Is this You? Or Your Child?

A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine

I’ve been reading bits and pieces of A Mind at a Time: America’s Top Learning Expert Shows How Every Child Can Succeed, by Mel Levine, MD.

Summary (part of it) of the book by Amazon:

Tales of creative, clumsy, impulsive, nerdy, intuitive, loud-mouthed, and painfully shy kids help Levine define eight specific mind systems (attention, memory, language, spatial ordering, sequential ordering, motor, higher thinking, and social thinking).

I tend to like books that talk about various intelligences (see Howard Gardner’s books) because I was a rather artistic, creative child trapped in a rigid, analytical school.

I like the descriptions he gives to various children. Maybe you can find yourself? Or someone you know?

Bethany never gets invited to parties. The phone rings off the hook for her brother and sister, but never for her. At school she is picked on, jeered at, taunted, and avoided like a venomous snake by her classmates. She has no friends and is understandably crushed. Bethany is lacking in the kind of social thinking that is needed for maintaining successful relationships. Her mother laments, “Bethany would give her right arm to have a true friend, but it seems as if every time she comes close to having a satisfying relationship, she messes up. She either says or does something that upsets and puts off her new friend. And Bethany has no idea what she’s doing wrong, no idea at all.”

Fritz wore very thick lenses in his wire-rimmed spectacles. He was an awkward kid who mostly liked being by himself. At age eight he was becoming an insatiable glutton for the printed word, devouring all manner of written nourishment wherever he found it. At first, his parents were vexed by his marathon stays locked in the bathroom, until they found out that that was where their eccentric Fritz felt most comfortable savoring his reading. Fritz came to see me because of some motor problems, including difficulty writing, along with some seeming leaks in his memory.

Elsa keeps “bombing out” on tests or quizzes that force her to memorize and later answer questions that have only one correct response. She recently flunked a quiz on plant structure despite studying like a devout monk. “I thought I knew all that stuff, but it must have just leaked out of my brain while I was sleeping.”

Marcus’s parents fret over his inability to distinguish left from right; more often than not, he puts his shoe on the wrong foot. Marcus’s father once commented to me, “It’s as if this kid is completely lost in space. He never remembers where he’s left anything and he puts his shirt on backward more often than not — even when he thinks about it.” Also, his confused drawings in school are a source of shame to Marcus.

A six-year-old boy can never seem to settle down at night; almost every night he debates his worn-out parents about having to go to sleep at a reasonable hour as if he is appealing an unjust sentence. At bedtime he seems to have energy to spare, and his parents try to figure out how to burn off that excess. Much as they love time spent with their child, they really wouldn’t mind having a little time to themselves. Unfortunately, he’s raring to go when they’re about ready to hit the sack.

Alcindor is frustrated and exquisitely self-conscious about not being able to ride a two-wheeler when all of his buddies can do so effortlessly. He feels like a klutz. The poor kid is living with a breakdown in his motor system, at least at this point in his development. The motor system is supposed to govern the very precise and complex network of tight connections between the brain and various muscles all over the body.

A child like Nana may be discovered to be daydreaming and fidgeting in class, dreadfully out of focus. She is told she needs to start paying attention in class or she’ll get a detention. She comes to believe she is somehow bad. No one seems to realize that her fragile concentration is a kind of mental fatigue or burnout; she has neurodevelopmental dysfunctions interfering with her mind’s ability to turn on and keep up the flow of mental energy that she needs to concentrate in class. Her neurodevelopmental dysfunction is misread as a behavoir problem when she has to combat serious mental fatigue.

Writing is especially hard for April. Torture is a more accurate word for it. Despite good ideas, very nice handwriting, and fluent language, her written output is labored and seriously flawed. Writing is often a seemingly insurmountable threat to kids with attention problems, as it takes strong attention controls to conduct the orchestra needed to express thoughts on paper. “Whenever I try to write,” says April, “I lose my ideas and I get all mixed up.”

Geraldine has been depressed all year. Her parents got a divorce, she broke up with her boyfriend, and her grandmother died last summer. Her mother and father feel guilty, as they worry they have damaged their daughter permanently. Geraldine feels sad much of every day. She’s lost interest in school; her grades show it. Students with anxiety or depressed feelings often lose all interest and become inhibited about performing in school, which then begins to stunt their academic and neurodevelopmental growth. Geraldine has closed her mind to new learning during a period of school in which kids ordinarily develop their ability to absorb and think about highly abstract terms such as creationism, symbolism, altruism, and imperialism. If her mind stays absent from school, this important growth spurt in higher-order thinking may fail to take place. Emotions and neurodevelopmental functions are like a two-way street: emotional problems may weaken the functions and weakened functions can cause emotional turmoil.

Early in the book he says that people who study kids are either splitters or lumpers. He’s a splitter. “I am steadfastly unwilling to lump children into categories and then assume that all members of each category are pretty much alike. To the contrary, to me kids have more differences than resemblances.”

More on this book at

4 thoughts on “Is this You? Or Your Child?

  • The book was “all the rage” in some education circles a few years ago. It seems to be written toward parents, but there are several pages in the book directed at teachers: “Teachers: Their Roles and Their Training for Those Roles”. He talks about a program called “Schools Attuned,” which trains teachers to better understand their students.

  • Yes, Batya, we often don’t see our own characteristics, but we see the issues in our kids. Some parents are more comfortable getting help for their kids than they are for themselves.

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