Community?

I was made fun of on one of my favorite autism FaceBook pages last night. By a commenter, and the page owner, an autism mom herself. All for stating I didn’t support a man who made fun of the disabled.

When you normalize a man who belittles and berates anyone who disagrees with him, I guess this behavior is to be expected.

What’s sad is that the autism community has not rallied together in defense of the strides we’ve made in healthcare and education. It seems we are even more divided than before, to the point that I’m not sure a community still exists.

I try to remain hopeful for the future. I try to tell myself that this too shall pass.

The question is, what will remain when it does?

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Acceptance Begins with Our Own

I have a friend with a young daughter on the spectrum. She regularly posts on FaceBook about her struggles with her daughter, and how she loves her daughter but hates autism. She complains that they often have to leave school events early, and just once she wished she could stay through a whole event and watch all of her children.

I admit that I only have one, and he is relatively high functioning.

I also remember feeling that way.

And I was a single mom.

(I know not everyone will agree with me, as this is a major point of contention within the autism community, and the line drawn seems to coincide with functioning levels. Autism is a struggle for most, and parents will spend our whole lives trying to figure our kiddos out. This opinion is based on my own experiences.)

At some point, though, there was a shift for me. The more “battles” you have to choose whether or not it’s worth it to fight, you begin to see hypocrisy all around you. You begin to question the structure and rules in our society, and how arbitrary they seem. Why do you have to keep your shoes on during a play? Is it really that big a deal if someone wears the same shirt everyday, as long as it’s clean (I’m looking at you, Troy Landry)? Do I really have to worry so much about the guy with the white beard being approached by my child who thinks he’s Santa?

You begin to think about the fundamental difference between children and adults, and how boring we all get. How we lose that sense of creativity and wonder. And how freeing it can be to not have to worry about all of that stuff.

My friend made a comment in her last post about the fact that her daughter needs to adjust to the world, and not the other way around. I respectfully disagree. Yes, we have to teach them to adapt to the best of our (and their) abilities. But. There are enough of us to really make a positive change here, and we have to stop being so hard on our kiddos. We have to start being harder on this cold, dead world that has a vice grip on its arbitrary social structures and rules.

My friend says she’s tired of it (autism), and that she’s exhausted. The fact is, my friend’s daughter will never lose her autism, but the rest of us neurotypicals only need a shift in perspective to allow her to be who she is.

And we need to accept our own kiddos as they are if we ever hope the world to accept them, too.

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April, Autism, Awareness, and Acceptance

Unfortunately, the autism community is polarized (and therefore paralyzed) on many issues. It’s fairly divisive (go figure in these days and times!), and people have widely differing views on everything from person-first language to vaccines. We can’t even agree on what to do with our little month of April. For most, “awareness” of autism doesn’t cut it, and we should be seeking “acceptance” of our kiddos and their behaviors, needs, and neurology from the general populace. Some (myself included) feel like awareness is a necessary first step that leads to acceptance, but others are not content to be patient with the rest of the world.

I get it.

But if we as a community continue to argue about every issue that exists, the result could be worse than a lack of awareness. If the message is muddled or unclear, no one hears it.

We need to agree to disagree on the issues that divide us. Table them until we can tackle each in its own time. Focus on one thing that will do the most good for those on the spectrum.

In my humble opinion, this one thing would be autism awareness and competence of our nation’s educators.

It is unfathomable to me that teachers across the country are still unaware of the core deficits of autism. They are as of yet unaware that an IEP is a federal document, and a binding agreement to which they are held accountable. They do not know how to make simple modifications and accommodations for a growing segment of their student population. And of course I do not mean all, or even most teachers in this country. But our special ed teachers need help, folks. If our kiddos have a right to the least restrictive environment, we want them in general ed classrooms with teachers who have a clue. Because let’s face it – our kids are at school each day much longer than they are at home. And if they are met with adults who see them as a “problem” or ” more work” or are just clueless in general about how they work, how devastating is that to this entire generation?

