy will occur again, and again, and again. Young, innocent, black males like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin – (whom Dr. Yancy and I discussed on my show over a year ago) – will continue to die until American society confronts its systemic racism.

We have a long road to walk. Dr. Yancy is a profoundly accomplished scholar on the critical philosophy of race with a PhD from Duquesne University as well as M.A’s from Yale and NYU; according to him, racism is embedded in our culture in a way that the majority of our white citizenry does not – and perhaps cannot – perceive. Many of us view the Michael Brown case as an isolated moment, an aberrant incident rather than a symptom of systemic violence. After all, we elected a black President, didn’t we? We are all saddened by this child’s death, aren’t we? And what if it was an honest mistake? There is video evidence of Michael Brown potentially shoplifting…

Dr. Yancy gives us the ideas and language needed to debunk the above reasoning, but it can be difficult to digest. First of all, the idea that Michael Brown’s killing is linked to potential shoplifting illustrates what Dr. Yancy calls the “niggerization” of the black body. Only a society that views the black body as sub-human, as an automatic and hyper-aggressive threat, could even entertain the justification of a child’s killing with petty thievery. But can we go so far as to say that mainstream, American society dehumanizes black people? Do we truly approach all black bodies with unnecessary aggression? Dr. Yancy gave us some historical and psychological context to process this.

We all know about slavery of course. But have you ever heard of Mary Turner, a pregnant black woman who identified her husband’s lynchers in 1918? She was tied to a tree, upside down, and burned to death. Her stomach was sliced open and, when the fetus fell to the ground, a white man smashed its skull with his boot. What about Claude Neal who, in 1932, was accused of rape? He had his genitals removed and stuffed in his mouth, was made to say he enjoyed it, and then his fingers were cut off and he was burned all over with a hot iron. Let’s use some modern examples: in 1999, Amaduo Diallo was shot 41 times while reaching for his wallet; Jordan Davis was shot for listening to music – in 2012. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are victims of the continuous brutality toward African Americans by white people in power. White racism is a fact. And it asserts itself even in our most basic neurological patterning.

Ever heard of neuronal mirroring? Dr. Yancy referenced studies done with MRI machines that recorded the activity of mirror neurons.  If a human (or a monkey) observes another human performing an activity, her mirror neurons will fire in a way that mimics the brain of the person performing the activity.  When white people were hooked up to the machine and shown a black person performing a task, no mirror neurons fired: it was as if the person was staring at a blank wall.

If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Yancy recommends a few of his books. One that profoundly affected me was: Black Bodies, White Gazes. There’s also: “Look, a White!”: Philosophical Essays on Whiteness and Pursuing Trayvon Martin: Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms, which Dr. Yancy edited with his colleague Janine Jones. Dr. Yancy also invites us to email him at: .

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Gifted Children: Their Strengths and Struggles

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Everyone is looking for their tribe.

Programs for academically gifted students do exist, but they are ancillary, at most. Ms. Gallagher’s daughter, for example, is pulled out of class for a few hours a week to receive special instruction. According to her mother, she lives for those hours– so much in fact, that Ms. Gallagher cannot move out of her town for fear that her daughter will lose this crucial intellectual nourishment. As for the rest of the week, Ms. Gallagher admits that it is challenging for her daughter to feel engaged. It is hard for her to take instruction from a teacher whose spelling skills are not up to par with than her own. She feels frustrated when the teacher gives her piles of extra work instead of offering her more interesting and in-depth material.

This is not an unusual problem. Many teachers and parents who are not academically gifted them selves have a difficult time understanding what these children need and how to communicate with them. Even institutions who claim to cater to gifted children often miss the point: Ms. Gallagher sent her daughter to a summer camp for “gifted children” which turned out to be no more than a middle school curriculum served to eight year olds. Gifted children do not just need more advanced material. They need teachers who will assist them in carving out an individualized learning path that nurtures and challenges them. This is not an easy thing to do – it certainly requires specialized training – but this issue affects us all: if we cannot nurture our gifted, how will we solve our most complex problems?

