Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Parents, Prejudices, Fears, Children

This is going to be a touchy subject...

I'm going through a hell of a toothache right now. I guess all of you must know the feeling, that is why the expression "hit a nerve" came about. Even the slightest touch can send someone jumping to high heavens.

Aside from the toothache, something else had been bothering me since last night. As you may have read from my previous entries, I'm a regular on some forums. Not giving it a lot of thought, I posted a news item which had been circulating some social media sites a few days back.

One-armed presenter is scaring children, parents tell BBC

After reading, I truly was ambivalent about it so I decided to post the topic at a forum just to check what people think about it.

I immediately got some "down votes" on it, for even hinting the fact that I could have thought otherwise on it.

It made me feel bad of course! It also caught me unaware that people, well at least a majority of the respondents seemed to have a unanimous reaction on the subject. From the replies on the thread, two common ideals surface:

"Parents pass their prejudices onto their children..."

"She (disabled people) should not be discriminated against and should be treated as a normal human being. "

While there is no argument with the second, I am entirely unsure about the first, in this case at least.

Now I must be sounding like a bigot here for even thinking twice about the subject but there is an explanation.

First off, I am not trying to defend a particular train of thought here. Unfortunately I have noticed in a lot of forums that people join a discussion just to staunchly promote his or her perspective. I think, but hope not, that this is done to ultimately to get oneself in the spotlight, hence, increase one's reputation as an authority. Rarely do I encounter figures who are genuinely after the truth. After all, to recant even a part of one's thesis always bears a semblance of defeat. If you do this too often, nobody is going to call you an authority on anything in the near future.

Taking the mentality above, I did not dare post any other challenging remark on that topic then on as it would have been useless. However, I truly wanted to search myself and could not quite accept the fact why I even second guessed what BBC's stance on the matter should have been. Was I just passing my prejudices, thinking that children would really be disturbed because of the programme just as I have been?

Yes you heard me right. I felt uneasy seeing the picture. But please continue reading.

The feeling I got was not of disgust or disdain. It was of fear. Not fear because she looked different from me, not because she is not "normal". To anyone already revolting in his seat while reading this, try this exercise:

Click on the link again, and look at the picture. Look at your arm and then imagine it to be gone. What would you feel? Try something worse, imagine if the person you loved the most lost his arm? How would you feel?

A lot, if not most disabled people are inspirations simply because they become "more" because of what they lack. A normal person's physical prowess would pale in comparison to a Kyle Maynard's, a multi-awarded wrestler.

This is Kyle Maynard.

Yet he already has received an ESPY award, is a motivational speaker and is currently training in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), one of the most violent and lethal sport today.

He is around 23 years old today and is an inspiration to many teens and athlethes. Now I will begin hitting nerves...

Let's face it, most of us are amazed, want and even envy Kyle Maynard's accomplishments, but would shudder to think that we, as just our plain selves, be put in a physical condition such as his. Please be honest, I am pretty sure you, my dear reader, would dread at the thought of losing an arm, a finger or even some teeth. I know I am. This is the fear that causes and uneasy feeling in me when I look at the picture of Cerrie Burnell.

Perhaps my fears are irrational. Most, if not all phobias are. However, young children are often irrational. Most young children are afraid of the dark. In this case, parents suspect that the images of a disabled person will force children to face issues before they are ready.

This is where I am at a loss. It is obvious that Ms. Burnell is perfectly qualified to take up the position of host. According to the report, she had already garnered numerous plaudits as a thespian, aside from the fact that she has also a background working with children as a teaching assistant at a special needs school in London. It seems that her missing appendage is entirely of no hindrance at all.

But how would we know what children would think? Perhaps "passing prejudices onto children" is correct. We may be passing not prejudices against but FOR. Again, when a nerve is touched, when a discussion regarding the marginalized comes up, we are quick to jump in to say a good word. Most of us never ever consider thinking otherwise, lest we be labeled bigots. I know I am going to come under fire for this but take for example a person born with dwarfism. Say such a person aspires to become a basketball player and proceeds to apply into a league. If he does not get accepted, would you say that he got the raw end of the deal? Another example, please forgive me again if this sounds offensive. There are plans to create another "Captain America" movie. Taking into consideration that the storyline and milieu of the comic book, Captain America is Steve Rogers, of Irish descent, is made into a perfect soldier and the image of the American fighting force in the 1940's, a time when racism was rampant and the African-American community was being oppressed. There are several actors being considered for the role, one being a strikingly handsome and very capable actor named Will Smith. Again, if the upcoming movie were to use the exact storyline and milieu mentioned earlier, in all honesty, do you think it would work?

Let's derail your train of though for a moment and go back to the subject of limbs. I think it is innate in all humans to fear the loss of a limb or any part of the body for that matter. There is such a thing as “body image”; it is how we, our brain perceive the body we have. Think of it as a map of the whole body stored in the mind. Because of this, “proprioception” is possible. If you wish to test how integral the body image is to your being, try the Pinocchio Illusion or better yet, the Rubber Hand Illusion on this page.

There is also a phenomenon called the “Phantom Limb“ where the brain still “feels” an appendage that has already been severed. Basically, the brain fools the body into thinking that the missing limb is present, albeit shorter and more distorted in position. To get an idea what it feels like...

"...I placed a coffee cup in front of John and asked him to grab it [with his phantom limb]. Just as he said he was reaching out, I yanked the cup away.

"Ow!" he yelled. "Don't do that!"

"What's the matter?"

"Don't do that", he repeated. "I had just got my fingers around the cup handle when you pulled it. That really hurts!"

