Thursday, August 21, 2008


photo credit-kingnixon
creative commons license

In preparing for our recent cross country vehicular jaunt (i.e., vacation/holiday) I faced a bit of an ethical dilemma. The US National Parks Service offers a variety of different passes that are valid for admission to all national parks and forests. Besides these annual passes, it is also possible to purchase access for a limited period of time (usually 7 days) for a discounted amount.

I had been vaguely aware of the Access Pass from a local autism online group. The Access Pass gives free lifetime admission to the parks to those with permanent disabilities (along with up to 3 other people traveling with them in the same non-commercial vehicle). I hadn't thought about it much, but now took the time to consider it.

Was Buddy Boy permanently disabled? I have taken the tack of presumed competence, and thus proceed assuming he will continue in school, get a job, and be able to live independently. Would I be "giving in" if I had him labeled as having a permanent disability? Would I be lying to myself from here on out if I said I was presuming competence, but at the same time presenting a card that said that Buddy Boy was permanently disabled?

When we first knew that Buddy Boy was different, I had at least moderate resistance to placing any sort of a label on him. What advantage would it confer? And at what cost? At first I thought that the costs of placing any sort of label on him (ostracism, bullying, presumed incompetence by the schools) far outweighed the potential advantages (identity, and knowing he was not bad, just different). In fact, if we could have obtained educational supports for him without publicly labeling him, I might have continued to lobby for such an approach.

I have no problem with Buddy Boy knowing he is autistic. We treat it as a matter of fact thing around our house (much like we treat the fact that he joined our family thru adoption). I do wonder, though, about future implications of him having his name in official databases with a label next to it. Will it affect future employment opportunities? We cannot always predict unexpected outcomes from decisions we make.

In the end, my decision on whether to get an Access Pass for Buddy Boy was based on pragmatics. I first consulted the National Parks FAQ's regarding the pass. According to this site:

Who qualifies for the Access Pass?

The pass may be issued to U.S. citizens or permanent residents that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability that severely limits one or more major life activities.

A permanent disability is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. (emphasis added)

Surely Buddy Boy's ADHD and autism qualified him as having a learning disability (the powers that be certainly thought it severe enough to kick him out of his regular classroom and place him for awhile in a class for emotionally disturbed kids). As to whether his autism and ADHD will affect his learning permanently, the experiences of adults on the spectrum would certainly seem to bear this out. While people develop various "work arounds" as they mature, they don't magically learn not to be autistic as they get older.

That left the question of tracking him in a central database. A little asking around revealed that they don't record a Social Security number with the name, so there's no way that they can track these passes and merge them with other databases. Finally, as Buddy Boy gets older, it can always be his decision whether he uses the pass or not.

So we went with the pass. Got a letter from his doctor detailing his autism and its effects on his learning, showed up at the park and presented the letter, and got the pass with no hassle at all. It felt good to get something useful from my tax dollars, for a change.

So, first we used the pass to drive thru the Badlands

Then to visit Devil's Tower National Monument

And finally to visit Yellowstone National Park

Further photos can be found here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

When Aspies Meet

So, our first full day in Yellowstone Park we went to visit Old Faithful geyser. We hung around for the 35 minutes or so until the next eruption, and secured ourself a front row seat so the kids would get a good view. Afterwards, when asked how he liked it Buddy Boy replied "I thought it would be bigger". He had seen it in videos before we left, and evidently a 100 foot (30 odd meters) tall plume of water with steam in person didn't measure up to what he thought he saw in the video. But still he liked it, and wanted to stick around until the next eruption.

We started walking around the large boardwalk that is in the general area of Old Faithful, and leads to a number of hot springs and other geyers. While we were walking, we passed another family group who had one young boy who was perhaps 10 years old or so. Buddy Boy walks up to him and says,


"Did you see Old Faithful?"

Other Boy (OB): "Yea, it was great. Did you see Castle Geyser? It's the one back there. It's even bigger."

Buddy Boy (BB): "Old Faithful will erupt again in about one hour."

(OB): "Castle Geyser only erupts once a day. You have to check the schedule at the ranger station. It already erupted today."

(BB): "The magma chamber must be close to the surface here. That water's really hot."

(OB): "The water's over 200 degrees."

(BB): "Only special types of bacteria and algae can live in the water."