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Many of us who are extraordinarily gifted in one area, struggle in another. Ms. Gallagher worries about her daughter’s ability to interact with her peers. She saw her own brothers, both of whom are academically gifted, struggle to connect with others, and so she encourages her daughter to go outside and play, even if she has to learn to play within parameters less advanced than her own. It is an important skill to meet people where they are at, and to be comfortable in many different situations. Ms. Gallagher also worries that her daughter hasn’t experienced failure, nor has she ever had to push herself. Will these patterns come back to haunt her in high school? Ms. Gallagher admits that she worries about this, and that, as a parent, she doesn’t know the answers, and takes it one step at a time. That’s all that any of us can do.

If you have a gifted child, don’t be afraid to vocalize his or her needs, and to encourage self-advocacy. All of us deserve the support we need to thrive!

For more information go to: National Association for Gifted Children

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What Is Love?

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Romantic love is no longer a mystery. Thanks to new technologies, we can see what romantic love looks like inside the brain. We can therefore learn to construct, maintain, and repair romantic relationships. For those of us who hope to enjoy lasting, healthy partnerships, –that is to say, most of us — this is a very exciting development indeed! I was thrilled to invite a distinguished expert onto my podcast show to discuss it.

Dr. Sue Johnson is the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), which has demonstrated its effectiveness in over 25 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. Dr. Johnson is also the founding Director of the International Centr for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, a distinguished research professor, and the author of many books, including the best-seller Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, a self-help version of her groundbreaking research.

My discussion with Dr. Johnson was so rich that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps the most important takeaway from our discussion was the importance of emotional support and responsiveness: it is the very essence of a secure bond. But in our society, we have developed this idea that adulthood equals independence. Self-reliance is a strength, while needing others is considered a sign of weakness. To illustrate this misperception, Dr. Johnson brought up the often misquoted Darwinian principal: “Survival of the fittest.” Darwin never actually said that. And if you look at the research, you discover that those who perform the best are those that are most nurtured. People who enjoy deep, trusting relationships live longer, healthier lives. To illustrate this point, Dr. Johnson cited one study of people who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Centers on September 11th, 2001. Eighteen months later, those who reported having at least one person to turn to for comfort were doing quite well. Those without that bond were much worse off: many battled depression, PTSD, and other trauma-related difficulties. According to the research, solitude does not equal strength- quite the opposite. Those who can be vulnerable with their loved ones are more resilient and live happier lives.

So how does this translate to a specific therapy “method” for couples? Well, according to Dr. Johnson, she can predict the outcome of a relationship with one very simple question: can they have the “hold me tight” conversation? If they can, they will fight less, feel happier, and develop the ability to really reach each other, which will sustain their relationship over the long term.

Okay, so what exactly is the “hold me tight” conversation? Well, as an example, let’s use a classic disconnect pattern that Dr. Johnson sees a lot. One partner is angry, which makes another partner withdraw, which of course makes the first partner angrier, which in turn makes the second withdraw further. Usually the one who is screaming the loudest – about childrearing, sex, career or whatever – is really screaming about the fact that she feels disconnected and alone. She cannot tell if her partner cares about her anymore, so she gets angry and yells. When she yells, her partner feels criticized. The criticized person feels pain and moves away. (Fact: when you are criticized by someone you love, it is processed in your brain in the same place that physical pain is processed). And so the cycle continues.

In EST therapy, the therapist does not offer advice or pry into personal histories. Instead, the therapist helps each partner identify how he or she feels and what he or she needs. This process takes weeks, not years, but it can be surprisingly difficult to express to your partner exactly what you need. Our culture has taught us to feel such shame about it. But, if the couple can learn to look at each other and say something like: “I see that I got angry, and I see that you were shattered by that. What I need is reassurance. I’m scared that you don’t love me anymore, that you didn’t choose me, that I don’t matter to you. I need you to reassure me.” If a couple can do that, their brains will physically respond.

To really drive this point home, Dr. Johnson described an amazing study that she did using MRI technology: When a person in a distressed relationship was told that he would be shocked on the ankle, his brain lit up with agitation, and he was likely to report experiencing pain when he was shocked. (This was true whether he was alone, holding the hand of a stranger, or holding his partner’s hand). When someone in a secure relationship was presented with this same scenario, while holding their partner’s hand, his brain did not light up at all! And after the shock, he reported feeling no pain – merely discomfort.

