Sometimes the experts are wrong. Eleven years ago, the experts said that Adrian Galvan (who was 6 years old back then) was mentally retarded and had autism because he could not speak or make eye contact, and he threw hours-long tantrums.
Yet, a few years after Adrian began organizing his brain, he was able to clearly communicate his original ideas with others, look them in the eyes, and yes, the tantrums were gone.
But, no, he had still not learned to really read and write since such skills (in natural brain organization) take time.
However, once again, the experts stepped in. At a school meeting, the professionals wanted Adrian’s mother to understand that she was in denial if she believed her son would ever become literate.
Their recommendation was to place him in a life-skills program. There, his educational curriculum would focus on just learning some basic skills that would help him survive in the world.
Collectively, the experts insisted this was the right course of action. Adrian’s mother insisted it was not.
So instead, she decided to home-school her son. The idea was to give Adrian the grace of time to complete his brain organization and to become literate as part of the process. A few years later, Adrian successfully returned to public school.
Flash to the present. Adrian is now a senior in high school.
Much has changed since those experts insisted that a life-skills program was Adrian’s best educational option. For example, Adrian has not only researched how to construct a boat, but he actually built one that he then sailed on Mission Bay. He has led others in many service learning projects and is known for creating incredibly sophisticated, entertaining videos. The list goes on.
So, the recent letter from the principal of San Pasqual High School, sharing how Adrian had been selected as the Student of the Month for the English department, was no surprise to those who know him.
In the letter, it says:
“Adrian is an exceptional student. He comes prepared every day. He assists his peers, and he is a very polite and thoughtful young man. He has earned an A consistently along with outstanding citizenship. His comments on topic always encourage other students to think deeper about the application of the information.”
The letter ends with the principal congratulating Adrian on his academic success. Yes, his academic success.
But this troubling question remains: What if Adrian’s mother had not known about developing the lower centers of the brain? What if she had listened to those experts?
Here’s what’s also concerning: We usually seek an expert’s opinion when we’re the most vulnerable (when we need help).
Therefore, here are some specific behaviors that now cause me to pause and question the credibility of an expert.
In contrast, there are experts who respect and acknowledge that parents, too, have their own expertise when it comes to their kids. Such experts don’t automatically dismiss something a parent brings up, such as a method or program that’s unfamiliar to them. In fact, many of these professionals often express interest to learn more.
Call me crazy, but here’s a thought. Since the brain is involved in everything we do—and incomplete lower brain development can affect behavior, academic performance, coordination, health problems, memory, and more—why wouldn’t we start all discussions about our kids by first asking: What’s actually going on in my child’s brain?
If we don’t know the answer, then why wouldn’t we want to find out before anyone leaps to conclusions or makes recommendations that may or may not prove helpful?
And that’s where Adrian’s mother and the professionals parted back then. The experts were focusing solely on his current academic output—but she knew what was going on his brain. More importantly, she understood that his current output was going to change once more of his brain was organized.
Without question, Adrian’s story is a tribute to his parents, his perseverance, and the amazing ability of the brain to reorganize itself so that it can function as intended. In fact, I’m thinking the principal who just signed Adrian’s recent congratulatory letter would probably find it incredulous to learn that he’d once been slotted for a sparse life-skills educational curriculum.
That’s why I’m hoping that Adrian’s journey will continue to inspire others to also keep the door open—even if an expert tries to close it.
When my daughter, Callan, was nine years old, she had a friend who’d join our family on outings and who’d come over to our house to play—but her friend never reciprocated.
Then one day that friend, Rachel, called. For the first time ever, she not only invited Callan to go somewhere with her, but the invitation was to go miniature golfing! Callan was thrilled.
However, Callan had already made arrangements for another friend, Chloe, to come over that same afternoon. When I pointed that out, Callan quickly noted that she saw Chloe a lot—and this was special.
But wasn’t that just an excuse to bail on her other friend?
So, I told Callan she could go miniature golfing so long as she told Chloe the truth, which would be (if she opted to go) that she was the kind of friend who ditches someone in a heartbeat if something better comes along.
In other words, it was Callan’s choice how she spent the afternoon, but I was not going to allow her to excuse her actions in a way that somehow rationalized leaving one friend for another.
When Callan tried again to justify why she should go miniature golfing, I cut her off. The choice was hers, but it had to include the truth.
Callan was not happy with me. I watched her ponder the dilemma, and I honestly did not know what she was going to do. After about five minutes, I saw her go and pick up the phone and dial. But I still didn’t know which friend she was calling.
And then I heard her say, “Rachel, thanks for inviting me to go miniature golfing, and I really, really, wanted to go. But . . . I already have plans with another friend today. I hope you ask me again.”
So, even a nine-year-old understood the difference between rationalizing an action and the actual truth.
But how many times do we cover our own truths with an excuse—and do not even realize we’re doing that? So, here are some common examples when excuses mask what’s really the truth.
An excuse: I was late because there was a lot of traffic.
The truth: I was late because I overscheduled my day and did not allow enough wiggle room.
An excuse: I couldn’t do (whatever) because you weren’t clear what needed to be done.
The truth: I didn’t do (whatever) because I didn’t ask for clarification on how to do the job.
