Wednesday, October 23, 2013


The Full Spectrum Household has been avoiding refined sugar for over six months now.

With the younguns, this move is behavior-driven; for Maman, it’s a serious health issue.

As Halloween approaches, I find my mind wandering to – well, what do you think?


Because we will be trick-or-treating, complete with all the quirks of Full Spectrum boundary awkwardness in doorways (every year G wanders casually into at least one random stranger’s home, focused on an enticing trinket or element of decor) and social ineptitudes (hey, now we really can’t recognize you, um, everyone) and violations (quick - watch Z’s hands in the serve-yourself bowls).

Many of our ‘specially fun qualities are exponentially amplified by being all hopped up on sugar.

So, then, post trick-or-treating, there will be these bags of candy. In the kitchen. After the Full Spectrum children are snug in their beds. In their bedrooms.

As you would expect, this little voice in the back of my mind is all, “You know what? If you just had a little bit of candy, say, a few Reese’s peanut butter cups, basically, that would be like…homeopathy!”

“How so?” the small remaining rational part of my mind wonders.

“Because, duh, if you never EAT Reese’s Cups, how will your body build up immunity? How will it know how to process Reese’s Cups, should it ever be exposed to said Cups???”

Exactly. Thus, have I put forth the prestigious, correct-ish “Reese’s Theory of Homeopathy.”

And I think it’s safe to say this scientific-homeopathic model may, in moderation, be applied to a number of other aspects of life…At least until the Special Candy Fairy comes and replaces all the candy with nurturing, commercial-free, organic playthings and natural, lo-flavor veggie-butter-leather.

Happy Halloween!

Dr. Full Spectrum Mama, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


An October 8th NEW YORK TIMES “Profiles in Science” piece on Michael Dickinson and fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) completely (technical term alert) blew my mind. Although fruit flies, obviously, have very small brains, the flexibility and mutability of their neurons result in a per-neuron superior functionality than is found in humans. Because “the presence of different chemicals called neuromodulators in the fly brain can change how a given group of neurons acts at different times” (, fruit flies have an astounding capacity for (relatively speaking, of course) adaptation and development.

I was inspired by this article to do a little research on neuromodulators in humans and it turns out this is a pretty new concept in neuroscience, one which looks very promising for human development in the long term.  Neuromodulators include serotonin and dopamine, with which scientists have been experimenting for decades with somewhat limited success; however, our knowledge of how neuromodulators influence and transform brain activity is now expanding exponentially.

Dickinson’s work will contribute to this understanding, as well as to our respect for the complexity and genius of the lowly creatures he studies. The wonders of flying, he suggests, rest chiefly in the brain. Just as the brain flexibility of fruit flies enables flight in an ever-changing variety of circumstances, so might the relatively less-flexible human brain be influenced to adapt and develop -- if we can more effectively identify and utilize neuromodulatory mechanisms. 

There’s a lot of talk about neuroplasticity around autism, hinting at enhanced brain-healing capacity in spectrum-y brains, but I am encouraged by the potential for healing, among other things, brain traumas (such as are found in attachment disorders and PTSD) as well. These neurological differences – autism, attachment disorders and PTSD - are all significant factors in our Full Spectrum household. (Please stay tuned for an upcoming post on HEALING in a Full Spectrum!)

Apart from the NEW YORK TIMES’ “Science” section, just a quick dabble shows the world of neuroscience is all abuzz (and awiggle) in popular culture.

In VOGUE, Rebecca Johnson’s “New Frontier” (October 2013) profiles the neuroscientist Cori Bargmann and her work with a tiny worm (the nemotode C. elegans) that has 302 neurons (humans have 10 billion). Bargmann’s work sketches filaments of hope for brain-science progress between increasing computer capacities, advances in electrodes for the measurement of nerve cells, and improved microfabrication…She sees psychiatric medicine as just one of the more promising subfields among the many in which neuroscientific developments will benefit humanity.

“Now,” Bargmann marvels in VOGUE, “we are not just watching the flow of information [via neurons] but trying to change it.”

One part scary, one part breathtakingly hopeful, eh?

THE NEW YORKER recently published “Mindless: The new neuro-skeptics,” by Adam Gopnik, about the mind-brain divisions and debunkings posited in some circles (September 9, 2013). Gopnik likens the “brain” camp, with its currently culturally dominant emphasis on neuroscience, to Mr. Spock (now you know I love a good Star Trek reference, plus Spock was my pretend-fiancĂ© when I was little). The “mind” camp, which sometimes compares neuroscience to the now thoroughly discredited early-nineteenth-century “science” of phrenology (or mapping the mind through the shape of the skull), he frames as akin to Captain Kirk. He points to the rich literature and inquiry on both “teams” and concludes that both responsibility and possibility lie in the whole package – mind-plus-brain (plus environment), all working together in a way so “complex and contingent” as to boggle the, ahem, mind.

Complexity notwithstanding, evolution of many sorts is ongoing, whether scientific, philosophical, even personal: “We learn and shape our neurology as much as we inherit it,” says Gopnik. ”Our selves shape our brains at least as much as our brains our selves.”

What he said.

More neuroscience-boom proof: the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2013 went to some neuroscience dudes…And Obama recently launched the BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) project, an unprecedented neuroscience initiative (in fact, Cori Bargmann will co-chair this endeavor).

But then, working on the mind is nothing new.

From ancient philosophers to contemporary mystics, wise people have always known it is possible to train (ideally) and re-train (less-ideally, but more commonly) the mind. From Plato’s (and his student, Aristotle’s) thoughts on ideal environments and habits for exercising the virtues, to the Buddha’s writings on practices to calm and discipline the mind and actions; from Confucius on good habits and self-discipline in harmony (the Tao), to Teresa of Avila on practicing devotions of imagination and contemplation; from Thomas Merton on spiritual disciplines as the way to liberation,* to Starhawk on “psychological techniques and personal disciplines” as tools for transformation;** and on and on (I’ve left so many out in the interest of brevity!!)…all the great traditions offer tools for behavioral, mental, emotional, and – sometimes – spiritual development of the mind.

