Sunday, November 21, 2010

Random Thoughts

Guardian angel
photo credit-moreno finotto
creative commons license

Did you know...

That if you run hot water in the sink and put enough toothpaste in it, it makes the bathroom "smell good"?

That if you put half of a (large) bottle of hair conditioner into the bathtub and stir it up enough, it makes a decent amount of bubbles (the residue is also VERY slippery during dad's shower the next morning)?


Buddy Boy has discovered that inserting scatological silly references into conversation and using them in a loaded question is very funny-to him-but perhaps not so funny to his teachers.

Last week he asked his teacher something to the effect of "Did you poop in your diaper this morning?", which earned him a trip to the principal's office, and an assignment for him to present something to the class this week on "Respect".

While bringing in the poster that he was going to use in the presentation this week, the principal said good morning to him. He responded "You know, Dr. P, I think I may have discovered that there are some negative things about being autistic. Do you want me to tell you about them?"


I was driving Sweet Pea to her speech therapist this morning (her "R's" might pass in Boston, but not here, and her inability to properly pronounce "L's" or to differentiate "S's" from "SH's" earns her a weekly Saturday morning at speech (after both she and Buddy Boy have ice skating classes), and her and I doing speech exercises about 3-4 nights/week.

The nice thing about this is we have a little father daughter time to ourselves in the car. Today we were driving along and out of the blue she says "You know, dad, times are hard." First I thought that perhaps my 8 year old had just had an economic revelation. Then I wondered whether she had a twinge of social consciousness, and that perhaps I could be really proud of my little girl. Just to be sure, I asked her "What do you mean?"

"You know, dad, doing times. 5 times 3, 5 times 4."


Buddy Boy goes to a social skills class every week. Perhaps it's starting to pay dividends. Today he asked Liz, "So, we should have a discussion (I think this was a "homework" assignment). But I don't know how to start."

"Well, what do you want to talk about, sweety?"

"How about machinery?"


Angels exist, and sometimes show up at the best times.

This last week we had the first 5th grade band concert. As you may recall, although Buddy Boy loves band, the teacher doesn't necessarily feel the same way about him. So although we're very happy that Buddy Boy loves band, we were also both very anxious going to this concert, and hoped to escape the night without Buddy Boy doing something that would give the band leader an excuse to discharge him. We dropped him off in the designated classroom, and went to the gymnasium to wait and fret.

As soon as the band started walking in, we saw his angel. Walking with him was his 3rd grade teacher (who we loved), Mrs. C. Mrs. C always went "above and beyond" when working with him that year. Both Liz and I dared to exhale, and palpably felt 1000 pounds (454 kg) of anxiety fall away from us. The band took their seats, and Mrs. C sat next to (and a little behind) him.

Mr. C (Mrs. C's husband) works with the band (the brass players, not the woodwinds). He was there that night, and though Mrs. C had called in sick that day, she showed up that evening to be with Buddy Boy (evidently she had become aware of Buddy Boy's "troubles" in band thru her husband). We didn't know that anyone was going to be with him on stage, much less Mrs. C.

The long and short of it, Buddy Boy did fine (even if he did talk a bit more than appropriate to Mrs. C during the concert). Buddy Boy even had a brief solo (about 2/3 of the band volunteered to do solos, including Buddy Boy). He played his solo about 3 times slower then we practiced at home, and it was so soft as to be barely audible, but he got thru it without any major mistakes, and did fine.

G-d bless Mrs. C.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

"If That"

Good News! Buddy Boy has decided that he likes the clarinet, and wants to play in the school band. For 5th grade music, students have a choice of either taking a "normal" music class, or participating in the band. Buddy Boy chose the band. He wanted to do this when school started, and he wants to do this now.

Bad News! We came home to find this letter:

"Buddy Boy" is not finding much success in band. He is able to play alone when we do solos, but when the whole group plays, he is not able to focus on what we are doing and participate. He is often taking apart and putting together his clarinet. When he does play with the group, he is overblowing and squeaking quite often. He is probably trying to play louder so he can hear himself, but this causes him to have a poor tone and squeak. "Buddy Boy's" behavior during class has improved and having "Mr. Jones" with him has been helpful.

Our interactions with Buddy Boy's present school have been pretty straightforward, with only a few bumps in the road. Most of the time, his teachers have liked him (the most important thing you can look for, IMO), and have approached any problems with an attitude of wanting to find a successful solution for him.