An excuse: I didn’t finish (whatever) because there weren’t enough supplies.
The truth: I didn’t finish (whatever) because I didn’t plan accordingly (e.g. buy enough supplies) to complete the task.
An excuse: I can’t pay my bills because my job doesn’t pay me enough money.
The truth: I can’t pay my bills because I spend more money than I make.
Interestingly, these two different responses—an excuse versus the truth—might also give us some insight as to how our own brain is wired. For example, the excuse mentality can be thought of as a fight or flight reaction.
How’s that? Well, first the person withdraws any personal responsibility for what happened by pointing the finger elsewhere, and then he or she likely goes into the fight mode if others don’t graciously accept the excuse.
In contrast, the truth mentality can be thought of as a cortex response. Here, the person has reflected on his or her own role in whatever has happened and then accepts full responsibility for whatever has transpired.
This latter kind of wiring also decreases the probability the same action will be repeated. That’s because such people have an awareness that they are ultimately responsible for whatever happened, so they can now do something different in the future to avoid the same scenario.
But that’s why we wouldn’t expect that kind of learning curve with a person whose brain is wired to make excuses. Without any self-awareness and reflection, such people will continue to point to someone or something else to justify what they did and, therefore, will likely repeat whatever they did previously.
So why not ask yourself: How often do I mask the truth with an excuse? To find out, record a point every time you gloss over the truth and make an excuse (that shifts the focus to anyone or anything but you) for whatever happens over the next seven days. Tally your points at the end of the week.
If you accept this challenge, there’s no way you can lose. If you have no or few points, you can smile and congratulate yourself. If you have more points than you’d like, you can decide to pause as soon as you realize you’ve inserted an excuse in place of the truth—and then, you can reframe what you say.
This is also great modeling for our kids because here’s yet another humbling truth: If we’re tired of all our kids’ excuses . . . have they learned that response from us?
When interviewing prospective Brain Highways staff, here’s the first question I ask: On a 1 to 10 scale, how goofy can you get?
So, how would you rate yourself in terms of being goofy? And . . . would that number differ from how others rate you?
Here’s why I think acting goofy at times—clearly, this is not the preferred default mode—is important.
1. When we’re goofy, we’re definitely in our cortex. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible to be goofy while we’re in the primitive, survival parts of our brain.
2. If we welcome being goofy, we probably don’t take ourselves so seriously all the time. That then reminds us and others that no one is perfect.
3. When we’re goofy, it usually prompts others to laugh and smile—and that triggers positive mirror neurons in everyone around us.
4. If we’re goofy in front of others, we probably aren’t real self-conscious or care what others may think.
So, as parents, how can we include more goofiness in our homes? Here are some favorite ways we had fun being silly when my girls were young.
We declared one night our “backwards evening.” After we figured out our names spelled backwards, that’s how we addressed each other (e.g. Jim became Mij). Each family member wore their clothes backwards to dinner, where we (of course) ate dessert first. After dinner, we re-wrote song lyrics so that they were now backwards (last word of the line became the first and so on) and tried singing them that way. We wrapped up the evening by reading the nighttime story from the last page to the first.
House Dress Up
We gathered items, such as shirts, pants, socks, shoes, scarves, hats, headbands, and jewelry to dress the furniture in a room (e.g. socks and shoes were placed on chair legs, hats were placed on top of lampshades, and so on).
We promoted a new, fantastic dog show, and then we (as the parents) became “the dogs” while the girls (our owners) taught us new tricks. (Yes, we were down on our hands and knees—and even barked here and there—as we learned to roll over, and more.)
Fifi from France
Oddly, a woman who looked a lot like me—but who had (if truth be known) a terrible French accent and was named Fifi—seemed to show up when the girls had friends over for lunch. Of course, Fifi loved to serve people their food as she told them of her days in France. (She was so popular that my girls’ friends often inquired if Fifi would be serving them when they came over.)
Human Christmas Tree and Presents
First, the kids made homemade wrapping paper from long pieces of butcher paper. We also made a large green paper pancho-like tarp that we put over my husband, who was designated to be the human tree.
Next, we wrapped the part of his legs that were still showing in brown paper. Combining both homemade and store-bought ornaments, we decorated our novel tree, complete with lights and an angel on top of his head.
After that, we wrapped the human presents (the kids and their friends) in the paper they had created so that just their heads and feet showed. We placed the human presents under the human tree, and turned off the lights, pretending it was Christmas Eve. After a few minutes, we turned the lights back on, declared it was Christmas morning, and the human presents burst out of their paper! Oh, and by the way, we did this in . . . July (just adds more to the goofiness).
Okay, so can you picture yourself doing any or all of the above? If not (and you’d like to bring a little more goofiness into your home), you may have been raised in a house where acting silly and goofy was frowned upon. Without realizing it, you may have now inadvertently passed on that subconscious message to your own kids.
But that’s hardly etched in stone. Any family can have a backwards evening, dress up furniture, teach (parent) dogs new tricks, be served by a foreigner with an accent, and create a crazy Christmas in the middle of summer.
And that’s just the beginning. The list of potential ways to be goofy and fun is endless. In fact, you may be surprised to discover that you have a lot of dormant goofiness— just waiting for a chance to surface.