Bottom line: safe, emotional bonding is the best recipe for physical and emotional happiness. If society could recognize vulnerability as a strength and encourage deep, emotional bonding, just imagine the kind of world we could create!

For those interested in exploring EFT, there is much information to be found on Dr. Johnson’s website:

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A Revolutionary Approach To Learning Disabilities

Posted on by Dr. Annie Abram

Learning Disabilities, unlike physical ones, can be very difficult to spot. A child whot experiences excruciating difficulty when learning to read will often appear “normal” in every other way. In the past, this child might have been called stupid or lazy by his teacher, his peers, even his family. But thanks to new technologies, we are experiencing a revolution in the way we understand LD’s. We now have neuroimaging that proves what this ostracized child has always experienced: he doesn’t read the way most of his friends do. When he reads, his brain works in a completely different way.

This new research has affected educators on all levels. To talk to us about these exciting developments, Ben Powers joined us on my podcast. Mr. Powers is the headmaster of Eagle Hill-Southport, an independent day school in Connecticut for students with learning disabilities. Prior to joining the school in 2012, he served as headmaster of The Kildonan School. He is a passionate member of and advocate in the field of dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD and is on the board of directors of Headstrong Nation and Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.

Mr. Powers was quick to trace the origins of this revolution back to Dr. Samuel Orton, who was the first to study learning disabilities about one hundred years ago. He worked with a pyschologist named Anna Gillingham, who created a systematic approach to teaching through phonemes. The Orton-Gillingham approach remains a widely implemented method – one that Mr. Powers adamantly endorses. This method stimulates all senses at the same time, and breaks down langauge in a way that caters to the intelligence of kids with dyslexia and other kind of LD’s. Instead of memorizing thousands of words, students will learn that “de” means down and “cap” means head. So they can deduce – rather than recall- the meaning of the word “decapitate.”

One of the reasons that dyslexia is such a debilitating disability is that it hinders content absorption in every subject. If a student cannot decode text, they cannot access the learning materials. To prevent this scenario – and the frustration, shame, and alienation that accompanies it – Mr. Powers cited research pointing to the efficacy of early intervention. He encourages a huge focus on remediation in first and second grade, or before. The earlier teachers can identify LD’s and modify their teaching accordingly, the better off the students.

In conjunction with new teaching methods, Mr. Powers recommends the use of new technologies that allow students to absorb information in alternative ways. Students with dyslexia can read much faster with their ears than their eyes, so all students at Eagle Hill-Southport have ipads with embedded assistant technology that can dictate text and receive dictation. Students also have access to word-prediction software that the teacher can customize. Programs like Learning Ally and Bookshare allow students to download texts that they can listen to at home. The goal here, says Mr. Powers, is to empower students with LD’s to navigate the realms of higher learning. If they have the right technology, they can absorb War and Peace just as effectively as their peers.

Our discussion of technology made me take pause. I couldn’t help but share with Mr. Powers my opinion that too much screentime can be deeply debilitating for children who need to spend time connecting with others. They need to build the emotional and psychological foundations upon which all future academic progress depends. To do this, they need to get away from screens. Mr. Powers couldn’t agree more: he cited the school system in Finland, the best in the world, and how much emphasis they place on free play. Here in the United States, our focus on curriculum is spreading to younger and younger grades. On the other hand, he made the point that time spent with a pencil and a white piece of paper is not too different from time spent with an ipad. For a kid that struggles to read and write, that ipad changes everything.

Any advice for parents whose child has an LD? Absolutely! First, try to eliminate the shame and stigma that you yourself experience surrounding your child’s LD. Create or join a community of families in similar situations. Share your story. There are so many resources out there, so reach out and connect. Next, help your child do the same thing. Teach your child about her learning .profile. Encourage her to tell her story, to become a self-advocate. This will not only empower your child, but it will raise awareness in your community. With time, the alienation that used to be so common among children with LD’s will become a thing of the past..

For more information, please go to Mr Powers blog: where you can find resources and description of the most up to date technologies and research in the field.  Or go to the Eagle Hill Southport website:

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