If the community could just get behind one urgent issue, this would get my vote, and I don’t think we’re very divided on this one.

This would be my wish for April and the autism community at large.

Dear Autism Community

Ask Them to Put It In Writing

Our local chapter of the Autism Society has a regular monthly “Friends and Fun” party at the rec center of a local church where kiddos on the spectrum and their siblings can come and celebrate their birthdays with other kiddos in a non-judgmental setting. We set up some games like Twister, and there are ping pong tables, and then there are also some more structured games, but no one is forced to play, only encouraged. There are snacks, cupcakes, balloons, and even presents for the birthday kids. For kiddos who attend and are not celebrating a birthday, it’s a chance to get some social interaction on their own terms.

It’s also an opportunity for autism parents to meet and vent about issues their having, seek comfort from those who understand, and even advice. This past weekend, I struck up a conversation with a mom who I have come to respect because of her knowledge of special education law, and her commiseration with the state of our school district when it comes to autism awareness. Over the past couple of months, I have been sharing with her what I’ve found out about the transition to high school, and she is eager to hear because her son is about two years behind The Boy.

I told her that it seems like we have two choices, and that the IEP will not be the driving force behind The Boy’s education, as it should be. I told her that I’m not sure how far I would get fighting the system as it is without involving lawyers and spending money I don’t have.

She shared a tip that worked for her, and I thought I would share it with you, as well.

When her son transitioned from primary to elementary school, they attempted to put him in the resource room for the entire day, even though he had had success at the primary school with the proper supports. She knew he could handle general ed classes with continued support and that the school was making this decision based on staffing. She simply told them to put their rationale for their decision in writing. Quickly, the school changed their tune, and her son was placed in general ed classes with supports.

Why?

Because when they put something in writing, they have to be able to defend it legally and they couldn’t. This tip is brilliant. It may not work as well for big issues, but for the smaller ones, it most definitely will, especially when you are dealing with personnel who are not all that familiar with the law, but know enough that putting things in writing could potentially come back to bite them in the ass.

Add this tip to your bag of tricks and pass it on. It’s simple, but potentially powerful.

ed law 101

Desperation

A friend sent me a tragic news story about a father of a young man with autism, who had been caring for him alone, and had health problems of his own who had ended up taking the young man’s life before taking his own.

Sadly, this is not uncommon.

Murder and suicide are never the right path, but in order to prevent this type of thing from happening, and in order to make it extremely uncommon, you have to look at why it happened. And you have to look at it compassionately.  To condemn someone who is so desperate that they will end the life of someone they love dearly, as well as their own is too easy.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  The human mind is a mystery, and the only part of the human body that still has a stigma attached to its treatment.

This is not new.  Anyone who has read Thomas Hardy’s book Jude the Obscure, for example (or really any of Hardy’s books), knows that people have been making desperate choices when no other options are afforded for centuries. The problem we have to address is the lack of support and resources.

The 1 in 68 are rapidly becoming young adults aging out of a public school system that exits them with virtually nowhere to go.  Any programs or services available are largely hit or miss, or are so abominable, no one would place their child there for a minute.  If you’ve ever scanned the want-ads, you will often find job listings for personal care providers paying minimum wage.  What type of people do you think are attracted to a part-time minimum wage job?  Desperate people. And then we’re back to where we started.

We need a robust plan for our autism community that includes meaningful employment for all on the spectrum, adequate housing opportunities, and comprehensive assistance for families and caregivers who often suffer right along with their children due to lack of sleep, anxiety, and post-traumatic type symptoms. What we have now is not enough, and we cannot expect families and caregivers to endure without tragedies continuing to occur.

How many times will we read the same headlines before we do something?

Autism Awareness, Acceptance, and Advocacy

Well, it’s April kids.  It’s Autism Something day and month, depending on who you ask.  It’s such a controversy in our community, and it doesn’t even need to be.

