Give Children Every Advantage

November 28th, 2016

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            New parents hope that their children will be perfect. Unfortunately, there is often disappointment when reality sets in.

We have always cared about the welfare of our children, but now each child seems to matter more as family size is decreasing. Fortunately much can be done now to help children with disabilities. Difficulty with reading, dyslexia, is a good example.

Dyslexia is estimated to affect as many as 20% of people—that is one in five! Reading is an amazingly complex skill, so it is no wonder so many people have difficulty. As many females have dyslexia as males, but girls tend to stand out less. Dyslexic boys often act out in school, while girls with the same problem tend to become quiet and not call attention to themselves.

Teachers are recognizing dyslexia more now than when I was in school. I remember struggling with reading in first grade. I envied one of my classmates who read much better than I. Many years later at a reunion when I mentioned this to her, she replied “Didn’t you know I was repeating first grade?”

Probably both she and I suffered from dyslexia. I managed to squeak by until 7th grade when my English teacher realized that something was wrong. Mr. Johnson focused on the spelling part of the problem. I’m a pretty good speller now, but unfortunately I am still a slow reader.

My freshman year in college was rough. I was faced with large volumes of reading that I couldn’t plough through at my slow pace of 200 words-per-minute. Once again coaching helped me. Only recently have I realized that the basic problem is that I have mild dyslexia.

Unfortunately dyslexia is ignored frequently, as it was with me. Its treatment is time consuming and expensive, and it is best to start early. Although some adults are successful despite dyslexia, many are not so fortunate because they get off to a bad start in school. This can lead to poor self-esteem, dropping out of school and perhaps even to criminal activity. Two thirds of prisoners have poor reading skills, and many of these have been found to be dyslexic.

Research on dyslexia is ongoing, but two doctors developed an effective method of treating it. The Orton-Gillingham method employs multiple senses in its approach, including visual, auditory and kinesthetic pathways. A student will see a word, say the same word and write it at the same time so it gets firmly implanted in her brain. This is very intensive of teachers’ time since it involves one-on-one interaction, but amazingly successful in improving reading ability.

It is wonderful that our community has a school that offers education for dyslexics. In fact, it is so good and so well known that it has attracted families to move here. The Liberty School provides state-of-the-art instruction for kids from 1st through 8th grades. It also has programs to challenge children who are exceptionally bright. Often children will spend only a year or two at the school, to get an educational boost.

A friend sent two of her children to the Liberty School, not because they were doing poorly in the public schools but because she thought that they could do better. Indeed, they improved markedly! Her daughter went from performing at a 5th grade level in math to 12th grade—in just one year! The son hadn’t been writing well, but at Liberty wrote a great play together with classmates.

My friend couldn’t say enough good things about Liberty and the influence it had on her kids. She is a school psychologist as well as being an excellent, involved mother.

One of the keys of Liberty is integration: the older kids help the younger, and those who read well help the ones who don’t. I observed this when I visited the school recently. I interviewed several of the students; all were enthusiastic about their school and the progress they were making. I saw lots of smiling faces.

The Liberty School is building a new facility up Junction Creek Road. It will not only be state-of-the-art but also have wonderful land for recreation and nature studies. There was an excellent story about their campaign on the front page of the Herald 12 days ago.

            Being able to help a child afflicted with dyslexia succeed in life is just one advantage of a small family. Fortunately we live in a society that does not judge people by the number of children they have.

© Richard Grossman 2016

Shape the World You Want by Voting

October 24th, 2016

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            In November we will have the opportunity to vote, and thus help shape our world—both nationally and locally. Please vote, even if you don’t follow my suggestions!

Most politicians have personality traits that set them aside from the normal populace. Usually those traits are an asset. Unfortunately this is not true with one of the current presidential candidates who has a personality disorder: narcissism. This psychiatric illness is concerning for someone who must make decisions that will affect our country and the whole world. A person with narcissism thinks of himself, not of his constituency. This narcissistic personality disorder has allowed Trump to lie with impunity; he probably believes his own untruths! I fear what might happen if he were president and had to make a decision about launching a nuclear attack. Trump is a disgrace to our country.

Several amendments to the Colorado constitution are on the ballot. One would create a new healthcare system for citizens of our state. Currently we don’t have a healthcare system in our country; we have a tangle of fiefdoms run by overpaid administrators. Insurance companies and other financial parasites suck half of healthcare dollars away from actual care. We need a single payer system such as the other 9 of the richest countries have. Unfortunately, I don’t think that ColoradoCare will do what is needed. I will vote against proposed amendment 69.

My main concern about 69 is women’s issues. The ColoradoCare’s board of trustees might end up with a majority adverse to contraception. It couldn’t happen, you say? Surely the board would realize that reproductive health is a human right and saves up to $7 for every dollar spent? Unfortunately our elected officials don’t always make rational decisions. Remember what happened in the Colorado legislature to the bill that would have paid for effective IUDs? Sponsored by Republican Representative Coram, that bill was killed in our state senate.

There are economic reasons to support Amendment 70, which will raise the minimum wage in Colorado from $8.31 to $12.00 per hour over the next 4 years. Boosting the economy is one. For me, however, it is just ethical to pay employees close to a living wage—about $13.00 for a single person in La Plata County. I will vote for 70.