Now we are just beginning to enter this heretofore sci-fi realm of attaining real knowledge about the brain itself. It’s exciting.

Disclaimer: Full Spectrum Mama loves her children and self just as they are, and is NOT looking for a “cure” for Asperger’s!!!! ***

But wouldn’t it be great to have the option of tweaking our own neurology in positive ways? Even if we have no desire whatsoever to change, this knowledge itself will be awe-inspiring: we have the potential to understand, if not emulate, what Dickinson calls the “great success stories” borne of adaptable, flexible (fruitfly) neurology.

Full Spectrum Mama is certainly gung ho about adding new tools to our quests for health and healing, especially in terms of reducing suffering.  To wit, my neurology has always been sensitive and prone to migraines, but with age and/or a major concussion a few years back and/or something else (?) my migraines and PTSD triggers have increased dramatically over the years. I’d try just about anything – meditation to neuromodulation - to soothe these neurological responses. Just – don’t you touch my Special Interests!

I guess that last is the key, though.

 Bargmann bemoans the “dismal state” of today’s psychiatric medicines, and the field of neuromodulators remains in its infancy. All the beautiful possibilities mentioned in these articles are still just ideas. Early on, would tweaking my neurology result in unintended consequences such as losing my precious Special Interests or other things about me that I treasure or see as integral to who I am? Furthermore, the idea of such tools being used against our will or unbeknownst to us is unsettling, at best. “Neuromodulism” (I just made that up) could become “the new eugenics.” Ew.

 With all these caveats, I am still intrigued by the potential for human beings to develop and adapt more effectively. Reducing certain kinds of obstacles to flourishing, such as unwanted manifestations of mental illness, physiological trauma and physical pain, will help us “fly” higher – and with more flexibility.

Now come on, Homo sapiens! If D. melanogaster can do it, we can too!

Full Spectrum Mama

* Admittedly, Merton’s deeply entwined Catholicism and Zen Buddhism were somewhat controversial, but FSM always errs on the side of acceptance.

*** Speaking of Asperger’s: between you and me and the fencepost, take a look at the picture of Dickinson and then read his words and ask yourself who’s got Asperger’s all up in that article.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


We are at a family wedding in Maine. My sweet, hunky cousin, Whitey McWhiteperson is marrying one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life,* who happens to be from Kenya, although she grew up mostly in the United States.
* Also, she’s a great person and a Nurse. Grr. I mean…yay!

We are surrounded by close to a hundred people from Africa – most are from Kenya but a few are from Liberia, Ghana and Zimbabwe; most are immigrants to the U.S., but some are here from abroad. My family, consisting primarily of real live White people, makes up only a fraction of the wedding guests.

Many guests from The Bride’s side are in traditional dress, especially the women, who are in amazing, architectural headpieces and dresses of bright, stunning fabrics.

The Bridal Procession begins. The Bride is preceded by a whole bunch of middle-aged women singing exquisite and/or rowdy songs in Swahili. Other women are jubilantly ululating. As The Bride proceeds, she is accompanied by a rainbow of younger women in a variety of matching outfits by group (future sisters-in-law in lavender taffeta, friends from the U.S. in blue silk, friends/family from abroad in mixed colors…).

The singing, ululating elder women are using large, intricately patterned cloths as rugs to cover the ground in front of The Bride. Each cloth is removed as soon as she has passed, and quickly carried forward to lengthen the stretch of cloths in her path so that she need never touch the ground until reaching the altar.

G and Z and I are watching the scene with delight and wonder. G has settled down a bit from his initial flailing and neediness (from feeling overwhelmed by all the people and a new environment). I see stars in my daughter’s eyes and am happy to know she is experiencing such a harmonious, extraordinary, multicultural and flat-out-super-enjoyable event.

I’ll look forward to the color-blind (gender-blind, sexual-orientation-blind...sigh) day when such heterogeneity is a commonplace, but for now I’m feeling truly grateful that my daughter gets to experience this diversity in relatively-homogenous northern New England.

Figure I – Z (right) with New Friends at the Wedding

A hush falls on the guests as The Bride and her attendants near the altar, which is located on a breathtaking spit of land overlooking the ocean. The singing gets quieter, but no less moving.

Suddenly, through the reverent silence of the audience, a large voice rings out from my rather small daughter: “That dress must have been relley expensive!”


All around us, people are laughing, with a slight undercurrent of chagrin. My entire parenting career passes before my eyes: what about “our” values (non-materialism, valuing what’s INSIDE instead of appearances…)? Why bother raising kids without tv and consumer culture if this is what happens in the end? How is it that, surrounded by marvels of all sorts, the price of the dress is what Z chose to focus on??? Where did this comment of hers come from???? Is there some genetic component to character????????? As well, whence the Valley Girl accent?

Big questions.

So, you know, next thing I know I am drinking a teensy bit more than I might be under other circumstances. Right? Right? Doesn’t everybody feel a smidge uncomfortable around family?

Oh, wait, no. WELLANYWAY.

Lucky for me, after a few hours on the dance floor, what remained with me was laughter and the pleasure of losing myself in the festivities (with a little help from my old friend Vino).

This was partly because Z and I were the last ones dancing from my cousin’s family, shaking our patooties long after the rest of that side had left the dance floor. Thereby proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that (as alienated as some in my biological family may be) my daughter and I are totally related.

And it was partly because, as a fabulous someone said, “At least she didn’t say it looks cheap!”

Full Spectrum Mama