I suspected band was going to be a problem. The band teacher is a district wide teacher. Not only is she the teacher for the grammar school (up through 5th grade), but also for the middle school and high school. So we're stuck with her for the duration. 5th grade band is (as I stated above) offered as an alternative class for music, not as an elective after school activity. Students attend during regular class hours. When he expressed his wish to join the band, Liz took him to the band leader, to see what she recommended as an instrument. She looked dubiously at him, and stated something to the effect of "I think he'll be able to possibly play the clarinet, if that". We were hoping that Buddy Boy's determination and charm would slowly win her over, but that appears not to be happening.

About four weeks in we got a call that Buddy Boy's behavior was unacceptable. Liz asked if the leader had discussed this with his regular or special ed teacher (she had not). I think she expected us to say "Oh, well, we'll just withdraw him from band." As he really likes it, we're not going to do that. Like most kids on the spectrum, he takes a while to "get" new situations. With a little guidance (and yes, some forbearance on the part of others) he eventually settles in, and does reasonably well. After that conversation, "Mr. Jones" was added as an aide during the class, to help him not be disruptive. No mention ever has been made regarding Buddy Boy's ability to play.

For our part, we took him for some private lessons over the summer, knowing he wanted to play. He didn't learn much music, but started to get a grip on some of the basics (how to put it together, where to put his fingers, how to play scales). We thought he was doing OK. I'm sure he's not the star of the band. But he practices 3-4 times a week, and seems to do reasonably well (he can play several of the songs sent home with him). When I work with him, in addition to having him play at his own pace, I either count or hum, to simulate the rest of the group playing, and get him accustomed to playing on a group rhythm. Most of the other kids have not played before, so it's not like the rest of the group is filled with virtuosos. We can't take him for private lessons during the year. He has about an hour after school where he will pay attention, and that time is used every day by Liz keeping him current with homework and stuff he didn't finish in school. Saturday mornings he takes part in the only regular physical activity that he'll still do, ice skating lessons. We don't want to discontinue that.

In the US, we have laws like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which theoretically ensure that each individual will be treated fairly, and not discriminated against. But the law is one thing, and attitudes another. And when individuals decide that they don't like your kid, and don't want to "deal" with him, then it's an uphill battle. Many studies have shown that teacher's preconceived notions of a child's intelligence determine whether that child will be successful in their classroom. And it just appears to me that this particular teacher decided up front that our kid just wasn't going to be successful.

I'm not sure how we're going to proceed on this. I don't think they have to keep him in band (they could say he's not working out, he has to take the "regular" music class). So calling an IEP and making demands for them to make it work might indeed backfire. So I suspect we'll talk to his other teachers, and possibly the principal (who has mostly been supportive and understanding), and see what we can do. Somehow I doubt that we'll change the band teacher's attitude, but I'd at least like to see Buddy Boy be able to stay in band this year.


Apologies for not posting more often. Things have been busy. School continues (I should finish in May!), work is busy, and home has been hectic. Life goes on.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TV Psychologist Gets It Right

There's been a story going around that I just heard about a couple of weeks ago. Abbie Dorn, a young mother of triplets who suffered severe brain damage due to complications during delivery, is in a legal battle to see her children. Her ex-husband, who divorced her just a year after the event, saying he needed to "move on", has prohibited their three (now four year old) children from visiting her, and even prohibits anyone mentioning her at all to them. Oh, and after she received a malpractice financial settlement, he's reportedly suing her for child support.

Good Morning America covered this story on April 14th of this year, and played up the "tragedy" of the whole situation. It wasn't terrible coverage, but it wasn't too great, either. It didn't really scratch the surface, so was more exploitative than anything else, as far as I was concerned.

On July 10th I happened to catch this story for the first time on CNN. The Dorn story starts about 3/4 of the way down the transcript that is linked here. After going over the basic facts, the CNN anchor went to Dr. Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships for commentary. I must admit that I am usually biased against talking head TV psychologists. They either seem to a) say something that is so "common sense" that you just go "Duhh", b) try to wedge whatever topic it is into pushing some agenda of their own, or c) come up with some off the wall thing that they couldn't possibly infer from never ever meeting or talking with the principle people involved.

