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Taking the Fear out of Vaccine Discussions


Reproaching parents who do not vaccinate their children has not proven to change their minds.

I’m concerned that pons-triggered-fear-responses are dominating the topic of vaccines.

What do I mean? Well, as the media continues to present stories on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, we read very emotional letters to the editor and online comments that admonish such parents as being anything from selfish to criminals who should be prosecuted.

Yet, there are facts—not opinions—that are usually omitted whenever this topic resurfaces in the news.  However, such facts can’t be omitted if we’re to have cortex-based discussions on vaccines.

To note: This post is not intended to support one view or another on vaccines. Instead, it’s to help ensure that our limbic system (our emotional part of the brain) is not deciding what is best for our kids.

So, what are some facts that contradict those emotional accusations (since those are not as well publicized)?

The most concerning misinformation is that unvaccinated people put vaccinated people at risk.  But think about that claim.

If vaccinations absolutely prevented disease, then only those who didn’t get vaccinated would be at risk, right? And if so, wouldn’t there be some kind of poetic justice for those “free riders” who refused to cooperate? In other words, just the unvaccinated would become ill.

But that’s not what happens. You can still get a disease, even if you’ve been vaccinated for it. That’s the truth.

So, with that mindset, everyone becomes a potential threat to passing on a disease—if we’re choosing to view people as threatening others’ health and safety whenever they venture out in public.

The media also seems to focus on just one primary reason why parents are opting not to vaccinate their kids, citing that such parents think there’s a link between vaccines and autism. But that infers before autism became primetime in the news, no one had concerns about vaccines. Yet, that’s not true, either.

For example, no one ever suggested a connection between vaccines and autism when my girls were babies. Still, my doctor informed me of potential risks associated with the various recommended shots at our routine two-month visit. In fact, I was definitely told pertussis reactions could even cause permanent brain damage, but I was also assured that such risk was minimal.

However, statistics when it’s one in (fill in a big number) take on a different meaning when you’re the “one” in that equation. My second daughter had that rare—but extremely frightening—reaction to the pertussis vaccine.

I’m talking the kind of reaction where you take a healthy, happy baby to the doctor, and an hour later, she’s having convulsions. I’m talking about the kind of reaction where the doctor is calling you every hour—even though there’s nothing she can really do at that point. I’m talking about one of the longest nights in my life, feeling helpless, just praying the reaction would finally end, that my daughter would be fine.

And she was. But her doctor back then—who was one of the biggest proponents of vaccines–definitely made sure it was written all over my daughter’s medical charts: NO PERTUSSIS VACCINE–ever.

So, in our current discussion on vaccines, we do need to remember that there have always been risks associated with them—long before a potential autism link was ever even suggested.

Those who opt not to vaccinate today are also accused of having a distorted fear of big pharmaceutical companies.  Yet, here again, there are facts to consider when making our own conclusions.

First, no doctor or pharmaceutical company can be held liable for any adverse reaction to a vaccine. Call me crazy, but to me, vaccine safety would be a lot more convincing if those fervently advocating and manufacturing vaccinations were also held liable for adverse reactions.

Second, doctors can and do work for pharmaceutical companies—though this association is rarely made public when such doctors are quoted on vaccine safety. Third, vaccines are a 22 billion dollar industry.

While none of these facts negate vaccines as beneficial, they do at least warrant a pause—and pausing is always a good sign of being in the cortex.

But with a cortex-based discussion on vaccines, we equally need to keep alive why vaccines were created in the first place.  For example, most of today’s younger generation of parents has not had any first-hand experience with these diseases.

So we need to remember how horrific these diseases are and the implications if they ever again became epidemic. To omit that information is just as negligent as glossing over the other facts noted so far.

Cortex-based discussions also always explore options.  For example, today’s kids are recommended to have 69+ doses of 16 different vaccines by the time they are 18.

So, what if some parents choose to vaccinate their kids, but opt not to do all of them? Consider, too, that 145 additional vaccines are currently being developed in clinical trials. That means it’s possible that even today’s parents who follow the recommended 16 may decide to reduce the total number of vaccines for their child if that number continues to rise in the future.

Or, some parents may simply prefer to follow a vaccine schedule of another country, noting that there is not universal agreement among conventional medicine as to when such shots are given.

But it’s those kinds of perspectives, combined with factual information on vaccines, that provide great fodder for lively, cortex-based discussions.  Yet, if we allow fear to dominate our responses—whether it’s related to vaccines themselves or what might happen if not everyone is vaccinated—then no one is a winner, least of all our kids.

So, we can agree and disagree on vaccines. And if we stay in our cortex, we don’t feel threatened if others arrive at a conclusion that differs from our own.