Hold on a minute. I wrench a real cup from phantom fingers and the person yells, ouch! The fingers were illusory, but the pain was real - indeed, so intense that I dared not repeat the experiment..."
Ramachandran, Phantoms in the Brain, p. 43. (Ramachandran & Blakeslee 1998)

The physical is always intertwined with the mental (some even say with the spiritual). It is not so surprising that whatever the brain (or mind) initiates will have a direct effect on the body. A perfect example would be the problem that young girls are facing now. Since "Thin is In" and models with impossibly skinny physiques are being glorified on the television, a lot of teens and women are now having health complications in the hopes of attaining a similar physique. Now these are people which I suppose already have a healthy concept of what is and what isn't irrational.

Are you still able to follow? In the following section, I am just going to quote a couple of paragraphs from the NationMaster Encyclopedia website, hopefully you will know where to fit them...

"...Apotemnophilia (from Greek αποτέμνειν "to cut off") or BIID is the overwhelming desire to amputate one or more healthy limbs. The conditon can better be called BIID or Body Integrity Identity Disorder, because the "-philia" is a misleading term of this condition being a sexual fetish. Amputation is the removal of a body extremity by trauma or surgery. ...

A person with apotemnophilia wants one or more of his or her limbs cut off. The condition shouldn't be mistaken for a person with acrotomophilia, who is attracted to other persons who are already missing limbs. Apotemnophilia is in fact a word that was wrongly given (in the beginning when it was first discovered) for a condition that now often gets mistaken for something to do with sex or fetishism. Acrotomophilia is a sexual attraction to amputees or others missing limbs. ...

Today, very few surgeons will treat apotemnophilia patients by giving them what they want. There are hence several recorded cases of sufferers resorting to self-amputation of a "superfluous" limb, for example by allowing a train to run over it, or by damaging the limb so badly that surgeons will have to amputate it. Often the obsession is with one specific limb, with patients "not feeling complete while they still have a left leg", for example. The condition is usually treated, unsuccessfully, as a psychiatric disorder. A typical modern surgery operation For other meanings of the word, see Surgery (disambiguation) Surgery (from the Greek cheirourgia - lit. ... Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that diagnoses, treats, and studies mental illness and behavioral conditions. ...

Persons suffering from BIID can be as young as four or five years old when they first discover their condition, i.e by feeling jealous of another amputee.

Some even act out, pretending they are amputees using prostheses and other tools to ease their desire to be one.

There are much more research needed to be done about BIID and apotemnophilia - only a few reports has been done on the subject; but as research gains ground, more and more hospitals recognize the condition..."

I think the fear has always been there. Horror films frequently use the theme of abjection because it is something that humans innately fear. What is mentioned above can be typified as a defense mechanism called reaction formation, wherein an individual copes with an anxiety inducing situation by adapting an exaggerated response. In other words, you will love what you hate just to cope.

Too far fetched? I hope to God so. This is an instance I really wish to be proven wrong. A fellow forumer remarked that I gave far too little credit to the capacity of children. I do hope she is right. While I can certainly agree that it is possible for a 5 year old kid to grasp "political correctness", I highly doubt a 2 year old kid can. A kid as young will call a spade a spade, will not care if he is called a bigot and will determine what is weird and what is not according to his standards. He will unconsciously learn everything that his senses absorb and the things that he will learn will determine what he will love and what he will fear in the next hour, the next day, the next year and so forth.

I still don't know where to stand on the issue. If I were BBC, I'd probably conduct a survey among their viewers, the children, just to get an inkling on what they really think about the issue. In the meantime, I wish Ms. Burnell all the best. There is a hard and fast rule that should apply to this situation though:

"If you didn't mess up, you should not get fired."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting Your Child Into Sports

It is almost a universal fact nowadays that a lot of parents and their kids are having "communication problems", meaning that they don't or intentionally won't meet eye to eye on some subjects. That's pretty normal but it doesn't mean that the situation can't be improved.

What are the things parents and kids commonly disagree on? For younger kids, it is usually the lack of discipline. Children aged 5 and up are usually found tied to the TV, the computer or their gaming consoles. Rooms are left messy, they refuse to eat their meals and refuse to sleep early. Good news though, all of these can easily be solved!

How about teens? Now there's a truly PROBLEMATIC stage! Not only is there a lack of discipline but seemingly a lack of purpose as well. During the teenage years, the body and the mind is in turmoil, all sorts of adjustment and growth is happening and there is a tremendous amount of energy available. Think of a fireman's hose spitting out torrents but with no one to hold it down.

Raising a kid is pretty much like tending a bonsai tree. A lot of things are obviously parallel. First, it takes time, a WHOLE LOT of time. It will surely take years, decades even. Secondly, It is hard, tedious work. Like the branches of a plant, you will have to train it consistently, applying the wires of tough love every step of the way. Neglect it for just a while and it may grow in an unwanted fashion. Force it back after it has grown and the branch will just break. Finally, to achieve the desired result, you will have to start as early as possible.

Now bending your child into shape sounds like military school! Not necessarily. There is a way to instill discipline and purpose into your child, a way that is not only fun and rewarding but will also bring you closer together as well.

Get him into sports!

Now how does this work?

Sports is undoubtedly fun, I would like to think that it was created mainly for the fun factor. One of it's main, if not primary objectives would also be to exercise the body and mind. The objective in most popular sports would be to win, which gives it it's "thrill". To win of course, you will have to better than your opponent. This will involve practicing and honing skills which are previously unnatural, which in turn will require patience, perseverance and dedication.