Dr. Walsh's comments both surprised and pleased me. She was both thoughtful and insightful. After the story focused (much like GMA) on whether Abbie could actually communicate or not thru blinking, Walsh immediately cut thru that to comment

And, you know, the question is, who cares if she can communicate or not? There's a living, breathing mother there...Who deserves to see her children. And the children, you know, Don, kids - everything is new and normal in the world of small children. I don't think that they'll be overly traumatized. Would people prefer that they're given a cold teddy bear to comfort them?

Walsh quickly followed with

And, you know, the biggest question this raises for me, Don, is what's going on in our culture that we institutionalize people with disabilities to the point that now we think it's just so wrong to even look at them or be exposed to them? What does it say that we're sweeping away the ugliness and not allowing families to have an integrated experience with people with disabilities? I think it's making us lose our compassion for people with disabilities.

Walsh also blogged on the story on her own blog here, where she also wrote

I’m concerned that the more we insulate people, young and old, from seeing the full range of human possibilities the more we limit our capacity for compassion.

My hat's off to Dr. Walsh. Rather than settle for a superficial recounting of a "tragedy", she cared enough to dig a bit deeper, and provide some thoughtful analysis. Like a good documentary film maker, she challenges us to think deeper not just about this particular situation, but about ourselves and the wider world.

Maybe I should pay more attention to TV psychologists. Or at least this one.

Friday, July 16, 2010

U.S. Seclusion Bill Alert

photo credit-David Paul Ohmer
creative commons license

I subscribe to the Wrightslaw Special Ed Advocate Newsletter. The website (run by two people named "Wright"-who would have figured), which is a great source for getting/keeping yourself informed with all things having to do with special education law. They also publish a few books, which I have found helpful.

The use of restraints and seclusion in U.S. schools has been a fairly hot topic over the last few years in the U.S. There are at least 3 different (general) views on this. One, that all people deserve basic human rights, and tying them down and putting them into locked closets at school are not the type of thing that should be done to anyone. A second view (we'll refer to it as "the ignorant view", for lack of a better term), thinks that special ed kids shouldn't be mainstreamed with the general population in schools. And if they are, then if they are at all "disruptive" then it is perfectly OK to do "whatever it takes" to preserve peace and quiet in the schools, including tying kids down, putting them in locked closets, or having them arrested. And wouldn't things just be much better if they all just went back to "some other place" to be educated warehoused. A third view is (roughly) that any proposed laws will never do what we think they will do. The bills will just be used to normalize abnormal treatment of the disabled, including instituting/requiring ABA treatment as the "gold standard" of education cruel and unusual punishment.

Federal laws (referred to as "bills" before they are passed) are passed in the U.S. by being voted on by two houses of Congress, the House of Representatives (or just "House") and the Senate. After being signed by the President (or in some cases, even after them not being signed) the bill becomes law.

The U.S. House passed H.R. 4247 (the House version of the bill), and passed it on to the Senate. The Senate version is referred to as S. 2860. Evidently the Senate version would change how student's Individual Education Plans, or IEP's, are administered.

Wrightslaw sent out an e-mail alert today, stating:

The Senate would let school staff put restraint and seclusion in a child’s IEP or 504 plan. Call your Senators now and ask them to reject this proposal.

The Proposed Amendment to S. 2860 Will Take Away IDEA Rights. Unlike IDEA, 504, and ADA, the Restraint/Seclusion bill has been written to prevent parents from seeking to enforce it in with lawsuits.

The new law (S. 2860) would take precedence over the old law (IDEA).

The Wrightslaw alert also included these helpful instructions for taking action:

How to Call Your Senator

1. Always use the bill number, S. 2860, Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. Please call; Senators pay more attention to calls. Email may get lost. Use Email only if you must.

2. Dial 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904) or go to, click on Senators for contact information (including local numbers). You will have 2 Senators. When you call, ask for their Education or Disability Aide. Leave a detailed voicemail message if they are not available. Be sure to identify the bill by name, Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act and use the number, S. 2860.

3. Please call your Senators - but especially if you live in these states on the Senate HELP Committee: AK, AZ, CO, CT, GA, IA, KS , MD, MN, NC, NH, NM, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, TN, UT, VT, WA, WY. If you are in these states, check the HELP Committee website so you call the Senator on the Committee, If you have friends or family in the Committee states, please get them to call. And even if you are not in a Committee state, please call. Senators from all over the country are impacting this bill.

