Thursday, December 31, 2015


As the days lengthen, though many of us are in the deepest part of winter, may we all seek to spread a Full Spectrum of acceptance.

May we celebrate and embrace our differences, advocate for ourselves and others, and live our lives as superheroes - vanquishing intolerance, ignorance, oppression...any force or person or group who tries to keep their fellow beings down or hinders their shine!

May we glow with engaged, empathetic love.

May we wisely understand that in light, ALL colors are contained – just as all shapes, sizes, abilities, neurologies, sexualities, ethnicities...make up the whole of our world.  

Oh, and may we each and every one be blessed with a heaping dose of perspective.

Wishing you warmth and health in the New Year, with much love,
Full Spectrum Mama

Monday, December 21, 2015


“You need to be your teens’ ‘frontal lobes’ until their brains are fully wired.”

I found this quote, from The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen, in an 8/31/15 New Yorker article, “The Terrible Teens: What’s wrong with them?” by the highly-respected Elizabeth Kolbert (all following quotes are from this article unless otherwise specified). Kolbert usually writes searing, devastating pieces on global warming and the environment, but apparently she’s also the mother of three teenage sons, and so had a personal interest in this subject as well. Frances Jensen is herself “a mother, an author, and a neurologist,” who has two sons who have now graduated from their respective (very good) colleges. We will leave aside the question of how these two mothers are so incredibly accomplished, naturally doing so in a totally unbitter way, and now proceed to discuss how and why something is “wrong” with teenage brains.

...Something is wrong with teenage brains. And what that is, is: teens are not yet fully-brained.

This is news?

Even Aristotle (~384-322 BCE) felt that the young are lacking wisdom or even the capacity for reason. In his Nichomachean Ethics, he wrote that youth are so “inexperienced,” and “tend[ing] to follow his [sic] passions” that “studying [here, reason and philosophy] will be vain and unprofitable.”

But Kolbert, Jensen, et al bring the science: Apparently, everything we think of as mature, wise, balanced, reasonable, “civilized, intelligent,” comes from our frontal and prefrontal lobes. Since brain development has been determined to start in the rear sections of the brain and move forward, these areas are the very last to mature. In fact, according to and many other sources, full brain maturity may not occur until far into the 20s, usually around 25 years of age. The BBC News, among others, extends this into the early 30s.

In teens, the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain are not yet completely integrated or connected with other more impulsive or pleasure-oriented parts of brain, the latter of which are in fullest-ever force during these years. Usually, in full-brainers such as ourselves, the frontal and prefrontal lobes will “check on impulses originating in other parts of the brain.” For teens, who are still developing those links, checks and balances are rare to nonexistent. Since these front bits of the brain are also the seat of executive function – “responsible for planning, for self-awareness, and for judgment”—organization and follow-through are also at a low point.

Now imagine all of this plus atypical neurological development. In certain ways, aspects of autism and other neurodiverse ways of being such as ADHD, may resemble - or partially overlap with - or exacerbate! - the typical teenage brain.

What I really, really want to know is: Does this mean my son may actually someday develop some sense? I do and will celebrate all of his other quirkinesses and differences, but the sheer dangerousness of his unique developmental status in this area, combined with the natural teen/20s[/30s] propensity toward rash, foolish, irresponsible behavior, is alarming. At some point, he needs - for his own safety and independence - to somehow make, integrate, and strengthen those neural connections.

In any case, allistic or neurodiverse, teens also quite blatantly lack some of the central capacities we regard as integral to prudent, productive, safe human existence.

As solutions, Jensen and Kolbert recommend the following hi-tech tools:
            * “near constant hectoring,”
            * “scare tactics:” telling terrible cautionary tales at every opportunity, and
* calling other parents to make sure your teens are never alone at their houses, either (representative teen quote following this strategy: “Why even have kids if you are going to do that?”), order to:
* force our kids into faking or parroting some modicum of executive function, responsibility, and do-right,
* supervise teens’ every move, since they are personally incapable of judgment, and, most importantly, to,
* frighten our kids into not doing all the stupid things they are naturally prone to doing.

Count me in: I never thought I would be this kind of parent but, given what I’ve learned and experienced so far, I agree with them on every level. They admit, however – and I agree with this, too - that not only were/are their teens’ immediate responses “not always encouraging,” but that there is “no empirical evidence” that any of this works.

Nonetheless, it’s all we’ve got. So, for the next 8-20 years, you may call me “Full Frontal Mama.”

Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I just finished reading Little Women to G and Z. That book is way longer than I remembered - and – seriously?! - emotionally grueling. As had happened throughout Little Women, but on an even more snot-filled, ugly-crying level, I began to lose it as I tried to read those last pages aloud. The closing bit, where Marmee says, even after all the poverty and hardship, and even though her daughter Beth died (sorry if I am giving anything away here), “Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I can never wish you a greater happiness than this!” And she says this simply because they are all together...I can’t even type it without sobbing.

As I read to her, as she often does, Z observed my emotional reaction and asked, “Mom, is it touching?”

Honey, to me, just about EVERYTHING is touching.

You can just look at my red, blotchy, slimy face – or your brother’s: Yes. It’s touching. When a bird lets another bird go ahead of it at the birdfeeder? Touching. Something on the radio about helping people? We will probably at a minimum get misty-eyed. When there’s a video of a baby seal? Touching. Human interest piece in People magazine at the dentist? All those interspecies friendship books? Elderly people holding hands? Yes. Anything to do with animals, life, death, romance, family, and so forth is fair game for being touching.

At the same time, on my own, I’ve been dipping into The Highly Sensitive Person, in which I was *stunned* to read that 42% of people describe themselves as “not sensitive at all.” And here I’d always thought everybody was just better at managing their feelings and reactions than I was – because there was something wrong with me. Something weak, or ignorant, or lame; a lack in me which rendered me less adept than the majority of people...People who didn’t seem to cry or laugh quite as readily, people for whom interacting with others, for example, seemed to be much more clear cut, less laden with strong, overwhelming feelings, and MUCH less daunting...

I’d assumed everybody was “like me” and that it was my “fault” for being unable to “master” my feelings and reactions. Now I see another healing, liberating spectrum! I wouldn’t quite put my Z in the “not sensitive at all” category, but on a sensitivity spectrum we clearly occupy different spaces. And this holds true for her sensory processing as well: she’s impervious to hunger, noise, lack of sleep, etc. in a way that’s inconceivable to the SPD-ers* in the family.

In Figure I, I’ve charted approximations of our family sensitivity levels relative to one another (P=Pardner, Z=my daughter, G=my son, F=me). This is obviously simplifying and generalizing, but it also clearly indicates a Full Spectrum of sensitivities just within one family.

Figure I – Touching Chart: From Squishing-Touching to Not Touching

Knowing that others have different sorts and levels of sensitivity, doesn’t mean we ourselves necessarily should attempt to change our own feelings and reactions – even if we are able (?). But that knowledge opens our eyes to possibilities of different perspectives - and perspective, as I tell my philosophy students, is the key to a lot. It’s marvelous to see how we all shine in different ways. It’s intriguing for me to imagine the experience of not sobbing at the drop of a hat; for Z, learning about things that are “touching” is inspiring her to find her own tender spots.

Guess the Full Spectrums will keep learning from each other.

We just started By the Shores of Silver Lake. You know, the Laura Ingalls Wilder where Mary goes blind and Jack, their loyal, loving dog dies? It’s going to be you-know-what.

Full Spectrum Mama

* SPD-ers: people with sensory processing differences

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!