Does this sound like what the doctor ordered? Sports has proven to be beneficial to most people and I would recommend that it be something that you and your kid partake of together. However if you do not have the time, it is quite alright that your child go at it by himself. Just make sure that you will always be there to support him otherwise he might lose interest in the endeavor.

There's a lot to be gained by participating in sports. Improvement in health and overall physical well-being is always a given. As mentioned earlier, the participant will learn discipline, perseverance etc. Aside from achieving a sense of purpose and accomplishment, there are also surprisingly good bonuses. Lots of scholastic and career opportunities await those who are physically gifted and talented (perhaps to a lesser extent, those who are ardently persistent). Lots of universities offer "sports scholarships" to those who are exceptional in their chosen sport, obviously so because sports like football, basketball, soccer (futbol) is big business both for the school and the athlete. We need not mention how much Shaq made playing in college alone, aside from all the endorsements and whatnot.

Now certainly not all kids can be like Mike but I know you do get the picture of the potential harvest in sports. Disadvantages are clearly outweighed, but we'll talk about that later.

Now what are some sports that you may want to get your child into? Here are some popular suggestions as well as some "pros" and "cons" that you will have to take into consideration.


Pros: Swimming can very well be considered the "ultimate workout". The 4 strokes or styles of swimming, namely Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly utilizes all the parts of the body simultaneously. Water gives ample resistance to provide a low impact workout, meaning that it does not strain the joints or the muscles too much while providing great cardio training. Swimming is also an invaluable skill to learn, the difference between knowing and not knowing how can very well save one's life. Pretty cheap sport, all one will need would be a pair of good goggles, a bathing suit or trunks and a flotation device (if required by the instructor) and access to a pool, Olympic size preferably. Highly recommended to kids with asthma or bronchial conditions.

Cons: Fun factor medium at best, since there is no "game" element to the sport. There is a risk of contracting some ear and skin infections (swimmer's ear) when swimming in a public pool. There is also risk of drowning, although very very minimal.

Sports of similar vein: Cycling, Running (sprint, marathon), Rock climbing.


Very popular sport, has a high fun factor. It is a team sport which can help your child make friends and learn how to be a team player. Has a cerebral factor to it and will train the player to strategize under pressure. Lots of sports scholarship and career opportunities for those who wish to pursue it professionally.

Cons: Height is a huge determining factor, although a lot of small players throughout history have found their way and prospered in the NBA. There is medium risk of injury as it is a rough sport. The training and the sport itself focuses mainly on the development of the arms and calves, there is considerably high impact on the ankle and foot joints. It being a team sport is a double edged sword. If he happens to be physically inferior, there is a possibility that he will lose interest in the sport as he may not be able to get picked into games.

Alternatives you may wish to explore: Baseball, Pro football, Futbol (soccer), Ice Hockey.


Pros: Pretty enjoyable sport, usually learned first individually. Pro tennis is enjoying a resurfacing popularity worldwide and is one of the most lucrative sports today, it is another sport which can be a great professional career option. Can be played indoor or outdoor. Provides very good training for stamina.

Cons: An expensive sport. A decent, entry level tennis racquet costs around $60 up, owning a backup racquet is advisable. Balls around $10 which have to be replaced almost every other 3 games. Bags, playing uniform shoes are a must. Probably the one you will have to shell out the most for would be the tennis court, which is usually situated in a country club. Instructor fees, court rental fees, accessories (strings, grips etc) might make you reconsider. However if you are the type who has a membership to a country club, most probably money would not be a problem.

Like flying solo? Check out: Badminton, Table Tennis, Squash.


Pros: There are a lot of martial arts to learn but for children to teens, I would like to suggest 3 types as of now: Judo, Aikido and TaeKwonDo . By far the cheapest sport among those I have already mentioned, as it only requires a "gi" or whatever uniform is prescribed, aside from the lessons. I would definitely recommend this for girls and women as it is a good way to learn how to defend oneself against rape or any kind of violence. This is possibly the only sport which requires its students to adhere to a certain "code of conduct" if you will, as the almost any martial art is inextricably tied to a philosophy. I would go as far as to say that the martial arts is not merely a sport or a way of self defense, rather it is a complete mentality and way of life. By far this is the best way to instill discipline, especially to kids who are somewhat incorrigible. Great way to build flexibility and conditioning.

Cons: Fun factor quite low. Judo and Aikido come from Japan and TaeKwondo is from Korea. Lessons are held in a "dojo" where the mood is pretty somber or reserved all throughout the sessions, which is very characteristic of temperaments from the country of origin. Teachers or "sensei" are very strict. High risk of injuries if the students are required to spar. Frustrating to learn at first, especially Aikido.

If you're pretty somber yourself, try: Archery, Equestrianism, Ballet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Understanding Your Kid: A Perspective From Someone In Between

One of these days, it is very possible that I too may become a parent. I'm already well on my way leaving "youth" in terms of piling up the years. I don't consider myself quite grown up yet though, now while I still can remember my childhood and teenage years I would like to act as and arbiter between the parent and their kid; the adult and the child.

Is it possible that parents have forgotten how it felt to be kids and teenagers? Part of me know how it feels. For most adults, there are bills to worry about, stress from work, additional stress and work to come home to. There's always not enough time and energy for things that need to be done, even worse, there may be dreams and aspirations being sidetracked in the process, never to be fulfilled because now you have a life dedicated to working and caring for your family. You are always treading the thin line between making or breaking since you are now in charge, so you almost always play it safe and walk the road often taken, as the risk of failure may lead to utter disaster for you and your family.