4. Call Senator Tom Harkin and ask for his disability counsel (phone 202-224-3254, fax 202-224-9369). Senator Harkin chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and has much power over this bill. He needs to hear from parents and advocates from around the country; he certainly is hearing from the other side.

Here is a link to, which has a nice little "drop down" box on the top right to find your own state's senators, and to the committee page for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee,

Senator Tom Harkin, from Iowa, has always been a pretty good advocate for disability issues. He is also the Chair of this committee. Even if you don't live in his state, I urge you to contact him, and not let this portion of the bill be included.

For a brief overview of how U.S. laws are made, watch this:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Honesty, Justice, and Trust

photo credit-navets
creative commons license

I'm not the kind of person that immediately shouts for someone to lose their job when they do something wrong. We all make mistakes, and jobs are hard to come by nowadays.

But I'm also the kind of person that gets their dander up when organizations try to sweep problems under the rug, and whitewash a situation to cover their own backside.

I recently wrote about how two police officers in Tybee Island, Georgia tased a young autistic man who was sitting outside a restaurant waiting for his brother, who was inside. They not only tased him, but wrestled him to the ground, bruising him and breaking his tooth in the process. Originally, the police chief did what might be expected. He defended the actions of his men, and even went so far as to "blame the victim" and his family somewhat by saying that he was sorry that he had been left "unattended". That last statement, which implies that no one with any kind of disability that impairs communication should ever be left alone, even for a few minutes, got me (and a lot of other people, I'm sure) very upset. I don't realistically expect that the whole world will change overnight, and that the world and everyone in it will totally understand my autistic son as he grows up. I also don't think it unreasonable that he should not have to fear being beat up and tased for sitting on the curb outside a restaurant on a hot day.

Evidently there are some reasonable people living in Tybee, and some of them are actually in a position to do something. According to this article:

Tybee drops charges against autistic teen

WTOC11 reports that,

Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman and Schleicher asked Police Chief Price James W. Price to have the GBI investigate the incident and make sure no laws were broken by police.

Many politicians, both local and national, would have followed on what the police chief originally said, and would have tried to cover up the situation and hope it would go away. I applaud the mayor and city manager, who asked a neutral party (the Georgia Bureau of Investigation-the state counterpart to the FBI) to look into the matter. As police officers themselves, the GBI would have an excellent understanding of what proper police procedure in such cases should be, as well as having practical experience in similar types of situations. Yet as a neutral party, they also understand that the public needs to have confidence in its law enforcement officers. Law abiding public citizens should not have to fear their own police force. When law enforcement officers "go too far", it impairs the ability of all other officers on the force in their ability to do their job. When you are in a job that serves the public, you need to be accountable to that public. You may not like it, but that's part of the job.

According to another recent article in the Savannah Morning News, "Tybee Police Learn About Autism", the two police officers that arrested Clifford, as well as a jailer, have both resigned their posts. The police chief has been suspended, and officers are now being sent for training on dealing with people with autism.

My hat is off to the city of Tybee, for stepping up and doing the right thing. Nothing will undo the damage that has been done. Clifford will forever more be afraid of the police, and it will be that much harder for him to react calmly the next time he interacts with them. But it looks as if the city is stepping up, doing what it can to prevent future similar occurrences, and weeding out a few bad apples (while sending an important message to the rest of the department).

I don't know if the police chief will keep his job, or if he should. I am not in a position to know what he knew, when he knew it, and what he has done in the interim. But I trust now that the people of Tybee will do the right thing, because of what they've done thus far. And if he does keep his job, I sincerely hope that he issues a much more heartfelt and all encompassing apology to Clifford and his family, for them having to have endured this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth

photo credit-newagecrap
creative commons license

Unfortunately, one of the things that has become obvious to me over the years is that the general public doesn't have a clue what it's like to raise a special needs kid, has no real desire to know what it takes, and when times are the least bit tough the public is especially willing to throw our kids under the bus if it will help their own situation in any way. This is true, whether it's a smaller, relatively well off district like the one we live in, or a large one such as Los Angeles.