(OB): "Castle Geyser is older than Old Faithful. You should check the sign by the building over there, so you can see it erupt next time."

(Voice from mother of Other Boy, who has walked about 100 feet farther down the walk with the rest of her family): "Jordan! We need to go."

(BB): "Wow, you're even smarter than me!"

Now, of course, I have no idea whether Jordan (the Other Boy) was on the spectrum or not. But I really enjoyed watching the brief exchange between these two young lads. They both appeared to genuinely enjoy talking to each other. Buddy Boy does not often hold down conversations with other people (though when he does, it usually involves topics of special interest). And whether or not Jordan was on the spectrum, there was much recognizable about him-his walk, his speech patterns, the way he kind of looked at Buddy Boy without really looking at him, etc.-that resonated with me and reminded me very much of Buddy Boy.

It was also kind of cool how Buddy Boy identified another person (whether randomly or not, I don't know) who shared his interest in geysers. Buddy Boy was even impressed enough with Jordan that he payed him the ultimate compliment ("You're even smarter than me!"). Buddy Boy always insists that he's smarter than I am.

Anyway, that's how we spent our first full day in Yellowstone.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Where in the World...

Are we??

Who can figure out which state in the Continental U.S. we are in?

This is a contest. But as I am a cheapskate, on the road, and am figuring this out as I go along, I don't have anything to give away. So for the prize, for the first one to figure out where we are, I'll e-mail you some scenic views from our vacation (holiday).

Tonights clue is the picture up on top. If someone doesn't figure it out in 24 hours, I'll edit this post and add another clue.


The first guess. The first guess!

OK, Do'C got it on the first try. We actually spent the first night of our vacation in Iowa, but with apologies to any Iowans out there, I didn't take any pics that first night (though the kids and I did find a family of toads outside the motel while Liz was checking in).

Our second night was spent in South Dakota (we didn't stay in Sturgis, we actually stayed a few miles down the road in Spearfish). But that didn't matter, as the annual Bike Rally in Sturgis draws 500,000 (!) people on their bikes (mainly Harley Davidson's) to South Dakota. Our first inkling that our vacation coincided with Bike Week was in trying to make reservations. Liz found that most motels (single rooms in 2 star nothing special places) were going for $300/night!!! I was like "What!! We're not talking New York City, this is South Dakota!" We soon found the reason, and eventually found a room for just over $200/night, which still hurt.

There have been Harleys everywhere!

And amazingly, the kids don't see anything abnormal with this. Today we saw the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD (it's a building that is covered in-you guessed it-corn! Quite a-maize-ing, actually),

As well as stopped at Wall Drug for "Free Ice Water!" as well as ice cream.

Tonight we've moved on. For a second prize (reward same as the first) this new location has unique geologic phenomena found in only 4 other places in the world. For the prize, name the place, AND the 4 other countries where these phenomena are found.



Next clue.

Although there are a few scattered in other places, the 4 other countries that have significant concentrations of these geological phenomena that are located in the park we are visiting are Russia, New Zealand, Iceland, and Chile.



Ding, ding, ding, ding!

We have our second winner! Niksmom is right. We saw Old Faithful erupt today (twice), as a matter of fact.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Comment of the Week Award

photo credit-andybee21

creative commons license

Having been tagged by Maddy a while ago with the dubious distinction of having the "Comment of the Week" on her blog (and she, in turn, was inspired for this award by Scribbit) I hereby, by the power invested in me as the owner of this blog, and without too many further commas in this endless sentence, bestow my first "Comment of the Week" award to my fellow Midwesterner Marla for her comment on my "Kids Say the Darndest Things" post where she said:

I love it! Hey, I would be all for just 'compunicating' with our doctors. That would save a lot of time. ;)

What a little smartie.

Besides being a fellow Midwesterner and a parent to an autistic child thru adoption, Marla is a lot of things that I am not, like artistic (she has some great photos, check them out) and a natural writer who provides a window into her feelings thru her blog where she follows the adventures she, her daughter Maizie, and her husband Joe (what a great name for a husband!) have.

Anybody that can come up with a new word (Compunicating) that so eloquently describes something deserves an award.

Feel free to pass this on as you see fit, Marla. It seems to be a fairly loosy goosey award.