Most kids and teenagers do whatever is that tickles their fancies at any given moment. They possess the idealism, they have the energy and passion for life. They think they are invincible and that they know everything, or certainly a bit more than their parents. In most cases, indeed they are more intelligent than the older generation but not wiser. They may be faster and stronger but in need of guidance.

These circumstances seem to complement each other. If this is the case, then why can't children, specifically teenagers and their parents get along?

Of course not all kids and teens are troublesome. Also, not all adults are as uptight and stringent. But for those parents who are having trouble with their kids, I would like you to muse over the following thoughts.

How did your child learn how to eat with eating utensils? How did he learn how to speak? One of the primal and most effective way of learning is through imitation. Your child will imitate consciously or unconsciously whoever he spends the most time with. It can be the people on the TV, his friends and peers, can be other people, it can be you. During his early childhood, it might as well be you, the parent, thus you had better become a good example to him. When he is older, he will spend more time at school with his peers and teachers. Therefore, it is crucial for you to get him into a good school and around good kids and teachers. Peer pressure is a double edged sword. I can clearly recall being the typical rebellious teenager in high school. I'd cut classes and go smoke, drink and party with older kids. Some of my friends went with me. However, after a year or so when entrance exams for colleges were about to commence, almost none of my friends would go with me anymore because they had to study. It is certainly no fun partying with oneself! My parents would often compare me to my friends, teachers would ignore me because they would rather work on students who were intent on achieving something. My friends were good, smart kids and all of us had the dream of going to the same university so we can continue to be together. Hence, I really had no choice but to study, just to be able to keep up with my friends.

See, peer pressure can also work wonders. Lucky for me though, my friends parents knew my friends' parents (it was a pretty small town). I still see and go out with my friends today, even though they have gone on to be successful doctors and lawyers already. As for me, I ended up being a lowly writer. I'd like to attribute this to the fact that I'm too young at heart. It's either that or I still have a hefty dose of party left in my veins!

Parents, don't be to quick to shoot down your kid. What works and what does not work in the real world will also surely apply on your child. Carpet bombing the enemy as a show of strength has never worked in the long run, it just ensures you another generation of suicide bombers burning with hatred for the "infidel". Diplomacy and compromise is the key. Even with adults, an outright NO will only breed dissent and reinforce adamance in the opposing party. Why not listen first, agree on what you think are the correct points of the argument, then proceed to express your contrary opinion. Taking a more sinister perspective, you will have to gain their trust first, build rapport before subtly imposing your agenda on them. Quoting Sun Tzu from "The Art of War"...

“Seeking armed conflict can be disastrous. Because of this, a detour can be the shortest path. because of this problems can become opportunities. Use the indirect route as your highway. Use the search for advantage to guide you. When you fall behind, you must catch up. When you get ahead you must wait. You must know the detour that most directly accomplishes your plan.”

This is also what makes Aikido, a form of Japanese martial art so effective. Rather than employing head on opposing attacks, Aikido uses the motion of the attacker and then redirecting the force of the attack. This requires very little physical energy, as the aikidōka (aikido practitioner) "leads" the attacker's momentum using entering and turning movements.

Do you remember Steven Segal? When you hear bones crack and joints snap, that is the power of Aikido. This is the same kind of power that you will have over your child if you'll just learn to take a detour and avoid direct confrontation, figuratively speaking of course. Summing it up, the trick is to listen, agree, and then confront subtly. Besides, if you agree (or at least pretend to) it'll make you look like a cool mom or dad.

Humans are suckers for self expression. Whether its through writing, art, confessing to a priest and more recently social media, we all yearn for catharsis once in a while. We advertise to people who we are, simply because it is a good way to reach out and be a part of a group. We are after all, social animals. You will have to be there when your kid wants to talk and also when it seems that he does not want to talk. You will have to show them you are eager to listen to their accomplishments and willing as well to listen to their hurts and grievances. Most importantly, you will have to show them that you will not judge whatever it is that comes out of their mouths, no matter how horrifying those may be. Again, this is one good way of building rapport. When you have that intact, it'll only be a short time before you get to uncover your kids secret life. This method, I believe, is more effective than snooping for information on your kid's Facebook profile.

There is also a hidden advantage to this. Kids are surprisingly, well, full of surprises. I personally knew of one family who ran into some financial trouble. They had a young daughter, around 7 or 8. Despite of the money problems, the couple continued to send their child to school, giving her all the provisions she had before like lunch money and everything, so no one would know about their problem. The parents took every precaution to hide the situation from their daughter. After a few months or so, the family still had difficulty recovering from the slump and was unable to pay the rent. To compound the problem, they frequently found themselves missing some food items. Desperate and downtrodden, the mother often found herself crying at night, praying to God for a miracle. Weeks went by but still everything looked bleak and so finally on a late night before their eviction, the mother broke down crying to her husband in their dining room. Finding both parents with their faces in their hands, their daughter enters the room...

"Mommy, we have money, don't worry."

With a confused look on their faces, they look at their kid.

"What are you saying Honey?"

"We have money Mommy, here..."

Their daughter puts a small bag on the table full of loose bills and change. After they count it, they find out that it is just enough to pay for the rent.

"Where did you get this Honey???"

Apparently their daughter overheard her teachers gossiping about her family's situation and so after hearing it, decides to do something about it. She saves up the money that was given to her and buys some sandwich plastic bags. Taking some bread and some ingredients every night, she then makes some sandwiches to sell to people at school.