One might expect that the Superintendent for one of the largest districts in the country would be a little savvy when it came to talking about how resources were allocated during an economic downturn, and would refrain from saying things that were just REALLY STUPID. When L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines was talking about a school for the blind in the LA Unified School district he recently said,

"Some of those are very, very severe cases, but you have to look at it in perspective. When you fund some of the special ed things, you're taking from regular kids."

Aside from it being blatantly against the law for economic considerations to be driving who gets what services, there is the whole "attitude" thing. The attitude that says that special needs kids are not "regular" children. The subtext that assumes that they won't become productive members of society, so why invest any money in them. When such attitudes result in self fulfilling prophecies, they are felt to be proof positive that they were right all along. The attitude that while "regular" education is a right in this country, that special education is a privilege that can be easily revoked at the first sign of money trouble. The attitude that my kid (and millions like him) just aren't worth it.

I have found, as I stated, that such attitudes are not limited to uneducated or poor people. Indeed, my personal feeling is that such attitudes get worse, the higher up the socioeconomic scale one is on. It doesn't matter what overall political viewpoint you hold. Platitudes regarding equality rapidly fall apart when it comes to spending a dime on special needs education instead of the football team.

I don't know what the solution is. I'd like to think that the only solution is success. Being out there, in the public eye, as much as possible. Expose the public to successful former special ed. kids as much as possible, and eventually they'll change their mind. And holding them to the letter of the law until then.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Georgia Scores a Hat Trick

photo credit-thebigo
creative commons license

In the game of hockey, a hat trick refers to when a single player scores three goals on the opposing team during the same game.

In the game of "how can we be the most discriminatory against autistics", the US state of Georgia has been in the news three times in the last two weeks. First it was charging a 14 year old autistic boy with felony terrorism charges for stick figure drawings he put on his homework. Then it was police using a taser on an 18 year old autistic young man who didn't answer their questions fast enough, and appeared different.

Today Georgia is in the news again, and again it's for tasing an autistic man. According to Fox News:

"Twenty-three-year-old D.J. Moran said multiple officers surrounded him, cuffed him on the ground and then tasered him, MyFoxAtlanta reports."

Of course, the multiple officers couldn't possibly handle this after they surrounded the man and were putting him on the ground, so they just had to taser him:

"Police officials released a statement saying, 'The officer used a taser when the suspect failed to cooperate by struggling and resisting, after being instructed to place his hands behind his back. The suspect only complied after the taser was used.' "

Fortunately, even though the police tried to cover themselves by charging the man with multiple felonies, a jury (who saw a police cruiser cam video of the event) saw things differently:

"Police charged Moran with multiple felonies, but a jury did not convict him."

So congratulations, Georgia! Guess I won't be spending any of my vacation dollars in your state this year.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Geogia-Zero Tolerance for Differences

photo credit-centralasian
creative commons license

Evidently it's not safe to walk around (or sit) any place in Georgia while being autistic. At least not by yourself. Because if you do, you're fair game for being tased by the police. At least, that's what the police chief of Tybee Island, Georgia seems to think.

A little over a week ago, it was a 14 year old boy being arrested on felony terrorism charges for drawing threatening one inch stick figure drawings on his homework. Now it's an 18 year old autistic young man tasered after being confronted by police while he was sitting on the curb waiting for his brother and a friend to come out of a restaurant.

WMBF news reported yesterday on how 18 year old Clifford Grevemberg was waiting on the curb outside the Rock House Bar and Grill for his brother and a friend to come out, when he was approached by two policemen. According to the police report, Clifford was staggering while walking back and forth in front of the establishment, and when questioned, responded that he was waiting for his brother to come out with some food.

The police report said that one officer asked Clifford if he had been drinking, and he responded yes. Of course, they didn't ask him what he had been drinking. Unless he was asked if he had been drinking alcohol, my 10 year old son might have also responded in the affirmative, having drunken water, soda, or some other perfectly legal beverage. The officers then asked for identification (twice), and when Clifford turned and began to walk away, they grabbed his arm. Clifford, as might be expected, tried to retract his arm away from them, which gave these two police officers all the justification they thought they needed to taser him. Which they did while forcing Clifford to the ground, causing a bruised face and a broken tooth.

The Tybee police chief, in a statement given today, tried to explain away the incident by saying that Clifford gave the appearance of being intoxicated, and tasing him prevented further damage to both Clifford as well as the officers. He gave a backhanded apology, saying

"We are sincerely apologetic for the injuries suffered to Mr. Grevemberg. We are also sorry he was left unattended under the circumstances..."

