Media Monday: The TiLT podcast—talking about kids whose differences are not deficits


I recently discovered the TiLT podcast , which is geared specifically toward parents raising “differently wired” or atypical kids, and I think it would be a terrific resource for many families in the Alt Ed community. I was impressed by the sharp, energetic host, Debbie Reber, who has created a wealth of resources and written a book on the topic of “raising an extraordinary child in a conventional world.”

Recent podcast episodes included a chat with Tom Ropelewski, the filmmaker behind “2e: Twice Exceptional,” a documentary we at Alt Ed Austin love; an interview with an ADHD and autism parent coach; and a deep dive into navigating the high-school–to–college transition.

Reber is a homeschooler who involves her son Asher in the production and development of the podcast, so you can hear a parent’s and a kid’s view on some subjects. Debbie says she created TiLT “so parents stuck in this place of not-knowing and frustration can feel connected and grounded as they move forward in figuring out what their child needs in a way that feels positive and hopeful for the whole family.”

I encourage you to check out the main TiLT website, and here’s the site for Debbie’s book: Differently Wired, which comes out in June.

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial

Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly together.

You will be more effective as a parent, and have more fun as a family,
if you drop the guilt and embrace the good that screens have to offer,
while balancing media with other priorities.
When in doubt, try to use media as a means of connecting.

—Anya Kamenetz
The Art of Screen Time


Anya Kamenetz is a journalist who has been writing about schools, students, and families in the United States for more than a decade and is currently on the education team at National Public Radio. She’s particularly good at distilling vast amounts of cutting-edge academic research, evaluating it, and presenting the fine points in ways parents can use it to make everyday decisions for their families. Her new book, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, is both an extremely practical guide for deciding the when, why, and how much of screen time for kids and a deep dive into the current state of research on the generation raised with tablets, smartphones, and 24/7 access to information and entertainment at their fingertips.

Kamenetz is a parent herself, with two young girls. One of the things that distinguishes Screen Time is that she frequently includes examples of her own family’s challenges and strategies for dealing with the digital world. And, no doubt as a result of her experience trying to juggle piles of information, she’s included a terrific little section at the end that boils down the takeaways of the book to a few pages of essentials. A few quick examples, which she elaborates on throughout the book:

  • Media can have measurable positive effects on reading, school readiness, concentration, and learning.
  • Habits are often set in the preschool years, which is when parents have the most control. But it’s never too late to have a positive influence.
  • Different ages require different approaches.
  • Parental rules and attitudes about technology make a measurable, positive difference through the teenage years and beyond.
  • Screens and sleep don’t mix.

One of the clear conclusions is that much more research is needed and that absolutely critical questions related to the effects of screen time on anxiety and depression, learning difficulties, and violence are still hotly contested by scholars.

I highly recommend an interview Kamenetz did on the Tilt podcast in which many of the questions focused on digital media and kids with various learning challenges. Kamenetz spends significant time looking at how differently wired kids respond to digital media and how it affects social interaction, but it’s clear there are no certainties at this stage. “Even if the affinity some autistic people have for media doesn’t prove to be a smoking gun,” she says, “it is a prompt to consider how both our own and our kids’ screens might serve as either a barrier or a bridge to other human encounters.”

One of the ideas that made the most impact on me in reading Kamenetz’s research is the importance of separating screens and sleep. I’m not a good role model for my teen daughter on this count since I don’t currently follow the sensible rule of shutting down all screens an hour before bedtime. Her book is prompting me to look for ways of changing our family habits around bedtime as well as ways we can do more watching and discussing together, with the ultimate goal—as Kamenetz suggests—of raising kids who understand responsible media use in an atmosphere of trust, not surveillance.

I’m going to try to put into practice some other tips from The Art of Screen Time as well, and I really wish I’d had access to a book like this when my daughter was younger.

Throughout the book, Kamenetz uses the analogy of a healthy diet, with a nod to Michael Pollan’s famous adage, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s practically impossible and probably undesirable to raise kids who are entirely media-free in our culture, so the goal has to be raising them to make good choices. Her own adage is: Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly together.

 My own advice: Get Kamenetz’s book from the library or bookstore and dip into it a chapter at a time, and you’ll learn a lot and find some seriously helpful advice plus a lot of new questions you might want to explore on your own. And at the very least, check out her final five-minute summary at the end, which includes some of most practical parenting tips I’ve read in months.

For her take on other critical issues in education, follow Kamenetz’s reporting at NPR and on Twitter or Facebook, and check out her other books on her website, which is all about the future of education. In other words: our future.

Here’s a long interview that delves into many of the book’s major themes and insights:

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial

Media Monday: Intimate discussions with “Remarkable Educators”

 Ba Luvmour, host of the  Meetings with Remarkable Educators  podcast

Ba Luvmour, host of the Meetings with Remarkable Educators podcast

For anyone interested in exploring the great variety and depth of alternative education projects happening in the United States and Canada today, there’s a new podcast that brings terrific interviews with educators of many stripes to your earbuds. The show is called Meetings with Remarkable Educators and is hosted by Ba Luvmour, a long-time educator and trainer of educators based in Portland, Oregon.

The podcast started only a couple of months ago. It features interviews and accompanying transcripts—which are really a nice little bonus—plus a fable or “teaching story” told by the host that is designed to spark thought and discussion.