Amazing huh? When children shine, they really light up the night sky! I realize though, that not all kids are like this. Some are just unbelievably incorrigible that you'd just love to wring their necks just to teach them some manners. However, no matter how hard a rock is, water can always break it, as the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee beautifully put it. This means you have to be unyielding. You must under any and every circumstance be the bigger person because of two main reasons: You are certainly wiser one and you would do this out of love for him. Since you love your child, it would only be right that you have a little faith in him. Faith is holding on when there is nothing else to hold on to. No matter how desperate the situation may be, no matter what he or she has done, you should always be there for them. If they do something wrong, you need to show them you disapprove of it and that they will have to face the consequences of their actions but more importantly that they can still run to you whenever things go bad.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

You, Your Kids and Medication

I have had bad health since I was a child. Up to now, I can't ever recall exceeding the 125 lb mark or outgrowing 25 inch waistline pants. I've had backaches, toothaches, typhoid, fever colds etc repeatedly growing up. My worst enemy of all, however, was asthma. Ever since we were toddlers, me and my sisters exhibited a propensity towards developing asthma. Luckily, they were able to grow out of it eventually. I can recall my sister having her last ever asthma attack at 18 years old and almost nothing after that. I though, have to be a lot more careful. Up to now, if I fail to get a decent night's sleep in 2 days, I just know I'm going to get sick.

We've had a family doctor, who is a family friend and a relative. He was already quite old when I got to know him, a little less older than my grandparents. He has been treating our family (our whole clan probably) and guess what, he never lets us pay. Whenever someone in the family comes down with something, we call him and he drops by to check up on us for free. Almost everybody who is sick dreads visiting the doctor, but with us, it feels like he is just a friend visiting. After the checkup, injections or whatever is needed to be done, we all go to the kitchen and have some coffee and snacks and talk about things. Of course we had tried to give him his consultation fee a number of times but he just refuses.

We fondly called him Doc V.D., that was his initials and as you can imagine, it also stands for something else so his friends jokes about it a lot! He passed away around 4 months ago and we sorely missed him. He was a good doctor and a good friend.

He used to be the only doctor who treated our family and everything he said, we took for gospel. However, my mother had her doubts. I'm still not entirely sure up to this day if what she did was right or wrong.

The good doctor prescribed a medication for my asthma, the generic name is betamethasone. I cannot mention the brand name . I got started on it when I was 5, even earlier says my mom. On really bad attacks, I would be on this every 4 hours. Now what is so bad about this?

My mom, along with some relatives were convinced that my health never recovered because I was exposed to a lot of strong medication when I was young. Her older sister too, was given strong medication which included betamethasone, which we also suspect was the cause of her slight disfigurement. So whenever the doctor prescribed the drug, my mom would cut the dosage in half. If the attack wasn't so bad, she would do away with the drug altogether.

Betamethasone is classisfied as a glucocorticoid steroid used to treat a number of disorders ranging from respiratory, muscular, skeletal, gastrointestinal to skin conditions and many more. Basically, corticoid steroids are a class of steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex. Steroid hormones are steroids which act as hormones, hormones being chemicals which are released b.y cells that affect cells in other parts of the body. Everyone practically knows what steroids or "roids" are by now right? Most athletes and bodybuilders who desire immediate gain in muscle mass or performance turn to steroids. But not all is well and good, steroids are so potent they can easily create an imbalance in the body (an understatement) which can lead to death.

Now how could our good doctor, who always had our well being as his utmost priority, prescribe such a drug to such a young child? Let me jump to another story...

I was in a forum the other day, arguing about the merits of alternative medicine. The guy who I was discussing with was so adamant, claiming that there is no such thing and at best, what alternative medicine provides is a placebo effect. I think we were on different wavelengths on the discussion, perhaps what he had in mind was crystal therapy and such while I was just talking about cures and medicines one can find in the kitchen and the garden. Anyhow, here's my thing against most synthetic and commercially produced medicine:

1. Big pharmaceutical companies are profit driven organizations while alternative medicine in not a profit driven endeavor. Information on how to heal oneself is readily available everywhere while synthetically produced commercial medicine are prohibitively expensive, trademarked and proprietary.

2. Despite all the funding, research and ultimately, agressive marketing for commercial medicines, a lot still manages to get recalled. Usually somebody has to be gravely ill or die first before the recall gets initiated. Alternative medicine, especially Chinese Traditional Medicine has been around for centuries and uses ingredients readily found in nature. I don't think TV and other media would have been there back then for this to get advertised. A lot of people has professed and still professes to being healed, this being another reason why western medicine finds it hard to penetrate China and neighboring countries.

3. Yes, alternative medicine is fast becoming a multi-million dollar enterprise in the US and other western countries. Even big pharmaceutical companies are getting in on the act much like Shell and other big oil companies are going into renewable energy. But sometimes you just instinctively know when someone is earnestly interested in healing you PERMANENTLY and when someone just wants you to be perpetually dependent on a drug which at times, makes you feel well.

There are so many more arguments to be said but lets focus on the useful stuff first.

I got into thinking and came up with several reasons why our doctor prescribed the drug I mentioned earlier.

It is possible that since he was already old, he failed to keep up with the newer innovations in the medical community. Highly unlikely because as far as I know doctors are required to attend seminars to be updated...

The agent and the pharmaceutical company he was working for who endorsed the drug to our doctor failed, or intentionally kept information about the side effects of the drug. Of course, the information would be printed on the brochure, but take a look at this example:

Did GSK trial data mask Paxil suicide risk?

At times, only the information that would not scare off people are put on the brochure.