Yes, we still need awareness, as is evidenced in our daily interactions with people who just don’t get it yet.  How?  I don’t know.  Maybe they live under rocks.  Maybe they are in denial.  Maybe they are just mean jackholes.  I don’t care.  But I will continue to attempt to enlighten them about my son and his buddies.

celebrate neurodiversityYes, we definitely need acceptance.  Yesterday, you read about someone who screwed up our Friday morning (and added a dose of anxiety that will last for the rest of the school year).  She definitely needs to find some acceptance real fast.  From kids who bully our kids, to teachers who still don’t know how an IEP works, to potential employers.  The world needs to hurry up and get with the program because we are definitely not in the acceptance stage in this society yet.

And yes, we need to advocate for our kiddos, and let them advocate for themselves.  Yes, adults on the spectrum need a national platform, and need to be included on the boards of their own nonprofits.  They need opportunities to show the world of what they are capable, and the skills to communicate their needs.

So whether you light it up blue, or walk in red, just be yourself in gold, or decorate with puzzle pieces, please realize we can’t do this alone, and we can achieve so much more as a cohesive unit.  Let’s agree to disagree on a few things, and consolidate our goals so that we can get to a point where everyone is aware, everyone accepts, and there is no longer a need to advocate.

Words Matter: Autism Awareness Day

Today is Autism Awareness Day.  It is a day to celebrate everyone touched by autism, and to increase awareness about autism.  Not “of autism,” but “about autism.”  Increasingly I have seen and heard people in our community dismiss “awareness” in favor of “acceptance”.  I don’t think anyone can argue against acceptance.  But I don’t entirely understand the dismissal of awareness altogether.

If everyone was “aware” of autism, my child’s band director may have been more open to his needs, and may not have decided that he needed to switch instruments or quit band.  If my son’s first social studies teacher of the year was “aware” of autism, she may not have decided on the second day of class that he needed to be in the special ed room instead of her class.  Even I continue to become “aware” of better ways to handle certain situations and behaviors in relation to my son’s autism.  So I don’t think we’re “done” with “awareness,” or that we are ready to “forget” it in favor of acceptance.

I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own little community bubble that we think everyone is “aware” but it just isn’t true.  Yes, acceptance is our ultimate goal, but we cannot get there without first helping others to understand the many facets of autism, through awareness campaigns.

People in our community are also upset, saying “Autism doesn’t only ‘happen’ in April,” which is silly.  Do any other communities of those with medical conditions get upset that they have a nationally recognized month which brings awareness to their fundraising efforts?  No one thinks it only happens for a month, but in all reality, it slips out of people’s consciousness after the month is over unless they are touched by autism somehow, and until they experience autism first-hand at a restaurant,  mall or other public venue, or at a get-together in the neighborhood or dinner at a friend’s house.  And then, because of Autism Awareness month, they may remember that what they are seeing may not be a tantrum from a spoiled child, or the bizarre actions of some weird kid.  “Oh yeah, he may have autism,” they may think, and react with compassion instead of condemnation.

Awareness. Acceptance. Awareness Day. Awareness Month.  Words do matter, and another word that is tossed around and shouldn’t be is “epidemic,” which signifies that autism is a disease, which it is not.  The new numbers released by the CDC are interesting, but not worthy of hysteria.  It simply puts an exclamation point on the need for more research, and more services for those with autism of all ages.

So happy Autism Awareness Day and Month.  I hope we reach billions this year, and begin to change hearts and minds which may have been sheltered in ignorance before.  I hope we can work together as a community to see this opportunity for what it is – something still very necessary to reaching our goal of acceptance for those with autism.

Happy teaching.

Celebrities and Autism

Jenny McCarthy was all over social media this weekend, because somebody reprinted an old interview, and everyone had something to say about it.  I haven’t touched this issue on this blog, and I call it an “issue” because just the mention of Jenny McCarthy divides people in the autism community into very disparate camps.  I’ve said before that I think this kind of division can not only hurt our kids, but also any progress we are making in enlightening society, and changing the world for our kiddos.