In other words, if you are so brazen as to think that you have the right to walk or sit in a public place while being autistic (and you don't have an attendant immediately at your side), then you shouldn't complain when the police tase you and arrest you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Terrorism? Really??? Or "Get Out of Our School!"

If this wasn't so over the top ridiculous, it might be funny.

A 14 year old Georgia boy has been charged with a felony (making terrorist threats) for a small (about 1 inch high) set of stick figures he drew on a paper in class. The stick figures depict one figure (labeled "me") shooting another stick figure (labeled with his teacher's name).

There is no question that his drawing the picture was both inappropriate and wrong. There is also no question in my mind that the school's response is so wildly disproportionate as to make me question why they would do such a thing. There has been no allegation of the boy attacking his teacher, bringing a weapon to class, or even of having formed a definite plan as to how he would accomplish the task in his drawing. There has been no mention of the school consulting with anyone else (the boy's doctor, their own psychologists, the police) to evaluate the situation as to how likely it was for the boy to be able to carry out his threat, much less evaluate the seriousness of the situation.

Many people threaten to kill their spouses every day. They very seldom get arrested, much less charged with making "terrorist threats".

So why would a school do such a thing?

My guess (and it is a guess, as there's been no statement I've seen from the school) is that this charter school where the boy is enrolled wants to dump this "problem student" from their school, and that they are using this as a convenient excuse. Many charter schools don't want to spend the time and money it takes to properly educate children with special needs.

This could end up as a case of "zero tolerance" gone wild, but I suspect that, in the end, the school will come up with some "compromise" that will entail dropping or lessening the charge, as long as the boy withdraws from the school (or accepts another placement they have suggested).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Walking While Black and Autistic

The phrase "Driving While Black" is one that is familiar to every African-American in the U.S., and refers to the practice of African Americans (especially young black males) being singled out by the police for "special treatment" when they are driving. Otherwise known as racial profiling, through either upbringing or isolated experiences many police officers come to unfairly believe that the majority of blacks must be up to no good, and thus deserve to be singled out for closer scrutiny, and assumed to be hostile until proven otherwise.

Steven Eugene Washington, a 27 year old black man who reportedly had never had a run in with the law, was shot dead while walking to a friend's house the other night in Los Angeles. When he was reportedly approached for "acting suspiciously", he reportedly

"...did not comply with their investigative demands and appeared to be reaching into his waistband. Fearing he was reaching for a weapon each officer fired once. One bullet struck Washington in the head."

While the LAPD gives its officers a one hour course in dealing with autistic individuals, the department could not say whether the officers who shot Washington had taken the course.

My ten year old bi-racial son had a large birthfather. He will be a big man. This scenario is one of my greatest fears.

I ache for the Washington family tonight, and long for a world where more than one hour is spent training first responders.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Temple Grandin BBC Documentary

Lately many people have been commenting on the HBO Temple Grandin movie that was just released. I watched the movie this last week with my family. Overall, I would say that it was pretty good. I don't expect Hollywood to get many things right, but I'd say they did a pretty fair job with this treatment. Claire Danes did a much better job than I expected. I feared before seeing it that she was much too "glamorous" for the role, but she did a good job of capturing the general tone, and playing things pretty straight.

Here's the trailer from the HBO movie:

Buddy Boy told me several years ago that his mind was like "a video camera. I can just hit rewind, and see things over again." He had never heard of Temple Grandin at the time. After seeing the movie, he asked if I thought Temple could teach him to think in pictures. The HBO movie presented it as Temple thinking in black and white still pictures. I guess he saw this as fundamentally different from his thinking like there's a video recorder running in his head. I told him she probably couldn't teach him to think in pictures, as everyone pretty much thought the way they thought.

For those who have access to HBO in the states, I think it's definitely worth a watch if you have time. For those without HBO access, I'm sure it will be out on DVD soon.

Also, on a local list I'm on, someone sent me the links to a nice BBC documentary on Dr. Grandin on YouTube. You can see it here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Murphy's Law

Anyone that has children is very familiar with Murphy's Law, commonly stated as "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong".

This morning, Buddy Boy started spinning around the kitchen, while holding his bowl of broccoli (yes, Liz gets both kids to eat vegetables and protein for breakfast).