Ironically enough, I also have a cousin who works as a medical representative for an international pharmaceutical company. I have confirmed that indeed, these drug companies give doctors cash incentives, free vacations, gift baskets etc etc etc just to prescribe their drug, only their drug.

Pretty scary huh? Well you have a fighting chance. Here is what I propose you do.

If you are really unsure about the drug or the course of treatment given to you by your doctor, ask for a second and third opinion. Here's another funny story...

My youngest sister is another one who is suffering from multiple afflictions. One minute there's colds and cough, at times bruising or rashes, warts, fevers and and the all time favorite: asthma. At 15, she complained of a sharp pain near the diaphragm. My parents took her to an internist ans said she had problems with her spleen and she had to had an operation! My mother was shocked but went ahead to another doctor to ask for a second opinion. This time, the second doctor gave her a combination of laxatives and told her to drink cranberry juice, dismissing it as nothing more than cramps. Occam's Razor, we opted to for the laxative and juice treatment. She has been well ever since.

Another one. My dad is a diabetic. Some time ago he was having problems with his legs retaining fluids because of his heightened glucose levels. They had it checked up by a doctor who prescribed some albumin tablets. So they went shopping for those and found them to be prohibitively expensive! Went to another doctor. This doctor recommended just taking egg white instead along with this korean jade bed thing treatment. I myself was skeptical about this and just recommended the albumin tablets. We compared and contrasted the cost of both methods and found that egg white and jabe bed treatment would be much cheaper. Lo and behold, after several sessions the swelling indeed go down!

There is nothing wrong with taking commercially made medicine. My point only is this, if you are going to take medicine, do your research first. Get a consultation from a trusted doctor, then a second opinion, then research the facts on the Internet and library before proceeding with the treatment. If you find some conflicting information, consult again with your doctor. I am sure that if he has your best interests in mind, he will welcome your input.

A good doctor is also open minded. After all, where do you think most medicines come from? From Nature of course! He should be humble and open minded enough to propose course of treatments which are the cheapest and least invasive. A lot of alternative medicines and methods are now being accepted as legitimate medical treatments. For example, honey or Manuka Honey is now being used to treat burns:

Honey as a topical antibacterial agent for treatment of infected wounds

As always, your best weapon would be awareness. One has to read, compare and contrast before making a decision. Studies can be manipulated, people can be bribed, sometimes but not all the time.

As for my asthma, I have been using Ventolin (Salbutamol) for several years now but fortunately I haven't had an attack for around a year already. If I feel like I'm coming down with it, I make sure to get some rest and sleep, drink plenty of ginger tea, eat well. Only when worse comes to worse do I use the inhaler. It is still full now but already about to go into expiration so I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Natural and Alternative Cures For Your Child

Natural and alternative cures is not new news. In fact, it probably is the oldest news in the history of medicine. Old civilizations, such as those in India and China, have used this for thousands of years to cure their people. In these countries, especially China, modern medicine has a healthy coexistence with traditional medicine, having a huge 60% to 40% ratio for health care delivered, respectively. As a testament to it's pervasiveness, Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbal cures and Ayurvedic treatments have even found a niche in the West. It'll make you think that these therapies and cures are doing some people some good, seeing that they have stood the test of time and still as widespread as they are now.

The West has not been ignorant to recognizing the potential of finding natural ways to cure human sickness. Homeopathic treatments, developed in Germany in the 1700, is a form of alternative medicine based on the principles first defined by physician Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathy roughly translates to "like cures like", "homeo" being Greek for "like" and "patho" meaning "disease". This kind of treatment also advocates the use of chemicals and compounds which can be extracted from flora and fauna.

Alternative medicine is still growing in prevalence so much so that even modern pharmaceutical companies are feeling the need to step up the competition. Although some are already manufacturing health supplements like garlic capsules, grape seed extract etc. it'll be a long time till the twain shall meet.

Why should one try alternative cures? Looking at the basics, it is oftentimes cheaper and less invasive. Some medication are just too strong and will cause some side effects, especially on children. Also, most alternative cures require stuff which can easily be found in the house or garden. It can even be as simple as adding or substituting ingredients to a meal. To get you started on discovering what natural cures can do for you and your family, please try some of these suggestions:

If your child is having problems with mouth infections or cavities, try using salt instead of regular toothpaste. Most commercial toothpastes are too strong and kills off naturally occurring good bacteria of the mouth along with the bad. If salt is too unpalatable, try mixing it with crushed mint leaves.

For teens or anyone having acne or pimple problems, apply lemon juice or orange peel extract instead of astringents. Some astringents are just too strong, they literally dry off the skin, leaving it vulnerable to infection. To moisturize and revitalize the skin after a long day, make a poultice out of cucumber and oatmeal (oatmeal so the mixture will hold together). Apply and leave for several hours.

There are a lot of cures for coughs but here is one that seems most palatable. Grape juice (from natural grapes of course) acts as an expectorant and relaxes the lungs. Mix a cup with honey, just make sure it is not cold.

Speaking of honey, this wonder of nature is also good for scrapes and wounds! Wash the wound or scrape first, put honey or better yet Manuka Honey (a special kind of honey found in New Zealand) on a bandage and then wrap the wound up. Amino acids and vitamin C found in honey speed up the growth of healthy tissue while the naturally occuring hydrogen peroxide it contains is released slowly, killing germs in the wound.

For babies, a frequent problem can be diaper rash. The diaper should never be allowed to stay wet and should be changed immediately. Once the baby is clean, apply an ample amount of cornstarch and not talcum powder on your baby's tushie. If the rash is severe, use cod liver oil or shark liver oil (squalene). Squalene penetrates the skin quickly and does not leave a greasy feeling on the skin.