Autism Criteria May Be Changed


How will changing the autism criteria help kids?

That was the headline in today’s paper.  So, if your child was diagnosed with autism in the past, he could be instantly “cured” in the near future—if he doesn’t fit the new definition.  But why doesn’t that sound . . . right?

Here’s what has transpired to date. A panel of experts, appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, is recommending pretty dramatic changes in the present criteria for diagnosing autism.

For example, with the new guidelines, there would no longer be related disorder categories, such as Asperger’s or PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified).

Instead, there would be just one autism spectrum disorder, and qualifying for that diagnosis would be much more difficult than the current guidelines.

But here’s the upside. These experts claim that such changes could dramatically affect the rate of autism.(In some places, the rate of autism is now as high as 1 in 100 children.)  In fact, Dr. Fred R. Volkman, director of the Child Study Center at Yale University of Medicine says, “The proposed changes would put an end to the autism epidemic.  We would nip it in the bud.”

Okay, first pause.

Changing statistics do not improve a problem.  For example, we could raise the driving alcohol limit, and thereby greatly reduce the number of people arrested for drunk driving. But a change in those statistics wouldn’t mean we’re now any safer on the road. In fact, changing the criteria for drunk driving (by making it so less people were deemed driving under the influence) would only put everyone more at risk.

Second pause.

Is money partially (or completely) driving this reclassification?  With the current criteria, hundreds of thousands of people receive state-backed special services. So, you gotta wonder if tightening the criteria for autism and eliminating its related disorders isn’t just a creative way to help fix existing state budget problems.

That being said, diagnosing autism and its related disorders has always been subjective, and this latest attempt to change the criteria underscores that point. In other words, such diagnoses have never come about in the same way, for example, as a cancer diagnosis—where there’s tangible “proof.”

And here’s another truth: While parents of kids with Asperger’s and PDD-NOS may presently qualify for certain resources, those services are limited. Often, such assistance does not even render significant results.

So maybe this is one of those blessings in disguise.

Maybe—if such changes pass—more parents will be motivated to learn about brain organization and how they can facilitate positive changes in their child’s brain wiring.  Maybe more parents will no longer be resigned to out-of-bounds behaviors that they’ve been told to “expect” if their child has autism or one of its related disorders.

And maybe, just maybe, the focus will return to this question: How can we best help kids who are struggling?  If that is the driving question, then having or not having a diagnosis becomes irrelevant.


Bipolar Kids?


Kids who are diagnosed as being bipolar are often given medications that have only been approved for adults.

I felt encouraged when I started reading, “Mommy, Am I Really Bipolar?” in the June 27 issue of Newsweek. In the beginning of the article, Dr. Stuart Kaplan, a child psychiatrist with close to five decades of experience, makes the case there is no scientific basis for a bipolar diagnosis for kids.

He claims the bipolar childhood diagnosis only took hold for two main reasons.  First, the authors of a book called The Bipolar Child were featured on 20/20 and Oprah. Following those broadcasts, pharmaceutical companies immediately seized on the current buzz. They began to offer lucrative opportunities for doctors to give industry-sponsored talks to other doctors, with the hopes that more kids would be diagnosed as bipolar and be prescribed their already adult-approved drugs.

In 2006, I was mistakenly invited to attend one of those talks. I say it was an error because I thought I was being invited to a dinner to share ideas on innovative ways to help kids who struggled with attention issues.

I did not know that I was going to be the only non-doctor in the room.  I did not know that the expensive dinner would be complete with centerpieces and take-home goodies that had the sponsoring drug company’s name on everything. I did not know the guest speaker was going to be a psychiatrist who was paid by the drug company. And yes, this psychiatrist spent more than an hour convincing the rest of the doctors in the room to consider a childhood bipolar diagnosis and to use these new drug options with their patients.

So five years later, no surprise that I find myself feeling rather enthused when reading Dr. Kaplan’s article. Here, he’s telling the world that hundreds of thousands of children in the United States are taking adult drugs for a diagnosis he believes does not exist in childhood.  He even goes on to mock how “not waking easily” in the morning has now become considered a sign of being bipolar (this behavior is on the accepted checklist).

The more I read, the more I’m loving it.  Someone in the medical community is challenging what often seems like an indiscriminate prescribing of powerful drugs to young children. Someone with clout is getting others to think about exploring whether this (and other) behaviors could actually be related to something else less ominous.

For example, I’ve met lots of kids with underdeveloped vestibular systems who have trouble waking up in the morning.  How do we know there was a vestibular connection? Well, once these kids’ vestibular systems improved (by doing specific movements, not by taking drugs), they awakened easily.