The most recent guest was Phil Gang, a Montessori educator who is passionate about developing kids’ love of nature. Phil runs the Institute for Educational Studies at Endicott College and sees interaction with nature as a path to spiritual development for children: “There’s a certain kind of quietness and inner reflection that happens when they’ve been gardening. It just happens. . . . There’s excitement about it, but there’s also inner understanding.”

I especially enjoyed the interview with Paul Freedman, the founder of Salmonberry School in Washington state and the international Holistic Education Initiative. An advocate of “deep education,” Paul talked about his transition from public schools to a more holistic model sparked by the needs of his own son, who was “not a square peg kind of kid.” He explains his philosophy this way:                               

My holistic ideals include: Kids should be guided to author their own lives and learning. We should be striving to provide the space, the relationships, the environments and inspiration, the content that ignites kids' learning so that they can soar. Kids should be able to do that at their own pace. They should be able to follow their hearts in terms of passions and gosh, that should be fun. . . . We're all natural learning beings and given the time and space and support to let kids learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn with their friends and with a guiding teacher.

If you’re curious about where progressive, innovative schools are heading in the 21st century, the Meetings with Remarkable Educators podcast is a great opportunity to learn, and on Ba’s website he usually links to other information about his guests in case you want to know even more.

If you’d like to keep up with the latest topics and guests, you can also follow Remarkable Educators on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial

It’s not too late to have a great spring break!

Yes, the moment is drawing near when our fair city goes crazy and kids are in need of some serious recreation, enrichment, and camaraderie for Spring Break 2018. Most camps are filling up right now, so don’t hesitate if you’re interested in that precious week of March 12–16.  

Below we’ve made a list of our favorite spring break camp options that have some openings as of early this week, but no guarantees!

Autism and the art of fierce love

As guest blogger today, we welcome Dr. Laurence Becker, an educator and advocate for the autistic community and creative savants, who is also an award-winning film director and producer based in Austin. Dr. Becker first tackled the subject of autism and artistry 35 years ago in his film Eyes Wide Open, about artistic savant Richard Wawro. His new film, Fierce Love and Art, premieres on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, at 7pm at the Performing Arts Center of Austin ISD. You can learn more and support the film via the website. You can also see art related to the film from February 25 to April 8 at Hyde Park Bar & Grill.


To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.
—Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

My real mission with Fierce Love and Art is to open the eyes of the world. We need to realize that all of us are related, and we can all make the world a better place. In the film we meet individuals with autism and other disabilities who have been able to transform their own lives and contribute to their communities through art, music, and words as a result of powerful support and love from parents and grandparents.

The film explores the lives of seven savant visual artists, a savant musician, and an author and minister who are living extraordinary lives today because their families used art as a means of connection, bringing them home from solitary confinement on “Autism Island.”

Some of the incredible people we meet and spend time with in the film include savant musician Tony De Blois, who plays 23 musical instruments and sings in 11 languages. Tony is a Berklee College of Music graduate who plays in a jazz band and composes original music at his home in Boston.

Another great story I’m delighted to share is about Houston native Grant Manier, whose autism and obsessive repetitive behavior led him to repeatedly tear paper. With encouragement from his mother, Grant soon began collecting and recycling bits of paper, creating amazing collages, which he calls “coolages.” The artworks are a form of therapy for Grant but also a contribution to the eco-art movement, as he recycles materials and helps us all look at them in new ways. Grant now also participates in educational outreach to share his vibrant, colorful art and point of view with others. His slogan is “Different is More.”

Sadly, one of the young people we had the honor to work with for the film passed away in 2016 as a result of an injury connected to her epilepsy. Kimberly Dixon was a warm and lively spirit who wrote poetry and painted as a way of connecting with her family and community, despite being nonverbal in a verbal world.

I’m eager to have everyone join us in May to see these amazing stories. To me they’re a real testament to what happens in the lives of children with autism when their families fiercely take charge of their development—and also a testament to the power of art in all our lives.

Laurence Becker, PhD

Need to find the school that fits your kid?

We have the answers you’re looking for at the Austin Alternative School Fair. Read on for all the details!

When?  Saturday, February 17, 11am–2pm

Where?  A brand-new venue for our event: Spider House Ballroom, 2908 Fruth Street. Park in one of Spider House’s two parking lots, or in the free street parking in the surrounding area.

What?  A chance to talk with some of Austin’s most effective, innovative educators from learning communities where children and teens grow and thrive.

Each booth has some fun activities to engage kids while parents talk with educators about their schools and special programs, which are tailored to all ages from pre-K through high school. The schools represent unique, transformative programs from all over the metro area, including Cedar Park, Pflugerville, and Dripping Springs.

Food and beverages available for purchase next door at Spider House Cafe.

How is this school fair different?  Unlike many of the larger, generic fairs where schools compete for your attention, this one is a collaborative effort by alternative educators who know there’s not one right way to reach all learners.

Is it really FREE?  Yep. Just bring your kids and questions!

Who is throwing this shindig?  It’s brought to you by the Education Transformation Alliance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and co-sponsored by Spider House Ballroom and Alt Ed Austin.

I’ll be there to chat and help find answers to all your questions about schools and transformative education in our community.

And we have a Facebook page you can check out to remind you of the time and place and to share with other parents.

I look forward to meeting you there!