And truthfully, celebrities can say whatever they choose, not because it’s a first amendment right (because that is not what the first amendment is actually about), but because media and all of society expect them to have something to say on everything, and even if they don’t seek it out (although I’m pretty sure Ms. McCarthy did), sometimes they are pushed to voice their opinions.

Of course, when you do voice your opinions, one must understand that others may disagree with you.  And because you are a celebrity, and therefore so removed from real life, they may do so in a less than charming fashion.  Even founders of large nonprofits are not immune…  ahem

I’m going to tell you right now that I have not read Jenny’s books (does she have more than one?), nor have I read any entire interviews.  I know that she claims to have had her words misconstrued, and misreported.  I have heard that she claimed her son had been “cured” of autism, and that now he may have not had autism at all.  I have heard that her book contained some outlandish theories about children with autism, something having to do with crystals… (??)…  As I said, I haven’t read it.  But I’m beginning to think I should.

I will tell you that I believe in science.  I believe in the many, many, many scientific studies that have repeatedly found no link between autism and vaccines, regardless of the schedule.  I believe that anyone urging parents to forgo vaccines for their children is dangerous to society*, and I believe the CDC, the WHO, and the NIH.

(*Vaccines protect those who cannot be vaccinated, but only if all who can, do: from the CDC website, “Immunizing individual children also helps to protect the health of our community, especially those people who cannot be immunized. These include children who are too young to be vaccinated (for example, children less than a year old cannot receive the measles vaccine but can be infected by the measles virus), those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons (for example, children with leukemia), and those who cannot make an adequate response to vaccination.”)

Autism has no cure.  It is a neurological disorder, not a disease, and not an epidemic.  It is not something from which you “recover”.

Autism is my son, and my son is autism.  I cannot separate them, nor would I want to.  Many adults with autism feel this same way, and they are much more entitled to be experts in our community than anyone else.

I believe we need to be more careful to whom we give credence. 

I believe we shouldn’t allow anyone to divide us as a community. 

I believe we need to understand and support good science rather than anecdotal evidence. 

I believe that we should be suspicious of anyone making money off of autism.

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Hey Autism Community: Enough Already!

I am always saddened by the divisive nature of the autism community.  It seems that we parents need to pick sides on plenty of issues, or be ridiculed, or even better “educated” by those who hold differing viewpoints.   For or against vaccines?    Autism Speaks?  Medication?  Jenny McCarthy?  Chelation?  We are even supposed to pick sides on whether the “Trip to Holland” allegory is touching or insulting.

Autism Awareness

Autism Awareness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When The Boy was first diagnosed (at age 5), I was handed a brochure, and told to contact the Autism Society of America.  And that was it.  I obviously needed more support than that, and looked to the Internet to join a group in which I could participate to the extent that I wanted to on any given day.  I joined a yahoo group of autism parents, and thought, “This will surely help.”  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I was confused by all of the differing opinions on things I had never even heard about, and saw actual arguments unfold, in this group of adults whose supposed sole reason for existing was support.  I did not remain a member long.

I think we do our children a great disservice by not recognizing that just like autism is a spectrum disorder, the treatments, causes, documentation, and people attempting to assist us are all a part of a larger spectrum, as well.  There is no one treatment, no one cause, and no one group that can satisfy all of our needs.  If you think that, you are shutting the door to so many other possibilities for your child.

We must trust ourselves to do what is right by our children, as no one knows them as well as we do.  But we must not abuse each other in the process, as no one knows what we go through each day better than another parent of a child with autism.  We must agree to disagree so that we can move forward, creating better treatments, finding causes, and building better organizations for our community.  The divisive nature we have shown thus far is quite possibly holding our cause back, and it will continue to do so, unless we make a change now in how we treat each other.