If the child has been toilet trained already yet still has a problem with bedwetting, try giving him a small cup of cranberry juice an hour before sleeping. Cranberry juice has done wonders for the human urological system since time immemorial. Herbs like causticum, lycopodium, ursi, corn silk and pulsatilla also has been known to help.

Burns are also unavoidable with children. For minor burns without wounds, apply some ground up aloe vera on the affected part to help with the cooling. If burn marks appear sometime after, put some papaya on it. The papaya fruit is known to have enzymes that effectively help remove dead skin cells.

These are only some of the many things you can try out. If there is one thing natural medicine has in common with modern medicine, it is when to use the right medicine where and how. Simply put, a Chinese herbalist will do the same as a doctor. Most probably he will ask about the history of your sickness, what foods you are allergic to and after prescribing the medicine, tell you that you need to watch what you eat, exercise in moderation etc.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Choosing Toys For Your Baby and Toddler

I've been quite active in some forums lately and I came across a thread which was left unanswered for a couple of days. It frustrated the thread starter of course and so I decided to post a reply. The topic was pretty easy and intuitive, at least that was what I thought the first time I read it. The thread starter, a mom, wanted to know of activities and toys that would be recommended for toddlers and children.

I can still distinctly recall what toys and activities my parents provided me when I was a child. Since my mom was a graduate of Fine Arts, naturally she encouraged us to draw. She allowed me and my sisters to draw on the walls of the house. She also gave us large sheets of paper where we could trace our hands and feet on. As we grew up, we took to smaller sheets of paper, began using smaller crayons, then pencils then pens. It never left us, I sometimes still draw in my spare time for leisure. My sister was the one where the talent really stayed and flourished, lucky her! Although she is a graduate of Sociology, she now works as a layout artist for an international company, sketching and drawing storyboards and creating comics in her spare time.

My all time favorite has got to be Lego. Lego has been around for ages and I think it won't be going away soon, which is a good thing. I don't think its possible for anyone to know how to surf the Internet but not know of Lego. If you are still unaware of this great toy, click here. My dad got my sister the "Duplo" set and for me, the Lego "Technic" set. I think he may have overshot it with the Technic set though. The first time I opened the box that Christmas, I distinctly remember being disappointed. Being 7 at that time, I said to myself "What the hell is this, everything is yellow and black and does not resemble a toy!". Sadly, by the time I was able to appreciate what he gave me, everything was already ruined by excessive biting. Yes, I didn't know there was a way to seperate Lego bits aside from biting it off.

Not all parents are the same. Not all dads would get their kids Lego sets and certainly not all moms would allow their kids to write on the walls of their houses! So I think I'll just give my thoughts on "how" to choose toys and not "what" toys to choose for their toddlers and young kids.

As with all purchases, you would want to get the most out of your money's worth. You will want to get something that, will first off, fulfill the need it was intended for. Second consideration would be its quality and durability, understandably so because we are talking about children's toys. Then only comes the price.

So for example, you are planning to get, say, a doll for your 3 year old child. A doll is usually a representation of something that is living, more commonly a human being. I have read, dolls usually help children recognize the needs of a living being. They will learn how to dress it up, to play house with it, to feed it.

I did not include "child safety" as a category in what I had said earlier because a parent should never compromise that, it is always a given. Always check the packaging for an age guide and safety notes of the manufacturer (which is sometimes still really unreliable, seeing that there had been a slew of recalls over the past few years, so please check reviews on the Internet before buying). That being said, if you find yourself choosing between a stuffed toy bear and a Bratz doll, ask yourself. Does your child need something to hug? Is your kid able to handle hard or small plastic objects already? Where will she be using it, is it okay to leave it on the bed or on the crib? There are a whole lot of questions to be asked but primary, just ask yourself what purpose will the toy be fulfilling if you get it for your child.

Will it be durable? I've seen too many dismembered Barbie dolls during my childhood, since these toys are expensive, my parents decided to get us another brand, relatively cheaper because it was made out of hollow plastic. These got dismembered still, but my parents were crying no longer.

The best toy for me, would have a good balance of the three factors I have mentioned. Quality certainly would make the price go up and vice versa. If you are a parent who is not on a budget though, then its a different story.

Once you have covered these, it's time to get the toy. How do you choose which is appropriate for your child? I hope parents won't just get a toy just for the sake of giving one to their kid. It is very important to give a toy that will help your kid develop. Toys and play will be the main activity during the formative years, naturally you will be able to use these two not only to make your child happy but also to educate him or her as well.

HowStuffWorks gives a recommendation on what to get for babies and what to get for toddlers. Babies will need toys which will stimulate their senses. Rattles and mobiles help develop hearing, not to mention the fact that they make endearing keepsakes. Colorful stuffed animals, balls and activity boxes will help with movement and tactile perception. Stuffed toys should be small enough so that the baby can cuddle it, it is also recommended to get one that has a variety of textures, e.g. soft, rough, fluffy, smooth etc. For activity boxes, get ones which have buttons and knobs to push and pull, doors to slide open, movements that will get your baby to do basic tasks.

You may notice that after a few months, your baby will grow disinterested with his toys. This only means he has outgrown them. It would be a good time to shop for new toys which will provide more stimuli, like a stuffed animal of a more complex shape color and texture.

The same goes for toddlers too. We can classify toddlers into 2 groups, the young toddler (12-24 months) and the older toddlers (2-3 years).