So I’m smiling as I continue to read, believing that Dr. Kaplan is setting the stage for what’s going to be a good thought-provoking article for mainstream America. But then I read a little more—and, boy, was I ever wrong.

True, he does not believe these kids are bipolar . . . but (are you ready?) he claims these are really kids who have severe ADD and OCD. Worst of all, his point is misdiagnosing these kids means they’re now missing out on being treated with drugs for those diagnoses.

Ah, not to be discouraged. Dr. Kaplan ends his article with hope that the tide may be turning.  The American Psychiatric Association is presently deciding on new criteria that could dramatically reduce the bipolar “fad diagnosis.”  They are recommending a new diagnosis called temper disregulation disorder, citing that this would be a more accurate way to describe extreme irritability in children.

Too cynical to think that drug companies are already starting to ponder what could be prescribed for this diagnosis?

Well, I’m not giving up that, someday, the article I thought I was going to read will be printed in mainstream media.  But guess for now, that time has yet to come.


Why We Can’t Stay Quiet


We regain hope when we learn
the brain can change.

The numbers keep going up.

According to an article by Bloomberg News, the number of children with ADHD has risen 33% in the past decade. Autism has risen nearly fourfold.  In total, about one in six children in the United States has a developmental disability, which is an estimated 10 million kids.

With those numbers, the article raised these concerns: How will we provide enough services to help that many kids? What is it going to cost?

There were no answers. So, maybe it’s time to look through a different lens to help these struggling kids.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with thousands of kids who had developmental disabilities when they first started the Brain Highways program. Yet, many (if not all) of those disabilities dwindled and disappeared once the kids started organizing their brain.  Every time.

But here’s what I also know: Despite the fact that thousands of kids have changed how their brain functions, we’ll continue to see more doom and gloom articles in the very near future.

So something has to change — like maybe right now.

There are just too many kids with brilliant minds and compassionate hearts that we’re overlooking. Who knows? The next incredible inventor, musician, writer, or mathematician may be sitting right next to us—and we don’t even know it.

So I’m asking parents who have participated in brain organization programs to “pay it forward.”  Write your newspaper’s editors. Tell your doctors and classroom teachers.  Revisit prior therapists.  Shout it from the rooftop: We don’t have to sit, helpless, and watch the numbers rise. The brain can change. Best of all, we can teach parents how to help their kids do this.

Of course, the naysayers will say: What? You’re giving parents false hope.  Where’s the research?

Count on that last question. It’s often asked as a way of silencing those who are doing something new and different. It’s also meant to remind parents that there are charlatans and snake oil out there.

And yes, there are.  But this is also true: Many kids have participated in researched-based programs that yielded little or no notable improvements.

So that also needs to be said, again and again:  Researched-based programs don’t necessarily guarantee results for your child.  And programs without research aren’t all snake oil. (Why do I think those comments just made me a target and arrows are flying my way?)

But I’ve decided to stick my neck out there.

Let me clarify. Am I against research? Of course not.  It’s important to document results.  But it’s also possible to do so without published research.

For example, the Brain Highways program has concrete, objective ways to measure success, but we lack formal published, scientific studies. Why? Well, those studies cost a lot of money. They also require unbiased, qualified people to do the work (if the study is going to have true merit), as well as time to track long-term results.  Couple that reality with how many people need help right now . . and we’ve chosen to go straight to the latter by teaching parents how to facilitate their kids’ brain organization—today.  It’s today that Tommy or Susie or Trevor needs help.

So, here’s what we can do.  Let’s start our very own Brain Changing Awareness Week.  Why not? The goal: Use Twitter, Facebook, email, and personal contacts to send this simple two-part message to as many people as possible: The brain can change, and parents can learn how to facilitate their kids’ brain organization.

There are millions of kids waiting and hoping that message is heard.

Are Chinese Mothers Really Superior?


Parenting presents different challenges when the brain is not organized as intended.

Amy Chua is a professor of law at Yale. Yet, her case that Chinese mothers are superior to Western parents is weak.

In her article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, she claims that the solution to substandard performance is “always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.”

Well, lucky for Ms. Chua that her kids must have developed their lower centers of the brain and inhibited their primitive reflexes.  Otherwise, I think she’d have a very different take on parenting.

That’s because it doesn’t matter how much a parent screams or threatens or takes away belongings (she gives several examples where she is proud to have done this) when such development is incomplete. The truth is, no parent—Chinese or Western— can “will” a brain to do something if it’s not wired to do so.

So I’d like to suggest different criteria for identifying superior parents. I think that title should go to moms and dads who know whether their child has completed their lower brain development—and who then learn how to help their child build those highways, if warranted.

That, Amy Chua, is the best way to guarantee our children become who they are supposed to be.

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