So Buddy Boy is happily spinning away, saying (while broccoli is flying from the bowl) "Look, it's Centrifugal Force! It's one of Murphy's Laws."

Liz and I both got a big kick out of that.

In the same vein of humor, here is a Rhett and Link YouTube video entitled "The Perfect Bathroom Trip". We showed it to both of the kids today. Our grammar school nurse is planning on showing it to the kids in school.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Nail That Sticks Up...

Will Be Hammered Down.

So goes an old Japanese saying, meant to illustrate (as well as inculcate) a sense of conformity among the Japanese people. Westerners (especially Americans) are supposed to place much more value on non-conformity and individuality.

But that idea only goes so far, and is noticably absent in the American public school system. When it comes to school kids, conformity is king. And if you step out of line, you will be hammered down, sometimes quite forcefully.

Nowhere is this more evident then when it comes to kids with disabilities, especially those on the autism spectrum. Often, kids on the spectrum have various sensory processing difficulties, and may also persevorate on certain things. When they run into difficulty, they can get emotionally "wound up" fairly quickly, and appear to be "acting out" and being volitionally bad. When given a little extra time and understanding, their behavior is most often a slight inconvenience to those around them, and at worst a slight nuisance. But when those around them insist on total conformity, and react by touching the person and physically restraining them, then the autistic person (like most people physically restrained for reasons they don't understand at the time would) react with a "fight or flight" type of syndrome and lash out at those restraining them.

Google the words "child autism arrested", and you quickly are faced with several stories over several years that seem to follow the same script: A child on the autism spectrum is placed in a regular classroom (often with a history of the family fighting for more support than what is being provided), said child "acts up" a bit (involving no or minor physical interaction with staff or other children), teacher reacts by physically restraining child, child "lashes out" (by kicking, pinching, biting), police are called, and child is arrested. There is often no behavioral plan in place to deal with the child's behavioral difficulties, and if there is a plan, it is often not followed. Children as young as 5 years old have been placed in handcuffs and arrested. Others who are slightly older are not only arrested, but sometimes thrown in psychiatric institutions or jail.

Such is the case with Zakh Price, age 11 (his picture's at the top), who was arrested and charged with a felony. Click Zakh's name to read Emily's excellent investigative piece into this latest travesty of justice. Another article detailing the facts can be found here. And Emily's follow up piece detailing some of the personal attacks made against Zakh and his grandmother can be found here.

This story rings all too true to me. My son is in fourth grade, and while the police have not been called on him (yet), the school district had threatened to do that in the past, when he was 5 years old. That period of time resulted in a short detour to a class for emotionally disturbed children, LOTS of meetings (with their lawyers, our advocates, and our lawyer), and a bunch of money payed out in legal and consulting fees. I was fortunate to be blessed with coworkers that allowed me flexible time off to go to all the meetings, as well as a job that pays well enough for us to afford the bills that came with this.

Zakh is lucky to have his grandmother, Carole Reynolds, who is a staunch advocate for him. Unfortunately, Carole is tapped out of the kind of money that legal representation requires, and she needs some help.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has issued an action alert, which lists e-mail addresses and phone numbers you can call to register your concerns. A website set up to take donations for Zakh's legal bills has also been set up for him.

I admit that I don't usually donate to online causes. Not only are there so many of them, but it's often difficult to discern which are legitimate, and which are scams. ASAN is a legitimate organization (Its president, Ari Ne'eman, has been nominated to be on an advisory council to the President of the United States), and Emily is a top notch, ethical person who's truthfulness and judgement I totally trust.

So I'm asking you to do what I did. Go to the website, click on the "Chip In" button, and give what you can. Even if it's 1,5, 10, or 20 dollars, everything will help. And keep this family in your prayers.

Unfortunately this story is not unique. But it does seem to be much more common for school districts to try to get out of paying for proper supports for children with disabilities by dumping them into the legal system. Perhaps there is also an attempt to silence those who would have the temerity to ask for support that the system is not willing to provide. Perhaps such prosecutions are meant to silence those voices before they even speak up.

Let the people in Fort Smith, Arkansas know that treating an 11 year old with a disability this way is unacceptable. Support Carole Reynolds as she supports Zakh. Go to the website. Make that donation.

Now, before it's too late.