Young toddlers will require toys which will develop fine motor skills and ambidexterity. Blocks and dolls are appropriate here though I would recommend the kind that looks like a Cabbage Patch kid not the Barbie doll kind. Nothing with small pieces as of now. Also check for any fiber or fabric that can be shed as the child may ingest these.

The large Duplo blocks or wooden blocks are not recommended yet. Choose blocks which are made out of light plastic, rubber or foam. The blocks should have rounded corners to avoid poking accidents. Sorting toys may come in the form of activity boxes with has holes to accommodate blocks of different sizes and shapes.

Older toddlers will need toys that will cultivate imaginative thinking. At this stage, your child should be able to hold a writing implement already. Big crayons and pens but not those with a sharp point can be given. Make sure to get the non-toxic kind. Toys that resemble real-life tools are recommended. Play telephones, minature keyboard pianos, kitchen equipment, toy cars, trains, trucks etc. Since these toys are made to imitate real life counterparts, increased wear is to be expected. Make sure that metal parts are rustproof, parts which might break off will not splinter or get a sharp edge.

Toy instruments like tambourines, horns and drums are a must. Puzzles are highly recommended, however, choose ones which you think is at the level of your child's capacity. A complex puzzle game may even discourage your kid to play it.

This is also a great stage to read to your child. Set aside time to read to your child or to listen audio books with him. If he has difficulty paying attention or sitting still, do not make him stay put. Continue to read but attempt to get a response from time to time to make sure he is listening to you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Future for an Autistic Child

When I hear the word "Autism", I am reminded of the film "Mercury Rising" where FBI agent Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) struggles to protect a 9 year old autistic savant, Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes) against assassins after cracking a secret government code thought to be so complex that its creators believed no computer on earth can decipher it.

The creators of the code were so confident that nothing or no-one would be able to crack it that they secretly published it as a puzzle in a magazine (fantastic, but stay with me here ok?). Unfortunately, the boy figures it out after merely looking at it and then calls the number written in the code.

Amazing huh? Not to mention incredulous. There is some truth to this though.

Autism is quite a well known word. Or should I say infamous? Most parents would expectedly cringe at the thought of their child having the condition. But why? Is the possession superhuman code-cracking abilities so bad?

First off, to those who are unfamiliar with Autism, Wikipedia and other sites define it as "a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior". There are more conditions in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) but the ones above pretty much typify the kind of autism most people know of.

Savantism or Savant Syndrome, as researcher Darold Treffert defines it, is rare condition in which persons with developmental disorders (including ASD) have one or more areas of expertise, ability or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations. Kim Peek, although later proven to have only FG Syndrome and autism, is probably the best example of Savantism. The recitation of the content of some 12,000 books from memory, or instantaneous recollection of the day of a particular date would be some of the many unbelivable mental acrobatics he is easily able to perform. He is what is called a "mega-savant".

It is not uncommon for an autistic child to be a savant but most children afflicted with the condition are not so fortunate. I am also often reminded of my cousin who is now 16 years of age. Thankfully he was born into an upper middle class family and was well taken care of since birth. Aside from his mother he also had a nanny who attended to his needs 24/7. He was provided good food, toys and lots of love. I usually get to see him at family gatherings, which are not very often. Because of this I was able to witness the stark changes in him as he grew older. I got to see him just last Christmas, he's quite the handsome kid now.

If you saw his picture, you'd never know he was autistic. When you get to meet him personally, it's when the sad truth comes out. He's already a teen, yet he can't speak an intelligible sentence, though he is able to understand simple commands mostly only from his mother and nanny. I've never seen him make eye contact with anyone or pay attention to anything for more than a minute. I especially feel sorry for my aunt whenever he throws a fit; the kicks and punches she tries to quell are no longer from the child she used to care for.

This had always been the subject of concern for everyone, a question much often relegated to the backs of our minds because it was too hard to confront. My aunt was obviously getting too old for this and her special son growing up too fast. What would happen after a year? After 5 or 10 years? I think most of us knew the answer but did not want to talk about it anymore.

I certainly did not talk to my aunt about it, when we meet we only talk about happy stuff. I guess most of you know how it is. Last time I heard from my mum, my aunt was planning to move to another state because they wished to purse a better treatment program for my cousin. Honestly I don't know much else as I have not been able to update myself on it.

From what I have read though, it seems to be a consensus among authorities on autism that it is incurable. It is possible, however, to enroll an autistic child into a program which will effectively alleviate its effects, thus making him or her more manageable.

It is best to start treatment as early as possible. Here are some things to watch out for if you suspect that your child has it:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects
(taken from http://www.autism-society.org)

Having an autistic child is one of the greatest trials that can ever befall a parent. Treatment programs will not only require money but the utmost devotion and commitment of the parent to the program. It is not like a daycare where you can drop off your kid and then pick them up afterward. Parents are also required to attend awareness programs or classes aside from time spent with their child at treatment.

Fortunately, support for autism is widespread. There are a lot of treatment programs to choose from, but as always, the best choice comes from a well-informed decision. The best source of information would again be the Internet. A lot of reputable sites can be retrieved simply by keying in "autism" in Google. Join autism forums to get testimonials and stories from families in a similar fix. You can also get good recommendations for reading about the subject on sites and forums.

As of now I am still uncertain of what lies ahead for my cousin. One good thing though, he has an older sister who would certainly take care of him in case something happens to their parents. My family and I, as well as other relatives are always there for them. If this is so, it makes me think that his fate isn't so uncertain after all. I sincerely wish other children were just as lucky.