Using tobacco is incompatible with good health; therefore it is beneficial to decrease its use. Taxing tobacco is a good idea, and increasing the current tax with Amendment 72 is a great plan. The tax is a disincentive, and the money will further healthcare and medical research.

I am of the age when terminal illnesses become common—although I’ve been lucky so far. We have come a long way with hospice and palliative care, but there are people with terminal illnesses whose lives are miserable and would like to take “life-ending, doctor-prescribed sleeping medication”. I have cared for some people whose last days were wretched and who wanted an end to their misery. I support Proposition 106, the “Medical Aid in Dying” initiative.

In La Plata County we have the opportunity with Ballot Issue 1B to fund a new terminal and other improvements to our airport. As one who flies fairly often, I am aware of the problems with our current facilities. However, I see reasons to vote against the expansion. I suspect air service is in its heyday. As the price of fuel rises and constraints on emissions come into play, it seems likely that people will fly less rather than more. Furthermore, the airport expansion would propel county expansion, but is that what we want? Isn’t our population big enough as it is? Let’s not vote for this big tax increase.

There are three Ballot Issues I do support even though they will mean an increase in taxes. 1A will be used to maintain our roads and bridges. Roads are used by everyone and are essential for our economy. I believe that having our roads in good condition is more important than a new airport terminal, and at much less cost. Furthermore, well-maintained roads improve the safety of all who travel in our county, so I consider this an issue of public health. Two Ballot Issues are for money to improve our schools, 3A for Durango and 3B for Bayfield. Educating our children well is vital for our future; please vote for this support.

            I don’t like politics, but chose this subject because this election is so important that we all need to participate in the democratic process.

                                           © Richard Grossman MD, 2016

Move Upstream

September 28th, 2016

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“Many children in this area have families that are unable to care for them. Fortunately, there are orphanages here in town that are able to care for small babies until their families are able to care for them again. The situation here is desperate, and many of the babies brought to the orphanages are severely malnourished.”                                                                        Phil and Laura Olaniyi

            Laura and Phil formerly lived in Durango but moved to Mozambique where they are starting an orphanage, “Heart for the Needy”. Let’s look at some of the statistics for this East African country.

Mozambique is one of the fastest growing countries in the world; women there have an average of almost 6 children. The country’s infant mortality is tragic, with 83 of every thousand children dying before they reach one year of age. This is one reason for the high fertility, since couples usually don’t choose to have small families until they know their children will live to adulthood. The maternal mortality rate is also very high. The average per capita income is only $3 a day.

These statistics don’t begin to tell the anguish of a mother who cannot care for her child, or the grief of a family who cannot care for a baby whose mother died in childbirth. Fortunately there are compassionate people such as Laura and Phil to care for these abandoned children. Even though they are far away I feel close to them in a way since I have worked with both of them—and I helped when Laura was born.

I agree with a statement Laura made on her blog: “Let’s be honest for a second, though. An orphanage is only putting a Band-Aid on the real problem – poverty & oppression.”

I admire Laura for being so perceptive, but I want to add another cause of “the real problem”—undesired fertility. In Mozambique only a quarter of girls are enrolled in secondary school, and only 11% of married women use modern contraception. The fertility of non-educated women is twice that of women with secondary school education, 6.8 and 3.4, respectively. This is an example of the wonderful power of educating women!

In the developing world young women often have very little power or control over their lives. Older men approach them with offers of money or coveted goods in exchange for sex. Rape is also common. The story of such an unfortunate young woman is told in the short YouTube video “Not Yet Rain”, filmed in Ethiopia.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Karen Shragg has used a similar expression in the title of her book: “Move Upstream: A Call to Solve Overpopulation”. In it Karen points out that so many of the problems we face, including climate change, ocean fisheries depletion, and extinction of species, are caused by increasing human overpopulation. Similarly, the need for orphanages is (in part) a symptom of unwanted fertility.

I have two friends who live in Bayfield who spent part of their childhoods in orphanages. Both are productive citizens who might not have survived if there had not been institutions to care for them as small children. In addition, relatives adopted a boy from the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was 3 years old. Mason’s birth parents died when he was small, so his grandmother took over his care. Unfortunately, she was unable to meet his needs then he was well cared for in an orphanage. Mason has joined a loving family in Durango who are giving him opportunities that would be impossible in Congo.

Orphanages provide a wonderful opportunity to care for some of the world’s most vulnerable children. There are few orphanages left in the U.S.A., but in developing countries there are many, and there is much need. As Laura points out, however, orphanages are just a Band-Aid for the real problems—terrible poverty, low status of women and many unplanned pregnancies.

We should “move upstream” to get at the root of the problem rather than just using Band-Aids. Steps that will help include supporting international family planning organizations such as the Population Media Center, and help the Population Connection terminate the Helms amendment, which restricts government funded agencies from even talking about abortion.

Until we have solved the problem of unplanned pregnancies, the only humane action is to care for orphans the way Laura and Phil are. I am sending them a check to help them as they build Heart for the Needy. What a boon it will be for orphans in Mozambique!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2016

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.